We all want to swim faster. We all want to achieve new personal bests. We all want to shine brightly on the biggest days of our careers. We all want to plant our flag on the mountain of success.
However, we often fail to see if our training is sustainable. As a coach, you should be striving to make sustainable swimmers. As an athlete, you need to look in the mirror and decipher if you are a sustainable swimmer.
What makes a sustainable swimmer?
Let’s start this journey by giving a definition to the sustainable swimmer.
To start, the swimmer must be resilient. Look back on your most recent season. Do you or your athletes experience a high volume of overuse injuries? If so, you are lacking resiliency. Somewhere there is a breakdown in the training.
Next, the sustainable swimmer needs access to the resources needed to unlock potential and catalyze performance. If you are a coach or swimmer, do you regularly research coaching methods? Dryland methods? Human physiology?
Do you just echo the phrase, “Oh well our sport is in water so it’s different,” without knowing what that really means?
If you are a coach, do your athletes have a system to ask questions about programming and explore additional resources when they see fit?
I find that a lot of coaches think they have an open culture in this regard. Then the swimmers strike a different tone and do not feel they have the correct channels to communicate about the process.
Finally, the sustainable swimmer should be progressed properly. If you’re a coach, do your athletes understand that progress is not linear? If you’re a swimmer, what are you doing on your own to maximize your efforts in the water?
Progression comes from many verticals of performance. These verticals have to be managed, developed, and adapted constantly.
The sustainable swimmer must be resilient, provided with resources, and progressed properly over the course of a career.
How to become a resilient swimmer
The funny thing about this part is that a bulk of this work will take place on land. Trying to implement resiliency tactics completely in water will give a coach more headaches and an athlete less progress compared to mixing in some land-based approaches.
Use land based activity to highlight the necessary stimuli and then grove the pattern with beautiful technique in the water. Your old PRs won’t stand a chance with this combination.
For example, coaches stop yelling “brace your core” or “hold a better streamline position” when your athletes might not even know how to activate the proper musculature to achieve that positioning. Instead, get out of the pool, and teach proper core activation. Then simply remind the swimmers about what they worked on, on land. This will lead to much more potent learning.
Listen to my cues in this video. There’s much more to a plank versus just holding passively.
The next key to consider is your warm up. Are you warming up properly? If you’re just hopping into the pool and hoping the kinks work themselves out, then the answer is, no!
This is the biggest area where swimmers will increase sustainability. I had a coach in high school that summarized it best.
“If you don’t have time to warm up, you don’t have time to train.”
Check out this blog post that I wrote for US Masters Swimming. It will shed even more light on why a proper warm up is needed for swimming. You’ll also get access to a warm up routine to add to your training.
Why is a warm up on land so important? It prepares your body for the task at hand, gets proper musculature activated, and allows you to start practice at a higher level of stroke efficiency.
Hopping in and just working out the kinks without a land warm up can lead to pain, that pain eventually turns into injury, injury keeps you out of the pool, being out of the pool results in a decreased chance of achieving your goals.
You don’t want to be on this track.
Arm yourself with resources
The next key component of the sustainable swimmer is available resources. Now before you go on the, “I don’t have money” or “My town doesn’t have that” rants, hear me out.
There are options for you to succeed.
A few weeks ago, I shared the results from one of our team client’s, SWOCC. Just in case you need a little refresher, here’s some of the results they achieved.
SWOCC is located in rural Oregon. The school does not have its own pool, strength & conditioning staff, and their head coach does not get a fancy salary. However, SWOCC has figured out a system that utilizes two remote coaches (one swim based and RITTER for dryland).
Coach Bullock found a way to give her team the same resources that elite level swimmers have for a price that fits her budget.
Another great example of this is coach Eric Peterson from the Shaker Sharks. He’s a true student of the sport and always seeking ways to progress himself as a coach and his athletes.
He is transparent with his athletes. I loved how he talked about telling them that they are going to try new things. They might work. They might not. Regardless of the outcome, he is going to be transparent with them.
He also continues to evolve their dryland program. From taking steps to learn about dryland and what aspects are critical to swimming to adding resources that fit the team’s budget. Coach Peterson continues to add resources to his program and it shows.
For example, Coach Peterson had a 15-16 year old swimmer drop a 1:50 in the 200 fly! The Shaker Sharks also had 24/34 swims result in lifetime PRs at their age group championship this month.
Progress properly over the course of a career
Crawl before you can walk. Walk before you can run. We know the saying but do we practice it?
Progression is the name of the game. It will rarely be linear. It will rarely move at the pace you want it to. However, the sustainable swimmer thrives off of progression. Progression has the power to extend careers, improve performance, and keep injuries at bay. However, as a swimmer or coach, it is up to you to use this mighty tool properly.
What does progression look like? Let’s take the pull-up for this example. The pull-up is a coveted dryland movement due to its challenge and its transfer to the sport of swimming.
Many swimmers jump up to the bar and just think a pull-up will happen. However, gaps in progression lead to gaps in capability.
To start, go back to the plank video earlier in this post. Can you do that exercise properly? Ok great. Can you do that exercise properly for a minute? Awesome. Can you do that exercise properly for four minutes? Lack of certainty starts to creep in.
Did you know that the USOC looks for swimmers to hold a four minute front plank and two three minute side planks purely as an INJURY PREVENTION measure?
Next, can you engage your body properly while hanging from a bar?
Master this movement for a minute. After that you can progress to working on the eccentric portion of the pull-up. Being able to control this lowering portion of the movement is critical and assists greatly with shoulder resiliency. Get to a point where you can complete around 8-12 reps with a five second lower.
The next step would be to work on your overall strength and consistency with the movement. Adding in other row variations, including core stabilization exercises, and making sure you have proper range of motion is critical. Make it a goal to complete 20 repetitions without stopping for this next movement.
Finally we are at a point where things are looking like a full pull-up. Progress to the point where you can complete 12-15 reps with a .5 inch band.
You’re now ready to do your first unassisted pull-up.
What do I want you to take from this? This is a rather simple progression for one movement of training. Imagine the complexity of a swimming stroke progression. Remember to crawl before you walk and walk before you run. As a coach and as a swimmer, do not fear the basics. Get really good at the basics and make yourself a rock solid foundation.
The sustainable swimmer strives for progression but does not rush it.