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Weight Lifting must continue during taper and athletic peaking

If you lift you must taper lifting also. Do not stop lifting or the benefits of your cross training will be lost.  You must work on speed while continuing to gain strength. The Faster Swimming coach’s guide shows an exact practice schedule for lifting during taper as well as detailed dryland workouts during this crucial phase. 

If you need help tailoring your program please email me @ [email protected]

Athletic Peaking

Athletic peaking, when you are in top shape, results in your best performances of the season. At this time fitness is at the highest level, while fatigue is at the lowest. This is the one time of the season that fatigue should in no way mask fitness. Your peak occurs when you are ready to perform at your best physically (fitness, skills, reactions…) and psychologically (strategy, focus, intent…). Peaking for sport is no accident, but rather the culmination of training, competitions, tactics and regeneration that has been planned for. 

A peaking period can be as long as several weeks or as short as several days, so defining your peaking period and planning accordingly is critical. No new stimuli of any significant intensity should be introduced at this time, and training methods (psychological, physical, and technical) must be specific to the demands of competition. Complete regeneration of all required physical capacities; such as speed, strength, and power; is paramount. These levels should all be at their highest during a peaking phase. While volume most often drops significantly and rest periods increase during a taper, some portion of training intensity MUST remain high to facilitate peak performances. To maintain an extended peak, appropriate intensity must remain in your training at some level throughout the peaking period. 

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Taper Swim Workouts shouldn’t be easy and require QUALITY!

The Taper phase used by Faster Swimming is a 7 week process.

Get the exact workouts needed in our 23-week program.

Below is workout #105 of #113 that lead to Championships: 

Day #105 

Another meet warm up: 

600 choice swim @ 70% 

6 x 100 choice 50 kick / 50 swim :15 rest 

6 x 75 choice #1-3 kick / swim / kick by 25, #4-6 swim / kick / swim by 25 :15 rest 

6 x 50 swim take heart rate then :10 rest 
#1-3 heart rate above 25 for 10 seconds, #4 easy, 
#5-6 heart rate above 30 for 10 seconds 

5 x 75 recovery swim on 1:10 

Set #1 SKILLS spend 10 – 15 minutes on each 

1. reaction drills 
2. starts and relay starts 
3. turns, finishes and walls into and off turns 

Set #2 
6 x 25 swim @ 100 RP or 200 RP rest appropriate to hold pace 
( or 2 x 100 @ 500 RP) 

6 x 75 recovery swim on 1:10 

2 x 100 choice kick :15 rest 
1st 25 alternate 5 fast kicks / 6 slow kicks, last 75 @ 70% 

4 x 25 kick #1-2 build to sprint, #3-4 @ 70% 

6 x 75 recovery swim on 1:10 

Total yardage = 3,725 

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A Problem with College Swimming

I would like to discuss observations I have seen over the years as my High School swimmers attend and swim for Universities across the country. There are a lot of variables that affect performance for athletes as they move away from home and adjust to College life but there is no way that a majority of the athletes should get weaker and slower.

How can this happen?

First, I feel that most College coaches don’t care or inquire how an athlete trained previously or how they achieved their results. What makes that athlete tick physically and mentally? Wouldn’t you want to know what works – and shouldn’t they? Wouldn’t this save time getting to know the athlete? This seems like common sense to me. Are the egos of the collegiate coaches so large that they think they know it all? Does every College coach win their Conference?

Secondly, I feel that most College coaches don’t understand weight training and total body strength. You are training an athlete, not just a swimmer, and there isn’t a difference. Strength is strength and you need it to enable speed and power in the water. Strength training reduces injury and is essential. All of my swimmers have returned by their first college break weaker and by the end of their first college year have regressed many years in strength gains.

Third point, I feel that many collegiate coaches think that yardage is the main training formula. If you train your athlete at slow speeds for long periods of time you are training them to swim slowly. Training speed equals performance speed. This is one of the main training philosophies of Faster Swimming.

On a side note: A lot of talented athletes go by the wayside since most college coaches won’t take the time to figure out how best to train individual swimmers. There are many that still believe one formula works for all. Collegiate coaches are mandated to win and if they just take the time to understand each swimmer in their program they would succeed. This leads me to my next topic to discuss in a future newsletter. The recruiting of foreign swimmers that take scholarships from our American swimmers – especially boys – so the team can win. This shouldn’t be allowed! I know that the foreign swimmers are older, hence more mature, and this makes it easier for coaches.

All of these programs have a significant increase in yardage and loss of strength for all swimmers. There is a common theme of feedback from the swimmers about the collegiate programs and that is “mechanics aren’t important”. It is obvious when they return to train in the summer.

Here are the results of just a few of our past club swimmers and where they are swimming. (See attachment for results) University of Cincinnati, Louisville, Akron, Notre Dame College, Kenyon, Maryland, Duke, Princeton, Columbia, University of Notre Dame, Illinois Tech, Boston College, Findlay, Missouri, Kentucky just to name the most recent.

And a side note from Coach Coffman:

I don’t want to rant… well, maybe I do, but I’ll try not to – but the fact that many of these athletes returning from college have no indicators as to how strong they are is ludicrous to me. The main factor for strength training is maximal strength (1 rep max – or for the faint of heart, a 3 rep max). Maximal strength has a direct correlation to every other type of strength. Improving maximal strength leads to the ability to produce more force PERIOD – whether that force is low velocity or high velocity and whether that force is short duration or long duration. Maximal strength is also correlated best with improved durability (e.g. less repetitive injuries!). I feel it is lazy thinking (or no thinking?) that leads many to believe that they can create a better overall athlete while allowing for less maximal strength (which then leads DIRECTLY to a lessened ability to produce – and then apply – force…!!!). As far as dryland training goes, strength, conditioning, and speed are the top factors in faster swimming. Successful programming should be set up so that all 3 qualities improve over the course of the year and season. The fact that most of our former HS athletes come back from college far weaker (and many times actually devote more time to dryland at college…!) is sad, and I think an indication of poor programming. 

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Deck-Based Dryland

The main goal of deck-based dryland (or simply “dryland”) within this program is to increase the overall density of work performed and to increase general working capacities. Another term for this is GPP, or General Physical Preparedness. A high level of GPP will not only increase general fitness, but help facilitate recovery from swim and weight training and, in all, bring your ability to train in the water to a higher level. Increasing your GPP will lead to faster swimming!

Multiple qualities can be addressed with a well designed dryland program. Overall GPP can be enhanced through improvements in energy system efficiency, strength (general and core), power output, mobility, flexibility and balance. The goal of this program is not to lay out a cookie-cutter, year-long program, but to give an idea of how to set up dryland work, how to improve some of the basic qualities of GPP, and some general guidelines to evaluate dryland abilities and progression. Dryland workout examples are included, as is a full 7-week dryland taper program.

An individual dryland training session will include an active warm-up, the work sets of the day, and a cool-down including active and passive stretching. Most weeks will consist of two lifting workouts. Micro and meso cycles are less important in dryland (than in weight lifting) as GPP can be incorporated at the levels presented here throughout a season. Instead of back-off weeks, dryland training includes test weeks. General qualities can be tested with the exercises listed, and ideal test values are listed, as are specific test workouts. If there is an exercise that is difficult to reach specific test values for (especially the first, easiest test), it is suggested that this exercise (or a variant) be placed first in subsequent workouts. Front-loading is another term to describe this; placing the weakest link of dryland ability first in a workout so that it can be trained in a fresh state.

Other than the planned training session itself, you need very little to perform effective dryland work. A willingness to perform the work as indicated is obviously the most important thing to bring to any training session. For dryland training, additionally you will want comfortable clothing that is easy to move in, workout shoes, an exercise mat and/or towel, and a full water bottle. Effective dryland work can be accomplished with none of the above, but having most or all of these items will make the workout more comfortable. An index card with the full workout written on it is also easy to take to the pool and make notations as necessary. An additional item that you may want for dryland work is a medicine ball. Any med ball, bouncy or “dead”, from six pounds to ten pounds (depending on your strength levels) will work. A med ball can be used in conjunction with many exercises to make work more challenging and can be a great addition to improve core strength and power development. You can lift it, throw it, carry it, bend with it, twist with it, hold it close, hold it away, balance on it (cautiously), and use it to augment almost any movement pattern. If you have only one piece of exercise equipment for dryland or at home, it should be a medicine ball.

GPP, as defined above, is heightened with all that we do in dryland training. If we improve any of the following qualities, we improve our GPP. Increased dryland ability = improved GPP = faster swimming. Broad definitions of some general work qualities follow.

Energy System- The focus here is on using a large amount of our musculature to produce work. Basic work sets move to longer sets, and then to more dense work. Heavy breathing and a lot of sweat are the norm. Rest intervals vary from half to double the amount of time worked (2:1 to 1:2 work-to-rest ratio).

Strength- The focus here is on improving relative strength, or the ability to move one’s own body. Basic sets move to multiple, short sets, and gradually progress to longer sets with increased density and or intensity. Rest intervals can vary greatly here, but are generally short (1:1 or less).

Core- Improving static, dynamic, and rotational strength in the core of the body (the trunk, or top of the neck to bottom of the hips). Sets can vary, and core work should always be included liberally within a given workout. Rest intervals are very short (4:1 or less).

Power- Increasing the rate and magnitude of force production is the focus here. Short, multiple sets will gradually progress to longer, more dense multiple sets. Rest intervals are usually longer here to facilitate nervous system recovery (1:2 or greater).

Mobility- Increasing the body’s ability to move efficiently through a full range of motion is the focus here. This quality is improved with increased exercise ablility (as we move through a full range of motion in many planes), and with active and passive flexibility work included at the end of each workout.

Now that the list of GPP qualities is defined, it is important to note that the specific qualities trained in a given session are less important than simply putting in work at an increasing density and/or intensity to enhance GPP. Similar to the weight lifting program, a focus on improving movement quality is the goal. What those movements are accomplishing other than work is a secondary concern. In any given workout the focus should be on the movements and their parameters.

Why do we train some qualities (i.e. energy system work) in dryland when we can train many of these same qualities in the pool? The best answer is: to avoid over-training in the pool. Including an effective dryland (and weight training) program with a swim training program can help avoid over-use injuries and staleness. A variation in effective training means such as this will lead to higher levels of GPP and increased swim training tolerance and efficiency. Running can also be introduced into dryland training. Short sprints, hill sprints and running stairs can all constitute energy system and/or power work. If shorter efforts (i.e. sprint 3 x (8 x 40m on :25)) are utilized, place this after the regular warm-up (be sure to include lower-body work in this warm-up!) and before any work sets. Count efforts as energy system work if shorter intervals are used (as above), and as power work if more total rest is taken throughout (i.e. sprint 6 x 80m on 3:00 send-offs). If longer running workouts (more than 30 minutes) are part of your training, it is advised that you drop a dryland workout in its favor, or (less commonly) drop a weight lifting workout. This will allow for the recovery needed to accentuate your swim training. Tri-athletes and multisport athletes should gauge volume and intensity for total work (all sports/workouts) performed first, and then plan individual (sport) workouts based on this information. To realize swim performance improvements the total workload must be judged appropriately.

Design your program now. Get more information in the Cross Training book and /or the back chapters of the Faster Swimming book.

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Speed – A Primer

Speed determines the victor in the sport of swimming. Whoever touches the wall first wins, regardless of technique differences, fitness, strength, mental toughness, or whatever. Speed wins.

So how do we improve speed? We swim fast(er). Often. And when full efforts don’t produce the speed we are looking for in the water, we slow down or shut it down. Why? Two reasons… Number one is technique. If you push harder and harder, technique can begin to fall apart. We don’t want to reinforce sloppy swim habits – especially at or near full speed, whatever the stroke or distance. Technique is ingrained and imprinted through repetition – specifically repetition at a given intensity or speed – by the nervous system. So we want to repeat the good – not the bad and the ugly.

Which brings us right to the doorstep of reason #2 – the nervous system. The nervous system controls our movements (coordination) and helps create speed (through impulse). Many confuse energy-system work (bio-chemical reactions & efficiencies) with nervous-system work (maximal speed and control of motion). They are tied together, of course, but to understand the difference and apply this understanding to your training is the key. It is the difference between a great practice swimmer and a great competitor. Ideally we strive to find the perfect balance between these two, and when in doubt we (Faster Swimming) err on the side of “Less is more” – sparing both technique and nervous system fatigue. We live to fight another day.

Speed can also be trained and transferred to swim performance (to some degree) through dryland and strength training. General Physical Preparedness (or GPP) can be trained in part through dryland. If you simply put in some work with dryland training you may have some carry-over to swim performance, but the correlations will be low. However, if your dryland training includes standards that account for speed of movement (volume per time) your correlation to faster swimming will be much higher. This is training the acceleration (speed) end of the F=m x a curve.

GPP can also be trained in part through weight lifting. Improving strength with weight lifting works the mass end of the F=m x a curve, and should be approached with a “controlled speed” technique to exploit nervous-system efficiency and sport carry-over. The saying “Train fast to be fast” comes to mind as I write all of this and applies not only specifically (to swimming) but generally (to dryland and lifting) because your nervous system controls it all!

This is simply a primer, and needless to say there is much more to discuss about how and why certain training can be not only more effective but also more efficient in creating race speed. Ever wonder why different athletes/teams taper so differently/better/worse? I would look to the nervous system for most answers (fatigue, efficiency, readiness…). I will leave you now with a final thought. I have always believed athletes are physically trained and (therefore) mentally tough. If your training involves pushing the pain barrier repeatedly at sub-maximal speeds, does that make you better physically trained or mentally tougher than training at near or maximal speed with less fatigue?

Which makes a better competitor – the ability to produce maximal speed or the ability to endure pain repeatedly? And then do you apply your thinking to your actual training – both in the water and out?!?

If you have any thoughts on the topic of speed, I welcome any and all comments on our blog, on Facebook, or shoot me an email. And thanks for reading.

Design your program now. Get more information in the Crosstraining book and /or the back chapters of the Faster Swimming book

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Swim Readiness – General to Specific, Volume and Intensity

Starting a season off appropriately, with long-term success in mind, requires the understanding and application of some basic principles. Many coaches want to jump right in and get to specific and intense training – and I think a better approach is to build into these variables. Following a principle-based system allows for success throughout the season, and helps avoid staleness and injuries.

General to Specific

For both swimming and dryland (strength and conditioning) a general to specific approach is best. Introducing and then training general concepts allows athletes to get a handle on the basics of whatever you are trying to teach, and helps the athlete build toward more specific adaptations.

For example, with swimming we generally work on lactate tolerance by introducing short Tabata intervals early in the season (ex. 8 x 25 free on :25, all out efforts, 1 to 2 sets), and build to more specific lactate work as the season progresses (ex. 1 x 200 @ 85% speed on 3:00 into 1 x 75 @ 100% effort on 3:00 into 8 x 50 @ 200 race pace on 1:00, choice of stroke). We generally prepare them for lactate work with short, easily manageable sets that are generally challenging, and progress to more specific lactate tolerance work at specific distances and paces. Generally working on lactate tolerance at the start of the season allows our athletes the ability to adapt and excel at specific lactate tolerance at the end of the season.

Volume and Intensity

Again, for both swimming and dryland (strength and conditioning) we move along a continuum of total work expressed in volume and intensity. Simplified, we move up in volume to start the season, then move up in intensity while basically maintaining volume through mid-season, and then move down in volume and still increase intensity (with more rest) for our peaking phase. Volume and Intensity must be accounted for in order to plan your season and have your athletes hit their peak when you want them to!

For example, with dryland (strength and conditioning) we generally include multiple short sets of moderate intensity (ex. 10 x 10 push-ups). Again – simplified, we would move to a higher volume (ex. 4x (5 x 15) push-ups), and then to higher intensity (ex. 4x (5 x 10) push-ups with 1st 5 reps of each set clap push-ups), and then to lower volume and yet higher intensity (ex. 4x (3 x 8) all clap push-ups). The move from moderate volume, a build in intensity, and then lowered volume with higher intensity allows the building of a foundation (or base) and from that position we increase intensity safely and effectively.

Intensity is our specific goal, as it relates directly to our desired outcome of effectiveness – performance (swim times, lifting max, and conditioning standards) AND we get there by following the above principles… General to Specific methods with planned Volume and Intensity training variables. Swim readiness begins with basic training principles, and followed to their conclusion results in our specific, highest intensity goal – Faster Swimming!

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Seasonal Dryland Considerations – Part 2

Below are some of the considerations that we take into account for our Dryland programming:

Separate swimming and dryland sessions as much as feasible, ideally separated by more than four hours.  If separated by less than two hours, swim first.

Dryland should most often follow the order of skill work, speed work, strength work, and then conditioning work.  We usually warm up, lift skill and/or explosive lifts (Power Clean, DB Snatch), move to strength work (Bench, Squat), and then to conditioning and deck-based dryland.

Rest between sets is largely determined by the purpose of our work.  If more Energy-System based (Conditioning), less rest between sets is the norm, if more Nervous-System based (very fast and/or very heavy work), more rest between sets is the norm.

Testing should occur regularly in pre-season and post-season, and occasionally in-season. 

– We test conditioning the first week of pre-season and usually the second week of in-season in order to get a handle on our strengths and weaknesses and adjust workouts from there.

– We test lifting the third week of pre-season, near the middle of our in-season, and sometimes test one or two lifts as we approach our peaking phase (late in-season).  We test 1rm and use given percentages for our lifts more and more as the season progresses, and especially use percentages while peaking.

Use established standards to test performance.  We test our main exercises to ensure not only individual progress (increasing individual test values) but appropriate progress across parameters in regard to established general values (our Athletic and Elite standards for both Strength and Conditioning).

Reduce the demands of the dryland program greatly at least once in-season.  We usually do this headed into an important meet mid-season sometime.  This enhanced back-off week allows some insight into what we might need to adjust headed into our peak at the end of the season and allows consolidation of general training gains to that point in the season.  This is a planned back-off week in place of a planned lower-volume week that we cycle through regularly (3 up, 1 down).

Gradually move from more energy-system based work toward more nervous-system based work as the season progresses.  This allows general energy-system fitness to be at a high level as we transition to a peak and higher nervous-system fitness.  This general energy and nervous system fitness then leads us to specific swim fitness and to our peak.

Drop heavy and or fatiguing leg work one to two weeks prior to the peaking phase.  Kicking is important to swim performance and we have found that backing off of intense and/or fatiguing leg work (squats, heavy Deadlifts, high rep jumps, etc) as we head into our peaking phase allows for better kicking.

Every tested metric should be at or very near maximum values during the peaking phase.  For this reason we lift throughout our peaking phase, dropping volume the last month +/- and maintaining or even increasing intensity (usually moving from 80% of 1rm on Power Cleans to 85%+ throughout our peaking phase, for example) while focusing on acceleration.

The swimmers should focus on peaking their abilities as we move into and through the peaking phase.  I have consciously omitted the word “taper” as I feel it allows the athletes to focus on something outside of themselves (a process) and perhaps has a connotation of “ease” or “easier.”  I want them to only focus on peaking their abilities at the end of the season, whatever that requires of them.

Much like any sport’s seasonal plan, our Strength and Conditioning program is divided into phases (as illustrated in the table and alluded to in the above considerations).  Within the framework of these general training blocks (monthly blocks +/-, or mesocycles) we adjust weekly (microcycles) and sessions (both swim and dryland) according to our capacities first, and our needs second.  Addressing what you or your teams are capable of first and then moving on to what needs can be addressed within current capabilities (time available, fitness/fatigue levels, etc) is foundational to lasting progress.  The ability to adjust planning so that athletes continue to adapt favorably to training is key to peaking when planned.  Our general plan is durable (has stood up well season after season) and our specific plan is adaptable (allowing for adjustments as necessary) within this framework.

– Coach John Coffman

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Seasonal Dryland Considerations – Part 1

Dryland is an integral part of our swim training. A solid dryland program allows our swimmers to produce more Force and to have increased Power (capacity). Perhaps just as important, Dryland provides our swimmers with a solid foundation of both durability and adaptability that can be relied upon in the pool. For the sake of clarity, we divide “Dryland” into two separate categories – Strength and Conditioning. For the “Strength” component we strive to exploit the Force curve (F = m x a, Force = mass times acceleration) and most often focus on lifting heavy and/or lifting fast. For the “Conditioning” component we strive to exploit the Power formula (P = w/t, Power = work over time) and focus most of our deck-based (body weight/med ball/etc) conditioning on timed sets with rep goals per set (work per time). Time-based training not only allows us to work together as a team, but also allows us to complete all of the training we want to accomplish in a given window of time. We do combine our training at times and do timed sets that have us lifting at a given % with a rep goal, combined with fast body weight movements… and this training is brutal and confined mostly to Pre-Season training and perhaps the focus of a later article.

A quick note before we get to the meat of this article… We introduce dryland into our club practices early in our swimmers programming, starting with one day per week of deck-based dryland for our middle group (age 10 +/-), progress them to 2 days per week, and then gradually add in lifting components as they move from Middle School to High School. Separating swimming and dryland workouts matters less at the lower levels, and we get dryland sessions in wherever they fit best for any not yet in HS. By the time our swimmers are in High School, it is our goal to have them know what is expected of them and to be able to progress toward team standards in both Strength and Conditioning.

The following table illustrates a typical HS Club season template for our Strength and Conditioning program. The general timeline in the heading row can be reduced for a shorter HS season, or expanded for a somewhat longer college season. As well, you could have post-season running directly into pre-season (overlap) and attempt a double-peak in one year if your season’s timing allows. We account for our work through the Power and Force equations, using work and time (time-based training) for most of our conditioning, and using mass and/or acceleration for most of our lifting. We adjust volume and intensity within the framework below, gradually increasing volume first and then gradually increasing intensity as we drop volume – the base of which is largely accounted for in the table below. Again, we lift both heavy and fast (both ends of the Force curve) year-round. There is rarely, if ever, a dryland session that does not include speed in either lifting or conditioning, or both. We will define our parameters as follows:

WorkTotal Reps, Reps per Set

TimeTotal Time, Time per Set

Mass% of 1rm (one rep max)

Acceleration Speed of the concentric phase of lift(s)