Swim Like the Cheetah Runs by Dave Salo, University of Southern California (2014)


[introduction by Bill Wadley]
Okay. Good morning, everyone; how are we doing today? All right. Okay, let’s everybody standup for a second; put your books down, put your papers down. We are going to stand up for a second. I would like to have everybody turn to the people next to you. If you have not met them, introduce yourself to them; say hello, say good morning. It is okay to turn behind you and look behind you. Okay, thank you.

So, let me ask you a quick question. First off, I will introduce myself. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Bill Wadley; I coach at Ohio State. I am a board member for ASCA and I am the current president of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. What changed in the room? (Energy.) Energy!

The next speaker that you are going to listen to is one of the most energetic, enthusiastic, passionate, fun-loving, creative minds in the sport; and you are going to love it. Dave Salo is… his record speaks for itself. I asked him just a minute ago, I said, “Dave, how many World Record holders have you coached?” And he said, “I don’t keep track of that.” That is Dave: he does not keep track of that stuff—I mean, I am sure somebody does for him. But the truth is, he is just coaching the people in front of him. And he is just coaching them to go to a higher level, to a faster level; and he does one whale of a job of doing just that.

So you are going to be blessed this morning with having the opportunity to be coached by, to be taught by, to learn from, one of the greatest in the profession; who will share his love and passion of sport, and his love and passion of how he teaches through sport. So, please join me in welcoming the great Dave Salo.

[Salo begins]
I do not consider myself great, but I appreciate the thought. How many have been… how many have not been to one of my talks? Okay. We used to call this an E-ticket ride. Most of you are under-30, so you do not know what that means, but when you used to go to Disneyland, you had tickets and E-ticket ride was the best ride. So, put on your seatbelts, it will be an E-ticket ride.

I am not sure where this talk is going. This is the first time I have done this talk publicly—I have done it with my team; there is a lot of video. I thought it was interesting last night, with Doug Ingram’s talk, he did something that there is no way I would ever consider doing. I hate being cold, I hate being uncomfortable; but to climb a mountain to get to the top, to turn around and come back, is not something I find would be all that interesting.

All right, are you ready? Swim like the cheetah runs. We all recognize that the cheetah is supposed to be the fastest land-animal in the world. And what this talks to is what I heard, overheard, somebody talking about, something I guess Brent Rushall has talked about. Brent Rushall is not a big fan of doing things like weights, he does not believe in drills; he does not believe in equipment, apparently. I have not heard him talk, but this is what I have heard. Everybody is into this USRPT-thing. [Ultra-Short, Race-Pace Training]

And one of the analogies was that you do not see a cheetah—which is the fastest land-animal—go into the weight room every day and pump weights to be the fastest land-animal. Correct? Okay. And I thought about that, because I try to be introspective and a thinker; and I thought: well, let me think through that. No, I have never seen a cheetah in the weight room, pumping weights, and it is the fastest land animal when it is running.

But, you know, there is a consequence to poor performance in the cheetah’s world: if it does not go out every day and run as fast as it can, it does not eat, it does not feed its family. So there is no reason for to it pump weights; it is going full-bore, all-out every time it goes out and meets the day. And so, I do not think it needs to go to the weight room because it is always training, basically every day, at 100% capacity.

And the problem that we have in our sport, I think, is that we do not do that. We think we do; the kids tell us they are working as hard as they can. I am not sure that is true.

(I have got a lot of video in this. I will over-speak the video a little bit. If there are any questions, just ask—raise your hand.)

I have got a lot of questions. I am trying to get my athletes go 100%, like the cheetah runs. But because in our sport we do not have a consequence to poor performance—despite the fact that we are encouraging them to go full-speed, all-out, every stroke, all the details associated with being fast—we get probably 60%-70% of capacity.

This is the cheetah—and I just pulled this up the other day. And I was looking at it, going Why is the cheetah so fast? But I thought what was really cool about it is the head never moves. The head is so focused on the prey, or the result, that the head never moves—I just think that is cool.

So what has prompted this talk is really, I was at a college swimming coaches association [meeting], Tim Welsh from Notre Dame had come up and said, “Dave, you’ve got to read this book.” He said—and I was flattered by him saying—there is a couple of people that I know that I think would really read this book and figure it out, or try to figure it out, at least be somewhat overwhelmed by the book. The book is entitled The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance,” by Steven Kotler.

It is an amazing book because it talks about performance on the very-high end of the extreme. He talks about athletes who are basically in sports and activities where the consequence to poor performance is the ultimate sacrifice, which is life. Think in terms of… (and I will show you some of these things that we are talking about) the big-wave rider, that search out the largest, largest waves in the world, and surfs those waves. And the consequence if they do not hit it right, the consequence is probably being maimed or killed. The freebase jumper: the freebase jumper has to do everything in minutia, in order to survive the freebase jump. The soloist who is climbing up the half dome of Yosemite has got to make every single spot on the face of this rock tuned to his body so he did not fall off the face of Half Dome.

And as I said before, our athletes are all convinced they are working so hard, they are putting in every effort, that they are focusing in on the detail. As I explore other athletic endeavors, I just wonder if that is true. I do not have a lot of answers for you today, but I can tell that I just… how we get our athletes to rise to the level of 100% capacity is a challenge that we all face.

One of the things in this book Steven Kotler talks about, I guess there is a scene in one of the recent Transformer movies where these guys are freebasing off the buildings in Chicago. And they have got to… it is a group of four people basically flying through the streets of Chicago with these flight suits and they have to make turns around corners of buildings. And they become so in-tuned to what is in front of them, that they can tell, with a partner that is just in front, when he is about to make his turn by just what is going on with a twitch of his ankle. And he is so fine-tuned; and he has to be fine-tuned because if he does not pay attention to that minutia, he is going to splatter himself on the wall.

These videos are incredible; these guys are just basically falling forward. They are falling through Switzerland mountains, and they are falling at a rate that is just-enough to keep them from hitting the ground. And at the very end… I could not figure out how at the very end they stopped, but they have little parachutes at the very end, where they pulled the parachute.

But just again, envision: we are trying to get our athletes to do 100% capacity, and yet we see athletes who are doing some things amazingly outside of the realm of what we look at in our sport. And we think they are working so hard. And I keep telling they are not working that hard.

[speaker pauses as video plays]

(This is to just get a sense of how high up they are before they actually do this run. This just makes me nauseous.)

They are just falling. But they go forward just enough, so they just do not hit flat. Juxtapose that to asking a kid to go 4×50, all-out on 2:00 interval.

If he does not maintain his arm position for the length of this video, he collapses and falls and is dead. In a 50, the kid always has the opportunity to put an all-out effort, but I know darn-well he is going to take one stroke that is probably at 65% and not 100%.

This is all human performance.

Just those turns are pretty precarious. I do not know if they have done this a couple of times to know what this route looks like. I think they get one shot at it, and that is it.

[new video begins]

We have had some huge swells down in Southern California recently. And I went out and got in the water last weekend. After about ten minutes of being pushed down by the currents—about 100 yards in 5 seconds—I decided to get out. And then I watched these guys, who purposely choose to throw themselves into these waves. And, again, my mind always goes back to Swimming: why can’t I get my athletes to go all-out, full-speed, one-hundred percent?

[question from audience member]

The question is: do I have an answer? I have half of an answer.

The sport is free diving; or holding your breath, going down 145 meters.

: I am so pumped to be here. I mean, we’ve got paradise all around here in Hawaii. We’ve got so many awesome athletes here, and we’re going to basically try to hold our breath until we pass out.

[Salo]: The World Record, I think, is like 145m free dive down, and then you have got to come back up. This is, again, one of those activities that there is a consequence to poor performance. Going down is probably relatively easy. But at some point, when you decide to come back and go up, you have got to get back up; you cannot just decide Ah, take a breath here, I got 10 meters to go.

The training for this is amazing. One of the things I am trying to do in my program right now, as we begin our new season, is do some breath-control work like this. I am not… I have no interest in going 145m deep and coming back up. But I want to prove to my athletes that if they can hold their breath for upwards of a minute on the surface of the water… the analogy is: if you can do that for a minute, why can you not swim 100 meters freestyle without taking a breath. The logic makes sense; the application does not necessarily make sense.

But we are trying to, kind of, convince them that you do not need to breathe as often; that we can be more effective in the extraction of oxygen out of the blood cells by doing this kind of work. Is kind of my goal. So we are trying to introduce a little-bit-more breath-control work in our program that at least teaches to that subtlety of their race. That maybe you do not need that breath into the wall, like we keep telling them; and maybe you do not need that first breath off the wall when you take that first stroke.

So while I am not trying to do this thing—which is incredible—I am trying to introduce to them some kind of discomfort that I think will enhance their performance to the extent that the breath control, I think, could be valuable for that performance.

: … there’s a physiological limit, in terms of how long you can hold your breaths. And you’ve got this idea in your mind about how far and how deep you’re going to go. And all you are doing all week is banging up against that limit. Each athlete takes something very specific to them. If you’re a little anxious, you got to deal with it. If you’re a little uncertain, you’ve got to relax. What that does is…

[Salo]: Relax, 145m down.

Danny Way is an extreme skateboarder; he does all this major, extreme jumps. He got this great idea that he wanted to jump over the wall of China; so they built this huge ramp to go over the wall of China. One of the interesting components to this is he had all these sponsors that were ready to put-in all the money—which cost millions of dollars, apparently—to get into China and build this ramp that he was going to jump.

The first time he went off the jump, he missed by 6 inches. Now, I am not sure if this is the one where he misses or not. But he misses by about 6 inches, collapses basically into the wall instead of over the wall.

: …. The Chinese government turning-up and watch me do this. My worst nightmare came true on the practice jump. The first jump over the thing, I came up a little short, and landed on the deck. I’ve never been head-over-heels on my skateboard…

[Salo]: He ended-up crushing his ankle, but he felt so compelled to do the jump, he came back the next day and did it five times.

But he missed it by like 6 inches, and that was the consequence to poor performance. But he felt he needed to go back and do this thing after all the money that had been spent by his sponsors and the Chinese government to put this whole thing together. So he went to the hospital, did whatever he did at the hospital with his ankle, came back the following day and jumped the wall five times.

: I took a pretty good blow to my ankle; I’m pretty lucky I’m standing on it right now. I mean, obviously, you know, I’ve put a lot of energy and timing to making this happen.

[Salo]: How many times that we had kids coming to practice go my shoulder, my shoulder, coach; it’s hurting a little bit.

I have a story—I will give you one of my stories. I play basketball every day. I just turned 56; I play basketball in a faculty and staff came every day for about an hour-and-a-half. It is a great game; I love it; it is a lot of fun. I am getting better and better; they are actually passing me the ball now, which is cool. [laughter]

But a lot of times, I am not guarded very tightly; and so my team is always saying: Shoot the ball, shoot the ball. You’re open, shoot the ball. And I am like: well, I am okay passing the ball—it is okay, I am all right, I will pass. But they encourage me to shoot the ball, and Look, you’re open, shoot the ball.

So one of the things that I do when I am playing basketball is when I am guarding somebody, I have to… I literally make a conscious decision under the basket that I am not going to let them shoot the ball. I have got to hold tight on the defense; I have got to force them to pass; if I can force them to pass, then I have done my job. And I know consciously, as I am playing this game—and I am 56 and I am not that good—that I do make a conscious decision hold your ground, don’t let them score, and force them to pass.

So at Pac-12s last year, I have a girl come to me after the first day of not swimming all that well, she has got the 400 IM the second day, and she says, “My shoulder’s really bothering me, Coach.”

I said: Well, let me tell you a story. First off, I cannot tell you to swim tomorrow or not swim tomorrow, only you can make that decision. If I force you to swim, I am going to hear it from my athletic director and then I will probably be fired—and that I do not want. Let me tell you a story. When I am out there on the basketball court, Megan, I have to make this defense. I am holding tight; I am holding strong. I know I am not as good as this player, but I am holding strong. Force him to pass, force him to pass; just don’t let him score. Get your arms up. Hold your ground; just hold it. And I make a conscious decision to do that. But I hold the ground, because I know if I hold the ground and force him to pass, my teammates will like me. And they will invite me back. And I might be picked in the fourth round, of five rounds, and that is good. So what do you think, Megan, can you do that 400 IM tomorrow? “I don’t think so, coach.”

I was so disturbed. One of my best speeches ever, and I got nothing out of it.

That is where we are in our sport. He will get up and do the jump five times, because he feels compelled to do the jump because all these people have created the ramp, built the ramp, got all the visas—he probably made a lot of money too. But, he went off and did it correctly, making up for that 6-inch error; which is a real tribute to that kind of an athlete: the mega athlete.

This guy is by the name of Alex Honnold. He free climbs/solo climbs—whatever they call it—the face of Half Dome. And what is interesting about… and, again, it goes in the detail in the book about these athletes at this level, that there is like a million things going on between their body and their brains, that they can make the right decisions and they make the right decisions. However that happens, who knows.

The book talks about the psychology of the flow, or it might be the zone—whatever you want to call it. But they are able to make decisions. Where he puts his hand is critical, because if he puts it on a lose rock, that is a long drop. But he makes those kind of decisions: where he is going to put his feet, where he is going to put the clamps, how he is going to climb up the face of this thing. And apparently he has done this free climb faster than anybody, up routes that nobody would ever, ever challenge—like that.

(This is Doug Ingram’s next walk/hike. And of course, he is going to do it at night.)

Now, they never tell you how the cameras got there—I do not know how that happened. But…

I do not know how… when I look at things like this I cringe. I am on the tenth floor—I am not sure why ASCA put me on the tenth floor. But I opened my little slider and look over, and I am always afraid I am going to throw myself off. Do you have that feeling? Like, I am not sure why I would do that. I am not afraid of heights, but I am just afraid: what if I do that? what a mess I’ll make.

My issue is that the cheetah runs full-bore because it has to run full-bore; it has got to go full-speed every day to survive. There is a consequence to the poor performance. There is a reason why you do not see invalid cheetahs, or old cheetahs: they cannot get out there and survive. Nobody is going to take care of the cheetah. So it has got to run full-speed to take care of its infants, and then when it is an adult, it has just got to go full-speed if it is going to take care of itself and it is going to feed. That makes complete sense. It is going at 100% capacity every day.

In Swimming, in our sport—and I tell the kids this. They are coming into the walls, and it is that last stroke that is like oh, it’s a half-ass stroke, and you yell at them. Right? They take that first stroke off the wall, because they need that breath so bad. Off the dive, push off, first breath; it is like: are you kidding?

They take that last breath into the wall like somehow that oxygen is going to go from their lungs out to their legs into their arms. And it is like… when they come over and talk to me, I say, “You took a breath two strokes from the wall.” But I needed it coach. You know what, you took two minutes to come see me because you know I was going to yell at you, and that breath that you took is now finally getting out to your hands. That air you took, then, is now finally getting to your fingers and hands and feet. You did not really need that breath; it was a choice that you took.

And we magnify that every day in every set in every practice that they do: you do not quite take that stroke all out, you do not finish in the wall full-speed, you take that extra breath. Because in Swimming, you can always back off.

Butterfly is probably the best stroke to train, but it is the worst stroke to train at the same time. It is the best stroke to train because if you do not go full-bore on butterfly, it is worse. It is like the kid who comes up to me and says… well, first off, that come at me and say, Coach, how do I swim the 200 fly? The first thing I say is, “Well, I’ve never swam it, so I have no idea.” But I know enough about butterfly that I can tell them: do not pace it. You cannot pace the 200 fly, and think you are going to be able to come back really-fast the last 50. You have just got to go, and you have got to carry on and you have got to keep moving forward, because if you back-off at all on that last 50, it is going to be worse. Your goal is to finish this race faster. Not enjoy it; just go faster.

In the freestyle, or backstroke or breaststroke, you can always just kind of back off and nobody will really notice the difference between an easy stroke and a hard stroke. Am I right? We see it all the time. So, butterfly is the ideal event because you cannot pace the 200 fly, especially long course—you just cannot do it, it is impossible. So you get good performance in the 200 fly.

So, I am an old coach trying to figure-out how we get them to go faster, more often. So here is my half-answer. My half-answer is this: in the Spring this year, I gave them this speech, I gave them the pictures, and I showed them all the video. And they came out of that and they were going: God, coach, that was cool, that was great, that was awesome. I do two great practices.

Okay, I had two.

So, my workouts are usually two hours long—I usually do not go any more than two hours. I go 20 hours a week—any college coaches here, I do go 20 hours a week. Actually 19½; the kids have never complained about that extra 30 minutes. How many college coaches are in here? You know what I am talking about. Okay. Not very many college coaches: aha, perfect, it is my secret.

So in the Spring, we get back to training, and we are only allowed 8 hours a week during the Spring. And I am like, I can do that; I can do that, I will go an hour and a half a day. Okay. So I pare it down from two hours to an hour-and-a-half a day, and I want it to be fast.

If any of you have ever seen me speak, USRPT, I call my program, um… I do not know what it is, but I have been doing that for over-30 years. I do fast, race-pace training, all the time; I have been doing it for most of 30 years. First five years, I was doing like everybody else did, but the last 30 years, it is mostly race-paced training, fast, short distances, and perfect technique.

So, we are going an hour-and-a-half in training in the Spring, and I was not getting what I wanted. So normally what we would do as a coach is go: we’re going to go two hours! And then if we are not getting it right, we will go two-and-a-half hours. But I went the other way: you are not going to give me an hour-and-a-half fast, we are going an hour and fifteen minutes. Then an hour-and-fifteen was not what I wanted, we go to an hour. And I will get down to thirty minutes.

What I have to do with my pro group—my pro group has to travel-in from the beach cities, because they live better than I do. They travel-in; I have got to make workout at least balance the time they are on the freeway. So if it takes some 40 minutes to get to practice, I have got to have at least a 40-minute workout. So I have not tried 30 minutes, yet; it has got to be at least equal to the time it takes them to get to workout. Otherwise, we will be very inefficient.

But right now, I am only allowed eight hours a week at my college program. I like regularity, so we train Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and I have got two hours left on Saturday because we are just going an hour a day. And I tell the kids: You’re getting in, we’re starting at 2:00. We’re done at 3:00. That’s it. If you need a little bit more warm-up, that’s up to you. So what I have been seeing is kids are getting in about 1:52 and going about eight minutes on their own, and then we just go to work for an hour. And it is swimming like the cheetah runs: it is full-bore, it is all-out, every stroke is critical. All right? And it is faster than race.

I asked them to do the other day: faster-than-pace 200. 50-75-50, with a 100 recovery, three times through. I found over the last couple of years, I was starting to do too many rounds of stuff. I am a big fan of rounds of things. So I would go seven rounds of 50-75-100, and I kept increasing the number of rounds.

I went to go see a friend of mine who coaches up at Canyon, Coley Stickels. I love Coley’s workouts because they remind me of me when I was a kid, coaching—younger coach. And just a lot of different things. And I watch him run a workout one day, and he goes… those of you who know Coley, he is just way out there. And he is going: Okay, kids, you’re going to go 10 yards with the right arm and 5 yards with the left arm, then you’re going to go 3 yards with both arms. And then you’re going to get out and you’re going to go 5 pushups, and then you’re going to go 25 at pace-100. And then you’re going to dive and do 3 flip turns, and then 5 somersaults… and yada, yada, yada.

And so I am watching—I am recruiting some of his kids. I am watching the workout, and they do it once. He goes, Okay, do it again, and they did it again. Now, I am thinking he is going to do like at least seven times. And he did it twice, and goes Okay, next thing. I am like: yeah, got to get back to that. Got to get back to… 7 is too many; maybe 3 is enough.

So we did the set two days ago: three rounds, 50-75-50, hold pace-200-or-better, and then you get 100 recovery. And the intervals were 1:00, 1:00, 1:00, 1:45. And we are our second week into the season. Now, some of the kids… a lot of the kids did a nice job swimming through Nationals. Some said they swam through the Summer; I beg to differ. But I said, “No, we’re not waiting until March to swim fast.” I am not a big believer in aerobic-based training, so we just go all out, because I think we do power-aerobic base.

But that is kind of where I am going now with my thinking: how can I get them to solo-climb Half Dome? How can I get them to ride this wave that is 50 feet? How do I get them to fly down the mountains of Switzerland? Because in our sport, the consequence for poor performance just does not exist.

I wanted to show you a video of our diver. If anybody wants to see me later today, I can show it to you. I will show it later, when I am doing the Jon Urbanchek interview—sorry, Jon, but I am going to start out with Colin Pollard going off the 10-meter into a perfect belly flop. (You need to come; this is the teaser. You need to come and watch this.) Colin Pollard, one of our divers, he is up on the 10m platform at a pool he just cannot stand, because the ceiling is all black and for some reason his sightlines are just screwed-up and he hates this pool. And he goes off, and it is a perfect three-and-a-half back… well, actually, it was a three-and-a-quarter. It was a perfect three-and-a-quarter into a complete belly flop, because he missed his sighting by, I think it was like 6 inches. But I love Diving because there is a consequence to poor performance. In our sport, I do not know what that answer is; I do not know what it is.

But I know we have all had that conversation with our athletes. That they finished the race and you say: you took that extra breath. You took that breath off the third 50, coming off the wall. You did not accelerate into the wall from the flags on in. But because they do that repetitively, in training, and we cannot get to the nuance of that in practice, we cannot judge them on that and penalize them, if you will, so they do not do it again.

How many of you went through the vendor hall this morning or last night? Okay. I am retiring in seven years; I cannot keep-up with all of… I love technology. I do not know how to use most of it, but I love technology. I almost spent like a fortune going through there going, Oh, I need that, that, that, that, that, that.

There is AIM. If you go visit AIM, they have got… they represent this system of 22 cameras: 11 in the water, 11 above the water. They can get a stroke-by-stroke analysis, and they could get five pieces of information. I have been involved with Avida, who has got this… they can measure stroke-for-stroke how many strokes you take per length. What your rate is, what your speed is; it is incredible—it is awesome stuff. I think we are moving in that direction where you will be able to analyze through a simple app what the kids are doing stroke-for-stroke.

I like Avida; the idea behind Avida. If anybody does not know what Avida is, it is this wrist straps that will measure your speed, your tempo, all these things. What I always wanted to do with it, and I have not been able to, is to measure their stroke for every stroke in training and compare it to their ultimate, which would be a performance in a meet. So if your best time in 100-yard Freestyle swim is 1:00, you could compare their training to that one-minute, perfect swim. And the idea would be: I said on your training in doing this set, hold pace-200, hold this number of strokes; and you were here because I have got the measurement tool to evaluate that.

I have always thought my college program that I would use that to award scholarship. So I could, at the end of the season, read through their workout averages and go, “I asked you to be at 95% of all your swims and you were at 85%, so I’m taking 10% of your money away.” I like that. That is a good one; it is measurable.

That is probably where we are going to in our sport, if you can afford it. The price-point on a lot of these things is so high that we cannot do it. But being able to measure every stroke, and being able to put that in the front of the athlete, to say: “Look, you’ve got to hold 95%. You’re holding 90%; that’s not good enough.”

In Diving, the consequence is going to three-and-a-quarter, belly flop. In climbing Half Dome, it is falling and breaking your neck. In Laird Hamilton’s case, coming off a 20-foot wave, it is probably hitting the coral on the bottom and tearing your body apart. But in Swimming, we do not have that. I do not have any answer; it is just a question.

And with that, I will open-up to any questions you might have, if you have any. If there are none, we will call it the day.

Question in the back? Yell it out, so I can hear it.

[audience member]: Could you give us more sets?

[Salo]: More sets. Okay, I will give you a story.

I have done a couple of clinics in Russia/Ukraine—I am not sure which country they are anymore. But I was in Ukraine in December; it was interesting. Because I went down to… I forgot what they call it, but I went down to where they were protesting. It was really interesting to be there. And then like six, seven days later, they became really violent. But I wanted to see what this thing was about, it was so historical.

But anyway, I did this clinic in Ukraine and there were about 150 coaches. I was at a pool, it was a 25-meter pool; the athletes were between 18 and 22, fairly-reasonably good swimmers. And I do a set that I like, which I call the XYZ set or the Algebraic set. Many of you have seen my set.

The XYZ set: I give them intervals. What I say is you’re doing X plus Y plus Z set. The interval is 1:00, 2:00, 3:00. Okay? Choice equipment, choice distance; I will give you the parameters of distance. You know x it could be 25-100, y can be 50-200, and z can be 75-300. That is the parameters I told this group of swimmers; coaches are all up in the rafters, watching this workout. And the interval is 1:00, 2:00, 3:00. You choose the distance, you choose the stroke, you choose the equipment; it just has to be full speed. That is all I want: just full speed. Choose the distance that you feel you can go all-out on.

So I announced this x+y+z, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00. And a chorus of 150 coaches saying: You can’t do that: there’s no way, they can’t make the interval. I am like: it is 25-100, 50-200, 75-300, they choose the distance. Nobody can go that fast; it’s a 25m-pool, they can’t make the interval. I am like: 25 up to 100, 50 up to 200, 75 up to 300: they choose the distance. They will make it. They do not have to go 100, 200, 300. But in chorus, they all thought, No, you’ve got to go 100, 200, 300. It is like: no, they can go 25, 50, 75. The kids figured it out: we get a choice?

So that is one of my favorite sets. And just thinking about… I always knew when I was in Algebra and Trig, that my math would come in handy: x+y+z. Or we go: x +50 + z, or x +50 + 2z.

That is just a… it is a set that… the reason… for those of you who have never heard that talk, the rationale behind that is I was coaching a group of athletes for some meet, or tapering. On one end of the spectrum is Jason Lezak; the other end of the spectrum is Aaron Peirsol. They do not swim the same events, but I wanted some commonality in the taper-phase of training, so that we were on the same schematic. So, I came-up with the x+y+z set. Why? Because Jason thinks he needs more rest. Okay, Jason, go to 25, 25, 25 on 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, just go fast. Aaron would probably go 100, 200 and 300; and get enough rest, but keep the intensity up.

But I, who am not very good at managing multiple watches, only have to worry about one minute, two minutes, three minutes. And I can stay on; they are all going at the same time.

I like putting in the hands of my athletes the responsibility of making the right decisions. And I am often amazed, the ones who choose the 100, 200 and 300, I go crazy. Because you are not… it is not like you are going full-speed; back-it-off 25 meters, go full speed, get a little more rest. But, no, I need 100, 200 and 300. Okay; okay. So I let my kids make that choice.

I do not do that set every day, okay—just do not get me wrong. Is that what you had in mind? (That was perfect.)

Okay. I have a Ph.D. in Physiology, so in my mind, I am always… I have got a check-off list when I do a set. Does it… can I check-off at least five things that apply to the relevance of racing?

I do a set we call the Triangle set. It works great in our pool, on the deep end of the pool, 50m pool. And we will start out by this: we will kick against the wall, full-speed, 15 seconds. Upon the sound of my whistle, they will do a flip turn—maybe two flip turns. Two flip turns, they will push-off towards the bottom, about 10-meters out, going full-speed. I call it ab kick, versus dolphin kick. They dolphin kick down to the fourth line, they do a flip turn, push-off straight, ab kicking up, do another flip turn up-top, into 10 seconds vertical kick, and then they sprint into the wall. That is a Triangle.

And in my mind, I am like: kicking against the wall, resistance kick. Body staying flat, I can yell at them; I can tell them what they need to do. They have two flip turns: this first one is pretty easy; the second one engages more of the abs, they have got to really work pretty hard. Underwater ab kicking. Ab kicking: body posture, breath control. Flip turn on the bottom: flip against resistance. Pushing straight up to work on body position. Flip turn up at the top. Vertical kick is resistance kicking, body position. Sprint into the wall, fast finish. That is a Triangle.

Now, you get your heart rate up on a Triangle—you get it up pretty good. So, to be a traditionalist, I will go 3 of the triangles, and then, okay, you’re going to go 50 pace-200-plus-5 and then 50-meters full-pace, pace-200.

One of my favorite sets—I do this periodically. How many of you have seen the show Minute to Win It? We have all kind of seen that show. The ideology of that show, it is… I am certain it is a drunken parlor games—I know that is what it is. And they kind of commercialized it. But one day, I am watching the show, and they have got a pizza box and five hardboiled eggs—I think they were hardboiled; I used raw eggs. And they took the pizza box, and they had to fan the eggs and move them from one end of the stage to the other end of the stage.

So I, in my infinite wisdom, bring a bunch of raw eggs to practice one day. I said, “All right, get out of the pool, get your kick board, grab an egg, and you’ve got to fan this raw egg 50 meters. And when you get down on the other end, you’re going to come back full-speed kicking.” And we went through this thing. And at the end, I grabbed the egg of the kid who lost and I cracked it over his head. He was not very happy. I was like: get over it; that is the consequence to poor performance, egg over your head.

So, one of my athletes after practice is sitting in the jacuzzi and just going That was a stupidest workout I’ve ever had. That’s just dumb…. So the following day, the kids all come back, and I go, “How are you doing?” My arms are so sore. They are sore; why? Oh, okay. So little small muscles are being engaged a little bit; okay, that is good. And we did some fast kicking.

So I am a big fan of using… I love equipment. Dr. Rushall would not agree with me. I love equipment; I love things like that.

I tell the story when I was coaching in Irvine, that we get Santa Ana winds that blow in every… oh, all the time—October is really huge. And stuff will fall onto the pool deck. And one day this huge branch, probably about a 10-foot branch—it was not too big or too heavy—fell onto the deck. I am coaching of a bunch of a post-grad guys. And I said, “Guys, go get the branch. We’re going to vertical kick. You’ve got to hold the branch above your heads; don’t drop it. We’re doing vertical kick; don’t drop it. And you’ll just go until I tell you to stop.”

And the supervisor of the pool comes running-down from the office, and says, “Get the branch out of the pool.” You all know what I said next: “It is out of the pool; that’s the point.” So she had to walk back to her office and go, “He’s right.”

Any other questions? Yes?

[audience member]: From the athletes that you trained, which one of them or a group of them would you say most likely embodies what we talked about today. Like being like a cheetah. And what were their characteristics that made them like that?

[Salo]: Which of the athletes that I have coached represent more like the cheetah? It is kind of funny; maybe it is… I happened to pull… they put the names on these Coke bottles now. Aaron Peirsol is probably one of the best. I coached Aaron until he went off to Texas. I made sure I sent him with a World Record before he got there, though. Said, Eddie, don’t screw this up, please. But Aaron was probably one of the best; he just always worked really hard.

One person who always worked hard, but you would not know it by watching her swim is Rebecca Soni. Rebecca Soni, if you were to watch her train, you go: That’s 2:19? Not a very good kick, not a very good pull. But relative to her, I knew she was always working hard; but relative to everybody around her, you would never know that she was working hard. But I think she was always at the highest-end of her capacity. That is why whenever she swam, whenever she raced—it did not matter when in the season—I do not know that she was ever slower than 2:24 in 200m Breaststroke. I am going to call her up next week and say: nobody is getting faster; you might want to think about coming back for a year. Because she was in great shape.

But the reality is for the majority of the kids there is no consequence for that easy stroke into the finish. I was going to come out and tell you: Here’s my latest device: for only $10,000 a unit, you can plug in a kid’s name, and anytime they’re not at 100% capacity, they get a shock. [laughter] And you know what is good about, like an app, no matter where they are, I can put their name in and they will be shocked. So they are in class, doing a math problem; they are doing it wrong: zap! I do not really have that app, but that is kind of where….

So I just think you can challenge them all. I asked them all the time, “Was that 100%?” No. “Did I ask you to go 100%?” Yes. It is like: okay. And then I just realized: it is just swimming. It is just swimming; it is not brain surgery.

[audience member]: So when you are frame-loading 100% effort, maximum performance, assuming it does, where does the concept of sustainability of effort come in? And if I were on deck, would I ever hear words like even split, negative split in your practices?

[Salo]: In my workout, what kind of terminology would hear? You would hear a lot of things. But, I jokingly tell the kids bystreye, bystreye, ochen bystreye. That means fast in Russian—we do not know how far the Russians are coming: they went Crimea, then are going into Ukraine, they might come to California, I do not know. So sets are kind of defined as: fast, faster and fastest. But… and I am kind of joking.

For a number of years now, I get a lot of international athletes who come train with me. And a lot of times, I am reliant on my athletes to kind of translate things. So I have got the Italian kid who knows enough French to translate to the French guy. The French guy knows some Japanese, he translates to the Japanese kid. The Japanese kid translates blah, blah, blah. So I started using a whiteboard; and if you follow my twits, you will see that I put stuff up on whiteboards. That is part of that. I draw pictures.

So, for easier terminology for everybody to understand, I started using gear ratios. So first gear is really easy, fifth gear is full-speed. So I will say: Okay, you’re going to go 3×50, fifth gear, fifth gear, first gear. And then we are going to go 3×25; 25s, I just say: by default, that is full-speed. And then I give the detail to whatever it is. So, I play-around with my gears through the course of a practice; so it is not like Okay, we’re going to go fifth gear all the way through.

What I am doing now—this is my newest analogy. People think that the mile is a distance event. Kids who I talk to about in recruiting, they will say, What groups do you have? Well usually when a kid calls and ask a college coach What groups do you have?, it is: well, we have got a sprint group, middle distance and a distance group. Right?” You all heard that; you all have that. So in my program, they call, What groups do you have?, I say: “Well, I have the short-sprint group, and I have the middle-sprint group, and I have a long-sprint group.” Because everybody wants to be a sprinter. So right away the recruits are I want to go to S.C. because they all sprint. And we sprint the mile.

But the 1500m Freestyle lasts 15-16 minutes. As a physiologist, I do not think that is a distance event; it is not at really that much of an endurance event. And the way I rationalize it to an athlete, I say, “Okay, you’re 12-years-old, and you want to go outside and play. And Mom says, ‘You can go out and play, 15 minutes.’ What does the kid say? ‘That’s not enough.’ 1500m Freestyle is 15 minutes. That’s not enough.” Do you get that? You all, all of you that have kids: okay, you can watch TV for 15 minutes. That’s not enough. They are your perfect distance swimmers, because fifteen minutes is not enough.

So, my rationalization, in terms of training, is that the longest event that they are racing for is about 15-16 minutes. So what I do is I compartmentalize our workouts more in-line with, not yardage, but time. 15 minutes worth of work. 15-20 minutes worth of work, stop, take a break, 15-20 minutes worth of work. And the intensity of that work is really high.

Can I get my athletes… if I have an athlete… Ous Mellouli trains with me, again, and I think his goal should be fourteen minutes and thirty seconds for the 1500m Freestyle. If I say, and I have never said this, Ous, let’s go 4×1500 today, hold 15:00.” I am not going to get that; I cannot get that on one. But if I can give him 15-20 minutes worth of work, at an intensity equal or faster than fourteen minutes and thirty seconds, I am more likely to get the 14:30 than ask him to go 4×1500 in training, or 1×1,500 in training.

Ous, who was the Olympic champion in the 1500m Freestyle in 2008, the 10K champion in 2012, has not done a 1500-meter freestyle swim in practice in the eight years I have coached him. Yet he is the gold medalist—Jon. I tell Jon Urbanchek that because the best he could do was a bronze. (He is sitting here, so he will get me later.)

But that is where I am at now in my… I am constantly evolving my ideas about training, because I never think that I have got it quite-right. Any of you who think you have ever got it quite-right, you have got to keep rediscovering. I walk-out of every season going: we could have done something better. So this is where I am at; I am always asking myself that question: can we be better, how can we be better, what do we need to do. So I am doing some breath-control type things, I am trying to keep our training to 15-20 minutes worth of work. I am kind of thinking this hour thing might be okay; an hour, hour-and-a-half may be okay.

Yes, sir?

[audience member]: I was wondering about Open Water Swimming, especially like kind of that longer range Open Water Swimming.

[Salo]: Open Water Swimming in my… I train my Open Water swimmers. And Catherine Vogt is our tactician, our Open Water expert on that part of it on how to do the race, how to make turns around the corners. I primarily do most of the training of those guys. But we do not open-water swim, we pool swim.

Somebody asked me that earlier today: how often do we go open water. Haley Anderson, on Sunday, I’m not going to be there, but why don’t you go in the ocean, get in the water and play around for an hour. Just feel the water, play around with it. So on occasions, our Open Water kids will go out to the ocean, or the canals in Naples Island at Long Beach, and just kind of swim-around in the open water. But all our training is in the pool.

For the marathon stuff, the longer stuff—that stuff—that is crazy stuff. That is mounting Mount Everest; I am not going that direction. I love Open Water races; they are a lot of fun to watch. Because you have like moments of exhilaration, then you can go sit down and drink a beer, and then come back, Go!, go drink a beer. (I do not drink; I am just kidding.)

Any other questions? Yes?

[audience member]: So going back to when you were mentioning about time over yardage, do you have a set amount of yardage that think of as a minimal that you like to go over a week? Or is there an amount of time that you like for them to perform?

[Salo]: The question is: do I have set in my mind a particular amount of training, volume-wise, that I think we need to do on a weekly basis. I do not do that. It is all about the technique, the detail, the intensity, over a duration of time. So I do not count my yardage up; I have no idea how far we go. I know that, basically, we train about two hours per session.

But I am starting to lean a little bit… going a little different direction, right now, that I am going to play with and see what happens with it. I know my athletes are… you know, they are training pretty-fast right now for two weeks into the season, and we are just going an hour a day. So I am really kind of playing-with this new direction a little bit.

But, again, I think what the key is, is not how far we are going, but can I keep the intensity level up, physiologically, over the duration of a race. And that race, like I said, 15-20 minutes of keeping the physiology really operating at a high level, and the mechanics and the technique and the tempo and all those things are relatable to or relevant to the event that you are swimming. You do not want your 1500m freestylers going, you know, 0.9 seconds per stroke cycle, or going fast. But they can go pretty intense, holding the kind of rate—or maybe a tad faster—over these more XYZ-type things.

So, no: I have not focused on yardage in thirty years. The first five years I coached, everything was about yardage; everything was about building-up to 9,000/10,000 yards a workout. And the kids were miserable, and I was miserable. I just went a different direction.


[audience member]: In a week-long training session, in a training phase, how many spring session do you want each day?

[Salo]: The question is: how many sprint sessions do I want to every day?

The baloney of oh, you can only do two fast workouts a weeks, I think that is crap—it is crap. Because when I tell my athletes, “Look, we’re going to go the NCAA Championships; it’s three days.” There is no break in-between those days; it is three days. One of my best athletes that I have had at USC—most recently, I have got a few really-good ones—but I measure the… not the value… well, value is probably good. The best you can do at NCAA Championships is 14 races, all-out, full-speed; that is prelims, finals, relays—on four relays. Two years ago, Vladimir Morozov swam 14 times, in three days. His last swim was anchoring our 400 Free Relay; he went 40.2. Okay, that is fast. There was no day-off before that; it was just full-speed. So my rationale with my athletes is we go: we are going to full-speed.

Now, what I do a little bit different is we train two-and-a-half days on: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning; take 24 hours off; and then we come back and go Thursday, Friday, Saturday morning; take a day and a half off. So we have built-in recovery. I do not do recovery workouts. The only time I do recovery workouts is if the kids are coming in and they just look… they probably partied too hard but whatever it was, they are just coming-in dragging. And I can see that we are not going to get much done, then I alter my training. You know, we might get out early. Or I might just float them in the diving tank, where it is really warm; and I just float them on the surface of the water. So I might change the emphasis of the training, but generally, I do not have a problem training fast and hard every single day. But we do take Wednesday off.

Any other questions? Yes?

[audience member]: Can you describe a little bit more… you mentioned not a big believer in aerobic-based training. Is that a philosophy for age group as well as older athletes?

[Salo]: The question is: I do not believe in the… that is not a question, it is a statement. I do not believe in the aerobic-based training theory, and would I carry that over to Age Group. Age Group needs to learn technique—they need to learn technique. From 12&Under, it should be technique-driven. Let me give you some names of some pretty-good swimmers who did not know anything about volume and doubles every day at 12&Under: Aaron Peirsol, Amanda Beard, Michael Cavik, Jason Lezak.

Jason Lezak’s dad used to get mad at me when he was 16 years-old, going, You’ve got to make him come to morning practice. Just like that. I said—his name is Dave—Dave, I’m not… he doesn’t want to be here. I’m not going to make him come to doubles. One afternoon a week, that’s fine. And Jason and I could not stand each other, early on in his development; he just could not stand… we did not like each other. And then he went to college. Then he would call me up and go, Coach, I’ve been kicked off the team, again. I guess I like your workouts after all. And we developed a really-good relationship.

But those are some names of athletes who have had probably some of the longest, sustained, successful careers. They were not going yardage as 12&Unders. And when they got to 13, we picked-up the level of intensity that they were swimming at, but they were just getting grounded in technique and mechanics. That is really… the training can come at… I just disagree with some people, but I think the training can come at a later stage and they can be successful.

Now, are they special athletes? Without a doubt. The special ones are always going to excel, all right. But I have had some other athletes, over the time, that same kind of pattern, who were successful relative to them; that were not burnt-out from our sport. And in fact are now married and have kids, and the kids are swimming. I think that is a good thing.

I have a kid who is swimming on my college team right now whose mother swam at Stanford in her college days, and would not let her daughter swim. Would not let her swim until she was like 13 or 14, she so dreaded her becoming a swimmer. And now, the daughter who looks like she could be a swimmer is so far… she just has no technical background, and here she is trying to be on this college team. We have got some work cut out for us, because the mom was so anti-Swimming because of her experience. And I think that is a bad thing.

Any other questions? Yes?

[audience member]: Can you tell us about your dryland, what it consists of?

[Salo]: My dryland program. The collegiate environment is somewhat difficult. I have a strength coach; we meet with a strength coach and we go over the plan. I do not think our strength coach in the collegiate ranks necessarily understand our sport as well as I would like them to. But our dryland training, we are in the weight room Monday-Wednesday-Friday mornings with our short-sprint and middle-sprint swimmers. Long-sprinters, I want them in the weight room on Mondays and Friday mornings, and then the long-sprinters will swim Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday mornings. So they are scheduled a little different.

But I will go back real-quick to this aerobic-base thing. One of my issues about our training is… you have got to keep in mind that, you know, cardiovascular training is okay, but we are not engaging the cardiovascular-respiratory thing so much for the races that we are racing. I told you that breath you take on that last stroke, that oxygen will not get around to the body for a while.

But if you look at the way I train my athletes, in these 15-20 minute pieces of time, they are elevating their cardiovascular system, the physiology is going 100 miles per hour, the heart rate is way up there; but we are engaging the neuromuscular system, specifically. Training at one stroke per second is very different than three strokes per second. And the body has a neuromuscular component that sometimes, I think, we neglect because we want an aerobic base. Just throwing in lots of yardage to develop this base, I think is not necessarily the best thing.

Mike Andrews is swimming fine. I do not think he has got an aerobic-based background, right. Now, I know he is a big kid and all that stuff, but I think he is doing pretty-well.

[audience member]: How do you feel about like the Chinese who devote to their maximum capacity? Like short distances with a lot of rest; like 50s on 6:00 or 25s on 4:00.

[Salo]: The question is about, kind of, work-to-rest ratio. I think there is a place for a lot of rest and swims that are at a high capacity—there is value to that. I probably do a lot less of that than the kids would like, and it is something I need to feel comfortable doing more of. But I look at the way I train is training the physiology, and then teaching the skill.

Teaching the skill comes in sets where you are getting five, six minutes rest between 100s or 50s and things like that. So I think that is where you are teaching the skill of the race, teaching the skill of putting it all together. Training the physiology, answering the questions of aerobic conditioning, anaerobic conditioning—if you will. Cardiovascular conditioning, neuromuscular condition. That comes in one piece. Then I think there is the piece associated with actually teaching that skill of the race.

I can tell you the way that we train. If we go back to this triangle idea, the Triangle set; you are doing two or three triangles, then you are doing a 50. How I equate that to the athlete to make it relevant is that we have got the physiology charged-up really-high-end on the triangles. And now, that 50 that you are doing is like the last 50 of your 200; it is going to feel like it. So endure it: keep your rates up, keep your body position, keep the speed. And your physiology is already equivalent to what it’s like after 150 meters of swimming.

But the athletes, it is hard… I do not know any of us that can get our athletes to go their best times in practice. But we can get their physiology ramped-up like it would be during that race. And then if you just have some components that are like the last 50 of a 200, or maybe it is the first 50 and the last 50. And you go 50 race-pace, triangle, triangle, triangle, 50 last-50; I think you are going to have more success with that being like race-pace 200 than if you go a set of 200s.

So in this day-and-age of Swimming, we have got… I do not like to use the word trick, trick the kids into swimming fast. (I use that word earlier today.) Distracting them into performance; distract them. And if you distract them enough, they will put in the effort towards the running like a cheetah.

I think that is it, unless there are any other questions. One more question?

[audience member]: Just to somewhat wrap-up a little bit. All those videos, all those guys sit around. The cheetah sits-around, it makes them hopefully successful. If not, it sits-around. The wave rider sits-around. And so, this question is like: how much rest? I know you do quite a bit of dryland here and there. I asked you one time: what is your year plan? And you said you do not use a year plan. But you do separate things into the high-performance, peak-end of the season. So can you kind of wrap that up by looking at dryland and how you get differences in rest?

[Salo]: Well, it is probably too in-depth of a question for the next two minutes. But, the way I look at training, I look at training in a single day, in a single session; I do not worry about what is tomorrow, I do not worry about what was yesterday. And that is kind of the way I operate. So I do not cycle in the classic sense of Tuesdays and Thursday we work really hard and Mondays and Fridays are kind of aerobic.

I just… look, I do this the way I do it because I do it this way. And I do not apologize for it and I do not try to tell people: this is the only way to do things. My goal when I give clinics is to say, “Look, whatever you do, here’s how I do it. And if it gives you some range of what you do, that’s awesome.” So I look at every session as just a separate entity. I work about that.

When I go play basketball every day, I get over there and every day is a separate experience for me. And I do not think about the day before going, Oh, I’m so tired from yesterday. It is like, I’m exhilarated to go play. And then usually about halfway through the game that we are playing, I am going, I’ll be better tomorrow; I’m sure I’ll be better tomorrow. But I just look at separate entity. And so I am very different from, I think, a lot of coaches that have this weekly schematic or they are cycling through things. It is just every session speaks to its own self.

I have post-grads who come out to swim for me, and I encourage them to just go one training swimming session a day, not two. A lot of them go, Well, I need doubles. It is like, “Okay. But whatever you do on Tuesday morning, Tuesday afternoon if you come in, it’s going to be more of the same. So don’t expect me to change things up because all of a sudden you’re on this different schedule.” And so they will come in and go Oh, yeah, you’re right. Every session is in and of itself.

The body is amazing; Doug said that yesterday when he talked about the climb. The body has amazing capacity. And we intervene and go: Oh, you need this and you need that. We do not what the hell the body needs. The body will do amazing things; that is the point of the book, The Rise of Superman. The body will do amazing things if we stop getting in its way. And I think that is what our athletes do, is they get in their way. When I started coaching, I had the t-shirt made up for the team that said: The Goal: Temporary Discomfort. And that is what we are after: temporarily be uncomfortable, and the body will take care of itself. It is an amazing, phenomenal thing—it is amazing. But I think we kind of alter things too much.

And so, like I said, I look at every practice, every weight session; it is a separate entity. And I just challenge the athletes to be able to brush that aside and go on to the next one. Put that aside, go on the next one; so they do not compromise a training session. Now, it is going to happen because it is reality.

But if you are climbing Half Dome, you are not sitting there worrying about, Whoa, God, yesterday was a tough workout. Yeah, no, you are just climbing. Some of these guys in these extreme sports, they will talk about doing climb like Half Dome, getting it done in three hours—or whatever it takes—and getting-up the next morning and going, I’m going to go do that again. I cannot even watch the video—I get queasy.”

So, I think that is it.

And later this afternoon, I will be interviewing Jon Urbanchek: do not miss that!

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