I am Dick Shoulberg, Coach of Germantown Academy and Germantown Academy Aquatic Club and the young man right below me had a tremendous influence on our program and what I really liked about Vern was I could call him any time – that was way before email – and ask him questions and he was always open to help our program and I know that he will do the same for you. He has had a great influence on world swimming and I know he comes from other sports, but it gives me great pleasure to introduce Vern today.
[This PowerPoint Presentation can be downloaded at the members only section of www.swimmingcoach.org. Portions are also included at the end of this article A handout is also included at the end of the article.]
Good morning. How is everybody doing today? I will tell you guys that swimming coaches are absolutely amazing. I love swimming. It really is one of my favorite sports. It is absolutely incredible to think that you could get more than about ten coaches up at 6:30 in the morning. Now all of you from the east coast have been up since 4 so it is no problem. I have to chuckle because I have spent a fair bit of time in professional sports and baseball – if this were baseball – actually people would be coming in right now from last night you know and maybe stop by and stick their head in or something like that. I got a lot of stuff I want to cover with you today and that is fine.
I am just reading this really interesting book on presentations and they said the whole point is not what I want to cover, it is what you want so – the talk – and you can see from your handout – is broken into about four parts. I think what I would like to do, the way I would like to structure it is there are some logical places there for questions along the way rather than try to defer all the questions until the end. And I think we will – for you to grasp some of the ideas that would be a lot better way to go. I am going to be a little bit hampered in terms of demonstrating, because they are recording this and it is not a wireless mike so be patient with me. I am not the most coordinated person in the world. If I start to hang myself – somebody rescue me.
I am going to present some dry-land training ideas. It was 17 years ago that I first got the opportunity to speak at ASCA in Washington, DC in 1990. I was still working for the White Sox and there were a lot of people there. I was really kind of shocked and I think people were wondering, what the hell is this guy going to talk about. One of the things that Dick alluded to is I have had the opportunity in my 38 year coaching career to work with just about every major sport that we know in North America and some that we do not know and I think one of the terrific advantages that has given me is that I am not thinking swimming, I am not thinking baseball, I am not thinking football or a quarterback or whatever. I am always thinking about movement and I think if you can get in that mindset a little bit it will be helpful — that we are going to look at movement. We are going to look at movement in a different environment and what can we do to enhance movement, rather than make – right away – a better swimmer. We will make a better swimmer if we do that.
My contact information is in the handout and I do a blog every day. I have a new book out. I would like to try to retire at 70, maybe, or have the option to. I will be doing a book signing I think at 9 o’clock at the Human Kinetics booth – so that is the end of the commercial announcements. I want to thank Perform Better – they are the sponsor that brought me here and I will spend whatever time I need to at that booth too, so you can go there and see some of the demo stuff – it will be easier to do there too, so we can do that.
I do not want to start out on a sad note, but I guess it is a bit sad – this was Scott Daniels, the decathathlete that I coached and he died of leukemia in 2006. He was just a great young man and anytime somebody in the prime of their life dies it is real sad and I wanted to dedicate the talk to Scott, because this is the first talk that I have given in California since Scott died. He would have been here this morning – he would be demonstrating – I wish he was.
I would like to acknowledge Jim Richardson and the Michigan women swimmers and I want to take a minute and kind of explain this whole thing. I just got back from Ann Arbor this last weekend and spent four days there and usually it is this week that I am there, so this is the fifth year working with Jim and their program and it has been a tremendous opportunity for me. For Jim to open up and let me have an opportunity and I think that if you look at the success they have had, it is not because of the dry-land. It is because of what Jim as done with the swimmers day to day in terms of integrating the dry-land in the water. If there is a theme that I want to hammer home today it is that if you don’t work hard as a swim coach to integrate the dry-land with the water training you are not going to get the optimum benefit.
The optimum benefit is to do what? It is to swim fast when it counts. That is what your whole goal is and I think that the commitment that Jim has made shows the results. We had a tremendous week last week and when you do a program year after year after year now for five years you can constantly fine-tune. We can add elements that we can do with the Michigan program that some of you just can’t do. I am working with another collegiate program right now and it is their first year and we just can’t do some of the stuff because training is accumulation from year to year. Jim will be here today so you can talk to him because he has lived it. One of my wishes is to spend, I don’t know if I want to do this every morning, but I would like to be day to day on the pool deck with the swimmers. Then I really can manipulate all the variables and make adjustments and that. Jim has done a great job of that and you know, thanks Jim – I appreciate it.
First of all, let’s identify a couple of problems and detours along the road that we might face and I think you all face the same things that I face today. And it is not just the US, I just spent a month in Australia in May and I have spent some time in Europe and in England this last year and everybody is saying the same thing. Here is one of our #1 problems – I show this at every opportunity I get. [Vern shows a slide of an escalator leading up to a fitness club.] First I have to tell you an even better story: The day before yesterday I go to get a blood test and in the foyer of the building where I go to get the blood test you walk right in and there is an elevator. I mean you cannot miss the elevator and I always remember this slide now and I am about two pounds over my college football playing weight so I am trying to be a little more cognizant of some exercise so I walk over to the stairs and I look up and prominently displayed is a sign on the wall says, “Consult your doctor before you climb the stairs” and I thought first of all, I just got done seeing a doctor that didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, excuse me. Secondly, I am thinking that doctors do not know squat about exercise if you really know the truth. That is one of the reasons we are where we are. I don’t mean no disrespect for you doctors out there but you are not trained in exercise. You are trained in disease. So we have got all these constraints and that is one of the biggest constraints.
Now, we have this – Hamburger Man. The newest issue of Scientific American – get it. I read it on the plane yesterday. I was taken aback because the statistics in regard to the rise in obesity. We know that – but this is a 15-20 year situation. Twenty-five to thirty years ago we didn’t have this problem and it is all something that you are all going to deal with. You deal with day to day with the athletes that you work with and we deal with in terms of life so I recommend you look at that issue. It was very, very enlightening. There is a lack of fundamental movement skills and a lack of general fitness base and ironically this is not just a US problem now. It is a problem around the world and so you get kids that you want them to be aware of their right hand and they do not know where their right hand is because they haven’t done very much movement outside. Essentially what you have to think of what you are doing is that a little bit of practice has to be almost like a PE class. So, if you don’t recognize this what you are going to do is ultimately stifle the top end success in the swimmers that you are working with.
No offense, and it is wonderful to see all of you here this early in the morning and obviously, you are motivated and we are preaching to the choir here, but there is a decline of coaching folks. I get people who write in my blog, “well, how do you do a training session with 18 kids?” That is a lot of kids. When I get 18 I feel like I died and went to heaven. I have 11 on the girl’s volleyball team right now. I don’t know what to do – I have never had that few kids to work with. I am used to 40-50. Somebody says, well how many med balls do you need? I can only afford six. Beautiful, buy six, but they complain that they have 36 kids. Well – go in groups. I mean – that is coaching you guys. We have got to get back to what to what the essence of coaching is. Nobody trains teachers anymore. Nobody trains coaches. Everybody wants the recipe. But you have got to understand all the ingredients and I think ASCA does a tremendous job and that is why I love coming to this convention.
There are a lot of great coaches in this room. Many of you are 50 and over – some of you guys in your 40’s and gals in your 40’s and that, but those are the people that you need to hang out with and be mentored by. Get the hell off the internet. The internet – there is nothing there. Everybody is looking for the secret on the internet. Instead, go hang out with Dick or with Jack Pettinger, or Jack Simon or guys like that and find out what coaching is about. There are no secrets. It is just a lot of really, really good hard work.
And then you also have this dominance of equipment and marketing. The latest secret tool – well the latest secret tool is what everybody is going to want me to talk about what today – Kettlebells, right? And hell, you will go down to the Perform Better booth and they will be glad to help you. I’ll get to have a steak dinner instead of a hamburger dinner because you are going to buy more kettlebells, but you know what? 90% of your kids are not ready for kettlebells. I do not give a damn what they say on the internet. It is part of a progression and you have got to understand that. I know I am coming on a little bit strong and a little bit confrontational and that is not the idea, but I want you to think and I am going to wake you up – I am going to keep you awake. I want you to think about why you are doing what you are doing. Is it a fad?
You know, we had a big discussion – what is it called? Cross-fit or something like that. It is a cool website, but I look at it and I look at the workouts and I go humm – they make you real tired, but is that training? That is my question. Is it training? That is what I want you to ask continually and constantly as I go through that. If it is just about getting tired, try baby-sitting. Get a 2 year old. The hardest training I ever had was when my wife had to go somewhere and I had my daughter for like 6 hours when she was about 18 months old. Believe me – that was the hardest training I have ever had. It had no purpose, but I was really tired. Or go to an elementary school and teach a first grade class. You will be real tired at the end of the day, but that is not training. So, it has got to be with a purpose – that is what I want you to understand.
Alright, let’s talk about the concept here now – in terms of what we are doing with dry-land training and how we can go about it and help fine tune your program. First of all, how do you think of dry-land training? Do you think of it as a supplement or do you think of it as a complement to your water work? I think you have to think of it as a complement. I think the two go together hand and glove and you have to work really, really hard to understand the effect – positive and negative at times that dry-land training will have on the water training. What you are doing in the water – what limitations that is going to give you in terms of what you are going to do dry-land wise. So the two are very, very intertwined, very reciprocal, and very complementary. To me, the stuff that I am going to talk to you about is not for the faint of heart and it is not for dilatants. You can’t be half pregnant. You have got to either go in this direction and dive into it and make a full commitment that you are going to really, really look beyond the medicine ball, the stretch cord and really, really monitor your swimmers and understand what the effect this is going to have on their swimming strokes and body composition and all the different things that you are looking at.
To me, the other thing is no excuses – get’er done. You know, Larry the cable guy. Get’er done and all of that, right? Okay.
Facilities are not a limiting factor. If this is all we had – we could train world class swimmers to world records and that. We have got probably more than what we need. And that is what you have to start out with. Start out with the body and a bare room and say, “What would I do if I didn’t have dumbbells? If I didn’t have a medicine ball? I didn’t have a stretch cord?” Because the farther away we get from the body the less functional we are. And if your program is designed completely around machines and that, I would really, really encourage you to rethink what you are doing because that is not going to prepare us athletically for the demands of the various swimming strokes and that.
Now, what is your attitude and your program? Is it med balls till you puke or dumbbells till you drop? That is easy to do. It really is and you can take this little workout – if anybody wants to come up here afterwards and do dumbbell complex or we can do it here – you are not going to feel real good when you get done with that. You are going to feel a little bit barffy if you don’t follow the work to rest ratios and that and I think that is again, what you have to be careful of. I got an email from somebody again about this Cross-fit thing. It looks like it really would make you tired. It would really hurt. Absolutely, but then – what is the purpose? Are you going to be so sore the next day that you cannot swim effectively? You know, that is what you have to remember. The thing that has taken me a long time to learn is that you do not have to leave every workout absolutely knackered and absolutely crawling out of the pool or off the dry-land. There are going to be some workouts where you think that wasn’t very hard, but by the time you get to Saturday and by the time that you get to Saturday 12 weeks from now, you see the cumulative training effect of that, okay. So I think that is what you have to be careful of. Don’t focus on that particular session and get really, really reductionist in your approach. Try to keep the big picture in mind. I am going to spend a lot of time talking about that tomorrow.
Some of you are here looking for the 2% that will make a difference and some of you should be looking for the 2% that will make a difference. There is no question given the level of swimmer you are working with and where you are in your career, but I would also admonish you to make sure that you have taken care of the other 98%. What I have seen a lot in the last three years in working with a lot of sports is exactly that. People are looking for the secret. They are looking for the holy grail and they are not taking care of the other 98% and the other 98% is the stuff that sometimes just isn’t very much fun. It is that repetitious walking med ball routine that you have got to do on the pool deck every morning at 6 o’clock that you don’t want to do and the kids don’t want to do it, but you have got to coach it. You have got to do some of these little dinky things that are key pieces of the puzzle that will accumulate over time.
So, where do we start? The simple place – start with the swimming body. I would say that most of your swimmers that come to you are in swimming because they have a body that is fairly adaptable to an aquatic environment. Chances are they don’t look like football players. The simple fact of the matter is, and this happens as you start to get to the upper levels of any sport, you are going to see certain body types that are just selected out. They are probably buoyant. They have big feet. They have big hands. There will probably be kids that are fairly gangly on land – maybe not. You would like to have somebody that is a little bit more coordinated, but that is our constant. That is our starting point. We are going to start with that swimming body. Our goals are simply what? We want to enhance that swimming body. We want to make that body more streamlined. That is one of our key elements, more fish like, more streamlinee. We are not necessarily trying to displace more water and we want to stay injury free and if we can do that we’ve got a real, real good chance of having your swimmer swim a lot faster.
So, look at the body – how is it constructed? Well again, look around the room – male or female – there are a lot of similarities. There are going to be differences in probably some limb lengths, where muscles are attached and that type of thing, but basically – everybody is built pretty much the same and we make certain assumptions and in the year 2007, based upon what we know of sport science (of which we know a lot) we should be able to really, really shoot with a rifle, not a shotgun, and there are predictable adaptive responses. If we do six times a dumbbell complex on a 1:1 ratio at 15% of body weight there is going to be a predictable lactate response. There is going to be a predictable heart rate response in that. So, we know how and why some of these things work. And I think what we have to do is remind ourselves of that.
Now recognize also – we had a long discussion last week at Michigan and I will not open this can of worms here today, it would be fun to talk as a group, but when you get around swimming coaches they are always talking about energy systems and I always chuckle because I have seen some great coaches in here and they show me their charts and now we are in the red and now we are in the blue and I go cool, that is really neat, but it doesn’t work that way. Anyway, I won’t. You can read my book and do that. It would be really cool if we could just flip a switch and go. Well now we are in the LA system and we are in the PC system, but they all work together. All the systems work together. You know that and I am being a little bit facetious in that. All of the systems work together, but more importantly, it is not just the energy systems. We have got to recognize and I think that this is the thing that you see in a sport like swimming in middle distance and distance running in track, we tend to forget that there is a nervous system and an endocrine hormonal system and all of those systems working together, along with the musculoskeletal system are what produce the performance that we need in order to swim fast. I think in 2007 we know a lot more now about the endocrine hormonal system. We know a lot more about and we understand that lactate is not our enemy – it is our friend. We can learn to utilize that. Hopefully, you know, there are a lot of things we understand and what I am going to try and show you is, at least to the basis of my understanding, how we can do that.
Now what is the performance environment? It is the water. You know I have heard some great coaches here over the years say, well this is a foreign environment, but I had this profound thought flying to Michigan last week. I shared it with Jim and they all looked at me like, we know you are certifiably weird so just go ahead. We spend 9 months in that environment, if you think about it, right? — before we are born. You take a little baby and you throw them in the water and they kind of instinctively do some things – don’t they? But what do we do? We take those fundamental instincts away. I started thinking, well maybe it isn’t as foreign an environment as we say it is. Watching from above the other day when we were watching those elite swimmers at Michigan swim, it looked pretty comfortable to me. In fact, they looked pretty much like dolphins. I mean it was pretty cool in that. I don’t think any of you coached anybody with webbed feet or webbed hands or gills or anything like that. We understand that, so we have to think about what to do and we have to constantly make our people more efficient in that environment, make them more comfortable in that environment
What can we do on dry-land to make them more efficient? Now right away you are thinking exactly where I was and I presented this about ten years ago here. Well, we need to get more specific on dry-land and imitate the swim strokes. WRONG – ABSOLUTELY WRONG. Okay? We spent four hours a day in the water or two hours a day in the water and we are terrestrial beings the other twenty and we cannot deny that. Gravity works against us and all of those kinds of things so we have to recognize how the body is constructed in the environment that we normally exist in and think about how we are going to put those pieces together. It isn’t as contradictory as it may sound but it does present some unique challenges. We recognize that.
Let’s be clear on a couple of things. We are not training weight lifters, gymnasts, or football players. I have been in different swimming situations where I have seen dry-land programs that look like Olympic weight lifting programs. That doesn’t smell like, taste like what I want them to do in the pool. I have seen football lifting programs on swimming teams – the big 3: squat, clean, and bench press. Great, you get good at squat, clean, and bench pressing and you have a lot of shoulder problems and the kids that were supposed to swim fast, might or might not swim fast in spite of what you did.
And then I have seen people stretch for hours like gymnasts do and that is great. Yeah, you need flexibility and you need mobility, but how can you accomplish this in one package and be efficient in that? I think that is the challenge that we have. Certainly we are going to learn from those disciplines, aren’t we? We are going to learn from weight lifting. We are going to learn some stuff from football, no question. We are going to learn things from gymnasts. We are going to learn from all these various sports, but then we have to figure out how can we adapt that to the environment that we have to work in? So, our goal in dry-land training – and I think this is the key word you guys, if anybody here around me says swimmers are not athletes I do not know what I’ll say to you, I won’t be a happy camper. Most of the great swimmers that I have seen are really good athletes. They are good athletes in the water. Some of them are occasionally good athletes out of the water. Our goal is to develop the best possible swimming athlete that we can develop, isn’t it? And so that is a tremendous feel for the water, a tremendous feel for position in the water, ability to start explosively, ability to turn efficiently and explosively and get more out of the turn. Those are the athletic qualities. And in addition to feel balance and positioning. That is what our job in dry-land is – is to try and do that.
When I worked with Kenyon, Jim Steen said this to the swimmers after the first session. He said, “you guys, effort does not equal intensity” and if you talk to Jim and you talk to some of the other people that I have worked with, with the dry-land program, it is really quite different. Some workouts are only twenty minutes long. Twenty minutes and you look at it and you go, twenty minutes how can I do that? Some workouts are an hour long. There are none any longer than an hour. No, no longer than an hour in the system in the way it has evolved. That is one of the focused workouts, but it is not just about effort. Today’s kids – I don’t know how you feel and I am working with a girl’s volley ball team – we have to preach this a lot: effort isn’t good enough. You have got to do it with intensity. Tomorrow, I will talk to you about ice – intensity concentration and effort. Effort does not equal intensity.
Now let’s talk about the actual application. First of all, what is the framework in which you work? Do you have one? Now the framework for me means, are you primarily working with age groupers or are you primarily working with elite swimmers? Or Collegiate swimmers? Male/female? Those are all frameworks that we have to work in. Recognize too, and I am going to hit this point a couple of times today too – recognize male/female differences, in and out of the water. I will say unequivocally that the female swimmer will get more bang from the buck for their buck from the strength training component of dry-land training than the male swimmers. In fact Stephan Widmer told me with some of the male swimmers they have to stop the strength training fairly earl on and I have seen the same thing. I have seen it with my middle distance and distance people and I have seen it with swimmers. It’s a different endocrine hormonal environment. So what is the framework in which you work? That is where we have to start.
Recognize too that training is cumulative. No one workout can make an athlete but one workout can break an athlete. Some of you have maybe heard me say this before: I am not very proud of this, but it shows how stupid I am – I lost the first CIF Southern Section Championship in cross-country because we had a great workout on Monday. Unfortunately the race was on Saturday. And then two years later at CAL-Berkley I had the #1 ranked team in the country and we had a great workout the Monday before the National Championships and we were terrible on Saturday. It took me a while to figure that out. Everything needs to be put in context. Look at your workouts. That is a great workout, but where is it leading? Where did it did it come from? Did it just come out of thin air? Now I am talking here dry-land, but I think the same thing could be said for your swimming workouts.
Train movements not muscles. A lot of you I am sure are thinking, well we know the bicep for example is real important in terms of helping protect the shoulder and shoulder stability, but we are never going to really train the biceps. It’s the same thing with triceps in terms of holding a position, but we have got to link that triceps to the whole kinetic chain. So, we are never going to just think muscles – we are going to think movements. Aggregate muscle action – this goes back to a tremendous book the last edition written in 1973. Some of you my age and older will remember it, Kinesiology by Logan and Mc Kinney. This is a term they use – that movement is aggregate muscle action. It is all the muscles working together to produce efficient movement. So that is what we are going to strive for and as we get into the exercises you will see that. This isn’t Vern Gambetta’s opinion – this goes right back to some good sound neurological research in that the brain does not recognize individual muscles – it recognizes patterns of movement.
Now, for us as coaches designing a dry-land program that means we have to put a little more thought into the movements that we are using so that we are activating the muscles in a similar manner or pattern that would be close to what we want to do when they have to express that movement in the pool. So, we call it a kinetic chain concept and this is from a book called, “Anatomy Trains.” If you talk to a massage therapist or a chiropractor they are going to probably be more familiar with this than a physical therapist or an MD. This particular book is kind of a stylized representation where some of the muscles are stripped off and you see different patterns and the whole idea is to see there are various patterns in anatomy trains where things are linked up. If you look at those illustrations it really makes you think about the movements and how we have to really train linkage.
Linkage. That is a word I use a lot. What are we going to do to enhance linkage? Think ankle, knee, hip, chest, shoulder, elbow, and wrist. What do we have to do to enhance those relationships and become more efficient, in this case, in the water. If you look on this one right here – look at the connection – literally, all the way up to the shoulder and so that to me sends us a powerful message about the way the body is constructed and what we have to do to get that body even more efficient. Train linkage, linkage, linkage.
The term that I got from a British track coach a long, long time ago was toenails to fingernails. If you say, Vern, I want you to look at my program and look at the exercises. The first thing I am going to look at is this: are the movements training toenails to fingernails or are they really segmented or isolated? That is what we have to remember and that should be our evaluative criteria in looking at exercises.
Demands of the event: Is it a sprinter, is it a middle distance swimmer, is it a distance swimmer? Is it a breaststroke, a fly, a freestyle or backstroke? You guys understand all of that, but my perspective and this is from a track coach speaking to you, and from somebody who is a lot more interested in power and speed, is to me, it always comes down to speed. When I watch somebody swim a 1500 real fast I think of it as they were able to hold a greater percentage of their maximum speed longer than the guy in the lanes next to him. It is as simple as that. The marathon runner who runs the world record in 2:06. Figure it out, the pace for a 400 or pace for a mile? They were able to hold that pace longer than the other guy. Now, one thing in analyzing what we have done with Michigan, and in analyzing some of the other dry-land programs, I think that what the dry-land program that I am talking to you about does, is it gives you a thread of speed throughout your program. it is about intensity all the time. You are not thinking of it so much that way, but it is about maximum recruitment and it is about being efficient and moving the body parts rapidly. So consequently, there is an element of speed throughout. So that is something that might be a little bit different.
These are terms that you are all aware of: we want to look at some of the demands of the stroke, long-axis or short-axis. Most of your swimmers are going to train all the strokes anyway, but we want to take into consideration possibly some of the different demands. So as I show you some things, there is going to be a little different adaptation to some of the leg exercises we might do with breaststrokers versus what we will do with other people. And the same thing applies with some of our upper body movements.
This is one of my favorite quotes. This is from Roger Enoka, a professor at the University of Colorado: “the function of a muscle critically depends on the context in which it is activated.” The simple example is this: if you took anatomy right now, even today in 2007 and they would say if I flex my elbow, what does my bicep do? My bicep is the flexor of my elbow, but if I go to throw what does the bicep do? It is really going to decelerate, isn’t it? Here is a better example: if I sit here and I do a leg extension my quad is working to extend my knee, but if I put my foot on the ground my quad really stabilizes my knee. So you have got to think a little bit about those muscles into movement, about the context in which they are activated and which they are used and again. I think that is the thing we have to be aware of in regard to the water environment.
Everything in context: I said this a little bit earlier and I will repeat it again and again and again. What you did yesterday must fit with what you are doing today and what you are going to do tomorrow. You think about it. Run a little video tape through your mind right now about successful years and successful programs. I bet everything has been in lock step, everything has been in context. And I know that you have done this – where you have come to the ASCA clinic and you have heard somebody like me talk and then you go back and for a week you try something different and it is disastrous. That happens because it is not in context of your system, of your whole program and I think that is what you have to remember. You are going to hear a lot of cool ideas, but you have got to make sure they fit.
Now let’s talk just briefly on perspective here. This is something that I guess turning 60 this year really kind of has come back to me. Everything old is new again – I hope. That was a joke by the way – it is early in the morning, I know. But, I started looking at all these things and I am a student of history. Believe it or not, that was my undergraduate major, Social Studies with Latin American History. I don’t know how the hell I ended up doing what I am doing! But I am always interested in trying to find where things came from. One tine I was giving a talk in Boston and was talking about, a lot of you guys know this name, Robert Kiphuth. Two days later in Express Mail comes this book and it is an amazing book. It was written I think ’53 – ’54, but it was stuff that he had been doing before that. Virtually everything that I am going to talk to you about going forward is in there. It is embarrassing, in the book is everything up here, medicine balls, stretch cords. Stretch cords back in the 40’s and 50’s – you had to use bicycle inner tubes and things. It wasn’t quite as efficient, but all the stuff here is stuff that was done in by Kiphuth. If you want to find cool exercises go to the right to 1939 – right before World War II. They certainly recognized that even though we were “neutral” we were going to be involved in a war and what the US government did was commissioned the top physical educators in the country. There were actually physical educators then, not kinesiologists and there were teacher training colleges. They developed because they recognized, and this is really hard to believe, that the young boys were not physically fit and would not be ready to fight, and so they developed all these different programs. There was a Navy V6 program. Those of you that are in colleges or universities that were teaching institutions, go back in the archives and you will find them and it is amazing stuff. It is all kinds of different coordination patterns with medicine balls, Indian clubs, kettlebells, climbing ladders, ropes – all of that kind of stuff. They put it together in a comprehensive program.
Medicine ball? In 1990 I showed the medicine ball and people were ga-ga and I had to laugh because there were a lot of people in the audience that had seen the leather medicine balls. In 1969 at Lacumba Junior High School in Santa Barbara, California I went in the closet and there were these big old leather medicine balls, all musty, and we threw them away, being enlightened you know. That is old stuff. It is not a machine. We have to get a machine, or something like that. Indian clubs – how many of you have used Indian clubs? It has a place. I think you have to be careful if you have swimmers with unstable shoulders and chronic shoulder issues.
As I mentioned, kettlebells are nothing new and we will show you where that can fit into a program. Climbing ropes, as old as Tarzan climbing and swinging from a vine. Now, how many of your kids can climb a rope? Do you have a progression? I go back to one of these Navy V6 manuals and they had a progression to get somebody to climb a rope and you think, well, that is really stupid. No it is not. You have got a 7, 8, 9 or you got a 14 year old and you start lying down and you pull yourself to seated and you do that ten times. That is pretty common sense, but I didn’t think of that. And then you start seated and you pull yourself to standing and then you start standing and you pull yourself to two pulls, but you know, if we sat kids up and I am going to talk more about this tomorrow, I am not Mr. Pollyanna, failure is okay. That is the other problem we have. It is okay to fail. It is okay that you can’t climb the rope because you know what? Now you have got a goal okay? We want to set them up to give them the opportunity to succeed and if we say “climb the rope” without a progression we are setting them up for failure and they will never get better. Sorry for the editorial comment.
Here is the key thing, it is not about the mode, the method or exercise. It is how they are applied in a systematic approach. I can take any of these tools up here and if I put it in the wrong place in a program it will have a negative adaptive response rather than a positive adaptive response or if you take some of the workouts I am going to show you and you take them out of context they can hurt your swimmers more than help them. So you can come and visit me at the MF booth and buy all that stuff and whatever, but know how to use the tools. You have to be a master craftsman. I actually considered, going to go to Home Depot and buying some high tech saws and stuff. Think about it this way: I am not Mr. Tooltime. I want to learn. I watch all those home improvement things and that is really cool. Hell, I can’t even turn a screw. I think that right is tight and left is loose or something like that. I heard that once, but I always get screwed up. We are doing the same thing as coaches you guys. We have to learn to use the tools that we have. What are the first simple tools we have? Our body and gravity and the ground. Even though we exist in that aquatic environment, let’s do a better job with that first.
Now let’s look at the components of training. This is what you are all waiting for. Strength training for swimming. Now, I think first of all, you have already figured out that we are going to have a little bit different perspective. What is our perspective? Our perspective in terms of strength training for swimming is first and above all, way ahead of everything else, that we want to emphasize dynamic postural enhancement. We are going to train all the movements that will get those muscles so that we have that person looking like a swimmer – elongated. And that they can really get in the extreme positions that you need to get to streamline and that. I think if we lose sight of that we lose sight of what we are trying to do with the dry-land training program.
Dynamic postural enhancement. What do we have to do? Be aware of the grab and rip syndrome. We are not trying to displace water. One of my good friends, who is the performance director for the Brisbane Bronco’s rugby team in Australia, did their training camp at the AIS. He asked the different athletes at the AIS to compete against his athletes and so he had four of the women swimmers in residence at the AIS swim against his four best players. Four All-star rugby players in a 4 X 25 relay and Dean said it was the funniest thing. These guys just looked at these girls and they would get on the blocks and they thought they are going to destroy them and he said it was a 25 meter lead after two legs. What did the rugby guys do? They got in and there is water flying all over the place. They could lift a house, but they had no idea how to utilize that strength and transfer that into any kind of ability to streamline.
Last, but not least let’s not forget that one of the biggest roles that we can utilize in regard to strength training is this idea of nervous system excitation. I think, particularly with your shorter events and that type of thing. Also, let’s not forget what the endocrine hormonal response is. I will never forget the first year of the Michigan dry-land program. I said to Jim during this one particular phase to be prepared because the women are going to swim really bad during that phase. He calls me and he tells me they swam really fast! Then we sit down and we recognize that we are probably, endocrine hormonally, we are creating a very, very favorable environment that is stimulating them rather than deadening them. Which is kind of interesting and so I think if we can figure that out– it is a work in progress.
Now, recognize that with all the training components that there is a synergistic relationship. Synergistic means the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They all fit together. All components must be trained during all phases of the year. I repeat again, all components must be trained during all phases of the year. Now I am going to say something anathema to swim coaches: if you are training women swimmers and your championship meet is Thursday, Friday and Saturday, your last strength training session for the majority of your women swimmers should be Tuesday. That is called taper. If you taper them off of strength training too much, they will not swim as fast as they would be capable of swimming. Now the absolute opposite is true with some of your guys. There are going to be guys that if you are swimming in the NCAA’s in March you might have to stop any kind of external overload in December. It is just a different endocrine hormonal system. Now that doesn’t mean you stop it completely – that is what I want you to understand. I have been trying to figure out how we could graphically represent that literally. You have to think that there is a thread of all these components that go through each of your phases. And if you let them go you lose it. What is the law of reversibility? Use it or lose it. Sometimes they do not have to show up very much, but they need to be there. You need to touch on them.
The term that I like to use is full spectral training. If we are going to pick exercises now that train movements, not muscles what we want to do is we want to work multiple planes of motion. Now if you are going to just use machines, which a lot of people do, then you are locked into a sagittal plane of motion. And if you watch swimming, movement occurs in all three planes. We want to work multiple joints, not single joints so we are not going to isolate a joint out. Generally when you isolate the joint that is a lot of times where you also predispose the athlete to injury. We want to work through a full range of motion. Now there is a caveat to that – as full a range of motion as you can control. Well, that means making sure that you have a really, really good progressions. You are not starting them higher on the progression scale than what you should and then the work that you do should be proprioceptively demanding. It should challenge you in terms of balance and body awareness. One of the things that we have said and particularly true with today’s kids is we want to get them to the position where they are aware of where their hand is in relation to their hip, and their hip in relation to their feet, first on dry-land and then in the water. Those are pretty important considerations in terms of looking at our criteria for what we are doing.
Core strength and stability. Now let me get on one other little soap box here for a minute. Does anybody know what the core is? Neck to knees. So my next question is – what isn’t the core? There isn’t a whole lot left over if it is neck to knees – just legs and arms. The term has gotten so bastardized and out of hand. To me, the core is center. I like to think of core more like if you go around and a building being constructed – it is the internal structure of the building which lends structural integrity to the building. When you have that internal structural integrity then you can build everything outside around that, can’t you? I think that is really important. There is no scientific definition of core. I have to do a talk in October and I am the only non-PhD, MD, or PT speaking at this thing so I feel a little bit of pressure. But you know, I am going to stand up in front of all these people and say “core.” I just read this research paper by a PhD that I admire who is going to be there, and he used the term “core” but never defined the term. How that got through the peer review process I don’t know. Anyway – it is the center of the body! It is the internal structure.
So core strength and stability is really important. Philosophically we want to build the swimmer from the center out. Now let’s split some hairs and think of semantics. In gait – in walking – which differentiates us from lower species. Bipedal gait and the fact that we are off of one foot and on the other. Movement does not occur from the center out. Movement occurs from the ground up and don’t kid yourself. Otherwise we would all be snakes and crawling on the ground and moving around from our center. Now, we have to be aware of the center as a balance point in swimming, right? And we have to be able to control everything through the center. Think of toenails to fingernails.
Every day there are multiple modules devoted to the core starting with literally, one of the first things you do when you go on the pool deck in the morning is you need to basically do what I call a walking rotation or a walking med ball routine. It is just real simple and the whole idea is we are going to activate the core through the center and you just take something, it doesn’t have to be a weight, it can be something that is a little bit of weight in your hands and you walk forward twenty times then backward twenty times. You hold the weight with two hands and swing it from one side to the other side as you walk. Then you do tight rotation. Then you go over the top for frontal plane and then you do figure 8’s. You master those movements. You want to master those movements – I call it basic core. All your core work is done off of those movements and this is what I am talking about having a system. If you have a system then that becomes easy. That is a terrific diagnostic tool. If we had time I could take several of you up here. We can find out right away who has it – who doesn’t – who has core control? Who has a certain amount of core stability? I am not interested in what you can you do laying on the ground on a plank. I don’t care about that. I want to know what happens when you have to do things like this or when you have to reach and that kind of stuff. What happens through the core. So, we have to master that little routine. I would recommend that you do that before you swim. Wake up the core. Create an awareness around and through the center. So we build a swimmer from the core – hips, abdomen, back and neck. Core before extremity strength. So before we swim we would like to see you do some core work. Before we do actual strength training we are going to probably do maybe two or sometimes three core modules to make sure that you are really warmed up and that you are really functioning through the core, connecting the hip to the shoulder and all of that.
Now, what is the function of the core? Well, it is the relay center. It relays movement from our lower extremities up through our upper extremities and from our upper extremities down through our lower extremities. So, if it is a relay center we better really, really have all those circuits firing and really ready to work optimally. It also helps us to position the limbs. When we look at the composition of our dry-land program in terms of percentage of distribution of time that you are going to use, core work is going to be anywhere from 35-40% of your total time, maybe even more. You are going to do core work before you get in the water. You are going to do core work before you do your strength training. You are going to do core work after your strength training. I even go so far as to suggest that I think there are some little hip series and things like that, postural types of things that I like to give to the athletes as homework to do on their own as a study break just to help enhance that idea of core function.
Now this is from Logan and McKinney’s book again. It is a terrific, terrific concept and I think if you can grasp this concept then that will help you do a better job of selecting the exercises and the modes of the exercises you are going to use. A serape – here in Southern California and anybody who has grown up here should know what a serape is — a serape is a shawl. It is a Mexican garment. It crosses your body usually in front and goes around. Well, if you look at the way the musculature of the body is inserted, that is the way the musculature is and these guys identified this concept in the late 1940’s before we had all the sophisticated measurement tools that we have today which makes it even more amazing. Nothing has refuted this concept, by the way. So with the serape effect, you are looking at a reciprocal relationship of the rhomboids, the serratus, the external and internal obliques and all of those working together. In our case, to what? To position the hand optimally to hold water, regardless of the stroke. If we think about it that way and to put our hips in a good position so that we can be aligned well in the water in terms of streamlining and that. So that is going to tell us to look at the ratio of the type of flexion and extension type of work to working in diagonal rotational patterns and that it should be significantly different.
I will never forget 1990 in Washington, the first time I talked, I asked how many of you do core work and a thousand coaches raised their hands. I said, what do you do and the person in front says I do a thousand crunches a day. I was like, “great – you do crunches – that is great – so what about the rotational element? What about chopping? What about diagonal rotational pattern.” The last time I looked at under water video, that is what happens in the water, isn’t it? So you know that is where you have got to really, really think about how this all comes together so that we are training the athletic body that we need.
As terrestrial beings, all training is core training. We take a dumbbell and we lift it overhead – that is core training. If I am slack through here – I am not going to be able to lift something overhead so all training is core training and if we can remember that too and take that into consideration I believe that will help us a lot.
Now exercise classification and then I will demonstrate some of this. First of all stabilization. I think this was 1999 here in San Diego, in a little room over there, I talked about doing planking or bridging. And then when I went to Australia I was planked to death. I had never seen more different ways of planking. However, my take home point to you is this: if you are doing more than about 90 seconds of bridging a day you are wasting your time so take it for whatever it is worth. If they are not moving what is it worth? Here is your classic exercise evaluation test: watch the face and the eyes of the person doing the exercise and so after about 30 seconds of bridging they are rolling their eyes. If they can swim at all, now what have you got? You are just filling time so fill the time with something that is going to be really productive. Stabilization is inherent in all the other core exercises so we don’t have to be in some kind of isometric stable position. All our upper body ring work and all of that requires tremendous core control and stabilization without being in a real, what we would call static position.
Flexion and extension – well we know what that is right? Now that is going to be important in some of the strokes. Traditionally, when we look at what would be the classification of core training, the great majority of the movements were done in that plane weren’t they? In a straight sagittal plane. Sit-ups, leg raises, back extensions or back hyperextensions – that kind of stuff. Now certainly we are going to continue to do some of that, but I think you have got to recognize the demands of the strokes that you are doing and also look at the structure of some of your swimmers. If you do have people with low back problems, chances are you are going to want to less flexion and extension work and a little bit more side bending and a little bit more rotation type of work. Now, you have got to find the right physical therapist and doctor that will agree with that.
Rotation, rotation, rotation. If in doubt, rotate a little bit more. and then if you are not …. – do one more set of rotation. Now when I say rotation here is a basic movement. I am going to take a weight plate or a medicine ball, I am going to orient it to my belly button; I am going to stand a little wider than shoulder width apart and I am going to just swing the ball around. Notice my head is following the ball. Remember what we said about vestibular demand. Now one thing that we picked up last week that is interesting and I am going to change it a little bit now, sometimes what I can do if I want to get a little more thoracic rotation and a little is just keep my head straight ahead or keep my head looking one direction and I will load and unload so you can play with it a little bit with head position and change cervical rotation.
I also want to look at chopping type of movements. So, I am going to first chop to my hip then, chop to my knee. Once I get that and then chop to ankle so shorter amplitude, greater amplitude, greater amplitude. This would be a flexion and extension movement with rotation around the long axis. So the more that you can think about how can I combine these movements to incorporate an element of rotation the better off that I am going to be.
Throwing and catching. Now, here is one of my pet peeves and some of you in this room have had great success with this routine because you have done it this way. Throwing the medicine ball is incidental particularly for you guys in swimming. I take the med ball and Jim is going to be my wall for a second and I just throw the ball – so what? Now, the key thing is the catch. And you say, well that is obvious, but what am I doing? There is the stabilization – just go ahead and throw overhead a few times so I have to stabilize. Now, the ball is not going to always come in the same place each time. So to me and I will editorialize – go back to your basics. One of the reasons they have all the oblique strains in baseball is, in baseball that is what these guys do — they just stand there and they throw the ball. They don’t catch it. They say oh, we do med ball workout. Really? How do you do your med ball work? I mean, that doesn’t matter to you but, you might be a fan and you can pass it on to one of your clubs because there are about five clubs in contention that have key players out with oblique strains right now. So it is the catch. One of our key things is a wall series.
Let me comment on picking your mode of training. I was at an age group meet a year ago watching one of our friend’s kid swim. What a revelation! I was at the meet and I look and — now this was age groupers — and there are all these medicine balls out there. The lightest medicine ball was a 4K medicine ball. What is wrong with that picture? I have worked with world class athletes and with football players and we do not use a 5K medicine ball. So now imagine an 8 year old with a 5K medicine ball. 5K is what? 11 pounds. What percentage of your body weight is that? People ask me what weight medicine ball should they get? I tell them no heavier than a 3K. A 3K medicine ball will do everything you need to do. Heavier is not better. For your younger kids – 2K. For your younger kids, your pre-pubescent boys and girls, we just do not do very much overhead stuff so all your rotation stuff down in here and all your chopping stuff can be done with a 3K med ball and you will be safe and then you do not have to buy all the different weights, which becomes a big hassle too. So, that is something to remember too.
So emphasize the catching, as well as throwing. The wall series, which is just an overhead throw, a soccer throw against the wall; chest pass; down the side; down the side cross in front and around the back. You do 20 repetitions of those which works out to be 120 reps. Eventually you build up to five or six sets of those and you when you get down into your taper you use a water polo ball or you can use a basketball for speed. And then you do it against time. Those of you that know Jack Simon can ask him what he did in the early 90’s with Joe Hudepohl. I think he did a really neat progression down near the end with a lot of that kind of stuff.
Now, exercise postures. Now, this is going to force you to think a little bit. Prone. When we are in the pool we are in prone positions or in supine positions. I kind of don’t think that when you get on dry-land they are going to forget that when they are in the pool they are going to be in prone and supine positions. So, let’s take advantage of what we are doing. I personally think the majority of our core work, and I am talking 90% of our core work, should be done in standing and moving positions. Why? Again, I ask you the question: do any of your swimmers have gills? Do any of them have webbed hands and webbed feet? They are terrestrial beings. The way our core is designed is to work against gravity We are going to get optimum benefit from working the core in postures where we have to work perpendicular to gravity. That is the idea behind it in terms of better activation and moving. So standing and moving and that is walking.
Yesterday morning, before we flew out, we had a little get together. If you are ever in Sarasota and you want to come to my facility, it is pretty impressive. It is my garage and in July it is a pretty cool place to be – no pun intended. There is a snake in the garage and it is a pretty interesting place. There was this rugby coach from New Zealand who came to visit and I thought, he thinks he is going to go to an air conditioned Taj-Mahal or something like that. “Yeah, come on over and join the breakfast club.” One of the things that we did was took a 2 inch diameter PVC pipe and put a cap on one end, filled it ¾ full of water and put a cap on the other end. I was thinking about volley ball and rugby and one of the things that we did, and this is perfect for you, you hold onto either end and what is going to start to happen to the water? It moves from one end to the other end. So now we are moving – you have to move like a dance and then you gotta chop – chop. Now you say that’s not swimming, but you know what? It is athletic. I am working my core. I have to re-orient all the time – just like what happens in the water.
Now the guy at Home Depot thought I was trying to build a bomb and I now I have this van out by my driveway surveying what we are doing because I asked him what would happen if I put like shotgun pellets in it? I wanted to make it heavier?
These are relatively new – a kind of med balls called a kettlebell. I like the idea with the handles. I can do some more stuff so choose your weapons wisely. Recognize that there is a purpose for what? – When you are choosing the weapon heavier isn’t better.
Now, crawling. Here is a secret. You guys got up early enough in the morning and some of you early arrivers I wanted to reward. Crawling is the secret. What does crawling do? It connects the hip to the shoulder doesn’t it? I think I talked to some of you about this and recommended a book entitled “Smart Moves” by Dr. Carla Hannaford. There is a whole crawling core module and that is one of the essential core modules particularly for swimming because we have got to connect the hip to the shoulder. That protects the shoulder. Use a crawling core module to warm-up on the pool deck before you get in the water in the morning. That is going to help you eliminate a lot of your shoulder problems. Your kids that have a lot of shoulder instability like your typical female swimmer will find it is a real, real good tool.
I remember reading Karen Thornton’s World Clinic books when we were coaching together at CAL and read where an article describing putting a little thing on your feet like a little cart – but if you happen to have access to a gym floor or something like that you can just get a carpet sample or a towel, then put your feet on a towel and get into a prone position like a push-up position and crawl. You will find you are going to get the undulation of your hips. It is a seal walk so the towel is on your laces of your shoes. I was watching these soccer players do it and I am thinking that is right on for swimming because you are like that.
A couple of things about reps. Most of our core work is done 10 reps to each side – total of 20. Why? Rude science –over the years through experience and that. It seems like if you go more and you start to lose technique – you go less than that you get no adaptation. A module is five or six exercises that I have really thought about how they fit together so you are looking about 100 to 120 reps per module. If you want to build that module up you can build it up to 4 or 500 reps. But I want to make sure that we have got good quality of movement and a good control through the range during the whole time.
Now, total body. This is a real, real important element of the whole dry-land program and here we are thinking toenails to fingernails so I am going to demo this – we have got two different kettlebells, which doesn’t really help me, but I will pretend like I have a dumbbell in each hand. There are a couple of key movements that I think you are going to want and these are going to be a little bit foreign to your swimmers. You are going to take a dumbbell in each hand and your starting weight should be about 10% of their body weight in each hand. Now that is probably too light for a lot of your swimmers, male and female. And you have to coach the daylights out of this because you have to find the optimum load for this. The basic exercise is what we call a high pull and I am not going to go through all the nuances of teaching the high pull right now but basically, I am going to start and I use a dumbbell, not a bar. I emphasize – NOT A BAR and I know some of you are college coaches and you go back and your strength coaches are going to load your swimmers up with an Olympic bar. Good luck – I wont say any more. The dumbbell accommodates – the bar doesn’t. Common sense you guys. The dumbbell accommodates. If I take the bar, there is where the bar fits. The dumbbell will go right there so I am going to do what is called a high pull and the whole idea of the high pull is just go through here – toenails to fingernails. I am getting a shrugging action which is really important in terms of working the elevators and depressors of the shoulder. So that is a total body movement.
The other total body movement we will do is what we call a snatch which you don’t ever start it with kettlebells. I will show it with a kettlebell because I don’t have a dumbbell. You have got to take the time to invest to teach them good technique. It is easy with a dumbbell – hard with a bar.
If you are going to bring me in I want to have your people start to train. I don’t want to go four weeks of teaching them how to be an Olympic lifter with the bar okay? And they didn’t go into swimming because they had good awareness of all of those kinds of things.
So high pull. High pull – snatch. Then we go through a period of time where you build up to a threshold number of sets and reps with those exercises. The other one that we do and this is really a good one for your sprinters. It is called the “jump shrug” so you get in a low position with the dumbbell, a heavier dumbbell in each hand and you jump as high as you can shrugging. And that is actually a progression to a high pull so what we will do then as our total body workout is: it is simple, you do six repetitions of high pull; you go right to alternate press, six repetitions of each arm; you put the dumbbells right on your shoulder and you do six repetitions of that; then you go right to bend over row and do six repetitions of that — and that is called dumbbell complex. There are two elements here that are foundation cores to the program and you can go back and put those in now. If you don’t lead up to it you are going to take it out of context. It is put in a specific place in the program. You build up to five or six this year. Six sets of dumbbell complex on a 1:1 work to rest ration with a partner using as heavy a weight as you can use for six reps. So, it is intense. When you get done you really, really know that you have done something.
So, that is our total body work. Toenails to fingernails linkage. There is the high pull – this happens to be a quarterback [above], but high pull, done with kettlebells. I would start with dumbbells, then I would eventually get to kettlebells.
Kettlebells change so you understand what the kettlebells do. I didn’t even talk about kettlebells in terms of the distribution of the weight and the way it changes significantly the demand. Recognize that a lot of the stuff that you do with the kettlebells, they doesn’t rotate and you are going to get, if you don’t lift correctly, you are going to get some pretty significant elbow issues and that. That is the downside. Now that being done, I use it and I like it a lot, but it ended up in more smaller group types of things.
Now, here is our dumbbell complex. If you think about it this way – you have a pulling movement which can be a high pull or it can be a snatch. You have a pushing or a pressing movement and you have a squatting movement. A lunge is a squat derivative. A step up is a derivative. Start simple and then progress. So those are our total body.
Upper body now. If you are doing excessive shoulder stretching, eliminate it. Most of your swimmers have got really mobile shoulders. What you need to do is stretch their lats. Stretch their pecs. Here would be my warm-up routine for a swimmer right now. We do dynamic protraction/retraction, dynamic scarecrow, cheerleader. There, you are done. Everything else we do in the dry-land program is designed to link the shoulder to the hip okay? Generally most of your people go to swimming because they have mobile shoulders. That is one of the pre-requisites. Some of the guys come to swimming because the first time they played football they went in to make a tackle and they dislocated their shoulder – so be up front. You don’t need to stretch the shoulder joint. You need to stretch the daylights out of the lat. You see that? It is not real clear, but the lat and the fascial connection in the lat is a huge connector of the hip to the shoulder and all day when they are in class, they are shortening everything up. They are shortening up their pecs. They are shortening up there lats. Stretch the lats. Get hip to the shoulder.
The more we do a good job with our core work – the more we do a good job with our total body work, the less shoulder issues we are going to have. You shouldn’t have shoulder issues. I know that is an aphema in swimming, but you shouldn’t have shoulder issues, not if you pay attention to the whole kinetic chain. The more you work the shoulder, the more shoulder problems you are going to have. It is like that old country western song, you work your fingers to the bone, what do you get? Bony fingers okay?
Now punching is good – not against resistance, but I want the facilitation of the eccentric component. This is something Jim introduced — the rings and this is a thing called the jungle gym. It is the poor man’s rings because you can hook this up anywhere. So you can hang it from a cyclone fence – a tremendous amount of incline pull-ups – different kind of movements and that. Folks – that is the secret with upper body. Not as much lifting per se with the upper body. I am not a big fan – I know a lot of you are really enamored with dips and pull-ups – I don’t see why. I mean – I would rather see you do an incline pull-up. Dips – schnips – why put the shoulder there when I can do some stuff on rings where I link the triceps up and get in a position that is more similar to that as opposed to isolating triceps. It is cool because you can do MAX tests.
Are the legs important in swimming? Yup, they are. When I first talked at ASCA though you would have thought they were not. Now, we realize the legs are pretty important so the other cornerstone of your dry-land program needs to be what we call a leg circuit, but you build up to the leg circuit and it is real simple. You do body weight squats, one per second; body weight lunges, as long as you are tall; step-ups; and jump squats. You eventually build up to five sets of 20 of each of those, then once you can do five sets of 20 you put it in a circuit. You go squat – lunge – step-up – jump squat – squat – lunge – step-up – jump squat. Your senior swimmers, your high school age kids — they should be able to get 5 leg circuits without stopping before they move on. You know, that is something you progress to and that is really tough. It is not an east thing to do so that is how we address the legs.
Here is just an example of a single leg squat – which I probably do more with my breaststrokers. In between exercises what do you do for rest? We do balance stuff. So instead of passive rest – I want to have them to have active rest and why not? I mean – I don’t know how much balance per se as an isolated quality is going to have, but it is going to create better body awareness.
Flexibility: I think if you can think about it in these terms – the correct amount of motion and the correct plane at the right time – not what kind of extreme positions that I can get in, but what positions do I need to get in with movement. I am a big believer and was converted by a friend of Jack Pettinger’s – Steve Merlin – to some of the yoga movements and if you can find the right person to help you – that will integrate the yoga with the rest of your program. That is the problem with yoga and with martial arts and these are a separate discipline and those people are very guarded and jealous of that discipline, which they should be. If you can incorporate some of those movements as cool down exercise that create body awareness – that is really good stuff too.
Hurdle type of work and hurdle under-type of work and I particularly like this for your breaststrokers and that will alleviate a lot of the stress on their knees. Go to your track coach because they should be able to help you with that.
Warm-up: warm-up stretching is not warm-up. Stretching is not warm-up. You must warm-up to stretch. To me this might be the most important component of the session. I still see in too many places coaches having their swimmers, okay, go and kick 2,000 yards, and you know it is garbage stuff and they have not warmed up. Warm-up to swim – don’t swim to warm-up. Do some of the core work and I think you will see that they are going to get more of what they do in the pool.
I want to try to pull this all together so you kind of see how some of the pieces fit and it will give you some thoughts about how to construct this because we have been to a lot of different places and looked at components. First of all, here is an overview of the plan and the key thing is you have got to fit your dry-land program with your water program, as I said at the start. Here is your overview.
The first thing you do out of the gate is you have to get them functionally strong so we are going to do things like just body weight squats – just high pulls – a lot of core work. Your next phase, roughly, is you have got to get them functionally fast. So now it is going to be more explosive type of work. Then you are going to get functionally fit. Notice where fit came in. It is kind of a little different paradigm isn’t it? And I think you all need to discuss among yourselves how you do your dry-land. I know that some of the coaches that I am working with are doing it a little bit differently and it is kind of interesting. It is what a lot of my contemporaries are doing in track. So instead of a lot of high mileage early, we are preparing them for the mileage. Functionally fit: get specific, compete, and swim fast. It is a simple, simple, simple paradigm with many, many complex applications is what it comes down to. You obviously have to work it into your situation whether it is a high school team or somebody preparing for the Olympics or something like that.
Now let’s look at how we can arrive at those. Let’s look at some factors in effective planning. What is recoverability? This is a new word and it is not in the dictionary I don’t think. What is the recoverability of the athletes you are working with? Do they thrive or do they survive the workouts? I believe, sincerely now, after doing this for a long time that if you look in the mirror and you are saying my athletes are hanging on for dear life then they are not thriving, they are surviving. Dry-land or in the water. I am not here to talk about in the water, but dry-land. They have got to thrive. And what is the recoverability? If they cannot come back the next day or in the next similar workout in three or four days and reproduce the workout then we need to really, really rethink about what we are doing to that particular individual and set it for that individual.
Gender is a huge consideration. As I said earlier, the strength training portion of this has to be emphasized more often, up to four days a week continually for the female swimmer and has to be continued right through the taper and that includes your distance people, not just your sprint people. This isn’t some bozo old coach’s opinion. There is a lot of science now and a lot of other sports that are seeing the same thing.
Now I will give you an example from track and field. There is this Canadian girl who won the World Championship in 2003, indoors and outdoors. She just finished 2nd after coming back off a long series of problems – she fell in the Olympics and messed her back up so her first race in this World Championship was like Wednesday On Tuesday night she had strength training session for 20 minutes. Now that is a sprinter – that is true. I would do the same thing if I were coaching the 5,000 meter run or it might be two days before. So you take that and look at it and there are some people in the room that you can talk to that I think have done that.
You need to take into consideration these other two things: first, the 24 hour Athlete. You need to recognize what the athlete is doing when they are not with you. We coaches have this idea that that the two to four hours that we have them is the center and the be all of their life. I hate to break it to you gently, but the other 20 hours have a lot more to do than our four, so we have to really, really assess that. Second, what about pattern of injuries? People sort of accept that there are shoulder problems in swimming. I do not accept that. I think that you want to look at your training methodology. I also think you need to look down the chain. A lot of the genesis of your shoulder problems comes from the hip and hip tightness and that so take that into consideration. Build in a remedial program to address that.
Now, I do not like the term periodization – I am trying to get away from using it. All of a sudden the whole world now is using the term periodization so twenty years from now you are going to say I heard him talk about planned performance training. I think periodization is an outmoded concept that is based on a lot eastern European mumbo-jumbo that is based on drugs. If you look at all the eastern European literature, they are plain and simple drug cycles. Bridget Berndock’s husband spoke here at ASCA almost ten years ago now. You can read about doping in sport – it is all there, it is not Vern Gambetta’s opinion. We need to think about the athletes that we are working with in the cultural milieu that we are working in. I think the key thing to remember in planned performance training is the sequence and timing of the training stimulus. Folks, it is not about time. Anybody can put out these real neat charts with preparation phase, special preparation phase, competition phase. It is about the timing of when you do what you do. That is what is crucial. If you do it at the wrong time it is pointless. It is counter-productive so we want to look at that. It is not about time – it is about timing. How are we going to get there? Isn’t that what it is all about in regard to periodization?
Now, these are the training blocks that I espouse in the dry-land program. We will go what we call a foundational strength block. I was taught something by a football coach I didn’t like at Fresno State, but it did have an impact on me – it goes like this, “words create images and images create action.” When I say it is a foundational strength I am building a foundation to build the house upon – not base, but foundation. Basic is pretty basic. It is those basic movements and we are reinforcing them and reinforcing them and reinforcing them. If I do high intensity work for about 30 seconds and about 30 seconds recovery for multiple sets – I am going to stimulate growth hormone response. Now there is a lot of other factors that have to be taken into consideration. I started fooling around with this with some female basketball players and then a couple of pentathaletes and then we started doing it with the Michigan women swimmers and I cannot tell you how important this phase is, but notice where it is put. It is the third phase, not the first phase.
Then what we put after that is strength endurance. What did we traditionally always do? Where did that go? First – didn’t it? How can you endure something you don’t have? If you don’t have strength – how can you endure it? If you don’t have speed, how can you endure it? Now I put MAX strength explosive power. Then what we do and I have done this now in track too, is we do what we call recycle. That means I take the previous work that got me to that point and now I am keeping track of the workouts and what they have done and so I am going to go into a pre-taper. So I may go back to one week of foundation strength, one week of each of the other components and then in my taper.
One man’s fancy is another man’s folly – I want to find out what works for Vern so we take a hybrid. I might go Monday with basic strength. I might go Tuesday with Growth Hormone response so I find out what that person responds to and then I give them the diet that they respond to. Instead of forcing these things to them. “Oh – now you are in your peaking phase – you need to do this.” “But coach, I don’t feel good doing that.” There – it is all about feeling good and swimming fast isn’t it? So it might be the weirdest – I mean – they may want to go back to what they did. Now obviously, our job as the coach is to guide them, but remember – we are going to keep that element and we are never going to get away so it is a little non-traditional.
Now, look at the training time available. Long-term and you think months, short-term, weeks and daily. I would say we spent four days last week planning each cycle out. And we planned the whole year out. You cannot, it is futile to plan sets and reps more than two weeks out. It changes. The greatest amount of focus in your planning should be on what you are going to do today and then what you are going to do this week. The farther out you get – the more general and the more conceptual it is. And I think that will help you a lot doing that.
I realized that it just was a lot simpler if we set up our training based on modules so for example in core work we will have a stretch cord core module. We will have a medicine ball core module. There will be several different medicine ball core modules. And the same thing for strength training. Everything is set up on modules. I use Microsoft Word and I just have all my menus written out and I have the modules pre-written and I can just cut and paste and then all I do is add the sets and the reps in to those particular modules. If you are coaching a lot of swimmers you have to think about management of time – your time, and you have to think about how are you conveying the workout to the people that you are working with?
Q. Sometimes you do 20 minutes and sometimes you do an hour?
A. Well, the phase that you are in determines the time . The day of the week – so within the micro cycle – the training age of the swimmer to a certain extent. The time it is not an arbitrary choice of time. The time is determined by the composition of the work . I think again we just have this idea that the more we throw at them the better they get. You will see if you come and watch a workout that it is really demanding . That is why I said this is not for the faint of heart. It takes a real commitment for you as the coach because they never stop. When I am working with soccer and now doing some stuff with rugby I say it is very game-like. When you get done with that hour you know that you have to concentrate. The most important thing in today’s generation is to get them to concentrate longer – we had a chance to make them better sooner and so if you design the work so that it is mentally demanding too, then that is part of it. .
Q. What do you think about running for swimmers?
A. Some of my best runners that I had when I coached in high school were ex-swimmers – they were tough man. I mean I couldn’t give them a workout that was too hard, but they were not very good swimmers or they would have still been swimming. I am not a big fan of running for swimming. I understand why you have to do it. We had this discussion last week and it is going to be incorporated in their dry-land program and I certainly understand why. I do not want to see your sprint swimmers out running distance. I would rather see them doing stadium stairs. Somebody said, “well, they are liable to fall you know.” Yeah, well we better teach them coordination. I would rather see them doing rowing. I mean – there are a lot of modes of getting that additional work in. You will notice that I have not used the word cross-training? That is not in my vocabulary. That is just a stupid term. You know what a triathlete is? An injured swimmer – or an injured runner who owns a bike so – sorry. That is where that started. I just really made a lot of friends now – sorry you guys. Diplomacy is one of my strong suits. I think you pick the mode you know. I am a big believer that you have got to be able to run efficiently enough to get something out of it and you watch people plod and they are probably going to end up with sore knees and sore feet and that so then you put them on ellipticals which ought to be blown up because you are locked into a sagittal plane or biking. I am just really hitting all the bases aren’t I? So I think you have got to vary that. A slide board is good.
Q. With an age group program how would you introduce med balls?
A. If you can afford med balls I would it is okay to start them. Make it appropriate. I am not so much worried about overhead for the shoulder with the young kids as I am for the spine so I try to keep everything kind of a little bit below the shoulder and that kind of stuff. The key thing there is crawling, crawling, crawling and being able to handle their body weight. Modify the push-ups. Use the jungle gyms – that kind of stuff that they will love it. I mean it is real playful in that.
Q. How do you control the intensity with the med balls and that?
A. We are going to control it through the volume so if it is higher intensity we are going to go lower volume and we would probably go to a different mode so we won’t go above five or six sets with the med ball. One of the theories and this is a theory that seems to work and I am not going to change it is, we incorporate a lot of different modes of core work, but the idea that the core will recover easily so one day a stretch cord, the next day is maybe higher med ball so you try to vary it a lot during the week.
Q. Dry-land before or after swim practice?
A. I think it depends on the training age of your swimmer. I really do. If their work capacity is not very great then it is going to affect the quality of their water work. You find out what you have to do to warm them up and then get in the pool. I think what you will find is this idea of neural excitation. I think you can pick and choose what you do dry-land before you swim sometimes to really enhance what you do in the water . Again, it depends on the philosophy that you approach dry-land.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about dips. You said not to do dips.
A. You can do them, but so many people make that like a real focus. I am not a big believer in a lot of this stuff about impingement and that kind of stuff. You think of the arm positions you get in swimming. If I am doing a dip – I am just driving the head of the humerus right up into glenoid fossa and I think there are better ways to achieve what you want to achieve. What it comes down to so it is not that it is a bad exercise, but it can be a bad exercise if they are real fatigued and if they cannot do it well. You know, there are better methods of doing it I think is what it comes down to here