As new training systems and coaching philosophies have become a hot topic among SwimSwam commenters, we’ve decided to take a deeper dive into the specifics of how some of the more successful athletes at various levels are conditioning themselves. A big thanks to MCSC coach Al Ledgin for taking the time to talk with SwimSwam about his training philosophy and even sharing some of his go-to sets.

Training Spotlight

  • Club: Morris County Swim Club (Morristown, NJ)
  • Head Coach: Al Ledgin
  • Notable swimmer: 12-year-old Vinny Marciano, 7-event NAG record holder

Morris County Swim Club (MCSC) has an interesting training set-up, in that they practice almost year-round in a 25-meter pool. It’s a quirk born of necessity, but also one that has shown some advantages, says coach Al Ledgin. 

“I feel that our swimmers are often stronger at the end of their short-course yard races since they have been swimming the extra yardage in training,” Ledgin says. “When we do have occasion to train or when we race in a 25 yard pool, the swimmers love it because it feels so short.” Ledgin also credited SCM training with helping ease the transition from short-course to long course season each summer.

The club tends to train 4500-5500 meters a day, generally 5-6 days a week with practices ranging from 90 minutes to 2 hours.

MCSC has been really put on the national map lately thanks to 12-year-old Vinny Marciano, long a talented age group backstroker who has been on a National Age Group record-breaking tear as of late, taking down the marks in the 50 and 100 distances of both back and free, plus adding the 50 fly.

Many of the records Marciano breaks belong to strict Ultra-Short Race-Pace Training advocate Michael Andrew, leading to lots of questions about whether Marciano, too, trains under USRPT philosophies.

Coach Ledgin: “While we don’t use the USRPT as a training model, we do apply some of it’s basic components and tenets in our training design.” He noted the difficulty of implementing USRPT in a larger group setting – “We’re often swimming up to 10 swimmers per lane,” he says – but also says training at race pace is a major part of his philosophy as a coach.

This leads us into MCSC’s first major set:

Set #1: Descending Average 100s

(reminder: intervals and distances are short-course meters)

5 x 100 @ 1:20, rest 15 seconds
4 x 100 @ 1:25, rest 30 seconds
3 x 100 @ 1:35, rest 45 seconds
2 x 100 @ 1:50, rest 60 seconds
Easy 100
1 x 100 for time from a dive

As each round of 100s adds more rest and less repeats, the swimmer’s average time should continue to get faster.

MCSC does this set almost weekly, according to Ledgin. It’s an opportunity to train swimmers at a fast pace and send them off the blocks at the end.

“We race from the blocks almost every day,” Ledgin says, often two or three times a practice, like the final 100 here. Marciano has been as fast as 56.5 (SCM) on the closing 100 of this set.

 

Another big piece of the MCSC program is underwater work, clearly evident in Marciano’s swimming, which leads us into set #2:

Set #2: “Shooters”:

(typically done with fins, though sometimes without)

14-20 x 25 @ :35
1 underwater, 1 however you want
2 underwater, 1 however you want
3 underwater, 1 however you want
4 underwater, 1 however you want
(5 underwater, 1 however you want)

The idea is to develop fast underwater kicking and breath control. The underwater portions are streamline dolphin kick on the stomach or back – heading from the deep end to the shallow end, swimmers do each length with no breath, and heading from shallow to deep they are allowed one breath after they’ve passed 15 meters.

Photo courtesy of Al Ledgin, MCSC

Photo courtesy of Al Ledgin, MCSC

Included in this focus on underwaters is an interesting utilization of equipment. MCSC outfits its pool with “breakout bars,” bars that lay across the surface of the water – MCSC’s bars are shown in the picture to the right.

Note that the bars are set up in different places for each lane, as the coaching staff places the bars differently for different level training groups. Typically the bars are set about a foot past the 5 meter mark, according to Ledgin, and swimmers are encouraged to kick underwater until their feet pass the bar.

If a swimmer comes up early, the bar flips up into the air and then drops back down into place. Though these breakout bars can be found for purchase, MCSC uses a homemade version made from PVC pipe with a surrounding foam collar.

Ledgin credits Scarlet Aquatics coach Bill Deatly (who shares a training facility with MCSC) with introducing the bars to Morris County Club.

 

A few final notes:

  • Morris County Swim Club seems to mix in a lot of different pieces of equipment in their training. In addition to the breakout bars, MCSC uses short fins and FINIS Agility paddles for most of its warmup sets, and also uses fins fairly often in stroke technique work.
  • Though Ledgin says his training is very sprint-focused, he also mixes in longer swims at various times. “Occasionally we do a 200-400-600-800 or something similar.”
  • With training systems like USRPT discounting the effect of dryland training on in-pool success, we asked Ledgin what his philosophy on dryland training is. He was quick to note that he does see a benefit in dryland training, but said logistics prevent MCSC from doing much organized dryland. Some swimmers will add weights or other dryland on their own. Ledgin also said he prefers to include body-weight based exercises when MCSC does organize dryland. “I’ve always been of the opinion that the longer weight training can be put off, the more valuable swimmers will be to college coaches, since they will have more capacity for strength gain upon arrival on the college campus,” Ledgin says. “For this reason, even when I have done formal dryland with our groups, it has been limited to body weight, stretching, and plyometrics”
  • Marciano ages out of the 11-12 age bracket on May 5, and will be swimming his final meet as a 12-year-old this weekend in West Nyack, NY at the Condors May Meters Matter Meet.

Morris County Swim Club’s website is here.

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