Developing a Distance Training group by Jeff Pearson (2008)


[Introduction] The next coach that we are going to listen to, what he has accomplished with his current team is the epitome of all of what we would like to do as professional coaches, as far as striving in our own programs. Since he has taken over the helm of the Sierra Marlins his program has grown from a mere 50 swimmers to over 500 swimmers. This includes both Junior National and National level champions. Six of the last eight years he has been named as Sierra Nevada’s Swimming Senior Coach of the year. As far as listening to Coach Schubert speak about how our nation needs to take more pride in our distance swimming again. I think this is probably the best coach that we could have to reiterate the challenge that Coach Schubert put before us as far as to take more pride again in our distance swimming as a nation. I do not think there is anybody better than someone himself who has been a former National Team member, who won two National titles in open water swimming than our speaker, Coach Jeff Pearson.

[Coach Pearson] I am talking about distance swimming today. I want to first let everybody know that most of what we do in the Sierra Marlins I have learned from somebody else. That’s a great thing about American swimming is that there are a lot of ideas shared. I have stolen so many things; sometimes I forget to give credit because I don’t remember who I stole it from. So, as we are going through this talk, if you have contributed to my coaching toolbox, I just want to let you know that I appreciate it.

I am going to start off with just a little bit of background before I get into the philosophy. Sierra Marlins were formed in 1983. I took over the helm of the Marlins in 1995. At that time we swam at a local community college pool at Sierra College. The team when I walked in the door was roughly 40 swimmers. We currently have about 185 year round members. We also have some different elements to the program with a Masters Team, swim school, various clinics, etc. which puts us over 500. Essentially our heart and soul is our 185 members that comprise our year-round swimming team.

I grew up swimming distance and when I started coaching, I got my first head-coaching job in 1995. I was 24 years old and knew nothing other than what I had learned swimming. I learned from a great man named Steve Morsilli and I had some other great coaches along the way that contributed to my knowledge to that point which was essentially, just distance swimming. That is really all I knew because that is what I did and so I think like a lot of us when we start coaching, we do what we know. That is where we got started.

I had a group of swimmers and not real talented. I didn’t have any Junior National swimmers (old Junior Nationals cuts). By today’s standards I may have had one sectional level swimmer. I had kids in our senior group that couldn’t read a pace clock. They literally didn’t even know it existed and so we were a very raw group of people and to me the fastest way to get successful with a group like that is to start building a distance base. At the time and I think still to this day, the easiest cuts in the books to achieve with a kid that is not extraordinarily talented are those distance cuts. If you want to be successful with a group like that, I thought at the time that that was the fastest way to do it.

Since then, I have come to really view distance swimming and distance training. I got to say that I don’t really think that we do distance swimming unless you are an open water swimmer in this country. You know, our longest pool race is roughly 16 minutes, which is not distance. That is middle distance by pretty much any other standard in any other sport. Throughout my talk here I will call it distance swimming since is kind of what we commonly call it. I have come to kind of understand that, that type of training is not just good for distance swimmers. We have had, lots of kids that have been successful in the 200’s.

This summer we had 8 current and former Marlins that were at the Olympic Trials. Five of which represented our team and three of which were representing collegiate teams. 7 of the 8 were competing in butterfly events so where that fits into the kind of work that we do here, I can’t tell you exactly. We do emphasize some butterfly, but we emphasize everything so I do not know why we have always been real successful in butterfly. We have been very successful in IM and middle distance 200-500 freestyle has been very successful. I think the distance training not only benefits the distance athlete, but also helps build better swimmers in general.

Like I said, I don’t really consider it a distance program. A lot of our success has come in the middle distance events. One of the things that I truly believe in is that the only way to swim fast is to swim fast and there is the age old debate between volume versus intensity. We have heard a lot of very, very good coaches over the last few years say that it is both and I truly believe that it is what you do over time. It is big practices, but intense practices, swimming fast, okay? If I had to substitute one thing for the other I would always substitute for speed. What is done is not nearly as important as how it is done. I think a lot of coaches are doing very, very similar types of sets and it is always entertaining to watch coaches put their sets up on the board. Those sets are the same that we are all doing. Really, the nuts and bolts of it are not the most important part, it is how those sets are being conducted, and the environment they are being conducted in that I think really separates the programs.

Work load: Intensity over time is a much better yardstick than volume. I have really gotten away from really even measuring volume. I use Hy-Tek so it is there. I can push a button and print it up if I want it, but when I am thinking about what I am trying to get done that day, it is more a matter of how am I going to get the most intensity over time than it is hitting some kind of volume number at the end of practice.

Creating a hard work culture has been paramount for us. It has been a huge focus ever since we started trying to teach these kids that hard work is something to be valued above talent or speed or any other element in our program. So the way you reward your kids and what you reward for are super important in creating this hard work culture, and there are subtle little things that you reward on a daily training basis that make a big difference in the long-term in terms of what kind of culture you have on your pool deck and then on the bottom here I threw in science versus intuition. When I started coaching I kind of came at it more from the science point of view; I counted yards, I counted percentages, I printed up all the percentage charts out of Hy-Tek and I thought that was important and with each year I think I have gotten further and further away from that.

I tend to not over-plan these days. I tend to kind of coach more from the aspect of what do the athletes need to continue to move them towards the final goal of the season and their careers. I look at them and I try to be a little bit more free-flowing with the work that we put together. I change my plan much more often than I used to and I think that has made me a better coach and I think it has made our program better. I think that most of the best coaches in the country, when they tell you what they do, a lot of times they do not really even know what they do, they are just good. They just do it right. They do not know exactly why it works, but there are things that they do that they are not even aware of. That is that intuition that I think most great coaches have and that I would love to develop and I am trying to move towards that.

We are a developmental program that teaches fundamentals and I have to say this because I think that programs like mine, where we have 185 kids and we may take 5 kids to Nationals, we are a developmental program. We are developing young athletes and while we dabble in the elite on occasion, the bread and butter and the heart and soul of our program is the developmental side and we can never lose sight of how important those fundamentals are: technique obviously in how to train, how to race, how to approach the sport, how to set goals; all those things are super-important and we can never stop teaching those things and just assume that they know because these are kids.

You know, these are teenage and preteen kids and they don’t know. As fast as they are or as fast as they get, they need to keep being reminded of the fundamentals. Like I said: “we really emphasize proficiency in the 400 IM and 400 and 500 freestyle.” We have had a pretty good history in those events. I looked at our times from this year. We had four girls under 5 minutes in the 500 this season, that is fairly normal for us, one of which was under 4:40. One girl was 4:42. One girl was 4:53 and one girl was 4:54 and then we had a bunch right between 5:00 and 5:03. So, 5.00 is kind of an average 500 time in my group and those kids are not necessarily 500 swimmers, they might be 200 breaststrokers or 400 IM’ers or whatever, but because they are proficient in the 500 freestyle I think it gives them a background that just makes them better in whatever their event is. 400 IM same way.

I think erring on the side of training a little bit longer with your kids, you might have a great 100 freestyler. You know this kid is going to be a great freestyler, I think they need to be training in their teenage years around the 400 IM and 500 freestyle. This gives them the best shot at being successful and having the best career and we have had several swimmers that have had their first cut be the 1650 and have gone on to become NCAA finalists in the 100 freestyle or 200. There is something to that and I think there is a trend there. We emphasize well roundedness; everyone trains all four strokes with sprint, middle distance and distance training.

Once again, fundamentals, you are teaching them all the elements of swimming. Dry-land development is really important to us and I will get a little bit into our dry-land program a little later in the talk. Workouts are set up to hold an athlete’s focus and interest and when I talk to people and I often say, we are really not a distance program per se. We have had kids win Nationals in the 1650, etc. I don’t really see us being a distance program. We don’t do a whole lot of 10 x 1000’s and the traditional distance set that you think of when you think of great distance programs. We do them, but we just don’t overdo them. I think we do them, maybe, for a true distance athlete they might see this kind of work once a week or they might see it once every two weeks, but I think if it is done too often with most athletes, or the athletes that I have had anyway, they lose heart in that kind of training. It becomes not as intense as I would like.

Threshold training is boring to coach and to swim; that is obviously my 2 cents. I do not do a whole lot of straight twenty 200’s on 2:30, hold this; all of our work is done in some kind of a building fashion. We like to move through the different energy groups. I think it makes it more interesting and I think physiologically it is better for them. I think the transition between energy systems is something that is really important because that is what happens in a race. A race is not, you don’t dive in at 8 millimoles and finish at 8 millimoles. You know, we dive in at zero and we finish at 8 and so the transitions between all those energy systems are critical to address and all of our training is basically done in this kind of a fashion.

I will give you some examples of how we construct our sets and stuff. This is to me the most important sentence in my talk. I try to set up each training session with specific goals to be performed in a competitive atmosphere with consequences, accountability and rewards. That is how I try and structure our program. If I had to put it in one sentence, that is the nuts and bolts of the sets in the distances, and everything else is second fiddle to the three or the four elements that are comprised in this: 1) specific goals, 2) competitive atmosphere and 3) consequences, accountability and rewards, after the fact.

So, in terms of setting specific training goals we used I am going to talk about the things that we have been using as of late. We have been using the Urbanchek pace charts, which I think many of you are aware of and many of you use. I think this is one of the greatest gifts ever given to our swimming community is these pace charts. I think they are wonderful. We use them kind of sporadically and I have come to use them more and more and maybe not in the same capacity that Coach Urbanchek had originally intended. We tend to use these as theoretical goals. What I do at the beginning of the season is do a test, a traditional test, like a 3,000 for time or ten 300’s with 20 seconds rest for athletes who will give a better effort in that type of set. From there I basically use intuition to guide those charts through the season into where I think they need to be to achieve their goals so after that it is not reactionary to some sets that they did.

I basically look at all the work they did in the three or four week period between charts, look at the work and say, “okay, well where can they go?” “What is reasonable at this point?” Well, this kid, he is capable of dropping two full seconds I think, and his pace chart is per hundred. We have sometimes where that happens or it might be, this kid looked like they were going backwards, this four week period, we are going to keep the chart the same. I try, as best I can to push each athlete towards the charts that I think they need to have in order to be successful at the end.

IM pace charts: We do the same thing. I did that one a little different, I based it on IM best time, there is a tab on the bottom, for those of you that have Urbanchek’s pace charts. There is a tab on the bottom. They enter in the 400 IM time and then it spits out a bunch of paces and we use those charts for IM.

Video game training: This is something that we started doing a lot of this last year and I was a big fan of this. I thought this was awesome on a bunch of different levels. Essentially we took each set that we use these charts on and we assigned a point value to each color so I can give you an example: Let’s say we go 2 x 400 freestyles at white pace, 4 x 400 freestyles at red pace and 2 x 400 freestyles at blue pace or faster. The white pace might be worth one point, the red paces might be worth two points, the blue paces are worth three points and at the end of it, that is 16 points total. At the end of that we vocalize, what was your point score? Kids will give you a much more consistent effort when you are keeping score than if they are just trying to chase. They just kind of melt into the back of the practice and sometimes they are not giving you the effort and we have had a lot of success with consistency in training this way and it is hard. It is really hard because you are held accountable every day. You are going to have to vocalize the score and we will talk about that when we get to the consequences and accountability part.

Tempo trainers for speed work: I stole this, once again, from Steve Morsilli I have stolen a lot of things from him and I think he stole it from the University of Kansas’s coach which is taking tempo trainers, setting them to 12 ½ yards or meters and then using those when doing your pace work and I will give you an example of one of those tempo trainer sets later, but just real quickly, let’s say you are doing 1650’s. Three at 200 pace. One smooth and it might be on a three beat send-off so essentially we come up with what their 12 ½ pace is. We throw cones out on the bottom of the pool, they are doing 50’s. Trying to stay ahead of those beeps as they move down the pool and then when they come in at the end they rest two beeps and push off. We did pretty much all of our specific speed work this way. Once again, these little beeps throw these kids insane. If they didn’t hit the beep they were so upset. Whereas if it was just a time on the pace clock they go, alright, well, if it is within a second, if they don’t hit the beep it would really piss them off, I don’t know why, it is just a beep you know? But for some reason this worked for some kids. It really helped to push them to be more consistent and the other kind of benefit to this is that it really makes you build, especially when you get into longer paces.

Our distance kids would do hundreds with the tempo trainers set to 12 ½. We all know it is super easy to get to the first 12 ½ because you are pushing off the wall. It gets harder as you work down the pool, but one of the things I think we all try to do with our distance kids is to get them to even split when they are doing pace work. This is a great way to do it because then when they get to that second 50 they are really having to push to hit those 12 ½ meter paces as they work down their second lap in their 100 pace so I really felt like it helped us to be a little more even and gave us kind of an interesting way to do our speed work this last year.

Competitive Atmosphere: The second kind of essential pillar I think of is putting together good practices. Teaching kids how to compete to strive with. That is one of the things we teach is not to strive against. These are your teammates, we need to strive with them. You know, the ideal is to have two girls that swim the same event grinding it out in this great set, touch the wall and hug each other. If you can get an atmosphere where your kids can do that they are going to be way better. They are going to be able to work together much better and they are going to be much stronger when they go to competition.

That is not an easy thing to accomplish all the time, especially when you have real competitive swimmers. They are going to want to go at each other and sometimes there are hurt feelings. In meetings, we address it all the time. It is a constant theme in our program that we want you to be competitive with one another okay? But it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. This is a good thing folks. You are helping each other to be better. You know, you wouldn’t be as good pushing yourself if that person wasn’t there.

Organize practices to optimize that competition. When I think about my practices ahead of time, we are thinking about who is going to go where, who is going to go in what lane, how that is going to be set up. This last year, or the last 7 years, I have been working with Coach Doug Reyes who has now moved to Hawaii. Doug was really good about this. He would look out there and say, “We would be better if this kid was in this lane and this kid was in this lane.” We are thinking about that as we are doing the pre-sets, getting ready for the main set and then we move them around so that we can optimize the competition.

Team Scoring: We do a lot of things that are team scoring based and some of this I am going to talk about tomorrow because it is a little bit more appropriate for my talk on team building stuff, but tour is one thing I do. I stole that from Michael Collins, sitting in the third row here, at the University of California, Davis when he was there. During their Christmas training, every year, they do a bicycle tour race so basically all of our training during the Christmas time is split up into this bicycle tour race where every day is a different stage. They are on different teams. They are competing. The sprinters have a competition. The distance kids have a competition with everybody involved and everybody is there. Nobody wants to miss a practice over Christmas because then they are going to lose points for their team. This is one of the good things that we have done that has really helped us with that.

Black Red Meets: boys versus girls meets, etc., but like I said, we will talk a little bit more about that tomorrow.

Consequences, accountability and rewards: a workout log is a great way for them to hold themselves accountable. Every day we have our kids fill out a workout log. I would like to say that this is done perfectly by everybody in our group. Some kids have bought in and some kids have not. Some do a great job and it tends to be that your better swimmers, the ones that are a little more diligent and more academic, will do a better job on their workout logs. They get more out of it and then there are others that just scribble something out so that they can get in and train that day because I don’t let them train if they don’t have it and essentially we have them chart their nutrition, their sleep and how they did in that practice session. I want as much detail as possible and then I want them to give themselves a 1-10 grade on that practice. How do you scale that practice? What was that for you?

In the beginning of the season I collect them a lot so that we are all on the same page. A lot of times you would be amazed, you see a 4 and they think it was an 8, well, you guys were not on the same page. You need to get on the same page with your athlete there. The other thing I learned by doing workout logs was looking at the sleep logs and I was appalled at how little sleep these kids got and I am going to talk a little bit about that when we move forward and talk about our micro-cycles and what days we train. I basically changed my program because of the workout logs.

Commitment Partners: I am going to talk more about this tomorrow, but I wanted to mention that, we do 3 X 5 cards. They list their three goals for the season, all their keys to success on the back, they hand it to another person on the team who is their commitment partner for the remainder of the season and we do meetings throughout the season. They get up and talk about their commitment partners. Once again, a good team-building thing and another person to help hold them accountable.

Vocalize and record set results: I think it is really important at the end of sets that kids have to say, on that example I gave you where the top score is 16, I got 14 today you know? Which would be a dang good set or I got 0 today and we have that too. We had it happen where they were zero on that set and that set was done without that kind of point scoring; they would have gone home and written a 7 in their workout log. Yet they did not hit any paces. So, it is a tough system. It makes it hard. However, racing is hard too and there is going to be accountability when we go to swim meets. There might as well be accountability in practice to get used to that.

Recording test set results: I go back and forth on that. Some seasons I do a real great job. I used to record everything. I have recorded a lot less in the last year. We are going to record a few more sets this next year. I will send them out on email the next day so that not only the kids can see it, but the parents can see how they stack up, how much better they got.

Specific goals in training: Here is an example of Urbanchek’s pace chart and once again I think we have all seen this. In my opinion anything that provides a written goal is a valid motivational tool if used correctly. Anything written down, the kids will work much harder for something written on a piece of paper than if you just throw them in there and give them a percentage effort. Lets say 85% or 90% or something like that. This is the final pace chart for Alyssa Anderson prior to Olympic trials. This chart, we came up with in March. She was on her paces all the way through the season. This chart was very hard for her.

I think 1:01.6 is what her T-30 pace is on there, so for instance, going back to that same example, if we are going 2 x 400 freestyles white and then we are going 4 x 400 Free at red and then 2 x 400 at blue, she is looking at being 4:09. This is kind of getting into it the first two 400s. 3:57.4 for the middle four and then trying to be 3:55 flat or better on the last two and in all honesty, on that set, I think the best that she did was about 3:59’s on the middle four and 3:56 on the final two. So, she missed them by a little bit and it was not a real happy day for her because she wants that point. But the bottom line is this: without that pace chart she wouldn’t have given that level of effort. She probably would have been 4:01’s or 4:02’s like normal and would have been 3:58 or 3:57 on the last two. It gave us that extra second.

I really wanted to get her so that she was a lot closer to these paces and be able to be more successful with this chart. I think we needed another couple of months to be able to get to that point, but I thought this was the chart that she was going to need to achieve in order to make the Olympic team.

This is a typical micro-cycle for us between September and May and there is a lot of variation in it. I didn’t want to spell out everything that we do. It would just get real dry and real long, but this is kind of in a nutshell what it would normally look like. Essentially, we go endurance type training on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons with specific emphasis on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and also on Saturday mornings. Those are heavy endurance days where they are alternating between IM, specialty and freestyle. If they are distance freestylers on those specialty days, that would be the day you would see something like 10 x 1,000, 6 x 1650, or 10x 500. Something a little bit over distance for them.

Wednesday, which is typically a speed day, would start off with more short rest oriented things in the beginning of the season. It ends up being a lot of 1:1 work rest ratio stuff. I think for teenage distance swimmers; 1:1 work rest ratio stuff is extremely important and I guess that is EN3 by the scientists’ standards. Then SP1 type stuff for athletes that are a little bit more speed-oriented. An example of that EN3 stuff might be 20 x 100 on 2 minutes or something like that.

Friday we do games. I think it is really important to have something to look forward to on Friday at the end of the week. They are pretty whooped by that point and we tend to play soccer, we play dodge ball, we play basketball, speed ball is a great game. If you have never played that and they love it and they work hard. I mean: they run, they are sweating, they are moving around and I think it is a real positive thing and once again, they really look forward to that. Then we will get in and we will do our endurance set for the day, but that is typically a shorter practice – somewhere around 5 or 6,000. A normal practice in the afternoon for us is about 9,000.

Saturday’s: I always go a Saturday morning from 6:30 – 9:30 and then I throw in Saturday afternoons where I think they are needed. When we do a Saturday afternoon, that practice is almost always warm-up and it is something really fast, get up on the blocks, going fast. It is usually broken out into some type of team environment, so I can really get the most out of them and they can really get up and go. If I feel like we don’t really need the extra practice we will combine that kind of work in the morning and do that in our three-hour session.

Here is what it looks like June to August and we switch it around a little bit because it gets so hot in our area. We do our primary training in the morning. We come back and we actually add an afternoon and I do a lot more technique type work. I didn’t mention the mornings, here; technique, pulling, kicking, it is all long course. Anything we do in the mornings all year long is long course. Anything we do in the afternoons is all short course, so over the course of the year our work is probably about 30% long course and 70% short course. We go back and forth between all four strokes in those morning sessions. It might be backstroke on Tuesday, breaststroke on Thursday or an occasional butterfly, but I do not do a whole lot of butterfly long course. We typically do that in the afternoons and kind of intersperse it short course. Pulling, really hard kicking. Tuesdays and Thursdays are always a very big kicking emphasis and we really work their legs there. They kick in pretty much every practice, but those Tuesday/Thursday kick sets are big and they are fast and we are trying to get everything out of them that we can with their legs and at certain times of the season we are pulling hard, but not always, it just depends.

June through August: Very similar, the only real change is that we add an afternoon. We do a lot more technique work by adding that extra afternoon. I do a lot more starts. We do turns. We do filming. We do 50 meter dive sprints and things like that, which may be a little contrary to what a lot of people do during the long course season. I just take advantage of the fact that it is daylight. We are going short course in our secondary workout, so we use the walls. We use the blocks and try and take advantage of that during that time.

I want to talk a little bit about our approach to goal setting because I think it is important. Not just for distance athletes, but for all athletes. Goal strategies that work during a dramatic improvement can sometimes hurt an athlete during plateaus. I believe this or I have come to believe this, that goals for most athletes are primarily served in practice. They need to set goals. We have an extensive goal-setting practice where they fill out a big three page document, listing their goals, things that they want to accomplish. We take that and we talk about it. We have a goal meeting. We plug it into the practice session. That is how I come up with their pace charts. In the last few weeks before we go to swim meets we try and get away from those goals because in my mind, the horses are in the barn at that point. Goals for most kids, not all, some of them need them right up to the time they get on the block. However, I think most people are much more relaxed and they race better when they are not overly focused on this. They are thinking about the process, about getting ready, getting their minds in the right spot so that they can get up on the blocks to give the best effort that they are capable of so for most kids we tend to wander away from goals as we get closer to the competition.

Dry-land: Pre-workout routine; we do a pre-workout routine Monday through Friday in the afternoons from 3:35 to 4:00. Essentially, that is sit-ups, therapy exercises with the bands; like preventative stuff and stretching. We ask them to do that every day. The benefit to that is that they do not have to warm-up as much when we get in the pool. When we get in the pool we warm-up a 200 and that is it, but this is what we do for our pre-workout. Post-workout routine we have done all kinds of things. Anything that you can imagine: medicine balls, plyometrics, everything. This last year is I hired a personal trainer to work with the swimmers, working with the boys on Mondays and Wednesdays and the girls on Tuesdays and Thursday. The personal trainer put together a really good program that was kind of more focused around the stability type exercises, core training. It incorporated Olympic lifts, teaching them how to do Olympic lifts. Nothing heavy, but it taught them how to lift, how to do a squat. All that kind of stuff, which I think, was the hole in our program before because they would do that in college.

My college kids would always tell me the same thing, “Swim practices I can handle those, I get killed in the weight room.” “I am getting killed, I can’t do this you know”? And I can just imagine if they are in their second week in college and they are sore already – that they are not being taught how to do these lifts properly and then I worry about whether they are going to get injured or not, so I ask that you incorporate some of that education into that, which he did.

Some bench mark sets: I do not know who invented the steak dinner set. It has been around, does anybody know? Bill Rose, do you know who invented the steak dinner set? You have heard of it before, right? Steak dinner set was a concept that I learned in a clinic somewhere. I do not know who to attribute it to, but it is something that we do every year and they look forward to it. 23 x 100 on 5 minutes, long course meters. Anybody who makes the set gets to go out to a steak dinner with me. They love this set. I don’t know why they love it. I do not think they really want to go out to dinner with me that badly. I think that they look forward to the tradition of the set. The fact that it is coming. They know that it is coming. They can kind of rub it in the faces of the younger kids that haven’t done it before. How hard it is going to be, etc., etc. Last year we had five kids make this. Two of them were girls. We went out to dinner, it was great. We had a meeting and I asked them about some of the things that they thought were important in our last season so I added it.

This is one of the sets that I stole from Rick Curl that he used with Tom Dolan: 30 x 100s, short course yards. We typically do this. 10 on 1:40, 10 on 1:30, 10 on 1:20. For the guys I tend to like to see them at a thousand pace or faster and for the girls about 500 pace or faster. Maybe that is an error on my part and why we don’t have as fast boys as we do girls. I have struggled to get guys to go 500 pace on this set where I seem to be able to get more girls to do it. I am not sure why? I think it is a great set and if you can get your kids to be successful in this set, then I think they are going to go on and they are going to do great things in the mile and in distance swimming. Alyssa Anderson is an example, she averaged 55 on this set. We have had, Erin Reilly, back from Cal, 6 or 7 years ago with 57 flats or 56.9’s, Stephanie Cota was 57 flat. Haley Anderson was 57.5 and these are all athletes that were fairly elite level distance swimmers.

20 x 100s, five in each stroke in 2 minutes. I love this set. I mean, it is kind of like, we all have these sets that we would love to do more often, but we just don’t for variety sake. But I love 20 x 100’s, five in each stroke on 2 minutes. I think it is a great IM predictor set. We add up the times, obviously they are not going to be identical to the split that they are going to get, but I think when you add them altogether, you are pretty darn close to what you are going to see in a 400 IM when they do race. So they get real excited about this set. There is enough time in between the repeats for them to cheer for each other. We usually have really good energy and I always enjoy that one.

Motivational Tools: 40 Club. This came out of a conversation I had with Jeff Pease at North Coast Aquatics. We were lamenting the poor training of some of our boys and why our boys were not on par with our girls. We were talking about what we have had with the boys that have been successful and the thing that we kind of came up with is, what you start to see is the boys are training in the 40’s all the time so if they are going, if they are a hundred freestyler and they are going eight 100’s they are holding 40 something, right? 49, 48, something like that. If they are 500 freestylers and they are pushing 300’s they are somewhere in the 2:40’s. If they are training for the mile maybe they are going 1000s in practice. They are down in at least the 9:40’s and so we formed this club within our program called the 40 Club. I made up a bunch of T-shirts that say “40” on the back. Anybody that goes on a designated 40 club set, anybody that goes in the 40’s gets a T-shirt. I think to this point in the last two years we have had three or four individuals that have done that. I wish it were a lot more. I think it is an important part of getting kids to go fast in this kind of work.

Swim to Bowl: I threw it up here because the kids mentioned it as a real important set last year. They were dog-dead tired and in Spring we had been doing a lot of work and we did that 20 x 100 set with 5 in each stroke. By achieving what I told them is: that 50% of you have to be underneath your 400 IM time and I am looking at them. I mean, it was just one of those days you just know you are going to get a low energy workout if you do not do something drastic. So this was the drastic, because I hate watching uninspired work. If it were going to be uninspired work, I would rather give them a workout off.

When we come onto the pool deck. we want it to be inspired. I want it to be intense so I threw out this reward for them. I think it was 16 of the 18 kids that day achieved their 400 time and we went bowling the next day. These are just little examples or ideas.

Team Challenges: I already mentioned we do a lot of those.

Distance Racing: This is kind of my philosophy. Everybody is a little different. How you split a distance race is different for most athletes. This is primarily what we teach in the 400 free: I like to see around a two second fade. So if you are going to go 4:06 I want to see 2:02 to 2:04 and we train for that. 800 freestyle is even. The 1500 freestyle; I like to see the 500’s descending. The 400 IM they are negative splitting their last three 100s with a second 50 faster than the first. I do not think that there is anything revolutionary there.

One thing I will say is that I made a mistake I think this summer, with Alyssa at the Olympic trials in the 400 freestyle. In the morning, like we all are at that meet, we are feeling a little nervous. I know she is a little nervous. We are a little nervous about her getting back and I told her I wanted her to really push the first 200 which is a little bit outside of what she normally does. When she went 4:11 last summer to get third at Summer Nationals, she was 8th at the 200 and split the race 2:04 – 2:06, which I thought was perfect. Everybody else was out way too fast in my opinion and I think that by saying the wrong thing to her I got her out too fast. She did go 4:09, which was a best time, but the race was extremely uncomfortable for her. It was way outside the realm of what she is used to doing. In retrospect, that was a mistake. You do not go to a big meet and have them race a different way than they have raced all season. I wish I could take that one back and do it a little bit better in the morning because I think it hurt her at night. She came in and had her highest lactate she has ever had in her whole life and if you have ever seen Alyssa Anderson, she only weighs about 130 pounds and that girl was 13 millimoles after the 400 freestyle in the morning. We didn’t need to be that high. She could have been 4:12 and made the final. We didn’t need to do that to her and that was a big mistake on my part. Anyway, the frequency of the 800 and 1500 meets, I have got to be honest when I say we are not a distance team. I do not have very many athletes that love to go swim the 1500. They just don’t.

My best kid, Alyssa, I will give you another Alyssa Anderson example. Going into December last year, we were going to the short course Nationals and she comes up the week before and starts to play the “let’s make a deal game” which she plays with me all the time. “You know Jeff, I really don’t want to swim the mile at Nationals.” “Why is that?” “Well, I don’t like it.” “Okay, well you know you are good in it and it would maybe be a good event to swim and you know we should really think this through” and so I said, okay, “we will make a deal.” Tell you what and this is a 1650, I am sorry, because it was short course. I said, you only have to swim one 1650 this season, because I knew that we were not swimming any other short course meets that year. And she said, okay. And I said, “well, this is your only opportunity” and then that was it, that was the end of the conversation.

She swam the 1650 at Nationals and she won. She won it from the heats. She went 15:58. Haley was 5th I believe, either 5th or 6th at 16:18, but Haley likes it a little bit more, or at least tolerates the mile. I will tell you, I do not have very many athletes that just love it and so to subject them to it all the time when they don’t like it I think is just going to drive them further and further away from it. I don’t require my athletes that are really distance-oriented, even someone that you know is a National champion to swim it more than three or four times a year. I do not know whether that is right or wrong, it is just what we do in working with the individuals that I have worked with.

I think that that has been beneficial in that that event is still fresh for them when they do stuff on the blocks and do it. So, for my kids, I just don’t have them do these races every single meet. They mix it up, like I said; they are all training in all four strokes so a lot of them have different events to swim in and by not focusing on this all the time I thinks it makes them better when it is time to get up and really go.

Just real quickly on warming-up distance swimmers. I think it is really important that you bridge the heart rate between their warm-up stuff and their pace. You know, I hear about different kids warm-up and a lot of times it doesn’t integrate any kind of threshold level warm-up and I don’t know why you would do that. As a distance swimmer, when I was distance swimming I had to have something with heart rate in my warm-up before I went over and tried to pace. I couldn’t go from 120 heart rate to 160 or 170 heart rate without having some 150 or 160 in there somewhere in the warm-up period so I think it is real important that number one, the warm-up is long enough. We err on the side of going a little bit longer.

Doing another thousand with a kid that trains 65 or 70,000 yards/meters a week is not going to make them tired. It is going to make them better. It is going to get them warmed up. How many kids do you have that have their best repeat in practice ten minutes into it or at their best ten or fifteen minutes into it. You know, I think the warm-up process takes a little bit longer so we tend to do about 2500 to 3000. They usually do between 8 and 12 hundred of threshold level swimming. I guess like somewhere in that 160 heart rate range and I just have them take heart rates on that. There is no time emphasis to it, shorter warm-downs for true distance kids. Here is a little carrot; this is the only benefit to being a distance kid right here. You can warm-down a little bit shorter. If they are true distance kids and you have had them tested, most of them are, clear within 10 or 15 minutes and some of them aren’t. Most of them are so a lot of times we will do a little bit longer warm-downs with our sprint kids, a little bit shorter warm-downs with our distance kids. That is the only thing they really love about being distance kids some days.

Preparation for peak performance: We do not really call it taper. I wrote taper down here because I know that is what everybody calls it. We call it preparation for peak performance because taper means slow, easy and lazy usually to my kids. We just stopped using the word. It is a bad word in our program so the importance of endurance training during taper and finishing with an aerobic emphasis. I don’t know if this is something different that we do. Maybe other people do this, but it is something that I have come to appreciate and understand and see as a benefit that we schedule our heaviest anaerobic work about four to five weeks out of a major meet and we go back into an aerobic cycle before we actually take them to a meet and rest. What I have found is that when you do that you do not need to rest them like true taper where they are getting in, they warm-up, they do some pace, they get out. You only need to do that for two or three days and they are ready to go and that aerobic – that touch with that hard aerobic work is still there and they are able to get up on the blocks and finish very well. When I have tried to back my anaerobic work up to the meet, I have found that they have too much speed on the front end. There is not enough speed on the back end and they do not swim quite as strongly. So, that is something that we have changed with our distance swimmers that I think has made us good, or better, I should say.

Here are a couple of workouts just so you can see and these are not, these are just kind of indicative of normal type workouts that we do. I know some of you may not be able to see this; I will read it off here. Like I said, we warm-up a 200. I found that any more than that is a complete waste of time. They are grabbing each other; they are sitting on the wall; they are stretching; they are playing around; you just start wasting minutes so we get in and do a 200 warm-up. I don’t really care if they do it or not because then we get started on the work. 18 x 75’s fly kick. The four workout examples that I chose, the kicking was on the front end of the workout. We put it all over the place, but for whatever reason, the four workouts I chose it just happened to be on the front end, but that is not indicative of what we do all the time. So, 18 x 75’s fly kick on their back, kicking out to three black lines under water. 12 x 150’s on 2:10 IM switch, just getting warmed up for IM.

Here is the main set: 2 – 4 – 2. I already gave you this pattern for a freestyle set, we use it for both. 2 on 5:15 IM white, 4 red and then 2 blue and this was the pace chart set, maximum score 16. 8 x 250’s on 3:05 freestyle pulling, Descending 1 to 4 on a breathing pattern. Then 8 x 25’s ending with an underwater kick relay where they are kicking, they are doing shooters under the water in a relay fashion. Kind of fun. Kind of fast you know, good stuff. 4 x 100s recovery on 1:20.

Here is the second example: 200 warm-up. 2 x 400’s kicking on the front end, just still kind of warming up the legs. 8 x 150’s on 2:15 (75 drill/ 75 swim). So once again, just pre-sets, getting warmed up.

Here is the main set: 100 freestyle on 1:30 and actually this one was done short course yards. So, 1 x 100 on 1:30 moderate and then 1 x 300 on 3:30 white, 1 x 100 on 1:30 moderate; 2 on 3:30 pink; 1 on 1:30 moderate and then 3 red; 1 x 100 moderate; 3 red; 1 x 100 moderate; 2 blue; 1 x 100 moderate; 1 purple. Once again, this was another scoring type set that we use. Assigning point values to the different colors. 12 x 100’s backstroke pull; 16 x 25’s alternating smooth. Pace 100 minus .5 on the way back so they have to get their times and be .5 faster than an average 25 pace for their 100 goal. We end with fast stuff all the time. I think it is really good for distance swimmers to end with speed work. I think for whatever reason, it just seems to work. I think doing speed work towards the end is a good thing for distance kids. I tend to do it a little bit more towards the beginning with more sprint-oriented kids.

Another set, I am just going to skip over all the pre stuff and this is kind of a staple of our speed work for the last, maybe 12 weeks. Going into Olympic trials, we did 20 x 100’s; 4 at 800 pace and one smooth. This is with tempo trainers, set to 12 ½ and we did this and charted this and did it nearly every Saturday that we didn’t have a swim meet as we worked toward Olympic trials. Now, I think this was a really important set for these kids to get up and go and they got significantly better on this in the last nine weeks as we got closer.

Another set: 400 free, 5 x 100’s on 1:05 at 500 pace. 500 free, 4 x 100’s on 1:10 at 400 IM pace, Another really good set, the kind of work that we do. Some days are IM, some days are free, some days are free/ IM mix, but looking at trying to get to 500 freestyle pace and 400 IM pace there. 3 x 800’s freestyle pull, negative split and then eight 25’s on a minute dive. 50 meter sprints, with the tempo trainers so we gave each kid a goal to 16 meters and had their tempo trainers set to that. They take their mark, on the beep they go. They try to get to 50 meters by the next beep. Just trying to teach them to be a little bit faster to 15 meters because in all honesty, we are not very good with that. That is all I have.

Q: How many swim meets do you go to in short course and how many swim meets do you go long course?

A: It depends on the season, but I would say 50/50.

Q: I mean in a season?

A: In a season, like how many? We go to a swim meet about once a month. Once a month is about what I am comfortable with. There are some times where there might be two. Summer gets a little bit impacted obviously. You might see two in one month, but it averages about one swim meet a month.

Q: How much warm-down you do in practice?

A: That is a great question and I am glad you asked it and the answer is I do about 300-400, but I don’t know whether it is necessary or not. Here is my question back to you, why do we warm-down from practice? You know, what is our goal when we train them? Well, our goal is to get the biggest metabolic response that we can. We are working them hard. Why do we want to clear that out if we can keep that going while they get out of the pool? How many weight lifters warm down from their weight lifting sessions? You know, they walk out all pumped up, right? Walk out of their weight lifting sessions, a lot of what happens to a weight lifter happens once they leave the gym and I think a lot of what happens for our swimmers happens when they leave the pool. Actually, this year we are going to experiment with a little bit heavier anaerobic stuff on the end a couple of days a week and then I am going to just let them go. I do not know whether it is right or wrong, but we are going to try it and maybe some day I will let you know. So, the answer is we do typically warm-down just a little bit, but I think that maybe it is not; maybe we shouldn’t be warming down at practice.

Maybe we shouldn’t be warming-down at end of season swim meets when it is more of a training emphasis. Maybe we should teach them to swim when they are all torn up and high lactate. One thing that I have observed is our kids swim extraordinarily well during the high school season and one of the reasons that I think that is and we all attribute it to the psychological factor where they are swimming for their school and its fun and you know, they like it. It is comfortable for them to get up to high school Sectionals and get to be a big dog and I think that contributes, but I think part of it is they go to these dual meets through the year and there is nobody standing over them making them warm-down and for training emphasis, maybe that is a good thing. Maybe that makes them better. I mean, how many of our kids go really fast in May for no discernable reason whatsoever. We haven’t trained them to be fast in May. We are trying to get ready for summer, yet they are lights out in May and may be faster than they were in March.

I think part of that may just be the amount of racing that they are doing in these dual meets and the fact that they don’t warm-down. Maybe they are getting a bigger metabolic response from those dual meets than we give them in practice with our speed work because we warm them down right away. Long answer to a short question, sorry.

Q: What do you do if you have a swimmer who you know not consistant in workout attendance and doesn’t even come close to those school times?

A: That is a great question and the difficult part is that when you get into a system like this and there is that accountability, you have got to be really creative with the kids that aren’t there for whatever reason. Maybe they are recovering from an injury or they are suffering through a plateau. You have got to be really creative with that. The thing about creating their charts for them is you have control of their chart so maybe you dial their chart back. Or not push them forward. You have just got to get creative with it or you just put them in another lane and give them another set that doesn’t have that kind of accountability to it, but that is, it is always a danger when you put those parameters on those practices that they may not make it and fail and they are going to have to deal with that and you are going to have to deal with it so, but I would rather them know in season whether they are there or not than have it be guess work when they get to the swim meet. They should know. When they get on the block, the kids that have done the work should know they have done it and feel confident and they are ready to go.

Q: (Inaudible)
A: In the fall we do open water swimming every Friday and that starts next Friday for us. We host an open water race at the end of September. I was an open water swimmer, and I loved it. I found it very difficult to incorporate into what we do because there are only so many months a year that you can do it. I really look up to the coaches that have been able to be successful in both because to me, it is like coaching two different sports at the same time and trying to manage all of that. So, we do it to introduce them to it. I haven’t been as successful as I would like to get kids really motivated to really take that next step and try and swim at the nationals, etc., but we are working on it

Q: (Inaudible)
A: We only go eight practices a week, between 8 and 9. I used to do 10 and I meant to hit on this, but I passed it up. When I looked at their sleep logs, I found that they were only getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night. I was having a moral dilemma trying to justify whether to continue to train them when I knew they are only developing athletes, kids that are growing and are getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep. We took a big jump and we cut out two of our morning practices and went two mornings a week. I don’t think we do a lot of training sessions so we basically work hard in every session. The one wild card session that we have a week is Thursday. Thursday, I do what I think we need and if I feel like we need to recover, then we will recover. However, it is not very often where that practice doesn’t have some element of intensity in it. Because we are doing different energy systems I think you can do a lot of work with these kids and continue to get better, They don’t need to have a lot of recovery workouts in there. If I do feel like they really need it individually, I might just give them a workout off or tell them to take a weekend off, etc. Usually when we come to the pool, we are going to swim pretty much as fast as we can within the parameters of the set.

Thank you folks.

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