Courtesy: Commit Swimming, a SwimSwam partner.
Every coach you talk to has their own opinion on which should be the priority between technique work and building fitness.
Technique work is designed to improve the stroke and make it more efficient. Building fitness is building the engine so the swimmer can work harder and longer.
You’ll find 2 common types of coaches on any team:
- The technique guru
- The “work until you drop” coach
First, the technique guru… This is the coach that has a relatively low volume program. They spend a lot of time swimming slower and usually talk to the kids A LOT during practice. On his free time, you’ll find this coach reading, researching and watching hours of video on swimming trying to find new ways to improve their swimmer’s stroke.
Then you have the “work until you drop” coach… When this coach is working with swimmers, there is no rest. You move from set to set and all are moderate to high intensity all practice. If this coach does any specific drill work, it is usually an afterthought like telling swimmers to go do 500 yards of fingertip drag.
Talk to 10 different coaches, and you’ll get 10 different opinions as to which method works better and why. Some will say that just having the kids do the work will naturally improve their technique. Others follow the idea that we work on technique for the first few weeks then transition to a lot of volume. Then you find the ones that are all on one side or the other.
So, which is the “best” method?
The coach that can put together a hard work environment with continuous technique work built into the set will build quick, agile, and intelligent swimmers. Swimmers that can adjust technique and strategy within a race because how they are swimming is a choice.
What does this look like in practice?
Take a simple set like 10×100 free on 1:30. Simple enough right, doesn’t take long to explain and a quick little 1000y/m set.
But what does the swimmer get out of a set like that? What are they trying to do within the set? Are they focused on improving or achieving certain goals within the set or are they just swimming because you said go?
That’s where adding a bit of technique and execution goals within the set comes in.
Turn the set from a basic 10×100 free on 1:30 to having each swimmer work on some aspect of their stroke or execution they need to work on. It could be hit a prescribed number of fly kicks off the walls, maintain a stroke count per lap, hit a certain time on each repetition, keep a relaxed recovery, have a certain tempo they try to maintain…
Taking a typical “endurance” set and adding in custom pieces that keep the swimmers engaged while swimming will lead to long term improvements that stick. Doing drills without a thought as to how they integrate into the rest of the practice is a waste.
How can you start adding that in?
If you haven’t done anything like that before, adding layers onto their set that requires them to think their way through – don’t make it too complicated from the start.
Start with something simple like stroke counting. Try to get them to maintain the count through a set and see how they do. You’ll find swimmers that have no problem with this. Then you’ll have the ones that forget, lose track every length, can’t remember the numbers, just outright lie because they don’t want to do it.
Keep it small, check in on them, spot check what they are saying to you. And as they start getting one extra piece, add another thought it slowly. Try having them maintain a relaxed recovery arm while counting and maintaining time.
Initially, once you add that next step many swimmers will find it tough to count and think about anything else. Or to keep the relaxed arm every stroke and still know what repetition they are on.
What you gain over time though is invaluable. You are training not just their bodies – you are training their mind. You are teaching them to focus on what they are doing and make small improvements. Small improvements made consistently are massive down the road.
Here’s one piece that has to change though – you… If you’ve never coached sets like this, you are in for a shock initially. It requires far more focus than just sending them on an interval. You start having to remember counts, time, repetition, strengths and weaknesses in every kind of set. Your practices take longer to write because they all have to build on each other not just in a fitness sense but now with added mental pieces too.
Take the time to train yourself to be more engaged, write more dynamic sets and you’ll start seeing your swimmers break through barriers like never before.
With the “technique” or “work until you drop” coach, you’ll find a few token swimmers that prove their style works. With the merging of styles, your entire team starts to improve. The ones in the back AND the ones in the front get stronger and faster together.
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