You can call it a case of blurred lines: chasing the much-maligned black line in the pool could pay dividends once you cross the white line of the footy field, reckons Bill Davoren, high-performance manager at Collingwood FC, whose team, of course, wears black and white.
“It offers the opportunity to enhance cardiovascular fitness and aerobic capacity, while also providing a form of resistance,” says Davoren, a former national performance director at Triathlon Australia.
“There’s an improvement in your breathing control, which transfers to other physical activities.”
Chiefly, logging laps in the pool increases flexibility, which, given the loads players crush in preseason, makes it a great adjunct to gym work, says Davoren.
“It’s a great counterbalance to strength training because it stretches you out,” he says.
Collingwood forward Jesse White is a naturally strong swimmer
It can also reap benefits for runners in terms of both recovery and performance.
A study at the University of Western Australia showed athletes who put in two intense interval sessions followed by a two-kilometre swim 10 hours later were 14 per cent faster on their next run.
They also had lower levels of C-reactive protein in their systems, a marker of muscular inflammation.
All players on Collingwood’s list complete a dedicated swimming session each Tuesday of preseason.
Some, such as forwards Travis Cloke and Jesse White, are naturally strong swimmers, easily capable of completing 1.5-2km sets.
But for many players, improvement comes when they’re injured, as the pool becomes an essential part of their rehab.
“If you’ve got a guy on a compromised running program through post-season surgery, swimming becomes crucial to their conditioning,” Davoren says.
“Matty Scharenberg, who’s had to fight back from injuries, has become a very, very good swimmer.”
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Combining running and swimming is a great way to ramp up the intensity of a cardio session, Davoren adds.
On preseason Saturday mornings he puts players through a triathlon-style “brick” session involving a one-hour fartlek run finishing at the Port Phillip Bay.
They then go straight into a 600-800m swim.
Whatever you’re training for, time in the water could provide the elusive ingredient that takes your preparation to the next level.
Use Davoren’s swim session on your rest days to improve your conditioning, expand your flexibility and, ultimately, spike your performance.
Pool Your Resources
Compete the following session, resting between each set and for one minute between each block of work.
>2 x 150m EASY – 30 seconds’ rest
>2 x 100m EASY – 20 seconds’ rest
>4 x 50m BUILD – 15 seconds’ rest
>8 x 25m HARD – 10 seconds’ rest
>1 x 100m EASY
Strokes of Genius
Use Davoren’s tips to glide through the water.
1/ “When your head is in the water, forcefully blow bubbles. Holding your breath only adds to tension.”
2/ “It’s okay to start in a 25-metre pool and rest at the end of each lap. Short efforts of good technique followed by rest gradually become 50m, 75m, 100m of good technique.”
3/ “Don’t be frightened to use small (cut-off) fins to aid propulsion in the initial stages as you get comfortable with your stroke mechanics.”