The basic elements of the Auburn University spring program, as outlined in the April-June 1997 issue of Swimming Technique, remain unchanged. What's different since then is five national titles, including the 2003 men's and women's NCAA championships, six Coach of the Year accolades (two this year) and a refinement of time-tested techniques.
Variety spices the teams' sophisticated training regimen. One favorite is the Endless Pool, essentially a swimming treadmill. While 1984 Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines was cast as Auburn's aquatic poster child, he was preceded by some significant names. Gary Schatz in 1977 was only the second swimmer in history to swim under 20 seconds for the 50 yard free, and David McCagg was a world champion in the 100 meter free in 1978. "I was just a small piece of the puzzle," says Gaines.
Auburn's foundation still relies on skill development, aerobic fitness and athleticism, meaning that team emphasis and structure are based on Olympic preparation.
"The goal is to perform at the Olympic medal, finals and Trials levels," says 2003 Coach of the Year David Marsh. "At the minimum, we hope we have numerous swimmers earn the right to represent the United States during their time at Auburn. In order to do that, it means you are competing long course--and to do that, you must be an aerobic- athlete. Establishing a long course focus is critical to our sprinters buying into our aerobic-based sprint program," he says.
When athletes first arrive on campus, the Auburn staff conducts individual assessments and revisits them semi-annually, fine-tunes strokes, then slots swimmers into events best suited for them. "Developing them within the NCAA structure prepares them for the high level of pressures they'll experience in international competition."
Ground Zero-Rest and Recovery
Auburn coaches design seasonal, weekly and even daily cycles of training to ensure adequate recovery. The reason?
"Swimmers need to be mentally fresh at practice," says Marsh. "One of the challenges is not to bury them and allow them enough time to recover so they can come into practice and be competitive." The staff also places a premium on quality nutrition.
The testing protocols and equipment are essentially the same as those used by USA Swimming in Colorado Springs. Then coaches outline career programs, modified seasonally, depending upon each athlete's progress.
"Our general goal is for our athletes to have a balance between appropriate muscle mass and strength with the flexibility needed for range of movement," Marsh says.
Given that power development requires a seasonal approach, Auburn swimmers go through different phases during the course of a typical 26-week season. Strength work in the fall tends to be non-specific, moving toward more race specificity as the season progresses.
A standard aerobic test set all swimmers do is 3 x 800 long course meters on 11:30 (3 x 600 set for some). Coaches record stroke count, heart rate and time in the fall and post-NCAAs with the exception that times will be faster without an increase in stroke count.
Technique (and Tempo)
Fall begins with an emphasis on body position, technique and distance per stroke. Tempo is stressed only later in the season because Marsh believes that DPS is more important.
Auburn stresses front quadrant swimming with a focused effort on minimizing frontal resistance. The coaches do this in three primary ways:
Swim Training with Endless Pools
By establishing a flowing form that uses core body movement as its power source, swimmers effect proper timing between body core and extremities to maximize power. Such an approach minimizes the effort required to produce given speeds and teaches acceleration--especially as it applies to the generation of hip and, eventually, hand speed.
"I use it to keep things interesting and exciting," says Marsh. Warmed to 88 degrees as opposed to the workout pool's 80.5 degrees, it is equipped with side and bottom mirrors as well as video cameras for immediate feedback.
"We generally use it early or late in a practice and sometimes as a reward. For the most value, you need use it twice a week at least, 15 minutes at a time. It is pleasant for the athletes and a learning experience for me," says Marsh, "because each time I watch someone, I see tendencies."
An added teaching tool is a "wand," a padded stick to tap and manipulate swimmers' body parts to effect certain stroke changes, i.e. high catch. The immediacy of the feedback is a real plus. Sometimes Marsh will have the swimmers pair up in the small pool and self-teach. Occasionally, he will have swimmers do challenge sets by kicking in place, trying not to get pushed back to the far wall.
This season's training calendar is well established. Fall will be focused upon Olympic preparation. January through March will see emphasis on the NCAA's short course meter competition with swimmers concentrating on their longest potential event. During the season, the amount of power training in the water will be increased to reach or surpass ideal race tempo or race speed. From April-on, the focus switches to Olympic Trials in Long Beach and the Games in Athens.
Marsh has received kudos for his recruiting ability. "The greatest coaches are able to see potential. David has carried on the tradition that Eddie Reese and Richard Quick started back in the '70s when they were head coaches at Auburn," says Gaines. But Marsh takes even more pride in developing what Swimming World labeled "No-Names into Know-Names." Andy Haidinyak a surprise 50 free finalist in this year's NCAAs, Erin Gayle and Derek Gibb (a 6-8 commercial fisherman who split 18.57 in the 200 medley relay at NCAAs) are just some of the latest examples.
"When you surround yourself with excellence, it breeds excellence. That's what David has done. The best swimmers in the best programs believe in their coaches, their programs and each other. Once the swimmers get to Auburn, they feed off each other. It helps a lot," says Gaines.