Distance Training of Fran Crippen by Richard Shoulberg (2001)


I first want to show you a video of the three summer clubs that I rent and also Germantown Academy’s six-lane twenty-five yard pool. In the wintertime we rent maybe twelve hours for long course at the University of Pennsylvania on different weekends just for a change of scenery and to get some long-course training in. If you are looking at a yearly plan, forty weeks out of the year we train ninety-nine percent at Germantown Academy in a six-lane twenty-five yard pool. In the summertime the senior group only does dry land at G.A.


During my summer schedule we practice Monday through Friday from 6:00-9:00 a.m. and 1:00-3:00 p.m. and do dry land from 3:15-4:15 p.m. Saturday we swim four hours and Sunday we do stroke work. Dave Wharton always trained on Sundays, Trina Radke never ever swam a Sunday in all her years at G.A. and Erica Hansen did technique only on Sunday. Those three athletes made the ’88 Olympic Team. Fran uses Sundays as a technique day and Maddy uses Sunday as a race/technique day. So, everyone is individualized in his or her training and I think that is the key to my program.


In the wintertime on weekdays they do some type of dry land 6:00-6:35 a.m. and they only swim for seventy minutes. Some try to go over 5,200 yards in the seventy minutes and I incorporate each and all four strokes in every practice we train. In the school year they do forty-five minutes of some form of land work and swim two hours and fifteen minutes and they approach about 10,400 yards. In the wintertime Saturdays are our big day. We train from 7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. all in the water-aerobic based training and some Saturdays we go over 20,000 yards with no trouble at all. Fortunately or unfortunately it is the same amount of work I have been doing for at least the last twenty-five years. I have never repeated a practice. At the end of each day’s practice I analyze it on Hy-Tek before I design the next practice. I have always coached my athletes on individual training cycles and try to manipulate those cycles to be more effective during the season. This involves looking at twelve practices making some optional and some technique for the majority of them. I always study training cycles and if I see them going off their normal patterns then I have them communicate with me and talk about a bad report, nutrition, outside stresses, team pressures, relationships at home, or relationships with team members that are affecting their daily training cycles. When I see that they are training really well, usually what happens is the conversation will be I did really well in my tests, my relationship with my family is awesome, I am happy with the way things are going. What I try to do is always encourage them to be prepared in the classroom even if it means giving up a practice or a partial practice. Outside stresses really affect their daily training in my opinion.


I now want to single Fran out. His training cycle mirrors the majority of my great athletes. He came through our age group program. In the fall he played soccer, winter he played basketball, spring baseball and summer he swam for his local summer club. He probably trained about three or four days a week about an average of ninety minutes per practice. He worked on all four strokes everyday. In April and May he got to know Coach Shoulberg through Mirai. Mirai is a group I started years ago that my night coaches, who rely on, select about fourteen athletes between the ages of ten to fourteen who may not be the fastest in the program, but love to train. They swim with me four out of five afternoons where they will start to learn our sets that are abstracted from our senior program. I want them to get the whole concept of our program, but it is only for sixty minutes with me and then a second sixty minutes of stroke work if they have the time to stay with my assistant coaches. Out of this Mirai program there have been over five kids make the Olympic Team. I insist that prior to puberty that kids are exposed to all sports and that their lives are not dominated by swimming only and there is nothing wrong with an athlete choosing soccer over swimming. What is wrong is when a coach forces an athlete into their sport for their benefit not for the love of the sport or the athlete. I have found that all my great swimmers had a real passion for excellence in swimming. They have come through our age group program and attribute that success to exposing them to as many sports as they want and encouraging them to participate in those sports.


Here’s where the hard work comes in at G.A. Usually the boys start in ninth grade and a few girls in seventh or eighth, but the majority begin in ninth grade. Maddy was ninth grade and Fran was ninth grade. They fully commit to the sport in ninth grade and they have a passion for excellence then. Ninth grade is a particularly hard year for my boys. They have to learn to adjust to upper school demands, five or six majors and if the student excels academically he or she is put in the hardest possible academic tract at our school not the easiest academic tract for swimming. I guess the thing that I do the best with our school swimmers is I can monitor and address problems daily. The disadvantage I have with club swimmers is it is hard for me to get that daily contact with their administrators, advisors or teachers. It is also hard when they are trying to please their high school coach during the high school season. My first Olympian, Karen Laberge in the 400 I.M. in 1980 had an ideal situation. She had a Chemistry teacher as her high school coach who allowed her to follow our workouts in the morning at the local “Y.” I would not allow her to drive down to G.A. and then back to school. I made her go to the local pool.


Also when they are in ninth grade they do a major jump in yardage. They add morning practice, which they don’t do prior to ninth grade. They add a rigorous dry land program. I allow them to go to the weight room Tuesday and Thursday 6:00-6:35 for some playtime. Social time for kids is really beneficial. I have a volunteer coach, a tri-athlete whose payoff is he is allowed to swim with the masters for free seven days a week as long as he works with the athletes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We have a circuit in the weight room and we allow our sprinters to work toward heavy lifting, but I think the strength of our program is the buckets, which teaches stroke awareness and builds power, strength and endurance in the water. I would never give up the buckets program. On land we have nine Vasa trainers, which is for the money the best piece of equipment and with no maintenance involved, parametric blocks, six bio-kinetic benches that are a maintenance nightmare but a wonderful tool, three Stairmasters, two rowing machines and a graviton machine, and a whole series of medicine balls. We also do a tremendous amount of work with the Watermark weight belts and we rope climb. We have nine spin bikes and some of the athletes use them three days a week with an instructor and some use them two days a week with an instructor and some use the spin bikes on their own. I am starting my thirty-third year coaching and for the last thirty-two allow parents to swim free. I give them a lane or two for fifty minutes every day for free. In return, they have shared in the purchase of some of the equipment for the dry land program.


(Copies of the last three years of Fran’s practices in the distance group that will show the total volume of work and will show the percentage of fly, back, free, breast, I.M. kicking and pulling.)


The other thing I really really believe in is changing speeds and paces. Some of my favorite sets are 1 x 4000 x 4300, 1 x 6000 x 6400, 1 x 9000 x 9600 – they will hold a set pace for 100, changed speed on the next 100. So an example would be 100 at 75 sec., 100 at 65 sec., 100 at 80 sec., all out race 100 and repeat that for a 4,000 or 6,000, or 9,000. Using a sophisticated heart monitor in the early to late ’80s on a regular basis, I saw the heart rate when they came off that real fast 100. I have them maintain almost the same heart rate at a slower swim speed. So I equate them with maintaining high heart rate through the total swim but resting the limbs, meaning the arms and legs at an easier pace I also felt that this type of training really teaches the athletes pace and the secret to this type of training is whatever I ask them to hold for the total time (100 yards) that time was divisible by four. So each twenty-five should be the same time. I also do a lot of over-distance training by incorporating I.M.s. For example, a 200 fly and 300 free, a 200 back and a 300 free, a 200 breast and a 300 free and a 200 I.M. and a 300 free. By breaking it up that way the athletes seem to enjoy over-distance training.


All of my great IMers also were great distance swimmers. Karen Laberge a 1980 Olympian at sixteen was 1st in the world in 1500 meter free in 1981. Erica Hansen who was third at the Olympic Trials in 1984 at fourteen years of age and then went on to make the ’88 and ’92 Olympic Teams at fifteen years of age swam her 1650 yards time in 16:14. Trina Radke who made the Olympic Team at sixteen in 1988 swam it in 16:17 when she was fifteen years of age. Dave Wharton who made two Olympic Teams first at seventeen years of age and then again at twenty-one and was the silver medallist in ’88, broke his first world record in ’87 while still in high school and Jeff Prior who was a gold medallist at the Pan Pacs while still in high school never swam a 1650 for our program because of the format of events, but I know their times would have been very, very fast. Dave went 8:10 once in an 800 meter free.


In closing I would like to say I have never had a closed practice in my forty plus years of coaching. Administrators, parents and everyone are welcome. I love when coaches stop in and spend time on deck during a practice. I find I learn a lot about the sport with open dialogue with experienced or inexperienced coaches and I would love it if any of you can come visit at GA anytime.


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