Lessons From Legends: Tough Stuff, The Response

Chuck Warner, author and coach, is an old friend. Thoughtful and passionate about the sport, he has studied the details behind what it takes to achieve swimming excellence.

Lessons from Legends

I’m not a fan of sequels. It creates memories of famed titles like Teen Wolf Too, the second Blues Brothers and sitting through Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel — something only a loving parent can do for their child.

But given the thoughtful feedback to the article “Tis The Season For…Tough Stuff” a response and an expanded view seems called for—preferably just for coaches. Swimmers, stop reading.

Some of the most prolific comments to the first article:

“Swimmer burn out.”

“All distance swimmer examples except Ian Crocker.”

“Outdated”examples.

And my favorite, “Borderline child abuse.”

Casey Converse’s 20,000 for time brought a particular amount of attention and criticism. It is the mission of the “Lessons from Legends” series to inform and educate swimmers, parents, coaches and fans about the history of swimming, encourage thinking, but not to try to judge what’s right and wrong. So below are a few more thoughts you might consider.

In the summer of 1987, Jerry Frenstos improved his swimming tremendously and finished third at the USA Nationals in the 400-meter individual medley. Jerry wasn’t very tall (5’7”)─about the same height as world record holder Dave Wharton and both athletes were not nearly the height or talent of a Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, or Tom Dolan. Jerry won a gold medal at the 1987 Pan American Games but his time of 4:23.3 was still well behind Jeff Kostoff and Dave Wharton’s world record of 4:17.

Since only two swimmers could make the 1988 Olympic team what could Frentsos do to catch up?

In the fall of 1987 he told his coach he had heard that Wharton had completed 11 x 1000s individual medley, long course meters. The trick to succeeding was getting through butterfly as you tired. He asked his coach if he could try to exceed the distance Wharton had covered. In November Jerry swam 12 x 1000 long course individual medleys, barely getting his arms out of the water on the last 250-meter butterfly on the 12th one thousand.

The next day Jerry asked his coach if he could find a day in the winter or spring that fit into training, when he could try to increase his distance. Although Jerry’s training included a strong quality element (such as 80 x 50s, 8 fast on :45 long course, 2 ez), six months later he swam 20 x 1000 individual medleys. He could have swum longer, but he had tickets to the Cincinnati Reds game that started at 7:30 pm,  and at 7:00 he decided to stop at 20.

His counter and split taker was “the abused” Casey Converse. His average 1000 time was about 14:43, better than Casey had swam freestyle in his ‘punishment swim’ 12 years earlier.

At the US Trials in July, Jerry was the most improved of the top 10 world ranked 400 individual medley swimmers, dropping his best time about three seconds to 4:20.5. But Kostoff beat him for second by 18-hundredths of a second for the second spot on the Olympic team.

When a swimmer starts asking a coach for great challenges, you know you have a special athlete. It was Mary T Meagher that asked Dennis Pursely about swimming a 10,000 butterfly, not the other way around.

Are these examples outdated? Mary T’s time in the 200-meter butterfly from 1981 would have made the 2012 USA Olympic Team and been in the finals in London.

The idea for the book …And Then They Won Gold came from Coach Eddie Reese. One of the things Eddie told me that was essential to tell coaches was the endurance work that athletes like Ian Crocker did in high school such as 100 x 100s and 20 x 200s fly. Ian’s 50.4 100-meter fly is current isn’t it? His short course meter times during his senior year of college are some of the fastest of all time.

Dave Salo is one of the most effective coaches in the world today, and thrives on challenging his swimmers with short distances and fast swim training. But before Aaron Peirsol won any of his five Olympic gold medals in backstroke he swam some 1650/1500s backstroke, instead of freestyle, in some of the Southern California senior meets.

So what’s the point?

Being the most effective swimming coach in the world is the result of helping athletes become motivated to do whatever is required to excel and to feed their minds and bodies with the right amount of inspiration, emotional support and challenging work at the right time.

The two plants pictured are great examples. photo

My Plant

Both are the same type of plants, but the one on the left is years older than the one on the right. It hasn’t grown nearly as much as a result of an owner that doesn’t have as good a feel for when to water it, when to fertilize it and how to progressively provide it sun in the spring and summer. You might say that he is outdated or ignorant in his knowledge of how to help a plant grow.

You could say the small plant has been drowned in water by it’s owner, on many occasions burned out by the sun or to put it simply experienced ‘plant abuse.’

The bigger plant has spent much more time in the sun and endured much heavier watering. But it has been done at the right time and in a progressive manner.

Swimmers are the same way.

No one has to do 20,000s to become the best in the world. A study of the training of Bobby Hackett in 1976 (Four Champions, One Gold Medal) to Grant Hackett in 2000-2008 (…And Then They Won Gold) spells out two choices for distance training pretty clearly.

But the art of coaching is choosing when to challenge, and with what type of work, when to recover and the coaches art is being ‘painted’ on a dynamic canvas of the swimmer’s body that changes every day and whose capacity is unique to each individual.

That is the amazing predicament that you accept when you choose to become a swimming coach.andthentheywon9 - Copy

Chuck Warner has been a swimming coach for more than forty years. His teams have won seven national Y team championships, been runners-up for the NCAA Division II championship three times, been a USA National Team swim coach three times and Big East Conference coach of the year four times. Chuck has authored two books: “Four Champions, One Gold Medal” about the training and race for the 1500 meter gold medal in the 1976 Olympics. “…And Then They Won Gold: Stepping Stones To Swimming Excellence – Volume I” is out now. It is eight short stories of some of the greatest male swimmers in history. The second volume devoted to women’s swimmers is due out next year. He is the founder, President and CEO of Arete Aquatic Services and owner of the ARETE Swim Camp.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ORDERING“…And Then They Won Gold” go towww.areteswim.com and access “Books/Media.”

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Jeff
8 years ago

Agreed, I have a swimmer that on her own, when she learned about Mary T doing 10,000 butterfly asked if she could do something like that. So we did 100 x 100 butterfly because she wanted to.
Her first amazing feat was when she was 8 years old she wanted to do a 1000 butterfly, so I let her. Her efforts have allowed her to be among the top ten in the US for her age group.

Keep up the excellent writing.

Reply to  Jeff
8 years ago

Chuck,
Thanks for the excellence response & more insight into doing things at the right time. I’ve been fortunate to have had 2 girls groups of 5 swimmers (13-14yrs. & college age) do a 24 hr. relay of primarily 50’s with great effort and watching 3 of 5 girls doing their best 100 free at the end of 24hrs. and several going on to become world class swimmers who didn’t even have Jr. cuts before doing this. It’s made be believe that doing things way out of our comfort zone weather 20 x 1000 IM, 10,000 Fly for time (not one I would have folks do) or insanely fast 50’s & 4-5,ooo yard workouts, it’s all about getting to… Read more »

Admin
Reply to  Tim H
8 years ago

Wait, did you say 24 hr. relay?? With only 5 swimmers??? I’m impressed.

Pvk
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 years ago

What is a 24 hr. relay??

Reply to  Braden Keith
8 years ago

Braden re: 24 Hr. relay. This had been a Guinness Book of Records swim that 5 British men had done in the 70’s. Had a 13 yr. girl that wanted to break a World record & she found in the records. I said find 4 others that wanted to do it & she did including a future to be world record holder in the 400 thru the 1500. Basically it’s non stop 50’s in relay fashion going fast & go 72 miles. Years later a group of college women wanted to take on the challenge that had gotten faster – though they missed the 82 miles, then swam well & went around 30K per swimmer averaging around 26-27 seconds per… Read more »

JB
8 years ago

The quote that comes to my mind is “when the eagles soar, the parrots will jabber” from Winston Churchill. Everyone will only go so far as they are willing to push themselves, but there are a special few who are able to take on the big challenges. They and the support staff around them deserve accolades for trying to push the limits. Not everyone makes it, but some will spectacularly. Kudos to Coach Warner for responding to the naysayers with this – without the challenges of some of these sets we would not know what is possible in our sport. Let the naysayers focus on themselves – leave the eagles alone. They don’t need you.

swim coach
8 years ago

“Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.” — Buddha

Chest Rockwell
8 years ago

I am a young coach trying to learn so hopefully this question spurs on discussion and not defensive responses –

“When a swimmer starts asking a coach for great challenges, you know you have a special athlete. It was Mary T Meagher that asked Dennis Pursely about swimming a 10,000 butterfly, not the other way around.”

What does swimming a 10,000 butterfly do for someone who is training to swim a 200 fly? Even if she completed the swim in just over 2 hours (which would have been something to see), what is the training benefit for someone swimming a race that is 1/50th the length? It is natural to assume she was training well below race pace, wouldn’t this… Read more »

coacherik
Reply to  Chest Rockwell
8 years ago

Rockwell- That type of swim is almost purely psychological. The potential for confidence building is huge, if the swimmer is wired that way AND they don’t get hurt in the process. I would think from a purely physiological stand point, there is little to be gained in this. The gray area is the mind controlling the body and the impact confidence has on the bodies ability to do incredible things. In a race situation Mary T. steps up to the block thinking and knowing she is (probably) the only one behind the blocks in that championship heat who has done that.

I was and still am one of those nay-sayers. A jabbering parrot, if you will. I certainly believe in… Read more »

RK
Reply to  Chest Rockwell
8 years ago

While completing a time-trial of this distance does not directly relate to a 200 yd race, it does increase one’s capacity to do training sets that do relate to a 200 yd race with much more effectiveness. Read Bowman’s articles about why Michael would do 10x 800s as a part of his training, It explains the concept very well.

Doing that one time-trial didn’t improve the race, it improved the training done afterward.

ChestRockwell
Reply to  RK
8 years ago

Here is where I am in my thought with this sport – why do swimmers, unlike virtually any other athletic endeavor, train one way and race a different way? If we were actors, we wouldn’t be rehearsing “Glengarry Glen Ross” for 3 months and then expect to perform “Romeo and Juliette” on opening night, right? So why do we train swimmers entirely different than how they race? 10X800 would be a purely aerobic set – but practically nothing we do is a purely aerobic race, nor would anyone except the extremely rare Michael/Ryan/Missy/Natalie need to have the capacity to swim multiple races on multiple days at 6 day meets. Trust me, I’ve agonized over this. What is the training benefit… Read more »

Josh
Reply to  ChestRockwell
8 years ago

First, you have to ask yourself what sports you’re comparing this to. Gymnasts, for example, train six to eight hours a day, six days per week for events that last no longer than the men’s 200m freestyle.

Track athletes are physiologically unable to train like swimmers because of the incredible load forces imposed on their joints when their feet strike, and those forces increase as the speed does. Even with closely monitored training programs and limited workouts on the track, elite-level track stars get injured far more frequently than elite-level swimmers. What you have to wonder is whether or not if all things were equal and running had the same impact force as swimming (virtually none), would track athletes train… Read more »

Chest Rockwell
Reply to  Josh
8 years ago

Right, but are the Gymnasts who train for so long every practicing movements or technique they wouldn’t want to do in a performance? Or are they trying to perfect every movement so it is automatic? Also, they have multiple disciplines to practice with little crossover between them, which certainly adds to the training needed.

My hang up is that the stroked employed/physiological adaptations incurred from training longer than race distance is different from the stroke employed, physiological needs of short, intense bursts of work, which is what most of competitive swimming consists of.

RK
Reply to  ChestRockwell
8 years ago

I’ve read both SprintSalo and Brent’s article. As well as several article from coaches on the other side of the debate. At the end of the day, the best thing I can say to this ongoing debate about Over-distance vs. Velocity training is that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

You can not argue that both methods have had successes and failures. Some athletes adapt to better to different forms of training.

I particularly have seen injuries occur on both sides. I believe that injury rates have more to due with poor technique, physical development issues, and or lack of consistent practice attendance/ effort.

As for burnout, I believe this has more to do with… Read more »

RK
Reply to  RK
8 years ago

I also believe that you have to take the full body and as a whole, in understanding training effect.

The human body is an incredible thing, as well as the mind. It is capable of adapting for a multitude of tasks at once. We may never truly understand exactly how it does this, be we must recognize that it does.

It is because of this that a 20K Time-trial can prepare the body and mind to train at a higher level, going forward than if it never experienced the 20K. The 20K lifted the bodies aptitude to handle not just the intensity of the duration of the 20K but also greater intensity of a shorter duration. As well as… Read more »

wonkabar23
Reply to  RK
8 years ago

Are these articles as well as the Bowman one on why Phelps swims 10 x 800s online anywere.

Thanks

RK
Reply to  RK
8 years ago

The articles ran originally in American Swimming Magazine, and have been reprinted a couple of times. I have never tried to find them online, but assume that they would be available, as I have found other articles from the same publication in the past. I believe the article was a part of a bigger talk on training for the 400 IM.

The key point of it can also be found in Bowman’s usas online clinic on training capacities.

I don’t want to try to summarize the articles, because I’m afraid I wouldn’t do them justice. What I took from it was this…
Capacity based training is the sum total of all the non-specific at or under threshold… Read more »

NMCoach
Reply to  Chest Rockwell
8 years ago

It is purely from the mental aspect of training…when someone can do a 10,000 fly straight…they know they can accomplish anything!

I think people need to separate the “daily” or “weekly” massive sets from the Christmas training sets. We will do approximately 150% over our normal daily total over the course of the 2 weeks of Christmas training. Why do I choose to do it that way…2 reasons; first and most importantly – it culminates our aerobic base training for the short course season and second, for the mental aspect of being able to accomplish that amount of workload. And when you place it in the season-long perspective, this 2-week period represents less than 5% of their training. And when… Read more »

ChestRockwell
Reply to  NMCoach
8 years ago

Can you define “aerobic base?” I used to use that term a lot as well, but most of what I’ve read recently says that swimming is a mostly anaerobic sport, so why have we all be so concerned with training their aerobic systems? It also seems like separating the three energy systems isn’t possible, all are being used to some degree in all races/practices, the % just change slightly depending on which race it is, so why did we/do we try and train just the “aerobic system” in the early season?

Ben
Reply to  NMCoach
8 years ago

Lets get some science in here. I did a 20,000 yard race (race in that the idea was to go as fast overall as possible…) last year, and while I’m not necessarily a perfectly controlled experiment, I think there were some interesting results. The swim took me 3 hours 42 minutes including all of the time spent resting at the wall (which means pretty steady 1:06s). Splits were taken the whole way through. I was a little fast on the first 5000 at 54:30 but the next three were all evenly split. I didn’t get my heart rate at all during the swim, but mentally I can say that I felt like the first 10000 was very easy and smooth.… Read more »

Chest Rockwell
Reply to  Ben
8 years ago

“THAT kind of practice is very good at preparing you to PRACTICE better but I do not think it has a direct impact on races.”

This is a huge part of my currently line of thinking – is the goal is to prepare people to be great trainers or do we want them to be great racers?

RK
Reply to  Chest Rockwell
8 years ago

We should be doing both. Athletes have to be prepared to train better, if they are going to use the specific training in the most effective way. Often we can get better race specific training as a result of the capacity based training done in conjunction, which can potentially mean better results at the end of the season.

I really like Ben’s comments because I agree that one without the other does not ensure positive meet results. You must do both at the right times of the year.

Plus, we have a responsibility to our athletes to make sure that they are prepared to handle the expectations of whichever college coach they choose to work with. We can not… Read more »

Opinionated
Reply to  Chest Rockwell
8 years ago

I think the biggest misconception in coaching today is that if you can create the perfect physical preparation for an athlete, they will beat an equally talented and/or superior athlete. I lean towards the philosophy that says that someone who has done something grueling and exceptional (i.e. a 10,000 for time) will touch the wall before an athlete that has never been challenged in that way. The “bada$$” factor will usually win out.

Josh
8 years ago

I’d like to hear Trina Radke weigh in on this. I mean, she swam for Shoulberg and went through some pretty insane workouts with Dave Wharton, Sue Heon, Dave Hartzel, Ron Karnaugh, Karin LaBerge, Polly Winde etc.

Chest Rockwell
8 years ago

@wonka –

Sprint Salo (I emailed the publisher and he said “just print a copy from the internet, so don’t feel bad about this) – http://www.teamunify.com/tsc/__doc__/146380_4_Sprintsalo.pdf

Rushall – http://coachsci.sdsu.edu/swim/bullets/energy39.pdf

Bowman – http://www.usaswimming.org/_Rainbow/Documents/c1f11511-1699-45d1-b1b6-4aaeb1dda88f/Capacity%20Training%20for%2010%20Year%20Olds.pdf (looks like something John Leonard did based on BB’s presentation)

Enjoy!

wonkabar23
Reply to  Chest Rockwell
8 years ago

Chest,

Thank you for these.

8 years ago

No matter how you look at it one man’s pain is another man’s glory. Each person is different and each can train different. To get success you need to go beyond what you think you can do. Yes you can 6,400 IM’s all week long and get nothing but sick of swimming but you can do it once in a while and get great results because you swim it as a challenge you can try to beat. This is where the coach needs to motivate not punish with sets like these. If any point during your race you feel like giving up and for one instance you remember “hey this is nothing compared to what we did a few weeks… Read more »

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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