21 year-old Johannes came into camp as a friend of one of my professional triathletes. As it turned out, he is a strong biker and runner, but in the pool, there was no way he could go the pace of the team. His 50m were at 45 seconds, his 100m at 1:38 minutes. He slowed down after 1000m of swimming. However, when he left camp 2 weeks later, his 50m were consistent at 38 seconds; his 100m 1:22 minutes; and he was able to swim hard for at least 3000m and hang-in for another 1500m! This is how we did it using the Trisutto.com way of swim coaching:
As usual, the first day at the pool had it’s shock for the youngster, as the pool bottle and also his old paddles got the treatment and were placed in the trash bin right away.
Watching him swimming it was obvious that he had no breathing pattern at all. He tried to stick to bilateral breathing. But sometimes he forgot to breathe, then breathed every 2nd stroke to catch up. When sprinting, he didn’t breathe at all. Very messy. However, this could easily be fixed by asking him to breathe every 2nd stroke to his stronger side – especially when sprinting and swimming fast.
This settled, we tried the straight arm recovery. However, this didn’t work as hoped. He couldn’t get that damn arm straight. We tried to up his cadence, which didn’t work either. He really had no awareness of what he was doing. We had to find another clue to speed him up.
Of course, the second day also had its shock moment for the youngster. Not only were his drinking bottle and paddles thrown away the day before; now he was deprived of all swim-strokes except crawl and back stroke. Even worse, he was not allowed to do any warm up or cool down any more. Plus all his beloved relaxation exercises and of course all drills were banned strictly.
Why? After the first day, he had a breathing pattern, but still no rhythm in his swim. As with many swimmers, all his focus was on the first part of the swim cycle: entry and catch. He tried to do it beautifully, perfectly. Entering without splashing. Putting his hand into the water like reaching through a mail slot, extending his shoulder, gripping the water with a hand motion similar to (one of his favourite imaginations) wiping clean a bowl of sweet dough leftovers from his grandmother’s beloved Topfenstrudel. No wonder that all this ended up in an extreme catch-up swim style. By the time he started stroking, he had lost all his forward momentum. To make matters worse, he started his stroke by moving his arm far out to the side of his body. No wonder he didn’t move anywhere.
So we took immediate action. All slow and easy swimming was eliminated to deprive him of any opportunity to think about his grandma’s bakery and shorten the delay in his stroke. Additionally he had to place all his focus on getting his hand under his body.
From session to session he got his timing better and developed a rhythm, his cadence went up, his stroke became more fluent. Even his push became much better as he carried more momentum from stroke to stroke. And despite swimming faster and harder he could go longer as the new rhythm allowed for more even power apply.
So far, so good. The next shock awaited him the 3rd day at pool: For the first time, he had completed a set of sprints with the squad. He was hanging over the wall of the pool, grasping for air, clouds of steam ascending from his body, red like a lobster. But his eyes grew big in disbelief, when he was told, that the series of 25s he just finished was not the entire session but just the “warm up”. He didn’t trust his ears. He clearly thought: That’s a joke. But looking at the other athletes, who were just preparing themselves for the main set, it began to dawn to him, that probably really some more work had to be done today. And much to his credit he pulled himself together, took another deep breath, abandoned all thoughts on a soon to be held breakfast and on he went. And did so for the remaining days of the camp. Holding on for dear life with the group. I will never forget the brightening-up in his face when he finally heard the word “easy” that day.
There is still almost everything “wrong” with his stroke: bent palm, dropped elbow, funny hand movement, entering too far in-front of the head, not finishing the push, arm recovery, rotation, head movement when breathing and so on and so on. But we didn’t even address any of this for the remaining 10 days.
What did we do? We fixed his rhythm and his very basic stroke mechanics. No drills, no technique, no further analysis or explanation, no easy swimming, no warm up or cool down. Then we gave him a lot of short hard intervals to swim. Plain, hard, honest work. 14 seconds in 14 days.
By far not every athlete makes such quick progress. However, the changes perfectly matched Johanne’s personality. Hannes is gifted with a lot of natural strength. His body is a big engine. And the sport of triathlon is nothing but a great playground for him, where he’s able to live out his fortitude. He simply loves to work out. He loves to explore his capabilities, to find out his boundaries. And then, he’s all about pushing this limits. It’s fun for him. What he loves to do. A big kid playing. No wonder, that the warrior swim technique suits him so much.
In contrast, his previous swim pattern didn’t fit him. It was a suit made for another person – if any. He couldn’t engage. Taking all the restrictions of that artificial frame away freed enough space for his natural way to address things.
When Johannes will return home from camp, I’m sure his grandmother will serve him all the Topfenstrudel he missed during his time abroad. But I also do know that he will not be able to lift his arms to eat – as he did something right in the pool.
Looking to improve your performance? Jo and our Trisutto.com team of online coaches are available to set you on the right track here.