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Strength and conditioning 2.0

Eric Buhain



Always have an open mind — that is an essential life skill.

It means being flexible and adaptive to new experiences and ideas. It also comes with a sense of honesty that you still don’t know everything.

That was also what I experienced over the weekend while attending the strength and conditioning seminar organized by the Samahang Manlalangoy ng Pilipinas in partnership with the Congress of Philippine Aquatics.

I actually thought that with all my achievements and experiences as a national swimmer and coach for many years, I already knew everything about the sport. I was wrong.

Listening to coach Albert Rolle, who is the strength and conditioning coach of College of Saint Benilde, opened my eyes to why today’s athletes are faster and stronger than when I was still competing. They don’t break down their bodies as much as we used to do.

Coach Albert kept on espousing the importance of progression.

He said young swimmers need to be grouped depending on their abilities in terms of flexibility and strength. For instance, an eight-year-old swimmer with limited abilities can’t be group with teens who have more developed physical attributes and abilities. It would definitely lead to injuries.

I remember that when I was a young swimmer 40 years ago, our coach would ask us to do 50 pushups and 100 sit-ups without teaching us the proper form and technique.

Before, the style was just to imitate the movements of a stronger, fitter swimmer for fear of being left behind. Whenever we did it, the result was always painful.

Coach Albert strongly suggested teaching progression in every exercise and applying proper technique so that the right muscles will be strengthened while minimizing the chances of injuries. And if the swimmer can’t do the very basic movement, break it down to a simpler exercise before even telling him to make a basic pushup.

The coaches, who came from Luzon and the Visayas, asked coach Albert questions on the problems they encounter daily. He patiently answered them one by one and gave them the breakdown of targeted muscle groups and offered the basic movement that would serve as starting point of the training program.

For someone who has been away from the sport for 20 years, hearing coach Albert shed light on the issue was really amazing.

When I was with the national team at 15 years old, my coach was requiring me to do a thousand crunches every day. Yes, a thousand crunches every day!

For those who don’t know what a crunch is, it’s like a mini sit-up that focuses on your core. But when you do one thousand of them in one day, you won’t be able to walk straight the next day without shedding a tear because of too much pain.

Whenever I go to school after training, my classmates would poke fun at me while I was crying because of the nagging pain on my stomach.

But coach Albert said this shouldn’t be the case.

He offered a newer, less brutal way of strengthening the core using stretch cords and rubber tubing. This is version 2.0.

Yes, there would still be pain, but it has progression. We don’t need to jump there and absorb everything in just one sitting.

I was practically dumbfounded when coach Albert demonstrated the use of stretch cords and tubing as all muscle groups were strengthened on any pool deck.

Suddenly, I remembered all the gyms I used when I was still competing and using all the machines to strengthen my muscles. Then suddenly, here comes coach Albert carrying cords and tubes to and promising to get the job done without using machines and risking injuries.

Coach Albert can practically duplicate all exercises you can imagine in a gym just with the use of his cords, bench, door, railing and anything in the pool deck.

At one point, he discussed leg strengthening using rubber cords. He was doing squats, leg extensions, leg abduction, and leg adduction exercises.

It quickly reminded me of my years doing frog leaps on the grandstands of the University of Life track oval and feeling like Rocky Balboa in the movies.

I felt like a super athlete being able to do it many times up and down day in and day out.

And yes my achievements also showed the results of hard work and the old motto “no pain, no gain!”

But anything abusive will get back at you someday.

Today, more than 30 years since I was still actively competing, I have osteoarthritis of the knees. Good thing it didn’t manifest itself when I was still a swimmer, otherwise it would have been an abrupt and devastating exit from the sport.

Swimming coaches today are now equipped with a better and safer understanding on how to patiently progress their swimmers with strength and conditioning exercises.

And after listening and learning from Coach Albert, there should be no more crippling exercises.

I am very excited for our new generation of swimmers. Now, they have a better strength and conditioning foundation that will push them further to their peak performance.

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