Bennett Discusses Cochrane and Caldwell’s Preparation for Barcelona

Canada collected three medals in the pool at the 2013 FINA World Aquatic Championships, those medals were won by two swimmers who train in the same pool with the same coach. Ryan Cochrane, who won silver in the 1500 freestyle and a bronze in the 800 freestyle and Hilary Caldwell who won a bronze in the 200 backstroke, they both train in Victoria, BC with coach Randy Bennett.

After the World Championships were complete Bennett took the time to speak with SwimSwam and share his thoughts on both the preparation for and the performance of his athletes in Barcelona.

One of the biggest areas that Bennett has changed in his program has been the conditioning of his athletes throughout their taper phase. He believes rest is the priority, but that the conditioning aspect of a taper cannot be ignored, “I get the rest component and understand it very well,” said Bennett. “But I think conditioning is part of the taper, it is conditioning to maintain the work we have done all year.”

This is an aspect that he feels his group has done a good job of addressing this year both in and out of the water, “I didn’t think that we were very good at maintaining our conditioning both in the water and especially out of the water, so we did a lot of work with that. Eugene Liang (long time UBC National Training Centre strength and conditioning coach) has move to Vitoria and works with my group full time.”

“He got here in April; he came in and solidified the conditioning piece, made it clear and was on them enough in the taper phase without being invasive.”

“People don’t want to be sore and tired in taper so they tend to drop the ball on conditioning based on being sore and tired and I think that is a mistake.”

When it comes to the maintenance of conditioning during the taper phase Bennett uses tools that he has put into his program earlier in the year so that the swimmers do not have to adapt to anything new, but continue what they have done on a regular basis in the pool and out, “We do 2 mmol conditioning sets all year and we have measured more carefully inside our taper phase so four days out they may do 30 x 100 @ 1:30 at 2 mmol as part of their conditioning.”

“It was the same thing with the dryland routine. They do 20-30 minutes of an activation process every morning before they swim, because they do it everyday for a long period of time it wasn’t something that they picked up and made them sore.”

“I think this is the first step. He (Cochrane) is physically stronger and more efficient so those are two big steps.”

“They are very physical in their preparation all the way through because it is a physical event they are getting ready for. They are not getting ready for a massage, they are getting ready for a maximal effort for an extended period of time.”

Ryan Cochrane

For the last six years Ryan Cochrane has been one of the best 1500 freestylers in the world winning an Olympic bronze in 2008 inCochrane_Ryan Beijing and Olympic silver in 2012 in London. One of the areas that Bennett has worked with him throughout that time is the balance between stroke count and stroke rate, “One of the things that we have been trying to figure out with Ryan for years is the stroke count vs stroke rate vs the deterioration of the stroke through the 1500 meter distance.”

Finding that balance is not an easy task, “It is always cause and effect,” explains Bennett. “You have to swim a low stroke count and have enough strength and endurance for that, but you also have to have the ability to have a tempo high enough to have the appropriate speed.”

“His stroke count was at 37 or 38 four or five years ago; now his is down to about 34 or 35 deteriorating to 37-38 when he is really trying to accelerate.”

“We did a lot of work on stroke count over time, he got down quite low, but that is not his natural rhytm. I don’t think there is an ideal, it is about comfort and speed. It has to be balanced.”

When it comes to working with these aspects there is a danger in over thinking when racing, which is something that Bennett takes into consideration in Cochrane’s planning and programming from the start, “I think one of the things that is my strengths as a coach is I recognize you are really going you are really going to have more effect on change in November than you are going to have in July. What you see everyday in practice is what you are going to see in the end game.”

When it comes to the day of the race he makes sure that he is setting Cochrane up for success by discussing the aspects that play on his strengths, “You need to remind yourself that the strength of someone like Ryan is his racing skills. Dive and have a go, being aware of a few things, being very concise. Not dive in and try to put together this tactically perfect race.”

“She (Caldwell) is pretty confident in her ability. She is very intelligent, willing to do the work required, she is very self directed; give her a task and she will do it.”

Looking at the results from Barcelona Bennett was satisfied with Cochrane’s performance and sees it as a positive first step towards Rio, “I think this is the first step. He is physically stronger and more efficient so those are two big steps.”

“He has a lot of miles on him, he has a very good understanding of the sport and its’ requirements, he doesn’t necessarily need to live there (high mileage training) for the extended period of time that he has in the past. I need to keep him healthy, strong and mentally fresh as much as I need to get him to a physical state of awareness.”

Hilary Caldwell

When speaking about Hilary Caldwell the words strength of character come up a lot, “Coaches who have coached her on tours when I haven’t been there have always spoken very highly of her ability to move inside the team maintenance free and drama free.

(Courtesy Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol)

(Courtesy Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol)

She has that great strength of character.”

Self reliance and independence are also descriptives that Bennett uses, “She is pretty confident in her ability. She is very intelligent, willing to do the work required, she is very self directed; give her a task and she will do it.”

“I don’t see her much in the warm up at swim meets. She knows how to warm up, she doesn’t take a lot of fussing.”

Caldwell made great strides to qualify for her first Olympic team last year and even though that was a huge accomplishment they were not happy with the performances in London, “We came out of the Olympics and we weren’t very happy. She doesn’t swim anything but backstroke, so I said, ‘You’re not swimming anything but backstroke this year.'”

“So from September on she probably averaged 40-50 km of backstroke a week. She may have done some IM and freestyle on recovery stuff, but she just swum backstroke.”

“That is a pretty significant undertaking for a year. Sometimes you would have trouble staying the course because it is overwhelming, but she just did it.”

This tactic had exceptional results, but Bennett feels that it did definitely had its’ flaws, “I think fundamentally her learning curve will be faster and better by swimming more races,” explained Bennett. “I think there is a lot to learn every time you get off the blocks and I think that we can accelerate her improvement by exposing her to the tactics and strategies of those other events more frequently.”

“The more of times I can get her in a situation that she is tactically and technically stressed in events that have similar characteristics to her primary event the better”

Once again Bennett is not satisfied with the results in Barcelona and is constantly looking forward to what improvements can be made and what more there is that Caldwell can accomplish, “The expectation there now is 2:06.8 is not the standard, how do we get to 2:05? How do I accelerate that process?”

“In Rio it is probably going to be 2:05 low to get a medal. She is in the game, now what are we going to do to get her to 2:05 or 2:04 high?”

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How much does psyche play with athletes?


Another interesting piece Jeff, I enjoy these coach articles.


40-50km of back per week

In one week she did more than I did in a lifetime.

About Jeff Grace

Jeff Grace

Jeff is a 500 hour registered yoga teacher who holds diplomas in Coaching (Douglas College) and High Performance Coaching (National Coaching Institute - Calgary). He has a background of over 20 years in the coaching profession, where he has used a unique and proven teaching methodology to help many achieve their …

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