Archive for September, 2007

Recounting Stupid Swim Training Ideas

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

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.

Individualism versus Mob Rule

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

By David

I see we have been the beneficiaries of another sermon from Mount Swimnews. This time, “from heaven did the Lord behold the earth,” and say, “Individuals without a strong team structure behind them tend to emerge from Olympic finals with a ranking equal to or lower than that they enjoyed going into Olympic year.”

Craig Lord is arguing in favor of, what he calls, the strong American team system and against the disruption of personality that he says is affecting the South African team just now.

It’s pretty typical of establishment commentators like Lord to revere conformity and abhor individualism. But to suggest that independent individuals are somehow weaker and less able to perform great deeds is just rubbish.

Probably the world’s greatest sportsman, Mohammed Ali, was the ultimate independent individual. For a period he stood alone; denied status by his sport and his nation. He was shot at, jailed, and refused permission to play. He was alone and hated, without a team or a nation. But he emerged a supreme winner. By the strength of his character and iron will, he overcame. Ali, the individual beat his sport and won over his country. Craig Lord is never going to convince me that the Mohammed Ali that stood and lit the Atlanta Olympic flame was the product of some team factory. To believe that is to belittle and diminish the strength of Ali’s character and the torment of his lonely exile.

Lord’s wildly inaccurate view also ignores the record of magnificent African runners. Men like Abbe Bikila, and Kip Keino; women like Lornah Kiplagat and Mary Chemweno. Bikila didn’t have a team; he didn’t even have shoes when he ran 2.15.16 to win the Rome Olympic marathon.

Kip Keino didn’t need a team either. Fancy that, the man who won two Olympic gold and two silver medals and is now revered as the father of the African running revolution didn’t have a team. How did he do it? He did it like all the other best Olympic athletes. He was tough, he worked hard and he was an individual, maybe even a slightly lonely one.

Lord’s view that team structure is the driving force behind America’s Olympic success is simplistic and misleading. Team structure has little to do with it. To say that it does, runs counter to one of the most basic underlying qualities of American life; the value it puts on individualism. As long ago as 1840 Alex de Tocqueville in his book “Democracy in America” described Americans as exceptionally individualistic; “each man is forever thrown back upon himself, and there is a danger that he may shut up in the solitude of his own heart.” One only has to look as far as the absence of universal health care in the United States, to detect the American’s belief in individual, rather than team responsibility.

Individual personal gain is the fuel that drives America’s gold medal victories, just as obviously as it has driven its corporate and industrial success. A façade of team unity may modestly strengthen America’s individualism. It certainly makes the drive for personal gain more politically acceptable. Lord, however, has seen the façade of America’s team structure, and has described it to us as the substance of America’s success.

One does not need to scratch the American team structure far to see the cult of individualism appear. Lochte is hard at work now because he wants to win the 200IM in Beijing in twelve months. He undoubtedly does not wish Phelps any ill will but my guess is he certainly wants him to be second. Don’t be fooled by the well rehearsed cheers and untroubled contract signings; life in the USA team is probably more cut throat than any other team in the world. Sure, US swimmers don’t hate each other but at the international level it’s every man and woman for themselves.

It’s a bit off the subject but I tell you what US swimmers do have that helps them win. They have bloody good officials and a good Federation. US athletes are looked after. They are paid well. Their Federation is efficient and fair. If you don’t believe me; does your Association have an air conditioned lounge with TV, soda, Gatorade, water and as much good food as you can eat at its national championships. They don’t? Well the Americans do and in a way that lounge is symbolic of why American swimmers are the world’s best. It’s not a team thing, but it is looking after the individual.

Lord may tell you that “individuals without a strong team structure” are likely to fail. He is wrong. If you’re swimming laps in the North Sydney pool, running Lydiard’s Waitakeres in New Zealand, or swimming a hard set of 400s freestyle in Florida’s heat; wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, it’s not a team structure you need. You need to be tough, dedicated and hard beyond belief. If you are, you can win an Olympic gold medal, on your own.

Cotton Chicken; Candy Nuggets

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

We visited Pig Out in the Park in Spokane, Washington this weekend. It will take a lot of swimming and running to work off the food and beer, but we had to share this lovely sign we came across during the event. Cotton Chicken and Candy Nuggets for the win!