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. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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%

  5. 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....

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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?