How They Train Nic Fink: A Look At the Work Of the American Breaststroke Star

nic-fink-

How They Train Nic Fink: A Look At the Work Of the American Breaststroke Star

A graduate of The Pingry School and the University of Georgia (2015), 6-3 Nic Fink has spent the last seven years traversing a less traveled road. A 15-time CSCAA All-American and twice an NCAA runnerup in the 100 breaststroke, the electrical engineering major is a professional swimmer (three years a Cali Condor) with an impressive résumé. He is a Pan Pac medalist, four-time World Championships team member, Olympian and American-record holder in the short course 50, 100 and 200 meter breaststrokes (25.53, 55.56, 2:02.20). In 2021 at Short Course Worlds, he earned gold in the 50 and 200 breast and bronze in the 100. At this year’s World Championships, he topped the podium with a 26.45 50 breast and grabbed bronze in the 100 with a 58.55.

A Morristown, N.J. product, Fink found his way to Athens, Ga., where he was a mainstay for Jack Bauerle’s Bulldogs, setting still-standing records in the 100 and 200 yard breaststrokes (51.08, 1:50.80). Admired by his teammates for his work ethic and positive attitude, Fink chose to keep swimming after college.

He had already been a stalwart on collegiate and international relays. However, two unsuccessful Olympic team attempts and less than fulfilling individual performances at a variety of international events stoked his desire to press on. Initially he did so under Bauerle’s watchful eye. Then, pursuit of a master’s degree while swimming with the Condors took him to Georgia Tech. In August 2021, he joined forces with a new coach, former Georgia All-American Michael Norment.

Following is a comprehensive overview of the training plan that enabled the 29-year-old Fink to earn two individual (gold, bronze) and two relay medals (gold, silver) at the 2022 World Championships in Budapest.

TRAINING NIC FINK (WITH COACH MICHAEL NORMENT)

“We spent two workouts per week of the 2021-22 season working on Nic’s top-end speed. He was already fast,” says Norment. “Going into this process, I didn’t know how long he would be swimming or how long it would take him to improve his speed.

“Top-end speed takes some time to develop, mainly because of the neuromuscular adaptation that needs to occur. I pondered three things: keeping the efficiency of movement where it was and improving tempo; improving efficiency and keeping the same tempo; or improving both. It’s different for everyone, and it may change an as an individual acquires, develops and masters different skills.

“For years, I had been thinking about how to develop top-end speed. My college teammate, Bobby Brewer, always said that track was 20 years ahead of us. Five years into coaching club, I looked at what 800-meter runners were doing and incorporated a lot of that training into my workouts for my age group swimmers.

“When I started at Georgia Tech, I gave a lot of thought about how to develop speed. I revisited the way track athletes develop speed after a conversation with Brett Hawke, and reached out to our track coach, Nat Page, at Tech. Nat has produced numerous Olympic athletes and was a member of the USA Track and Field coaching staff at the 2020 Tokyo Games. Track sprinters focus on a different aspect of energy systems. Coach Page taught me about power, explosiveness and training speed. Other conversations and research led me to a dissertation on assistance and resistance as components of speed.

“I learned that the sequence of the assisted efforts and intensities of resistance determine which aspect of speed was being developed. Bottom line: The key is rest. The amount of rest that swimmers get on traditional speed efforts may not be sufficient for developing top-end speed. So, on top-end speed days, we provided a lot of rest—giving as much as 3-5 minutes rest on 15-25-meter efforts. For Nic, we kept rest at 2-3 minutes.

“In Ernie Maglisco’s A Primer for Swim Coaches Volume 1: Physiological Foundations, he discusses the amount of rest needed to stay in the correct energy system to develop speed. If a swimmer were to complete 4 x 15m sprints on 4:00, by the fourth effort, he would be dipping into the aerobic system. Courtney Hart, head coach at GT, gave me the space to work with Nic and share my different ideas on speed.

“Following is a sample set that Nic would do during our top-end speed days:

5x:
• 1 x 25 assisted with cordz @ 2:30
• 1 x 25 dive start @ 2:30
• On the Power Tower: 12 strokes max effort @ 2:30, light weight
• 1 x 25 dive @ 2:30
• On the Power Tower: 12 strokes max effort @ 3:00, heavy weight

“We also did a lot of activation work on land mixed into these sets. We incorporated hex bar and box jumps into the workout. We also used med balls and kettlebells to help stimulate the fast-twitch muscle fibers and wake up his body.

“Tempos: When we got to December/January we really started focusing on his stroke tempo. We didn’t really time the swims on these days because we were more concerned with training effect. We focused on getting him comfortable in overspeed tempos while keeping his strokes long.”

POWER TOWER

“Intensities were determined by time, weight and distance. We used the traditional power towers made by Total Performance putting water into marked buckets to determine the load. Everyone on the team has their own heavy, moderate and light weight standards for which we test. We use the following distances and times to determine the heaviest acceptable weight:

• 12.5 yards in :08
• 15 yards in :10
• 25 yards in :20

“If swimmers can’t hit the distances in these times, the buckets are too heavy. Moderate and light are determined by where we are in the season and what aspect of speed we are developing. Heavy stays pretty consistent throughout the season, but may be adjusted.”

AEROBIC CAPACITY

“Thanks to his time with Jack, Nic had an incredible aerobic base and a ton of aerobic and anaerobic capacity. My goal with Nic was just maintain it. Nic did some of his workouts with our Mid-D group and Coach Chico Rego and Courtney Hart for the fall. While Nic did a lot of breaststroke over the course of the week, he also did a good bit of IM and threshold work in free. After conversations with Jack and UGA assistant Neil Versfeld, we kept Nic on aerobic days between 6,000 and 7,000 yards per workout, and it remained a staple in his training plan. We tried to keep him with the GT team on days like this because he liked being around people doing the work. It’s tough doing threshold work and long aerobic sets by yourself.”

ANAEROBIC WORK

“Nic can get pretty beat up over the course of the week, but he also recovers well. He’s tough as nails. The demands of grad school at GT were a challenge, so we had to adjust our weeks accordingly. Chico found a research paper that talked about the body’s ability to use lactic acid as fuel. Nic’s power workouts were extremely high in intensity and extremely low in volume. He also needed a speed endurance of sorts for long course. We didn’t do much long course training from January to March because of college team requirements, so I gave him work that I felt would exceed the physiological demand of a long course 100, 200 breast over a five-day meet.

“Nic did my version of the following VO2 max/lactate set every few weeks:

• 1 x 200 free @ 2:00 Max effort dive start with fins (Nic was 1:35)
• 6 x 75 @ 1:05 breast Best average (Nic held 42s and 43s)
• 2 x 100 free @ 1:30 Max effort with paddles (Nic was 51.3 and 50.8)
• 12 x 50 @ :45 breast Best average (Nic held 29s)
30-second rest
• 4 x 50 @ 1:00 breast Max effort (Nic started at 28-mid; descended to 27.2)
• 16 x 25 @ :30 breast Best average (Nic held 12.3-12.7)

Flush Out

1x:
• 300 free @ 4:15 A2 with fins
• 3 x 100 free @ 1:20 A2, A2/A1x50, A1
• 4 x 50 free @ :50 A1 total choice
* A1: Heart Rate 130-150 A2: Heart Rate 150-170

Energy System Definitions

A1: pink HR 130-150
A2: red HR 150-170
A3: blue HR 160-180
Anaerobic: purple 180+

BREASTSTROKE TECHNICAL WORK

“Nic has a great kick, quick heels and great timing, but I noticed he was slipping at the end of his kick,” continues Norment. “So, we filmed and did a lot of kicking drills from my former coach Steve Bultman.

“We added buoys and sox to create extremes and increase his sensitivity. We also wanted to increase the power output of his kick, which we did mainly with towers. Once the kick was more efficient, we started separating the kick work with repeats of 15, 25s and 75s on the tower. We also did a good amount of kick work with chutes and just max effort kicking with lots of rest.

“As the season progressed, we finished all of our VO2 max/lactate sets with a resisted kick/swim set. I wanted him to be in immense pain when we started the finishing kick set. He needed to remain efficient in the kick when he was hurting. Breaststroke technical work was Wednesday a.m. We also did a lot of pulling and swimming with resistance. We have done as much as 2,000 meters of breaststroke pulling, no legs. Nic is a beast at pulling.”

TURNS, FINISHES, STARTS (ENTRY), PULLOUTS

“I reviewed a lot of Nic’s races when I first started working with him. I got all of his race stats: splits, stroke rates, tempos and stroke counts. The first thing I noticed was his finish in the 100 breast at 2020 Trials. I also watched the ISL races, and he was off on some of the turns.

“We did a lot of underwater filming to work on improving his pullout. He was creating resistance and drag when he initiated the dolphin kick for the pullout. We addressed that as well as his start entries, which we filmed all season.”

RACE PREP-ANAEROBIC POWER

“In the final few weeks of preparation for the International Team Trials and World Championships, we had a progression set to develop 200 race pace in a way that would simulate race fatigue. Easy speed is more readily available when you have an abundance of speed. After months of working top-end speed and all the other components, Nic was ready.

“The prep sets were fairly simple: 50s on 1:15-1:30, holding race pace and holding his stroke rate; tempos based on his data from USA Swimming. If the stroke didn’t match the pace, we would stop the set.

“I tried to make sure we paid attention to his times, how he looked, how well he repeated his times and how well he recovered within and between the workouts. We knew he had done the work; it was all about managing the taper.

“We were still doing solid aerobic sets at this point. Again, his competition schedule was tough, so we had to manage it. The following workout is from May 28, 2022.”

Warmup LC
45 minutes Choice

1x:
1 x 12 strokes @ 2:00; Light tower-level 2/ .89s tempo
1 x 12 strokes @ 2:00; Cord-assisted sprint
1 x 25 @ 2:00; Heavy tower-level 7/ .90s tempo
200 ez

Suited
Main Set
Part 1

4 x 50 @ 2:00, o: ez e: max effort — all from a push
(Nic held 28.2, 28.6 with a 1.1 tempo)

10-min Recovery

Part 2

1 x 100 @ 1:20, p200; Back Half, from a push, 1:04.18 with a 1.4/1.1 Tempo
1 x 50 @ 15:00; last 50 of p200 (Yes, @ 15:00)
(Nic held 31.7, 31.8, 32.1 with a 1.2 tempo)

Part 3

1 x 75 @ 1:00, p200; 1st 100-Dive Start
(Nic was 43.7 with a 1.5 tempo)
1 x 25 @ :30, EZ Free
3 x 50 @ :50, 2 @ 200 pace, 1 anything faster than p200
(Nic held 31.6, 31.8, 30.7 with a 1.2-1.3 tempo)
1 x 50 @ 1:30, A2 of the main stroke

Power Tower Finisher

2 x 21 max effort strokes on the Power Tower w/paddles- Heavy-Level 7; 1.0/1.1 tempo @ 1:00
1 x 21 max effort strokes on the Power Tower Light-Level 2; 1.0 tempo @ 1:30
2 x 25 @ 3:00, assisted cord max effort sprint

Flush

300 A1 @ 4:45, fins
3 x 100 @ 1:30, A1/A2, paddles
4 x 50 @ 1:00, choice of gear

Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach, golf and swimming writer. His critically acclaimed coming-of-age golf novel, “Too Much Loft,” is in its second printing, and is available from store.Bookbaby.com, Amazon, B&N and distributors worldwide.

 

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