Beyond The Pancakes: Mizzou Strength Coach on How to Train Swimmers

In Practice + Pancakes, SwimSwam takes you across the country and through a practice day in the life of swimming’s best athletes. It breaks down training sessions, sub sets, and what every team is doing to be at their best. But why are they doing things that way? What’s the philosophy behind these decisions, and who’s driving this pain train? In Beyond the Pancakes, we dive inside the minds of coaches and athletes, getting a first hand look at why they do the things they do, and where their minds are pointed on the compass of evolution as a swimmer.

In today’s Beyond the Pancakes, we sat down with the assistant director of athletic performance at Mizzou (and the primary strength coach for their swimming and diving team), Joe Collins. Joe comes from a power lifting background, and never swam competitively, giving him a unique perspective that many might think would hinder his coaching abilities with swimmers, but only seems to be improving them.

When Joe looks at a swimmer, the first thing he sees is their knees, their shoulders, their ankles, all pointing in different directions. This problem stems from a lack of core strength and stability, which is Joe’s first priority, taking the swimmers through movements that will help build that strength up and hold everything in a proper line before they actually start working on building strength in other muscles.

Although Joe admittedly wasn’t thrilled when he started working with the swim team, after seeing the daily grind they go through and the dedication they have for their craft, he now enjoys thinking outside of his comfort zone to think up ways he can help. Joe has found that if they can find 2 or 3 more degrees of mobility in their shoulders, for instance, that could translate to big differences in the water, which could mean the difference between 7th place and a top 3 finish.

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what a cool guy. great interview


This is very cool. Seems like Mizzou is in good hands. I would love a regular “Beyond the Pancakes” series that digs into more of the auxiliary work that is done in order to make a high-performing swim team. Not sure if that’s gonna be viable at every team you visit, but I enjoy nerding out about this stuff as much as I enjoy actually watching the fast swimming.


This guy is fantastic. I think a lot of college swim teams get stuck with an assistant football trainer that doesn’t understand the sport at all (or take the time to learn it). I also like his emphasis on flexibility. Good for him!


Ya, I’m torn on this one. He seems observant and open to new concepts. Unfortunately, the video shows swimmers performing Olympic lifts and some gimmick exercises. The problem with the collegiate CSCS concept is the manual and tests are written by football, the exercises are primarily for football, and the majority of personnel come through football-centric programs. The Olympic lifts are the exact opposite of swimming motions. And for those that say, “but strength development…”, opposite means opposite.

Ask a CSCS to demonstrate a biomechanically correct freestyle stroke. If they can’t, send them back to football. They aren’t qualified to develop “strength” in swimmers. The principle of specificity has been repeatedly proven over the last 40 years.


What do you say to the collegiate swim coach with a MS in Exercise Phys and a CSCS?

Coach Coach

I think a purely theoretical understanding is fine for a strength coach. That being said it needs to be an extremely thorough understanding. There are very few coaches like this, and considering Joe stated in the video that he doesn’t really know how certain things apply or what transfers to the pool I don’t think he’s one of them. Not trying to hate on the guy, but I’m a bit confused with the comments saying he’s great. He literally said he doesn’t know what applies and what transfers…


IMO Olympic Lifts translate directly to explosive multi-joint movements life underwater dolphin, starts, and turns. College swimming (short course yards swimming) is largely dependent on these skills, especially for 100 yards and down, which makes up a majority of the points available at a conference or national meet, with relays being included.


I’ve seen plenty of arguments that specificity in strength training is a myth. Olympic lifts are great and make you stronger and more powerful! I believe that these strength coaches know way more about strength training than most swim coaches. Many swim coaches simply bring pre conceived ideas of what strength training for swimmers is “supposed” to look like versus bringing actual science and research to the table.
Joe saying he doesn’t know what applies and transfers is refreshingly honest, because know one really knows. A common method is doing exercises that look like they should transfer….but again not much evidence that these specificity type exercises directly result in muscle recruitment during swimming.

About Coleman Hodges

Coleman Hodges

Coleman started his journey in the water at age 1, and although he actually has no memory of that, something must have stuck. A Missouri native, he joined the Columbia Swim Club at age 9, where he is still remembered for his stylish dragon swim trunks. After giving up on …

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