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T H E " H O W -T O " F O R B E T T E R S W I M M I N G


(Photo provided by University of Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletics)



Minnesota's Dennis Dale stresses good technique and quality swimming with all four of his practice groups.


Dennis Dale, Head Men's Coach University of Minnesota In his 22 years as head coach, Dennis Dale has restored Minnesota swimming to conference and national prominence. The team has placed first or second in the Big Ten Championships in each of the last 17 years. At NCAAs, the Golden Gophers have notched top-15 finishes for 15 consecutive seasons. Dale has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year six times and coached a total of 79 athletes to 432 All-America certificates. His international resumé includes tenure as assistant coach of the Brazilian national team in Sydney, assistant coach on the 1998 U.S. Goodwill Games team and on the 2003 World University Games squad. Dale has been instrumental in the development of Justin Mortimer, who, at the 2004 U.S. summer nationals, won the 200, 400 and 800 free as well as the 400 IM, and was male high-point winner.

Q: Swimming World Magazine: You train four separate practice groups. How does that work? A: Coach Dennis Dale: We divide the groups by sprint, midsprint, mid-distance and distance. I principally coach the pure sprinters and mid-sprinters. Bill Tramel takes the middistance and distance guys. Foreign swimmers and great sprinters have been keys to Minnesota's ascendancy in recent years. What's the attraction? Oftentimes, the elite U.S. high school swimmers think they can only swim fast if they are in the sun all the time, whereas that does not seem to be a high priority with international athletes. So, where does technique fit in? We think that improving technique is like free time drops. If you can make improvements in technique, hopefully you can go faster without any increase in effort. So we do technique every day. When people are fresh, they generally exhibit pretty good technique, but when they're tired, their technique begins to fall apart. So when we are in the meat of practice, that's when we focus on technique the most. Do you stop things and start over? Not generally. We can communicate with athletes between repeats. Ever do any drills? We do stroke drills every single day as a

part of warm-up and transitioning from sets that are, say, kick-dominated to sets that are aerobically or anaerobically stressful. Do you have some particular favorites? Well, I have some, but some of them aren't the swimmers' favorites. For instance, for freestylers, we do a straight-arm drill that helps with rotation. We have a couple of swimmers who swim straight-arm freestyle. Like Janet Evans? We don't have anyone with quite as much high-hand recovery as she did. She was almost a complete windmill. We're a little more lateral in our arm recovery. When they are trying to swim straight-arm freestyle, we ignore the high elbow position in terms of recovery. What's the Minnesota Stroke Drill? It is essentially keyed on high elbow recovery and a long stroke out front. In practice, it addresses four basic elements: 1) fingertip drag on recovery, 2) catch-up out front, 3) armpit drill and 4) bilateral breathing. Great theory. How does it work in practice? The first 25 percent of a set works all four components. As we go, we drop the

-- continued on 36 SwimmingWORLD -- July 2006


COACH DALE -- continued from 35

armpit drill, then drop the fingertip drag, then the catch-up, so the last 25 percent is just bilateral breathing to emphasize a longer stroke out front and high elbow position. Another drill I like is breaststroke arm pull with flutter kick. Our breaststrokers do this a lot. Our athletes have drills they really like, so I dictate some and give them a choice on others. What about kicking? We place a major emphasis on it, particularly with sprinters and mid-sprinters. We don't do exhausting sets every day, but we kick daily. Do you use monofins? Rarely. We use Zoomers weekly with sprinters and mid-sprinters. We do underwater kicking with Zoomers at least twice a week. We do kicking with and without kickboards, in which the swimmers use a snorkel and streamline. Yardage varies from 6001,800 in kick/swim sets. Breaststrokers use the push/press round fins. Where does dryland fit in your program? We do abs and dryland three times a week. For sprinters and mid-sprinters, our dryland is primarily weight room-based, which our strength coach supervises. We move weights away from the swimming practice times. We never do weights after swimming primarily because of the increased chance of injury. We also try not to do weights immediately before they swim. Any other reasons? First of all, most of our swimmers like to go to the weight room, and this allows them to work harder. Second, they probably burn off a little more energy when it is at a separate time, and that results in an increased strength with almost no increase in muscle mass. What about your distance swimmers? Depending on the time of season, they'll do med balls for 30-40 minutes, two to three times per week.

What about power racks, Vasa trainers and the like? Sprinters and mid-sprinters do power racks religiously two to three times a week. We think it is very helpful. We use Vasa training almost exclusively for rehab. What changes have you made in technique over the years? There are probably three main things. One, straight-arm recovery on freestyle--that is probably something I never would have done 10 years ago. A swimmer's underwater stroke will change very little from a bent to a straight-arm recovery. Two, we spend all sorts of time kicking underwater. Three, we practice starts often, both relay and flat starts. In what way? On Thursdays, sprinters and midsprinters have a lighter, recovery-oriented practice, and we'll spend 30 minutes of a two-hour practice in groups of four working on starts. Our athletes have assured me we don't spend enough time practicing starts. They love Thursdays. We'll videotape starts and breakouts, then talk about them. On Wednesdays, we usually do stand-ups, in which we turn on the timing system and scoreboard and videotape. This means more time practicing starts.

(Photo provided by University of Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletics)

Are you getting reaction times, too? I'm not a big proponent of reaction time. We have it, we look at it, but it is overvalued by our athletes and not valued as much by our coaching staff. I think you can have a slow reaction time and a great start. So, what's the key? How you enter the water is much more important than how fast you enter the water. We do practice relay starts and emphasize how fast swimmers leave the blocks. We try to be good, but not great, because when you push the envelope, you make mistakes. How often do you work on turns? Twice a week, especially when swimmers are tired. That's when their turns deteriorate. Frequently, we'll do 16 x 50, specifically working turns. Do you integrate long and short course training? We go long course every morning and short course every afternoon. There are some exceptions, but that's our basic rule of thumb. As we get close to Big Tens, we might not do any long course training. When we come back from Christmas and before we go on our winter training trip, we will generally train all long course.



» Adam Mitchell won the 400 yard IM consolation finals for the University of Minnesota at the men's NCAAs in

Atlanta with a time of 3:47.71--the seventh fastest time overall. He also finished 13th in the 200 back (1:44.31) and 15th in the 200 IM (1:46.89).


SwimmingWORLD -- July 2006

Seventeen Top 2 team finishes at the Big Tens in the last 17 years indicate you must have the taper down well. For most of our athletes, the Big Ten Championship becomes a major taper event because most have to have a good meet if they want to go to the NCAAs. We have had some exceptions like Justin Mortimer or Adam Mitchell, but there are not many athletes who can make NCAA cuts in the course of the season. What kind of taper period is in effect for them? Depending on the athlete, in the sprint mid-sprint group, anywhere from five weeks to eight days. None of our distance guys rest five weeks, but some have short rest as well. Adam Mitchell rested eight days. We've had others who rested three. How about the guys who move on to NCAAs? We have four weeks from the Big Ten Championships, and we go back to work and gradually build up so that by the end of the week after Big Tens, we are training pretty hard. How long they rest again depends upon who they are. Adam Mitchell had eight days the first time. He likes more the second time. I like them to have less rest on the second taper, so, generally, they will get less, but it will vary from person to person. In training are there any sets you particularly like? When we do the stand-ups, we sometime do a short set like: · 6 x 50 on 3:00 or 10 x 50 on 4:00 · 8 x 100 on 6:00 · 7 x 175 on 8:00 A set both swimmers and coaches like twice through is: · 1 x 75 on 6:00 · 2 x 50 on 4:30 · 4 x 25 on 4:00 In between the hard swims, they'll do double-the-distance EZ that they just did fast. So you do give them some rest? In general, we do most of our repeats

(Photo provided by University of Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletics)



» David Plummer, one of Coach Dale's swimmers

at the University of Minnesota, finaled in both backstrokes at the recent men's NCAA Championships. He finished eighth in the 100 yard back (47.07) and in a tie for fifth in the 200 (1:42.89).

with sprinters and mid-sprinters on 30 seconds rest. Every year on our midwinter training trip, we do a set of 12 x 400. Adam Mitchell would go 4:20, 4:15, 4:10, down to 3:45, where he would hold it. How about on the 200s? Most of the time we'll go on from 2:252:35 or 2:40, depending on the athlete. What's the Fishburn set? This is a twice-a-year short course yards test set for sprinters and mid-sprinters: · 5 x 100 on 1:10, 1:15, 1:15 · 4 x 200 on 2:10, 2:15, 2:20 · 3 x 300 on 3:10, 3:15, 3:25 · 2 x 400 on 4:10, 4:15, 4:30 · 1 x 500 on 5:10, 5:15, 5:35 (The three sets of times reflect the different ability levels on the team. Each swimmer chooses the appropriate interval, depending on his ability level.) Adam Mitchell has done this set backstroke on 1:10, 2:10, 3:10, 4:10 and 5:10. We do a modified version for the more aerobically challenged athlete. Coach, thanks for your insights.


Michael J. Stott is a contributing editor to Swimming World Magazine.

SwimmingWORLD -- July 2006 37






how they train

Unlike many elite swimmers whose development has been directed by one or two successful coaches, Justin Mortimer's training in and since college has been handled by four.

Justin Mortimer earned 13 All-American certificates while at kick test sets religiously, 8 x 100 on 2:00, and look for best averthe University of Minnesota, primarily in distance freestyle. Since ages every three-to-four weeks," says Tramel. He did the following graduation in May 2005, he has notched three World University short course yards set on Dec. 20, 2004: Games medals and most recently took first in the 400, 800 and 1500 meter freestyles in winning the male high· 1200 descend by 400s @ 13:00 point award at the 2006 U.S. spring nationals. · 1000 FAST for time @ 11:00 (Justin did 9:19.95) "Justin was a guy Mortimer's training over the last several · 6 x 200 @ 2:05 who asked for years has been handled by four coaches. At · Reset Minnesota, Mortimer blossomed under the more. He'd ask for · 500 FAST for time (Justin did 4:29.07) tutelege of head coach Dennis Dale and distance Currently, Mortimer is training with Rose for spots harder intervals mentors Kelly Kremer (three years) and Bill on the 2008 Olympic team in the 1500 meter free and Tramel (one year) as well as Mission Viejo's Bill and wanted to be the 10K. Kremer, who had been an assistant under Rose, challenged by Rose. thought that the Mission Viejo environment would be By all accounts, he is highly intelligent another athlete or a perfect fit for Mortimer. After spending the summer (magna cum laude in physics and one of only 12 of 2003 in California, Mortimer redshirted his senior the clock." NCAA scholar-athlete recipients in 2005), year in an all-out attempt to make the 2004 Olympic -- Bill Tramel incredibly hard working and up for any chalteam. lenge. While that bid came up just short (third at Trials in "He's a fighter and doesn't like to lose," says the 1500, sixth in the 400 free), Mortimer polished his Bill Tramel, one of Mortimer's distance coaches at Minnesota. racing skills as a training partner with Olympian Larsen Jensen. "Sometimes it was a challenge for me to come up with ways to "Training up to the 2004 Olympic Trials, the two of them went challenge him. He was a guy who asked for more. He'd ask for side-by-side, stroke-for-stroke," says Rose. "Everything Larsen did, harder intervals and wanted to be challenged by another athlete Justin did. He was the greatest sparring mate you could ask for or the clock. Some days we'd descend 200s and then go all out on because he kept Larsen honest. Every time Larsen wasn't sharp, he a 1000 free or go 10 x 100 descending, getting to double-O and got stepped on by Justin, and it helped both of them. then going a fast 500. One day I asked him to go a fast 1000-- "For instance, one day we decided the two would swim 20 x about 9:20--and he went 9:19 from a push in the middle of prac1500 meters on 20:00. Each had to hit a time standard or quit. tice. Larsen's was 17:30, and he made 17. Justin's was 18:00--he com"He is an incredible puller (no buoy) and an awesome kicker. pleted all 20." I truly believe if you want to be a great swimmer, you have to be Rose adds, "Justin's training is going well now. Everything we a great kicker. He can run people down coming home. We'd do are doing is focused on 2008. It's not easy for him." Thanks to a


SwimmingWORLD -- July 2006

(Photo provided by University of Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletics)


MONDAY, JAN. 30, 2006 2:45 PM (Short Course Yards)

1. WARM-UP: Swim 3 x 400

(2-3 r.m. between repeats) (2 r.m. means leave on the second 5- or 10-second mark after finishing the repeat; it translates between 6 and 10 seconds rest) (1200)

· #1 and 3 = free (2nd faster than 1st) · #2 = 200 drill/swim IM, 2 x 100 IM

USOC grant with Olympic partner Home Depot, Mortimer works 4-1/2 hours per day in the paint department and gets paid for a full day. In addition, he swims 11 workouts, six days a week, going 6-8,000 long course meters in the morning and 8-10,000 in the afternoon. A typical day is swim from 5-7 a.m., work from 8-12:30, swim 2:30-5/5:30 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Wednesday he does one afternoon workout, Saturday one workout and one on Sunday, depending on the time of season. "There are no promises in this whole thing, and I think that speaks even more highly for him," notes Rose. O

Michael J. Stott is a contributing editor to Swimming World Magazine.

2. PULL (may use snorkel) 800, 400, 200 on


· Aerobic, best form possible, DPS · Divide and descend

3. KICK 1,000 "go on command" on 15:00,

a 1:15 base

how they train

or whichever comes first (Purpose is to make the base)

4. SWIM 100 EZ (3700) 5. SWIM 300, 3 x 50, 200, 3 x 50, 100, 3 x 50, 50


· Ladder is on a 1:15 base, 50s are variable sprints on :50 · Raise intensity as the ladder goes shorter

6. SPECIALTY (best stroke): Swim 10 x 200

(Object is to go 200 pace the whole way) (6800)

· #1-2 = 8 x 25 with 1-4 r.m. on 3:30 · #3-4 = 4 x 50 with 2 r.m. on 3:20 · #5-6 = 100/2 r.m./100 on 3:10 · #7-8 = 150/2 r.m./50 on 3:10 · #9-10 = 200 on 3:00

7a. DISTANCE ONLY: Swim 3 x 550 on 7:30 (Object is to record time to add up to 1650 time) 7b. DISTANCE ONLY: Swim 11 x 150 on 1:45 (Object is the same as 7A) (8100) 8. WARM-DOWN: Swim 200 moderate, EZ

TOTAL: 8,300

Check out Swimming World Interactive at

for more of Justin Mortimer's sample sets.

SwimmingWORLD -- July 2006





something down at one point actually speeds things up at the next. For example, taking three breaths on the first length of a 50 free may give you a better turn and breakout than if you took two breaths. Another example is starts and turns. Most swimmers believe that these events require you to snap, leap, spin and push as quickly as possible. But you might have a better overall result if you focus on the setup for the snap, leap, spin or push. Sometimes, what counts is how precisely or powerfully you move--not how quickly. EXPERIMENTING WITH THE START Let's pick something to measure-- the start--to see how you can set up an experiment. First, what is it that you want to measure? In the start, there are multiple issues to take into account: I Reaction time--how fast your feet leave the blocks. I Hit-the-water time--how long it takes for your streamlined hands


Swimmers are not created equal. What works for one swimmer may not work for you. The key to becoming a faster swimmer is to experiment and find out which technique or style you prefer. It's all about discovering what's best for you.

How do you know which type of start is faster--grab start or track start? Which transition turn is better from back to breast? When should you take the first breath on a 50 free? The answer is simple: you need to experiment. The style that works for the elite athlete or for the swimmer in the next lane may not be the best style for you. You need to try various styles and techniques until you find the fastest way for your body. And your experiments should be a little more scientific and mathematical than, say, trying one of each style to see which feels better. So how do you set up an experiment that can be measured? By breaking a race into small segments that can be timed with a stopwatch, coaches and swimmers can determine which variation or technique works best. And if you also time those segments at various points, you may discover that slowing to pierce the surface. Mid-pool time--how long it takes you to reach the 12-1/2 yard or meter point. Judging reaction time is a bit tough unless you have high-tech equipment such as Colorado Timing's Relay Judging Platform. Elite swimmers can get off the blocks in under 7-tenths of a second, so your official timer will have to stand close to you (to see your toes leave the blocks) and have exceptional reflexes. Things with which to experiment are foot placement, hand placement, head and eye position as well as degree of body lean. Have your timer take notes as to what you're doing and how fast you are when you do it. Once you've determined the positioning that's best for you or your swimmer, try to block out all other sounds, and focus on hearing the starting signal. Of course, reaction time off the blocks is only part of the story. There is a bigger issue to consider:



By leaning back just a bit more on the start, and using more power to pull forward, the athlete flies a bit farther through the air, and carries more momentum into the water. This translates into greater speed, which is maintained when the swimming starts.

SwimmingWORLD -- July 2006

By breaking a race into small segments that can be timed with a stopwatch, coaches and swimmers can determine which variation or technique works best.

Which position yields the most productive results down the line--i.e., how fast can you get to mid-pool? A member of the U.S. Olympic swimming team recently told me that he changed his starting position. He's actually 1-tenth of a second slower off the blocks, but he reaches mid-pool 3tenths of a second faster! By leaning back just a bit more, and using more power to pull forward, the athlete flies a bit farther through the air, and carries more momentum into the

water. This translates into greater speed, which is maintained when the swimming starts. Of course, this type of start might be difficult for younger swimmers, who do not have the same physical attributes as Olympians. It's all about discovering what's best for you. Have your timer stand at mid-pool and clock you from the start signal to mid-pool. Try track starts and grab starts, hands wide and hands narrow, body forward and body leaning back. Try to change just one variable at a time, and let your timer know what you're changing so that he or she can keep notes. The angle at which you leave the block will also impact how quickly you reach the halfway mark. This is a two-step timing process. Have your timer determine how long it takes your hands to get into the water, then how long it takes you to get to midpool. If you dive too directly into the water, your hit-the-water time will be quick--but you'll "enjoy" the friction and resistance of the water for a longer period of time. If you stay in the air for

too long, you may "stall out" at the top of your arc--and this does nothing for your time to mid-pool. Experiment until you find the trajectory that gets you to mid-pool the quickest. Finally, measuring your time to the halfway point of the pool gives you a good indication of how everything is coming together. To make your experiment as accurate as possible, have your timer remain in one spot. Have him pick a consistent reference point on the bottom of the pool or on the lane line, and have him focus on one particular body part crossing that reference point. Focusing on the head rather than the hand may also be more accurate. To maximize racing speed, measure not only how fast you leave the blocks, but also how quickly you reach the halfway point. Make adjustments along the way to get there as quickly as possible. O

Glenn Mills is Swimming World Magazine's technical advisor. Check out his website at


Taking three breaths on the first length of a 50 free may give you a better turn and breakout than if you took two breaths.

SwimmingWORLD -- July 2006


www.usswimschools .org

Teaching A


Gaining their trust is key to a swim teacher's success. The techniques necessary to teach these children are very similar to those used for teaching others. Like any child who is brought to his first swim lesson, autistic children exhibit anxiety, frustration and issues involving a lack of trust. The autistic child's reactions are similar to any child's reactions-- they're just more intensified. Maintaining physical control, safety and gaining the children's attention is more challenging for the teacher. SETTING UP A STRATEGY Guiding each child through a visual exploration of the pool's teaching area and the equipment used, then calmly offering a personal connection establishes the teacher's boundary for future lessons. Maintaining control is important. As with any student, the autistic child will test the strength of the teacher's discipline. Like any child, he or she can be temperamental, opinionated and head-strong. During any conflicts, the teacher must choose her "battle strategy" carefully. All children respond positively to firmness and reasonable safety parameters. Integrating the teaching techniques with song and sign language enhances the learning experience. Teachers can also communicate through compassion and by repeating skills. REWARDS ARE TREMENDOUS Each child needs a teacher's complete and undivided attention. Both child and parents need to feel the teacher is committed to helping the child succeed. Even before swim lessons begin, by learning w h a t excites the children, w h a t interests them and m a k e s them happy or sad, teachers are able to learn more about their students and discover what they need. Asking the child a question without waiting for a response is a missed opportunity for opening up a channel of communication. When teachers ask their students a question, they should wait and look for their response--then pause for their second response because it is then that the children realize that the teachers want to enter their world. Currently, public swim programs willing to teach autistic children are few and far between. But for those programs that do, successful teaching will bring many more autistic students since families with autistic children comprise a tight-knit community. So be prepared--the rewards are tremendous! These children come to our swimming world. Before we try to expand


Teaching autistic children is challenging, but by gaining their trust and love, you'll find that the rewards are tremendous.

Teaching swimming to special needs children and adults has always been a challenge. But it also has incredible rewards. Just locating a swim program for these students can be frustrating for the parents. With the increasing number of children diagnosed with autism, swim teachers need to be ready, willing and able to teach anyone. The water is changing in the "pool of life." Autistic children live and learn on a different plane from "normal" children. They are compassionate, excited and love the simplicity of water. They sense their own personal connection with the water and sometimes attempt to swim on their own--with or without instruction. This can pose a danger to them and is a source of anxiety for their parents. GAINING THEIR TRUST We all know people who are introverted and guarded. In a group setting, they tend to shy away from interpersonal involvement and seem content to stay to themselves. Autistic children exhibit a similar behavior. They usually open up only to a select few.

teaching autistic children


SwimmingWORLD -- July 2006

utistic Children

teaching autistic children

their world to include swimming, we must gain their trust and love. For most special needs students, the time spent learning to swim is a time to bond personally with a very special teacher. As teachers, by helping these children to feel free in the water--free from doctors, therapy, treatment, medications and, possibly, a troubled family life--we are giving them an invaluable gift. O

Melina Rorie Slotnick, aka Ms. Melina, teaches swimming to kids, adults and special needs swimmers at Swimmerman Swim School in Jonesboro, Ga. Check out the school's website at

SwimmingWORLD -- July 2006




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