This week has presented some rather large challenges for our team, athletes and coaching staff alike. We have been doing doubles on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for the past two weeks. Having these extra sessions is necessary to compete at the collegiate level. After an hour swim we hit the weight room for our strength program. We start at 5:45 am so that everyone can swim, hit the weight room, and then attend a full load of classes.
The first challenge is how the extra sessions tax the athletes physically. We keep the yardage low and low-stress in the mornings. For the first two weeks itï¿½s 45 minutes and no more than 2500 yards. In the weight room we do a program designed specifically for swimmers. The athletes have a full-time strength and conditioning coach as well as two interns to help with their program. For many of the freshmen, this is the first time they have used a weight facility. This extra conditioning causes a lot of muscle soreness in places people didnï¿½t know existed. The upper class has less of an adjustment because they have been through the program before. They also get the soreness that comes with increasing training and intensity. The soreness carries over into the pool and is very apparent in their swimming. Arms and legs get tight then strokes get shorter and shorter.
The second challenge comes from the rigorous academic demands that are put on these athletes. These are some of the brightest young adults in the country. Theyï¿½re aspiring to become the people who design your buildings, fix your health, or keep you out of jail. Swimming is something that they do; it is not what they are or what they will become. After having to solve the hardest problems of the day in their respective disciplines, they have to come to practice for two hours. When they arrive, I can see the mental fatigue on their faces. Mental fatigue is as big an obstacle as physical fatigue. When the athletes are spent mentally, swimming almost becomes survival based. The thought process isï¿½ I just have to get through these two hours. When this is the approach, theyï¿½ll get through the two-hour practice relatively unscathed. The problem is how they do it. First to go are the little things. As a coach you can see streamlines becoming a little sloppy, not finishing strong, and being lethargic in and out of turns. These are the things that win races and if we practice these things poorly on a daily basis we will race poorly.
The ultimate challenge is how we as coaches can help the athletes combat mental and physical fatigue during training. Here is one set that we came up with for this week.
Swim 4 rounds of the following:
300 @ 4:30
4 X 25 @ :35 Drill progression
200 @ 2:50 Focus on race-pace turns. No breathing in or out.
Round1: Concentrate on swimming perfect
Round 2: Flow faster
Round 3: Faster without changing anything
Round 4: Fastest without changing anything
Total Yardage: 2400
What we tried to do was put the swimmers into a set where they could succeed easily. In order for them to be successful in this set they had to swim to their full potential. The focus was not on time but rather on HOW they were swimming the first round. After that round I tried to make one suggestion for each athlete to think about while he or she was going into the second round. In the second round they had to pick up the pace without losing what they were working on. The intervals were all the same so the athletes could put their focus into staying with what they were working on while pushing the tempo. Too often when I make the interval quicker athletes choose how much rest they are going to get and that becomes their primary focus — not what they are doing or how they are swimming. Each round became faster and faster without changing the focus.
This set was designed with short-course mastery in mind. The 300 put the emphasis on swimming a perfect and controlled stroke. The 4 x 25 drill progression allowed the athletes to work on anything they felt they needed to change. The 200 was no breathing in or out of the turns at race pace. After the set we let the athletes know the importance of what they were working on. This set was created to emulate how you need to race in short course. You need to attack each and every wall. It is the only point in the race where you can speed up, excluding the start. All you need to work on is holding that speed in the middle, and you will have a good strategy for racing short course in any event.