How to Prepare for and Compete at a World Level In the 200 Meter Freestyle: PANEL (2007)


Published


Panel: Teri McKeever, Bob Bowman, and
Jon Urbanchek
Moderated by Mark Schubert

One of the things that we are going to try to accomplish is a little interactive session here, where we can ask questions and kind of discuss this subject of the 200 freestyle. My name is Mark Schubert. I am the National Team Head Coach for United States Swimming National Team. To my left here is Coach Jon Urbanchek, who is the former coach at the University of Michigan and is the current coach of Club Wolverine and who has been my Special Team National Assistant since I took this position. Somebody well described him on one of the National Team Trips, after watching him work, as a national treasure. And I thought that was a very accurate description of Jon. Next to Jon is Teri McKeever. Teri coaches at the University of California-Berkley and CAL Aquatics, has had a number of World Class 200 freestylers and her best 200 freestyler, Natalie Coughlin, who has helped us to win an Olympic Gold Medal and break a very long-standing world record in the 800 freestyle relay and also helped us win a World Championship in that relay this past year, but has a number of very good 200 freestylers and I think has a terrific feel for that event. Next to me is Coach Bob Bowman, the coach at the University of Michigan, the coach of Michael Phelps and the coach of a number of swimmers that have either been on 800 freestyle relays in recent years that we have had great success with or excelled in the 200 free. Certainly swimmers that were on the world record 800 freestyle relay this past March at the World Championships in Melbourne and obviously coaching Michael Phelps and doing a great job with him in a number events. But I know he has some strong opinions on the 200 freestyle. I kind of wanted to start the discussion off and what we would like to do is just show you the video of the 200 freestyle at the World Championships in Melbourne. And I think for the United States, the first few sessions of the meet were solid, but not very emotional. And they were good, but not great and then we witnessed this classic battle in the 200 free between Pieter Van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps. That, I think, really lit the fire for the United States. It certainly got Michael going into a great meet. But it helped us all to have a terrific championship. And for me, I think it was one of the classic races that I have ever watched and I would like you to watch it. We are going to show it first above (the water) and then I am going to ask Coach Bowman to commentate on the things that were going on during the race and maybe some of the thoughts that he had passed on to Michael before the race, or his thoughts about the race itself. And we are going to show that footage under water. So first we will just show, without comment, the race itself.

I don’t know about you, but that is the definition of goose bumps in my book. I mean that was just one of the most incredible races I have ever seen. Wire to wire, aggressive, against one of the greatest swimmers ever and we are going to show it under water, but first I would like to hear Coach Bowman’s comments on that 200 freestyle race.

Bowman: Before we show it I thought I would give you a little bit of background. It is my belief that for an age group swimmer, or any swimmer, the 200 freestyle is one of the most difficult races to learn how to swim. And it took Michael a very long time to get to a point where he was able to do something like that. I think the obvious challenges are the balance of speed and endurance. Pacing is critical and it is an event that I think takes a lot of experience. I don’t know if you have really noticed, but Michael tends to vary (the events at) the meets that he swims, meet to meet, because there are so many events I can’t squeeze them all in. But he always does the 200 free. And he has done that since he was 12, because I always wanted him to have as many chances to swim that race as possible. Leading into the World Championships Michael had been, I think, really showing some progress in the 200 free by experimenting with taking it out more aggressively. And it was our feeling that in the race in Athens that he had made basically two mistakes. I felt like he swam a very good race for where he was at that time, but he had, number one, very poor turns and number two, he swam it too conservatively in the front half. You know, if you watched that race from Athens, he is just coming on at the end and runs out of pool so we spent quite a bit of time trying to think about how to change that. I really felt like we were going to get something special in Melbourne when Michael asked me about a month before if he could have the videos of his races from Athens. He studied that race and I think one of the things that really made that special was that he made really a tactical change from what he had done before. He knew that Pieter would take it out very fast.

You know, I was sitting with Mark in the stands just like this during that race, but you know when Michael put his feet on the wall first at the first 50 I just turned and said, “this race is over”. I didn’t have to see the rest because that was a complete change. He was in command of the pace. He was comfortable doing it and we knew then that we had taken the competition out of their game. So, that really was pretty special. The other thing that is so typically Michael about this is, I remember talking with him, and when we talk about the races we never do it at the meets — I mean, when we are at the meets he knows what he wants to do and we have talked about it before. When we were at the training camp, we sat down and talked about the 200 free. I remember, my comment was, well, if you are going to break 44, you have to be out in 51 flat. 51 flat is what he went out in. So he knew exactly what he needed to do and how he was going to swim that race. Clearly, the thing that separates him from Pieter was the under water work. And that is something that again where it took quite a bit of time to develop. We first started working on it after the World Championships in 2001 and Michael sort of really loved it at first. It was something that he had done a little bit of and he was young, maybe 15? And I remember that fall I had set the course to short course meters. We were going to train short course meters instead of short course yards and I was encouraging him to start using more dolphin kicks. After about two or three weeks I was really getting concerned because all he was doing was dolphin kicking. We would do a 200 free and he would take three strokes a lap. He just loved it. He was going so fast you know. He would put up these ridiculous times and I was like, well maybe his arms aren’t getting any training so I started to legislate how many kicks he could he could take within the sets. It would be 5 or it would be as many as you like. Or, you can go past 15 meters or we mixed it up a lot. But he started building a base of, I think experimentation, because it wasn’t what it’s like today and I think to get to that point he had to get stronger.

He had to learn and experiment with the amplitude of the kicks. You know, how big he wanted it to be. Should it go big to small? Should it stay big? And we tried everything. Probably the biggest thing that he does now is that he maintains a rigid body position when he is kicking under water. I think like most great swimmers, Michael relaxes the parts of his body that aren’t really being used at a given time. So he would come off the walls and really be hammering his kick. But he would just relax his arms and upper body and he would rest while he was kicking and he would still be going. So once he corrected that, you started to see some of the explosive stuff that we saw before. And I might add that after 2001 we started working on that.

At the trials for our World Championships in 2002 we pulled out the wall, the last wall of the 400 IM in the epic race with Erik Vent, you know, probably the best race I have ever seen. And that was such a great race I couldn’t watch the finish. I turned away from the score board. I was like, I can’t watch. In that race, he wasn’t swimming faster than Erik and we had started this under water work. We called it the equalizer because we felt like in the 400 IM Michael’s breaststroke was so bad we needed something to equal that out. So we always wanted him to go into freestyle first. So he would be dolphin kicking while the other guys were catching him. We really tried to work that under water and that is where he used it, the last turn of the 400 IM, to gain enough advantage so that when Erik came back on him, he still had enough to hang on and win. That is where this whole thing kind of got started.

Under water please. Michael immediately took command of the race on the start. You saw he kind of came up and that put him in a really good position. Those guys look like they are moving under water don’t they? Above they look like they are lopping along. The race for me – I knew when he got to the first wall that was going to be good. You saw he came up. I still think Michael breaks too much with his chin up. He has got to stay more in line as he comes out. But at this point the race is even and Michael, while he is you know working it, he is being fairly relaxed. Notice how he gets deep. One of the things that we worked on was getting deeper off every wall, starting deeper. The other thing that you sort of see when you look at the splits of this race, which is typical of a Michael race, is that the third 50 is a little slower than you think it should be. I do not know if that is because he is getting ready for the last 50 or what, but that is how it is. This is the best wall, maybe, I have seen him do. And it decided the race. Clearly, the six beat kick is a key component of this. There are still some things in his stroke that he can do better. He slips with the right arm, but we were really happy with this one.

Schubert: Thanks Bob. We were really happy with it too. Next I would like to ask Jon Urbanchek to maybe start with an opening statement. As all of you know, we had a great victory in Athens in the 800 free relay and Jon Urbanchek’s swimmers had a terrific amount of contribution in that. Jon continues to work with the swimmers that are involved with our 800 free relay and our best 200 freestylers. And Jon, what’s up with the 200 freestyle?

Urbanchek: Mark, before I go to that one I just hope that many of you caught the difference between under water kick and surface kick. What Michael does, and most of you probably didn’t pay attention to that, but while he is still under water he takes two strokes before his head breaks out. He goes left, right and then his head appears. I think that is the difference between so many of the kids that do not know how to make a transition between. Everybody can kick under water, but not everybody shoots out of the water like a rocket. Michael breaks out of there just like, coming out of the underwater like a torpedo, he shoots out of there. Even on our team, I tell kids, can’t you see what he is doing? You guys are swimming side by side. Just look over, look at your peripheral vision. Why is he accelerating? I think that is one thing he does so well. Now going back to what you asked me. I almost forgot what you asked me, but I was here four years ago, sitting in the same spot and my topic was middle distance freestyle. But I changed the topic to how to beat the Aussies in the 800 relay. Because I had been, and I saw all these Aussies sitting in front of me and especially Bill Sweetenham was here. But by that time he went from Aussie to a Limy and we made a lot of jokes. But I really set my goal. We have got to get that 800 freestyle relay back. I have always been very 800 freestyle oriented. Well, on a collegiate level, I think we won six or seven titles at the NCAA level. We never won any of the shorter stuff, okay? About the shortest thing that we could win in a relay was the 800 freestyle relay. So I made a point here to really emphasize in my talk four years ago how to beat the Aussies and that was the only goal we had. I wish Mark, we had that video here of how Cleat held off Thorpe on that last 50 on the 800 relay. It all kind of came to a head and I think the fact is we put so much emphasis on it for more than 365 days, you think about how are we going to do it. In practice at Michigan, I felt we had at least two or three people who could make that relay. And pretty much the workouts were geared to “how to beat the Aussies’ sets”. The sets were designed for how to beat the Aussies. When you had so many potential kids on the team that could be on the relay, that made our workouts extremely productive. Is that enough?

Schubert: That is enough for now John. We will give you a brief break. I just wanted to kind of get a little philosophy from Teri. I know I thought one of the better leadership things that happened at the Athens Olympics was when Natalie got the 800 freestyle relay team together before the race. She looked them all in the eye and she said, “I want you to know. don’t be worried if I am third at the hundred. I am going to be behind. Don’t be worried.” She knew exactly what she was going to do, how she was going to swim the race and that she was going to be successful. I thought it was awesome that she shared that with everybody because we would have been pretty worried. Teri, just a few general comments.

McKeever: I would agree with Bob in that I personally take a lot of pride in a team that has solid 200 freestylers or a great 800 free relay That is because I think the 200 free is a perfect blend between your speed and the ability to maintain that speed for more than 50 seconds. This year we had four women on our team that are under two minutes and when I think of all four of them, I think of really different ways of them swimming but a program and a philosophy that can help facilitate those strengths. So I think it is a combination of knowing what your strengths are. Natalie definitely prefers to go out a little bit more comfortable. I know in Melbourne she said, she is getting a little bold now, she wants to bust it for the last 125. I think that for her to continue to improve, if we can first of all if I could get her to swim a few more of them because she likes to hold them and make them very special. I would agree with what Bob said, it’s a race that requires a lot of rehearsals. So what I have tried to do to combat that is put some rehearsal type situations or rehearsing different pieces of the race into our sets. You know if an athlete wants to focus on that middle 75, you do a set of 200’s and that middle 75 then is an exact rehearsal of what you want to do to go 1:55 or 1:56 or whatever your goal should be. So again, I don’t know if I answered your question, but that’s some thoughts.

Schubert: I have a few questions of the panel before I open it up to the audience for questions and actually Teri just covered one of the subjects and that was: what do you do to help preparation of your athletes, specifically in practice, for the 200 freestyle.

Bob: I think one of the things that makes the 200 free very interesting is there are a couple of ways to go about it and I have a way that I know, with our guys and with some of our women, it works really well. And it is this. Train for the 400 meters. Look at the top five men all the time in the 200 free, all-time: Michael Phelps; Ian Thorpe, a pretty good 400 meter swimmer; Pieter Van den Hoogenband, who although he didn’t swim it, could train it for sure he could train for it; Peter Vanderkaay; and Klete Keller. Now I know how three of the five of those guys train. Actually I know how all of them train, and I think that is a starting point. I don’t think that’s everything. But if I had somebody like a young girl we have in our program, Allison Schmidt. She went 1:59.4 in the 200 this summer at 16 years old. But she dropped her 400 meter time from 4:24 to 4:11, and dropped the 200 from 2:01 high to 1:59. That is the foundation of it because I think you have got to be able to manage the energy system component of the race. Then on top of that you can add speed or kicking or under water or a lot of other things. So I think that is the first thing we do is we run a program that is geared towards that end of the 200.

The other things that I think are important are swimming at the race speed in practice. And there are any number of ways you can do that. We do broken swims where they rehearse different parts of the race. I like to swim hundreds to train for 200’s. I think if you want to swim a good long course 200, you need to train fast 100’s. So we do sets where they will do a lot of 100 easy / 100 fast and they will go the fast one every four minutes. It will be fast / easy. They do 100 fast and then they do 100 easy and every four minutes they will go a fast one. And you try to get them to go half of their goal 200 time or at least the second hundred of their goal 200 time. You can go many repeats of that and I think that builds the kind of stroke that you want to have for 200 meters. One thing that I would close with on is that I thought the thing that the Athens relay did really well was what the Aussies used to do to us. We just used your strategy and you went to ours. And that was, we split our 200’s really even. The only thing Jon and I said for two days before that race to every one of those boys was, swim it like a 200. Swim it like a 200. Swim a strong second hundred. I think in that race some of the Australians went out really fast and couldn’t finish. And that is what kids typically do in the 800 relay, right? It is they usually over swim it depending on where they are in the race and then they don’t finish as well. So I think it is critical for 200 meters that they are thinking about the pace and how they control it.

Jon: What Bob said is so true, obviously, but what I see the trend in the last 10-15 years, since the Matt Biondi years, that we used to have basically our sprinters all the way up to 200 meters. I think at the collegiate level, typical collegiate programs, they still do quite well for short course yards. But it is a different ballgame, it is you know, it is major league and minor league. And if you want to swim long course meters, you have to definitely have to have the middle distance type of training, especially today. I think most of the major talks at this conference are geared toward sprint events. Nobody really touched anything beyond that. But I think we have to go back if we want to do well in anything over a hundred, I think we have done a super job in America and throughout the World – especially Europe. They are into the 50’s and the 100’s and it is very hard for them to go a 125. I think they all dropped anchor right after, at the hundred. And so I think there is a philosophical change in the last 15 years. The old Nort Thornton philosophy: to train for the 200 and then you are going to have a real good hundred and a good 50. So I think we definitely, if we want to be successful in the 200 freestyle, we have to adhere to training for the 200 and obviously one up from a 200. And I think it’s usually – it’s the 400 or it would be the 500 if you go yards.

Teri: I guess the nice thing about going third is just to reiterate. You know when I look at Natalie one of the things best I think she did this year was the 4:10 in the 400 free. I think that is going to help her as well. Or an Ashley Chandler going 4:09 so that she can be a 1:59. I think it was Scott that just, or Stephen earlier, talked about the ratio of a 50, a 100 and a 200 in the same type of improvement. And not only are you racing and training for a spectrum, but I think it gives the athlete more experiences. I like to talk about tools in your tool chest. When you get behind the block and the more experiences you have, and I think it builds confidence, that you know that you have different strategies for what a race may dictate. The other one that came to mind is Laura Menadue with the 4:02 is now the world record holder in the 200 freestyle so definitely, a strong correlation (with the 400). You have got to have that speed though. You are not going to be a 1:56 – 1:55 200 freestyler if your best hundred is still a 58. So it is a spectrum of that, and a mindfulness of what age group you coach as well. I think the way you would coach an Allison Schmidt, as she is developing, would definitely be different than a Natalie Coughlin and where she is in her career.

Jon: I have got to add something. It just came to my mind while you were talking. You know, if you look at some of these people like Klete Keller and PVK, Peter Vanderkaay, those guys basically started out in the 1500 and gradually kept coming down to the 400 and to the 200. I give credit to Bob Bowman who really tried to make PVK and Klete and so on to come down to swim 100’s. I think that is where they made their greatest improvement, and one of the reasons, including Michael, who has never been in the weight program up to, pretty much last year. These guys have done a super job in the weight room and I think that is a credit to Bob Bowman. He just went right into it. We got all the aerobic base. You guys swam plenty of 1500’s throughout your lifetime and if you want to swim fast for the 200 and the 400, your 100 meters is going to have to improve. The best way to gain any power or strength is definitely, or we can do a whole lot of parachutes and we can do a lot of buckets and we can do a lot of weights in the pool, but the best way to gain it is out of the pool. And I think Bob did a super job to have it very highly organized with proper training, improved their strength away from the water.

Mark: The next question I want to ask has to do with leg management in the 200 free. And I am hoping that maybe we can also talk a little bit about how to challenge our female swimmers to use their legs more to make the 200 free better? I think the female swimmers in our country that are successful are pretty good leg swimmers or have developed using their legs better. I know when Kaitlin went 1:57 on the free relay in Athens, that was really, probably the first time that she had six beat kicked the whole 200 freestyle. I would just like the panel’s thoughts on first of all, leg management in the race. And second of all, what we can do perhaps with our female population to improve their use of the legs on a daily basis and particularly how it would pertain to the 200 free.

Bob: I think the best thing that you can do is start young. I know that, I guess it was 1998, Murray came back from the World Championships and he had the video of Anne Thorpe and Grant Hackett swimming the 400 meters in the World Championships. I think Ian was 15 and had won the World Championship. Michael and I watched that video a hundred times, because I was convinced, after watching it, that that was the future of our sport and that is how he was going to have to swim. He was going to have to kick like those guys so that really dictated how we were going to do things. Somebody alluded to this story yesterday, but it is kind of true. I thought I would start with Michael just sneaking in to six beat kick. You know, he would be doing a set, he would kind of go in and out and if he really wanted to go fast he would six beat kick naturally, because that was his thing. He called it, “the big kick”. That was our thing, the big kick. And so we would do sets and I would say alright, on the last one do your big kick. And maybe if he was going 58’s on hundreds he would go 54 when he did the “big kick”. And I would try to reinforce that. That is good. Maybe we can do some more of it. And I thought I could just sneak it so more and more of the time he was doing it and then before long he would just be doing it. Well, it didn’t work like that. So, finally one day he came into practice and I called him over and I said, you know the big kick we have been working on in freestyle? And he says well, yeah. I said, “You are going to do it every time you swim freestyle and when you don’t – you are out of here” and he looked at me like okay. Well the first day he lasted 400 meters. The second day was about 800 and this went on every day. It was actually fairly dramatic. He would get out and have a tantrum and cry. I would send him in the lobby and then he would, you know, call his mom to pick him up early. She would say no, I am at work, I have to pick you up whenever. So he would sit for two hours in the lobby and pout and think about kicking, or I don’t know, something. But, for one week he did it, but it went longer every day. By the end of the week he did a six beat kick all the time and that was that. And once he started training like that it was a quantum leap forward. That is when you knew his name, after that.

I do think with older swimmers it is more difficult. I am coaching Kaitlin right now and it is quite a challenge to get that in training. I think sometimes because we are so impatient about getting the training part in and it is a skill that has to be learned and then once it is learned you, you have to give it to them in doses that they can do. I don’t think Kaitlin, at age 23, is going to take the do it right now or else thing very well. As a matter of fact I know she is not going to take that very well. So we have been working on you know, more as like a drill. So it is a skill set that she is learning because I think older swimmers love to improve on things and they are very much into doing things that they feel like are technically helping them and are not just you know, the back and forth. So I think that that is the way that I would approach that.

Jon: I think the greatest difference happening in our program at Michigan and Club Wolverine since Bob joined in, well, we are kind of under new management and the biggest difference is Bob does not tolerate any easy kicking. There is no easy kicking. He gets really into your face and luckily while they kick they can hear. They can see Bob coming and he gets really upset. Bob just can’t stand the typical kicking you know, use the kick board and talking and chewing gum and all that crap goes on in the age group program. I mean, I don’t know how Michael survived with him, but it is tough. I think that is probably the biggest difference I can see and which is a good addition to our program because I was really soft on kicking. I didn’t really emphasize kicking as much perhaps as pulling and swimming mainly because I kind of like a distance oriented type of program. But going back to Mark’s question about how we can improve kicking, especially getting to the six beat kick or close to that, I will give you a good example that just happened a few months ago. I took a team to Missouri for a Grand Prix meet before World Championships and Kim Vandenberg was part of our group because Cindy could not be there. Kim came to me just before she Swam the 200 freestyle and said Jon, how do you swim the 200 freestyle? I have no clue how to swim 200 freestyle. My best time is 2:06. And I said well, so I sit down with her about one minute and explained to her a secret and I said, this is how you are going to do this, okay? On the first 50 I want you to be in control, turn over pretty good with your arm, but I want you to use soft kick. And the second 50 when you get off the wall, keep the turnover with the arm, but get into a supple kick. And the third 50 you control your arm, but get into a firm kick and when you get off the wall you go into the hard kick coming home. Try to make it understandable for a female. I can’t get fired. But you know, she did a 2:02. She dropped her time by 4 seconds and I was the greatest coach. It took me only one minute and she really trusts me now. Anytime she comes to me and says, Jon – how do I do this? Oh that great, you know, so whatever I can contribute, so whatever way you can get it across to them you know. It is up to you and who you are dealing with obviously I would not use this type of a coaching method with everybody, but you know with some people you can get away with it. That is my comment.

Bob: Could I say one thing here? I am sorry sir. When I came to Michigan, Peter Vanderkaay is one of the worst kickers I have ever seen. Yeah, he was maybe. I remember the first time I ever really sort of had to encourage people at Michigan is because they were doing a kicking set and it was yards. They were doing like a fast hundred and two fifty’s easy and on the first fast hundred nobody broke 1:20 yards. Michael wasn’t there yet. He would have gone like 58. And Peter was really lacking in that skill. So much to the point that Jon was doing a good thing before I came. Peter never kicked on the board. He would do more of a drill you know, so that he could use his arms a little bit and have a better body position. But to move to the next level he has got to have that foot speed and skill and we just started doing it and setting the goals, really you know, just manageable. But he has made a huge improvement in his kicking speed and when I say huge improvement, he can now kick under 1:20 long course – if maybe I had a gun to his head. But he could easily kick 1:30 and when he first started he could not come close to 1:40. At the beginning he didn’t want to work on it because he wasn’t good at it. I just had to say look, this is how you are going to get to the next level. If you watch the way he swims now, he can 6 beat for half of the race – the way we want him to. If he ever goes 4 laps he is going to go really fast and that is our goal.

Teri: I would just say that my experience has been, and I have only been a college coach, so my experience has been sometimes when women coming into the program, that kicking has been used more as a filler or a transition from hard set to hard set instead of a really a focus with an intent of it being a tool in your tool chest. So you know, selling that I think is the most important thing. And if there is one thing I have heard repeatedly in the six years that I have had the opportunity to be around the best coaches in the United States was, so many times on the bus or in the hotel, the conversation of the importance of kick, Frank Busch, Eddie Reese, Bob, on and on and on. So I had always felt it was an important skill and as an athlete I felt it was, so I think as a coach I incorporated it. I think the other thing is to get kids off the kickboard. I mean, you don’t swim, hopefully, with your head up, big arch, chit-chatting with your neighbors so I think there is a place for that, but there is also a place to get them off the board, put a snorkel on them and incorporate kick / swimming sets and dictate effort by tightening up intervals and your expectations as a coach.

Jon: More great ideas come to our head here. We would like to see some hands get up there periodically you know. Don’t just accept everything we say up here, because what do we know? But what Teri just said about kicking and swimming combined – a couple of things we tried, or at least I tried, is to have them go 200’s, numerous 200’s, whatever, anywhere from X number of 200’s. Then you go okay, I want you to descend down your kick from a 1:30 to, I want you to go a 1:08 kick, 1:07, whatever your hardest kick is. And throw the kickboard up and some of these kids learn how to do this real quick, you know, you can flip and throw up the kickboard, then swim as hard as you can for a hundred, okay? And the object is to have it combined 2:07 or 2:08 for the 200 so if you kick a 1:08, then if you want to go a 2:08 you have got to come home in a minute flat or come home in a .59. So that you can mix this up anyway you want at 75’s, 50’s, whatever is a good way to combine or reverse it. I want you to go a fast swim and then I want you to go a fast kick and then any of these combinations will encourage them to kick harder while they swim.

Teri: One thing too, I think it is coaching and teaching that the kick is an extension of your body. It’s not just working your legs. It’s working a system. I think too often when we talk about kick, it is just about moving your lets back and forth and not an awareness of what that means or what it should look like when you are full stroke swimming.

Mark: The question is what do you do with people that do not have that good natural ankle flexibility to improve?

Bob: Well first of all, I don’t recruit them and that would be the first thing I look for. But I do have some guys that are challenged on ankle flexibility and I just took a pretty simple stretching routine, but it is fairly effective, from Eddie Reese. And that is you have the guys sit with their feet flat on the floor and then a partner holds their feet flat and then they just kind of scoot back and straighten their legs out. Does that make sense? And you hold it for certain periods of time, just gradually. That is about the only thing we do. We do the old fashioned sit on your ankles thing sometimes. I know that Coach “”, when I worked with him, he thought that was really important and they would you know, point their toes, sit on their ankles and rock back and forth and he would push it until they were good enough that they could stand up on their toes. That is hard to do. I can’t go that far. I think I would be too frustrated, but that is the only thing that we do in terms of that.

Teri: We don’t do anything.

Jon: I think putting fins on sometimes helps because the levers increase a little bit on that. The only problem with fins, especially big fins, then it really slows down the turnover. They are kicking very slow and it is irritating to watch them do that, but in some cases that might help to put fins on them. I think that is a natural movement of the ankle.

Mark: Any other questions from the audience? The question is, when in the workout would you do your kicking sets and what percentage of your practice would be kicking?

Bob: We do it early in the program because I want them to put a lot of emphasis on it so it almost always follows our warm-up, is the kicking set. One thing that I borrowed from Frank Busch this year with my college team and we did it all winter and we actually did it with the post-grads too, was that I didn’t have the guts enough to do it two days a week, but I think this year I am. He does it on Tuesday and Thursday. The guys would lift weights before practice in the afternoon. They would come in and do maybe 15-20 minutes of warming up and then we would do one hour of kicking. Main set of you know of 3,000 – 4,000 and then after that we would maybe do starts or turns or those kinds of things, but that was very effective and I think we had some guys make a lot of progress on it. I would say the percentage of kicking that we do is maybe 30% would you say? Some days more, but at least 30%.

Teri: I like to vary where the kicking is. Sometimes it is first. Sometimes it is in the middle, the end. I hope there isn’t a pattern of warm-up, kick, pull, swim so I really try to mix that up. And I have done things, one of the things that I haven’t done in the last couple of years, but with the kicking, we went an hour and a half, Wednesday morning was entirely kicking with the sets that we did over and over again. We did that until there was 15% improvement across the board with the team. It wasn’t individuals, but the team had to improve. I would say everyday minimum we probably go 25% kick and that someone like Natalie’s workout could be as high as 60% kicking.

Jon: I have done a few 2,000 kicks for time, where you would have to keep your average, you know, I want you to hold the 1:20. This is long course meters or maybe 1:08 or 1:07 for yards and we got luckly, we have 7 or 8 big pace clocks on the pool deck. Nobody would have an excuse not to keep track of your time and you have got to do that and nobody talks. Everybody is, you can check the pulses, it gets up there and their face gets pretty red, definitely in the red zone for threshold and when they come in. That is very important and of course you didn’t ask the question about the under water kick, but I think that is an extremely important part of today. You know there is the fifth stroke, at least in America we call it the fifth stroke, you know, the under water kicking. I think the rest of the world is catching on with us, but you have to practice that and Bob has them on every day doing some kicking against the wall and on the whistle they have to explode and go all the way down to the middle of the pool, 25 meters or 25 yards, hard under water kick, wall to wall. That pretty much happens almost on a daily basis or follow some hard under water kicking and that is just the only way that it is going to be done. When I go throughout the country, that is one of my jobs as a Master Coach, and when I talk to age group coaches, you have got to start them at age 5, 6, 7, 8. It’s very hard to teach a Tom Malchow how to do under water kick. Tom Malchow would never learn how to do under water kick. If he could, he could have been the first guy to go under 1:53. Unfortunately, he was too big and too uncoordinated at 6’ 7” and he just couldn’t learn that. But if he would have learned that when he was very young I think he would have been a lot better butterflyer.

Mark: The question is, if you do 25% of your practice or higher kicking and you have knee problems or other physical problems, what do you do to adjust for that?

Teri: Fortunately I haven’t had anyone with knee problems. I think my first gut response to that was that hopefully you are not kicking from your knees. And if there is something going on with your knees I would go back and look at if there needs to be a technical thing. I think sometimes that could be corrected with help from an athletic trainer, your strength and conditioning people. It is probably an imbalance or a weakness that you know you definitely do have to find out what the cause is before you can come of with some sort of solutions.

Mark: The question is, if we are talking about 25-30% kicking how much of the kicking is done under water? I think this is a great subject particularly with the coaches that are sitting up here because they have athletes that probably do it better than anybody.

Bob: I would guess as a number maybe 10% of the 30 because for me, the intensity of the under water kick is really important. And you also have to add in, I think, the amount of under water kicking they are doing actually in the swimming sets which would make that go up higher and we do pay particular attention to that and it is more individualized. Sometimes I will legislate. Okay, everybody is doing six under water kicks on this before you come up or you have to kick for a certain, you know, for 15 meters on these 50’s or whatever it is. But I think at least 10% of that would be under water.

Teri: I would say too, there is a part of your under water work that can just happen in warm-up. One of the first questions I got in coaching Natalie, how do you make her go under water 15 yards on every wall? If you know Natalie, you don’t make her do anything. But I think it is because Natalie thinks it’s important and it goes back to selling that as a skill. And some people are going to be better at it than others so there is that component of it too. But if you are going to use that as a real weapon then, as Michael has done or as Natalie has done, I think you have to be really mindful of practicing it, to condition you to stay under water as opposed to what you want to do on that third turn of your 200 free. I think it was Jon that just said too, that I think a lot of times when we teach that we teach under water, we teach surface swimming and a huge piece is what is happening from under water to the surface. And that has got to be caught and paid attention to as well.

Mark: I will just throw a comment from my discussion with Gregg Troy on Ryan Lochte. Gregg’s comment is that if Ryan does twenty 100’s, he is practicing his under water kicking. And when I asked Ryan how many kicks do you take? He goes, I don’t think of how many kicks I take. He goes, I just practice my kicking and I go as far as feels proper. He just has a tremendous feel for it. But he is practicing the kicking he wants to execute in the race during the sets, not just during the kicking sets.

Jon: You just stole my thunder here. Yes its one thing to emphasize the under water kick. We are going to go 20 25’s and then that is going to be you know 15 meters, you go 14 kicks, etc. But if you go back into a swimming set, and if they do not apply it while they swim, it is pretty much useless. So it has got to be enforced while you are swimming or otherwise it is not going to make that much difference. So you know, you have got to practice it the way you’re going to swim it.

Mark: I was just trying to reinforce what I knew you were going to say. The next question is, the term “25 or 30%” is that the total time of the practice or total yardage of the practice?

Bob: I would say for us, yardage.

Teri: Yeah, that is the way that I was looking at it – yardage.

Mark: The question is since FINA only allows three dolphin kicks per lap in breaststroke [editor’s note: I think he was being facetious] how much dolphin kicking do you have your breaststrokers do? I do not know how that pertains to the 200 freestyle, but it is a great question.

Bob: I think that probably one of the most important things that you can do for breaststroke is kick breaststroke so that is what our guys work on. And then if they are working on pull-outs or something, they would work on the dolphin kicks more. Or there are usually options in our practices where anyone can kind of work on under water work if they want to, dolphin kicking. Sometimes I have the breaststrokers, if they really want to work on breaststroke kick, while the butterflyers or the backstrokers or freestylers are doing under water 25’s, the breaststrokers will kick under water 25’s breaststroke and try to get their foot speed going or they can do the dolphin kick, but we mainly stick with the breaststroke kicking for breaststroke.

Jon: There was a good question about injuries and kicking, etc. It very seldom happens in freestyle or backstroke and predominantly in breaststrokers and when we do breaststroke, like Teri said, you don’t want to kick breaststroke with a kickboard. That is the worst thing to do. You want to kick breaststroke always without a kickboard. And you go two kicks and then come up with a full pull and get back down again, or three kicks, you can change it any way around so that way there is not that much stress on the knees because you are only taking two or three quick kicks and you come up take a long stroke and go back down again. So that was a good question anyway for you Masters.

Mark: One last question. The question is, do you use fins or mono-fins or weighted kicking or vertical kicking as far as mixing it up, other than just straight kicking?

Bob: We use all of those except for the mono-fin. I feel like that puts a lot of pressure on their lower backs. We do a lot of kicking on the wall, just wall kicking. It is a great thing to do, particularly if you have a lot of people in a small space but I like them to kick on the wall in a stretch position, on their back, even if they are kicking even if they are kicking a flutter because I like them to hold this body position and kick with a full leg and that kind of forces them to because they cannot bring their knees out of the water or you can see it. It is a teaching tool, but we do a lot of wall kicking. We do vertical kicking and we do vertical kicking with weight belts. We use fins. I have various forms of fins for each of the kickers. The very best kickers like Michael or Charlie Houtch and some guys that are very good kickers, they use the positive drive-force fins, the orange fins that are sort of rounded. I think that that gives them a real realistic foot speed when they are kicking with fins and it also gives them enough resistance that they can go fast. I think the zoomers are a little stiff for me and then when we have people like PVK who are not as good kickers. We give them a little more of the traditional fins so they can just get a little more velocity going and also more ankle flexibility for people like that, but we use a variety of those things.

Teri: We use a variety of all that and I think it is important to vary it throughout the set, the year and so, the mono-fin I haven’t used quite as much in the last couple of years.

Mark: I want to thank these three coaches for sharing their knowledge and we look forward to all of your contributions on the next 800 freestyle relay. Thank you.

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news