Optimizing Gym and Swim by Dirk Lange, Mexican Swimming Federation (2012)


[introduction, by Ira Klein]

I know there was a time when we used to think that we had all the answers, and now we are just trying to find out as many questions as we can.  But we are very fortunate… this talk is called Optimizing Gym and Swim.  It is not what you are thinking about: in our strip malls, we have those gym swims for little kids.  This is doing gym swim for our older swimmers.  We are very fortunate to have a coach who has coached some of the leading swimmers, including a few of the swimmers this year in the Olympics.  And without any further ado, I would like to get it started; I want to introduce Dirk Lange.

[Lange begins]

Alright guys, good afternoon.  I see some actually tired faces, so is getting late.  So I will try to be dynamic so that you are not falling asleep.  What I am talking about today in this last presentation is: how is optimal implementation of gym training, of gym in your swimming program.  We will talk about, actually, philosophies, about principles; and then actually we’ll talk about training skills.  I will show you exact exercise that we can do.  I will show you what kind of intensity I would like to go.  I will show you what kind of swim work you can do after that, and how you can implement your gym in your swim.  It is a straight combination between swim and gym.


I really believe that this question is one of the key questions in world swimming now, because the speed element is getting higher and higher.  Any swimmer must have a high speed of availability, a big range of speed, irrespective of if they are a sprinter or a long-distance swimmer; even the really aerobic or really long-distance athletes, moving out to open water.  So from my point of view, from the German point of view, in pool Swimming there is not anymore really long distance swimming.  What [that] mean[s], on another hand, that the speed element gets more and more important; and with the speed, or with the strength, coming over the technique it is getting in the dryland training, the athletic background [is] becoming more and more important.  Actually, if you see the long distance of the Chinese guy, [Yang] Sun, he is splitting in the 1500m race, the first 100 and the last 100 [combined], under 1:50; just doing in it in the 1500m race.  You see, even on that point, speed is a very important thing.


Today we are talking about gym training.  The main focus of gym training is actually… that is the standing session, its own standing session.  It is not just we are doing a bit gym and then we are going for swimming.  So from my point of view, a gym program is its own standing training session.  It needs special treatment, and it is based on general body strength.  What mean that I am convinced that you not have to do as much on specific work on the dryland, because specific is actually trained by swim.  On the dryland, on the gym program, we must be speaking about general body strength.


Usually we are working with similar, not always the same but similar, exercises.  And just lead-up the program by different entities, different weight, different repetitions.  And what we do in gym depends on if it is a 50/100m swimmer or 200/400m swimmer or 1500m swimmer.  Sometimes we are doing gym on the same day we are racing.  I have coached Cameron van der Burgh, just for example, or Gerhard Zandberg to World Champion; Ryk Neethling, Therese Alshammar; especially the male side of it, these guys are used to do gym one or two days before important race.


The principles of a gym program.  Why we are doing gym?  Why we are doing these kinds of exercises?  Our target is to damage some muscles.  We have to damage the muscles, otherwise nothing will grow.  We have to take care that the central nervous system, that it is not damaged.  And we had some research in Germany that a perfect begin [point] of a methodic gym training is: for the boys with the puberty, and for the girls it is the beginning with puberty.  Because you are organizing, you are educating your muscles to have a better reply, a better muscle history, better muscle experience, when do you grow-up and be an older guy.  So we are starting very early with the gym program.  Not necessarily with the same hard gym program as professional are doing, but we are starting very early.


We have obvious differences between: speed, endurance and strength training; all the three elements we need for swimming.  But all is the same that we have to have high quality of movement; for example, deep squats against half squats.  So the quality of movement is one of the basics of gym.  We have to transfer the gym exercises to more swimming-specific movements.  So at first we train general body, and then we transfer that to more swimming-oriented.  The periodizing is very important: how long we do swim, and how long and how often we do the gym sessions—we will talk about later on that.


The philosophy in gym is purely and clearly… it must be focused on the individual, and on individual skills.  It does not make sense to put everyone from the same squad on the same gym program; everyone has different skills and different personal advantages.  It must be focused on personal sense.  It is pretty easy to knock a swimmer down, to knock them completely out of the thing, if you are doing a wrong gym program.  So it is very sensitive, but very efficient.


What I mean is we have on one side, the weightlifting-oriented program and the machine training; and we have another part of our program, it is a transfer and assumption program, by jumps, trunk ability, core stability, with running exercises with sprint with long distance or with interval running, with stretch cords, with the flume training.  In Germany, I would say 80% of our Olympic centers, our national centers, are provided with a flume.  A flume is a machine where you are jumping in, just 6-10 meters long, and the water is streaming, and you have to swim against the water.  Also, what we are doing a lot is a kind of exercise like cross country skiing or inline skating which is giving you a more coordination feeling.


What we are talking about for hypertrophy?  We are talking about repetition; for the beginners 6 repetitions, for the advance 8-12, and for the professional 6-12.  The intensity supposed to be 80-90% of the maximum power.  Sets for the beginners is 1-3, and for professionals we can do even more than three sets per exercise.  We are usually doing more exercise per muscle—if you want to train the breast or you want to train your back—we actually have two or three or four exercises just for one muscle.  The rest: 2-5 minutes per set.  Sessions per week: two or three, depending if you are a beginner or professional.  The period could be eight weeks or even longer.


For maximum, max, for max training, max strength, it is very important to understand, because a lot of swimming coaches believe that on a gym program, athletes must always move around and do something.  The criteria, or how it looks like, max strength training is actually a very long session; it is 90-120 minutes per session and you have more-than five minutes rest between each set.  So it is not that all the time your athletes are doing something, they have five minutes rest; but they are working with 90-100% of their maximum power.  Beginners like 1-2 repetitions; the others, 3-5.  The point is, what a lot of people do not understand this: this kind of training is not exhausting you, it is not actually killing you.  You are feeling even better because if you have/take the break, if you take the rest between the sets.  You can do it 4-8 weeks; not too long otherwise you have to start with the strength-aerobic side again.


I told you, you have advanced beginners, intermediate or athletes or professionals.  The question is now: what is the best gym program for these people?  I personally believe that any gym program for advanced beginner is useful.  Even if you are really a beginner, if this guy is doing the exercise right, they have the technique, then it will help them—just because of physical fitness.  For the intermediate, for the athlete, it is more complicated, especially for athletes; because then you have to figure out how long they need to recover from that.


The question is always: stretching before or cool down after?  I really believe stretching after the gym, or as it cool down, it is not necessary.  Why is it not necessary?  Because that is actually why we are doing that: our target is to destroy muscles at the beginning so that the muscles are growing.  So after gym, we not do a lot of cool-down on dryland, we do a more-specific work in the water.


I told you when we should start with the gym.  The starting point is supposed to be in the age of 13-14 for girls and for the boys 14-15.  And when I listened to my friend Andrei [Vorontsov] from Russia, I had the same problems in Germany that he got: swimmers on the A standard, on the National Team standard, going to World Championships, age of 18-19, actually men, young men, sprinter/middle distance athletes; they never-ever touched a long bar.  They never-ever have been in the gym.  How I can produce world-class performance if I have a sprinter, up to 200 meter, who have never-ever touched, and never approached, a gym.  Today it is compulsory to have this kind of work.


The question: when is the best time, when is the best week set-up for gym?  I believe this schedule, it is a pretty normal schedule: Monday and Tuesday double, Thursday and Friday double, Saturday one.  And when we are doing the gym: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon.  The gym is the most important part of this part of these days; so the swimming after that is just additional.  Never take gym like just by the way.  So what mean?  Monday, Wednesday, Friday gym; Tuesday, and Thursday, and Saturday hard swim.


Strength is important, especially for him.  But I am not… and this is actually important for me, I am not talking about just for 50- and 100-meter swimmer.  I am really speaking about as a general impact of a normal, high-performance training.  Obviously, a 1500m athlete does not need the same kind of gym program as Cameron van der Burgh, but he needs his speed.  And with the speed, he needs obviously this kind of training background.


So we are coming now to the contents.  Free weights.  I told you depending on if you are a beginner or a professional athlete, 3-5 sessions per week.  Before the swim; I would not do it after the swim.  And then additional to that, you have to make sure that dynamic body skills are trained by coordination of additional exercise: jumps, trunks ability/core ability, foot weight, running.


So I will give you now an example of what Cameron van der Burgh is doing as a warm-up.  This program is managed by Cameron van der Burgh’s strength coach.  Today as a swimming coach you have to deal with a strength coach, with a psychologist, with a lot of experts; and Naat Laubscher is his strength coach.  And that is a warm-up program that Cameron van der Burgh is doing everyday before he is going to start with the gym.  So you see he is doing like 10-12 different exercises, like 5-10 reputations.  You see like pistol squats, like pull-ups; small kind of general warm-up.  At first general warm-up, and then from exercise eight, he is going to hang-power cleans; going very specific on the weight lifting side.  All or any of these exercises are supposed to be done with no weights, just as a part of a warm-up.


Now, I would like to show you some exercises.  Of the classic exercises, what I believe is very important to have as a standard exercise in the program (I think everybody knows these):

  • Hang-power snatch—you can see it on the bottom. It is a very dynamic exercise; you have to have a strong back and a dynamic move.
  • Hang-power cleans.
  • Bench press—upper body classic.
  • Bench pull: classic for the back.
  • Squats: down, really down, deep squats down.
  • Triceps exercise: very important, do it in a lying position or in a sitting position.
  • Wide-grip deadlift: very important for the lower back, the power is coming from that.


Now I will give you idea about different programs.  I said, before: strength-endurance programs at the beginning of the cycle.  It is more repetitions than a maximum, but you see how you can manage it:  3×15.  3×15 bench press, 3×15 with 60 kg.  This program is much more exhausting than a program with high weights.  You see around 45-60 repetitions on each exercise—twice in triceps.  Also, you can see here different exercise for the same muscles: you start with a butterfly or a butterfly machine, squats, flying for the press, dips, and then going to the bench press.  So you have 3-4 exercise for the same muscles.


Muscle growth program.  The program is not as long.  I will show you later-on actually van der Burgh’s program.  We are coming down a bit with the repetitions, like 3×10, 3×8, 3×10, 3×12.  But in the end, will mean the weights, the quality, is going up.  And the same here: butterfly bench, bench, inclined bench with curls; so three exercise for the same muscles, for the breast.


Maximum.  So we are coming a bit more down with exercise, but going much up 5×5, 5×3, 5×2 repetition per exercise.  But the same for the same muscles, different treatments.


A lot of people are asking me, when you are telling us, when you are speaking to us, and saying you were doing gym even on the race day.  Van der Burgh, or Zandberg—another World Champion South African guy I worked with—these guys like to do gym on the racing day.  They are doing in the morning the heats; and they are going for lunch; and then before they are going for the final session, they are going like half-an-hour to gym.  But these guys are actually sprinter, very much sprinter.  So you can see it here; it is a very easy program, just to remind the muscles a bit.  Bench, just three repetitions with 80 kg—just to get the feeling for that, just to get the feeling for the muscles.  Maybe one was 90%.  Just very short things.  It is a program which takes not more than 15 minutes.


I will show you here a program from Van der Burgh.  So we are talking now about a strength-power program.  What means: he is doing 5×3, 5×3, 5×2 repetitions with 85%, 90% and 95%.  Here you see different dates.  So power cleans, he is doing five rounds with 2 repetitions of 95%.  Then a bit easier bench press one.  On another day—I just want to show you quickly with the pictures.  Wednesday, just to see.  Like that is a Wednesday, that is another Wednesday, there is another Wednesday here; so his coach gave him 3 with 85%, 3 with 90%, 3×2 with 95% of his maximum power, power clean—it is a very difficult and very hardcore exercise.  Then some jumps, then some jerks for the back and for the shoulders, inclined.  So it just give you a feeling [of] how many exercise he is doing on this spot; so he is doing five exercises.  The Friday: just showing you something.  Same here: bench with 5×3 was 85%, 5×2 was 90%.  Kilograms, what does it mean?  For a guy like Van der Burgh, he is working here with 140-150 kg; for a guy like Zandberg, he is working with 160 kg—just to get a feeling for them.  But both of these guys are clear sprinter.  I work with 400m swimmers, 200m swimmers; they are doing similar setup, but obviously not with this high percentage and high weights.


[audience member]:  They are doing them slowly here, right?


[Lange]:  What do you mean “slowly”?  Usually they are doing it fast.  They try to do it dynamic.


[audience member]:  This is slow?


[Lange]:  Yeah, that one is slow yeah; depends on what they are doing.  This one is a slow thing; it is more for the muscles.  But you see that the other one is actually a fast one, yeah.  So when you do it slow, you actually activate more muscles.  But I really believe in the dynamic of your movement—dynamic of movement.


Alright, so coming back to another point.  So what kind of swim you can do after [gym]?  I will show you later-on how you can impact your gym in your swim program.  But that is an easy program, just slow down.  After a gym program, for sprinter actually, just a bit easy swimming.  400, 400 and 400… is actually 1600m breathing after 3, breathing after 4, breathing after 5 strokes.  Just a bit technical exercise, some sprints.  That is it.  You see, the main issue of that session, that day, on this part of the training, is gym.


I spoke about dynamic body skills.  What we can do?  Jump program, running program, core stability; I will not repeat the same.  That issue is much more swimming-oriented, much more focused on your swimming movements.  We have exercising on the track and field.  We are really based on core stability.  If you have specific performance and you are working with specific coordination for the different repetitions.  What actually means, we are just working with the numbers of repetitions we are going to do.


I will show you now for the jumps, for example.  Now we are talking about the jump program.  It must be a good technique, specific coordination.  Usually we are doing the kind of 6-8 different exercises in jumps: triple jumps, long jumps from the standing position, over jumps on boxes/over boxes, one leg pressing.  What I mean, like jumps on the box or over the box; box supposed to be high, or jumping down and up.


Here you see a typical program for the first… it says warming up.  You can see it on the second line: it is a warming-up then a bit crunches, actually core stability, coordination.  And then we are starting with ten minutes with like one-legged squats, little bit of foot stretching.  Then we start with stretch with arms, or squats jumps with arms standing from there, jumping up here—very dynamic.  2×10.  Then without arms, 2×10 as well.  Stretch arms from the small box, actually jumping from the box down, and down up, again 2×10.  And then over small box 2 rounds of 3×5.  Then a bit easier.  So that whole thing I just give you that kind of example, that the whole thing of a jump program is just additional program to transfer from your gym program into Swimming and more dynamic skills.  It is taking you something around 45-50 minutes.


Trunk ability/core stability: I told you it is very common in Germany that you are dealing with a team of experts.  There is not a gym expert, there is more kind of core stability expert.  We are working with these stretch cords.  I told you about foot weights: is a little weight on the feet, and the athletes are lying down and then they are doing something like 3x or 6×1:00 backstroke/freestyle kicks.  Or they are doing something like 1:00 easy, short break, 20 second full speed—that kind of general-body transfer exercises we are doing a lot, actually, to get a better efficiency of the gym program.  That you know, stretch cords.


Running: track and field, even track and field identify as a kind of transfer exercise.  We have three kinds of running: sprint running, interval running, long-distance running.  We do a lot of running school after running; specific coordination: speed feeling.  What does it mean?  Typically set for a speed… for a sprint set:  it is kind of 400-800m warm-up, then some running, school running exercise/technical exercise. Then there is a 4x60m increasing speed.  And the main thing on that day is two rounds of 3x120m runs, the first 40-meters increasing the speed, then 40m keeping that high speed but try to be relaxed, and the last 40m all out.  It is a very good exercise, like that, to get a really good body shape.  Cool down after that.


And we are coming more to the flume training, stretch-cord training, speed variation: different speeds.  So the water is coming from that side here, streaming in, so the swimmers are swimming on that side.  So actually they have to deal, they have to manage, a high-speed or a low-speed exercise program, with a good technique.  It is video analyzed, and something like that.  For example, we have two exercises.  Here it is actually in German, but one exercise is… S means speed on the left-hand side.  So this exercise is just two meters against the speed, which is very high—like a racing speed.  So he must actually be as faster as his racing speed, but just for 10 strokes.  Rest 3-5 minutes.  So here you have the speed of the flume, here you have the time, you have the frequencies—it is very important of frequencies—and here you have the distance-per-stroke.


Power rack.  We spoke about power rack today; Russians are doing  power rack, we are doing power rack.  Power rack is a machine standing on the poolside of the pool deck.  The athletes are on with a cable, and then they have to swim against weights; weights coming up when the guys are swimming that way.  So we are doing with different weights.  But just to show you how long, it is like the 7-8 seconds exercise; just to get a feeling for speed, get a feeling for catch, and get a feeling for good technique.


Gerhard Zandberg, one of my swimmers… my former swimmer actually because he is taking a break now.  But he became with me World Champion 50 Backstroke; he is actually the only guy who medaled from 2003-2011 in any World Championship 50m Backstroke.  So what I mean to get a gym program in a swim program, at first a stretch-cord program.  Hopefully you can read it.  You see here at first we are doing a gym program, and then we tried to connect it to the water.  So short warm-up: 600 meter warm-up.  Then the exercise on that day was 40 seconds against the cord.  Then he came back to the pool side, and then he did two rounds of 8 seconds vertical kick.  After that, four rounds of: 40 seconds, 50 meter easy, and then 50 meter in 100m-frequency.  So obviously I tried to transfer this exercise, 40 seconds against the cord, with the frequency of what he is usually doing on the 100m race.  Then a bit easy.


The next round is three rounds: 20 seconds against the cord, 15 seconds rest, 20 meter with assist of the stretch cord.  Then vertical kicks again, then he is doing the 25 meter with a frequency of 52—actually his 50m-frequency.  We are talking for this guy, his best time is 48.8/48.7 and 22.0—something like that for the 50.  So he is a very good splinter.  So sometimes we are actually working just with frequency targets, not even with time targets.  We are trying to put them here against the cord with the race frequency, and then he should do it after that without everything.  Then a bit easy.  And then some speed-work, like 4×25.  That is it.


Next day.  Morning, that is not important; that is butterfly set for him.  But the afternoon, we had very good experience.  We made very good experience to integrate a gym in the swim program.  So for example, he warms-up like 400 meter, then he went out to the gym—b cause the gym was next to the pool.  He made four rounds of 5 repetitions with 120 kilograms, deep squats.  And a bit of triceps.  But this is a main thing: four rounds of 5 reps of 120 .  And then, after that straight, some dive exercise, some start exercise: take over, three turns, push—something like that.  Then he went out again: four rounds of 8 reps of 130 kg half-squats, a bit biceps, and then after that again some starts, some turn exercise.  Then he made some jump exercises with the bar: squat jumps with the bar is on the back, halfway around jumps on the cycle; four rounds. And then after that four rounds of 15m sprint.  A bit of cooling at the end, a bit swimming.  That was the special-design program for the World Champion Gerhard Zandberg.


What was the result out of that?  It was very useful; it helped him a lot.  But one problem came up: he felt when he went to a normal gala, to a normal competition, he needed to do something.  He was so linked, his personal feeling was so much linked to do a kind of gym exercise before he sprint.  But we made some tests, actually, he was swimming here after that thing; 50 meter freestyle after this gym and swim combination.  50 freestyle in the normal training, 22.5.  So a very, very good feeling.  The point is that we usually have not a gym with us when we move to any gala, to any competition.  So that kind of gym work is efficiency, but you have to be careful because you are very much linked to a specific kind of gym program.


[audience member]:  What did you do to combat that?  How did you fix that link?


[Lange]:  Yeah, that is the point. Yeah then we work with the stripes.  You know you can stripe fix it here, and then you can do some core exercise, some back exercise was never ever the same.  So what we have done, what I have done: we made this kind of training once a week.  Like he usually made 3-4 times a week gym; like three times a week like normal gym, one times a week to integration like swim and gym.  Then we moved-over like 4-5 weeks before the gala, we skipped it, we took it out.


But this kind of gym showed me that you are not necessarily need to warm-up a long time.  Maybe we are, all of us, we are thinking too much in the box, we are not thinking out of the box.  We are thinking: okay we as a swimmer warmed-up along like 2 km, 1.5 km, 3 km—just the warm-up program.  This guy is not doing, he is just doing a 200 meter warm-up, then he is doing gym exercise.  And then another 200 meter.  Even that stuff helped him.


But Zandberg is a clear 50m and 100m swimmer.  He is actually delivering a 100 freestyle, coming from the 50 meter; he is swimming 53 100 Backstroke, coming from 24.5/24.3, something like that, 50 Backstroke.  He is very fast.  He is 2 meter… I do not know a 2-meter-5 tall person; actually, I would say he is a monster.  He is a really big guy, a really big guy.  But anyway that set-up fit him and used him very well.  Same for Van der Burgh.  But Van der Burgh as a breaststroker, he had a bit of problems to get to his rhythm, to get his timing, right.  Okay, you can see him here: Zandberg is actually not a poor guy in the sense of muscles. He is actually very strong.  But this integration of gym and swim helped him.


I spoke from the beginning on: gym must work for personal advantage, must be very individual orientated.  So I never-ever give two athletes the same gym program.  It does not make sense to let the 400m swimmer do the same program as a 50m swimmer.  But gym is a basic education, a basic physical education, for any speed element in swimming.


Do we have any questions?  Yeah?


[audience member]:   What is your opinion on negative lifting?


[Lange]:  What do you mean negative lifting?


[audience member]:   So you have someone assist you with up, but not coming down, very slowly.


[Lange]:  Very good.  Because it is very hard exercise.  At the end, it is making you tired a lot.  And my experience is, if you are working with high weights, it is not as much exhausting as you are doing an aerobic program in gym.  If you are doing like three or four rounds of 20 repetition with 60% or 65% of your maximum.  It is tiring you much more if you are just doing like 3×3, 3×2, 4×1: something like that.


Another example: Van der Burgh was racing in London the first time I think on Saturday or Sunday, 100 Breast.  The last hard gym, really hard gym, he made Saturday before.  Hard gym mean, because I made it with him, was: six rounds of 3 repetition bench press was 130 kg, 8×3.  One week before.  But he is educated for that.  And that what I mean: if we are starting early enough, if you are starting in puberty, the efficiency of a gym program later-on end-of-story, end-of-the day, it is much higher than if you would start just in the age of 18, 19, 20.  Then you have to catch-up a bit, but you never-ever have the same standard, same level at that.


A lot of people believe if you are starting with a gym program, you get tired, you get big, you get too slow.  I really believe opposite.  With a good physical fitness, you have the ability to swim fast because speed is most important.


Any more questions?


Thank you for your attention.



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