The Art of Training “Inside the Box”

In Best Posts, Swimming by Chris Ritter1 Comment

There’s a lot of waste that happens with regards to training in the swimming realm. Unfortunately I think many coaches and athletes end up trying to hit a moving target in a dark room. This is most evident when you hear of “outside the box” training.

I think a lot is missed when the box is thrown out.

There are a lot of very sound physiological principles, or boxes if you will, that have been proven over time in athletics. There’s the overload and specificity principles. Also the general adaptation syndrome. We know how the body responds at this rep scheme. Or what the body does at this intensity. Thanks to science and research there aren’t many mysteries left in the training world.

Too often the proven knowledge is simply glossed over in search of greater “hidden” treasure in training.

If you really want to be successful, I challenge you to master and own a collection of physiological boxes. Understand inside many boxes before venturing out.

Success in swimming is the same as in any other sport. Analyze what the demands of the sport entail. That’s easy for swimming since the distances are always known. You’re never going to show up at a meet and have to swim in a 20-yard pool.

Next you need to take an inventory of your boxes. What skills or characteristics do you know how to develop? Match what is required to be successful in swimming to what you have knowledge in. Then it comes down to execution and discipline on a daily basis.

Once you have a wide variety of boxes then you can start to integrate between them. You’re still not “outside” of the box yet. Now you’re just mixing flavors from one to the other. You start to develop your own style.

This is a much more effective way to be “creative” and actually successful at the same time. Pulling from sources and principles that have been proven over time but finding a new mixture is when you can put your own stamp on a plan.

Bob Bowman has talked about his time as Paul Bergen’s assistant as he was growing up in the coaching ranks. At the Cincinnati Marlins he learned from Paul and developed the ability to write workouts that you wouldn’t be able to guess if he or Paul had authored them.

The point wasn’t that Bob was going to be a carbon copy of Paul. Rather Bob was developing his knowledge of this “box.” He’d go on to integrate this box with others as he progressed. He learned to develop his own style through proven boxes that had been built before him.

The key is that he had thorough knowledge of each box. Well enough that he could use just one and get results. Integration only works when you have that kind of understanding.

If you want to be a real innovator then master proven styles before developing your own.

Enjoy this great talk (with bad audio) from Sean Hutchinson discussing how the greatest painter and fighter used this same philosophy to develop their skills.

Watch more video of Sean Hutchison on