Recounting Stupid Swim Training Ideas

By David

Some guys will do anything to find an easy way out. The best sprinter at my school used to lie on our couch in the Prefect’s Room and pathetically whine, “David, I wish there was a pill you could take to become an Olympic champion.” Well today, Nigel my friend, there almost is. It’s still not a good idea though.

Lydiard had a better thought and it was so very simple. He said winning a swimming or running race required three things. First it required a fit aerobic system, so each season should spend ten weeks getting that into order. It required a fit anaerobic system, so work on that for four weeks. And it meant being race prepared and fast, so spend a final ten weeks seeing to that task. Aerobically fit, anaerobically fit and race sharp; winning performances would follow.

Lydiard based his preparation on sound physiological principles. Aerobic conditioning is improved by running or swimming many miles. Anaerobic conditioning is improved by swimming or training over modest distances at a pretty fast pace. Speed and race conditioning are improved by hard fast trials over short distances. So, he said in a blaze of brilliance, why don’t we do that?

Not everyone has the clarity of thought to see the training process in these simple terms. The mark of true genius is to see, understand and explain complex situations in clear, unadorned logic. That was Lydiard’s genius.

Not everyone is that clever. I’ve come across some amazing theories. One ex-New Zealand national coach used to explain his training in terms of energy systems and speeds that all had numbers and definition codes. I never had any trouble understanding Lydiard, but this guy was too much for me. I wish I could explain to you how his training worked but try as I might I still don’t know. I’ve often wondered how his swimmers ever understood something that complicated.

At the other end of the complexity scale was a guy who worked for me for a very short time. His training theory was based on the story of a young Spanish boy who had a pet bull calf. The boy figured that if he lifted the calf every day, he would be capable of lifting a thousand pound beast by the time the bull was fully grown. Applying the same logic, this coach said, he would take a twelve year old swimmer, race her over 50 meters on their first weekend, sprint train her all week and race her again. As long as each weekend’s trial was a tenth of a second faster than the previous weekend, by age fifteen or sixteen he would have a world record holder. We parted company about a day after he explained this unique theory.

A few years ago I got a call from a coach who said he wanted two or three “Lydiard distance training sessions.” He told me that all the different training ideas were confusing him so he decided he would get some Lydiard type schedules from me for Monday’s training, some interval sessions from a specialist interval coach for Tuesday, some sprint schedules from a “Salo” type coach for Wednesday and so on through the week. He would, he said, then have the ultimate in a balanced program. His squad would be getting a bit of everybody’s ideas – it just had to work. I couldn’t believe it but I gave him week five’s Saturday morning Waitakeres session. All that was a couple of years ago now and I haven’t heard of a host of champions coming from his squad so I guess his idea of a balanced program needs to be reviewed. Perhaps week two’s Thursday session might have worked!

Another coach spent an evening telling me that his coaching secret lay in a deep understanding of bio-rhythms. Before he wrote up his training schedules he’d fill out one of those bio-rhythm charts for his key swimmers and base his program on the result. I know you think I’m making this stuff up. But I swear it’s true. My bio-rhythms for today tell me I am in “very good physical shape. Instead of wasting it I should go for a run or walk,” – looks like there’s no swimming for me today.

But it’s not only coaches that have flown over the training cuckoo nest. There are some real strange parents too. One of the best brought her daughter to the pool to join the swim team. She spent some time asking me about training. I explained aerobic, anaerobic, speed; all that stuff. She listened attentively and then said she would bring her daughter back in three months. She said she knew a better way of getting her daughter started than swimming hundreds of kilometers for all those weeks. “What was her idea?” I asked. She said she knew a very special hypnotherapist who could get her daughter’s aerobic conditioning done in ten half hour sessions. I told her to let me know if it worked. There are a few of my guys who’d love to nap themselves into shape. I’ve not seen her since.

At the world rugby championships in France just now, the New Zealand team are training with an eye patch on one eye to improve the vision of the unveiled eye. Each player also has a test tube of dirt from every rugby ground in New Zealand. The idea is that the soil of home will give them strength. I know of a swim team in New Zealand’s that are asked to lie on the pool deck visualizing their future: their coach calls it, “dream time”. A local swimmer was reported in the newspaper recently as being into “Bikram Yoga”; evidently it flushes “out the toxins in my body”. Whenever I hear any of this stuff, I hear also the voice of Lydiard growling that they should all do an extra 2000 meters, “It would do them more good.”

And, of course, Lydiard is right. Do the training properly and there is no need for packages of dirt, eye patches or even hypnotherapy. The knowledge that your preparation has made you fitter, stronger and faster than your opponents is a toxic combination that all the yoga in the world will never expel.