The Training of Samantha Riley and Susan O’Neil by Scott Volkers (1996)


From 1977 to 1980, Scott Volkers was an Assistant Coach for the Foster’s Marlins. In 1982 to 1985, he became the Head Coach of the Fosters/Fergusons Marlins. From 1988 to the present Mr. Volkers is the State Director of Coaching (QLD), and the Coach of Commercial. In 1993 through 1994, he ran his own Learn to Swim school. From 1995 to 1996, he was the Olympic Athletic Program Coach. Scott Volkers has had a number of major medal event winners. Some of these include medals in the Australian Open & International Championships, Queensland Championships, QLD Gold Medalists, and Australian Record Breakers and most recently Susan O’Neill’s gold medal in Atlanta. Some of his career highlights include being the 1992 Australian Olympic Coach, the 1993 Pan-Pac Coach, and the 1994 Australian Commonwealth Games Coach. In the Barcelona Olympics as the coach for Australia, he led his team to winning an individual bronze medal. In addition, he was a 1992 Australian coach of the year finalist. In 1993, as the Australian Pan Pac Coach, he led his team to winning two individual bronze medals and a Commonwealth Short Course Record. In addition, Scott Volkers was awarded with the Outstanding Coaching Achievements Award, in 1994. As the Australian Commonwealth Games Coach, his athletes won four gold medals, and two swimmers made the world championships team. There they won 4th and 6th in the relay events at the World Championships.

It’s fantastic to be invited to come over here to speak to Americans. I think it is a privilege that very few Australians have ever had and I definitely feel very honored to be here. I think it was mentioned in one of the earlier talks by Richard about the work that John Leonard has done through your coaches association and I’d like to reiterate that, because as you know I had a little bit of trouble through this last twelve months. As a matter of fact it is giving me recurring headaches all the time.

I was asked to speak at the American Coaches Conference before any of this happened sure and I was also asked to speak at one of the Canadian Coaches conferences and Canada swimming recommended that I be cut off the program up there and the Canadian coaches’ association did not want that but Canada Swimming made them do that and John; there was no mention of that from John Leonard; and I found that to be a great thing and it really helped me to want to come to America. And for that I’m grateful. I’m sure John does a fantastic job over here for you.

As I said, the last seven or eight or nine months now has been a very traumatic time – traumatic time for the likes of Samantha and for myself. It has been a difficult year but also in the end a satisfying year in some ways. I think it would be appropriate to mention the type of people that we’re talking about. Sam Riley is a 23 year old, almost a 24 year old, young lady that I’ve coached for eight years – a fantastic person and someone that you as a parent or as a coach could be proud of for the whole of your life and would really be someone that you would want to have as your daughter. She is a fantastic ambassador for Australian swimming and someone that is definitely not a cheat. I think one of the main reasons that we got into so much trouble from FINA is because of the voice we put forward against drugs in world sport. And I definitely advocate no cheating in sport and it was just a shame that everything had to happen but FINA had to make an example of me and that was their reasoning behind it. But Samantha is a great person, a person that has triumphed through a lot of adversity.

Here is a background story of why you look after a swim. Every coach knows that they look after a swim to the best of their ability and Samantha started that preparation after the Trials with a bad virus that affected her tongue. She had blisters all over her tongue and lost five kilos in weight. This was just the first thing. We went through the next stage into a double stress fracture in the ribs where she couldn’t train with her arms. She only could do thirty kilometers a week, kicking. She put up with that. She never complained once. She just took it in her stride. Then we came across the Pan Pacs and at the Sidney airport on the way over, she contracted a vomiting and diarrhea bug which put on the floor of the airplane for the whole ride over. She had that for six days. We ended up having to take dinner to her while she lay in bed in Athens, Georgia for that period. And before the last day of her illness her mother called me. Sam’s favorite grandmother had just died and her mother asked me, “What do we, when do we tell her?” So I had to say, “Well not today because she is just not well enough, we’ll wait until the next day or so when she does become a little better.” So this was part of it and the buildup and then getting her back on track and then finally getting her to the Pan Pacs to swim a 1:08:60 in the heats – the fastest ever timed in a heat swim where she would have broken the world record at night time. To be disqualified unfairly for something she didn’t do and then to rebuild her to get back up to swim a 2:24 in the 200 breaststroke the following day. So out of adversity comes greatness is what I keep saying. We just don’t want that adversity to keep coming all the time.

When she was sick in Rio I made a mistake that I hope every coach in the world learns from and finds out that we can’t just do that. I mean it is taught to Australians now. We’ve changed the rules; no one can even give a tablet. But, if I ask people to put up their hand how many coaches have every been asked for a headache tablet along the way, and I’ve been asked by my own swimmers since and I say, “You’ve got to be kidding, you’re asking me for a headache tablet? Go away, go call someone who cares, you know.”

Anyway, it’s just important to know what sort of a person that she is. She is a fantastic person and you know anyone would be very pleased to have her in their squad.

So I would like to start off a short video. This is what I believe we are here for: we as coaches strive to get to the pinnacle of our careers wherever it may be. The pinnacle being the Olympic games or the World Championships. This is what we do it for, why we get out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning, put up with sensational wages and so forth for a great number of years to get the end result that we’ve driven for. And I want to show this video because it makes me feel so proud to have reached that. Even though you are Americans, you should still enjoy the video.

What I strive for and I’m sure you do, is for perfection, for performance and for results. In that race on the video, the 200 fly by Susan O’Neill that was pretty close to as good as I was going to get. You know I had Sam for eight years; I only had Suzie for two years. Sam came to me as a girl with just basically a breaststroke kick and the rest of it was pretty ordinary and I had to develop that over time. Suzie came to me as a reigning Commonwealth champion but hadn’t done her best time in two and a half years and was looking for a new way to get ahead.

This is our facility, just a 50 meter pool with a bulkhead. Over the last eight years Sam grew up in this facility where I had up to three lanes for major sets, one lane for the squad for warm-up sets and one lane for Juniors through the beginning part of their workout. The worst day that I had was 21 seniors in one lane for the first hour. Nineteen of them were Australian medalist or better. So the facility is nothing flash that is for sure.

I’m looking for better water space now to be able to do a better job. Now we have two full squads in four or five lanes of long course and 70-90 of what you would classify as almost senior type swimmers. Here is another shot on an average day at the pool. Good facility there, half the pool is given to the public swimmers. They are very crowded over there. They’ve got a very wide breast-stroke kicker you’ve got to be careful of. The gym that we use is a police youth club around the corner. We can’t afford the lights over there so we work out in the dark.

This is Ellie Overton working out. You know, early mornings, the sun hasn’t come up so we don’t have our power working yet so she is just lazing around the gym. They hide in dark corners. This one, believe it or not, that’s Suzie O’Neill doing a sit-up routine. When they lay down you can’t see them at all it is only when they sit up that you can see the whites of their shirts and so forth. We spend so much time in the dark that they believe that they’re vampire bats and they start hanging around upside down. People get a bit strange on you and funny things happen. But, then as the sun comes up they get the newspapers out and start to catch up on all the local news to see what’s happened to see if they get their own name in the paper that morning. That is Sam and Audrey Gerrut from France who was training with me for a while. The gym is nothing flash, that is for sure. It is a facility we just make do. It is more of a boxer’s gym.

There is a boxing ring downstairs that we used to use. We would get in there and punch the bag a bit. The gym is nothing great. This is a graph of Sam’s Commonwealth Games Trials 200 breaststroke where Becky Brown beat her by five seconds and made her look like a second rate swimmer. This is a 2:29 swim. What this graph shows is speed dropping off through a 200. You can see off the walls she held it for a little while and then dropped away again. The other important part I looked at was the length — it also disappeared off the graph and the stroke rate. I thought that’s funny it’s going up. So as it’s going up she’s going down basically. The speed is deteriorating, the length is deteriorating and the stroke is going up. So I said what am I going to do about this?

So I took this graph to the National Breaststroke Camp where we had five sports scientists and I asked, “How I can fix this?” And they looked at it and said “Well, the graph could be wrong, there could be error in the graph, and maybe the numbers are not right.” They offered every different excuse except for anything that could help me to go ahead and try and do something about fixing up an obvious flaw in her racing technique. So I said, “Well, blow the rest of you, I’ll go out and design my own workout.” And I came up with a few ideas from then on that I’ll show you in the pool tomorrow. Now they are not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination but I use them and I’ve used a speed drill technique to train the body at a faster rate than what you are going to race at for a long period of time and then ease back into the race and go more technique.

This was my beginning of the usage of stroke rates and became very interesting. I used to watch the American coaches and think, what are they playing with their watches all the time? You guys are well ahead of us so I went home and learned what to do with it.

Here we have the graph 12 weeks later after changing some techniques around. We’ll see that the speed was much more constant. You’ll still see that the length of the stroke disappeared off the bottom of the page but her ability to maintain her stroke rate and hold the speed became greater. So ok the length is shortened but her ability to stay keeping that arm rate going had improved over that period of time. So that was my dream to fix that problem up. And to turn around with a ten second turnaround to lose the trials by five seconds to win the Commonwealth Games by five seconds is fairly amazing and we saw that on that video footage when she won the Commonwealth Games.

So what I did was went about designing a weekly structure. My ideas of training now are designed completely around energy systems — full utilization of energy systems. I’m not a sport scientist and I’m not the most knowledgeable person in the highest, the finest details of sports science but I try to look and learn and adapt to what my brain thinks.

The week is broken up. Monday morning there is an anaerobic threshold training session. We might do seven 300’s holding a heart rate at 25-30 below max. Suzie O’Neill would do that fly and use fins. We always finished that set with a 200 effort that has nothing to do with anaerobic threshold; it just has something to do with getting up and racing when you really don’t feel like going at it. The times were usually around a 2:04 long course with fins on and some days in an adaptation period we’d go as high as 2:15 or 2:16 so the variation there can be really quite large.

The Monday afternoon is our major set. All the major sets are done in the afternoon. What we have there is a quality session. Now, I’m going to talk about quality a little bit later on. I call quality “effort with rest”, all that effort with rest. I have heard people say ten 400’s on five minutes is quality. I mean it might be quality if you are going as fast as you can. But I try to bring it back to percentage of effort or closeness to best time. The general rule of thumb is one second to a maximum of two seconds outside your best time in a 50. In a 100 if it is not under five seconds away from your best time it is not quality and you might as well not be doing it; and if they can’t do it then, I believe it is the coaches fault for periodizing their weekly cycle in the wrong way where the energy system is depleted and they can’t stand up and go that sort of speed. Five seconds, that sounds like a fairly long way, but if Sam is not under 1:12 long course then it is no good. So, I’ll show you some more of that later on.

We have the Tuesday mornings. We have three gym mornings a week, that’s Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. We do weight training, we do running, and we do recovery swimming. The gym, I’ll talk about that a little later on in a little more detail but it is not as important as the swimming. Suzie O’Neill runs 7 kilometers twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday morning. This is taken out of our training time; it is not on top of our training time. So when she gets back to the pool from that she may do 500 meters to a 1000 and that is it. That is the session finished for the day. I work on a theory that you have a life as well as swimming, it’s not just swimming, and you don’t just pound them for hour after hour a day.

Now for the people that don’t run I usually give them a kick set. That kick set might be a 1500 meter kick set that’s fairly hard with descending cycles. So what they are doing is they are working their legs the same as the people that are running. So that is the difference there.

Tuesday afternoon we use a heart rate session. Now that seems to be an Australian word. The closest thing I know to it is like VO2 max work, I guess. That is the way I cycle it and the reason I do it like that is most of my coaching foundation came from one of your coaches, who is probably in the room somewhere — Ernest Maglischo. I got a lot out of Ernest’s books and whenever I do a clinic now I always say that is the best book in the world. I don’t have any doubt in saying that.

A heart rate set is to hold your heart beat from 20-30 beats below maximum for a period of up to a maximum of 40 minutes but usually around the 20-30 minute mark. Why I do this is that is when that energy system is going to run out if it is at full supply. So if they cannot complete the session at a very strong rate then we don’t keep it going and then we just use a swim down. The total may be 6000 meters.

Wednesday morning is the most important session of the week. That is the coach’s golf day and recovery for swimmers.

Wednesday afternoon is just aerobic. I’m going to run through this and then I’ll come back and say why I do things. I must stress that I use skill drills in every session of the work of the week. Drills are very important because I think technique comes first. If you can’t swim good technique then you are not going to go faster at the end. You can still go fast but you will not go faster than what you are going when you are at your peak, so to speak. I think Samantha is the best technical breaststroker in the world. She wasn’t the best prepared mentally at the Olympic games and that result showed. We all have to think that about our swimmers I guess. My skill drills are set at about 3000 meters. That is sort of hard aerobics, it’s not easy but I’ll show you a set of that later.

Thursday morning is exactly the same as Tuesday, except the gym cycle. We do an exercise routine which I stole a lot of from Gennardi Touretski. We use a lot of Gennadi’s exercises, balancing movements, flexibility, body weight type things — these are just generalizing programs and not a completely stressful thing. We keep that going right through the taper phase, right throughout until a couple days out and we still keep it going. The idea of that is to keep those muscles functioning and keep the brain and the muscles functioning together. Gennadi can give you a lot better reasons why they do it but that’s why we use it. Flexibility is one of the main things of course. Especially for the likes of Samantha and the positions she has to get into in her breaststroke. So we do that for about 30 minutes and then we do a circuit after that. Then runners run and others swim.

Thursday afternoon we do our other main set again. Why do I pick 800 meters? Simply because it seems like the statistics show that an energy system, lactate energy system, will last around eight minutes. That is if it is fully restored and replenished it will last around eight minutes. So 800 meters of all out work is going to be generally around the eight minute mark. So their force is completely depleted. Now if you get to the 400 meter mark and times have deteriorated, then the energy system is not there and it just can’t be used. If it is not there you can’t use it and the times will drop away and therefore the usefulness of the set is gone so you might as well stop it and go on to something else. Just because we’ve written out a page of notes we don’t need to keep going on that. That is something that I like to stress, you’ve got to have an ability to change. I’m sure that every coach does that anyway. And that could be a different lactate system to what we used on the Monday and that rotates through the year with differing parts of the year.

Let’s say we use a lactate tolerance early, well not real early, but through the early phases of the year. Lactate tolerance is how they build up their resistance to the lactate. As we go to the next phase is like a peak lactate where we might just do efforts of 6 to 8 100 meters of those, and then towards tapering we do stand up efforts, race warm-ups and things like that.

Friday morning the main set is fin drills. We use a lot of fins and do many different drills, for example fly kicks on the back with arms held in the air — lots different things that break up the week. It is also the session where my sprinters, if they are going to miss a session, this is the one to miss. This is the least beneficial, I guess, to someone who is really tired. So if someone is tired and I think you’ve had enough for the week then you have Friday morning off.

Friday afternoon we do another heart rate session. It is pretty much the same as Tuesday except you may vary the distances around. Maybe Tuesday you might do a block of 100’s and 200’s or 50’s and then on the Thursday or Friday, whenever I’ve decided to do it, it would go to a different distance or a different combination. So it is the same sort of set.

Saturday morning is basically a morning when I see how the week has gone. We do gym and then try to get in and do some short explosive work. I work on that area because I figure I’ve got a day and a half of rest.

I don’t train any Saturday afternoon or any Sunday. I don’t believe in that. We have a life to lead as coaches and I think we should still have that life. As swimmers they have a life and need regeneration. I think they need that day and a half to get back on top of things. The only thing that wrecks the system is when they go out and party or something all weekend or they go to the surf. Living next to the surf they come back on Monday, and you think they spent the weekend recovering. Then you have a look at them and they look like death warmed up.

So that is the basic conception of the week we cycle. If we just look at main sets in the afternoons we had quality on Monday, we had heart-rate on Tuesday, we had aerobic on Wednesday, and we had quality on Thursday and a heart-rate on Friday. Why I do that is simply this: between Monday quality and Thursday quality there is three days. That is energy recuperation period. If we don’t use that system again until Thursday we have 72 hours to regenerate that lactate system and that seems to be the time that it takes to regenerate that. Now I’m not saying that I’m that smart that I can completely stay out of that system until then but we may use bits and pieces of it which slow down the recovery of that system. We notice on the Tuesday we’ve got until the Friday for the heart-rate system. Now this is a different energy system except in one way — the only difference being the last part of these heart-rate sets I make them go fast. And they get up and they go as hard as they can. I’ll even dog the last four 100’s. We get some pretty amazing swims in those last 100’s so what I take note of there is they’ve gone a lactate tolerance set at the end. So if I notice that they’ve done a really good one of lactate tolerance at the end of a heart-rate set, I don’t come back over here and expect to get the same results that I would have got on Monday. So being aware and watching those systems the way they are is important but I think you have to just watch your athletes to see if they are running down. They don’t get sick and tired by accident, we do it to them. And I think it is our duty to take care and try and guard against that. And Wednesday being the aerobic day obviously in the middle, it gives us that break in time, this system with a heart-rate low enough to give a recovery not using either system gives us that break in the middle of the week and then to continue on.

I heart-rate tested and lactate tested, every training session to see if I was achieving what I was going after. What I saw there was that running was taking too much out of them. We had monitors on them and I noticed that Angie Kennedy was running along with Suzie O’Neill. I ran with them to always watch because it is supposed to be recovery, we’d go up a hill and her heart rate is at 190 just by going up a hill. You don’t notice those things unless you are really monitoring them. So we saw that the system was being used when my program was saying it wasn’t being used. So there was the first lesson I learned to be careful in that way.

If you are after recovery, we know the heart rate has to be below 150-140 and Suzie O’Neill was running at that speed where Angie Kennedy wasn’t so this is something to be very aware of.

There is nothing special in our gym program. We work on a periodization of basically three weeks in a system. There is a little bit of hypertrophy at the beginning. My opinion on gym is that I don’t know if it is totally necessary. I’m not prepared to cut it out in case it is necessary so we do it. I’m not a gambler so I’m not willing to give it away, that’s for sure. So we do a well periodized program, and I use a physiotherapist, Victor Pophoff who was on the Olympic team with us, to design it. We go through strength phases using different repetition set ups. It is basically heavy weight in the beginning, and then we go to power and fast stuff where we try and get that strength into power, then transfer from there the strength and power into a circuit like a strength endurance type of thing. There is nothing technical about it. For taper I cut out gym at three weeks out. What confuses me about the gym program is that Sam broke the World record after six weeks of not lifting a weight in Rome. I know closer to your home here, Jeremy Lind did his 60.6 after nine weeks of no gym. And one thing I found very amusing, was I got a fax from the Olympic games from John Trembley after Jeremy had come second, he said congratulations on my swimmers but also thank you for my part in helping Jeremy Lind to silver medal. I thought what the hell is he talking about. I went up to Knoxville after the game and he told me that after our meetings in Australia John came home and switched his weekly cycle to my program and he said the kids have never had such a good year. They enjoyed their swimming so much that they just loved the whole system and he thanked me for telling him. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him at that time, he beat the Australian girl, that wasn’t fair.

So these are the things that always turn us around in our programs. We just don’t know what works and no one can tell us. Let’s face it, everyone has an opinion but no one can tell us for sure. I do it as an insurance policy and also as a structural building thing to make sure that the body structure is strong so it can handle the workload that we’re giving out. That is probably the most important thing. I think they need strength through the frame, through the shoulders, down to the hip line. I think they need that body strength to hold them together basically.

When I do my heart-rate sets I build them at 30 below max hr, 20 below, 10 below during the whole set. That is why you’ll see only about seven minutes of heart-rate time instead of 30 minutes which is how long the set takes. But the rest of the set is just under Vmax.

Tuesday AM. This is what I learned. That the gym and the running was eating into my energy system and this is something that I wanted to change. So I had to slow them down in the running for a start. I had to be very careful there. We were using that energy system three sessions in a row. So that was the first thing that I learned. Then the Tuesday PM Quality session might have gone all out efforts but not use that system. The Wednesday, just the smallest amount, that would be the people that had just gone out of the aerobic system. But I’d say that is a perfect aerobic session there. Thursday AM, after seeing the heart-rates of the people that ran on the Tuesday, I said let’s use this as recovery and that is what happened. Thursday PM another heart-rate set, bang back up again. Friday AM we had a recovery session. Friday PM I changed the weekly cycle and we didn’t do a major set there, we used a recovery type aerobic set. Saturday morning I hit them with a fairly intense 2000 meter going 100, 200, 300, 400 type thing.

I always wondered whether we were training the way we thought we were training. And whether we were training the right system. So this was Sam’s biggest ever session. 7500 meters. Sam can’t swim more than four laps of freestyle. That is important, we have to adjust. Her shoulders will blow out if I gave her four hundred freestyle. So my whole program has to adjust because Sam can’t swim freestyle. So in other words the warm up has to be freestyle and another stroke, just to change away from freestyle but I find it the most variation anyway. For example: 400 stroke drill, 400 pull, 400 continuous kick, 300 freestyle-breaststroke. Then a system set: four 300’s, five 200’s and ten 100’s and sixteen 50’s. She did a great job that day holding those three 100’s down there 1:25 cycle after 3000 meters of work basically. So that was a good session. That is as hard as she has ever gone, and as far as she has ever gone in an aerobic session. So that is what I would call aerobic.

This is an example of heart-rate set done in three blocks. This is not how some people say to do it but this is the way I developed the way I want to do it at the beginning against the sports scientist’s wishes. We had a 200 done at a certain speed, five 100’s and then a 50 easy. I do a 100 easy normally. I do that three times. Take that and put a 100 easy in there. Three times through. But when I do the first set I’ll do the five 100’s first and then the 200. What I’m after there is I’ll go five 100’s and hold the time at 30 beats below the max. The 200 then thrown straight into at the end of it and you have to split the same time that you’ve just gone for all of those 100’s through the first 100 and then bring it home, working the back end. You have to be out fast and then come home. Second set, same thing. Five 100’s first and then 200 – that’s at 20 below then the 200 going out at the same time. So for example, she might be holding 1:20’s by then so the 200’s she has got to go out and touch in 1:20 and then come home and try and keep it as even split as possible. And then the third set – just to make it a bit harder and make me a bit more of a mongrel – I switch the 200 around and put it first. So they go 200, 100 easy and then bang 200 again and that is Max. They have to go for that. The quickest I’ve seen Sam do that is 2:27 short course and then have to continue on with four 100’s effort straight after that. I’ve seen it go down short course say holding 1:11’s, 1:10’s finishing with 1:09’s. So they are fairly intense sets and they take recovery time if you are going do those.

Here is just some examples of times she’s done short course and long course. These are by no means the best set. See the first one at short course she goes down to 2:37, the second one a 2:30.5, then held two, 1:13’s. The lactate there is up around the nine and ten mark for her so it is lactate tolerance work so you have to take that into account.

There are a million variations that we can use on that set.

Prior to Atlanta she did a broken 200 and did her actual best time, better than she had ever done before just a couple days out. And as I’ve been told by every other coach around the world, she went a 1:08.5 for a stand up 100 with four other people swimming in the lane about six days out. And it wasn’t just my timing I had the Canadians come over, I had the Chinese, the Americans. There were a lot of people who saw it and timed it. She was swimming very well, she just had a little problem between the ears for her full year of preparation through the stress that she’d had. One of her dreams was that people were throwing stuff out from the grandstands saying she was a cheat and shouldn’t be there. That was how she was feeling before she swam and then the results came out that way. She swam her 100 meter breaststroke with a stroke rate that edged on 58. Sam, when she broke the world record, had a stroke rate the whole way of 49. That’s what it does to you. People argue and argue about what happened to the preparations in Atlanta in different people and they say that the training was no good, the coaching was no good, and the kids are not tough enough. But I think there are a lot of people who don’t take stress into account when they analyze the faults of different swimmers. And you only have to look at that. She was in perfect condition to swim very well. She just 1) didn’t believe that and 2) she was very stressful about the whole situation. So that was unfortunate. She trains very hard.

I’ve seen her get up on one morning at 6:15 am and go a 2:34 long course and then jump up and then go four 100’s on 8 minutes in 1:10.2, 1:10.1, 1:09.1, and 1:10.0. I also had one day that she did a set of 200’s, a test set, and I was told by the sports scientist that she wasn’t fit on that day. This is why I always argue against tests. I am not against tests; I use them all the time, but be careful how you read them. I was told she wasn’t fit. The next day she got up and did five effort 100’s and averaged 1:09.2 and I said, “Well how fit do you have to be to average five 100’s at 1:09?”

This is a peak lactate set of Suzie O’Neill’s: six 100’s dive butterfly on eight minutes, 61.52, 61.13… average of :61.2. We train for the 200 fly. We didn’t train for the 100 fly. I tried to get Suzie to come home. She was in the lead at Olympics in ’92. But if you listen to that first video she even said she used to die and things like that. People condition people to what they think. We heard Richard mention it before. If someone says the wrong thing they’ll start to believe it. And they used to say “Suzie, you died in there, what happened there, why did you die, why did you die?” The other thing with Suzie was: “First day of the Meet Suzie you have a bad swim every time. Every time you swim at a major meet you have the first day blues, a bad day.” I go when you get to that first day what is the first thing you are going to think about? Everybody has told you you have a bad day. And I wasn’t training Suzie until after the world championships in ’94. She had another bad day on that first day. She came to me and spoke to me about things and I said, “Ok, this is what I believe. Take it for what you like. You don’t have a bad day on the first day of the meet. You are not prepared to swim fast.” Because out of conversation I’d ask “How do you feel today?” at different meets. I never spoke to her as far as coming to train with me, I just asked her how do you feel today? And her response was, “I feel twiggy.” Now that’s not even an Australian colloquialism. I was trying to work out what that meant myself. What’s twiggy? What she was meaning was that it felt like she didn’t have any hands and no power. Now to me I analyze that down to say that she’s in an adaptation. She is not prepared. She does not come out of a trough in a taper. This is how I see tapers and things like that. So when I knew she was coming to my program I said, “Suzie, it’s not your fault that you swam bad on those days. On those first days you weren’t ready.” And I explained to her the whole system what I believed and I started to program her then. And then we still came back we had the same problem at the end. She was a go out fast. You saw the Olympics, a 60.6. That was a slow split. She went 60.2 at Pan Pacs. But she’s going easy. So we programmed the easy speed and she struggled to do a 100 meter speed because we programmed everything in. Use the mind to get the body working so that it starts to think, “I can do this, and I can do this.” It’s not, “Are you going to stuff up on the first day? You can’t do this.”

You start the program working right from the beginning. So what I did is I got her Commonwealth games final graph and I said, “I’m going to do exactly the same to you what I did to Sam.” Sam could go out in 1:10 and come back in 1:20 nearly 1:19. Suzie could go out in, her best split at that time I think was like 61:5 to 61:8 and come back in 1:08. So I looked at her graph and there it was again, that the speed was deteriorating. The length of the stroke was also deteriorating and the stroke rate was going up. So with my limited knowledge of anything, what I thought was the picture that I needed to see were those black lines heading across the page as stable as we could. And bring the other two lines together as a set of jaws to make a straight line. So I’d already had experience from trying to do the same with Sam developing these drills and the training programs bringing in different sets. I think one of the most important sets, and the sports scientists will disagree with me, is the seven 300’s that we use once a week. I’ve found them to be very important. Sports scientists tell me the swimmers don’t need to do that. We beg to differ and I still do them because I get my way. At the end of the race there is one person that has their head on the chopping block and that’s us. Sports scientists go whoosh out the back door. But if there is a good result they are there with flowers.

So this was three or four months later. This was a 2:08.2 swim and we can see the difference in the graphs straight away. This was the benefit I found of just getting these breakdowns on graphs and using the stroke rates. You can see that the whole race has changed completely. Her thinking had changed. I don’t believe that she was — well she might have been a little bit fitter — but she was a lot smarter and swam the races a lot better. And the results there were that we just lost it in the last 25 meters. So that was easy and I had to just go away and teach her how to swim 25 meters really well and she was going to win. Trouble is it was the last 25. But I found that to be very interesting and I think it shows the pattern that we had to follow and I found it just gratifying to be able to achieve that.

We use a series of test sets. This is the first one that we use: seven 200’s descending on a cycle which doesn’t really matter but somewhere between before four and six minutes. So the rest period doesn’t matter as long as it is just enough. What we are after here is the onset of the lactate taking off. So you’ll see the little blobs that go across, one, two, three, four, five and it starts to climb. What you can read out of this is training times. We get training times and training heart rates then to go away and work every set. Now we all do this in different ways, 2000 meter step tests, any number of different ways. We draw the line up the anaerobic threshold. The sports scientists have worked that out when the lactate is taking off. And you’ll see that Sam’s anaerobic threshold for her breaststroke is at 187 beats per minute. So instead of guessing that she’s going too hard when doing an aerobic set, I’ve got this on paper saying “Oh no, it is ok, you can handle it.” And someone else comes along and their threshold might be 167. And this just gives me another tool to work with while I’m training. It also gives me speed at 82 – she reaches her threshold at 82. So she can do 1:22 100’s and stay at threshold speed. So I can work out then what she should hold for different sets. Same with the aerobic levels. I guess that is the lactate threshold, I don’t know, I’m not even sure. That is where she is not producing any more than what she started with basically and then she starts to climb after that. So anywhere in that first stage is recovery. So for her, she can do recovery work up to 175 beats per minute. So it is individualized once again where we probably say 150 beats per minute is sort of the maximum we can use for recovery. She can go up to 175 and still go in recovery and I think this is important. Her threshold did reach 192. So she can have a heart rate going at 192 and still be under anaerobic threshold. So that’s just the way we do it.

Another test for efficiency is 7 50’s descending on two minutes. What we are after here is basically trying to find when they swim their most efficient. I think this is probably even most beneficial, extremely beneficial for a 200 meter swimmer, but it can be adapted to anybody. She swam 34 seconds push — that’s push breaststroke. First 25 she had a stroke rate of 51 and second at 49 with an average of 50. Now I know from experience that is right on race pace or even a fraction over with 24 strokes. If we go back I know that a 200 meter race speed is around the 40 stroke rate so we see a 35.6 at 40. So let’s go to the next graph which shows that as she goes through this as soon as the stroke rate goes too high the efficiency drops off very dramatically. Now think back to what I said about Atlanta Olympics, 58 stroke rate, as soon as I read that on my watch I said this is all over. It was gone, there was no way to swim, because her stroke needs length. If you go through the analysis of that her stroke rate was the shortest of any swimmer in the race. And at the World Championships or any other swim her stroke length is the longest of any one else in the race. And that is simply the effect of stress on a person. If we can’t learn from those sort of things to how we have to get in.

This is what I use in taper situation. I’ve designed it and Graham Moore put it together on computer. I basically used to run up and down the pool with a pen and a piece of paper, stop watch and stroke rater trying to write things down. I take a stroke rate. I do a 50 descend. We start off very easily. Let’s say we look at the best one which is Rio. Now that is short course but it is converted I think. She’s done basically 38 seconds for a 50 and the stroke rate was 32. So it’s pretty easy but it is nice and long. And we just worked our way up – 38, 36, so 38, 36, 34.7 and 33.8. And what I check there I try to aim at the stroke rate of 40 – 42 because I know that that is going to be the race rate. So what I do over a period of the taper is I watch. So that’s the best one, let’s say Rio. Now the rest are Atlanta. Her efficiency is to the left which shows that she is not very efficient. Let’s take a speed. Let’s take a third one. She is using a stroke rate of almost 44 which I know is not going to be very fast and a time of 35.5. So this is hard work, has the effect on stroke rate and speed. So as she’s tapered then, that was the beginning of the taper. Atlanta 10th of a 7th. You can see there that it has shifted across that line if you took that line the same way you’ve dropped .7 of a second for the same stroke rate. If we go another few days to the 15th to the 7th the yellow line you’ll see we’re starting to get towards it now. We’ve got a stroke rate around a 42 mark with a time of 35.0 or even less she can come back down. Then the red one on the 18 of the 7th – What day did the Olympics start, 20th something like that? Right over there it actually beat the Rio de Janero graph at one stage. Obviously if she had gone faster the graph would have kept on going. She just did two swims there, two 50’s and going 34.3 push with a stroke rate of 40.1. So what I’ve got there I’ve got a tool to work stroke rate against speed. I’ve also got a visual to show them stepping down in a taper situation. I’ve just found it to be of great benefit. I’ve also found it to be a great nuisance to do every lap with them and then record them and put them on computer and especially when you had six swimmers at the Olympics. It made it very difficult. So this is just a very simple graph to show how you improve during taper. The green one is like the World Championships speed and you’ll see that the speed slowly came back over the three week period until they became lines. Now that’s how we know that I can tell and say Samantha is swimming very well before the races. Now I’ve got the same data before the Australian Olympic Trials and her times and speeds were the best graphs that she’s ever had and she swam slower again.

Any advice that I can give any coach that really wants to listen is don’t take it at face value. The result is the result of our training but it could be the result of our preparation for the race or preparation of guarding against external forces let’s say.

When I spoke about stroke rates and having to do stroke rates, this was the Commonwealth Games two weeks before the World Championship 100 breaststroke. What I saw Sam do was swimming better at the Commonwealth Games than she was at the World Championships. 2:25 for the 200, 1:08.0 for the 100. She should have broken the record at the Commonwealth Games except I guess I wasn’t smart enough or didn’t have enough knowledge. But I learned from the results coming out by getting that piece of paper between the heats after the Championships before we went to Rome. What you see here is that she went 51 stroke rate for the first 25, and dropped down to 49. So she went 51, 51, 49, 49. And I looked at the race. I eyeballed it and I thought, she is taking this out a little too hard. She split 31:83 which was an Australian record for the first 50. I said after seeing that and watching the race that I thought it was too hard the first 50, especially the first 25. So I thought to myself, “How do I want the race in Rome to be?” And it works out that 49 stroke rate is her optimal speed. So I said this is what I want Sam. I want 49, 49, 49, 49 and I want you to split the same times as you split at Commonwealth Games. She went out in 31:86 and went 49, 49, 49, 49. Nothing changed. Three hundredths of a second slower with the same stroke rate, the same time, lower stroke rate, less energy usage came home faster by .3. Therefore I got the result that I was after. That was a very pleasing result to see that happened.

This is the last one. A 200 breaststroke final at Commonwealth Games comparison to the Australian Championships. This is her stroke rate only. She’s got exactly the same pattern there but she’s had an ability to maintain her stroke rate for a longer period of time. She maintained a higher stroke rate. So in March she could only manage a 38 stroke rate and it would drift in July but then she started at 40 and maintained 40 and went up to 42. So she had an ability to maintain a higher stroke rate. Hopefully that was because of what I programmed her to do which was speed drill type work where we really kept that stroke rate up high.

Before I close up I’ll show a little bit of video footage that I thought you might like to see what she looks like under water. I’d also like it if anyone can find the dolphin kick that the American judge found in her breaststroke at Pan Pacs. Anyone sees that could you point it out to me because I’m still trying to find it. So just keep an eye on that. I’ll explain later why it’s impossible to do a downward fly kick with my style of breaststroke. I think the important things with her breaststroke are the dip that she gets down on the downward thrust, the head drive, down the hill. She has incredible dip. This stroke looks different underwater than it does on top, that is for sure. Now the drive back to the surface of the water and then the downward drive. Her upward skull is very important but the thing that makes the fly kick impossible to do is that I train a continuous action. No stop in breaststroke, no pause. If you put a pause in, Newton’s law will tell you that you will have an equal and opposite reaction at the other end. That’s where the downward fly kick comes which a lot of swimmers do use and if you watch the underwater footage from Atlanta you’ll see it. But you won’t see it from Samantha Riley.

The fluency of the stroke is very important to me. So it is a rolling action and non-stop. It is a drive and a push with the upward skull working. Now you can see that the length of that stroke is very important. The distance that her fingertips travel from down low sculling upways and then out and around and back again. Now think if you increase that stroke rate then you will have a much shorter line drawn on a piece of paper. And therefore the length of a stroke will shorten right up so it is very important for her to continue in that vein — just to keep that going, keep that rhythm going but keep the full stroke. So we’ll have a look here at the next lap which is much better. We’ve got nice high hips here an upward kick which is legal and then a forward drive with the body. Now if the arms stop you will have a downward drive. There is no downward dolphin kick at all. There is a nice forward fluent undulating motion. If you can find a dolphin kick in that then I’ll run from here to Atlanta naked. I won’t really. So that’s a little bit of footage on Sam and I thought I’d better show a little on Suzie she might get upset.

I think Suzie’s greatest strength is her out sweep in the Fly. She has a really wide out sweep and a second kick that is really strong. Entry is a very wide out sweep compared to most the butterflyers I have and a very explosive second kick. That skull is very strong. This is why I believe that she swims a 200 so much better now than a 100 because of this length of a stroke — exactly the same as what Sam has. When I tell her to relax and swim Fly she’ll swim just as fast. That is why she splits 60.2 and 60.6 for a 200 Fly when she only goes 60.1 in a 100 and she’s doing it easy. It is because of this underwater is allowed to work. Her technique is then allowed to work. See a nice skull, good in sweep. When Suzie came to me I was astonished. I went to the underground viewing windows and had a look at her stroke and what I saw really shocked me. Her hands were entering right together in the front but her hands actually went through and as they swept in for the in sweep they overlapped. So until they got to a stage they actually went on top of each other like that. So they came in and went on top of each and went through like that. And she had one arm stronger than the other. So I said “Suzie what are you doing that for.” She says “I don’t know.” I took some video, I mean they knew I did it but I didn’t change it. So I said “We’ll change it now.” You know she’s a great athlete and great athletes can change things. Well she hasn’t done it again since that day. But we did find she had a weakness in one arm. One arm was a little weaker than the other from doing that. All that fly by coming in here and then just pushing right through with no grab so she was basically doing one arm fly through the middle part, her most explosive part. So that was one of the simple things that I saw and I think it is important to realize that even elite athletes that we see every day get into some very bad habits and we have to be aware as coaches that to make sure that we do the best job that we possibly can at not allowing that to happen.

So that’s pretty much all I need to cover I think in my program and my preparation of these two fine athletes. If anyone wishes to ask some questions I’ll do my best to answer them.

Question: You had the example of the heart-rate sets with the five 100’s, followed by the 200’s, followed by a 100 easy. What were the intervals on that?

Scott: We use three different intervals. We use the 1:40 cycle, the 1:50 cycle and the 2 minute cycle and that be for 100’s or 200’s — we still use the same cycle. We use whatever cycle that works out to about a 2:1 work rest ratio. On breaststroke we use the two minute cycle the whole time. So if it is 200 it is 4 minutes. If it’s 100, it is 2 minus and if it’s 50 it’s 1 minute. So if we use that cycle the rest period works out to about a 2:1 work rest ratio.

Question: If you’re doing your threshold practice on a Monday morning or your aerobic on a Wednesday afternoon what would your time interval be there?

Scott: The seven 300’s they are done on — I’m not sure what the work rest ratio works out to exactly — but the breaststrokers go on about 5:30, they can go on anywhere from 5:15 to 5:30. The butterflyers go on around a five minute to 5:15 cycle. Freestylers from 4:30 to 4:45. So I think anywhere in that period just to allow enough rest to be able to maintain it. What you are after in that threshold set is to start the first one at threshold. A lot of our swimmers had trouble, so we’re doing seven 300’s to go out bang and hit your first one at threshold. They like to build into a set. If you are going to do a threshold set then you have to do the whole lot at threshold. Otherwise it becomes an aerobic building threshold set. So it is more important to keep an eye on the heart-rate. And we tested with lactates to see if they were doing it as you go. So you keep the risk but you just change the intensity.

Question: What kind of method or device did you use for heart rate monitoring?

Scott: I use generally the Bob Traphine heart-rate monitor which is a box. It has wires come out of it and just drops a checking device into the pool and they pick it up put it on their chest above the water and it comes up on my box. We use those, most of us use those in Australia. Quite a few people use the Polar Bar. Depending on your pool we use the clamp on one. But the girls have a lot of trouble with clamp-ons and the boys have a lot of trouble with the wearing ones. So no system is ideal. What we would like as coaches, I’m sure, is a nice touchpad on top, they stick their hand on and a monitor comes up behind us with their heart rate on it. That would be ideal but I think it is still a fair way off. Maybe we can get one of the gadget guys from out in the back to do it.

I have coached Samantha Riley for the past 8 years and Susan O’Neill for the last 2 years. They are both wonderful young ladies and fantastic role models, who both train extremely hard and have a great deal of intestinal fortitude. Anyone would feel privileged to train them both.

I have spent time analyzing weekly training cycles and intensities with special consideration being taken on the proper utilization of every energy systems and an attempt has been made to train to the maximum intensity without reaching over training. A program of only moderate weekly mileage e.g. 50 klms max is reached by all major sets being done in the PM. with all recovery type work and gym work being done in the AM. with the exception of Monday AM. where a fairly major Anaerobic Threshold set is done. Most afternoon sessions are approx. 5 to 6 klms in length with two AM sessions achieving the same distances and the other three include gym workouts and either a run of up to 7 klms and a I klm swim or a 4 klm swim which would include a solid to hard kick set.

Two afternoon sessions contain what we in Australia call a Heart Rate Set which is a set of about 2 klm in length with the heart rate being kept from 30 below max to maximum. Done on an approx. work / rest ratio of 2 to 1. Some of the sets can be broken up to allow partial recovery so that the greatest amount of speed possible can be generated.

There is a further two PM sessions which have an emphasis on quality or effort training. As it does appear that this energy system only lasts about eight minutes it would be expected that we would do up to 800 meters of all out effort in lengths of 12.5 mts to 200 mts. with expected times being relatively comparative to best times e.g. 2 secs over 50 ; 5 secs over 100. Different stages of the preparation is the main focus for what type of set I would give. e.g. peak lactate, lactate tolerance, lactate production.

One afternoon is used for energy system recovery, and therefore a longish aerobic type session is done, being careful not to stress the same energy systems which we have used in the preceding two days. Heart rate monitoring is essential during these sets a to make sure the correct energy system is being used.

All other sessions are filled with aerobic, skill and drill work, with a mixture of use of fins and other aids. Stroke drills and speed drills are used during every session with them both at some time being used in the main sets.

TEST SETS. I use a 7 x 200 descend set with heart rate and lactate to come up with training times, cycles, and heart rates, for all different types of sets.

6 x 50 descend set measuring stroke count, distance per stroke, and stroke rate and then work out from this the most efficient way to swim. e.g. Sam Riley must use a stroke rate of 49 s.p.m. to be efficient and fast over 100 m and a rate of 40 to 42 over the 200.

4 x 50 descend on 1:30. This is a test I use daily during the taper to keep an eye on the progress of the recovery in respect of the stroke rate verses the distance per stroke. It is done by plotting the time against the stroke rate at the same position during ever lap

As I have already mentioned my training methodology comes from the idea of using the energy systems to their maximum without overtraining occurring. I CALL THIS LIVING ON THE EDGE. I use these simple guide lines when I make up my weekly cycle. The high lactate (Anaerobic ) system which I call quality will only have enough energy to last approx. 8 mins, therefore roughly about 800 m of max work is available, but will take up to 3 days to replenish. The work done at the next level down which is slightly above the anaerobic threshold will last for approx. 20 to 40 min of max work and then need 48 hours over recovery time, before reusage. The Aerobic system will last for 2 hours before becoming depleted with the recovery time being much shorter approx. 24 hours dependent upon food intake. And the other system the ATP-PC, as we know this will restore very quickly dependent upon the volume of usage.

So as I work out my weekly cycle I take all of these factors into account so I do not use the same system twice before most of the regeneration period has be completed.

It is my belief that happiness, hard work and belief are the key ingredients for the making of a great swimmer. With the importance of a scientifically based program also being of great significance. I think that the coach must have these components in their make up: personality stability, happiness, self discipline, compassion, motivation, knowledge, willingness to learn, ability to think, flexibility of thinking and many more. But most of all have “DREAMS AND GOALS.” Best wishes and good luck.

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