Swimming Technique April - June 2003 Feature Article

Speed Racer
The Teri McKeever/Natalie Coughlin combo has proven to be a potent partnership for both Cal-Berkeley as well as USA Swimming.

By Teri McKeever (with Michael J. Stott)

I call Natalie "Speed Racer", and with good reason. Not only does she currently hold 22 world and American records, but also I can't ever remember telling her to "pick it up." In fact, she's been picking it up_and putting it down_on the world's best swimmers ever since she returned from a shoulder injury that undermined her chances for a spot on the 2000 Olympic team.

Natalie came to Cal with a well-deserved reputation and an impressive distance training base gained under Coach Ray Mitchell at Terrapins (Concord, Calif.). One of the great favors Ray did Natalie was to ground her fundamentally in all four strokes and challenge her to stretch herself.

She also arrived with a need to regain her confidence. People forget that in 1998, Natalie had qualified for nationals in every event at every distance and was touted as one of the bright stars in U.S. swimming.

I give her credit. Eighteen months of rehab produced a lot of doubt and pain, but she persevered aggressively in hopes of returning to an elite level. One of the positives of that experience is that now she really listens to her body.

Ideal Choice
She'll tell you that Cal has been an ideal choice. Our philosophy of power and technique suits her creative mind. We mix and match dryland and swimming components. Among other things, we do yoga and weights twice a week as well as spinning, running and medicine balls.

In fact, one of Natalie's favorite routines is a pool circuit that includes four or five rounds running 15 meters and diving in, then sprinting seven strokes, getting out and doing push-ups and jumping rope, sculling 50 meters long course while standing on a kickboard, then diving into a 15-meter sprint off the blocks followed by an easy swim.

We probably do up to 50 percent technical work in any given training session. I don't think drilling necessarily means low intensity. For us, it's a combination of drilling, kicking, paddle work and kick swimming. A lot of her quality efforts are done kicking or kick swimming. Earlier in her career, she'd experienced success with that. We'd gotten away from it a bit, and now we've gone back to it.

One of the things that works well for the two of us is the sense of partnership borne of mutual trust and respect. She is very clear about communicating her needs. She has to coach me to be the best coach for her. We have very similar personalities. It's good in the sense that I know how important it is for me to have space to myself. I can see it in her face when she needs some space, too. My role is to coach the whole person_not just the swimmer_because the whole person comes to train every day, not just the swimmer.

She is also very good about processing technical information, taking it in and working with it. She's made some technical stroke changes. Previously, she was very linear with most of her strokes, especially as she fatigued. She's tried to "round" her strokes more in an attempt to relieve pressure on her joints.

She gets information from a lot of different sources and uses what fits. Because of her shoulder recovery, she arrived at Cal ready and open to embrace both technical and training changes. That mindset was a huge asset, and it allowed her to build on what she'd done before. Essentially, she looked upon it as a refinement and opportunity to take advantage of the training resources available in a university setting.

She is very purposeful in her training. She knows what she needs to do, and she just does it from the moment she gets in for warm-up to the moment she gets out. She is very aware of how her training_such as the yoga and spinning_will affect her technique and how it integrates to allow her to be the best athlete possible. You don't have to explain that to her.

In a college setting, Natalie benefits from the team environment and the weekly racing. She is extremely competitive. We rarely talk about times. Rather, we talk about goals in technical terms such as working breakout cycles, hitting the 15-meter mark and taking the proper number of kicks under water. We do a lot of things that are not time-related, especially in a taper mode. We'll go back and rehearse pieces of her race and maybe do 15 fast turns mixed in with easy swimming. We try to do a little bit of long course all year.

Focused on the Process
I don't think she's as wrapped up in winning as much as she is in the process of getting better. If she keeps improving, the times will take care of themselves. What's important is swimming well, developing, refining and practicing an arsenal of skills to advance her training. It's not about volume_it's about training to activate those skills under stress, pressure and fatigue. That's how I think she'll get better.

Preparing for the Olympics is a 15-to-18-month goal. It's important to have a plan for that time, but also to break the march into manageable pieces. That includes the rest as well as the work. She has a good balance in her life. She needs mini- as well as long breaks. Together we plan her breaks to give her time to enjoy the experiences, be they weekends or trips with a boyfriend or family stuff.

I think she needs time away. It's about taking care of the whole person, and Natalie is good at that. Our college schedule allows her to take Wednesday afternoons off, and she treats it as a "me" day and a mid-week recharge. She often goes home where she has a great support network. There she washes laundry, sees Jake (her Boxer) and her family, and gets an emotional and spiritual recovery. It makes a real difference in how she feels about what she's doing.

And these days, winning is what she does best. She closed the summer with sparkling performances at U.S. Nationals and Pan Pacs. She has carried that momentum throughout the collegiate season, culminating with the NCAAs, where last year she set four individual American records, and this year she set another.

Natalie enjoys the view from the top of the podium. It's a nice perspective for a young woman who acknowledges she has a real opportunity to lead and inspire members of the national team.

Teri McKeever is the women's swimming coach at Cal-Berkeley, and the primary trainer of Natalie Coughlin since August 2000.

Sample Workouts
(During College Season)

6-7:45 a.m.	Meters (aerobic/drill swim) 5,000-6,000
1:15-3:15 p.m.	Yards (5,500-6,500)

6-6:30 a.m.	Speed circuit/medicine balls
6:30-7 a.m.	Spinning/running
7-7:50 a.m.	Yoga
3-4 p.m.	Weights
4-6:15 p.m.	Yards (5,000-6,500) power in water

6-7:45 a.m.	Meters (team challenge) 5,500-7,000
a.m.	Yards (5,500-7,000)

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 18, 2002

1 x 400 	Choice

4 x 150	(rest :15)
	25 double arm back + 25 back
	25 scull + 25 free
	25 reverse swim + 25 breast or fly

10 x 50	Odds IM, 3 cycles each stroke (free to wall, work stroke transitions) on :55
	Evens Choice, 3 cycles fast + form to 25m mark + 3 cycles fast + form to wall

8 x 100 kick	2 each on 2:00/1:55/1:50/1:45

6 x 200 pull	1-3: 3 free w/ snorkel, paddles and band only on 2:50
	4-6: 3 choice w/ paddles, buoy and band w/ 15 sec. rest

4 x 400 	Odds 25 fly + 75 free/25 bk + 75 free/25 br + 75 free/100 free @ 5:30
	Evens back 50 drill/50 swim

2 x 800	w/ fins + paddles (rest :30)
	Odd 100s free 3 cycle blast off both walls, then breathe every five
	Even 100s primary non-free 25 blast + 75 for form

1 x 300 	Loosen

MONDAY, JAN. 13, 2003
(Yards at Maui)

1 x 500	Choice		

5 x 100	Continuous w/ board
	Odd 100s 50K/50S
	Even 100s 25K/25S

1 x 500	Free or back w/ paddles only
	25 R arm only + 25S + 25 L arm only + 25S

1 x 500	w/ fins continuous
	Odd 100s (25 flow + 25 rhythm scull + 25 uw recovery fly + 25 fly)
	Even 100s (25 flow + 25 rhythm scull + 25 3 fly/3 br strokes + 25 br)

Working with a partner (1 is coach, 1 is swimmer)

4 x	6 x 25 from center, work 5 turns and 1 finish on :40
4 x	50 free w/ flip turn, 1 breath @ 50 + 25 underwater pullouts, no breath on :30
	repeat turns again_switch positions

4 x 	8 x 25 choice swim (build pressure on water every two cycles) on :30
	50 free (no breath, open turn) on :40

8 x 	25 FAST kick on :30
	50 (double arm back, 25 choice S) on 1:00
	75 FAST kick on 1:15

Place stretch cord at 12 yards
1 x 300 back	u/w to cord, with odd laps K, evens S + 6 x 50K on :50 (FAST)

1 x 300 	w/ paddles, odd laps K, evens S + (w/o cord) 6 x 50S on :45

w/ paddles
1 x 300	(paddles only)
	Odd 100s 50D/50S + 6 x 50S on :40 (no equipment)		
	Even 100s 25D/25S

8 x 50	2 each @ :40/:45/:50/:55

SATURDAY, FEB. 8, 2003

5 x	150 w/ last 50 non-swim + 2 x 25 build (rest 5 secs.)

5 x kick	 2 x 50 @ :50 just to make base
	 1 x 75 @ 1:30 kick under :50 (hold :47-:49)

1 x 600 	pull with paddles + buoy + band, every fourth 25 up tempo
4 x 50 swim	paddles only @ :45
1 x 400	paddles only_50 drill/50 swim
4 x 50 swim	paddles only @ :40
1 x 200	paddles and fins 25K+ 25S+ 25D+25S
4 x 50	swim w/ paddles and fins @ :35

6 x	75 choice of stroke (25 nonswim + 25D or K + 25S) on 1:30
	25 build @ :30
	50 on 200 pace (2nd or 3rd 50 of 200) @ 1:00
	25 blast @ :30
	25 easy @ :30
	50 on 200 pace (last 50 of 200) @ 1:00	

5 x loosen	75 (25 double arm + 50S) @ 1:30
	50 (25 scull + 50 choice) @ :50

Records and Honors
Following is a partial list of records and honors Natalie Coughlin has achieved since enrolling at Cal:


  • 2001 Swimming World American Swimmer of the Year
  • 2001 NCAA Swimmer of the Year
  • 2001 Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year
  • 2001 James E. Sullivan Award finalist
  • 2002 Swimming World World Swimmer of the Year
  • 2002 Swimming World American Swimmer of the Year
  • 2002 Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year
  • 2002 Honda Sports Award
  • 2002 James E. Sullivan Award finalist
  • 2002 USA Swimming Athlete of the Year
  • 2002 USA Swimming Performance of the Year
  • 2002 NCAA Swimmer of the Year

Long Course Records

  • 100 meter freestyle: 53.99 (American Record)
  • 50 meter backstroke: 28.48 (American Record)
  • 100 meter backstroke: 59.58 (World Record)
  • 200 meter backstroke: 2:08.53 (American Record)

Short Course Meters Records

  • 50 meter backstroke: 27.08 (American Record)
  • 100 meter backstroke: 56.71 (World Record)
  • 200 meter backstroke: 2:03.62 (World Record)
  • 50 meter butterfly: 25.83 (American Record)
  • 100 meter butterfly: 56.34 (World Record)
  • 100 meter IM: 58.80 (World Record)

NCAA/American Records

  • 100 yard freestyle: 47.00
  • 200 yard freestyle: 1:42.65
  • 100 yard backstroke: 49.97
  • 200 yard backstroke: 1:49.52
  • 100 yard butterfly: 50.01
  • 200 yard butterfly: 1:51.91