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“How far are we going?”

This typical question from young swimmers can be heard wherever competitive swimmers are found training. The gage that’s used to determine how hard a swimmer is training, is YARDAGE (or meterage if you’re from outside the US). However, those in the know KNOW this is not the case.

This past week, I’ve continued to teach a couple young swimmers various aspects of training, and with Dave coming by for a couple of the practices, we were able to show them practices with very little yardage that teach, and train.

Dave was first to show our swimmers some fun aspects of swimming that can demand great attention. Dave was able to share quite a bit of fun and interesting things he does with Dr. Dave Salo at the Irvine Novaquatics. These mini-sets were something neither of our young swimmers had experienced before, and gave a new, and interesting view on training.

Dave gave these two young men close to two hours of work, varying the focus, and intensity throughout the entire session. I’ve included just a couple fun things they had the opportunity to experience (for a while).

First, these sets were to be done with EXTREME effort throughout the duration. When it was your turn to perform, it was to be done at the ultimate effort. Dave kept demanding that the swimmers go faster, even when they weren’t sure they could.

Returning on the butterfly drill
The butterfly drill as pretty simple, three strokes, flip, the kick back to the wall dolphin kick. When one swimmer finished, the other would start. This was repeated many times. By only asking the swimmer to perform three strokes of fly, they never really got to the point where their technique fell apart, but then asking them to quickly kick underwater back to the wall, made them work.

Another drill was to work on breaststroke. One swimmer would hang on to the other swimmer’s feet. The lead swimmer would pull as fast and as hard as they could, trying to pull the other swimmer down the pool. The swimmer hanging on, would kick to try to keep his partner from moving. So a mini-competition was created. When Dave thought enough of this had gone on, he’d signal the second swimmer to let go. At this point, the lead swimmer would try to take three strokes of breaststroke at the same pace, flip, and kick breaststroke underwater back to the wall. A little rest, a switch in positions, and this repeated many times.

One set that was given to our swimmers this week was more for discovery of technique. They were required to play for 30 minutes straight on a limited number of techniques. They were given an assignment on their strokes, then had to swim in any fashion to try to figure out the best way for them to realize how to accomplish their task. At first, they thought of 30 minutes as an unbearable amount of time to just go back and forth, however, once they had a goal, it was nearly too short. You could sit and watch them inventing things, and trying different ways to feel their way through the water. I had to fight the urge to stop them every couple of laps to help them. It was almost like watching your child taking his/her first rides without the training wheels. I was so proud that they were really into this. I also learned by watching, what they did to feel good. What they did to relax. This will, in the long run, help me to maintain a better overall attitude from the swimmers. When they’re really feeling bad, and hurting, I can throw things at them that I know they enjoy, that I know they’ll naturally go to, to help themselves feel better.

Dave’s idea of FUN!
Two final sets of the week were the most grueling. This morning, we did just around 3,000 yards total. The first 2,000 was warm-up, and when I told them we only had one set left, they were both very happy. When I told them it was only 100’s and 50’s, they were happier. When I told them there were six 100’s, and six 50’s, they were happier still. When I told them the 100’s were on the 6:00 and the 50’s were on the 3:00, they were getting a bit confused. Then, when I finally told them how fast they’d have to go on each one, they were a little bit less happy. As they began to experience the demands they’d have to place on themselves to reach the time goals, they began to experience severe discomfort. When they couldn’t feel their arms anymore, they didn’t think it was as easy as it first sounded. They were in practice, and people watching were cheering for them to reach their goal times. The look on their faces was total agony, and listening to them breathe WHILE swimming told the story of their effort. They gave everything they had, and each of them finished with a feeling of accomplishing something. 3,000 yards in two hours, and two completely spent young boys. They experienced in practice the feeling of desperation we’ll work to avoid feeling in actual races. They’ll learn to adjust their strokes to better utilize all their tools when this does happen in a race. This will come from practicing intensity.

Finally, it’s not all without fun. Dave even got a ball for everyone to play with. He pumped up a physio ball, and popped it in the backyard pool. He jumped on top of it, and began kicking. We all thought… HOW FUN! I was first trying it, and well… uh… Dave has a way of making the difficult look easy. Man was this thing tough. It’s not just kicking, it’s using your entire body to balance, hang on, lift up, and then KICK yourself slowly to the other side. This was so much work for one of our swimmers, he didn’t stop shaking for nearly 30 minutes after he was done. Kicking on the ball was just the tip of the ice burg, as Dave began to show us a few other nearly impossible things to accomplish. I’ll not let all the cat out of the bag on this one, as it’s just too much to take in already.

So, what have we learned here? It’s not always about how far you’re going, but much more about HOW you’re doing it. Great practices can’t be measured only in distance, they can only be measured by what’s been accomplished, or what’s been learned. If it so happens that the goal is to learn how to swim 20,000 meters in a day, then so be it, there’s validity in that. However, if going 20,000 a day is the goal, I fear there’s going to be a lot of fine points missed along the way. Not to mention how slow the average pace will be to get there.

Now go get creative with your training, make things up that are challenging and fun. Just do them with intensity and focus, and you’ll soon realize there’s more to training for swimming than counting laps.