Thursday, April 25, 2013


Back in the day, there was no such thing as a "reverse hyper", "45 degree back extension bench", or a "glute-ham bench" - there was simply the "Roman Chair". You didn't do "back extensions", you did "hyperextensions" (yes, I understand the difference in execution the terms imply however, in how people actually executed the movements, there is no difference).

It was (and still is) a great, great exercise. Underrated. These days, I use my glute-ham bench for hyper... er, excuse me, back extensions more often than glute-ham raises (though I like both).

Greg Everett of Catalyst Athletics wrote the following post on the exercise: Back Extension(s)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Producing Coherence in the Flow

Designers of interior spaces have found that a perfectly useless post positioned along the path to a fire exit may actually help people escape. Give evacuees storming toward a doorway a little something to avoid and you stagger their arrival slightly, allowing them to stream through the opening in a reasonably controlled flow, rather than colliding there at once and causing a pileup. The obstacle keeps you at the top of the complexity arc, preventing you from plunging headlong to the frozen end.
"You create a little turbulence," says Santa Fe Institute economist John Miller, who specializes in complex adaptive social systems. "By adding a little noise to the system you produce coherence in the flow." (Simplexity, pg. 52)
Much of training could be viewed as "adding a little noise to the system" to "produce coherence in the flow". Note that it doesn't mean flood the system, or blow out the speakers adding noise - a little will do.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

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.