Hamilton Aquatics is home to athletes from the age of six to eighteen. It’s easy for younger athletes to see what the next age group are doing, what the squad above is doing and how fast they are swimming at competitions. Younger athletes are keen to try to make the next step and progress to the next level, often asking their coach to do linking sessions, do more in sessions or to move up a squad before their coach has even suggested it. These conversations often lead athletes to believe they aren’t good enough to move up, but in reality their coach is telling them they are doing a great job in the squad they are in. Maximising each session and working on the finer details within each session in the pool and on land is all that is needed to see continued progression.
Sport can be transparent with the amount of work needed for certain age groups and events and Hamilton Aquatics coaches are experienced in what it takes to progress each athlete. The notion of doing more or doing extra is always at the forefront of athletes (and parents) minds, however, doing more high intensity sessions in the pool or extra land work on rest days does not necessarily lead to long-term gains. The impact of genetics, training age and maturation is rarely considered by the athlete and parents so seeing someone the same age who is more physically developed can often be portrayed as an athlete who is receiving more strength work as opposed to an athlete who has matured earlier.
I often watch swimmers ask for extra before they can consistently complete what is asked of them daily. The phrase, work smarter not harder, has high significance in athletes of any age. Many athletes across all squads do an outstanding job in main sets, but a sub-par job in warm-ups, prep-sets, and cool-downs. A lot of athletes that are strong on land, cut corners on activation in gym, pre-pool mobility and post-session stretching. Favouring the hard-work and slacking on the ‘easy’ parts of training often leads to injury or over-training. When there is no balance between the easy and the hard work, swimmers can become inefficient at swimming slowly, resulting in skills on low-level aerobic sets becoming lazy. Recognition of completing a session as outlined by the coach is dismissed for performing well in a main set (or the last rep of a main set…). Completing the gym set becomes a tick box exercise as opposed to taking the time to do each rep well and recover between lifts.
Training smarter, not harder, means there is an understanding of completing all aspects of training. Smart athletes appreciate the need to arrive in time and mobilise before a session, addressing weaknesses whilst also completing a full-body mobility and activation-based pre-pool, as opposed to using the time to lay down or complete ten minutes with only a theraband.
Training smarter means listening to and understanding the set as explained by the coach, getting in on time and completing the full warm-up with a focus on technique and heart rate elevation instead of using the time to converse with the coach and missing 500m (500m across 6 sessions a week is 3000m!). Training smarter means working on technical aspects of stroke, basic skills and breathing patterns in both low-level sets and faster key sets as opposed to only when reminded by your coach to do so. Training smarter means kicking harder and faster to achieve goal times and turnarounds. Training smarter means pushing off on the correct time on the pace clock instead of leaving early. Consistently doing these things and understanding their value will have a massive impact on daily progress.
Additionally, training smarter not harder means embracing everything to do with being an athlete. Understanding nutrition* and eating the correct foods for development, recovery and hydration has a massive impact on your ability to perform both physically and mentally. Working on your mental game*, approach to training, competition and managing school stress. Recovering after sessions and on weekends in preparation for the next day or week of training.
One of the most overlooked factors in sport development is buying into a training plan fully. Trusting in your coach and the support coaches of Hamilton Aquatics and following the plan as laid out and discussed in pre-season meetings or mid-season reviews. Adding in additional sessions outside your home program, starting earlier on strength work or getting an extra session in the pool on the weekend can seem like it provides a physical advantage over your peers. This may be the case in a short-term approach; however, this can hinder long-term development as the ability to keep doing extra decreases with training age and school commitments. Also, by adding in extra hard work, you are decreasing the amount of time spent on recovery.
At Hamilton Aquatics, we firmly believe that the long-term athlete development plan laid out by both swim and land coaches is an excellent format to support progression whilst helping maintain balance and building robust athletes that can withstand the increasing demands of sport.
Training smarter, not harder is an excellent philosophy to have for those looking for long-term progression rather than short-term success. Finding things easy in the pool or on land does not always mean that we need to do harder sets, more meters, or heavier weights. It can, and often does, mean that we can push the parameters within the set. Lower stroke counts, pushing further off the wall, achieving faster underwaters, or doing more bodyweight reps with perfect technique on land.
For athletes who are still maturing physically, it is important to recognise that the body is constantly working to mature, and this can cause fatigue and coordination issues to those going through puberty and growth spurts. Progression in the pool is always the primary focus of our training and whilst it is my job to help land progression, it would be negligent of me to increase land work based on squad rather than ability and commitment to development by individual athletes. Having the ability to progress in pool with minimal extras from land is a great place to be in for a young athlete. This allows an exponential growth in land training age later in your swimming career when the stimulus of swimming needs to become more specific. Starting weights young has no detrimental effects on growth and maturation if guided by a knowledgeable coach and monitored within a training week. The introduction of weights too early can become a hindrance in later development however as the room for growth within the weight room can be stunted.
In summary, the philosophy of training smarter, not harder is something all Hamilton Athletes should aspire to achieve. Making the easy things easy is as important as doing the hard things well and with discipline throughout. Those looking for extras within a training week should first make sure that a consistent training practice is achieved, and all aspects of those training sessions are performed with the same winning mentality. Hard work is not the only way to increase performance outcomes. Increasing the amount of recovery (sleep, nutrition, mobility) is as important as swimming fast or lifting heavy in sessions.
Just because we can do more, does not mean we should!