Jim Richardson has distinguished himself as one of the finest swimming coaches in the nation. In 11 years with Michigan Swimming, Richardson has taken them from being “middle of the pack” to one of the elite and most respected teams in the country. Jim Richardson enters his 12th season as Michigan’s head women’s swimming coach. Under Richardson, the Wolverines have dominated the Big ten Conference, winning 10 straight conference titles from 1987 through 1996, a precedence among women’s sports teams in the Big Ten. His teams have placed among the NCAA’s Top 8 in nine of the last 10 seasons, and in the Top 3 at the NCAA Championships. Thirty-two Wolverines have earned NCAA All-American status under Richardson. An ardent believer in the student-athlete, Richardson coached 1992 and 1994 teams that earned College Swimming Coaches Association of American National All-Academic team recognition. Fourteen women were named 1995 Academic All-Big Ten. He has served as both president of the Board of Directors for the CSCAA. Richardson earned his undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University, and a graduate degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Richardson resides in Ann Arbor with his wife, Mary Sue, and their four children.
Nort Thornton has been the coach at the University of California for over twenty years. Thornton’s office is a testimony to his coaching ability with NCAA trophies, Olympic banners, photos of his world record holders, and mementos that span through his long and illustrious career. Coach Thornton was honored for all of his accomplishments with his induction at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1995. Thornton has led the Bears to two national championships, 18 Top-10 finishes at the NCAA championships, a stellar cast of All Americans and an even more impressive collection of Olympians including world record holder Matt Biondi. Since Thornton took over the Bear program, 30 Cal. athletes have represented several countries in the Olympic Games, winning 24 medals, including 11 gold, 8 silver, and 5 bronze. He was a past president for ASCA and currently serves on the ASCA Board of Directors and is a past member of the NCAA Rules Committee. Thornton has a degree in education and a master’s degree from Stanford University. He and his wife Carla have three sons, Richard, Marc and Gregg.
Jim Richardson: I feel really privileged to be speaking at the same time with Nort Thornton. I have such a tremendous amount of respect for Nort, the work that he’s done and not so much the work that he’s done but how he does it and what he builds into the lives of the young people that he works with. I believe very much that if all this sport is about is teaching somebody to go from here to there and back again faster and that’s the only value in it then thanks I’ll find something else to do with my life. I believe that through swimming and through sport we can teach people about life. I was watching TV last night and watching the documentary on Bill Buckner and about his coming back from cancer to make the Dodger team. He may not be really an effective athlete for them at the top the way he once was, but when you listen to their great stars on the team and how they are affected by what Bill has done in attempting to recover from the adversity of cancer you know he was effective in other ways. One of them was saying, “You know, I come off the field and I have a sore elbow and I have a sore knee and a sore back and I start to complain and I look around and I see Bill Buckner and I think to myself ‘I have no room to complain here’.” So I am constantly inspired by people who do sport the right way. That’s one of the reasons I have so much respect for Nort because I have respect for the athletes whose lives he’s touched.
So we’re going to talk today about strength and power training for collegiate women. I ran across something on the internet I want to show you. Holy Moly, I’ve never seen biceps and triceps like that on a woman. I don’t know whether that was natural or unnatural. There wasn’t a spot to send an e-mail to this woman but maybe it shows what’s possible. I don’t know whether that would be very good in swimming but I just thought it was a pretty funky picture.
In preparing for talks like this I try to seek out experts. On our campus we have a lot of experts at the University of Michigan in a lot of different fields and so I sought out one of our lesser known researchers and he seemed to have some time on his hands. When you seek out these people you need to strive to meet them on their level so that you can try to relate to where they are to what you’re doing. So I dropped in at this gentleman’s office and I said I had this theory about mass that there’s a finite amount of mass in the universe and when I’m losing weight then that means that somebody else is gaining weight and when I’m gaining they’re losing and I would like some help and he just sat there and looked at me. I thought to myself that was a bad idea, bad idea. So I asked him, “How would you like to spend some time working with people like this and helping them to get stronger?” He said, “Well! I think I might be interested in that, that might be a pretty good thing.”
So, in all honesty, I spent a lot of time reading Orjan Madsen’s material because I like what Orjan does. He’s very much like Jim Hay who I’ve spent a lot of time with at the University of Iowa and Jim has a wonderful gift in biomechanics to break sport movement down into components and from those components you decide what you can address and maybe what you can’t address and then you look at the tools that are available to you to try to effect change.
I do want to say from the start that I think I agree with Jimmy Tierny. I think people who coach mature females are really on the cutting edge, in terms of seeing whether what they’re doing, their treatment and their stresses are really having a profound affect because they’re about the only group in the spectrum in swimming who are not affected by either growth hormone or large amounts of natural testosterone.
We spend a lot of time talking about improvements in people. Do you remember Skip Foster’s talk in Hawaii at the World Coaches Clinic? He talked about Zubero and his progression in breaking the world record in the 200 meter backstroke. Skip included the demographic data on Zubero. When he came to Florida he was six feet tall and 165 pounds. When he broke the world’s record he was 6’3″, 190. Skip was brutally honest and said, “I think maybe the best thing I did was I didn’t ruin him.” Well, when you’re coaching collegiate women they’re not doing that. They’re not growing. And so we have to be, I think, critically sure of what we’re doing with them because we don’t have testosterone or growth hormone to bail us out if we make a mistake.
This is how Madsen breaks down the roles of strength training in developing competitive swimming performance. He talks about strength endurance, maximum strength and strength speed. I think what he’s really talking about explosive power. I don’t think it’s that important for you to know this, I just wanted to show in terms of how it fits in. You can buy his book Coaching the Young Swimmer. This graph comes from there and I like it because I see it as being a foundation. It fits me visually to fit into the foundation of where strength and power development comes in developing swimming speed.
I think it’s important for us to be on the same page in terms of definitions of terminology. In our program, when we talk about maximum strength, we’re just simply talking about the greatest possible voluntary contraction of a muscle exerted against a relative maximal resistance. In other words, one repetition max. Your maximum strength. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get it up. It’s just your maximum strength.
Strength endurance is the ability of muscles to meet the demand of a specific resistance and duration. I probably should underline duration because duration is a factor there. Even a 50 yard freestyle requires strength endurance. If it’s 22 seconds for a woman and 19 seconds for a man there is a component of strength endurance there that is different from a one rep max. And then we get into explosive power which is simply the ability of a muscle or muscles to overcome resistance through a maximal rapid contraction. I used to go back and look at my physics book for the definition of power and what I found was work divided by time. Work being equal to force and force equal to mass times acceleration times distance and all of that. The key factor that I came out with all that was acceleration. Being able to accelerate, to apply force very, very rapidly. And so these are the kinds of things that have been running through my mind.
I was a member of the American Strength Coaches Association for about five years. I was out of coaching for two years. I started coaching in 1971 and never assistant coached under anybody. I read books — just read read read read. I corresponded with Tom McLaughlin who was the head strength coach at Auburn University when Eddie Reese was coaching Auburn and a skinny little freshman by the name of Rowdy Gaines showed up there. I remember talking to Tom the year that Rowdy went 1:32 or 1:33 for the 200 free. Rowdy, at a body weight of 165, could behind the neck lat pull-down with 280 pounds. I thought that was pretty good. I thought that was pretty good cause I could bench about 290 at a body weight of 155 and could only lat pull about 210 and I thought that was pretty awesome.
The two years that I was out of coaching I actually weight trained under an Olympic coach and really enjoyed that and learned a lot about strength training — not so much about power but about strength training. A lot of the myths that we think about weight lifters, that they’re not very explosive. I saw these guys do incredible things. Guys that were 5’9″ or 5’10” stand flat footed under a basketball net and do a 2 handed dunk. They were very explosive, very powerful and also very, very strong. So I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I know I’ve seen a lot and try to take what I’ve seen and use it appropriately with the people that I have.
The next thing to do once you understand the areas of strength and power that you’re trying to address is you want to take a look at the equipment that you have. What are the tools that you have available? Then decide how you want to use those tools. If you have weights, if you have a Vasa trainer, if you have swim benches, if you have jump rope: rather than give them a lot of stuff to do and just work them, work them, work them, I think you want to try to break down your equipment into one of those three categories. How are we using this equipment? Are we using it to develop maximum strength or are we using it to develop strength endurance or are we using it to develop explosive power? Yes, you can use some equipment for multiple purposes. I think you want to have a very clear plan in your mind of the equipment that you have available and then how you plan to use it throughout the season.
Take that equipment and make some decisions about your season: where you’re going to do it, how intense you’re going to do it, when you’re going to cut it off and have reasons why. I don’t want to go into that specifically, I’d rather leave that open for q & a at the end because I think you’ve got so much equipment and that everybody’s different.
In my program the basic equipment that we’re utilizing is the weights, Vasa trainer, circuit, aerobics and the bio kinetic swim bench. For us the bio kinetic swim bench really doesn’t come into play in our program until we get back from Christmas training. We don’t use it at all for a semester. We use Vasa for a semester but you notice that we do not use it into our second semester. Weights we’ll use first semester and we use weights all the way through for some people. The circuit work which I’ll talk about in a little bit doesn’t start until we get into Christmas training and then we follow through with it at the end. I have set reasons for why I want to use certain types of apparatuses at certain points of the season and then discard them and exchange them.
One reason I don’t use Vasa second semester (we may use it for some kids who need to get that feel from a strength standpoint but not from a power development standpoint) because I don’t think you can move fast enough on a vasa trainer to develop power. I think you can on the bio kinetic swim bench. (Or with stretchtech tubing, for those of you who can’t afford $1500 for a swim bench you can afford $19 or $20 for stretchtech tubing.)
This will give me a good opportunity to explain where we are in our program this year versus 2 years ago. Two years ago, in the fall we did 2 things: we did aerobics 3 days a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and we did weights Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I do a weight program where we do legs one day and then we do arms and shoulders, and then we do torso, chest and back on other days. We do a 3 day cycle like that and we’re trying to get good performance out of them in the weight room.
Some of our kids only go into the weight room one day per week and that’s all they need. I learned that my first year at Michigan when I had Christie Vedez who came in as a 1:05 flat and 2:18 in the breaststrokes. I got her to the point where she could do lat pull downs with 180 pounds and was stronger than she’d ever been in her life and she went from a 1:05 flat to a 1:06.3 and 2:18 to 2:20. Thank you. The next year, I only let her go in the weight room one day a week and she changed from weights to doing surgical tubing. We did a lot more power work and worked on some flexibility. She was a lot cleaner in her swimming, didn’t bunch up, and didn’t get tight at the end. She went 1:03 and 2:17 and we really didn’t change that much of what we were doing in the water, I think a lot of it had to do with how we changed her dryland program.
So, this is kind of our set up for the season and how we operate. We don’t do anything that’s very fancy at Michigan. I do believe at the beginning of the season in doing sets for the distance people of longer reps and we may even go 3 sets of 15 or something like that. I love pyramiding — decrease reps and increase weight in order to get stronger. I really like it and it’s really worked well for me and so a lot of our kids to whom strength is important and that may be the short axis strokes as well as the sprinters, I believe in pyramiding. You can tell here that our sprinters tend to do fewer reps but we’re asking them to lift more weight to be stronger. Our sprinters do a lot of body weight work particularly with pull-ups, but I never do overload pull-ups. I do not ask them to pull with a weight belt around their waist and stack on weight. I think Melissa Stone this year was our best pull up person. She could do 27 pull ups on her first attempt and then everybody else would go through and on her second attempt could go 25. We did them both ways just for touching every base that we could touch. They would do sets where they’d go 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. They took a lot of pride in their pullups.
We start our circuit program when we’re in our Christmas training. This past year we did circuit and didn’t do aerobics. It tore us up. We were not as fast in the water in the fall, so we’re dropping the circuit this year until second semester and we’re replacing it with aerobics with floor work. We go about an hour and 15 minutes aerobics, 45 minutes of it is aerobics and then about 1/2 hour of it is floor work doing either legs and abs or arms and abs depending on the day. I think that’s a terrific thing for most of the kids in the program.
We will also use the stretchtech tubing and we do French curls, isometric stroke, catch, finish, full stroke, recovery stroke and rolling. Dr. Tom Lindenfeld, who’s an orthopedic surgeon in Cincinnati, clued me in on women and rhomboids. He said those of you who coach mature women need to be aware of their rhomboid strength because if their rhomboids are weak, you are asking for shoulder impingement. You’re going to see that shoulder rolling forward like this and it’s because your scapulas and rhomboids are too weak. He said men don’t have as much of a problem because they tend to be stronger upper body than women. He believes that women need to spend a lot more time doing rowing exercises to strengthen their scapulas and rhomboids. We’ve started doing that over the last 2 years and I feel very comfortable with that. It seems to make a lot of sense to me. That’s why we have rowing here and we do a fair amount of rowing in the weight room also.
For jump rope we use regular rope, heavy rope, and the mini trampoline. I like the little minis tramps you can pick up at Kmart for $30. We’ll have people jump rope on the mini tramps because it doesn’t shock your system as much. It doesn’t jar your joints as badly as landing on concrete or wherever you’re working and they are relatively inexpensive.
We also use hydro fitness equipment. I used to dislike it because it doesn’t give you the kind of feedback you get from stacking weight on. It’s more of an internal feedback about how hard you’re working. However, now I like hydro fitness because it resists in opposition and I really believe in that — building a balanced strength. We have several hydro fitness machines we use.
I really believe in abdominal strength building a good overall athlete. We do situps a lot. We do a lot of knee lifts including hanging knee lifts. We’ll hang and then we’ll talk, and bring the knees up this way and bring them this way and bring them this way to get lower abs and while you’re doing that you’re also getting grip strength which I think is also very important for women.
We do dips but I’m careful with dips. You can mess up those shoulders when you’re doing dips ahead of that humerus especially with those people who have unstable shoulders. The head of that humerus can start sliding around a lot and you can ruin a kid if you’re doing the wrong kinds of things with them there.
We do a lot of work with medicine ball at Michigan. We’ve got kind of a rich tradition of that and we do a fair amount of medicine ball work.
Well, this is all obviously strength endurance and you could see the durations of the circuit: one minute on, 15 seconds off is the longest that we. We’ll be on the circuit for an hour.
We do all of our dryland work after workout, not before, except when we’re in Christmas training. When you do it before workout, and then you ask them to swim it can be ugly, really ugly. We’ll start out at 15/45, build up to 30/30, 40/20, 60/:15. And then take it back down into taper.
These are typical power exercises that we’ll do on the bio kinetic swim bench or stretchtech. They’re just like swim sets. You’re just doing work and recovery sets. The settings that we use on the bio kinetic bench are 4 to 6 for the middle distance type people and the sprinters on some things I’ll ask them to go 8 or 9 where they’re getting very heavy resistance and then we’ll work them down to where we want them to go fast too. So the bio kinetic bench has a lot of flexibility. But we have a different protocol for sprinters, middle distance and distance people.
I do believe in using a metronome. You find one at your local music store. Seiko and a couple other companies make these little clicking, flashing metronomes. There’s plenty of data available on stroke rates. I believe in setting stroke rates with this equipment at 7 to 10 percent faster than what they’re going to do in a race for overload purposes. You adapt them to levels that are higher than what they’re going to have to encounter during the race. Then try to build in sets like this on your dryland so that you’re developing a type of muscular strength endurance and, to a degree, power that’s going to allow them to improve their ability to hold that in a race.
I can think of a breaststroker we had, Ann Callton, who did a lot of work on breaststroke insweep. When we do the bio kinetic bench, we don’t have our breaststrokers doing this because our philosophy at this point in breaststroke is that you are riding the speed from your kick. Where you need to be powerful and strong in breaststroke is from here to here on the insweep. And so all of our breaststroke work is done like this: we’ll get one paddle from one machine and one paddle from the other machine and we’ll sit on the ground and we’ll pull from out to in just working the insweep — that’s where we work breaststroke, not on the catch.
A typical training week will look something like this. On Monday morning we’ll go primarily a pulling and kicking workout and the intensity of that will vary depending upon where we are in the season. We try to hit 2 weeks in November where we just kill them. About one week out from that we may be at about 65,000 yards with our middle distance people who can tolerate that kind of work. Then we’ll drop down to 50k for one week and then we’re going to come back to 75k for 2 weeks in a row, and anybody we see failing, we’ll pull them out of that. I don’t want to take a chance on losing somebody to mono or some other illness. It starts getting cold and dark in Michigan at that time, they’re near midterms, they’re staying up late studying, and you’ve really got to keep your finger on the pulse. But we’ll go hard for 2 weeks and then we’ll rest for about 10 days. This year we’re going to Miami of Ohio and we’ll see if we can get some cuts out of the way. I was kidding with Jimmy Tierny earlier this year, he’s got a great team coming back to Northwestern, and I said this may be the year that we don’t win Big 10’s. I said if we don’t I think we could be great at NCAA’s because that means we’ll be slow at BIG 10’s because we won’t need to swim fast there. So that’s our plan this year.
Then Monday afternoon we generally do a threshold type set. We follow that up with either a circuit or aerobics depending on whether its first semester or second semester — second semester being circuit, first semester being aerobics. By Tuesday morning, we’ll do a water circuit, usually that’s second semester. The water circuit will incorporate buckets, it will be kicking with shoes, vertical kicking with weights, and pulling sets with paddles. Then in the afternoon we’ll do what we call active rest sets where, for example, you’ll swim 150 at a certain speed, then swim an easy 50, then as soon as you come back and touch you’re gone again. We do a lot of 50 plus 50’s like that. We’ll ask them to go fast for a 50, and then they swim a 50 easy. Come in easy, touch, look at the clock, then you’re gone again. You’d be surprised how fast kids will swim on that type of a set.
Wednesday morning we’ll go a pull and kick water circuit in the second semester. We tend to do VO2 max or lactate on Wednesday afternoon. Thursday, again water circuit, at threshold. Saturday we’ll take what’s left. When you see that they’re failing, I’m a great believer in having them descend. I don’t ask them to get on it right from the start particularly on VO2 max sets.
So that’s our general training plan and it obviously varies when we get into specific work for sprinters versus middle distance and distance. Here’s a typical training day at Michigan: 6:00 to 8 of water time in the morning; in the afternoon 2-2:20 for abs and loosen up before workout; 2:30-4:30 the afternoon workout; then 4:45-5:45 optional dryland. It is optional because we can only mandate 20 hours a week. (But I don’t recruit people who don’t do options.) If you’re going to be good, you’ve got to be willing to do more than what’s required and it hasn’t hurt our GPA. We were 3.23 as a team last year with 4 academic all-Americans and one honorable mention. It has a lot to do with recruiting people who want to do that.
We do a water circuit program. We do this beginning second semester and while we do a lot of power work with the bio kinetic swim bench and surgical tubing, I think this is where the rubber meets the road. I think you’ve got to do things in the water that are developing quickness and explosiveness. I’m trying to learn because, by nature, I’m a middle distance, distance based coach. I’ve been fortunate to have some good sprinters, some of them 3 or 4 years ago but I just trained the speed right out of them. They did great 200’s but I really missed the boat in maybe doing what was best for them in the long run. I did learn with Jennifer Eck in her senior year. I trained her like Ann Callton. Ann Callton was one of our breaststrokers who came to us at 1:06 and 2:30. Her junior year she went 1:02.5 and 2:12 and won the 200 breaststroke and Ann got there on middle distance training with breaststroke and I tried to take Jennifer Eck who was 1:06 and 2:30 out of high school and do the same thing with her. She went 1:04 and 2:20. But her senior year, she kept telling me that she needed to sprint train. And I listened to her thank goodness and she went 1:02 flat and 2:14. I kept telling her it was because of all the work she did in her junior year and we had a good laugh about it.
We’ll do this circuit 3 times a week in the morning usually because I want them to develop quickness and speed in the morning. It’s no good if you’re fast at night. You’ve got to get the job done in the morning. So I want them to be training to be quick in the morning so they’ll qualify. We do pulling sets this way where we go 12 and 1/2 easy and then at the 12 1/2 yard mark, we’ll explode and go as fast as we can for 12 1/2 on 40 seconds starting out. And the closer we get to the championship meet, we increase the rest and we’ll decrease the number of reps. We decrease the number of reps and increase rest to get them more and more explosive, to fire quicker, to go faster. Then coming back we’ll push off and go 12 1/2 fast from the push off and then ease up 12 1/2. Then we’ll ask them to go a 25 fast from a push. Then we’ll repeat that cycle. Then we’ll move into maybe a kicking cycle the next station and they’ll do the same kind of thing to try to get leg speed. I do believe in weights on the legs.
We’re going to try some of the new products in there this year where they have those kind of blades out and kicking with those. We kicked with shoes this summer. I read Bob’s paper that he’s going to come out with this year about increasing the size of the stern wave so that you recapture the energy that’s lost as water moves around the body and then tries to refill in the crater that’s moving down the pool. I believe that there’s a lot to that so we’re going to spend a lot of time on learning to build up the stern wave in the long axis strokes.
We do a lot of vertical kicking with weights alternating holding the weight up then putting the weight between your legs and sculling in between. We build up and then we bring it back down in taper.
We use power racks. Starting out with more reps, less weight on less of a rest interval and building up to fewer reps with more weight on a longer rest interval the closer we get to taper. Some of the kids don’t like the racks because of the way it makes them feel. On some of the racks we take stretchtech tubing and we’ll put about this much tubing on the end of the rack so it kind of softens it even more for them and some of the kids really like that. Some of the kids just use the shortened stretchtech tubing so as soon as they push off at the breakout it tightens them and we ask them to go 5 to 7 stroke cycles against that tubing as fast as they can developing as much turnover as they can. Again, it’s a question of more reps on a shorter rest interval. When you first start doing it, decreasing the number of reps and increasing the intervals so you’re giving them more rest and asking them to be more powerful.
And then we do stretchtech tubing where we do both assist and sprint. And that’s the bottom one where we’ll ask them to swim against the tubing for 25 yards, get to the other end, rest twenty seconds and then blast it back as fast as they can. You know how you always have to have somebody gathering the tubing because they get tangled up in it? Here’s a trick that we learned this summer: you take these little doughnut weights, these wrist weights, that Rothhammer makes that are waterproof, and you take a rubber band and you attach it to that tube about 8 feet in front of the swimmer. And what happens is as they’re coming back, the weight pulls the tubing down to the bottom of the pool both in front of them without pulling them down. It’s not enough weight to do that, but it gets the tubing down and out of their way so they swim right over the top of it. They don’t get tangled up at all. The same person can do it and you can put 2-3 tubes in a lane at the same time and you don’t have a tangled mess.
Then we do a lot of just assist at the end where they’ll pull down on the lane lines, get to the other end and then we’ll ask them to go 12 1/2 underwater and then break and then sprint 12 1/2. I like the 12 1/2 underwater because it really gets them to feel the streamline at high speed — speeds that are faster than they’re going to swim — and then break and hold that speed to the wall. I don’t like to assist them that much coming in because what I’m trying to do is put them in a zone where they are experiencing a speed faster or as fast as they’re going to try to swim, learning to adapt to that speed and be more and more efficient.
We’re going to buy one of the towing machines. I believe the way to reduce active drag is less in telling people to put their head down, or do this or that, and more in placing those kids in an environment and let them do it over and over and over again and they will discover what works well for them. I can’t imagine having a Matt Biondi and a Janet Evans at the same time and deciding which one’s stroke you’re going to change because I don’t think you’d change either one of them. I think what works for Janet, works because Janet adapted into what really works well for her and I think Nort did a wonderful job taking what Matt brought to the table and maximizing it. So what we want to try to do is put our kids in that kind of an environment more frequently than we are right now to develop the kind of power.
One quick word about tapering. For women I go about a 3 week taper and I do everything on percentages because it’s just a basic structure from which I can operate. Within that structure, we allow for individual variation and that comes to communicating with the athlete. But my structure is 80% reduction at 3 weeks out, then 60%, the 40% the week of the meet. What I do is take out 80% of our yardage totals on the main series work. Then we go 60%, then we go 40%. And then the week of the meet, we float. And within that basic structure, it’s very individualized. I’ll have some kids who tell they feel like they need to go 80% beginning 5 weeks out and I have some that will say, Jim, I want to go full until 2 weeks out. I want to go full and then 60 and then 40. I believe in listening to my athletes. So that’s the basic structure that we have but I don’t want you to write this stuff down, say this is the way you do it. I think it’s totally individualized, but I do believe strongly that you need to have a basic structure from which you are operating so that the kids have a home base that they can look at. And the kids then have a lot of ownership over what they’re doing. Honestly, I think I learn more than they learn from me.
Nort Thornton: Thank you very much Jim. When I found I was going to be sharing this with Jim, I thought it was great. I was thinking how can I do this so that I won’t just stand up here and repeat everything that Jim? I know he’s very thorough and does a great job when organizing his program. So what I thought I’d do is rather than repeat all this, I will just touch on a few things that I think are maybe a little bit different, to give you a little different slant on some ideas that you can think about. I think the main thing that we’ve got to really concern ourselves with is the fact that a lot of people confuse strength and power. They think it’s interchangeable and really it’s not. If you look at power in a physiological textbook, you’ll see there’s a formula for power and strength is a portion of that formula. It’s strength times acceleration or speed. And so power is only one part. A lot of people go in the weight room and they think they’re getting powerful. Well, what they’re really doing is getting stronger and sometimes strength can be detrimental. If you get more bulk and size and you think you’re doing the job, you may be making your swimmers slower by having them just work in the weight room. I think you’ve got to be very careful about what you need to do. I think power is largely the speed component and I think that’s the area we miss on a lot because I think we just don’t have good ways to do it and we find it’s hard to develop speed in a weight room. The strength coach doesn’t like you taking the weights off and throwing the bars up and down real fast and bouncing them around and making all this noise and he doesn’t think it’s good for the equipment. What he wants you to do is not good for the swimmers. So, I think you’ve got to realize first of all, that strength is a component of power, yes, but it’s only like the base or the foundation of it.
We normally do about a month to six weeks of it at the beginning of the year. Our distance people pretty much get out of there and our sprinters stay with it a little bit longer. But if you look at power lifters, really serious lifters, a lot of those people don’t lift more than once a week using one part of their body.
You can do a lot of strength work by just going to the weight room once a week. That’s plenty, particularly after you’ve built up a general fitness level where you have some good muscle tone and you are at least not putting yourself in jeopardy as far as injury goes. You have to be very careful of that. I think the thing that I’ve found is that this type of training can really trash your body to the point where your pool performance can really drop off. I find it interesting that Jim said that he was doing the circuit and he was really not swimming well in the fall so he’s going to switch it to aerobics and do circuit in the spring. Well good luck! Big 10 coaches, you’re going to have a ball with the schedule in the second semester. The women will really be beat up by then when he starts his water circuit. But anyway, I think you have to be careful.
I’m as guilty of this as anybody else: you think, the swimmers are doing all of it and they’re not swimming very well so you decide to do more. That’s not the answer. There are some people that just can’t handle it. Let’s face it, when we were age group coaches and we had all these kids growing up, we could do anything we wanted to them and they were going to get better because they were growing. Like Jim was saying, their juices were flowing and they were getting bigger and stronger every year. By the time we get them in the college level, for the most part, it’s not happening anymore and you have to be doing something a little bit right.
Well, a lot of people think that what we did while we were working with younger swimmers is the only way it’s going to work because they got faster every time they did it. But to do something different for older athletes? It’s scary. And it is scary for the athletes. “Do something different? Oh boy…I don’t want to do that. This works for me, I’m going to stay with this.” When they come on the collegiate level it’s not going to get them where they need to go. You need to have the faith. You have to try some other things. I think if it’s not such a shock thing, they won’t be quite as afraid of it. You have to kind of ease into this if they’re going to get used to it.
Dryland program: We used to always do our dryland program before we swam. Then one year because of logistics we couldn’t get the weight room before and we had to do it afterwards and I was really upset. I thought it was going to be the worst thing that ever happened. Jim is actually right, all of a sudden, our swimming got much better. We were there to swim and the dryland was whatever leftover we put in the weight room for that little extra training. I’ve never changed back, we’ve always done our dryland afterwards because you don’t want to trash the body then put it in the pool and ask him to perform. If they can’t perform then they’re going to start believing they can’t perform for you. So what happens is they don’t believe in themselves anymore and you’re losing the confidence factor, and you know how tough that can be on a youngster.
So I think the dryland is for getting that little extra that you can’t quite get done in the pool but it’s not to be detrimental to what you’re doing in the pool. You’ve got to remember what you’re there for.
I think there’s a range of the strength program and I think you have to be real clear on that. I think that you have to understand what you want. You can have one giant blast of muscular contraction and this is for the 50 guys, the raw speed type and on the other hand, you could have accelerating force up to top speed and holding it for a few seconds for the 100, 200 type swimmer. And you can do one or the other. If you try to do the speed endurance, you’re definitely hurting the explosiveness of your raw sprinter. A lot of coaches, myself included, have a problem with this because you’ve got 20-30 guys that you’re working with and one or two of them are really just blast, power type athletes and they need to work on one type of thing. But you have 25 others that need to be doing something different. So you’ve got to have some way of giving these people what they need to do and you have to be pretty clear in what you’re doing. You may have a 19 second 50 man on your team and not even realize it because you never give him a chance to develop that explosiveness that he needs. And so I think it’s very important that you understand that working for speed endurance actually inhibits raw explosiveness.
Most of the time we try to make everything work and fit into the pool in the hours we have and we aren’t always thinking what people really need to be doing. It’s not easy to identify. The best identification for raw speed is just the jump reach. If you get guys that are springing and going over desks and have 30-40 inches of vertical lift, you can pretty much figure they don’t need to be doing a lot of pounding that out of their legs. But, on the other hand, you got guys who can jump 10 inches on a good day, and you can give a lot of explicit stuff and they’re probably not going to improve more than a few inches, but they can improve — that’s the good sign.
We’re training short course collegiate athletes in a short course season. This is a totally different sport than long course swimming. I believe it’s another sport. It just happens in a pool–that’s really the only thing that resembles each other. If you are a short course swimmer, 20-25% of your race is walls — explosiveness. When you swim short course, what you’re doing is exploding off the wall and getting as much velocity going as you can, and trying to maintain it to the next wall when you can regenerate and keep going till you finish and hope it doesn’t give up before you get to the end of your race. That’s short course swimming. You can’t ease into a wall, get a breath and then push off and start accelerating again. That’s long course swimming — building up within a 50 meter pool, that’s how you got to do it to make it 50 meters.
In 25 yards, you have a lot of big strong guys in the college program and they do great in short course. But you never see them in the summer. You say, “Where did these guys come from? I’ve never seen them in a senior nationals. They’re going 19 plus. Where did they come from?” They came out of the weight room. They are kangaroos in disguise. Basically, they’re a powerful people. The NCAA program is set up for these types of people. You better recruit genetically, and better make sure that if you could somehow, play a little game while they’re on campus, to see if they could jump up and grab the ceiling, then you know you got a good one. You can teach them the rest. So short course swimming is totally different than long course. I want to make sure you understand, I’m talking short course right now. I’m not saying that starts and turns aren’t important in long course, but the percentages shift dramatically. You ever see a guy that tries to blast off the wall on the start on long course and try to maintain it to the 50 meters? He might be able to do it for one, or maybe even two fifties, but usually by the end of the second length he’s in real trouble keeping that momentum going. So the ability to blast comes from being able to use the walls well and you have to develop explosive speed for that. You need quickness. I’m going to talk a little bit about that.
I think there’s something called impulse inertia training. It’s overcoming momentum of mass in one direction and shifting it and exploding it back in another direction. It’s like plyometrics, basically and I think you can do it with a Vasa trainer. You load up the rubber bands on the bottom of the Vasa trainer and you pull the swimmer up and reload that machine, get them up on the ramp and you let them go and it snaps them back and he’s got to slow down and catch himself and get him back up there. You time how fast he can go back and up again. In other words it’s plyometrics for the upper body and you can do it with one arm or you can do it with two arms, but I don’t recommend starting off that way. You have to take a lighter weight, put the machine down lightly, and work on just getting the tendons and the tissues and the joints strengthened a little bit and then you can start going to that type of action. All this is going to happen in the blink of an eye. It’s not something you can think about. It’s not a matter of letting it down slow and then reloading it, starting it back up again. That’s not power. You are basically training neuromuscular responses. What we’ve got to be able to do is to get our nervous system to fire faster impulses to our muscles so they can fire off at faster rates. That’s how you develop power.
If you do it with heavy bench presses, what are you doing? You are going the opposite direction. You’re slowing down those neuromuscular responses. I don’t think you want to spend much time even first semester doing much really heavy. A lot of people disagree with me. A lot of guys like to pump iron will say,”hey, what the hell you talking about?” But our season’s has become so short in the collegiate season that we give them a few weeks to kind of get a muscle tone going and then we start working on speed. It takes us a long time to move those neuromuscular responses up a notch.
Here is a breakdown. We start off in the weight room and then we go medicine ball and then we bring in our speed circuit. Our speed circuit has all bio kinetic equipment in it and they all have speed settings on it so I can test everybody at the slowest setting and see how many kilowatt meters of work they’re actually generating. Then I can move it to the next setting up and the next setting up and the machine keeps getting faster. What happens is the scores keep getting smaller and eventually they’re going to hit a point where they can’t keep up with the machine anymore. It’s like being at the fair with a big sledgehammer and trying to ring the bell and the top of the pole. Well, if you are standing on the back of a pickup truck you can still ring the bell. If that truck goes by at 1 mph you can give it a good whack. If it goes by at 5 mph, you could still maybe get a pretty good whack at it. When it gets up to 40 or 50 or 60 or 80 mph, how much power are you going to be able to generate for hitting that thing as it goes by at that speed? Well that’s what these machines are doing. They are going faster and faster and faster as we set them faster and faster. Scores are going up for a while and pretty soon you can’t keep up with them and it falls off. Well that tells me where their power peak is.
Traditionally, your distance people probably peak out at about setting 1 or 2. Middle distance probably 3-4. Speed settings for sprinters are sometimes 3-4-5. When Biondi was going into Seoul, he had it up around probably 7 or 8 settings. If we could move a speed setting or two a season, we’re doing a pretty good job. The settings usually don’t go back in the summer, you come in pretty much where you left off. What you’re doing is moving quicker and quicker and you’re training people to do that. I think that’s what you’ve got to do. If you want somebody to go fast, you don’t give them practice in going slow. So I think you’ve got to train the speed in them. We can all train the other stuff. It’s the speed that’s missing.
Imagine by coming off of a box and jumping down, hitting the floor and exploding back up again. In other words, you can get more power by landing and giving a stretch reflex before you spring. It is much more explosive. Here’s a good example: Take a 10 pound weight and set it on your foot. And you ask, “Is that too painful?” No, it’s not bad. You can tell it’s there but it’s not crushing the toes. Then you lift that 10 lb. weight up and you drop it on your foot from 5 feet up. “Is that painful?” You better believe it is. If you turn it sideways so all the force lays on one point, it’s a lot more painful. Probably dozens of times more painful. So if you could affect dozens of times more of what you try to do by plyometrically bouncing any of these exercises or plyometrically using your swim bench, I think you’re affecting much, much greater results and much quicker.
I think for your sprinters and for everybody, in short course, you’ve got to be pretty explosive. But maybe outside of your 1000 or 1500 type guys, if they’re going to be on relays at all, they should be doing this kind of work for you. The key theory I think that most of us miss — and I missed it for years and I’d read all about it and I actually understood it but I never really believed it — was that the nervous system is the key. When we do all this slow training and longer training, I’m not saying longer but heavy training, speed work, sprinting, weight room stuff, what we’re doing is pretty much trashing our nervous system. We’re getting it to the point that it’s so tired and so beat up, it can’t respond. You give it a week off and nothing happens because it can’t respond that fast. I’ve heard of guys saying, “We did our taper then 6 weeks later we had this fantastic swim.” I think it happens a lot. We get guys we think we taper, we think we rest and it turns out maybe that was only a third of the rest they really need. I’m sure this is much different between men and women but my point is I want to err, particularly with college men, on the side of doing less than doing too much.
I probably told this story back in 1979. I had a guy named Par Aarvidsson who was a great Swedish butterflyer, world record holder in the 100 fly, great CAL swimmer, and NCAA champion. Par’s a real big, strong guy and he’s a Viking. He likes to work hard. He’s the guy running to the weight room first to get through the circuit so he can get to the end of the line and go through it again. In his freshman year, we tapered him about 3 weeks and he swam at NCAA’s and he didn’t do what he wanted to do. He didn’t swim very well. And that was in the days when the old AAU Championships were a week later and we had him signed up to swim at the AAU Championships and he said “I’m not going, I swam so lousy. I just want to not swim anymore.” And I said Ok. So we rested or tapered him for 3 weeks, rested about a week. It was about 4 weeks that he hadn’t done anything, he was totally disgusted, didn’t come near the pool, and didn’t do anything. Finally we realized that we were going to have a medley relay at the AAUs that year and the guy that was going to swim butterfly on the relay, if Par didn’t go, came down with bronchitis and he couldn’t go. So everybody’s saying we have a great relay but we can’t swim because we have no butterflyer’. So we tried to see if we could talk Par into coming back and swimming the medley relay for us. Being a good guy, he came along and he hadn’t been in the water. I said, “I’d better start training.” But I said, “oh, we’re leaving tomorrow, just get your suit and let’s go.” So we went and he hadn’t trained for about a month and a half, almost 6 weeks. He hadn’t been in the water for 2 weeks. He got back there and it turned out the medley relay was one of the first days, in those days, I think the first day of the meet. Par went 2 seconds faster than he did at NCAA’s with 2 weeks out of the water. Right then and there I figured. Then he said, “Well, did you scratch me from the rest of my events?” I said, “Well, I haven’t done it yet, I was going to wait until I got here.” He says,” Well, I think I’d like to swim.” I said, “Okay, great!” So Par swam and he got faster. His 100 was a second and a half faster. His 200 was about 3 or 4 seconds faster. We got back home and I said, “Par, I have to tell you something. Next year we’re going to rest a little bit more.”
So next year we rested him, we figured it was about 5 weeks and as a sophomore he became an NCAA champion, doing great. So, next year I said, “Well, let’s get brave, let’s try 6 weeks” So next year it was 6 weeks rest. I mean rest, I mean, I didn’t see Par. He came in. He didn’t even want to take a shower. We get back after his senior year, I didn’t see him after Christmas, basically, and he kept getting better and better and better. So I think what we do is we really trash our nervous system to the point where we’re not able to perform.
I wouldn’t tell athletes these stories but we have to be very careful about what we’re doing to our body and then expect it to get up and go. I think sometimes we drag buckets and stuff up and down the pool, which a certain amount is good, but we get excited about it because it looks like hard work but we gear them all down and then we can’t move and then we take it off on Saturday and wonder why we swim slow? Well, I don’t know. Look at yourself in the mirror, that’s why you swam slowly. We basically geared him to the point where we didn’t let him swim fast. So what we really need to do is concentrate on, in short course swimming, starts and turns, and utilizing the walls.
We need to initiate body and trunk rotation. I think that’s another thing where power is important. I believe that the catch and the initiation of the catch is what develops power. I think, the quicker you can get your hips over in your stroke, the more powerful you’re going to be and the faster you’re going to be. Pure and Simple. It’s easier said than done, but I think that’s what you have to be working on. So you have to find some way to get that quickness into that action.
There’s some things you can do. I told you about the Vasa trainer, I think that’s a good way, particularly for butterflyers and breaststrokers, but you can do it one arm or the other arm on freestyle as well. And I think we’ve got to give the mind a lot more time and thought, because I think the mind body link is the key. There’s a story about a guy that was a great power lifter. He was always into power. He never got out of a chair slowly. He bounded out of chairs. Everything he did was fast. He was explosive. He and his buddies were out drinking one night and they had a lot to drink and they’re walking home after the bar closed and they all had to urinate so they decided they were going to have a contest to see who could pee the highest. So, this guy won by a couple of yards. He got back and he ran at it and he jumped at it and well timed pressure in his urinary tract. He won by a couple of yards. This is the kind of thinking you’ve got to have. You’ve got to be the best and the fastest at everything you do. I mean, you have to think fast if you want to be fast.
We have sprinter at our place right now that, I can’t believe it, he’s always the last guy there. He’s always the last guy to step up on the blocks. And he can’t understand why his times don’t improve. I said, “Start thinking fast.” He said, “O-o-o-h-h-h K-a-a-y.” I don’t know if it’s going to happen for him. He needs to figure out how to think a little faster.
I think we have two parts to the nervous system. We have the central nervous system which receives messages, interprets them and then sends out instructions to our body to our muscles. Then we have the peripheral nervous system which relays messages from the central nervous system on to the body and back out again. So the peripheral system has to relay messages that the central system is sending us. Now if we have the central system all trashed to the point where it can’t respond fast because it’s just wiped out, you’re not going to get good results.
I think, after Christmas for your sprinters, if they have to be ready to swim in March, or whenever it is, they should be concentrating on things like…one of the things we do, the body blade. This is kind of weird looking. It looks like the bow without the string on it. We take that and have them hold it right in front of them. We have them vibrate that thing. It vibrates from side to side and it activates the nerves in the system. You really have to tighten up all your muscles and two or three minutes of that and you’re wiped out. I mean you just tingle all over. Your nervous system is fired up.
We do quickness type things. We do everything we can as quick as we can, particularly with our sprinters. And that’s all in control in your mind and that mind body link. The good news is you’ve learned all those slow impulses. You can unlearn them and you can learn the fast ones. It’s just a matter of thinking a little bit differently. Again it’s let your mind get out of your way and start thinking about things the way you have to start thinking about them. If you don’t think fast, you’re never going to be fast. It’s just that simple. So don’t say that you’re what we think about most of the time. If you want to be great, you think about being great. If you want to be slow or if you want to be fast but you think slow, you’re probably going to be slow.
Henry Ford said, “If you think you can’t, you’re probably right.” That’s basically it. Your mind is a big, big part of the whole thing. I’ve been saying that for years and years. This year, I’m trying to do something about it, so I’m making a big effort to get into that area.
I think one thing you want to remember is that practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes permanent. So if you’re doing something at one speed, you’re going to get a permanent reaction to that speed. You have to be able to do it at the speed you want, or as close to that as you can.
We use medicine balls because I think medicine balls have a tremendous stretch reflex of the whole thing. I think the speed circuit is a big part of our swim speed. And flexibility is a big part. Flexibility isn’t just at the joints, it’s in your head. The stiffest guys we have are the most rigid thinkers. It’s amazing. You can tell. That guy is not going to think of a new idea and he’s not going to be able to touch his toes either. That’s because your mind controls your body. If you’re rigid in your mind, you’re rigid everywhere. So you have to be thinking about that.
I think breathing is tremendously important. I remember one time we tested Janet Evans before Seoul. She had from exhalation to inhalation an 8 inch expansion of her chest. She had the greatest flexibility as far as lungs go as anybody I’ve ever seen. We have people that are so rigid, when they breathe they just pant right here on the top. They never can expand their ribs. The ribs don’t move. They’re locked. They’re frozen. Because they’ve never done anything to expand them. You need to get in the weight room and open it up and you need to breathe deeply. How do babies breathe? With their stomach and their ribs expanding. Put your hand, little finger on your navel and one hand on your rib cage and breathe. If your stomach is pushing out and your ribs are expanding, you’re breathing. But if you’re not, if nothing’s happening, you’re halfway in the coffin. Let’s face it. Flexibility is key. And, it starts in your head and works down to your lungs. If you can get the ribs and the breathing right, it opens up the bottom half of your lungs. That’s where most of your alveoli sacs are which means there’s more transfer of oxygen into your bloodstream and into your tissues from the lower half than there is in the upper half.
I’ve done a little experimentation with the team. We find that if we can breathe superficially for 30 seconds, count breathes, and then breathe deeply for 30 seconds and count breathes, we take half as many breathes and you feel a lot more relaxed and easy when they’re doing it. So if you can swim with less breathes per minute and more heart rate per minute, you’re getting in shape. You’re accomplishing something. I think a lot of us think we have to get the heart rate up and higher breathing. It’s just the opposite. Because you have to get it down. You have to calm things down. You have to find a way to get them to do the same thing with less effort. To me that’s what getting in shape is all about. They’d come out of a workout thinking, “That felt great. I feel good, this is fun. I want to get back tomorrow and do some more.” On the other hand, they come out of there with a 200 beats per minute heart rate and they’re breathing heavy and they can’t catch their breath and they’re throwing up in the gutter, they’re not going to want to come back. That isn’t fun. I don’t want part of this. And they’re not going to achieve as much. I think you have to rethink what conditioning is all about. You know, it’s not how hard you can beat on them. It’s how realistically you can encourage them to find ways to do things where they’re going to get more out of it. They can control it themselves.
I think the main elements of any good program is to increase the number of the repetitions as you go along. In other words, if you’re doing 10 reps today, you don’t want to be doing 10 four months from now. You want to increase somehow. And you want to increase the speed or the action as you go. So what you do that’s slow today, if you’ve truly found your rhythm, will get faster by itself. It’s amazing. Kids will be swimming the same, heart rate the same, number of strokes the same and they’re going down the pool and they can’t believe it. It feels easier. It is easier. Great swims are always easy because they found the flow.
They’ve got so much pressure on they can’t do anything. They just get slower. The harder you try, the slower you get. The more fun it is, the easier it is, and the faster you go. You don’t understand why but it’s just a lot of fun. That’s the way it is. It seems like it should be just the opposite. “You mean if I don’t try, I’m going to get better? If I do try I’m going to get worse.” “Yeah. That’s what I’m telling you.” Control it. Get the mind set in the right place. When you transfer a lot of this stuff into the water, we use things like power racks, initially, pull tubes, not a lot, we do some drag suits. We use a drag bag. I think it’s a good item. I brought one with me because it’s something you can afford. You go down to the local skin diving shop and you pick up a weight belt. Get an old laundry bag. Get an old lane line and put a few floats in there. And these float on the surface so it doesn’t displace too much water, and you tether it to the waist, tie a loop in the other end. Put the belt through and you can go with just a little tension. What happens is when they get done doing this for a while, you take them off and they just all of a sudden, go fast and they feel the water. It’s amazing. It just gives them a little bit of tension. I have about 14-15 floats in there. I put a couple little doughnuts in there to make sure it doesn’t sink. And this just goes right along on the surface behind them and you don’t have these strings on the shoulders or anything else. It works extremely well. And this is something we can all find: a nylon bag, a laundry bag, and a couple of floats we all have broken lane lines around somewhere. Don’t throw those floats away. They’re valuable. It’s about a $6 or $7 item. If you can find the right people or equipment at the right time, you can do it for a lot less. It doesn’t take much to put one of those together. We call those “drag bags.” And then we transfer it over to assist swimming and we do the same thing Jim does with the surgical tubing.
We also use what’s called a cats unit. We also have a couple of power reels. I saw these way back when and stayed on top of them till they gave me the first couple off the rack. I think Jim Steen had the first one and we got the next 2. What these do is drag you down the pool at a prescribed speed. I saw Popov videotapes where he was doing assisted swimming. They were dragging him down a 50 meter pool at about 20 seconds and he was swimming it in about 10 strokes. In other words, he was keeping it slow and easy but he was moving at faster speeds. What he was doing is that he was feeling where he’s picking up resistance.
We had a guy, Bart Sikor, from Mission Viejo, that swims at CAL. He was fourth in the Olympics in the 200 back. We were working on this unit. We were just dragging him to try to figure out where his resistance was. He had a little arch in his back. We were trying to tighten the pelvis up, the abdominals up and get rid of that sway. And we got rid of that and I said, “Okay now we’ll drag you and this time we’re going to have you do a little flutter kick.” He’s got real strong legs, and so he’d kick and when he’d kick, his feet would separate outside the line of resistance of his body. And we notice every time his feet went out to the side, this take up reel would slow down. A mechanical reel was actually being slowed up and almost stopped with just the legs separating that far. Coming out, each foot would go outside the line of the body. I’m thinking, wow, if a mechanical wedge like that can be stopped by just letting the legs come apart, think of the amount of resistance that that is actually creating.
Now I’m pretty naive I guess. I didn’t think resistance and drag was that big a deal but it is. What we did was put a pull buoy between his legs and had him start kicking tired and we did a band around his knees to keep everything in a little bit more and he went to Santa Clara. He’d been 2:05 earlier in the summer. At Santa Clara he went 2:02. He continued to work on it and went down to Atlanta and went 2:00.
Two last things I have to say. This is one of the greatest things for developing the right breathing pattern. You have to force out vigorously to get you using your whole lungs. It also slows down the breathing rate. I think this front mouth snorkel is a tremendous thing. It does a lot more than that.
I just wanted to add one thing with respect to plyometrics. We do a lot of plyometric. We do a lot of upper body plyometric and the way we do that is when we do our upper body work with the tubing, we attach it above us, and so the tubing is trying to pull your hand back up and you have to change direction rapidly against that force so it’s like dropping something up. It’s pulling the hand this way and we’ve got to change direction rapidly against that. And the other thing that it does in attaching the tubing above you is it takes the pressure off your lower back. I’ve seen a lot of kids do tubing like this against the fence. And you get some kids it just tears up their lower back. You eliminate that completely. And if they need to get more pressure, you either shorten the tubing or go to your knees. And do it on your knees. So we believe in plyometrics–upper body plyometrics.
Responses to Questions:
Coach Richardson: Re-taper. I talked about 80%-60%-40% float. When I re-taper for 3 weeks, I go 60-40 float. So that’s on a re-taper. Okay? First taper 80-60-40-float. Re-taper for four weeks, 60-40-float. And we swim as fast or faster on second taper usually.
Individualized weight training. For me it’s totally individualized. It depends on where people are and where we want to take them and where we are in the season. As I said, early on in the season, we tend to do higher number of reps, and since we’re going higher reps, I don’t want as heavy a resistance. So we’ll go a lighter resistance with more reps. And then as we move through the last 6 weeks, I want to reduce the number of reps, increase the rest and therefore increase the resistance. So I’m trying to get them to go faster overcoming progressively a little more resistance. That’s one of the things I like about the bio kinetic bench — it gives you a 10 degrees of setting and it’s also variable resistance within each setting. But you can do the same thing with $19 worth of surgical tubing. It’s the same kind of thing.
Coach Thornton: I think that everybody’s totally individually set up that way. That’s why we start to talk about finding the power peak for each individual — where they peak out. And what I find is that on different parts of the body it may vary. Upper body, they may peak out on a different setting than lower. So we’ve got like 20 stations and they could have 20 different settings in there. It usually doesn’t work that way. What we want to do is find out where they are because till you find out where you are you are not going to know where you’re going. You have to know where they are and if you have some way to test to find out where their speed is — at what rate they’re firing at — then you know. It’s like carrot and donkey. Once you know they’re at setting three then you put it up at four and then they got to go for it.
Coach Richardson: I think it is valuable using a little $19 metronome and if you can’t afford a $1400 swim bench, a $20 set up of surgical tubing. With that you can come pretty close to accomplishing the same thing. You can quantify your tempo, your rate. It’s a little difficult to quantify the resistance because that is a function of how far you are back. But if you want to, you can just put marks on the ground and have them kneel at this point, then put a mark back. You know you’re increasing resistance when you move further away from the point of origin. So you can adapt it.
Weigh-ins for women. I do not, I used to. I do not. I think that when coaching women you are taking a big chance in pushing the wrong kind of buttons. I think we have a huge problem in our society for women with body image. It starts when they get into their teenage years and go into school. And I think a coach can ruin a woman when he starts talking to her in terms of how heavy you appear to be. We bring in a certified nutritionist and she works with the kids in an overall group setting talking about general nutritional issues and general body composition issues. And somebody referred earlier to the somatic types. I used to do underwater weighing. I used to do some of skin folds. I don’t do any of that anymore. I used to tell kids the best test is to go in your room and close the door, pull the curtains, take off the clothes, and look in the mirror. But now I’m going to tell you that’s not good for women to do. Because a woman can be absolutely perfect where she needs to be and if she doesn’t have a healthy body image, she will see herself as being fat. As a coach coaching women, you need to turn that type of feedback and education over to professionals. And I’m not. I’m very uncomfortable doing even skin folds. I think if you’re doing skin folds with a formula, you’re not smart because there’s so much variability built in to the formulas. Number 2, there’s variability in whose doing the measuring from time to time. Check out the research on reliability and validity of skin folds. The most reliable method for determining skin fat is the cadaver method. I don’t think we can advocate that either.
More on individualizing weight training. For us, it’s totally individualized. As I said with Christie Vedez, the second year I had her, we didn’t let her go in the weight room but one day a week the whole season. Some kids need to be in the weight room longer and for me those are the kids who are not naturally strong but need a certain minimum level of strength. I tend to look at short axis strokes and body types. If you are a mesomorph and short axis stroke person, you tend to stay stronger longer and so you can probably go off weights earlier. Ectomorphs, who are long axis stroke people tend to lose their strength sooner especially those who are swimming the middle distance to sprint events. But it’s totally individualized. I mean, I can’t give you a set answer. Some kids are out of the weight room and off strength work completely a month and a half out from Big 10’s, and other kids are in the weight room the week before Big 10’s. My base is always 80-60-40-float. And so I have a home base that we can operate either more or less from and each person find where they fit on that home base.
Absolutely, the same thing is true in the weight room. Except I think the things that tend to be more intense and take a lot out of them, we try to reduce those exercises. And honestly, second semester in the weight room is a maintenance program. We don’t do anywhere near the volume or reps second semester because I don’t think weights are anywhere near as important as the circuit and power work is. And we do the same thing with the circuit. We drop the circuit 80-60-40 as the home base, but some kids come off the circuit 3 weeks out. They don’t touch it. Or they may do 1 or 2 items within the circuit that they know push their buttons. And they stay away from items in the circuit that they know trash them. We don’t do it because it’s there. We do it if it works. If it doesn’t work for them we don’t do it.
Coach Thornton: A lot of people don’t touch the weights after the first month or so of the season. Our sprinters will probably stay in there one time a week — usually about 3 weeks out for some of them. But what we do in our speed circuit is start with 3 weight workouts a week and then we shift it over gradually to 3 speed circuits a week. At the end during the last few weeks we’ll do speed benches. We’ll go in there and we’ll do maybe 4 x 10 second bouts on the bench and we’ll start at a setting like 6 and try to go faster, faster, faster on each one. So it’s just a muscle tone type thing. We just go in there and blow the pipes out a little bit so they can still keep the touch or the feel of what they’re doing, but there’s no real work going on there, just quickness.