Saturday December 19th Dive Quality

Saturday December 19th Dive Quality

My thoughts today are inspired by my friend and colleague at the University of San Diego, Head Coach Mike Keeler, who posted the Toreros Saturday workout on Twitter account this afternoon. I have decided to do the same, and below I give you today's @LUSwimDive team dive quality set, with a detailed explanation of the beliefs and philosophies behind the workout. While you may not be able to read my handwriting, simply follow the arrows through the practice and then follow along in the text; this will give you a sense of how a typical workout here at Liberty flows from one set to another and the logical progression that brings us to the main set and in turn the goal of the practice. 

The workout, and a snapshot into the unique training we do here at Liberty  - 

December 19, 2015. @LUSwimDive Team Dive Quality

The explanation and thought process behind the workout - 


We always warm up with a 1200 here at Liberty, and this is a habit I have borrowed from Bill Dorenkott, currently the head women's coach at Ohio State, who hired me as the sprint coach at Penn State back in the fall of 2006. Bill always warmed up with some combination of a 300 swim, 4x100 kick, and 5 x 100 swim, and I believe this is a fantastic way to start a workout, and ultimately the best way I have seen. With all due respect to the coaches who may be reading this article and warm up with the type of set I will now mention, I always cringe when I see the following - 

1000 choice, or 800 choice, or 10 x 100 choice and so forth.

Frankly, I cannot think of a worse way to start a swim practice, as the overwhelming majority of athletes will go into shutdown mode the minute they see a 1000 or 1200 choice for warm up. Not only will you lose them mentally, coach, more likely than not you will see 1000 yards of low elbows, sloppy turns, poor breathing habits, etc. We have never warmed up this way at Liberty, and no team that I coach will ever warm up in such a way. 

Back to the 3/4/5...One of the great things about this warm up strategy is that the warm up can and should be different for every workout. Athletes today love novelty, and the 3/4/5 set up allows for the coach to specifically tailor the warm up to the practice, and the savvy coach can be sure the athletes are ready for the main set without reinforcing poor technique along the way. As an example, on a race pace day we might go with the following warm up - 

300, going 50 Anti-Paddle, 50 Agility Paddle. The anti-paddle works a high elbow / early vertical forearm, and the agility paddle reinforces this position with added propulsion. Switching between these paddles within the 300 is fantastic for the brain in it's quest to learn to pull more water, and we see an instant increase in distance per stroke (from agility paddle baseline) when the athletes switch to the agility paddle from the anti-paddle. In a stark contrast to the aforementioned 1000 choice, the 300 with early vertical forearm paddle switching starts the workout with a tech focus, and switches the brain on instead of lulling the athlete to sleep. 

4 x 100 kick choice. A kickboard here is optional, and this allows everyone to get the legs loose however they feel is best for them and for the specific workout. Backstroke types might choose no board, while breast and free types might choose a board to work front the front side legs. Perhaps fly types would choose to incorporate some side or back dolphin, and IM types might switch between the various kicking styles. 

5 x 100, odd going reverse IM order drill or swim, even going 75 choice, 25 underwater. Stroke types here have the opportunity to get their strokes loose, and the 25 underwater at the end of the even 100's allows everyone the opportunity to work breath control and get the lungs ready for more intense underwater work later in the workout. The underwaters will also help raise the heart rate, of course a fundamental goal of any proper warm up. 

Our specific warm up today - 

300 Snake - We don't start with a 300 snake often, but when we do it is a special treat, and we see a lot of creativity from the women and a lot of fun along the way. The 300 snake for warm up is normally reserved for Saturday team quality sets, and here is an example from last Saturday the 12th of December, which saw partner freestyle, front flips, and double arm backstroke among other rather interesting efforts. We typically pick a senior to lead the snake, and with a 6 lane, 25 yard pool the women roll through 12x25's, and the entire team must mimic what the senior does on each 25. 

400 Social - We social kick with fins every Friday PM and Saturday AM, and if there is a better way to get athletes in a good mood and ready for a great workout I have yet to see it. The social kick is a fun time for everyone, and we firmly believe that a happy swimmer is a fast swimmer. As so much of a typical practice is spent with the head underwater and without the ability to talk with teammates, the social kick is a welcomed change and a great way to start a team quality set. 

5 x 100 @ 1:20 with choice of gear - As we did not get the heart rate very high with the social kick, we typically follow social kicking with 5 x 100's on a decent send off in order to elevate the heart rate. We used choice of gear today to allow the athletes to mix in whatever technique or training paddle they wanted, in which we have many. 

3(4x50) Drill Set

We focus highly on technique work here at Liberty, and we incorporate some kind of drilling into every workout. In contrast to some coaches, we do believe that tech work has a place in our sport, and this specific set led the athletes through a paddle progression that I believe teaches the brain to "pull more water" and increase distance per stroke. 

By round, we went the following paddles - 

Round One - M.P., which stands for mouse paddle. We call the aforementioned Finis anti-paddles mouse paddles, as when you turn it over it has a similar shape to a an old school computer mouse. As mentioned previously, the anti-paddle takes away the hand, and forces the brain to use the forearm in the stroke and helps to set the all-important early vertical forearm. If the athletes can pull a lot of water with the anti-paddle we know they are incorporating the forearm into the stroke, and we encourage them to reduce their stroke count in our various drills throughout the year. 

Round Two - T.B., which stands for tennis balls. The tennis balls in the hands are similar to the anti-paddles, but do allow the athlete to feel a bit more water on the hand and pull it a bit more in the process. The tennis balls still have more of an anti-paddle feel, though again the brain is able to get a bit more water on the hand and propulsion is increased as we progress towards a larger surface pulling area. 

Round Three - No paddles or D.P., which stands for duck paddle. While yes, this is quite silly, our women have named the aforementioned Finis agility paddle duck paddles, as when you put the two paddles together the curved shape actually does resemble the beak of a duck. After two rounds of taking the hands away and forcing the brain to focus on the forearm, the third round with an open hand or the Finis agility paddle produces strong arm pulls, more efficient stroking patterns, and yes, the early vertical forearm. It is an awesome feeling, for lack of a better term, to not have a hand for 400 yards and then suddenly have a "larger" hand. Try it, coach, you feel as though you are pulling on concrete after switching from the anti-paddle to the agility paddle through the rounds. Hard water indeed! 

The 50's drill - 

1 - 25 Fly Pause Drill / 25 pull. Fly pause is one of our favorite drills for all strokes, and in this drill the athletes set up the front end of a butterfly pull then pause in the catch position, making sure the fingertips are down, elbows are up, and then pull with a fly stroke, focusing on feeling water on the forearm. The recovery in this drill is always underwater. You can see fly pause drill in action in a previous article I wrote on what I believe are the top 5 drills for sprint freestyle here, at the 1:50 mark of the video. The 25 pull then puts fly pause into action in a full stroke, and we encourage the women to actually THINK about putting what they've learned into action. 

2 - 25 scull, 25 pull. Sculling is what we thought it was, and yes, we believe sculling and its variations are a great way to "teach" the brain to feel and pull more water. If you can scull quickly and efficiently with anti-paddles you are probably a highly skilled swimmer, and ideally all of our women are proficient scullers without hands. 

3 - 25 left arm / 25 right arm, pull or swim. We love isolating left/right arms here at Liberty, and encourage the women to attempt to A. take less strokes per 25 every time they drill left/right, and B. attempt to take the same number of strokes with each arm. This is much easier said than done! They had a choice here to pull or swim for this effort as we transition through the 50's from no legs to incorporating the legs. For those that chose to mentioned with the sculling, if you can pull with one arm with anti-paddles you are developing a high level of skill in the sport!

We do not do this often as for some it takes forever, but at the highest level of skill it is fun to see who can scull with one arm, with anti-paddles, with a buoy. Our school record holder in the 100/200 breast and 200 IM, NCAA qualifier Emilie Kaufman, came from a synchronized swimming background and was the greatest one arm sculler I have ever seen. It is no wonder she was such a good breaststroker, splitting a 26.6 in our 200 medley relay in 2014. Emilie could put on anti-paddles, a buoy, and scull with one arm as fast as our other athletes could scull with one arm and an open hand. It was fun to watch! 

4 - 25 drill most / 25 swim. Drill most is the drill that each individual woman thinks helps her the most, and finally the 25 swim puts the previous three 50's together into something that looks like fast swimming. If they were focusing intently on their skill work that last 25 is stunning, a beautiful representation of our swimming and one of the reasons why I love our sport. It is a pleasure to watch highly skilled athletes move their bodies through a medium 784 more dense than air at sea level! 

12 x 50 Zona or Zona Variation

In the summer of 2007, while still on staff full-time at Penn State, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the University of Arizona, where I became a sponge of sorts and studied under the UA staff of Frank Busch, Rick DeMont, Augie Busch, and Greg Rhodenbaugh. Roric Fink was the head senior coach at Tucson Ford, and together they formed, in my humble opinion of course, one of the greatest coaching staffs in the history of our sport. When one considers where they are now and the results they have been, and are producing...They collectively have quite the resume! 

While at Arizona I was introduced to the now famous left paddle / right fin concept, where the athletes seek to find balance throughout the core with paddles and fins on opposite hands / feet. While a great many number of programs use this technique, I first saw it at Arizona, and has a tribute to Frank for allowing me the opportunity to be on deck in Tucson, we call this work Zona 50's here at Liberty. The concept from this set of 12 specifically - 

4 x 50 with a paddle on the left hand and fin on the right foot @ :40 

4 x 50 with a paddle on the right hand and fin on the left foot @ :40

4 x 50 with paddles and fins on both hands and feet @ :35 

This set is fantastic as I mentioned for working balance in the stroke, as the brain is forced to connect the hand with the paddle to the opposite foot with the fin, and to do so diagonally through the core. A neuroscientist could perhaps tell us exactly what the brain is doing with this set...but for sure we know it is something good by observing it in action. In Zona variation, which I like to think I invented, the paddle and fin are on the same side - 

4  x 50 right paddle and right fin 

4 x 50 left paddle and left fin

4 x 50 with both paddles and both fins 

In Zona variation the goal is to connect from north to south straight through the core instead of diagonally, and this variation is much harder to achieve balance in the stroke.

The 40 and 35 second sendoffs for this set elevates the heart rate once again in preparation for all out max strokes on the pre-set, as the athlete's heart rates were lowered substantially from the warm up during the drill set. 

Pre Set

Ah yes. For the sprint types, their time has finally come. After setting our technique, elevating the heart rate, getting the legs loose, is finally time to race! As we know the pre set focus is simple...prepare the brain and neuromuscular system for max out efforts on the main set. Max efforts and max heart rates are desired here, and we push the women to find new levels of speed and technical excellence in every single pre set, blast style effort we do here at LU. Pre sets also double as overspeed / lactate production / power sets, and the swim literature is thick with studies on speed in our sport being a largely neuromuscular component. This is brain training, and we are looking for new and high levels of pure, raw speed in these efforts. 

2 x 12.5 M.B. w/C.O.T. 1 = kick, 2 = swim

M.B. stands for MAX BLAST, and C.O.T. stands for choice of toys. We love our toys here at LU, and the women can choose from the following - 

  • Power Tower ( today they were filled with water halfway) 
  • Drag Sox (Medium) 
  • Weight Belt (From 5 - 25 .lbs) 
  • Parachute (Medium) 
  • Ankle Weights (5 .lbs each leg) 
  • Weight Vest (20 .lbs) 

This is basic pure power training, and specifically in this set a term in the strength training literature named postactivation potentiation. In my upcoming book on Power Tower training I will go in-depth into the literature on PAP as it is called, and will detail how we use it here at Liberty and how we used it at Penn State to elicit faster than normal max blast efforts. The kick effort works the legs specifically, and the swim effort combines everything we previously worked in the practice to produce a max out, all out effort against resistance. 

Of note, regarding the weight vests - we originally bought these for use in the weight room for pull-ups and box jumps, but have since used them exclusively in the pool for power training. Similar to a weight belt in the regards to the neuromuscular response, the major difference is that the weight vest changes the load point from the hips/core to the the chest/shoulders. I like this change from the weight belts, and believe it is a benefit to have forces working on several areas of the body, not just the core in order to give the brain and neuro system something different. Also in regards to load points, I will be unveiling a new way to use Power Towers in the upcoming book that I believe is a game changer and will revolutionize how we use resistance in swimming. We have been using this technique for years here at Liberty, and perhaps there are some programs out there already doing this, but as far as I know we are the only ones....stay tuned! 

4 x 25 Mix Sprint 

Every program will do their mix sprint work a bit differently or perhaps name it something different, and our mix sprint work here at Liberty is normally the following set of 4x25's -  

1st 25 = 12.5 MAX BLAST, 12.5 EZ

2nd 25 = 12.5 EZ, 12.5 MAX BLAST finish

3rd 25 = All EZ

4th 25 = Build to a RACE MAX BLAST finish 

I should note that the entire pre set is with choice of gear, and many of our women love using gear for the pre set. Sprint types especially might go the following - 

12.5 MB kick with Power Tower and fins

12.5 MB swim with Power Tower, fins, and paddles 

4 x 25 Mix Sprint with fins and paddles 

If you want to see some serious speed...have your best sprint types go the 12.5 MAX kick and swims on the Power Tower with fins and paddles, then right into the 12.5 MAX swim with the same fins and paddles. This is pure PAP at its finest, and lights up the neuromuscular system to produce some insanely FAST swimming on that first 12.5 MAX BLAST swim. 

I should note that on some occasions we will change the second 25 of the mix sprint work to a 10 yard, MAX BLAST finish from a dead float, working reaction time and pure power acceleration, and today we did just that. I first saw this type of sprint work in a DVD on sprint training that David Marsh produced while at Auburn, where the athletes would blast to the wall from a dead float on a whistle reaction. We do use the same whistle reaction for our 10 yard finishes here at Liberty, but also got creative and incorporated light reaction drills into the mix. Perhaps the only benefit to having a small, 6 lane 25 yard pool is that we can quickly turn the overhead pool lights off and on, and to my knowledge we are the only program in the country doing this on a regular basis. Fun, and something different! Why not incorporate different senses into reaction drills if we can? 

Main Set

If you have made it this far, congratulations, for it is certainly no small task with my writing style and the amount of detail in this article. I studied history at Shippensburg and Penn State, and if what I am writing doesn't sound similar to the Declaration of Independence as far as lexical density and the Gunning Fog Index I do not feel complete as a writer.   

The main set today featured broken 200's for our mid-distance group and the choice of the 200 or 150 broken for the sprint types. In both sets the goal was back end 100/200 speed, and I believe the set accomplished this goal of basic lactate tolerance and learning to elevate the pain threshold and push through that last 50 or 100 of a race. I should note that quite a few of our sprint group types stepped up and went the 100 on the end, and their 200's at conference will be better for it! Also of note, there are no intervals on the set, as I called out the sendoffs as we went through each round, giving 10-15 seconds of rest between efforts. The reason for no sendoffs is simple - I like the ability to take rest away if need be or give them more to elicit a faster time on the next effort. If you want to compare times, figure on an average of 15 seconds of rest between efforts. 

We often combine resistance work with dive or push quality sets, and again this relates back to the PAP I spoke of earlier. The resistance helps to recruit more motor units and muscle fibers, increases the rate of force development, and decreases the effects of the Golgi Tendon System, among what I am sure are many other benefits we have not yet discovered or do not fully understand. If you think back to your baseball/softball days...remember the feeling of the regular bat in your hands after swinging the weighted bat or the bat with the weighted donut? The concept is similar here with the weight belt and power tower work. I will address PAP at length in the upcoming book on Power Towers, and the strength training literature is thick with the effects of PAP on improving athletic performance. 

As for our weekly microcycle, Saturday's are always a dive or push quality day for us, and as mentioned always a team set. Our other 8 water workouts a week are all separate in our sprint/mid groups, and we like to bring the team together for a tough dive/push set to end the week in high spirits and with fast swimming. Social kicking, snakes in the pool, plenty of loud upbeat music, fast dive/push sets, and a fireside chat after the workout makes for a fantastic way to end the week, and we are sure to do it every Saturday we are in town here at LU. 

25 Dive Max with Weight Belt (this was to a hand touch)

Our weight belts range from 5 to 25 .lbs, and yes, several of our women can handle the 25 belt with ease, from sprint to distance types alike. I was told by some that a 25 pound weight belt was too heavy, but after seeing our women handle it easily (and that 13.51 isn't her best, nor is it our team record), I am convinced that an even heavier weight belt is certainly possible. I will discuss the limits and dreams of heavy weight belts and Power Towers more in the upcoming book. The goal here again is PAP, pure power, and working resistance on the start, similar to a weighted box jump. 

50 Push Max to a Foot Touch for Free/Back types

Max it out. We were looking for their best efforts here coming right off the weight belt swim and preparing for the Power Tower efforts and final push 50 or 100 effort. Those who used the 25 .lbs weight belt were quite fatigued going into this 50, and while their times were not among their best ever, the hips were high and there was quite a bit of "pop" in their stroke - exactly what one might expect from PAP type work. 

2 x 12.5 MAX BLAST SWIM Power Tower with Heavy Bucket 

We went these two efforts on the Power Tower with choice of paddles if any and no fins, on a roughly 30 second sendoff. We used a half bucket for the freestylers and stronger back/fly types, down to 1/3 for the breast/IM types if they needed less water. At this point in the set we're moving away from PAP and pure power type work to more power endurance work, as the first 75 has left them quite fatigued and the efforts from here on out are moving into the lactate tolerance range. I should note that "heavy" is relative...our pulleys have seen better days, and a half bucket in a fatigued state, without fins, and with our pulleys is quite heavy indeed. Every program who uses Power Towers will have pulleys of different age, and a half bucket for new pulleys would not be considered heavy for elite level athletes who are familiar with resistance training. 

100 or 50 Push MAX...Finish it to a hand touch of course.  

This effort was the main focus of the set in regards to the training adaptations we wanted to see, and the major goal (among others) of the first 100 was to put the women in a physiological state that resembles the last half of a 200 or the last 50 of a 100. Who can finish? Who can bring it home? Who can close them?  Coffee as we know is for closers only, and the goal here was to make it hurt, empty the tank, and leave everything in the pool and so forth. 

We saw some great efforts from the women on this final 50/100, and the team cheering with the music blasting certainly helped. Some of the times on the last 50/100 - 

  • Sprint free types pushing 25.high's and 26.low's
  • Our top backstroker pushed a 27.3
  • Breaststroke/IM types pushing 33.low's breast
  • Back/fly types pushing 28's
  • Sprint and mid-distance / distance free types pushing 55's and 56's on the 100
  • 200 fly types pushing 1:00 and 1:01 for the 100 going fly
  • 200 back types pushing 1:00 on the 100 going backstroke 
  • Perhaps the most impressive swim on the day was a 55.4 100 freestyle from a young woman with a lifetime best of 52.2 in the 100 and 1:52 in the 200...we would be thrilled if she were to bring home her 200 at the CCSA Championship Meet in 55.4! 

Warm Down

The main set went three rounds, and took the entire two hours of the workout. As such, the warm down was not a set style team warm down, and those who wanted to stay after and swim easy were free to do so.


I thought we improved as a unit today, and I was quite pleased with the practice and the results from the women overall. I should note that we lift every Saturday for an hour before practice, which in my humble opinion makes the results of the workout all the more impressive considering our  current talent levels. We chatted a bit after practice about the week we just finished and about what to expect in workouts next week. We are here until Tuesday training before heading home for Christmas break.

Saturdays are a fun day of training, and I do believe it is entirely possible to train hard, smart, fast, and have fun in the process. 

Thoughts...comments...questions...concerns...anything for the good of the cause? Leave a comment and I will be sure to respond, and be sure to subscribe to my email newsletter for updates on the forthcoming book on Power Tower and power training in general. 

Thank you! 

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