Sprint Swimming by Dr. Dave Salo (2004)


In one of the premier hires in small-college sports history, Dave Salo was named as the Founding Director of Aquatics at SUA on July 30, 2003. As an Assistant Coach for the USA World Championship Team in 2003 (note – the USA Olympic Coaching staff will be selected after Trials in July 2004), Coach Salo provides a world-class training environment for SUA student-athletes.  Coach Salo comes to SUA from the Irvine Novaquatics (Novas), where he has served as Head Coach since the fall of 1990. The NOVAS are a USA Swimming Gold Medal Club and one of the world’s premier swimming organizations. Since becoming Head Coach of the NOVAS, Salo has guided the club to USA National Championships in the Men’s, Women’s, Combined, and Combined Under-18 categories, as well as countless age group championships (BC and Junior Olympic) and several Junior National Team Championships.  Recently, Salo has also been the Co-Head Coach of the Women’s team at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA. In his third season, the Pirates won the 2003 State Championship, as Salo was awarded State Co-Coach of the Year honors.  Salo is a graduate of Long Beach State (B.A. and M.A.) and earned his doctorate in Exercise Physiology from the University of Southern California in 1991.



Thank you very much, and thanks for the watch (I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a great coach). I don’t have a power point presentation because I go back to the old days and when I swam for Jon Urbanchek, when he was just cutting his teeth in collegiate swimming- then you had to write down what was told to you.


You are going to write three things today because there will only be three things of worth or value that you are going to take back to your program – or I hope that there are three things that you find worthy. The rest of it – as Chuck said, you are going to learn more from today than through the week – not as much from these talks, but from the 5:45 in the morning run with Jon Urbanchek (meet us out in front of Marriott and we will run for about 40 minutes; slow enough where you can walk fast and still talk).  You will learn more when you sit down at the bar and drink ice cold Diet Coke, chatting with your teammates or your coaches – that is where you are going to really learn about coaching.  You are also going to learn from soon to be great coaches, who will get a chance to stand up here and talk to you.


Twenty years ago I was invited to speak at my first ASCA clinic in Dallas, and I was a pretty young coach.  Actually, I had never coached anybody to greatness, let alone mediocrity, but I got a chance to speak in front of a group much like this- about training (and it wasn’t about sprint training and I hate being a sprint coach).  I don’t like being called a sprint coach, and although I struggled with the title of this talk I decided to go ahead and speak about sprint training.


Before I get into that there are some organizations and people that I need to acknowledge.  I have to thank ASCA for asking me to be here again.  This is about the third time I have been able to present for the Coach’s Clinic, and it is a great opportunity to share my ideas and hopefully debate some of them too.  (I am stalling because people keep coming in the door and John Leonard keeps frisking them for their ID’s to see if they belong here).


Also, I have to acknowledge the fact that the Nova Aquatics have given me a chance for 14 years; they have become one of the top teams in the United States.  I was telling my roommate this morning that when I was hired as a coach for the Irvine Nova Aquatics I was actually 5th in line for this job, a few people turned it down – when they finally came to my name they said “well, we think we will hire you.”  I said okay, told them what I was expecting for a salary and that I expected a $6,000 finding bonus.  (There are a few of you laughing).  Those of you that are my age – 45 and older – you will know that signing bonuses for coaches are probably a real rarity in swimming, but I asked for a signing bonus.  I knew I was going to be successful, because I am competitive like the rest of you.  They said we will give half of it now, and if you are still here six months from now we will give you the other half.  Fourteen years later I am still living off that second half so it worked out okay.  I am indebted to the Nova Aquatics for allowing me to coach and be a part of an outstanding program.


Last year I listened to a talk and I raised my hand to ask a question – as you are all allowed to do – and it was Eddie Reese presenting on subject of training of his athletes. I raised my hand and asked- coach Reese, what do you do when an athlete comes home from a collegiate program and they tell you that they need nine weeks of rest? (That’s coming from a high school kid that came out of high school with a world record). He replied- ‘Well, that’s your problem.’  So I said, okay, thank you coach Reese.  So now I am also a college coach.  I have actually been a Junior College coach for the past four years.  I gave up that job this year, and now I am the head coach aquatics director Soka University, where my able assistant Jon Urbanchek will be joining me next year (he’s here today with us too).  I also need to thank my sponsor Speedo – they have given me the opportunity to coach at a level that I have always wanted to coach at; and to thank the Nike people for giving me a ride from the airport yesterday.


To the topic of Sprint Training:

I want to give you some of my general observations about sprint training.  These observations have been developed over the years with regards to training an athlete; specifically I will talk to you about how I have trained Jason Lezak.  Jason Lezak is not only participating in my program, but he represents the sprinter mentality I think that you are all going to encounter.  I have coached Jason since he was 14 years of age and he is now 28.  He has been with me all of those 14 years, and I can tell you that the relationship over the years changes dramatically.  It is an interesting contrast from the first time I coached him to the time I coach him now.  I have coached him for all those years, and gone through the process of coaching an elite level athlete (who holds the American record with a 48.1 in the 100 meter freestyle). You may think well, that doesn’t apply to me, but you have all been through this. I also coach teenagers, and as with Jason –who is now a man- some of those coaching aspects and general observations are applicable to your other swimmers.


Every sprinter or every athlete in your program, at least at one point in time, tells you they are a sprinter or they want to be a sprinter.  That is your first battle and you are all going to face that battle.  I don’t think 14, 15, 16 year old kids should be sprinters, but I think that you have got to find the personalities that are sprint-like, and you have to still nurture those kids within a framework that might be very different and may be very contrasting to what your belief is.


If Jason Lezak had been in more of a traditional setting he would not be swimming today.  He would be playing water polo, or owning a bar, or doing something else – I’m not sure what, but he would not have gone on and continued the sport of swimming.  I think that’s important because Jason Lezak at 28 is probably the only American sprinter, and possibly the only sprinter in the world competing at that age at the elite level.  He has gotten better every single year that he has competed.  This year was no different.  Significantly, he went from 48:7 to 48:1, I’m not sure exactly why, but I know that we have made some inroads in sprint training that have made an impact on his performance.


Here is another observation: some of you have heard this from me before- especially the college coaches who are out here – I know my body better than anybody else – right?  They are going to tell you that.  Sprinters will tell you that as well.  Finally, the other observation I have (I am not trying to slam college programs and I don’t intend to do that – I wish Eddie Reese was here) – I think one of the problems we have in our sport is that college athletes or older athletes keep coming home going and saying ‘I can’t train like I did when I was a teenager –I can’t go fast like you want me to.”


We have got to gradually build into this.  One of the inherent problems in our sport today is that we don’t have some of our older athletes willing to work as hard as they did when they were teenagers. I am not sure if that is the culture of collegiate swimming or where it comes from, but I know it is an ongoing problem with a lot of athletes that I work with.  As I said, this is going to be about sprint training-I think the contrast between Jason Lezak, who has been with me for 14 years, and of Gabe Woodward who just joined me after about a two year absence from the sport is good to look at.  Gabe makes the Olympic team – and significantly improves his time from 51.5 to 49.4 to make the cut. And both of them were an interesting contrast for me, as I continue to learn about the sport of swimming.


I had to ask myself with regards to Jason- what would make him better?  I had a loyalty to Jason that wasn’t necessarily conjured up when he was 14 or 15.  We actually didn’t like each other much when he was young; you may find that with sprinters –you probably don’t like them very much.  However as Jason stayed with my program I made a conscious decision to make judgments based on what would make him a better swimmer – a better sprinter.  As a result I have received phone calls from potential sprinters, and I have had a few in the program. And if that program makes Jason better– it will make the general environment and everybody else better as well. For instance- Gabe Woodward called me about two years ago and said ‘I would like to come out and swim with you – is it a possibility’?  I said yes, but then he didn’t show up.  Then he called a second time, about a year later.  I told him – ‘you didn’t show up the first time you called, and if you are going to do this you had better do it and commit to it’.


Well Gabe did make a commitment, and came down and joined our program.  I looked at how this would make our program better; those are the kinds of decisions that you have to make in developing a successful program. I have made the mistakes in the past where I said yes to a swimmer that was eventually detrimental to the program – just because they seemed good, and you wanted them to be good for yourself and the team.  Sometimes it is the worst thing that will happen to you, and you have got to be careful about making those kinds of mistakes. I developed a program that was centered around sprinters, and not kids who want to be sprinters, but were really sprinters: Jason Lezak, Scott Tucker, Gabe Woodward, Greg Busse, and Brad Schumacher.  I am giving you names of athletes that have come into my program the last couple of years to be part of a program; however sometimes swimmers think there is a lot of pixie and magic dust, and that you will turn them into fast people.


One of the challenges in going into the Olympic trials is that you have to go 48 low or 48 mid to be on the Olympic team, or to be successful at the Olympic Games. The challenge is to go 48, from October 1st of last year through trials.  I told them, ‘look I have never coached anybody to go that fast,’ but you (swimmers) have to have some loyalty or at least some confidence in my skills to do the right things as I coach you. You have got to be onboard to go 48.5 – at least train like you can. The training schemes that are very important (which we do in with all our programs) whether you have breaststrokers, distance people, sprinters or backstrokers – is that you have got to think in terms of what is beneficial to each one of them.  What is beneficial to each of those groups?

Too many times we get caught up in training everybody the same way, or maybe we get lazy.  I think it’s a critical mistake in our programs.  We will start to lose a lot of athletes who could be very successful if we focused a little bit differently in their programming.  That is what I have tried to do with our sprinters, as much as I can.  One of the things that I have tried to do with Jason Lezak –you can still do this with teenage athletes too, is to stand back – evaluate your program and have discussions with your athletes.  With teenagers you have got to kind of lead them in the direction that you want to go. With an adult athlete, as I have been fortunate to coach, you have got to have that discussion to determine what is going to work.  You don’t have to always agree on what is going to work, but you have to have that dialogue and that debate in order to fine-tune what you do. I think many times that we try to coach in isolation, without talking to our athletes, even though we are trying to find the best way to prepare our athletes for success.


One of the things that I have always wanted to do, and finally did it this year – because I have the athletes that would subscribe to it – was to go on a different cycle.  We came back from World Championships last year when everybody was talking about Michael Phelps going to workouts every single day of the week – 7 days a week. Then everybody starts saying ‘oh, I am going to go doubles every single day!’ or ‘I am going to do triple workouts every day’ or this or that. I started getting caught in the foray of all of this debate as well, intending to do all of these extra things when I got home. But then I stepped back from that dialogue, talked to myself and thought about how I have always wanted to get off the 7- day cycle.  I have always felt that you could probably train an athlete to go three days really strong and hard, and then take a day off.


So I came to my group last year, about this time and said – well here is the plan, and it was mapped out for the entire year through trials.  The plan called for a 4 –day cycle instead of a 7 –day cycle.  We would train 3 days and take a day off – train 3 days and take a day off – train 3 days and take a day off and so forth. Sometimes we had to train on a Saturday or a Sunday – sometimes we had Monday off – sometimes Tuesday off – depending on how the cycle fell, but I had everybody subscribe to that plan. We had to change our thinking dramatically, especially for Sundays off all the time.  I saw the thinking process of the athletes change – like wow – we can train pretty hard for three days and then I can take a day off.  I had athletes for the first time realize that there were banks open on Wednesday, you know, they could schedule doctor’s appointments on a Thursday that was an off day.


I had Jason Lezak and his fiancée at the time, come to me with the schedule of all the workouts that I planned for a whole year’s time, and they came to me asking “Is this really the schedule for the whole 12 months?” or 9 months or whatever it was.  I said yes, that is the schedule.  I did not think there would be any changes to it. Jason and his fiancée were relieved because their wedding date was set for a day off.  And I said ‘yeah!’  So it worked out – of course Jason did take the day after his wedding off, but he was back in the water on the following Monday.


There was a sense that there was purpose to our training.  I had better prepared everyone for what we were doing longer in advance than I had ever done before, and in a sprinter’s mind – they just want to know – they don’t want to be surprised as to what the schedule is going to be like.  So that was the big change for me this year.  I actually kind of backtracked a little bit.  I didn’t throw in more volume.  I didn’t throw in more days of the week.  I didn’t throw in extra workouts.  Our training plan for sprinters is pretty simple.


I got criticized – well, I always get criticized – it doesn’t matter, but somebody called in to question my thinking about a certain collegiate athlete that came home to train with me a year ago for World Championships. I wanted to build from the strength of his development as a collegiate swimmer, where he was getting in the weight room and getting bigger and stronger, and I wanted to build from that. So I told my college swimmer X that they were going to train in the mornings in the weight room because I want to maintain the strength that they were developing in their collegiate year.  Then they would swim in the afternoon.  That was his plan – go three days a week – instead of swimming in the morning doing dry land – working out in the weight room – maintaining the strength. A lot of people were critical of the fact he was not swimming enough and going only once a day.  I responded that he was training twice a day because training isn’t all just water work.  This swimmer went on to win three World Championships and did OK.


Sometimes we think of our dryland programs as not a workout and that is a silly mentality.  It is a workout.  If we believe dryland benefits our athletes in the water then a dryland workout is a workout and can be a separated out workout.  With our sprint program that is a workout.  Our morning workout for the sprinters is in the weight room and our weight room program is pretty conventional – much like most of us are probably throwing in our programs now is a heavy emphasis on core strength development – a lot more emphasis not on bulk and load, but more on speed, lower weights, more close mechanical movements – similar to swimming and that has been Jason and my sprint program’s training in the morning.  In this though I don’t always lose the war, but I lose some battles.  One of the battles I lost this year with my sprinters is I wanted them to do their weight workouts in the morning and then swim for 30 minutes afterwards – kind of loosen things out – stretch things out and maybe throw in at least one good set – maybe a kicking set really hard.  I lost that battle; they would not subscribe to that.  I said okay, I will lose that one, but I want to win the war at the end.  I guess I shouldn’t be using war terminology at this time, but I did – sorry if I offend anybody, but that workout was a very important workout for the development of the strength of our athletes.  It is a workout and it is no different than the water workout.


The water workout – that was on a 3-day cycle with three days on – one day off, three days on – one day off.  For the sprint program it is 90 minutes because I want the sprinters to know that it is 90 minutes of water time.  That is it.  I can tell you honestly that Jason Lezak knows when we go to 92 minutes; he reminds me that we are 2 minutes over the 90 minutes.  I lose that battle once in a while, but it averages out to about 90 minutes because sometimes it is less. These are some of the basic tenets of the program: Weight workouts Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning.  Afternoon workouts for Jennifer this past year was 3 days on – 1 day off and the training time was 90 minutes and again – it was sometimes a little more and sometimes a little less.


One of the important considerations and I don’t have any kind of exact science and nobody does – nobody can tell you how much work and how much rest needs to be accomplished in order to get maximum efforts.  That is a critical factor is developing at least a philosophy- how much rest you need to get – not taper rest – and how much rest between sets?  How much rest between swims?  How much rest between workouts?  I battle with Jason periodically – you know, sprinters or older athletes will tell you that they need a recovery workout.  And you need to build in a recovery workout.   My mindset generally is to work hard every single day – train hard – train fast every single day.  That is the way that I think it should be done, but I have had to change some of my thinking because of some of the older athletes in the program.  So I started throwing in a recovery workout – so the sprint guys will go maybe a real hard one, then a kind of a recovery workout, and then a real hard one on a three-day cycle.


One day we were doing a recovery workout – a recovery workout for me is longer – work on your skill – good streamlines – don’t get your heart rate very high and Jason Lezak is pouting in lane 1.  So I asked him what is your problem?  He responds that it was a boring workout, and said other unmentionable expletives about the workout, so he got out upset, and left the workout. That was his recovery day – driving back home for 30 minutes I guess, but I later found out his wife was mad at me because some other issues I forgot about. When you are working with older athletes – maybe more so than teenage athletes – there are other issues in their life that you have to be aware of.  This year I married off – I retired about 10 athletes this year for USA Swimming, and married about six – so the gene pool has improved.  My program went from an average age of 26 last year, to an average age of 15, which is my “get back at Jason” because he is a 28 year old swimming with 15-year-old girls and he is having a tough time with it right now.


These are my practical theories- I used to do Power-point presentations, and show workouts- all thinking concepts- and someone would raise their hand and go, well – what’s next?  It wasn’t the actual realities of what we do.  Here is my training theory with sprinters:  if I give Jason Lezak or most of my sprinters (not all, Gabe Woodward is great because he would do everything I would ask him to do) a workout they are hard to train and hard to deal with. Jason hates swim training – that is probably why he didn’t make finals at the Olympics – I don’t know.  Gabe would do everything I asked him to do because he knew that at any moment I could say, ‘you are not working out – you have to go home’ so he owes me a little bit more.  Jason didn’t have the same attitude – he had been there a long time, but if I gave him eight 50’s and told Jason to do them on 1:30 and all fast – I might get one fast and then his feedback was that his body was breaking down too easy – and that he needed a recovery workout.  With Gabe he would give me a good hard eight 50’s – really good strong effort 50’s.


Most of you are probably saying ‘oh my god, that must be heaven – working with these guys, you’ve got the easiest job in the world – you are coaching sprinters.’  I see coach Bill Rose here- Bill had a great swim this year with Larsen Jensen.  I will take a distance kid any day because sprinters can be a pain to work with. They are not fun or easy to work with.  They are difficult to work with – every day is difficult.  Give me a distance kid like Larsen Jensen (Bill can tell you) that kid is so self-driven – he will walk in – I remember at PAN-PACS one year – he walked into our room and told Jon Urbanchek and I he was going to break the American record in the 800 freestyle.  Jon and I were like – okay? What’ s that coming from? Nobody had come close to breaking it for so many years, but Larsen went out and broke it at the Olympic Games. He came and he said I am going to go 14:45 – but that is Bill’s talk so go to Bill’s talk tomorrow– you will learn a lot.


Anyway – let’s go back to my eight 50’s.  Sprinters are hard to work with.  They are very difficult, and you have got to be on top of it at all times.  You always have to be on top of it, you have to be ready for it.  They are going to get bored with the recovery workouts and get mad.  It’s in everything you can think about, tough, not easy. So, what I had to do in working with Jason over the last several years – I had to figure out how could I up his work load on a progressive basis through the course of the years – not the one year, but over the years because I needed to get the work load up.  It couldn’t just happen.  You can’t repeat the same thing over and over again and expect change to happen.  With Jason what I had to do was to say to myself if I can’t get him to go eight 50’s on 1:30 fast – the way I would like to see him do it, I will have to make a change.  I bet if I attach a stretch cord to him and attach it to the block and have him swim 25’s I will get better effort.  So in the last three years most of our sprinters do a lot of stretch cord work.  They are also very competitive – they do not like to lose, and they do not want to lose to a stretch cord, especially in front of their buddies. So getting to the other side of the pool attached to a stretch cord really did mean something. The stretch cord works well. It can become an option for you for putting a group off on their own, knowing that the stretch cord serves as a great assistant coach.  You can’t fake it.  You have got to get across the pool, and if you are attached to that cord you will get across the pool.


I have characterized my program as being an MTV version of training, being fairly innovative, not doing boring mundane things and trying to keep it upbeat and positive.  If you watch MTV or VH1 or Real People – today’s kids are exposed to all this fast – paced stimuli with everything changing every couple of seconds.  That is what my program is a lot like, especially with sprinters.  As an example – one day I couldn’t figure out exactly what I wanted to do, and I had one of these half round balls – they call them bosa balls- on the deck.  I wasn’t sure exactly what my set was going to be – I was kind of reading the eyes of my athletes knowing that I needed something quick and spontaneous.  So I lined them up against the wall – with their backs turned away from the pool, and I grabbed this bosa ball. I told them that when they heard the ball make contact with the water then they could turn around – sprint to the ball, then whoever gets there last had to do push-ups.  I would throw the ball into the pool about 20 yards away from them – as soon as they would hear it they were directed to sprint to it – touch it – and the last one that touched it had to do push-ups.  So I was able to get out of them hard effort in an environment of competitiveness, sprinting, and power work.  Jason had to do a lot of push-ups because he was lazy that day, so I got everything I wanted.  I got them to work hard, got out of them the sprinting that I thought was important, and I got some strength work when they didn’t swim very fast to the bosa ball.


Now a stretch cord provides you a lot of opportunity to make changes within the program, and it will elicit the response that you want.  I have an example: I talked to somebody who saw me speak at Boston a couple of weeks ago and he gave me some great ideas which I will use next week.  You take a stretch cord and attach it to a block- we would be going 50’s – two 50’s – ten seconds apart.  At the 25 on resistance they would swim for half a lap – working on stroke because the resistance isn’t very tight, then kick for 10 seconds as far as they could get – usually they would get to about the flags.  Then from the flags on in they would work really hard into the wall – once they got to the wall they would put their hands flat against the wall and kick for ten seconds.  Then they would push back – because with sprinters you have to do this – you push back and let the cord bring you back.  You don’t want to work too much – but work on body position.  Work on head position, body position – stay on the surface and when you don’t feel that cord pulling you back anymore – then you have to kick fast into the wall and then you get 10 seconds rest.  Well, they would stretch it out to 15, but I would say try to do 10.  I really wanted 15 – but they didn’t know that – that is important – that is another key.  Give them what they think you want, but realize that you really do want something less than that.  Tell them twelve 50’s – be satisfied with four and then you have won that battle.  You have got to set yourself up for success as a coach.  So, they would take 10 or 15 seconds rest and they would do the same thing again.  That is a tough set – it really is a tough set.  You are working against the resistance of the cord so I know the efforts would always be honest; you would go five or six rounds so they would go two 50’s and their partner would go two 50’s. Then they would go two 50’s and their partner would go two 50’s.  This is just an example of things that you can do.  We have all used stretch cords.  I am not going to tell you anything new, but there are so many different ways you can use it.


I also gave an example at the Boston Clinic of where we kicked against the wall – we do two flip turns against the wall immediately in succession –I do that one to break up the monotony of swimming.  The other thing is to develop core strength in the abdominal’ s because that second turn is really difficult.  I am going to go back next week with this drill where we go:  flip against the wall, 10 second kick against the wall, flip against the wall, 10 second kick against the wall, flip against the wall, 10 second kick – because I want to create an environment where the swimming component once put together will create the race that we want.  For the sprinters this year it was time of 48.  Well – I got one 48 this year.


I told you about how difficult sprinters were and I had some really good sprinters this year again – Scott Tucker, Gabe Woodward, Jason Lezak, Greg Busse, Brad Schumacher, I might have had a couple of others in there – all have been 49 to 49+ or better- but I can tell you right now – it was not the ideal environment you would think it was.  It wasn’t like ‘Oh my God – hit parade’ – you’ve got these guys racing each other every minute of the day.  I didn’t see that at all, and as I have told you, I am not exactly sure why Jason went 48.1.  I can be quite honest with you – his training was not that great.  He came to practice, he kind of did the things I asked him to do, but there were a lot of times where he just struggled because – it was hard.  He thought, for whatever reason, that he was sick.  Most of the time he thinks he is sick; but that is another issue, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be.  I thought ‘Oh wow –this is going to be great.’  They will be racing each other and competing with each other – it is an environmental thing as much as anything else. They were good at helping each other out technically, that is something every any age of swimmer can do, and you have to encourage that. They have to learn from each other.  They have to watch each other under water so when one swimmer is on the belt for 50 the other athletes are there to watch – look at the stroke – look at their head position – look under water and make suggestions so that they can enhance that skill that they are learning.


Again, this isn’t just older athletes – this is something that you do with the entire program – develop the mindset that it’s okay to do that stuff.  Now the other thing that I used a lot this year, which I think was advantageous to what we were trying to do, and it helped me manage 40 kids that I was coaching, was trainin, was using the aqua-pacers.  I don’t think you can get a tempo trainer on the market anymore, but the aqua-pacers were better. You could program in not only the tempo, but also time.  I would use that to get my sprinters to be more mindset-oriented on the splits that they wanted to achieve through the course of a race.  This was for not just the first 50, but also the first 25 meters or the next 25 meters.  I would design workouts with the aqua-pacer that would facilitate that.  As an example – we would do dive 50’s with the aqua-pacer that would send them off – set it for 23.5 for most of the guys because I want them foot touching at 23.5 with the intent to come back in 25 seconds- or 25.5 the second 50 so they would dive off the tempo.  I would set the tempo for what I thought was appropriate for their particular skill level and they would do these 50’s.  Early in the season it was with fins on, so it was a little bit easier so they could get the sense of swimming for that amount of time – no longer – no less – and no more.  Then as they got closer to trials they took fins off in and went a 23.5 foot touch to get that sense of 23.5, or what that pace would be like.  I do that a lot with the sprinters as well is breaking their swim-out – what are you going to be for a 48.5?  You are going to be 23.5 and 25 flat and designing sets by kicking sets where it was that time specific.  We are doing 23.5 second bouts kicking – and kicking as fast as you can. We will get 10 seconds – 15 seconds rest between each 23.5-second bout.  So they would program into their minds that particular mindset.  That is what that duration of effort is going to feel like.  I think that is an important factor to work with in sprinters, that time element.  It is like the distance kids – doing pace work – 20 100’s holding 59, 59, 59, 59, 59, 59 – same thing with sprinters – you have got to break up their swims into their components.


I tell a story in working with Lenny Krayzelburg – he worked with the sprinters a little bit, but not that much because they all work hard.  Sprinters work hard, but they work differently.  Lenny has a distance mentality and he didn’t fit necessarily the mold of the sprinters, but some of the sets that I would do with the sprinters he would be a part of.  I took elements of their race like 15 meters, 7.5 meters in – 7.5 meters out and timing those components specific to the time that I would give them.  Now Lenny was (if any of you have an athlete like this you have something really special) always positioning himself to be in the lead for that set.  I thought that I had worked with some pretty good athletes, but in doing that particular set I watched Lenny set up a specific time to finish the 15 meters.  They had to go about 7.5 meters of setup to get the speed (7.5 meters in – 7.5 meters out and I would time that 15 meters) I would watch Lenny do the set and he wasn’t content just to go fast for 7.5 meters in and out – he was always trying to find out how he needed to position himself for the 7.5 lead-in. I have never seen a swimmer that tried to set up being better for the set that the coach wanted them to do like Lenny.


I am giving you that example in terms of breaking out the components – knowing what those time elements need to be.  That is where the art of coaching comes in – is trying to figure out exactly – in these 15 meters you need to be this – these 7.5 meters you need to be that – here is what your breakout times need to be.  We get all this data from USA Swimming all the time – breakout speeds and 15 meter time points and then we don’t use it.  We get to a meet and we go okay, your 15 meter breakout time needs to be better, but when we get to practice we never use it, we don’t work with it. A perfect opportunity is to take that information, go back to your pool and use that information.  We are going 15-meter sprints and you have got to be at 6.5 seconds – every one- you have got to go twenty of them- and the ones that are 7.5 do not count.  This is being real specific with the sprinters in the same way you are with your distance athletes on their splits. Not being content with just their first 50, but every component – every 20 meters or every 25 meters, that helps tremendously.


Tapering this year was tricky- I had such a vast array of kids.  I had sprinters – I had guys swimming 400IM, I had athletes swimming 200 back – I had them all over the place and I hate taper time – like all of us – we are afraid we are going to screw up.  We are afraid to rest.  We err on the side of work versus the error on the side of resting.  We all are convinced that we are resting too much, and we are all very cautious and we are very concerned about it.  In the spring last year I let them kind of rest themselves.  I said okay, we have two weeks to go and here is what the guideline is – you come in for an hour and 15 minutes and you do what you think you need to do.  This was in contrast to what I have always been – here is what we are doing – and I thought that I might not be giving them enough rest.  I wanted to find that out in March – not in July.  I didn’t like what happened in March, we lost the National Championship by 4 points and it was probably because I let them figure out their own rest.  So I came back to prepare for the Olympic trials.  One thing that bothers me more than anything else is not having everybody on the same page, so this year I did something quite different.  I said okay – we are all going to do the same work, we are all going to do the same sets during the taper.  You are going to get your rest, but some of you need to work a little bit more – some of you need to do this, some of you need to do that, but I want everybody on the same page.


So the way I broke out the taper period is that we would do minutes of work – i.e. 15 minutes. Here is a set example:  75 plus three 25’s.  The 75’s should be a drill like a kick / swim and in the 25’s – there you should pick up your intensity.  Now we are going for 15 minutes.  The maximum number of rounds you should do is six, but some of you swimmers should do two.  We spend about 2 ½ weeks to 3 weeks throwing in those kinds of sets (this again applies to the whole group) then the question becomes how many should I do?  Well, you have to decide – is it six or is it two?  And some of you that are swimming the 400IM, 200 fly, 200 breast, 200 back, 200 of this or that – maybe you need to do six and maybe those three 25’s should be really fast and the 75’s should be more of a pace. For the sprinter over here, e.g. Jason Lezak, maybe you should do two – in 15 minutes you should do two rounds – maybe you should get a minute rest after a 75 and go drill-kick-fast swim; then take a minute break and then descend three 25’s with a minute’s rest in between.  Again, I am talking about a group that’s average age is 24-25 years old.


A lot of these athletes that I had were coming in with all their pre-conceived notions of what their training should be like or what their rest should be.  They all know what their rest should be, but it allowed me to put everyone on the same plane, but give them the opportunity to adjust according to what they thought they needed.  It gave me a chance to work with some high school kids, and give them some sense of ownership and responsibility for what they were doing. I think that is really another important part of developing athletes –they need to learn to take ownership and accountability and responsibility for their performance.  If they screw up we have to put them back on the right track, but I think at times they need to have that opportunity.  We don’t or I don’t have all the answers.  I am still trying to figure that one out.  I think mindset is really important.  I think our sprinters sometimes get the short end of the program.  And I think that we can rein them in, by defining them, defining their training and giving them some sense of ownership in their group.


One of the things I think I had to do this year (and it’s not something you can all do all the time either), but I broke my sprinters off the main group and ran them at 2 o’clock.  I ran them at 2 – 4pm or 2-3:30 pm, and then the rest of my group would come in from 3:30 on.  It allowed me to pull the sprinters out, because traditionally everybody thinks the sprinters don’t work.  They feel that they are not working hard enough, or they watch what they are doing, and go ‘well, that’s not work’ and then they become real critical of the sprinters – I needed to avoid that.  At training camp – you can see this in hindsight; at one day at the Stanford training camp Gary Hall came in with a blowup lounge chair. We were all kind of watching Gary, and his antics, and he found a pump to blow it up, then he puts it in the diving tank.  He is over there just laying in it; so then everybody was waiting for him to fail at the Olympic Games.  But he showed us – he wins the 50 free and we are then all going out and buying lounge chairs.  I kept telling all the coaches it’s okay, he has the lounge chair out, but you don’t realize that he is sneaking over here at midnight and he is putting in a 10,000-yard workout?  And they are like ‘oh yeah?’  I think the mindset is really important – that the athletes have to know that they are doing the work that is right for them.


It is going to work for us; I hate it anytime some of my other kids come in before the sprinters were done, because they would look at them as if they were not doing anything. You know, they are not working the same.  I haven’t figured them out yet; I know Jason can be a lot faster.  I know that he will be faster, and I don’t have the exact answer, so I cannot give you the exact answers.  I will tell you this last little tidbit and then I will open it up to questions.  We got into the taper part of the season, and out of exasperation from working with all the older athletes I bent over to Gabe Woodward as he was in the water, and said, ‘Gabe – what do you want to do for a taper?’  At that time I had a series of four or five people telling me what they were going to do for taper, and I said, ‘Gabe – what do you want to do?’  He tells me –  ‘Whatever you tell me coach.’  And I thought, oh my God, I have just died and gone to heaven – a sprinter telling me that I could do whatever I thought was right.  When he made the Olympic team it was like ‘Whew – I got it right.’


Any questions?  Yes – good question – the question is about video analysis – do we use a lot of video analysis?  We don’t use it enough, but that is another element to use with sprinters that I think is really important. It gives you the ability to really analyze their race. There are several times through the course of the season where I could (using DartFish), create a loop – a delayed loop so they could do a dive and then come out and see it, or do a turn. I think video analysis is the one thing that we do not use well enough, often enough or effectively enough.  I know we are also trying to figure out a way to use the TIVO unit – you have got to have a special one that allows you to do the underwater.  In diving they do this frequently, where they do the dive and then see it within 30 seconds after the dive, then can make changes.


I think that is what we have to do in our sport a lot more, it’s not that you can’t get the distance kids to go a 500, then get out and watch the video, you do that if they are swimming slow.  If they are not doing the speed you want – have them watch it.  I had to watch it, so should you. We will call that the Jack Simon video analysis move – because he would do that.  For those of you who know Jack Simon, have you seen him watching his distance kid have a crappy race, and he is giving him signs like this?


(Another question) Yes – good question – do I find there is a difference with female sprinters?  It depends on the female sprinter – the female sprinters that I have had – Colleen Linne swam with me this year.  As a corollary (not to call Scott Tucker a girl), but Scott Tucker came at the 100 very differently than Jason Lezak. Jason Lezak and Gabe Woodward came at it from the 50 up.  Scott Tucker came from the 200 down.  Scott Tucker had his first year training with me, and I put him in Jason’s lane for a season.  He then said ‘Don’t ever do that to me again.’  He didn’t like training with the sprinters – he was more of a 200 guy swimming down to the 100.  Colleen Linne is not a muscular woman.  She is a finesse swimmer, and came at it more from the 200 versus from the 100.  I have never had a female sprinter that is a lot like a Jason Lezak – muscular – where the power component was the driving force for performance so I tended to treat women sprinters differently than the male sprinters, so I do think there is a difference.  They are not carrying the same kind of muscle mass.  I think they come from the race more from the 200 than from the other way up, but if I had a more muscular-oriented female I would probably train her much more like the male sprinters.


In fact I will tell you a short, quick story:  I have had some pretty good high school age girls – they are pretty good 200 freestylers like a 1:48 high to a – 1:49. I thought that was pretty good, and I took Colleen to this meet and Kara McGee was there and she goes a 1:44.  I am thinking out loud and saying “God – I have never seen a female that fast” and Colleen heard me say that.  She was so disappointed in me, in that I didn’t think any female swimmer could go that fast.  I haven’t been to a Women’s NCAA’S – I don’t see that kind of fast swimming, but she got down to 1:44 – we didn’t do what I thought we were going to do in the 200 free long course, but we did train her differently – more for the 200.


Yes?  Because of all the distance swimming, do I do endurance work?  Here is my take on the endurance work with the sprinters – I believe in passive development of endurance- if I can use that as a term. If I do twenty 25’s really fast, and I am engaging 100% of the muscle mass, and we are working on mechanics, speed, what that feels like, the drag component – and I am resting for ten seconds in between those 25’s, metabolically I am still going.  The only thing that is different is muscle contraction is not going on.  So I come at that endurance component through fast swimming, with maybe shorter rest breaks in between those fast swims, but I look at it more from the passive training-effect versus an active training-effect.  I think you should do with them what you think is successful.

If you think they are going to be sprinters because they train for the 500 – you do that and you get them to believe that, but I think you can if you want to accentuate that component you throw in some things that I might have suggested like with the stretch cords.  Do a 500, and then you are going six 25’s on a stretch cord and you tell them we are balancing both.  They don’t know what they are going to be ten years from now.


One of my best sprinters coming out of high school was Mike ______.  You know, he was born in America, but he represents Yugoslavia, Montenegro, Serbia – whatever it is now and he came out of high school going a 19.6.  He was pretty good, and until his senior year – he was kind of in my pseudo-sprint group because he wasn’t one of these guys that liked swimming either, but he was talented – tremendously talented.  In his senior year I did do some things differently.  Around January – at the beginning of January I said okay Michael (not as if his attendance in the morning was great anyway), but Michael – on January 8th – that is your last morning workout.  You do not have to come to morning workouts anymore.  It used to be like two or three days a week in the morning and he attends, but why?  For one thing he didn’t come very often anyway, and he didn’t need to do it anymore – he could when he went off to college.  So at one of my workouts one day (it was ten rounds of a 25, a 50, a 75,  and a this or that sort of thing – it took about 20 minutes) in his senior year in high school, Mike looks up at me after we finished the set, and he says ‘That was 1500 yards!’  Well yeah, okay it was 1500 yards, so I had fooled him all these years – he thought they were 25’s and 50’s.  We were going six rounds of 1500 and you just didn’t know it.  So there are ways of getting athletes to do what you want.

You can take a 500 and break it up in all kinds of little pieces and it is still a 500.  It may not teach pacing as well, but – here is another example.  I had a pretty good middle distance kid who thought he was going to go and be a sprinter – is Nort Thornton in the room?  Yeah, he is here – this guy is swimming for Nort now.  He is funny.  I would put him in our distance lane because I thought he was kind of a distance kid.  You know, he has an 800 free long course National cut and he says ‘I don’t swim the 1500.’  I would go okay? We are going to do this set – you are doing a 300 plus three 100’s, and the 300 is technique work.  On the 100’s go at a 1500 pace, and he would look up at me and say – ‘I don’t swim the 1500 – I don’t – why am I doing this?’ I would respond by telling him to- I would say   OK – hold it at a 400 pace. Terminology is really important.  I needed to come at it from the 400, not the 1500.


Yes?  Do I have any reaction drills on land that I use to develop speed with my athletes? I usually use this one but it sometimes doesn’t work very well.  We are getting it within in 30 seconds – just getting ready to go. But if I tell you some of the things that we do, you would take them back home and your administrators – wherever you are and they would tell you that you couldn’t do it there.  Like running on the deck where you do these running dive 25’s, but you can’t do that here.  I am at a private University where I am the Aquatics Director, and I can do anything I want and I yell at myself every so often too.


Question?  The question is being discerning about whom you accept into your program, being real careful of that, I have an example here.  I took a kid into my program – she was a tough sprinter – tough as nails.  I remember a set one day – we were doing in and outs – you were at the 15 meter mark and you would sprint in and sprint out and she came off the wall and somebody missed their cue and came in and they collided.  They hit heads and she came up with a big bloody eye.  I was being compassionate, as we are supposed to be, and I said, ‘Are you all right, are you hurt?’ And she replied ‘It hurts like hell, what do you think?’  After that she became a perceived detriment to me.  At least to me she was detrimental; she scared the hell out of me, plus I didn’t like how she was interacting with some of the teenage girls.  Not nasty or anything – I just didn’t like her demeanor.  I am kind of a happy go lucky kind of guy – I don’t need people being real negative because then it makes me negative.


Question? The question is how – none of my group has changed dramatically – the average age is 15 and there are a lot of girls in my group – we are changing focus a little bit.  I don’t have a lot of sprint freestylers.  I look at this group as more – I am going to borrow from Dick Schoulberg – we are going to make them 400IM’ers – we are going to go at that.  I started calling myself the kind of a four-year nerd (I am a 40 year nerd anyway because it is okay).  We are going to gradually build into this first year of four years – we are going to build toward the Olympic Games in 2008, so we are going to start things a little slower with this group.  They are getting used to me and I am getting used to them.  We had a big meeting with them the other day, and I asked them what they wanted. What are your expectations?  And they stood up and gave their expectations, and I said ‘Okay- that is good.  You have great expectations so if we want that to happen then you have to all get onboard.  You have got to be supportive.  You have to help each other out.  You can’t rely on me to always give the instructions.’  So, it is just communicating with them, they want to be in a motivated group.  They want an upbeat and positive group, so their responsibility is to create that.  So it’s like starting all over.  It is a rebuild process; I am actually kind of looking forward to it.  It is fun because there are these new kids coming into your program, and they are all scared to death of me and I am going to keep that for about a year and then they will find out I am not that serious.


Any other questions?  How was Jason Lezak developmentally in my program as a high school boy?  He was a really good age group kid – he started about 10 or 11 and then he stopped growing. When I started working with him at 14 I had just come into the program – in fact he wasn’t swimming at the time I was hired. One of my kids called him and said hey, they just hired this new coach and he is a sprint coach (I don’t really like that terminology) so he came back and started swimming with me. His dad used to get mad at me in his high school years, because I didn’t make him go to morning workouts.  Morning workouts were voluntary.  If you wanted to come that is great.  If you don’t want to come that is okay.  I would rather work with those that want to be there, so he didn’t come and that was fine.  He did come to practice in the afternoon, and we would go through warm-up – it would be just sloppy garbage and that would put me in a crappy mood, but – I would have to watch this slop and he and I didn’t like each other a whole lot.  It was just a battle.  We kind of agreed without saying to each other – we are just not going to pay attention to each other you know, if I spend all my energy on getting upset because he is slopping through workout it wasn’t worth it- he has matured a lot.  In his high school years he wasn’t doing much more than 90 minutes to two hours, but the quality of the work was just not very good.

The same kind of precept – the same kinds of ideas – fast training, fast mechanical work – always working on mechanics, but he didn’t appreciate his skill level until he came back from college. Now it is a pretty good relationship.  We are having a meeting after this meet down the road, to talk about this year and how we are going to get better.  We’ll discuss what mistakes we made last year and so it is – it is a much more adult relationship so it is fun to work with. It’s not always easy though.


Question – Why it is three days on and one day off – why not two days on and one day off or four days? I’ll throw the question back at you – why not?  I have experienced from my standpoint that you can train pretty good and solid for three days.  When you the 6 days on and one day off – you know what it is like – you are starting to kind of drag by the end of the week.  You get into Saturday and as coaches like – Saturday I got 2-3-4-5 or 6 hours.  I called Josh Sterns one day – this was a couple of years ago – I called him one day on a Saturday and he didn’t pick up at 3 o’clock.  I called back around 6 o’clock and I said Josh – what are you doing? I tried calling you earlier and he goes well I just got home from workout.  I asked him if he doubles and he said that he started at 9 and finished at 5, and was now home.  So, that’s why Erik Vendt is the way he is – he is good, but I just think three days are good.  In three days I think you can get really good quality – the kind of work I want is good fast hard quality work.  I then I take a day off, but nothing says that two on and one off doesn’t work as well.  Why I throw that out is to – help us as we sometimes get so caught up in our usual mentality that maybe we need to think outside the box a little bit, and not be afraid to change things in a contrary manner.


The initial idea – you hear this all the time – the coach is going into the Olympic year and starts going like this– I am going to double the work load instead of 100,000 a week we are going to go 200,000 a week.  We are going to do three workouts – we are going to do all those things.  This is not to say those things don’t work, but we are always afraid to go the other way.  I am going to take four days off.  I did a training camp in May in Hawaii, leading into trials.  We didn’t go to Colorado Springs to do our altitude – we went to sea level and took 25 athletes to Hawaii to do training.  It was great.  It was great to get away from home.  It was great to be training, but be on vacation.  You know, it was the only vacation that I will get too.


Question – The question is straight-arm or bent arm – it depends on the athlete.  You know, some athletes I encourage straighter recovery and some I don’t think it is as important.  For freestyle what I think is important I think I learned this from Bill Boomer and watching some pretty good athletes.  I think more of really accelerating the wrist in the recovery and if that leads into a straighter arm recovery for the first third of the stroke – that is okay.  Whether it is a completely straight arm – I am not sure that I am a fan of that, but kind of a straighter acceleration in the recovery.  But I think a lot of times it depends on the athlete and what decisions you make about the mechanics.


How about analysis under water, and how the athletes use that? I encourage it at every level, but within my group.  This new group that I have – they are encouraged to help each other out. Last year I would have a swimmer come up to me and ask about how to swim a 200 fly. I remember swimming it once against UC of Santa Barbara because Jon Urbanchek needed somebody to fill a lane and I remember how much it hurt – okay – let me tell you how to swim it.  Why not go ask the kid who has swum it a few more times instead– I will give you my sense of how to do the strategy for it.


When Lenny joined our program we did a lot of underwater look at the strokes and showed Lenny the huge difference between what he and Aaron Piersol did. It is a huge difference. We tried in watching Aaron to do some of the things that Aaron was doing, because I thought they would provide some relief to the shoulder problem – Lenny was the World Record Holder at the time and that is what conventionalism suggested.  Aaron Piersol is emerging world record holder – this is what he is doing and they are very different, but I think you can learn a lot.  We saw some things on Aaron’s stroke that were really weird – we always think about rotation. If you watch his stroke head on, you see him doing this (example); along with his rotation –he does that to create leverage back in here into his stroke.  I am like everybody else you know, you have to teach rotation.  Well I am not going to teach kids to do this- this is Aaron Piersol and why he is so skilled.


Thank you.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news