Saturday, April 6, 2013

Workshop for Swimmers and Coaches

Last weekend, I held a free strength workshop for swimmers and coaches with Brock Leggins at his gym Ultimate Athlete Development. Swimming will always hold a very special place in my heart and I welcome a chance to give back to the sport whenever I can. Swimmers and swim coaches are always a fantastic bunch to work with. We had a good turnout with at least two dozen participants.

There was a lot of material presented to the group. Aside from specific exercises and drills, here are a few things that Brock and I touched on:

The Primacy of Technique and Strength
Proper technique is key, but no one is going to master swimming technique without the prerequisite strength and conditioning to maintain it long enough to practice. Bad technique = survival technique. If you've ever seen a little kid try to swim the butterfly before they are strong enough, then you understand what I'm talking about.
Once fatigue has set in and form cannot be maintained, it's time to call it a day and do something else. Practicing slop will make you good at slop. Short term, poor technique will be easier, but long term, it will limit our progress and put us on the path to endless plateaus and injury. We want to make the hard stuff look easy.

starts = hinge                                     turns = squat

"The goal is to keep the goal the goal" (Dan John)
When I was much younger and at a large meet, I was looking at meet results posted in the natatorium lobby and overheard a conversation between two prominent national youth coaches. It went something like this:
  Rational Coach: So, what do you have your kids do for dryland work?
  Mean Mustache Coach: I make 'em run. We run.
  Rational Coach: ... Huh, really? Why?
  Mean Mustache Coach: That really ramps up the heart rate and smokes 'em!
  Rational Coach: Hmm.
"Mean Mustache Coach" was a nationally known coach. He was famous for being an ass, but for a time good swimmers flocked to the program. Although the program was a draw for talent, it was not known for developing it. Eventually people figured this out. He forgot "the goal" which, in swimming and all its aspects of training, is to be a faster swimmer. Period. Swimmers running for conditioning makes about as much sense as a mixed martial artist doing marathons to improve his "wind".
"The goal is to keep the goal the goal." Squats for swimmers? Likely 'yes', but the goal is not a 500lb squat; the goal is a powerful and effortless push off the wall on every turn and a deadly breaststroke kick. Do we need a loaded barbell to achieve this? Maybe, maybe not - it depends the strengths and needs of the athlete.
It's NOT okay for your swimmers to be "fish out of water"
It was always curious to me that swim coaches, by and large, seem resigned to the fact that many (not most, but many) of their athletes are, quite frankly, not very athletic. Horrible posture, shoulder laxity, hyperextended knees, and a 10" vertical are NOT okay for your swimmers. Your swimmers need not be capable of dunking a basketball or playing rugby, but it IS important that your athletes are athletic.

I've met many great swimmers, and known a few - Division I All-Americans, Olympians, and world record holders. Most were AMAZING all-around athletes. However (among All-Americans) there were a few incapable of performing a single pull-up; they were sorely lacking in strength and, not surprisingly, after peaking in their late teens, performances were stagnant from year to year. Power, mobility, and technical proficiency form the base for a swimmer's long term growth. If any of these components is missing, performance growth will stagnate.

To be a great swimmer requires many athletic qualities that are not built by swimming exclusively. This is no different than other sports - being an elite baseball player may require great power, but playing baseball alone is not a good developer of power. In swimming, you must have strong and flexible legs and hips to have powerful starts and turns, but simply doing starts and turns will not be enough (except for the natural athletes). You will develop lats and pecs of steel as a competitive swimmer, but poor middle back strength and bad posture will make it difficult for swimmers to take advantage of them. Weak, inflexible hamstrings are a hindrance to proper starts and turns and, if training consists of swimming exclusively, things will more than likely deteriorate over time, rather than improve. Dryland training is a key to developing those attributes that your swimmers may lack if they do nothing but swim. Properly planned and programmed, dryland training will shore up weaknesses and accentuate strengths.


Jeff Hammond said...

Hi Boris,

First, I wanted to say that you're looking good! Lose any weight? If you have kicked the junk food, it's certainly noticeable. Congrats on all of your hard work.

I did want to object to your no fish-out-of-water idea, but then I realize I misunderstood you (e.i. not "be a fish, never out of water", but "don't be just a fish so you can get out of water and ultimately be a better fish)! When a friend and I were in 7th grade, we both cut lots of time off of our 50M times in freestyle and butterfly because we started running track. Of course we were young and developing, but track provided the perfect outlet for growth.

Thanks for continuing to keep this blog up; it's a joy to read.

Boris said...

Thank you Jeff. I have not kicked the junk food habit, but everyone says it looks like I've lost weight. My weight's pretty consistent, but I feel light.

Exactly! Yes, be a better fish, not a weak fish wannabe. That's the goal!

Imo, there's nothing wrong with running for swimmers, but if I was given a swimmer who needed to improve, running's probably not where I'd have them start.

Emler Swim School said...

Swimmers need strength and to achieve that, the core muscles must be targeted.

Boris said...

Of course the 'core' is important. Thank you Emler. Maybe you could elaborate, or did you just post that to spam?