The Breaststroke Training of National HS Record Holder Kristen Woodring and Kyle Salyards by John Pontz (1999)


All right, thanks. Thanks for coming. Can you hear me in the back, Greg. All right, we’re O.K. No handouts today. But we have a laser pointer and overheads. So… All right. Lots of overheads today. John Pontz. All right, you’re probably wondering who is this guy. All right, I’m 29 years old, hadn’t been coaching U.S.S. club too long. I started in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Quick history, then we’re going to move on.


All right, 6 lane pool, with a very limited pool time. All right, I was very fortunate to have some pretty special athletes. We’re going to talk about them today. O.K. So why am I here today? All right. February 27, 1998. Had a look at Kristin Woodring, who was swimming for my club … national high school record in the 100 yard breaststroke. Minute point 7.4. O.K. About five weeks later, we had a kid in our squad, Kyle Salyards, go to the national championship and go 214, 9.4, and he tied Nelson Diebold’s 200 meter 17-18 age group record. O.K. So, what are we going to talk about today? Today, we’re going to talk about our training plans with the kids, what we did with them last year, how we got them to progress to a point in time where we broke these, or tied these national records. All right. A few questions. All right. Is this guy very extremely lucky, or does he know a little bit about what he’s talking about, and… just wouldn’t find out later, but you can do something once and be lucky. All right. I think that when you do something twice, there is a little bit of skill involved.


Now, I’m not the breast stroke coach of the year. I don’t profess to be a breast stroke guru. I just train my kids very hard, the kids pound it out. All right. They do what they’re supposed to do. A little history about the kids. I have a progression chart. My goal today is not to trip on this cord. We have a progression chart from the two kids about when they started with the team.


We’re going to start with Kyle Salyards at the bottom here. I’ve been coaching Kyle since 1994, and at that time he was pretty talented little kid, and we got him down to 111 in the 100 meter breaststroke. In the 8th grade, he made his first junior national cuts, and at his first junior nationals he got 106 and 224. I think he was the second or third fastest 14 year old in history. At that time, I thought I knew what I was talking about. I found out a lot later that I didn’t know somewhere around here what was going on. Kyle made his first senior national cut in 10th grade in the 200 meter breaststroke, and then later that summer at junior championships I think he made his 100 cut. Along that way, he made his … IM cut for seniors, and his … cut as well.


I started coaching Kristin in 1996. She was swimming for a club about 45 minutes away when she was 12 years old. She went 108.99. She turned 13 shortly thereafter. The following year, she went 108 again. I think she felt that she needed change, she needed something new. She came to me in the spring of I guess it was 1996. This is like Speech Comm 101 in college, by the way. You know. So, every once in a while I need to get some kind of drink here. And you can see the progression that Kristin has made from her first junior championship cut after training with the club for 3 months to her first senior cut here later on when she broke the national record here in 1999. So, it’s been a pretty straight progression throughout.


We moved to Florida, as Chuck stated earlier, in June. We went to nationals and Kristin went to Pan Ams and we swam in my opinion very poorly. I think that Kristen was second in the 100 and she won 109.6. I don’t know how she won 109.6, but she squeezed it out. I thought, if you ask me back in May, how fast the kids were going to swim in August, when we were in Harvard training, I would have laughed, because some of the stuff we were doing at practice was amazing.   I mean they were killing themselves. They were the most unbelievably fast times.


We went to Florida, it was a big move, it was an adjustment. I was down there a couple of weeks early. I was faxing workouts up to Pennsylvania. They came down, and they got the experience with swimming in water 85 degrees. And they’re used to in Pennsylvania, jump in the pool morning practice, we’re used to like … in the water when it was 77, 78. Now they moved down to Florida and they swim up a set of … IMs and after the first one they say I’m melting. I’m melting. We had to change our entire training scheme the entire summer. It did not work out. We got away from what got us here to 1.7 minutes in our 214. So we’re going to get back to the way we used to train. We’re going to talk about that, what we used to do. Leading up to this today. Just a little background about what kind of training program I run with my kids. O.K.? My goal is to create an environment that creates fast swimming. O.K.? It’s not necessarily my job, I don’t feel, to coach fast swimmers. All right, my philosophy is hard work, you train hard, and you’re going to swim fast. For my middle distance kids, I don’t focus on yardage at all. It’s not total yardage equals success, but how hard you train. And I actually believe… this is just… my beliefs up here, you know, if you have a bunch of slackers or you got a bunch of kids who don’t want to swim fast, throw them in a different pool. O.K.? Throw them in a different time. Throw them in the opposite end. All right, let them swim in group B. Because you want to separate the kids who train hard, the kids who want to swim fast and will do whatever you say, from the kids who want to swim fast but really wish they could. Who really don’t want to put the effort in. O.K.?


We train our breaststrokers middle distance and stroke. I have a perfect world here. I think in a perfect world… I know this is not a perfect world, everyone should be trained middle distance and up. I don’t believe, this is just my background, I don’t believe a 50 free style is an event. I’m sorry folks, all right, but you got, you know, guys who are 6’5”, who are big and shoulders out to here. I don’t train anyone for the 50. Never will, never have. It’s kind of a joke at my club that when the 50 comes around, I go and get coffee. When a kid comes up to me and says, hey coach, I went 22.1, I’ll say, Is that good? I’m not a yardage-based program. As far as yardage goes, I don’t care. I never try to get a certain amount of yardage in. And the reason we do this is everybody kicks. We kick all the time. We kick and we kick and we kick. Every day, a half hour at least every day. Most of it is straight kicking, meaning we do a set of 20 100s. It’s all … kicking. And my philosophy in kicking is this: The last 2 percent of every race is kicking. What’s the first thing to go? Your legs. What’s the largest muscle group in your body? Your legs. Train your legs. And train them hard. All the time. So we train our legs really hard. Everybody kicks. If you can’t kick, you’ve got to learn how to kick.


Now, this is where we’re going to start to impress you. Josh Stern was over there, and he was ogling my overheads a little earlier. That looks, good, doesn’t it? I’m not trying to teach anyone anything here today, all right, this is just the theory that I’ve developed, adaptation. This is my main law of training, and this is going to come into play later when we talk about rest cycles, recovery cycles. All right, so at least you know where I’m coming from. Adaptation… it’s an improvement of an athlete’s fitness of the body to accept physical load. I’m going to read this right off here verbatim. Definition: The adjustment of an organism to its environment, hopefully a positive one. So basically, what you’re doing is you’re working the kids out, and they’re going to make gains. You train them hard and they’re going to make gains. All right, your major objective is to induce positive adaptations in order to improve performance.


So, what you do is you train hard, and you’re going to swim fast. O.K.? And an overload must be applied. So, what’s  an overload? Something above normal. You have a senior athlete going 20 100s. I use 20 100s on 130 and his heart rate is down at 140 and that’s his main training for a long period of time. You’re not going to make any gains. O.K.? So your magnitude of training must be above the normal or something new. Again, this is going to come into play about how I cycle my kids through the year. This is an old XI, I guess, 475 class and college. Great class. Talks about a super compensation. Basically, what this means is you train hard, your preparedness is going to go down, it’s going to bring you back to a level higher than you were at. O.K. And I don’t talk about this as far as a workout goes. I talk about that as a week. All right, and this is your rest phase in here. Let this apply. A combination is if the same training load is applied over a given period of time, your gains are going to decrease as we go through. O.K.?


Now, how I train my kids through the year in their cycles, my breaststrokers, as we go three to four weeks of very hard. All right, they’re going to get broken down. O.K.? We go three to four weeks very hard. They’re going to get broken down. On our fourth week, we give them a rest phase. Their bodies adapt to a higher level. So, we cycle our kids through the entire season, three to four on, one off, three to four on, one off. And we have what’s called a recovery week.


So, what’s a recovery week? A recovery week is not slow swimming. It’s long distance free style, no kicking because we just kicked for three weeks as hard as we can. Five 1000s is our main set one way. 40 100s on the heart rate, 150, a lot of hypoxic work, keeping our sprinting down to 25, if that at all. Very little sprinting. So, you know, if a kid comes in and goes nine days a week, and he is at his main set every day, his 5,000 yard aerobic set, you know, like, whatever, 3200s, or something like that, ….. to use some intervals cause his heart rate is going to be normal and fairly low, and I personally believe, now it’s going to give them a time to let all that junk flow out of their body, all the toxins and everything else, when they’re ready to come back and train… They haven’t lost anything. In five days of rest, I don’t believe they lost anything. I just think that now they come back and train really hard again for three weeks.


So, in my training scheme with the kids, I don’t give them a lot of recovery days where they come in and swim easy. We only had two hours of practice. That’s all that we were limited to do. So, in two hours it was bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. All right, next day they come in, bang it out. Next day they come in bang it out. Then every third… after three weeks.


All right, now it’s the long distance free style stuff. O.K.? As far as where we’re training in zones, I’m going to explain where we train in zone with my kids, and we don’t have any lactate analyzers, we don’t do the 3,000 for time. I’m really, you know… Here are the U.S.A. swimming categories over here. And, you know, my program we kind of do it a little differently. We have everything from here up is the aerobic end, the endurance end, and here’s our VO2. The VO2 area, and here’s our sprint. And we’re going to call everything from here down fast. That’s our fast swimming. All right, so what governs this? Basically rest. When we talk about hundreds we go hundreds, rest 10, work ….. 30 minute, more than a minute. Everything from here down is fast. Really fast. All right, so they’re hurting. They’re hurting people. O.K.? Like I said, we don’t really give it a 3,000 for time. I think these are great. And they’re really useful. But I’m really kind of hesitant about doing all that, you know, a kid goes 3205, all right, Susie, now you want to go 105 on your red swims, your EN2 threshold, anaerobic threshold, you want to go 105. Well, Susie was up late last night studying for a test, and she can only go 107. Maybe, you know, maybe she had a really hard day at the gym. I mean, this kid’s feeling great, you know, she’s going 101s today. She’s feeling really good. And what do you say, you’re feeling good? What are you going to do, tell them to back down? Oh, just let em go. Let em go and swim hard. So I use this a little bit.


But this is the stuff I use. We call this the endurance aerobic. And this is where the majority of our training comes into play right here for most of the season. At that end. Especially early. O.K.? I believe there is an overlap in training zones. All right, you might have a kid who is supposed to be doing EN2 work and in fact his lactate levels are way up here and he is swimming in this zone. So I don’t think that there is  a real exact science to this stuff. It’s very useful stuff, but I have more 3 zones instead of the 6 or 7 that U.S.A. swimming has. O.K.?


Now we’re going to get into breaststroke, finally. Breaststroke. Breaststroke training specific. As I mentioned earlier, I guess in 1994, I really thought I knew what I was doing. O.K.? I found out a little later that I knew absolutely nothing. And now I’ve gotten to the point in time where I have a couple of key ideas that we focus on and I don’t know, I don’t know what I think about myself right now.


Breaststroke. In order to really understand the stroke, my first suggestion is watch the experts. And who are the experts? I remember my first couple of national meets. I’d be walking around with a video camera all the time. And I’d be sitting there filming people, and I’d be sitting there at warm ups and watching them warm up. And I’d be running around, and my kids would be over here, Where’s coach John, you know, he’s over there watching such and such. And I’d be sitting there with my stop watch in my pocket at nationals and, you know, Brad Bridgewater would be in lane 1, and I’d be sitting there getting his pace work and I’d… I’m always at the warm down pool. At national, I’m always at the warm down pool. I was trying to spy on Ed Moses at the last nationals. I sat there for an hour. I sat above his lane for an hour, and he wouldn’t swim breaststroke. It really got me worked. And Kyle said, What are you doing? He knows, he knows I’m watching him. He’s a full form breaststroke. So, I try to watch people all the time. All right, because there’s a couple of things that allow these breaststrokers… they all have something in common. All right?


To understand breaststroke, watch videos. Currently, in my home, I have the 92 trials, the 96 trials, the world championships, the Olympics from 96, the Olympics from 92. All right, and all these little things, we have the wave breaststroke tape. And I probably watched those tapes a thousand times. And when I first started to getting into watching, you know, on NBC they go underwater for about 6 strokes. And I’d sit there and I’d watch in slow motion, and rewind it, because they only do 6 strokes under water each race. I’d watch Deburgery and I’d watch Jeremy Lynn and I watched Anita Knoll from 92, and I watched and I watched and I watched and just over and over and over again. All right, I got a whole wave breaststroke tape and Bereman’s stuff. And I got his underwater footage. I just… over and over and over again, and I sit there with the kid and say, all right, look at this, look at this, look at this, look at this. O.K.?


Step number 4. Find a natural. I’ve got two natural breaststrokers. What do I mean by that? They walk like a duck, they walk like this, their feet are out, their stocky kids, meaning they’re strong, they don’t have a lot of body fat, all right, short kids, they’re just natural breaststrokers. All right, who like to train very hard. I think when you find these kids, you have to treat them a little differently. What I mean, I should say train them a little differently. Because one of the mistakes I made I know when they were starting out it was O.K. … We’d be doing a set and we were going to do some 200 IMs at X interval and the one group might be doing 12 200 IMs. I said O.K., kids, why don’t you do 12 200 breaststrokes. It doesn’t work that way. At all. You can’t train breaststroke the same way you can train freestyle. My opinion. Yeah, what I call whole stroke training, everything else, and kicking.


When we do our whole stroke training, we focus on perfect technique all the time, and as soon as they break down, we stop. We just stop. We might be doing sets of, and we’re going to show you some sets here. Let’s just give you a random set. 10 50s. On the 50. And at number 7, if they can’t maintain perfect technique, pull the next two. Come back on number 10 and let’s see if you can get it right again. Then, there’s certain things that we look for. We might be doing a set of 100s on X interval. A number 4, number 5. If they can’t hold it together, stop. Do something else. The majority of our training for breaststroke is everything else. So, we want to make sure when they are swimming breaststroke that it’s done perfectly. That’s really hard to do.

Most of the whole stroke training that we do is in short bursts of 400 to 600 yards at a time. Those are our main sets. So we do a lot of mini-sets, with something else in between. Example. I love to set 5 100s on 140, and this is a threshold set. 5 100s on 140. For getting your heart rate up, 300 pull. Freestyle right after that. Mix it up a little bit. Do that set four times. And, by the last set, you know, when they’re doing their nineteenth 100 breaststroke on 140 and they’re killing themselves to maintain everything, it’s a workout. Believe it or not, it’s a workout. So most of what we do, whether it be our long stuff, you know, we’ll go 3 200s. Break it up. Stop. Do something else. 3 200s. Stop. 3 200s. Stop. When I say stop, do something else. So most of our training for breaststroke, 80 percent of it is like that.


We might go out and, like, one day try to the stupidest set I’ve ever given my kids. We went 2200 breaststroke last year. Kyle was on 230 yards and Kristen was on 245. And Kyle was holding 221-224 yards for 20 of them in a row. He was getting 6 seconds rest, and I thought, yeah, that’s awesome. But by number 19, 200, it looks like crap. And then the girl looks even worse. You know, just barely making it. And it takes him a week just to get that stroke back to somewhere normal. O.K.? So what is everything else?  O.K. One pool 3 kick, one pool 2 kick. About 4 different pulling exercises. O.K. Pulling with paddles, pulling with a buoy, pulling  no buoy fly kick. All right.


Kicking. What do we do. We kick them literally as much as they can handle. As much as we can kick, we kick. And most of it is done in the mornings. We kick with a board, we kick without a board. We kick with our hands at our side. We kick with a board one leg at a time with a buoy between the legs. We kick with lunges around the ankles. We do vertical kicking. We do a lot of eggbeaters, especially to start off. We do a lot of eggbeater, strengthens the knees. We do eggbeaters. We do a ton of vertical kicking.


They have weight belts. We take medicine balls and we throw them at the kids in the water and they have to sit there and kick breast stroke and throw the balls out. And we literally kick until they can’t kick any more. We do a lot of kicking. O.K.? Now, when we pull, there are certain things that we look for when we pull. And this is something we copied down from a magazine here. There are a couple of things that we’re looking for here when we pool breaststroke. Number 2, you gotta make sure, I make sure my kids are wide. Wide. Way out here. When they’re pulling breast strokes, I want to make sure that their elbows are near the surface of the water. I want to make sure that their thumbs break the surface of the water. I want to make sure that the body is in line from knees to shoulders. O.K.? And when we pull with a fly kick, we draw our feet up, all right, and probably the hardest thing to do is we use the fly kick for balance only, without letting the rear end go up. Because once your rear end goes up, your rear end is going to go up, your center of gravity shifts, and the front end of your body goes down. So, those are the key things we look for. O.K.?


Wide hands, a very aggressive insweep and follow through where they’re hard, fast. Hands and elbows near the surface, thumbs out, body position correct, with the proper alignment, low hips. I like their hips low. And without moving your hips, lunge forward, and never down. Because what I tell my kids, is Mother Nature will take care of that down part. That grabby thing is going to bring you down. We will lunge forward and not down. Lunging forward with the shoulders, and never with the chest. That’s what we look for when we pull.


What do we look for when we kick? Again, low hips. You gotta keep the hips low, make sure that when we kick our rear end doesn’t fly up in the air. Keep the hips stable. Don’t let the hips go up in the air. When you kick with the board, loosen up your shoulders a little bit, to let everything fall down. You don’t want to be too tight. Loosen up the shoulders. Let them fall down.


What else do we want to look for? We want to make sure that the feet are placed outward as far as we can. That’s what we look for when we kick. And when we kick, we kick the whole way through. Very fast and very hard. And the feet come together all the way through. So that’s what we look for when we kick. O.K.?


Power rack. I love the power rack, and I just put it up here because we don’t have a power rack in Florida. I want a power rack, and after this meeting, I’m going to buy a power rack. We use the power rack three times a week from December to March. I like the power rack for a lot of reasons. Number 1—Breaststroke. it allows you to swim at sub max speeds, because you have this belt holding you back and it allows you to hold positions in the water. I like it for technique work, believe it or not, because it allows you to go a little slower through your outsweep and insweep, allowing you just to put pressure on the water. O.K. So we do a lot of that in November.

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