The Preparation of Gretchen Hegener: American 100 Breast Record Holder by Jean Freeman (1997)


Gretchen Hegener – the American Record Holder 100 yard Breaststroke 60.31 in March, 1997.

NCAA Video -100 Breast – Gretchen Hegener is 21 years old beginning her senior year at the University of Minnesota. She is from Cologne, Minnesota, which is a town of 800 about 1 hour west of the Twin Cities where our campus is located. Gretchen’s family consists of two very physically active parents. Her dad is presently on an African Safari and her mother enters long running and bik ing races. She is the middle of three daughters, who were all involved in swimming and her younger sister is also swimming in college.

Gretchen’s first coach was her mom, who took over when the only coach in town left. She began at seven years old, swimming 2 -3 times per week. She joined West Express, a small club then Foxjets, during her junior high years. High school swimming in Minnesota is a pretty big deal. Gretchen swam with her high school as well as was on the track team every spring. The high school season in Minnesota is 14 weeks, August 15 -November 15. She took 6 weeks off then began again 3 times week in January and February. The USS State meet is in March. She did track in the spring and 3 times a week in the summer.

Coming into college, Gretchen had very good stroke mechanics, but needed a lot of help adjusting to a 24 week season and consistent yardage. She was not able to kick 100’s on 2:00.


I made the decision to give her time to adapt and emphasize getting the fun back into the sport, enjoy getting to know her new teammates, new school of 35,000 (4 times bigger than her hometown), being able to follow versus lead in workouts etc. She was relieved to know she could be in our slow lanes to train, but realized she can still expect to achieve lifetime bests in meets. I suggested to her some general goals would be to be able to train two hours, six days a week, September through March. Get used to doing weights, learn as much as she can from her teammates who have great work ethics and spend more time with school work. Looking back on her 1st year at Minnesota, there were five important factors that helped Gretchen make a smooth transition.

  1. Being close to home was important to her and her family.
  2. We adjusted our program to her needs, allowed her to swim in our slower lanes and keep her pride intact, she perceived less pressure and this allowed her to get the fun back into the sport. She could not kick 100 yards on 2:00.
  3. Our team’s best breaststroker at that time, Leslie Wil cox, took her under her wing in practice and meets and helped to make racing and winning be fun again, especially for the team.
  4. We also had two very good distance swimmers, Kim Wilson (Big Ten 1650 Record holder) and Olga Splicha lova (All American 500/1650) who were in Gretchen’s class and helped give our team a new definition ofconsistent tough yardage. It helped Gretchen to know how much these two did and how fast they could train day after day and still go fast in meets. It made it easier to work the yardage she was given. It also took a lot of attention away from her and gave her time to adapt.
  1. Use of a Sports Psychologist and program that allowed her to work through earlier issues. She was able to move on.

This spring and summer were the first time Gretchen trained year round. She went 7 times a week in the spring plus weights 3 times a week and 6 times a week in summer. She made consoles in 100 breast at Seniors at Rose Bowl.

She gained confidence and she knew she could be better.


Gretchen began her sophomore year with more confidence and was a leader in dryland and even lead some of the swim sets. She got into power racks and sprints, but learned to do main sets much better. Biggest improvements were in the weight room. Junior team mate Tanya Schuh (also from a small Minnesota town) was a great role model in lifting. Gretchen was very consistent throughout the season especially in meets and was 2nd at Big Ten’s and 6th at NCAA’s. The 200 medley relay won at Big Ten’s and 2 teammates were individual Big Ten Champions. At

NCAA’s Tanya was 2nd in the 100 fly that year and both medley relays scored. You could see Gretchen’s fire being lit by her team mates’ successes.

Scoring 6th in the 100 breast gave her confidence and a desire to be better. She reset her goals right away. She wanted to win Big Ten’s, top 3 at NCAA’s and for the relays wanted to win Big Ten’s and Top 8 at NCAA’S. She loved weights, talked about lifting as a sport with Leslie. I mentioned it might be best to wait until she is done swimming. Summer went very well, very confident. She swam l time a day and ended 3rd and 4th at Seniors and Medley Relay, scored Top 8 and free relay scored. Our team did very well and she had a great meet. The fun was back for her.


There was no stopping her in her junior year. She lead at breaststroke sets, dryland and power rack sets. She was swimming so fast in the first month of the season that I decided not to have her swim breast in the Intrasquad meet for two reasons: 1) would scare off other breaststrokers on our team and 2) I felt she would make NCAA’s the first time she swam and would rather save that for a meet when it means more.

First Dual meet in North Carolina, she went 1:02 low and was a boost for our team. She continued to do well all year and improved in workouts and weight room. Results were 1st Big Ten’s in 100 breast 60.8 and 2:11.60 in the 200 breast. At NCAA’s she was 1st with a time of 60.32 and 2:13.34 in the 200 breast. Very tired, we made a deci sion to rest her for Big Ten’s since she had never won an individual event there before and this was important to her and would help the team.

After Big Ten’s, I asked her if she knew what the American Record was and she said no. I told her 60.6, Mary Ellen Blanchard, 1989. She agreed she could go faster. I talked some more about who might also be able to go under the record and told her we would work two weeks and rest two weeks. Any questions? She asked how will relays do and who from our team will make NCAA’S. Very team oriented and did not want to dwell on herself.


The school season is separate men’s and women’s programs, while in the summer it is co-ed. The school season is set up with all three coaches, two undergraduate coaches and two managers working with all groups. We take pride in a large team of 43 women swimmers and divers, about a 1:6 ratio. The weekly schedule is fairly standard and we build throughout the season realizing it takes 3-4 weeks to reach a new level of fitness. Examples would be:

6 X 300 / 8 X 300 / 6 X 400 / 8 X 400 / etc. – Dist – MD SP 100k . 50’s

M Endurance T Fast Swim, Test Sets began 3rd week of season, longer kick set W Stations, technique and sprint turns, starts, video / 15 – 20 min. Stations – use quick start, turns and starts Th AM -EZ, D, K, DPS Th PM – Fast sprint, mid-distance, distance groups F IM kick – longer set, sometimes groups – S / MD / D Sa Free, non-free, kick shorter set Power Racks – 2-3 times week, also kick in power racks Wts 3 times week – Coach Terry will go over this later Sports Psych – 1 time per week plus individual arranged time Seasonal Plan -yardage graph by sprint, MD, distance groups

Lots of drills, variety, test sets, Zoomers and pulls, and streamline, underwater 25’s and dryland. All workouts and team meetings are based on a few concepts. Our program emphasizes keeping fun in winning, pride in ourselves and our team. Scoring more points is good and winning is im portant. Winning can be defined in different ways for each of us, but we need to keep the competitor alive and well within us. Terry and I write up all practices, but any coach can change any given set for whatever reason they choose and we will support that in front of the student-athlete.

Jean meets with all student-athletes pre-season, in season and after each season to go over the individuals assessment of previous season goals for this season and pre-taper thoughts. Often meet more than this, but those are the basic meetings. A very important part is the sports psychology. We have a season plan with that as well, set by sports psychologist and Jean. A 24 week plan builds on previous week and gives us a common language to use as a reference point to see where individuals are. We set up our program for our best athletes, but are fully aware “we are as strong as our weakest link.”

Early season training – dryland is very important for breaststrokers, knees and ankles, lower back – is more im portant than water.

Water – don’t do fast breaststroke kick for 3 – 4 weeks, early season every kick, flutter, dolphin, with and without board, K 25, 25, B (build) 50.

Coaching the total person is our main emphasis. I coordinate sports psych, strength, stroke work, training, school work and look at a four year plan or more, depending on if they will compete after college. I have included some sample sets for you to look over and Terry will describe the Dryland and Strength Programs.

* Favorite drill for breaststroke:

Dol K

Br P

Br K


All of the above need to be long and smooth

* Pick our 3 – 5 good drills and make into a circuit or routine and do 1 or 2 times per week to keep rhythm, tim ing and feel.

Jean Freeman (612) 624-9311


Terry Nieszner (612) 624-6835


University of Minnesota Women’s Swimming Strength Training

At Minnesota, our Strength and Conditioning Unit works closely with the Athletic Training Staff. Upon arrival to campus, each athlete is screened by the athletic trainers in an attempt to define strengths, weaknesses and possible predisposition to injuries. The athletic trainers then detail the individual results of the screenings and give it to the strength and conditioning coaches so that the strength train ing program can address the specific needs of each athlete. This cuts down on injury and time spent out of the pool.

In the fall, the Strength and Conditioning coaches spend a good deal of time educating the frosh swimmers on technique perfection and the different lifts. The volume (sets times reps times weight) is generally high in the fall and tapers down to a lower volume and higher intensity as the education continues and the fall season occurs.

The focus of our training is strength and power and we achieve this through the use of Olympic lifts such as the Power Clean, Jerk and Snatch and core exercises like the bench and squat. The first year athletes generally spend several weeks learning the skill transfer exercises and core

exercises which will enable them to perform the taxing Olympic lifts. We have found this method very successful in that the two athletes who can Olympic lift the most weight are the most successful swimmers on the team, one being a 1997 American Champion, and the other a competitor at World Championships in 1995. Both can Power Clean over 150 pounds and squat nearly 350 pounds.

The swimmers also perform plyometrics as a part of their workouts along with rotator cuff exercises and ab/ back work. After the fall season is over and before the training trip, the athletes are tested on bench, squat, chins and power clean. Percentages used throughout the season are based upon this test. Percentages follow the basic tenets of periodization allowing also for an approximate 2 week taper prior to either the Big 10 or NCAA meet. During the season incidentally, the team lifts twice a week in order for recovery before a meet, as well as to coincide with the travel schedule. Prior to the in-season schedule however, the team lifts 3 times a week as well as throughout the training trip. Following a short break after NCAA’s, the team begins lifting 3 times a week again. The athletes are expected to lift throughout the summer as well and are given summer training manuals to track their progress. Testing prior to summer vacation and upon return to campus is an effective way to “keep the athletes honest.”

The progression we used with Gretchen Hegener followed this general plan. She came with no previous weight room experience. We spent the first year covering mainly body weight exercises and single joint exercises (like bicep curls and leg curls) progressing later into multi-joint exercises (like dips and bench press) and finally into skill transfer exercises (exercises which help to teach the Olympic lifts). During the first year we brought her into it gradually so we did not damage tendons and ligaments. We do pre-habilitative work for the shoulder complex, namely the rotator cuff, and focus on the core (trunk strength for stabilization). Plyometrics were implemented into the pro gram after 8-12 weeks of lifting when an adequate strength base had been established.

During the past three years, Gretchen has shown great improvements, from a frosh who did not want much to do with lifting, to a junior who can squat 345 lbs. and power clean 150 lbs.

Gretchen is at a level where she can comfortably work with 85% and higher for her lifts like the clean, snatch, bench and squat. (Not all athletes get to this level and it is important that one simply does not write percentages across the board, but rather tailors the numbers for the different levels of ability.) We have seen an enormous increase in Gretchen’s testing numbers this year and concurrently an enormous increase in her pool performance. We believe that by tapping into total body explosiveness with Olympic lifts, plyometrics and complex training, Gretchen became a faster, more explosive swimmer. (What we mean by complex train ing is doing a lift like the squat followed by a plyometric exercise like tuck jumps.) By using percentages you ensure that the athlete is working at the level you want, whether it is a high intensity or a recovery week. This has proven successful for us.

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