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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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Water or Gatorade?

This is a bit of a rant, so I’ll apologize up front.

I can not even come close to guessing how many times someone has asked “Shouldn’t I be drinking Gatorade?”. It seems that all of the commercials have worked – people (not just athletes) drinking Gatorade with meals, at work, before bed… the list goes on and on. So let’s get some things straight…

1. Gatorade is intended to replace water and electrolytes in HARD training lasting OVER 1 HOUR, and/or in HIGH HEAT training lasting more than 30 minutes. It’s proven – Gatorade can help improve hydration and hence performance… UNDER THESE CONDITIONS!

2. Gatorade is not “magic”. It is water with sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (another type of sugar), Sodium (salt), Potassium, and flavoring. Gatorade is mixed as a 6% carbohydrate solution to facilitate faster emptying from your stomach/gut to rehydrate you faster while providing fuel for working muscles. You could make your own similar drink with:

1 Liter of water
4 Tbsp. sugar (60 grams, equaling a 6% solution of carbohydrate)
_ teaspoon of table salt or 1 teaspoon of baking soda (Sodium)
_ teaspoon of “No Salt” (Potassium)
Crystal Light or Sugar-free Kool-Aide to taste

No magic added.

3. You may not need the extra calories. Training drinks (Gatorade) and recovery drinks (carbs + protein) are useful if you are in hard training, but on off days or easy days are simply extra calories. Generally speaking, you should be consuming non-calorie drinks most of the time – unless you are trying to gain weight. The extra calories that come from drinking Gatorade (or ANY calorie-containing drink) throughout the day may be adding to your waistline. Choose water or Green Tea most of the time.

Basic hydration comes from a basic practice that people have been doing forever… drinking water! Simple, effective, and true. There are effective training drinks, such as Gatorade, on the market – and during times of intense or prolonged training and competition they may be helpful. There are, however, no magic bullets. Hard, consistent training matched with solid recovery (nutrition, hydration, and sleep) will always yield results. Know when to drink water and when to use a training drink, and you may end up saving your waistline and your wallet.

  • by John Coffman, Contributing Writer 
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Creating Goals for Athletes

Every athlete wants to excel, but the will to excel is insignificant without the will to prepare to excel. Preparation is where many athletes fail. Most are willing to put in hours on top of hours of training, but almost no time is devoted to planning or record keeping. This planning (and tracking) is essential, because planning is the first step to achieving any goal – including those accomplished in athletics. Your vision of where you want to be – your goal – is your greatest asset. A goal without a plan is just a wish. Not knowing how and understanding why past training and peaking has influenced your performances (record keeping) makes attaining these goals tougher than it needs to be.

Goals should be as objective as possible (measurable and performance-oriented), as specific as possible (performance and time-sensitive), and above all realistic to your level of athletic and competitive abilities. Keeping your season goals to two or possibly three major goals will help streamline your focus and simplify your training and regenerative efforts. The following goal is a specific example of what a season goal might look like:

-Achieve a top 100 World ranking in the 200m dash by August 1.-
-Three previous season’s average of 20.45 seconds.-

Write your goals in this manual and in another conspicuous place so that you’ll see them often. This will be a frequent reminder of your precise competitive desires, and as you’ll see below, of the how and why you planned on achieving them.

The methods and training objectives needed to attain your season goals are listed next. These again should be as objective, specific and realistic as possible. Methods listed can be complex or simple, just be sure to match your methods to your season goals. Daily training methods and objectives can vary greatly, but should also fall on a continuum of your season goals. The following are examples of two training methods and a training objective that might support the previous goal.

-Include max speed work in June practices at a volume of 600m per week.-

-Include extra mobility work for 30 min., 3x per week for the entire season.-

-Run 200m in practice in less than 21 seconds by July 15.-

Motivations are the why you are doing the training and striving toward your goals. Again, this could be as simple as “to be the best in the State,” or a complex, layered, psychological explanation. It is most important that your motivation has meaning for YOU. Use your motivations to keep your training and regeneration efforts inspired.

Space is provided at the bottom of your goal sheet for your ultimate goal. Perhaps this is the same as your season goal, perhaps two or three years down the road – whichever, it will help you keep an eye toward the future and what you ultimately envision for yourself in your sport.

Weekly and daily training goals head each log page under “Training.” Use these goals to help plan the incremental steps in your training leading to your season and ultimate goals. These smaller goals will keep you on track towards your larger goals and keep your intent at the forefront of your training.

  • by John Coffman, Contributing Writer 
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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, Contributing Writer
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Periodization is defined by USA Track & Field as “The process of planning training in order to produce high levels of performance at designated times. There are three major concepts associated with the process of periodization:

1. Periodization and Planning. Planning is perhaps the most important step in insuring the effectiveness of the training program. Planning enables control of training variables and parameters in a manner that guarantees the best chance for success.

2. Periodization and Record Keeping. Record keeping is another crucial part of the periodization process. This enables monitoring of training loads accurately, and modification of training from season to season and year to year.

3. Periodization and Peaking. Peaking refers to designing training so that the best performances come at the most crucial competitions.”

When establishing a training year it is necessary to identify the most important competitions of the season and the peak requirements of you, the athlete. Reverse-engineering your season (or working backwards from the end of the season to the beginning) allows you to arrange periods, mesocycles, microcycles, and sessions using peak requirements as the season-end goal. So, to plan your season you need to understand the above terms. A session would make up what you are doing for a given training session or practice. A microcycle is usually based on a given week, or a 7-10 day cycle of training. A mesocycle is most commonly a 4 week cycle of training composed of 3 to 4 microcycles. A period is divided into one of several categories: Off-season or General Prep, Pre-season or Specific Prep, Early-season or Precompetition, and Late-season or Competiton & Peaking, and can contain multiple mesocycles.

Plan your season by targeting your important competitions to coincide with your athletic peak. The advice of an experienced coach can go a long way here, as planning so far in advance requires the understanding of how all training and regeneration factors interplay within a season and given sport. Each training period should build on the previous period, and each mesocycle should build on the previous mesocycle. Within each microcycle and training session there is a need for training variance to allow for adequate regeneration. An example of an established method for planning a mesocycle (or training month) would be placing the training load for the 4 microcycles (or training weeks) at 1.High – 2.Medium – 3.Very High – 4.Low. This would allow for a reduction in training load in week 4 (to deepen regeneration) and a return to a higher level of sport fitness in the following micro- and mesocycle.

Use of this Manual – specifically of the Training Log – will allow analysis of your periodized plan both during and after your season to help eliminate overtraining, undertraining, and inconsistent performances. There are no textbook answers for solving all of the variances and problems that arise in training, but access to past performances along with a detailed training log will go a long way in determining your course in the future.

Timing peak athletic condition to coincide with the most important competitions can be difficult. It is precisely this reason that the Training Log and all its detail follows – to give you the complete set of tools to achieve peak performance when the most important competitions are at hand. Use the Training Log at the very least during your peaking phase, in order to understand and document how all of your previous training and regeneration efforts influenced your most important competitions.

  • by John Coffman, 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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Carbohydrates. Performance and Activity

Diet is certainly tied to performance, but how so? Proteins and fats help build and re-build tissues (muscles included) and form the foundation of our hormones and enzymes that control most of our bodily functions. So where do carbohydrates fall in our dietary needs? The easiest way to think of carbohydrate needs is to think of them as being activity dependant. By that we mean for a given day you should base carbohydrate intake on your activities for that day. If you have an easy or recovery day – limit your carb intake. A reasonable limit on recovery days is around 100 grams, and most of these 400 calories should come in the form of vegetables, fruits, and perhaps whole grains (like oats – not like boxed “whole grain” cereal!).

Training and performance – especially sessions lasting more than 1 hour, will need extra fuel in the form of carbohydrates. So if your planned afternoon session is a difficult one, base your carb intake on this – perhaps in the neighborhood of 200 grams of carbs for the day. These are estimates, of course, and individuals should adjust from these guidelines as needed. And if you are in-season or in a particularly difficult training block? The upper range for carb recommendations is 3 to 4 grams per pound of bodyweight. Again, this would be during a training block with a higher than normal volume, and these extra carbs should be spread throughout the day and more concentrated around your “workout window” – or the hour prior and two hours post-training. Most of these carbs should again come from vegetables, fruits and whole grains – and be as un-modified and un-processed as possible. This helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and insures a solid intake of vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients, and fiber.

“But Gatorade is a training staple – and workout drinks containing both carbs and protein have been shown to increase recovery rates by as much as 300%!!” We concede this point thoroughly. The ONE time you may want to include Gatorade (or the like) is in a session lasting more than an hour, and including a carb + protein drink somewhere in your workout window is a wise choice for faster recovery, as well. Gatorade throughout the day, though? Unless you are training all day, not a great idea. Your body has “storage” for excess fuel – it’s called body fat. And increased body fat is rarely if ever the path to improved performance.

Bottom line – concentrate carb intake around workout windows, eat an amount of carbs appropriate for your current activity levels, and carb-containing training drinks belong around training sessions (workout windows) – whether Gatorade or another. Eat carbohydrates to fuel your activity level and help your performance – don’t eat carbohydrates to fuel your fat cells!

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Profile of a High School Swimmer

Molly is a sophomore and an extremely talented athlete. I had to wait until the cross country season was over before Molly started training for the season. She began the season three months later than the rest of her competition at the High School State Level.

It took at least two months before Molly started to achieve the Race Pace work needed to compete at the State Level in the 200 IM and the 500 free. Molly did the workouts as written that many of you have received thru the weekly FasterSwimming workouts written for the 23 week program.

She was trained with all the Race Pace work to hold 1:01.. She swam a 5:08.55 – :58.5, 1:02.1, 1:03.4, 1:03.1, 1:00.2 and finaled at States. Did Molly train the traditional way for the 500 free, NO. Could she have started the season earlier and been faster, YES. Would a different style of training help, it has worked for decades, YES. Given all the information above I believe that we did the best for her in a very short amount of time.

Now Molly will be swimming year round so “Katie bar the door”! The only thing I will change in training her will be longer sets (not necessarily longer distances) at goal Race Pace in the 500, 1000, 1650 etc… The send offs and rest intervals will become faster as her ability to hold Race Pace longer improves.

I rested (with the sprinters) Molly an additional 3 weeks to swim at the USA Sectional meet with just a few sets holding 500 Race Pace. I decided that Molly should just stay strong in the water knowing that she will swim the 400 IM and the 1650 free at the meet.

She just missed her US OPEN cut in the 400 IM by a few tenths and placed 2nd in the mile. Her splits in the mile averaged 1:03. high. 1st 500 @ 5:16.14, 2nd 500 @ 5:20.07, 3rd 500 @ 5:20.68 with her last 50 28.8 totaling 17:28.91. I do know that wasn’t a record of any type but a testament to Molly’s training and the importance of Race Pace.

Molly did a great job of sprint kicking off each wall. She maintained the desired warm-up Race Pace of 1:03, less than 8 minutes previous to the swim. She added more kicking to her swimming as the race continued based on her fitness level. Now the goal is to maintain a faster Race Pace goal in practice and hold for longer periods of time.

I encourage any comments. Discussion always leads to better swimming and coaching.

Here are sectional team scores:

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Questions re: Distance. Some Advice for Practices

I am a new subscriber and received my first set of workouts this morning. I have read through them carefully and looking forward to getting started. I love the instruction on improving the dives, streamlining with dolphin kick etc. Plus the turns practice. However, how do I compensate for the distance as it is a bit far for me. I’m only used to swimming @ 3000 to 3500m in practice.

Once you develop more strength in dryland and can handle the mechanics of swimming fly with the fly kick your goal of breaking 4 min. should be easy. Try kicking with fins when swimming fly to help with your leg strength and speed but don’t get into a habit of using fins. Work on some short fly swimming (with fly kick) without breathing while maintaining proper body position as described in Faster Swimming. Stay as streamlined as possible and take a few strokes to begin working on timing with the fly kick then slowing work in the breathing. Timing and breathing of the stroke is described for you also. Let me know how you progress.

Determine your stroke counts for training as it’ll definitely be a part of practices. In the course of a week you’ll train all strokes with a lot more kicking than you are use to. Work in the kicking as you are able and feel free to use fins for part of it until you can handle all the additional kicking. As the season progresses kicking will be a smaller part (percentage) of the workout.

You don’t have to increase your yardage drastically and whatever you don’t finish on a specific day, just continue it the next practice. Try to plan your swimming workouts as to never have three days between practices as you’ll lose the feel for the water.