1971 WORLD CLINIC, SPECIAL TRAINING FOR SPRINT SWIMMERS, by Jim Gaughran, Stanford University


Published


I am going to break swimming the sprints into its technical aspects. I think that this is one aspect of swimming that is ignored to a real extent.

Originally ,we derived a lot of our training ideas from track and possibly now we have gone way ahead of them, especially in quantity. However, track spends a great deal of time on the pure technical aspects. We’re getting very well­ conditioned swimmers and at this time in swimming sprints, we have a lot of highly trained swimmers with great ability. We should spend some time on the technical side of this event.

We should define what a sprinter is, because I don’t think we have very many pure sprinters in this country. I think that a track 100 man is a pure sprinter. We don’t have anything comparable to that, unless we would add a 25 yard event. Our shortest race is the 50 and it compares in time to a man running a 200, and since few teams could afford the luxury of
having a one event swimmer, we really have a combination 50/100 man on our teams. In track, a 400 man would be equivalent to our 100 if you compare the time it takes to perform the event.

Obviously with all that said, we couldn’t possibly have somebody concentrate exclusively on technique. I think if you’ve got a really fast runner, one naturally so, you can really work hard on the technical aspects to approach the ultimate. I suspect that Borzov, the double sprint winner at the Olympics, would be a classic example of that. He is a very fine runner, technically perfect, who probably won against other fine runners who may not have been technically perfect, because they didn’t have the training discipline.

I will start my talk with a discussion of the start. It is pretty well universally agreed that today the grab start is the way things are going. It gets you off the blocks faster, but possibly not giving you as much distance. I learned one thing about that actual dive into the water from John Ferris, one of our flyers who would occasionally swim the 50. In the past, the traditional start would be with the body flat, and trying to land flat. Well, John would have a way getting out ahead of the field, and the movies we have of him show that he would always have his feet very high just before entering the water. Starting is something that requires an explosive burst of strength especially in the legs. This is something that you cannot develop by training in the water. In the 50 I feel that at least 50% of the event is in the start and the turn. So we do quite a bit of work on the leg extension in a universal gym. We do it by sitting down and pressing up, and also in the reverse position, that is almost in the starting position, facing the chair and pressing one leg to full extension. We’ll do three sets of ten repetitions. We’ll work hard on this throughout the year.

It’s very easy to forget about starts and turns until you get into the tapering part of your season you’d better work on it long before that!

We teach the swimmer to concentrate on the movements of the start rather than on thinking about the gun. He always have our swimmers feel their hands in the proper position concentrating on the fast movement and reaction. If you are holding on to the bottom edge of the block and concentrating on the push you can get off the block awful fast. If you are just down there listening for the gun, you have a lot more to transport and set in motion. He had two sprinters one year, one went 21.110 and
the other 21.111. The faster one made it into the consolations and placed 11th, and so 1/1000 of a second made a big difference and some points for us. If the difference is in the reaction time, you’d better spend time and work on it, as it will not be something that comes automatically.

We don’t use the grab start for relays, because you are not waiting for an exact moment that you don’t know when it is coming. You are better off to use a start that will get as far out in the water as possible, especially since you know when your man will touch. I haven’t seen anyone use a grab start for a relay take­ off. If you have told your team to do so, I think it’s a mistake.

There is nothing like showing a swimmer what he actually does for proper coaching. Shooting movies with Super 8 is relatively inexpensive. There is nothing like being able to show someone what he is actually doing. Most swimmers have a hard time feeling or explaining what they do. Video tape is another good tool to use. We’ll run tests with various kinds of starts using a timing device that attaches to the swimmer. A buzzer starts them off and we tie a string to them and that tells us the distance he can make on each variation. All the specifics that go into a good start don’t just happen, you have to work on them.
Some swimmers are used to the old Steve Clark routine in their starts. That is, they try to play the game of who will come down last. This of course can’t be done with the grab start anymore. The starter will fire the gun while you’re on your way down to grab the block, and you’re caught off your proper position, and you can’t get a good push off the blocks. So when your swimmer is doing the grab start have him come right down and really get set, then he can rock forward a little bit and really be ready
to push. If he takes his time to get down, he will be caught.

In talking about turns, the first thing I would say about it is that it should be made as simple as possible. The type of turn that I try to teach is a simple half twist after you pike, bend your legs and kick the wall. There are some important aspects to that turn that people forget. I’ve heard how it’s been said that college coaches get the talent and all they have to do is stay out of their way and they will do a good job. I have seen so many kids go in and do a flip turn and end up on their back and then they have to turn themselves all the way over. There is no way you can come back from this type of turn without causing a great deal of friction pushing against the water to get turned around.

A guy who goes right into the wall, can kick immediately, and is in line and comes right off the wall, has got to beat the man who goes in and lands almost on his back about a foot or so on every turn. The way I think you should do it is to take the last stroke with the leading arm and look over at the lane target on that side under the arm. Keep the eyes on this point and never lose sight of the bottom of the pool. If he’s doing that he won’t push off and wonder if he’s going to come up in the next lane. He can’t , because he knows where he is and that is why this turn is better. He is now in a pike position ready to start bending his legs but he’s still looking down at the opposite lane line, so if he is going to end up with his right arm, he is going to look under on the right hand side as he is coming in. As the swimmer comes out he is still looking down and is ready to push off immediately. Last but not least, he’s not got his legs bent. If you don’t bend the legs when you do the pike your feet hit the gutter.

As the swimmer is coming over, he’s helping himself around with his hands. The extension of the leg is not a straight leg coming down the wall and finally finding a place where to put it. Instead you kick at the wall with your feet with an impact and then you bounce off. You then really extend with the ears between the biceps.

One place where swimmers get out of streamline is with the head. As they come around, they are watching the bottom line on the other side. They should end up pushing off and feeling the ears between the arms. You shouldn’t be looking up the pool to see where you are going. If the head is not right between the arms, you’ve got a big ball that is going to block you from zipping through the water as quickly as you can in a streamline position. Swimmers should get used to doing this on the 400 to 500 turns a day that they do. Coming into the turn you have to concentrate on the wall. If you are swimming the 50 or 100 you shouldn’t take a breath when you are within 4 yards of the wall. Your eyes should be glued on the target you’ve got to make that turn and know exactly where you are. If you are going to be adjusting the stroke, it can’t be in the last half stroke before you get to the wall. When we are practicing turns, we make sure the guys are doing just that: keeping the head down, watch the wall, concentrate, and make sure you ‘re looking at it.

It really takes a while to get a boy out of doing a bad turn. You can understand why because if a swimmer’s doing ten thousand yards a day, he’s going 400 turns a day and each turn is going a little more in either the wrong way or the right way. The most specific thing about turns is explosive leg drive. If you concentrate on that and tell yow swimmers when they’re doing their repeats not just to be concerned about how fast they are going in between the walls, but to make every turn a racing technique type turn so that they are doing exactly the right thing. We have them go out over our 4 yard line before they take the first stroke so that they have to push a little bit, and build up leg strength. There is nothing like great turns to be able to beat people that maybe are a little bit faster than you are in the middle of the pool.

Goggles gives a swimmer a completely different look at the wall and the bottom than you get with the goggles off. You have to train working on turns without goggles so you can see the wall ahead to properly judge what it is going to look like when you get into the race. Every swimmer has to do that. You also have to practice at various depth pools. We ‘re lucky enough to have various depth pools. We go from one pool that is only 3½ feet to a diving pool or 7 foot racing pool. If you go from your­ pool to some other pool that has a shallow deep end or all deep water it is going to be different from your pool and what your swimmers are used to.

The last part of the race is the finish. The finish has got to be practiced and it is a part of the race a lot of people do not practice.

We have touch pads in most of our big meets and there is a different way of finishing with touch pads than there is when you’re trying to fake out the judge who is sitting over on the side of the pool. If you drive into the touch pad and slip. that head and turn and smile, everybody sees you up there. But as you lift your head you are withdrawing a little bit from the end of the wall. You’ve got to drive into the wall and you’ve got to concentrate to the last four strokes without taking a breath so that you know exactly when you should get to the wall with your arm toward the finish end of the pool.

You can’t just swim in and hope that you get there. So many guys have been able to win a race but then take that next stroke instead and end up almost hitting their head while they’re hitting their hand on the wall when they should have extended the arm and gone for it. You can’t take a last stroke that is going to be a sweeping type stroke to the wall because the much shorter distance is a jab straight through. The swimmers have to practice doing that because if they don’t practice a lot they are just going to swim in and do their normal swimming stroke at the finish.

Swimmers often will stop the hard kick coming into the finish. You have to keep on the hard kick or you will have to pick up your hard kick (if you haven’t been kicking hard) so that you’re putting everything into that last drive.

It seems to me that in coaching swimming that swimming itself is really a concentration on the details of the race. You have to spend that time doing that. You can’t just expect your swimmers to go in and do all kinds of hard training for you to be able to do a super job in national championships or your high school championships. You have to pay attention to all the details along the way and the expense if you don’t is shortchanging your own swimmer. The swimming part of training is really a different kind of swimming than race swimming. You can tell this by taking a team that has been training over distance, say 15,000 yards a day in 400 repeats, some 1000 repeats, or even 2000 repeats and then suddenly decide, “well, we better go fast because we have a meet coming up!” So you try a couple of days of hard swimming so that they will be ready to go and you suddenly find out that all of this training that’s gotten the kids in really good cardio­vascular shape has done almost nothing for building swimming strength.

Swimming strength is necessary to swimming. Swimming strength is not a vital factor in the longer distance event because you are working on endurance. You need swimming strength when you get to the end of the distance event, but the hard strength swimming that is needed for going a 50 or a very hard 100 is much different. We continue our sprint training even when we’re going over distance. We always maintain some sprints in the workout in the series of 50’s or 100’s with more than 20 sec. rest before the hundreds so that you get enough recovery time that you can really pick up your pace. When you’re going somewhere between 55 sec. or so for your 100’s or 26. s or 24.’s for your 50’s you are having to use muscle and tone up while you are training. If you’re going to be swimming dual meets through the year you will find out how well it works.

There is no way you can lay off your training and come into dual meets after a couple of days of lay off if you’re going to do something at the national championships. I think that’s probably one of the best accepted actions of swim training today. We can’t peak several times in a season and then do as well at the end of the season. It takes a long time to properly peak. You have got to give a sprinter or a 200 man a minimum of two weeks of taper and drop down to 2000 yards after going 12,000. You have to bring him down over a longer period of time than a distance swimmer so he is really rested and capable of doing his best.

If you are going to have to swim races and you wait to have any kind of performance at all during the year you have to maintain sprinting along with your over distance swimming. We find that kids can do really fast time even at the end of 12,000 yds. They can go a great deal of distance, and after they have finished doing all the long things they would really like to do sprints anyhow.

We do more weight training with our sprinters than we do any of our other swimmers. Our sprinters have been on weights from the beginning of fall quarter and will stay on through February. We work with the Universal Gym and probably most of the same exercises that you have read about. It’s very important to have that kind of training because sprinting is an event that relies on real explosive strength.

I think the amount of breathing that you can afford to do depends a lot on how well you have learned to breathe. Some swimmers can’t take a breath without dropping their head or lifting up and almost stopping their stroke. In swimming you’ve got to maintain a good planning position with your body. We’re going to catch a little bit sooner with a high elbow and in driving the hand down you are getting the planning position of the body lifting it up. Then we get to use a little bit shorter
pull through and instead of finishing completely:, the way you do trying to keep in the maximum strength area of the stroke, we are doing a shorter entry and a shorter recovery. It is very important to keep the elbows up. If you have watched Dave Edgar swim, you’ve seen that kind of swimming with the elbow up and going right down into the catch, maybe just a foot ahead of the shoulders.

In swimming a 50, most swimmers probably go the whole first length and do not take a breath. They come out of the turn and take a breath about four strokes out. If you’re breathing any more than that, you should hold the head position high so it takes just a slight movement of the head to take a breath.

Once we get into a race a swimmer should not concentrate about what he’s going to do with his hands. By that time he has done enough of these things in practice that they are now part of his stroke. It is a process of learning how to do the things exactly right, so when you get in the situation of where you don’t have time to be thinking about it it is done right! We don’t really remind them of the things they know how to do, we remind them to concentrate on their movements of the start. We don’t start talking about stroke at all on the day of a race because if a swimmer starts thinking about what he is doing with his hands he loses something. We do talk about concentrating on the wall. Once you make a bad turn in a fast race you are out of it so I think that is probably the most important thing.

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