I’ve Never Seen An NZ Coach Do Speed Work

Compared to swim coaching I’ve seen in the USA and track sessions I’ve watched, I have never seen a NZ swimming coach do speed work. Most swimming training sessions end up as, what Lydiard described as, “fruit salad training”. They are a jumbled mixture of some aerobic swimming, some anaerobic swimming, topped off with a dozen sprints. I’ve even been told that elements of each type of training are included in every session to avoid swimmers “losing fitness”. When I told Lydiard that expression he said, “Where would it go?”

The “losing fitness” comment is nonsense of course. Fitness, whether it is aerobic, anaerobic or speed, does not come and go in 24 hours. There is nothing at all wrong with planning sessions that are short and devoted entirely to speed. Speed sessions have to be short. Why? Because they are fast. Another Lydiard quote explains it better.

“You can’t run around the Waitakeres and a four minute mile at the same time.”

I went through a period where the thought of a 2500 meter training session would fill me with fear. The distance was too short. Bad things, although I was never sure what they were, had to result from such lethargy. But then two experiences occurred that gave me confidence,, that calmed my fears.

The first was during a trip to the World Cup Finals in Majorca. The NZ team was Phillipa Langrell, Danyon Loader and Toni Jeffs. Duncan Laing was the coach. I was there as Toni’s coach. We decided to break the trip for a swim in Singapore. Toni was racing half a world away in three days and so I asked her to swim and easy 500, some freestyle drills, some easy kick, four or five dives and an easy 500 warm down; about 2000 in total. After the swim Duncan and I were having coffee in the pool coffee shop, talking about our shared support for the Otago rugby team.

Duncan changed the subject and said, “This is the first time I’ve really met you. I have to say I liked the short, easy swim Toni did today. I’ve been on teams where, on stops like this, swimmers have been told to plough through 6000 or 7000 meter training sessions and wonder why their racing doesn’t work.”

I’d never thought about it before but Duncan had a point. Certainly his views made an impression on me. If it was good enough for Duncan Laing it was good enough for me. I guess confirmation came a week later when the whole team, all three swimmers returned to New Zealand with World Cup Finals medals; a 100% record at a world meet. As far as I am aware that is the only occasion a New Zealand team has achieved that level of performance in a worldwide meet.

The second was at the Central American Championships swim meet in Kingston, Jamaica. The Kingston athletic track was across the road from the pool. It was the training home of some huge names in world sprinting – Bolt, Ottey, Hemmings, Wint, Quarrie, Campbell-Brown, Thompson. The list of Jamaican Olympic sprint medallists is 77 names long. Jamaica has painted their faces on a wall beside the track. It is an impressive sight.

During a lunch break in the swimming I noticed a couple of huge guys walking into the track. Were they members of the feared Jamaican sprint team, I wondered? Sure enough there on the track were three guys and two girls warming up. Obviously I had to stay and watch. The table below summarises what I saw.

Much more time was spent stretching than in a normal swimming training session

Much more time was spent on technical drills than in a normal swimming training session

Much more time was spent on discussions between the athletes and the coach than in a normal training session

Much longer rest intervals were taken between training efforts. Rests included easy walking and lying down resting.

The main sets were shorter, emphasised technique, and the effort runs more intense than in a normal swimming training session

The atmosphere of fun and laughter was night and day different from the structured slog of the normal, whistle-controlled military exercise characteristic of many swim training sessions.

I was impressed. Surely my coaching for speed would improve by incorporating some of a features used so naturally by the fastest men and women in the world. I resolved to give it a go.

Eyad’s training today is shown in the table below.


WU 400/4×100/4×50

Kick 400 with fins

Kick 4×25 no fins

MS 10×25 long rest fast done as 5 free, 3 fly, 2 breast

MS 4×25 kick fast done as one each stroke

WD 200


WU 400/4×100/4×50

MS 2000 Straight Easy

Kick 500 No Fins

I can hear the screams from a dozen club committee members from here. “That’s not enough training. What are we paying you good money for, to hand out 2000 or 3000 metre sessions? The club next door are doing 7000 meters of hard 400IMs. I think we need a new coach.”

Well the training was done by the swimmer who has just won the Auckland Short Course 50 freestyle championship. I guess it depends whether you want a 50 meter swimmer who is good at 400IMs or, like a group of Jamaican sprinters, a swimmer who competes over short distances pretty fast. Short, fast speed – try it – it’s fun.

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