Friday, August 19, 2011

No Morning Workouts

What if my alarm clock is stuck?
So I realize I posted yesterday and promised grand blogs to come. This is not one of the blogs I promised. Instead, I am posting right off the top of my head in a stream of consciousness like I usually do. My thoughts are consumed with the coming season. The campus is flush with incoming freshmen. I'm trying something different this year, not without trepidation. Depending on how you look at it, I'm either catching the wave of the future, already way behind or destroying our future. I'll let you decide

This year I am ditching double workouts. No morning practice. Throughout my entire coaching career I have been locked into the same schedule (even back to my own swimming days. This will be the first year in ten that I do not have morning practice at 6 am sharp on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I've ditched them entirely.

I've made adjustments that I think will mean more work and not less. I've lengthened all my afternoon workouts from 2 hours to 2.5. Saturday practices may be longer as well. Without replicating warmup and warmdown twice a day, I think I actually gain time to do work. Most of my afternoon practices were bursting at the seems of the 2 hour mark last year, mostly because I became maniacal about warmdown, often forcing swimmers into warmdown sets that were 15-20 minutes in duration. Now I'll have some breathing room in the afternoon. 

Psychologically, I think it may also benefit the swimmers to come once a day. Everybody knows the wear that a swim season puts on swimmers psyches. While you may have the perspective that morning practice is all about becoming "mentally tough", there is no benefit if that isn't the actual result.

Physiologically, I am looking at a group of athletes somewhere between a traditional "middle distance" group and a "sprint". These are not high recovery swimmers, and I found often that I couldn't to get them to do my high intensity sets twice in one day. I am hoping that the schedule allows them to maximize their recovery a bit more so that I can in actuality make each practice harder.

I didn't pull this idea from thin air. I have known that Sean Hutchison was a notable coach who wasn't running doubles. But I would give primary credit in leading me to this conclusion to Joel Shinofield, head coach of Washington and Lee. Besides being boyishly handsome, Joel is also a mentor of mine and an extremely successful swim coach. I ended up stalking him down because I was really impressed for his propensity for taking mediocre high school sprinters and making them really fast. In my conversations, he presented pretty compelling evidence for once a day only, some of which I have put forth above.

Rationally, I have no doubts about the strategy. In my heart, I still have a part of me that just feels wrong not running morning workout. Maybe I'll just wake up anyway, drink some coffee and walk around the pool deck a bit. At least for the first couple weeks. 


  1. I agree. I ditched mornings two seasons ago. A lot had to do with the reasons above, but here is one you didn't mention.

    Health/Sleep: I can't guarantee when my swimmers are going to bed. With a full-time academic calendar a significant part of my team is up past midnight working on lab reports, etc. Or, let's be honest, goofing around on FB. Either way they were dragging in the AM, and then dragging again in the afternoon. Since we ditched mornings, our morale has improved, quality in afternoons has improved, grades improved, and we had far fewer colds/sinus infections. We had our best season.

    The toughest part for me was giving up mornings as a coach, b/c AM practice is such a part of the culture I grew up with and a badge of pride swimmers had over other athletes. It may not be for everyone, but it has worked for my team.

  2. I forgot to list that one but that weighed heavily in my decision. Thanks for reminding me :)

  3. Don't you worry about your swimmers doing 2 things?
    1. Not being able to get going in prelims?
    2. Being College Kids, having morning workouts off is not necessarily an incentive, but an invitation to go out/stay out/do non productive things late at night?

  4. Here are my answers:

    1. Prelims at ACCs and beyond are at the earliest 11 am, so given that 6 am is 5 hours before that, I don't really see a strong correlation

    2. That's a major concern. The swimmers will still have weights/dryland at 7:30, so its not like they just won't have anything to do at 10 am everyday. Additionally, I've just started to think that worrying about whether they will drink and having morning practice so that they don't is a really silly reason to have morning practice. You've got to get kids on board with what you're doing, and if you can't do that it doesn't matter when you are holding workout.

  5. Great points all around Chris. Though, in part I agree with DCD3's last point. those 6AM practices are almost bonding for a swim team (how will people justify raising the APA money if swimmers don't wake up earlier than basketball players and football players?!?!)

    I'll be curious to see how this affects your recruiting (though I'm not sure if you're allowed to comment on it). If I was a HS swimmer who had just suffered through four years of 5:45AM practices, sitting through 8 hours of school, then another practice until 6PM, I think that this sort of program would be VERY attractive to me. Though, you guys recruit a lot of Europeans, so maybe it's a different perspective on the matter from them.

  6. Braden,

    I can't answer for Chris obviously, but I'll give you my take. I'm at a D3 school, where the top of my team is around the NCAA B cuts right now. When I first dropped mornings there was a part of me that was embarrassed about it, not b/c I didn't have confidence in the plan, but b/c of the identity issue across swimming with AM practices.

    As for recruiting, kids from high yardage, 2xpractice backgrounds are often skeptical when they hear about no mornings. They think it won't be enough training.

    As for the drinking concern, Chris nailed that 100%

  7. I chose to not do mornings this year too, but for entirely different reasons...

  8. Well Viking , what are they?
    As a parent of a potential college swimmer, I've felt kind of sorry for her these last couple of years.. And weirdly also proud of her toughness. Ive also watched her get really ill about once a year from sheer exhaustion / inability to fight off various germs....

  9. Recruiting I will keep you updated. Obviously some kids love it. Others are worried that we are somehow not serious. I will see how it plays out.

  10. DCD3 will you e-mail me or something? I feel like we should be exchanging notes.

  11. I swam at a D3 college where we had one morning practice a week...and this was 10 years ago. I started at at D2 school where we had AM's M-W-F and then transferred.

    At the D2 school I resented having to do all the extra work, not because it didn't make me tough, but because i had two "crappy" workouts a day --not enough recovery time for me--and then the next day was crappy too because my body was so overworked from the day before...and this was not an uncommon feeling among the team. I questioned the coaching staff on this, and the high amount of yardage (why do we do 8x200 every day? What is its purpose?) without a specific goal for each set.

    The D3 school we had that one double on Tuesday . I asked coach why, and he said, because he structured it that way-Monday pm was killer, tues am was technique and recovery (and only an horu and a half) and Tuesday PM was killer. Wednesday was always lactate day so you knew that was coming on Tuesday and swam your heart out anyway. THAT made us mentally tough.

    We swam that D2 school at a mid-season rest meet. I went into that meet knowing I trained harder at EVERY practice than most of my past D2 teammates. And you know what? I went in confident, and swam 3-4 seconds faster in rest than the D2 former teammates who trained 10 workouts a week. Part of it was me knowing "I trained smarter not harder" and as a coach myself now, knowing I received ample time to rest and recover.

    That being said, I have been building a team in a small town in Ohio for the past three years. Swimming is basically non-existent here. The only pool space I can get is from 8:15-9:30 M-Th. So what did I do this year? Talked the place into a Tues/Fri am 5:30-7:00 swim slot...but so my kids can get extra yardage and I don't have to waste Tuesday night with recovery...I can do that tuesday morning instead! Fridays will be tough and high-yardage, but they get the weekend off. I'm hoping this will help my swimmers get more endurance training..and that 5th day of practice a week instead of 5...but that is the only reason I'm adding it.

  12. and as a p.s. i drank less at the D3 school with the once-a-morning workout than the D2 school. Teammates were the same. I think since there was less "stress" on swimming, we tended to be more accepting of just not doing it. At the D2 school, we needed that outlet to stress relieve. I remember many a swimmers coming to practices hungover and swimming anyway... never happened at the D3 school.

  13. For me, mornings are for getting specific with my Swimmers. Our pool is crowded after school so we often end up leaving some of the important stuff out just due to logistics. Example: when a breaststroker comes to a morning it is almost entirely breast. Also, we don't have enough zoomers, parachutes and cords to go around so we fit that into mornings as well. Only my high school A group does mornings (the kids who swim year-round or start the season in shape) except for the ones who use them to make up a practice they missed because I believe going from nothing to doubles is begging for an injury.

  14. Chris,
    Dang you nailed this on the head,Think for a majority sprint/mid D group this is gonna work really well. I swim D1 where we have 5:45-7:45 mornings 5 days a week, and as mention before im pretty sure its cuase our coach thinks we will go out the night before.
    this summer I went to swimming experimentally 6 times a week just on one practice and I ended up going two best times in the middle of the summer and ALL best times beat my LZR times) at the end of the summer. for some people I really dont think there is a point of hammering out of them 15,000 4 to 5 times a week. and as you state this summer i was actually excitied yes excited to do a test set b/c all i had to do was go fast and i didnt have to do 5k of pace work that morning "to get myself ready" that afternoon

  15. I was fortunate enough to swim for Joel in Minnesota before he went to W&L. I learned from him that I truly needed to evaluate where I want to be, and what it takes to achieve the goals I set for myself. I went from a talented, yet underachieving swimmer to one that put in the hard work to work towards my potential.

    In regards to the topic of the post, I think this will work out very well. From personal experience, I swam for a d2 school for 3 years where we did doubles everyday 4 times a week. I chose to transfer my senior year to another d2 school where we lifted in the morning 3 times a week and then swam once a day for maybe an hour and a half. I definitely felt that I was able to put more quality effort into that one swim practice per day than I was doing with two, and I was free from the stresses that came with such excessive training. By mid-season my senior year I had beaten my life bests in the 50 fr by 0.2, and my 100 br by 0.9. By the end of the year I had dropped another 0.3, and 0.9 respectively.

    Like you said, the success with this plan will come from your athletes' willingness to buy into the idea. It can work, it just takes the right mindset.

  16. This is an awesome discussion! I coach a small age-group team and I often think about doing away with AM practices. I haven't done it for one of the reasons DCD3 said. The AM practice is so ingrained into the identity of serious swimming, I think many programs do it just because they think they have to. I've also kept on for the same reasons as The Screaming Viking. I don't have a large group that comes in the morning, but those that do are given a great opportunity to specificity. I guess you just have to figure out what works best for your swimmers and your programs and stick to it.

  17. Getting around to this a little late. I just read the article.

    As a club coach who believes in volume for developmental athletes, I dropped most mornings a few years back. We did, instead, bump our afternoons to 2.5 hours. My decision was based on the fact that we don't have a real central pool locations, and kids were training til 8:30 pm and coming to the pool at 4:45. Where is the rest? Where is the recovery? They say that much of your physical growth happens when sleeping. No time for that.

    We manage to get in about the same weekly yardage going 2.5 hours. We usually use the entire 2.5, and get some great work in while having time for great technique work in as well.

    I do hate the thought of going 2 1/2 days between Saturday morning and Monday night, so my higher level kids will get a 90 minute workout in at their school on Monday mornings. They can get to bed Sunday night, and get plenty of rest.

    In the summers, we go back to a normal schedule. 6 mornings/4 afternoons, and I think we do swim better - but they can chill or nap all day if they want/ But Ill never go back to doubles with kids during the school year if it means getting them to the pool before 530 in the morning.

    What struck me the most though, is that you have been given that kind of latitude from your collegiate head coach. What kind of back and forth with her did it take for you to be able to make that call?