PHOENIX, Arizona, May 1. WE are back in the studio for today's edition of The Morning Swim Show, talking to Nick Folker, the strength and conditioning coach for UC-Berkeley's aquatics teams.
Folker talks about how he is able to work in specific training regimens for just about every swimmer, and how he determines the strengths and weaknesses of incoming freshman. He also talks about working with the postgraduate team, and who the strongest person on the team might be. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.
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Peter Busch: This is the Morning Swim Show for Tuesday, April 24th, 2012. I am your host Peter Busch. In the FINIS Monitor today, we will talk to Nick Folker. He is the Strength Coach for the swimmers at UC Berkeley and Nick joins us right now in the FINIS Monitor from Berkeley, California. Coach, welcome to the Morning Swim Show. How are you?
Nick Folker: Thanks Peter. Thanks for having me on the show.
Peter Busch: Congratulations to you as well on both the guys and girls winning the NCAA Championships. I know you are a big part of it.
Nick Folker: Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
Peter Busch: Tell me what's changed in strength training for swimmers, especially in the past decade since you were in the pool?
Nick Folker: I think the biggest change — I mean obviously technology is going to be a part of that, but I think the biggest change is we are having swimmers doing conditioning for swimmers. You know I think that is probably the biggest thing I have been able to bring to the pool, that I remember what it feels like. It's difficult to have a really hard session and go try getting in the pool and actually lift your arm off you know out of the water and push off the wall. I think traditionally you've always had someone with a football or basketball or baseball background doing the conditioning for swimmers, and I mean I think they do a good job, but they just they don't understand the variable of water and I think that is very tough.
Peter Busch: Okay what is like a specific set — we like to ask this on the show — that you could share that swimmers could benefit from in the weight room?
Nick Folker: I like to do a lot of body weight work. You know I think there is not maybe one specific set but it is more the progression of the athletes. I will give you a couple of examples. Tom Shields, when he first came in — we run an assessment on flexibility, stability and mobility on the athletes when they come in. Tom's hamstrings were so bad, he was so inflexible in his hamstrings. We didn't really. I didn't load him. We didn't squat him for a long time and any bench press he did was on the floor with 40 pounds I think was what he got to his first year so it is very tailored to the specific athlete. I do like to do a lot of pull ups, a lot of chin ups you know the athletes would all attest to that and then short course yards we'll do a fair amount of squats and dead lifts.
Peter Busch: So Tom Shields, probably the best underwater kicker in college swimming if not the world right now was– did not have flexible hamstrings when he came in?
Nick Folker: He was — his hamstrings were already bad. I don't think he had done any glute work and his hip flexors is very tight as well so after the assessment that I took him through where we tailored his workout to get the same movements in but not compromise him or put him at risk of injury and I think given his freshman year and what he has done since then it has paid off.
Peter Busch: That is pretty remarkable. You do the guys team, ladies and the postgrads?
Nick Folker: And then I have you know obviously diving included and I have both men's and women's water polo as well so I have just over 140 collegiate athletes and then the post grads.
Peter Busch: Now, I know you can't possibly do 140 different specific workouts but you try as much as you can to tailor what each athlete does?
Nick Folker: Very much so. The postgrads are all doing something different. With just looking at both swim teams, by the time we go to mid-January, February we had about 20 to 25 different individual workouts for the men and about 13 to 18 for the women. based on the group we thought we had for NCAA's and then with water polo we have about 5 to 8 different workouts per team, based on their position and the year they are in school and the body composition.
Peter Busch: This year something that was remarkable about the men's team was the freshmen. I mean they won the 4 x 50 freestyle relay with three freshmen and a sophomore which his very unusual especially for an event like the 50 which usually requires a lot of power. Now none of those guys were necessarily jumping out at you as the strongest guys in the world but you still must have — I mean when you are dealing with freshmen, you've got to be a little careful right because not all of them have strength training background.
Nick Folker: You do and I think you know again you ask what something we did differently and it is acknowledging that a lot of the swimmers and water polo players come in here have never been into a weight room. They have done some dry land. They have done some work but they have never really you know being in a pressure situation in the weight room so we do a lot of dumbbell work. You know a guy like Tyler was doing something very different to Seth and so you know based off that even Shane Fleming has taken us 18 months to develop into what he's got– and he still in a huge developmental phase. You know we are looking at him to really break through probably his junior, senior and even later on than that.
Peter Busch: Because just a man's body matures greatly between the time they are 18 and say 21.
Nick Folker: Very much so.
Peter Busch: You have been there what? About 9 years?
Nick Folker: This is my 8th year correct.
Peter Busch: Strongest swimmer you have ever seen at Cal?
Nick Folker: I would say strength to weight ratio I mean obviously Nathan is probably — he is up there. Duje Draganja was very strong, you know we have had on the female side Nat's strength to weight ratio, she is putting up some good weights, but I would probably saying Nathan is probably the strongest you have had so far.
Peter Busch: How did you wind up there?
Nick Folker: I actually– I swam out here– post collegiately I swam professionally here for a while. End up doing a grad program here and saw the potential for this position that you know there was no one with a swimming background in strength and conditioning. Mike Bottom was here. We pushed them pretty hard and it was an experiment. I think it has played out pretty well.
Peter Busch: You know when we talked to swim coaches on the show, but we ask them you know where do you learn from even when you are at the pinnacle, you are still learning either from other coaches or going to clinics or traveling. I mean where do you get new ideas?
Nick Folker: I think a lot of it is, I hate to say, but experiment. You know Sam Freas was my coach in college and he really opened my mind to a lot of the work that we do. You know and just talking to Teri and Dave and what they are looking for. They are two very, very smart minds. You know Dave has a lot of grounding through Auburn, and Teri's taken a lot of ideas and I think she is sort of fine-tuning to where she is at, and then someone like Vern Gambetta. Vern is being a mentor to me. He is sort of the godfather of functional movements and it is just trying to, I would say as an artist, a piece of cloth and you are creating your art form. Some things work, some don't and you got to go with the ones that do.
Peter Busch: And finally Nick if there are some younger swimmers watching maybe teenagers or their coaches, club coaches and they are interested and they keep hearing that strength training would pay great dividends in the pool, what would you suggest to them if they are just starting out?
Nick Folker: I would say look one the age is going to be a huge factor and then– .
Peter Busch: Is there an age that you just say don't start before that age or it just depends?
Nick Folker: You know I think I don't think that there is an age. I think it is body type too. I mean I grew when I was 18 or 19 so for me starting strength training to early would have been detrimental. I think body weights and any kind of movements that you are doing lounges, you know reverse lounges are good and just being athletic through the movements. Some body types are really good. It is very individualized. I think that is one thing we really preach here so there is no one-fits-all.
Peter Busch: So it is not as simple as just getting on a bench press and just seeing how much you can bench. Strength comes in many different ways.
Nick Folker: It does and I think that is one thing. We don't do traditional bench, we never use the bar. We have many ways to skin a cat and I think that is part of it. It is very individualized.
Peter Busch: Well Nick whatever you are doing it seems to be working. Congratulations again on a great year.
Nick Folker: Thank you Peter I appreciate it.
Peter Busch: Thanks a lot for joining us. That is Nick Folker joining us from Cal Berkeley today and that is it for today's show. I'm Peter Busch reminding you to keep your head down at the finish.
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