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Peaking Pointers for Coaches

As we approach peaking season for our swimmers we want to keep the focus on process, not outcome, just as we should for the majority of the season.  Below are some basic points of reference for coaches to keep in mind no matter what the level of our swimmers.  Swimmers, just like any other athletes, can get a little skittish as we near the big meets of the season, and we can help them be confident in our programming by being able to explain our programming.

We should be training race speed, maintaining conditioning

We judge swimming competition by who touches the wall first, not who has the prettiest technique.  That is not to say that we want to toss technique by the wayside, but to say that we want to practice our technique as best we can at race speeds.  This goes for stroke technique, starts, underwaters, breakouts – everything.  Full speed training also requires a rest period that is long enough to hold speed for whatever repeats you are doing for a given set.  As we get closer and closer to big meets these rest periods should increase between hard efforts so that all of our swimmers can have their true fitness levels fully unmasked from their fatigue levels.

Our upper-level groups generally go by a Hi/Lo system per training week as we roll through our peaking phase.  Hi intensity days have us training goal race pace (100 or 200) for short intervals (ex 6×50 @ 200 goal rp on 1:00).  We focus on time, pace and tempo more than anything on these days.  Lo intensity days have us maintaining our aerobic base and working on skills at speed for short distances and plenty of rest.  We tend to then alternate Hi/Lo workouts, and if it looks like anyone needs more recovery, we give it to them!  For instance, this week we had Sunday as a Hi intensity effort day, Monday as a Lo aerobic and skills day, Tuesday as a Hi intensity sprint/distance day, Wed as a Lo aerobic and skills day, Thursday will be a Hi intensity sprint day (with lots of rest), Friday will be Lo aerobic and skills day for pre-meet and then we have HS tournament swim competitions on Saturday.

Sharpening skills, not just doing drills 

Drills have their place in training, largely early on in the season and then as a reminder of technique as we move through the season.  At the end of the season we should all be helping our swimmers sharpen their skill sets so that they can perform on race day.  This often requires more work at short distances, at full speed or close to it.  Always remember that drills are a conduit to skills and only serve the purpose of fulfilling a need, and that the end of the season is the time to sharpen our current skill sets most importantly.

Physically strong, mentally tough

Maximal strength is the base of all other types of physical strength, and as we near our peaking phase we want to maintain maximal strength and train speed-strength.  We want to maintain our strength so that we can continue to pull as much water as possible, to remain as durable (and injury-free) as possible, and to be at our strongest ever on race day.  As we enter our peaking phase we also want to reinforce and train speed-strength, which we do by using fast lifts, quick dryland movements, and some reactive med ball work.  Maintaining our general strength abilities while training our nervous system to become more reactive for our biggest meets is something that most teams do not do, but imo all teams should do.

Along with physical strength we must also reinforce mental strength & toughness for our swimmers.  Coaches are a conduit for our swimmers mental strategies by giving solid & direct race plans, by being encouraging in regard to competition and racing, and by helping swimmers hone their skill sets, tempo and pacing so that their biggest races can come together more easily at the biggest meets.  We want our swimmers to go after their races with determination(!) and to respect but never fear their competitors.  Swimmers should again focus on the process (competing) rather than the outcome (times), and if a swimmer is ready and geared up for a tough race, their best times will come.  Top competitors also do all that is required in regard to warm up and cool down consistently to achieve a consistently high performance level, and this is a typical habit of the mentally tough.

Pay attention to what the swimmers are telling you!

I don’t only mean what the swimmers are actually saying, but what their bodies are telling you perhaps more than their words.  As mentioned above, some swimmers will need a little more rest than others and that should be accounted for at practices leading into big meets.  If a swimmer’s stroke looks sluggish, maybe give them a tempo trainer, and if that does not help maybe let them do every-other rep of whatever the set may be.  If their kick is looking slow and their legs are tired let them pull some or all of a set.  Be willing to make individual adjustments at the end of the season to help each of our swimmers consolidate the gains from all of their hard work this season.  Sometimes just a little added rest at the end of a long season of hard training can make a difference.  An old saying that I have always liked is “The hay is in the barn,” which for swimming means the majority of hard efforts are through, and now it is time to hone our speed and skills so that we can compete at our highest possible level at our biggest meet(s) of the season.

We want all of our swimmers to reap the rewards from what they have earned by way of their hard, consistent efforts this season.  The real magic ending to any season comes by way of these season-long, hard, consistent efforts – and it is up to us as coaches to enable this magic to happen as much as we are able to at the end of each season.  Please keep the above ideas in mind as you structure your practices and speak to your swimmers, be positive at meets no matter what the outcome, and, especially at end of the season meets – just as we want our swimmers to do – please Have Fun, Learn, and Compete (well, at least be in a competitive mindset : )

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Complexes Strength AND Conditioning with weights

Complexes are several exercises performed in a row, with no break in between. Complexes are really just extended super-sets where you don’t put down the bar or DB’s until you are through. A short example would be a row – clean – press – squat… 2 x 8, where you’d do 8 reps of rows, then 8 reps of cleans, then 8 reps of presses, then 8 reps of squats. Take a short break (1-3 min.+/-), and then repeat for set #2.

Barbell (BB) or Dumbbell (DB) complexes can be used to increase work capacity, improve total-body and core strength, and blast fat off of your entire body. Complexes might also make you feel like you’ll puke, and they for SURE will improve your athleticism. You don’t need a ton of weight to get a good effect, and you can use just about anything to do a complex with. General guidelines for weights to use would be 35 – 75 lbs. for ladies and 65- 105 lbs. for guys, and you can obviously adjust this up or down as needed. You can do complexes with a BB or DB’s, with a med ball, with a 45 lb. plate, or even with a suitcase or a cinder block! Whatever is available can work.

One of the keys to complexes, as with any resistance work, is to continually progress… so add weight, add reps, decrease rest between sets, and/or move faster through the complex in order to continually progress! Complexes are meant to be a hard effort, so if it feels easy, add progression(s)!!

At the end of a workout 1 or 2 complexes are plenty, and if complexes are your main workout, 4 to 6 total sets are the norm. Doing 6 or more complexes in a single workout is hard. Some example sets are listed below, and by all means, be creative and make up some of your own sets. And remember, you won’t be putting the bar down if you do these correctly, so a little chalk might be a good idea.

Good Luck!

UFC Complex – 6 to 8 reps each

Bent Rows
High Pulls
Standing Press
Ski Squat
Lunge
Squat & Press
Stiff-leg Deadlift

WWF Complex – 6 to 8 reps each

Snatch
Front Squat
Power Clean
Back Squat
Push Press
Stiff-leg Deadlift
Hang Clean & Jerk

Swim Complex – 8 to 10 reps each

Bent Row
Hang Clean
Front Squat & Push Press
Good Morning
Ski Squat

Track Complex – 6 to 8 reps each

Stiff-leg Deadlift
Hang Clean & Front Squat & Push Press
Step-back Lunge
Bent Row
Un-weighted Jumps

Jumpers Complex – 6 to 8 reps each

Stiff-leg Deadlift
High Pull
Clean & Squat
Standing Press
Un-weighted Jump Lunge
Un-weighted Jumps

Legs & Shoulders Complex – 6 to 8 reps each

Un-weighted Jumps
Squat
Squat with :10 pause at the bottom (ouch!)
Standing Press
Push Press
Front Squat & Press

Pull Better Complex – 6 to 8 reps each

Stiff-leg Deadlift
Deadlift
Power Clean
Front Squat
Push Press
Back Squat
Good Morning

Speed Complex – 6 to 8 reps each

Snatch-grip Deadlift
Snatch-grip High Pull
Clean
Step-back Lunge
Push Jerk (split)
Un-weighted Jumps

Now be creative and make up some of your own below.

 

Name it:_______________________

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

etc..

Name it:_______________________

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

  • by John Coffman, FasterSwimming.com Contributing Writer 
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How Strong is Strong Enough?

There are many types of measurable strength – maximal strength, speed-strength, strength endurance, relative strength, starting strength, etc, etc. – that can factor into your sport performance abilities. Training with weights or heavy objects is not the end-goal of too many sports; Power lifting, Olympic lifting, and Strongman being the main exceptions. Training with weights CAN, however, provide protection from injury, allow a greater display of force and/or speed in your sport performance, and improve your general conditioning (GPP) and work capacity. All of these factors lead to improved sport results, and can be improved upon through weight training.

So how do you best fit this into your sport training? Well, we’ve written a book on this and it’s included in the Faster Swimming Manual, so the following description is basic…Our Training recommendations involve lifting heavy weights, lifting moderate weights explosively, and lifting moderate weights for higher repetitions. Heavy lifting increases maximal and starting strength; explosive lifting increases speed-strength and force production; repletion lifting increases strength endurance and work capacity. Relative strength is your strength level in relation to your own body and is addressed in our program in the weight room (pull-ups, dips, hanging leg raise, etc) and in the dryland program – which also focuses on strength endurance, core strength, and to an even greater degree on work capacity and active range of movement. All of these methods will lead to some degree of muscle gain (hypertrophy) which further increases your capacity to produce useable force in your sport. One of the basic principles at work within all of this is that of progressive overload; you must continually and progressively increase loads (poundage and/or speed) to adapt to a higher level.

Injury prevention can also be addressed with weight training. Training with weights in a balanced program will lead to greater overall body-strength and control, which leads to more efficient and coordinated movement which leads to fewer injuries. Specific injury-prone areas for a given sport can also be addressed and strengthened as needed. Using swimming as an example, the shoulders are a frequent site of injury. Injury prevention can be addressed through specific exercises (Cuban press, faces pull, pull-ups, rack pull-ups, pullovers, etc) and through repetition and movement work with bands (internal/external rotation, distraction, etc.).

All of this can be fit into brief (around 1 hour) workouts, done 2-4x per week, to increase your durability and sport performance – which you can learn more about here (link).

So, back to the original question – How strong is “strong enough”? As long as weight training is not interfering with sport practice and/or competition, it is our view that you can always improve performance by getting stronger. Again – the end-goal is increased performance in your sport, and being able to display more force and speed while lessening your chance of injury will lead to this. Combine this type of weight training with appropriate and balanced sport training and you are on your way to improved performance!!

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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.

  • by John Coffman, FasterSwimming.com Contributing Writer
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Weightlifting Guidelines for Swimmers

These guidelines are taken from Section 8 of Faster Swimming. You can also purchase the Cross Training section from Faster Swimming here:

1. When the core of your training is aerobic you don’t need to lift aerobically. Lift for speed and strength.

2. Flexibility work is key especially after lifting. Stretching after lifting increases blood flow which aids in recovery. You must maintain your flexibility for swimming and retain full range of motion.

3. Large, compound, multi-joint exercises (i.e. the deadlift) should go first in a weight training program designed to improve athletic performance

4. Lift for improved performance, not to induce soreness. Unnecessary soreness will not only hinder general recovery but reduce power and speed in the water.

5. Maintain bar speed throughout your lifting.

6. Lifting is for total body strength, improved nervous system function and increased power and speed. Lifting must compliment your swim training and will improve your swimming performance.

7. Do not lift to muscular failure. It is old school to lift aerobically if you train 2-6 hours a day aerobically in the pool. You eventually reach an aerobic threshold and then the rest of your training is useless.

8.  Distance swimmers will gain speed and power from lifting. Lifting as prescribed here is a great form of cross training that will not only help your power and speed but help in recovery from all your slow twitch swim work.

9. You must remember the key ingredient to this whole program is based on training for the exact event. Lifting for speed and strength should be the basis of any lifting program. Most coaches don’t understand how weight lifting, body strength, speed and power work to help swimmers.

10. Weight lifting is one dryland component of swim training. Deck-based dryland, active stretching, yoga or any exercise regime that increases whole-body strength can be included in your complete training program.

11. Each person has a certain muscle make-up that helps pre-determine success for particular events and if a coach doesn’t try to recognize individual differences then true success or full potential will never be known. In short there are fast twitch and slow twitch muscles in everyone and each person has a different percentage.

12.  I have had a handful of swimmers that came from programs that over-trained and were in excellent aerobic shape but had no speed and power or ever trained for specific events. It took about 6-8 months to get these swimmers to train with speed and power (quality for each event). This can be accomplished through weightlifting.

13. Kicking drives speed and power comes from dryland. This needs to be a larger part of practice. Add slow controlled kicking while using correct body position without kickboards as an alternate way to kick in practice.

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Weightlifting for Swimmers – Example

Here is a recent swim team lifting workout. We are in a building phase, so we’re spending a little more time in the weight room right now (hence the total time and volume). This should take a little over an hour – there are no max or even near-max lifts here, so rest between sets – exercises should be brief. This follows the FasterSwimming workout plan and incorporates an extra effort exercise (push and total-body/pull) and a split speed exercise selection (push and pull).

Warm up as indicated, and include active and passive stretching (mobility) at the end (we did some stability, too!).

Warm up – 8 min

2 x 10 Hanging Leg Raises (pikes or tucks)

2 x 10 Overhead Squats (go deep)

Effort – 25 min

5 x 8 Bench press – slightly narrow grip (not on smooth)
two or three work-up sets for bench

5 x 8 DB Deadlift + shrug 2x at top of each dead
Chin up, butt down

Speed – 12 min

5 x 3 Push Press – light weight (speed…)

8 x 3 Pull ups – pull up fast & go down low

Density – 10 min

3 x 8 Mountain (15) and DB Snatch
Light DB’s – 15 Mountains @ bottom of each snatch
They should get thru each set quickly here taking time between sets
Again, chin up, butt down when snatching

Extra – 8 min

2 x 10 Cuban press – light & controlled
3 x 25 Push ups

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Question re: Weightlifting for High School Swimmers

Q
I’ve had a chance to look over your ebook. I’m very impressed but have a question regarding the weightlifting section. My son is 5′ 3″ and weighs 111 pounds. He will be a 10th grader and is obviously small for his age. Should he be doing the weight lifting considering his size and his age? If so, 1-2 times a week or every other day?

A
The focus is definitely not on power lifting and won’t stunt his growth. I have all my freshman swimmers lifting once to twice a week for maybe 45 minutes each session. Lifting every other day is fine alternating either upper and lower body work-out by days or sets. You could lift twice a week and do dryland on the third day, then the following week switch to two dryland days and one weight lifting. Keep me updated with his progress.

Q
My son swims the 50 free, 100 breast and is on 2 relay teams. The coach is having them lift 3 sets of 10 with moderate to heavy weights. My son says he can lift the first 2 sets without problem. When he gets to the 3rd set he has difficulty lifting rep 8, 9 & 10. Is this consistent with your coaching or is this type of lifting going to hurt him? He is a sophomore, weighs 115 and is 5’5”. From what I read in your book he should maintain his speed throughout all sets. Is this correct and does he need to lower his amount of weights per station?

A
Your son should be able to maintain the speed on the third set and if the last few reps are a bit challenging that is OK. He could take more rest before the last set or he could lower the weight to maintain speed. I would have swimmers do multiple rep sets once a in a while but not on a regular basis.

The workouts are written in a manner that is adaptive to any age group at any level. Some of the send-offs and some of the heart rate sets you’ll experience throughout the year can be adjusted by you as needed for your physical abilities.

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23 Week Program and Weightlifting, Dryland & Yoga

Lifting aerobically for swimmers isn’t needed. You already get your aerobic needs from the pool and or running. Cross training is great and do just that – Cross train!

Lifting is for speed and power as described in the FasterSwimming eBook. When you weight lift you are elevating your heart rate and are actually achieving a small base of aerobic conditioning.

If you have had a long break and need to ease into work-outs then please ease into it. Give yourself goals, with the best goal being longevity for exercise. If you attack it – it’ll be harder to maintain motivation.

I am going to elaborate on the 23 week program in FasterSwimming and your incorporation of weightlifting, dryland and yoga. If you follow the program you’ll lift twice a week, do dryland twice a week and yoga once. You need to add yoga at least during the taper phase for whole body strength and flexibility. It is also great for pre-season training. Start off with doing yoga as part of your dryland regime or begin with yoga as your dryland regime. When you have flexibility and feel stronger add more intense dryland and then start weightlifting. When you begin planning your weightlifting, dryland and yoga exercises you need to start with an emphasis on legs as they take the longest to get into shape and need more rest at the end of the season. Legs are neglected by all and drive speed. You must fight your desire not to work the legs. Legs will set you apart, drive the speed in swimming, give you a faster start and turn, better fly kick off the walls and create and maintain momentum.

When choosing your weightlifting daily program choose accordingly as outlined. You can mix it up between Whole body, Upper body and Lower body exercises either by set or alternate within sets. That is consistent with your swimming workouts. If you emphasize legs during weightlifting then have a recovery kick set during your swim work-out and the same pattern for Upper and Lower body exercises. Choose accordingly to coordinate all your workouts as you don’t want too much of one thing during the day. You need to alternate either by set or within each set as this is one of the essential guidelines to faster swimming. You alternate Upper and Lower body parts always to force recovery of the opposite body part emphasis as well as increase quality of the body part being worked.

When lifting and trying to maintain speed remember safety and the mechanics of each lift. Don’t just throw the weight in the air to ensure speed. You wouldn’t spin your arms in the water without controlled speed and efficiency through the water. Just remember this concept. Your controlled speed will develop over time just keep focus.

Dryland emphasis is mainly whole body working your core always with upper and lower body support muscles. Develop in conjunction with weightlifting, yoga and especially your swimming.

When you begin the 7 week taper your weightlifting, dryland, yoga, and swimming are all focused on developing speed and power while maintaining your aerobic base. Week three you’ll notice changes in your training requirements with the slow resting of your legs. (The weightlifting taper workouts are outlined on pages 78-81 and the dryland taper workouts are outlined on pages 113-117 of the FasterSwimming eBook.) Remember to specify to your yoga instructor to hold the leg poses for less time, possibly do them at the beginning of the work-out and do recovery stretching. The taper outline explains when you should focus on speed work. THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD STOP TRYING TO GET STRONGER! Strength helps produce speed. Do a few warm-up sets of your desired exercise then try a set or two of one repetition maximizing your weight, then stretch or do a recovery swim if you can. Get a massage or sit in the hot tub maybe on weeks 5 or 6. A full body massage if done correctly will take a few days to recover from so don’t do it the day before your big swim. Hot tubs will sap your energy so hydrate and use the hot tub for recovery well in advance of your big swim.

You should also limit your weightlifting and dryland exercises to about 30 minutes while increasing your yoga and stretching to 60 minutes. Maintain 45 minute sessions of each during the season. Recovery swimming after each would be great if you have the facility and the time. If you decide to do dryland during week 7 then add a +/- 20 minute session to maintain core strength before yoga or swimming. This is a great way to help the fast twitch muscles recover especially if you have just finished one of your championship meets.

If you have noticed from reading this article, recovery is essential to your faster swimming.