SURGE+: What can you learn from Caeleb Dressel

Courtesy of RITTER Sports Performance, a SwimSwam ad partner

Well folks, he did it again. Caeleb Dressel sent the swimming world into a mental explosion.

I love when amazing performances happen. Of course it is fun to watch, but the conversations that follow are absolutely stimulating. These conversations will further progress the sport of swimming to new stratospheres.

Anywhere a thought can be displayed, people are sharing what they think are the keys to Caeleb’s success. Coaches and athletes alike are trying to figure out what Caeleb has that other’s don’t. What is making him the most dominant yards swimmer in history?

Is it his strength? Is it his technique? Is it his nutrition? Is he just a genetic monster?

Even more important, coaches and athletes want to know what they can implement as part of their own programming to achieve new success.

Here’s some keys I have found to be critical while researching Caeleb’s training and his translation of training to performance.

Caeleb is not afraid to get stronger.

This is the mindset that plagues swimmers the most. “If I get too big and too heavy with muscle, I’ll slow down.” Swimmers echo a fear of weight training that is just starting to shift. Caeleb embraces this training head on. Caeleb gives small snapshots of his use of Olympic Weightlifting. His ability to produce and utilize force was on clear display during his championship season.

What coaches and swimmers are missing is the overall volume of the resistance training sessions. By keeping the repetitions low and the intensity high, an Caeleb builds strength without the massive increases in muscle size.

Recently I listened to a podcast by Vern Gambetta where he brought up how swim programs are still stuck in the 3×20 repetitions model for resistance training because they don’t want to bulk up like bodybuilders. He then laughed and pointed out that his is exactly what bodybuilders are doing to bulk up.

By keeping the repetitions low, swimmers can pick up the amazing benefits of strength and power without the extra bulk that so many fear. Don’t be afraid to chase a new level of strength in the weight room. Just remember to double down on your focus of proper technique.

Do you have to be an elite weightlifter to achieve swimming success? No, there are many different ways to achieve the same performance gains. For example, it is awesome that Caeleb has mastered the Olympic lifts. However, starting with a technically sound vertical jump or broad jump will help performance. Learning how to squat properly and then gradually loading the squat will provide massive benefit without the increased difficulty associated with the Olympic lifts.

Caeleb is a well-rounded athlete.

Swimming is awfully repetitive. Some coaches and athletes make the repetitive effects worse by specializing at an early age. As Jason Calanog shared, “My goal is for you to be a swimmer not just a ‘sprinter’ and when you’re 25 or 26, when you’re a man or a pro swimmer that’s a little bit different situation. But as a college person who’s 18 or 19, I want you to be called a ‘swimmer.’” I absolutely love this message. When walking on deck at clubs around the US, I often hear athletes claiming that they can’t sprint, can’t compete in fly, or can only do a certain event because that is their specialty. Middle schoolers and high schoolers echoing these words. As a coach or an athlete, your goal should be to make the base of the pyramid wide so that the peak can be high in the future.

Caeleb is cleaning up accolades for every stroke. Imagine if a coach would’ve told him that he was just a single stroke guy. Imagine if Michael Phelps was told to stick with one main event and forget the rest. Eight golds would’ve remained a dream or not even reached the level of human thought.

Diverse swim training will break up the monotony and will also help athletes experience fewer aches and pains. Dressel takes this a step further by going all in with injury prevention tactics outside of the water. From proper range of motion to strength, Caeleb sets himself up to be a resilient athlete.

Maybe he’s this good because he has had minimal interruptions in training due to injury? Athletes, take care of your bodies! If you want to improve, you need to minimize stoppages in training.

This is something we also believe in. Double down on injury prevention tactics. Simply logging uninterrupted training will push you to the path of success. This means you have to take care of the little things outside of the pool.

For example, we start every training session with something called “Function.” It’s that simple. The goal is to take care of the daily function of the human body. Proper range of motion. Check. Proper dispersion of force. Check. Proper strength and stability of the joints. Check. Warm musculature and increased blood flow for the task at hand. Check. This should be part of your daily routine.

Caeleb writes down a review of his training.

The NY Times shared an article about Caeleb back in 2016, and one major point stuck out about his training. Jason Calanog encouraged Caeleb keep a log book and write down information about each session. This is a critical step in athlete development. You have to know where you are to know where you need to progress to next.

Dressel takes things further than just scribbling down a few notes. The NY Times article share’s Calanog’s review of Caeleb’s log.

“His entries were definitely at a higher level than I’ve ever seen by a swimmer. He’d write pages and pages about how every muscle felt and what he wanted his stroke to feel like.”

How many of you approach a test set and don’t remember what you did previously? How many of you approach an exercise in the gym and don’t remember what you did last week?

If either of these questions sound like you, does this sound like a a recipe for progression?

One thing we encourage is the constant logging of data. This doesn’t have to be a mundane task.

We believe you need to write down where you are to know how far you’ve come and where you can go next. Our SURGE+ community, 1:1 athletes, and teams participate in readiness surveys before and after each training session and log all of their training on an app platform. This way the data is always saved and used for continuous progression. With built in monthly challenges, athletes are always seeing how much performance has progressed.

Progression is much easier when we don’t rely 100% on abstract thought. As an athlete or a coach, the balance of art and concrete data is the breakfast of champions. The steps you need to progress as a coach or an athlete are attainable. It just takes a little dedication to implementation to reap the benefits.

Maybe you’re not ready to train like Dressel but want some dryland solutions that will empower your performance. Maybe you don’t know where to start and are afraid of getting injured. Maybe you want to progress but don’t know how.

Take a free trial of our SURGE+ membership. You can get full access to three levels of training, performance webinars, video tutorials, and more. Joining will unlock the tools you need to optimize your training and continue your progression as a swimmer.



About RITTER Sports Performance:

RITTER Sports Performance helps swimmers go faster and coaches get better, worldwide. Through our online resources on strength training, stroke technique, swim-training, race analysis or nutritional coaching–RITTER is ready to help you take your swimming to the next level. Are you?










RITTER Sports Performance is a SwimSwam partner. 

In This Story

Leave a Reply

6 Comment threads
14 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
17 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted

On a total side note, I wonder where he gets his ink done and how long it has taken him to get it all done


I don’t know if he mentions a name but he seems to get it done by an artist in Florida, most likely local/ relatively close to him. His forearm was done last year and his upper arm was in the fall/summer of 2017 It would seem. He wants to redo the eagle on his shoulder so It’ll most likely be around 3 years to get the whole sleeve. It’d be faster if he didn’t have to stay out of the pool to let it heal.


I’m willing to bet he isn’t staying out of the pool to let it heal. A pool is a fairly sterile environment. I have two sleeves and pretty much half my back and I’ve surfed or swam within 24 hours of all work.


Would the ink make his body less hydrodynamic? I have zero knowledge about inks but just imagining that they make the skin less smooth???


No your skin should be a smooth as before. If your tat is rough that artist or hack job in that case gouged you and scared you. I’ve got a small first tattoo that I’m pretty sure the artist was pissed at her boyfriend and hated men at the time cause she scared me bad and it’s raised. Everything else is smooth as they should be.


That headline….waiting for a comment by Steve Nolan

JP input is too short

“I want you to be called a ‘swimmer.'”

I’d made it even more general. By age 18 or 19, I want you to be called an athlete. Way too many swimmers used to lack the general athletic ability to even do something simple like a box jump competently. I think this is changing and that’s one of the main reasons why swimming performances have surged in the past few years.


This. Dressel has bridged the gap between “swimmer” and “athlete” more than anyone else I can think of. I think that short course swimming necessarily needs to have even more of a focus on that, but it’s definitely still relevant in a LCM 400, 800, or even 1500 race.


I still tell the kids I coach everyday to be an athlete not a swimmer!
Also if they are more athlete than swimmer they’ll be great at yards
More swimmer than Athelte means long course is for them. Then you find a rare bread that excels at both
( Dressel, Phelps, Lochte, Coughlin)
Strive to be an athelte !


Has anybody noticed how carefully the greatest sprinter in swimming Sarah Sjostrom steps up on block. Like she is afraid of losing equilibrium and falling in the pool. I don’t know if she is a good athlete or she isn’t really, but it is always funny to watch how she is getting ready for the start.
No doubts that it is great to be a great athlete and a great swimmer at the same time but it isn’t necessarily strongly related feats. Same situation as with different strokes in swimming. Great breaststroke can be nobody in freestyle and vice versa. Great IMer can have average ranking in individual strokes.


Well said! One of the best swimmers on my small team is a part time gymnast.

Don't want to miss anything?

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive our latest updates!