Making Your Swim Program Stronger by Mike Adams (2011)


We’re going to talk a little bit about the weight room, we’re going to talk about taper a little bit and kind of go from there. With the weight room and everything I look at it this way- our body is a race car; we fine tune our engine in the water, we shape and build the car in the weight room. We lift three times a week regardless of the situation during the season, and I’ve learned this through trial and error. Many years ago we used to go Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and I wasn’t getting what I wanted Saturday morning before the meet so I’ve changed that. And again, there is a lot of misinformation out there. It helps to make phenomenal progress in the water. Like I said, there is a lot of information out there saying you don’t need to be strong to go fast. I’m quoting Gregg Troy here who said before Ryan Lochte, you know, did so well the last two years. He basically said that if you’re going to be fast at the state meet you need to have some type of dry land program; you just have to do it if you’re going to compete at that level. So I choose to believe what Mr. Troy says and that is what we do. We go Monday, Wednesday, Thursday; we try not to go back-to-back on muscle groups. We go Thursday because I found that that is easier because a lot of times we have meets on Friday, it has been a long week, I kind of want to get them out of the water on a Friday and get them home and get some sleep. The one thing I will say, “” in 2000, at the ASCA Clinic mentioned, “Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to overload muscles of the same groups on back-to-back days.” And sometimes, you know, we don’t do that often but at some times we will do that.

Our weight room is constantly in motion. We have 45 swimmers, all who lift after practice; it’s not just our top swimmers. We usually have three to five people in the weight room. There is little lying around, there is little off task stuff in the weight room and we’ve shifted our focus from, I’ll say, a traditional approach to one that has variety and one that is more power oriented in the weight room. We do very little machine work in our strength training; we lift in many different positions because when you’re in the water you’re never in a static or constant position. That is my reasoning for that. I would say we’re more of a free-weight program. We’re looking more for proper form than intensity. We have very few, if any, injuries in the weight room or in the water.

Our strength plan, if you will, is a 14-week plan. The first two weeks are more or less what I would call a base foundation and then Weeks-3&4 are PHA, and I’ll get into that. Weeks-3&4, at Christmas time, we work the central nervous system, we work on recovery, we work on range of motion and we work on flexibility. The reason we do that is because we’re just doing a lot of swimming at that time. And then Week-7 we get back to a base again, building up into Weeks-8, 9 & 10 and then Week-11 is a little bit of a buffer before we get into Week-12 through 14 where we’re basically working on peaking and recovering. Our first of the so-called taper we do… we don’t drop weights; I know some people do that but I have found being in the weight room keeps them focused, keeps them a little bit stronger. We do moderate reps and weights; we maintain our field with good strength. We have, you know, light reps and weight the second week and we work on mental rehearsal. And then our last week we do stretching and we don’t have any weights there at all; we’re working on getting ready to swim fast.

Then this formula would change for those with an eleven-week season. We would try to do the same thing as far as resting them that last three weeks. And again, this is a template, it’s not an absolute. Some of the main exercises that we end up doing are- we do squats, we do dead lifts, we do a horizontal press which would be a bench press, a push up or a dip and then we do a vertical push which would be a military press, a vertical pole or a pull up and then when in doubt, pick up a plate. And what we do in this regard is we’ll pick up a 25lbs weight; it could be a 10lbs weight or a 5lbs weight and we’ll do a military press, we will do a bent arm row, we’ll do a chest press which is kind of, like an accordion, we’ll do a bicep curl, we’ll do a core rotation kind of, like a build boomer type of thing, we’ll do a back start where they go up and then they come down, and then we’ll do a triceps curl and then we’ll lie on our back and do a press upwards. So we will do 10 of those and then we’ll go 20 of those then 30 of those. We’ll try to do that all within 25 minutes, and believe me they’re drenched and they are, you know, exhausted from doing that. It’s just something a little bit different outside, you know, the regular routine.

Shifting gears to rotator cuffs; we’ll do this the first two or three weeks of the season. And we have a number of our swimmers who come in and again, you know, you talk to the kids starting the season of course, they’re not doing anything. Regardless of what they might tell you. They come in, they’re dead, after the first day they can hardly move so we will do some circles with or without weights, we’ll do some rotator cuffs like this in the weight room, we’ll do some straight arm lifts, and we’ll do some aide arm lifts. And then one of my swimmers came up with this where they‘re lying on their back, arms above the ground, start from their sides, touch above, touch back here and again, that really helps our shoulders. We don’t really have any problems with our shoulders. And so again, just a suggestion on what you may want to do.

Let me get into PHA, which is Peripheral Hard Action, if you will, and I’m going to kind of get into, you know, theory a little bit so bear with me. Our focus in the weight room is a comprehensive total body, you know, attacking that group, okay. We work on recovery, we work on intensity, and we work on specificity. We work, like I said, on a total body focus, we change the emphasis constantly from agility to flexibility, to strength, to power, to coordination, to mobility. We alternate from one body part to the other. We work on the interval factors; we change from high intensity to low intensity through our weight program and our swimming program. We want to increase the number of capillaries and nerve pathways for better and stronger nerve impulses to the muscles, getting greater growth of the muscle and increase and speed up circulation. We strive to accelerate the buffering action. I feel the more progressive and varied the training is the more buffers we build up, and by improving our buffering, our strength and flexibility, our lower and upper body exercises, abdominals, relaxation, we do very well in doing that. With our intensity factor, for our weight training we want to develop strength and hypertrophy. Our muscles grow in proportion to the work done in a unit of time. We also have got away from… a lot of times in a traditional weight training program you will lift then you’ll lie around for about 2-5minutes. We’ve really got away from that and that has really helped us a lot. By constantly moving between exercises we get a lot more exercise done with more intensity, greater recuperation than we ever did before. And then I’m going to get to a few examples in a minute.

One of the highest priorities of our system is to correct structural or skeletal weaknesses resulting from compensating too much by performing certain exercises. We watch out for overcompensation, we try to stabilize certain joints and weak links of the body chain and we try to isolate and work specific weak muscles and areas. So we want the blood pumping to all different areas, so what we might do is a set of the following; we might do a set of the following exercises four times-
• we might do a set of five squats emphasizing the legs and back
• also working on power, we might do single or double arm rows working on the arms and back
• a set of twelve, which is more aerobic
• and then we might do some incline sit ups working on the core, and we might do that four times
And so people are constantly moving between one exercise to the other; not a whole lot of stationary action.

We are working muscle groups in a continual fashion. Legs- in this case, legs, backs, arms and the abs. We steer away from what I would call ‘localized fatigue.’ You know, localized fatigue… traditionally we would do, let’s say, three sets of 10 bench, then four sets of 15 leg extension, four sets of 5 dips, four sets of 15 bench jumps. I’ve got away from that and I think that that has really, really helped. Instead, embrace cumulative fatigue. In swimming your athlete is never using one part of the body at the expense of another. Our sports involves all parts of the body; arms, legs, core, all working together at the same time. It makes sense to me to stress multiple areas of the body in unison, thus we try to alternate our exercises. And so by stressing various muscles groups, we end up working the entire body every time we’re in the weight room; we don’t do the same exercise any single time, but different stresses each and every time there. So in the bench, for example, we might do sets of five working on power one week, we might do sets of ten working on aerobic the next week.

We start off slowly and we build up. We start up by trying to do three exercises in each hybrid or session until the work can be done correctly and on time. And then we want each session to be done in about 25-or-30 minutes and then as the athletes get acclimated we might add a fourth or a fifth exercise in what we’re trying to do. In our quest for the ultimate strength, we seek the right combination of power and endurance. We want to combine the strength and movement along with mobility of movement, we want the proper muscle mass not a huge bodybuilder, if you will; we want strength, length, power and endurance; we want it all and we do it by mixing everything up. We want everybody to be strong but not bulky. Take the legs, for example, we want them to be sharp and sleek; they’re the rudders of our ship, we need them to kick all the way through our races. We need also, power off the blocks and off the turns. They must be able to explode when we need them to.

And now I’m going to give you a couple of examples of our lower body, what we try to do; the first part of practice we do five dead lifts. And with dead lifts we like those explosive, we want them for starts and then we would do speed push ups for eight to ten reps and, you know, just as fast as you can possibly go. After that we do what we call ‘dead bugs.’ If you can imagine being in a v-up position where you are having your right arm and your left leg come down at once and then you’re alternating left arm and right leg. We might go ten to twenty reps there and then we would finish that portion with three to six bench jumps, and then we would try to do that three to five times within a 25-minute period.

Now our parameters, we want quality not quantity. So if people are doing things poorly that really doesn’t help anything out. Secondly, we want the perfect rep. When you start off you might want to take some time for transitions and some of the new people might take a little bit of time to recover off that. So, you know, there is nothing set in stone but as you can see, we’re trying to keep everybody active and moving and not just kind of, lying around and it has really helped us out a lot. Looking at our second lower body exercise, this would follow what we just did. So we’re going to switch to a squat which I think is more toward turns and then we would go to the bench for eight to twelve reps working on speed pushing, that wouldn’t be heavy that day. An inverted body row is where you would be grabbing a bar, having your feet on a bench and you were pulling yourself up in a straight line and you would try to do eight to twelve reps there. And then we would finish up with some jump boxes; that would be a vertical jump, three to six. And then at the end of our weight training session, if we can, we’d like to go ten minutes of stretching which basically rejuvenates everything for the following day, ready to go.

Okay, the next thing I’d like to do is go into our upper body, if you will, and the first one that we have here, we have a kneeling clean and press and what this is… I have a bar, I come down, I bring it to my knees, I bring it here with my elbows up, I explode upwards; you can do this just with a bar, you can do it with a bar and some weights, and then come back down to your hips and then down. This is an explosive action. And then we would go into speed pull ups which would be eight pull ups. Some of our better athletes can do eight pull ups in eight to nine seconds and we would want them to probably do anywhere from eight to ten to eleven, depending on how tired they are. If you wanted to make that more aerobic for your distance guys you could make those twelve reps. And then we would come back down and do some side sit oblique- ten for each side. And then we would do an incline curl and press, and what that would be is as follows- you’d be lying on your back, you’d have dumb bells, you’d bring them up to here then you would extend them out in the front, turn the hands like this, bring them back down here never allowing the bar bells to hit the floor. This is kind of, a push emphasis for this day and again, if we can go three to five rounds in 25-minutes that would be good.

[Next Speaker]: Can I ask a question?
Main Speaker: Sure.
[Next Speaker]: How do you structure that in your weight room; does every kid do the same thing at the same time?
Main Speaker: No, we can’t do it because we just have too many kids so it takes some time to make sure that people are doing various, different things. It takes a lot of creativity but not everybody is doing everything at once. We have about four or five people in the weight room so that some people might be stretching, some people… they might be doing the first workout first or the second workout first depending on what is going on, and people are constantly rotating. And then, unfortunately, sometimes you have other people in the weight room which makes it creative so… I’m just trying to give you an idea of what we’re trying to do each and every day so that there is no lying around.

Okay, let’s see… I think I… upper body… yeah, second one, I believe. And here, the first exercise that we’re doing is we’re doing a push up into a bent arm row where they’ll do a push up, walk up to the bar, bring the bar up here, bring the bar down as a bent arm row then walk back and do a push up. We’ll do ten of those and then we’ll do a chin up, if you will, underhand grip as fast as they can; this would be about shoulder length apart. And then we would head into some inclined abdominals maybe for fifteen reps and then finish up with some Halbert cleans, and what those are is we are face down, dumb bells- bring them up to your hips, bring them up to your head in an L-situation. If you wanted to… this would not be Halbert but if you wanted to extend them we could do that but that would be a different exercise. What we’re trying to do is just work the recovery and a little bit of the extension, kind of, in a circular pattern, okay, and we would do maybe fifteen reps of those. This part of the upper body session is basically a pull part of the session so we’ve done a pull part; we’ve done a push part so we’re complementing everything, if you will.

The next thing I have is a bench day, if you will. We’re doing basically a pyramid on the bench and one set of ten, add weight and so on but when we’re doing the bench we like to add bent arm rowing. So if you’re doing roughly, I’m going to say 30 bench presses we’re doing 60 rows to complement what we’re doing so that nothing is getting out of balance. And then we’re also doing leg throws, okay, and we’re trying again, three to five times in 25-minutes. In the next part of that we’re doing some lat press, triceps press, seated rows, cobras with medicine balls and then some Russian twists; again, three to five times through and that usually works out pretty well for us.

And then I’ve got a few exercises that we tried to do. I’m going to kind of ramble on through this because I want to make sure I get some other stuff done. Some exercises that we do with arms, shoulders, chests, abdominals, back. We’re trying to get constant variety going through the weight room at all times. And then I kind of, want to move on up. Now I think I want to move up to Slide-48, which is our underwaters and I want to get into taper a little bit.

Yeah, here we go. We work on the underwaters a lot in our program and we change things. We’ll put a pole in the middle of the pool; we’ll do 50s where we push off, get to the middle of the pool, come up, swim, do a flip turn, go to the middle and finish underwater. We used to have this green line in the middle of our pool which was for water polo so we would tell our swimmers, “Streamline to the green line.” We do a lot of Texas Kick which is butterfly kick on your back, arms at your side. We’ve done a lot of widths lately, which I found very, very good; we’ll start from the sides of the pool where we’ll go 15-minutes of pushing off, going to the middle, and they’ll do that usually in about 10-second, maybe 5-seconds rest. Now if you have people with asthma who could have a hard time breathing, you might want to do it on 20-seconds starting off then they’ll push off and be underwater and they get a lot of good underwater work done this way.

The next thing we do is we work mono-fin. We don’t have a lot of mono-fins so that is really for some of our better swimmers. We try to, maybe one day a week; go 1000/1500 yards per week on that. We do a lot of under-over 50s with fins. We also do some underwater 25s, we do rockets as well; we do them a little bit different than John did yesterday. We’ll put fins on, we’ll have them in the diving well and we’ll do four rockets in a minute. We’ll go 0, 15, 30 and 45, push off, explode through the surface trying to get up through the water and then come back down.

The next thing we like to do is we do a power rack and we reward the swimmers who are doubling with the power rack. Sam Cancura who is here has been real helpful with this. I’ve purchased three racks from him. And the way we set it up- we have three different swimmers on a rack at any one time so one person will go on 0, one person will go on 20, one person will go on 40 and we try to get twenty reps done in 30-minutes. And what I’ve done during this time is I have… we record times and they need to be within a certain time period. I prefer the power racks over the pyramids or the towers because I think you’re hitting that speed system versus a long 25. I want them to be fast in the early part of the race. I have parents, believe it or not, who do this and work and time the kids. They’ll come in, in the morning; they’ll come in, in the afternoon. I have parents do it because I’ve had managers do it in the past and unfortunately, it becomes, you know, a flirt session, if you will, and it doesn’t work out as well as I like but this is something that I would highly recommend you do. You need to have somebody who is going to stay on him about it, though; you can’t just have them do whatever they want in this situation.
Alright, I’m going to talk a little bit about taper. Generally, with a taper it’s a three-week process. We pretty much go through a set and warm up in the water during that taper situation, and the reason is it’s probably because of a superstitious reason. The first year we did it we won the state meet so I’ve done it ever since. So I know you’re not supposed to have superstitions in swimming but we do it any way. We warm up with 300 free, 3000 non-free. 9x50s IM switch then we’ll go 8x50s odd drill swim, even kick swim and then we’ll do sixteen 25s easy-fast and the fast-easy and then we’ll do two starts. I believe at the end of the year a long warm up is better than a short warm up because I think too many people dive and they’ll swim a 300, “I feel great.” I think you need to be warmed up before you swim at the end of the year. We tend to taper for the individual at the end of the year; it depends on the athlete’s needs, how hard he/she has worked in the weight room and in the water. Some athletes need more rest than others.

With our taper, we look at it as a window of opportunity versus a specific time and place. I don’t know if there is what we call a ‘window taper’ but I believe in a window taper, and what I mean by that is you’re going to swim well starting at sectionals and state and you’re going to swim well at senior champs, sectionals, juniors/seniors, whatever it is; it’s a window of opportunity. With everything that you’ve done, there is enough in the tank that you’re going to swim well at all those meets. The way we look at it, the first week we usually reduce everything by about 25% the normal yardage, the second week roughly about 50%, the third week mostly is warming up and then getting ready to go.

The second part of this, we try to maintain our aerobic conditioning a little bit, continually work on speed and pace. Something that I would caution you against: be very careful about doing dives at race distances that last week before your big meet. The reason I say this- my very first year of coaching I was an Assistant Coach and our Head Coach had them do dives like, two days before. We were amazing. We were as flat as a pancake at the meet. And that is something… you know, don’t do that because it just isn’t going to work; it’s what we call ‘leaving your swimming in the pool.’ You don’t want to do that. If you need to do a little dive work, do it at odd distances so that way the kids can equate a lifetime best and leave their swimming in the pool.

A couple of other things- when in doubt rest your kids, be calm, don’t get concerned regardless of how good or bad they might look. I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve had that look awful, they feel awful, they tell me how bad they feel and with some of them the worse they feel the better they’re going to do. So don’t worry; when in doubt rest. If you need to do broken swims that is fine, go with your gut feeling and you’ve got to maintain everybody’s confidence regardless of the situation.
A little bit about diet here; I could’ve spent more time on this but basically we do the Barry Sears, the Zone Diet, all those different books. Basically a lot of protein, veggies, fruits, minimal carbohydrates, water- we try to stay away from pop as much as possible; we talk about ‘dirty diesel,’ and you know, McDonalds, that types of thing. We try to stay away from that type of stuff because, you know, with a high end car at the end of the year you’re not putting dirty diesel in there, you’re putting in high octane gas. So you need to stay on them about it. And one of the things that we do is on Tuesdays and Thursdays we have what we call a ‘Bagel Breakfast’ where we have the parents bring in an egg casserole. My suggestion with the egg casserole- make sure it is well done. You do not want runny egg casserole because that will create problems during the day. I would also recommend the egg casserole as good for the morning; don’t save it in the fridge, it doesn’t for, whatever reason, save well. Bagels, orange juice, chocolate milk, fruit, protein bars, and the parents can get very creative because when you’re working with high school boys they’re not the best at bringing in food to help them out so this is a way for us to plan for them.

Okay. Getting back to taper a little bit, try to be careful that your state team is not too fast at your sectional meet. Make sure every swimmer knows what meet they’ll be tapering for and why. If you have a swimmer who is going to be on a relay let them know that, “You might not be resting for sectionals” because we need them on the relay the following week. And again, this is just my opinion, you can do whatever you want. Don’t rest for every meet during the year and not be ready for the big meet at the end of the year. In swimming, during our season everything is totally different, and what I mean by that is you have some people who are swimming for the moment all the time; they’re trying to be fast every single meet. And on one of my slides Pete Malone, in a conversation I had with him, “You can’t be fast every single meet as a senior swimmer; there is just no way around it.” So, you know, if you‘re getting beat up during the year and people are pounding you, you’ve got to tell the kids, “Your time will come, you just have to pick your moment” and hopefully it’s the right one, which is at the end of the year.

Let me talk to you about something that is… I don’t know if this is right or wrong but I think the next slide… this is what I would call ‘rest cycles’ during the season. You know, we talk about working our kids all year long but what about resting our kids during the season? And I have found, through experience, that sometimes if you take a little bit of time off during a season and build what I call a ‘rest cycle’ into your training it helps you at the end of the season. There have been times… and again, like all of you I like to get as much in as possible but sometimes building in a rest cycle at an appropriate time is going to give you more oomph at the end of the year. Bad weather, pool availability have gotten me in this realm of thinking. I do this to help the kids at the end of the year, I don’t do this to try to taper for somebody during a season. I usually do a rest cycle like, once at Christmas time, once around New Year’s. I also try to scatter maybe one in December; while we’re training we might go three mornings one week. And then in January sometimes I found that they might need one or two rest cycles. Now again, I know that I haven’t read anything to tell me that this works but when I have done these we swim faster than if we, you know, just get the yardage in. So you just want to be sure that people have enough rest to swim well at the end of the year. Again, just a little bit more about rest cycles- they should not be abused. And again, the kids will return the next day refreshed, ready to go and appreciative about what to do.

I want to talk a little bit about taking care of your sprinters. Again, this is something that is not out there but I’m just going to say it anyway; sometimes your 50 and 100 freestylers can’t take the pounding that your 200, 500 and 100 guys can. As a result don’t give up on them, don’t think that they’re wimpy. Adjust their send offs so that they can do the work. It may be on a C, D, E, Q, Z interval but I’ve found that by taking care of them they have a lot more speed at the end of the year. And just my theory, by taking care of them, is that it might be a rest cycle that they need. Two years ago we were swimming the state finals and our anchor for the 400 free relay, I think he split 44:05 and I can tell you right now, if I had done the usual pound, pound, pound with him he might have gone 54:05 at the end of the year. So take care of those sprinters. There is nothing written anywhere that says, “this is right/wrong” but I think it’s right and I think it’s something that can help you.
Let’s talk a little bit about rub downs. At the end of the season every swimmer we have will get a rubdown at the end of the year if they choose to do so, and kids love them and they respond well to them, and at the end of the year, DVC, we have four coaches… four tables; we go in there… we’re the only team that does it. I remember three years ago, we went in there and these other kids from the other team were looking at us like, “Oh, my God” and they were right because the kids really respond well. And again, you know, Eddie Reese kind of, said it in his second talk; you do that little extra for them they’ll respond and do amazing things. And again, sectionals and state- we do rubdowns as well. Out of necessity sometimes I’ll write up when we have less kids, a rubdown schedule to keep the guys on task to make sure they know when they should get over by the table so that they’re not doing whatever and missing their event.

And then the last thing I want to talk about before I open it up for questions is filming. We try to film our swimmers Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. We try to get everyone filmed. My goal is to try to film everybody or try to get our meets filmed so the kids can see what they’re doing on them. We also try to focus in on relay exchanges, starts, turns, and finishes, freestyle and their best strokes, and I usually have my assistants film because my real role as a lion tamer is to keep things moving and sometimes it’s better to let the assistants do that.

And then finally, I’ve got some references; I have about six pages of references. A number of these books are out of print but a lot of them you can get for cheap at A number of them are swimming books, a number of them are weight training books, some are psychology books, but it’s a nice reference, if you will. And I would highly recommend this new book, Michael Brooks’ book. I know he is considered an age… I don’t want to say that; maybe a 13-to18-year-old developmental guy but I’m telling you, this book is terrific. It talks about some things that have been needed to be talked about for a long time.
And then my last slide, I just want to thank Pete Orio, Bill Buzbee, Brian ‘Quick’ Danley and Tony Sanchovicious for helping with our dry land program. So if you… yes, sir?

[Next Speaker]: What do you use for rubdown juice?
I have my own concoction that I have come up with. Maybe years ago I used to be at Junior Nationals, Senior Nationals and you basically are in the rubdown town and so it’s a combination of oil of wintergreen… I’m trying to thank; what else? Oil of wintergreen, mineral oil… I’m trying to think… let me do this; once I’m done answering questions I’ll try to write it down for you because again, I kind of, mix in all that kind of stuff but again, it’s something I’ve come up with for years.

[Next Speaker]: Do you only coach boys or do you coach girls, too?
I coach boys only; I coach the boys swim team. That is all I do. And then I also coach age groupers. I have about sixty 11-through14-year-olds whom I’ve been coaching the last five years so, you know, of all different abilities and everything else. Any other questions? I appreciate you guys listening, thank you for staying here. If you want to come up and ask a question, you know, while I’m packing up that would be great but thank you for having me here at ASCA in 2011.

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