Quality versus Quantity

Qual vs Quan street sign

I know this is an age-old question, but it became fresh in my mind this week when one of my swimmers asked me why we weren’t doing the high mileage that so many other clubs are doing. As I explained to him, our philosophy is to prioritize technique and race pace over lengthy but slower sets. In effect, to emphasize speed and speed endurance over endurance.

However, and here’s where discussions start, there are many incredibly good swimmers who came out of heavy mileage programs. In fact, this old school slant towards heavy mileage has never really left us. There are legendary sets out there that amaze anyone who sees them. Sets like 200 x 100 or 50 x 400 shock us and excite us as we contemplate how incredibly tough those swimmers must be. And yet it begs the question: Does heavy mileage really improve our swimming speed? Considering that most swimmers specialize in 200s or less, it’s hard to imagine that an aerobic set lasting for hours can significantly affect an events lasting 2 minutes or less.

There don’t appear to be any definitive answers for this. So as some swimmers look at massive sets with envy, I’m faced with the task of trying to explain our emphasis on speed and speed endurance, mixed with lots of technique work. In fact, even now I think back with some sense of bizarre pride to the monster sets that I did when I was a swimmer. And then I think back to how my shoulders gave out and I had to leave the sport far too early. How do I explain this to a teenage boy who feels immortal and sees stardom in his future?

All that I could say is that in very wide range of training philosophies, ours leans towards less …read more

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Reflections on the Value of an Early First Meet

Ian Thorpe start

Last week we had our first meet of the year. It may not seem that early for most teams, but it is for us. Most of our swimmers had their last meet of the year in late June, and we could only get back into the pool in mid-September. This meant we had just 5 weeks of training prior to this meet, after close to 3 months off. (We don’t have a summer league, and even if we did, I wouldn’t want my young swimmers training 12 months of the year).

So why have an early meet? Realistically the swimmers can’t expect to truly swim fast, and with the last competition 4 months ago, they can’t expect to compete well either. And that’s exactly the point. This is the one meet in the year where we can remove unrealistic expectations and focus on the process.

And here’s what we learned. These aren’t in any particular order, and I’ve probably left some out, but here were our goals for an early first meet:

  • get the swimmers re-acquainted with the competition process, including pre-race preparation, strategy setting, and post-race analysis
  • identify bad habits before they become ingrained
  • remind them of why they need to train hard (nothing reminds them of that better than getting beaten)
  • identify common problems that I need to address as a team issue

OK, so what happened at this meet?

Well, for the most part, it ran as expected. We had lots of the expected mistakes: warmups, race preparation, strategy. I attribute that mainly due to the lack of recent competition experience. There were also lots of individual bad habits that were exposed, discussed and a plan put in place to correct these in practice.

We also uncovered an uncomfortable number of common problems that I need to address right away. These included the underwater phase of …read more

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Strength & Conditioning for Swimmers

underwater weights

Not too long ago I wrote about Mount Stupid (you can read it here), and how I and so many other coaches apparently. Well this year I climbed partway down from Mount Stupid and decided to ask a real strength and conditioning expert to handle what I’d been so confidently messing up for years.

Wow, what a difference!

Now, I should point out that prior to this year I thought I had the experience, first-hand knowledge and obvious intelligence to handle something as simple as S&C. I had a long swimming career, decades of being an athlete, and years of previous experience with coaching. I knew this stuff inside and out, right?

In other words, I was sitting smugly and happily at the very top of Mount Stupid.

So what has changed now that we have a real program? Just about everything.

  • We got rid of swim cords. We do enough swimming as it is. More of the same movements isn’t going to make us stronger overall, and probably just increases the chance of injury.
  • We started strengthening our backs. Swimmers are notorious for hunched shoulders, and that’s a huge problem if you want to have a strong core and back.
  • We started increasing our effective Range of Motion for important joints.
  • And most importantly, we focussed on major body movements: squats, hip hinges, Romanian deadlifts, presses, etc.

Now keep in mind, that most of our athletes are performing these exercises with just body weight. Only after some monitoring and testing have we added relatively light weights – in the form of sand bells – for swimmers who have demonstrated consistent and acceptable technique. This is clearly going to be a long term process involving years of development and monitoring.

So is it worth it?

Well, we ran a small 7-week S&C camp for …read more

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Athletes and Their Dislike of Stretching

phelps stretching

Having been involved in quite a few different sports, I can state that athletes generally dislike stretching after practice. Others may disagree and say that athletes don’t dislike stretching, they HATE stretching, but you get my point. (I should point out that many athletes appear to love stretching before practice, but I think that’s just because it delays the practice!)

While science is starting to point out certain stretches and routines that may be harmful, it is generally agreed that the right stretches performed after a workout go a long way towards initiating recovery through gentle relaxation of tight and fatigued muscles.

The problem is, no matter how much I educate my swimmers about the benefits of stretching, many still put in sub-par efforts at best. Some coaches have suggested I should threaten / punish them, but that’s doesn’t make the reluctant athletes change their mindset. I need to find a way to make them want to do it. Right?

Nothing has worked so far. My guess is that right after a practice the swimmers are tired and their muscles are fatigued. And it’s right at this point that we’re asking them to voluntarily subject their muscles to more discomfort. While discomfort during swimming can be directly connecting with swim performance, which they want, discomfort during stretching is at best indirectly connected with swim performance.

The More Popular Types of Stretching

When I first started competing I was aware of only 2 types of stretches: Static and Ballistic. And we would do both types before and after practice.

Static stretching is the most common type where you stretch a muscle for at least 20 seconds, and usually 30 seconds.

We were taught that about 2-3 seconds into the stretch our body protects the muscle be inhibiting the stretch, as well as adding pain signals to warn us …read more

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