Imagine if Phelps didn’t have 8 events, and all he was competing in was one event at a time… how fast could he have swum? What World Records would we have witnessed in Beijing if Phelps could have swam without restraint, without having to hold back because of all the events he had yet to swim?
Here you have an athlete who can win race after race and essentially do it with one hand tied behind is back (representing that he had many events to compete in) yet how many people are studying Phelps, how Phelps trained, how Phelps raced, or perhaps more importantly how did his coach Bob Bowman train Phelps to do what he did? This case study should be coaching 101 for every single swim coach on the planet… but I would bet that like the sports media, coaches have written Phelps off as an one off… and by doing so, disrespect Bowman writing him off as getting “lucky” that Phelps came to him (as if Phelps would have achieved these same results with any other coach).
I do not believe it for a moment.
I believe there was genius in how Bowman trained Phelps, and there was equal genius in how Phelps trained and allowed himself to be coached.
So how did Bowman train Phelps?
It started around the age of 13… Bowman clearly had foresight into the potential of Michael Phelps (unlike multiple Canadian swim coaches who rejected Penny Oleksiak at age 9 because she couldn’t swim more than a length or two of the pool). Bowman proposed to Michael and the Phelps family his vision for the success Michael could achieve, and with everyone committing to the vision… the training started:
5 years straight of training without a single day off!
Bowman had Phelps train 5 years straight… no days for Thanksgiving, Christmas, not on his birthday, no days off period. Phelps writes in his book “No Limits” that in order to be able to train day after day it required difficult decisions… he didn’t hang out with friends, go see movies, instead he went to bed early because tomorrow was another day of training. Bowman knew that if Phelps was to break Spitz’s record of Olympic golds, that he would have to have a physiological and psychological foundation that would be unwavering during the entire duration of an Olympiad. Other athletes were showing up to compete and maybe, just maybe medal in one event, but if Phelps was going to medal in eight and go down in history then his training would have to reflect the goal.
Consider what is required to train everyday, often times twice a day in the pool, plus dryland for 5 years straight: no single workout can compromise the athlete. No single workout can compromise the athlete… sound familiar? Its the same principle Phelps raced in Beijing: no single event can compromise the athlete … that is if he is going to win 8 gold medals.
Sustainable Training = Sustainable Racing
When most athletes and most coaches think of training everyday, they think of how performing HiiT daily would impact the athlete and they cringe at the thought of daily training because they know that daily HiiT is unsustainable. But instead of thinking of how to train so that training is sustainable, most athletes and most coaches just dump the thought and go back to hard and easy days and dismiss consistent stable training which constantly challenges the athlete but never so much that they are training beyond themselves.
Why don’t more athletes and coaches train in a sustainable manner? Because an intellectual approach to training requires… thinking and honestly, most athletes and coaches prefer not to think, just do, and do hard, then harder, and then harder still. Thinking to most athletes and coaches is wasted effort that could be spent punishing oneself with yet another HiiT session designed to torture the athlete in a belief that training is supposed to cause an athlete to become more and more tolerant of pain, to be able to suffer longer, harder, than the next… and that that is the key to peak performance. Its absolute ignorance, but hey… ever try and talk sense into a caveman? It ain’t gonna happen… they just want to hit something with their club. Their sloping foreheads preclude logical thought as pure reliance on instinct and heightening their instincts to cause deeper and deeper visceral reactions is all that they know and want to know. Offer them a carbon fiber club or a more aerodynamic club… you will have their undivided attention. Suggest that a club is not needed… and you will have lost them.
Bob Bowman – with his background in psychology and his prior experience as a college swimmer – knew that the mindset, the attitude, the mental perspective, the psychology of the athlete is just as critical to their development as their physiological training. Bowman shares that he is often asked if Phelps saw a sport psychologist on his way to becoming the athlete that we all know him as… Bowman replies to this question with a simple answer: “everyday”. Bowman was Phelps psychologist, his physiological and his psychological mentor. I believe it is this balanced approach in training – physiological and psychological development – that was the secret sauce propelling Phelps to his potential.
Unfortunately today athletes and coaches are not obsessing over quality training, the obsession is with short cuts… and the fitness and sport industries have provided the solution in spades: HiiT as in Hi Intensity Interval Training.
There is not a single study coming out of any university today that questions the validity nor the reliability of HiiT… the search is not for what is the optimal training process (its already been decided to be HiiT), the search is how to maximize HiiT so that we no longer train for hours and hours and hours… instead the hope is that like in the pharmaceutical industry that HiiT will be transformed into a magic pill where no one has to train anymore. We are almost there, I believe the latest research concludes that performing repeated Hi Intensity Intervals for as little as 10secs will yield the benefits that hours and hours of training does.
If that was truly the case then there should not be one but thousands of Phelps, thousands upon thousands of Bolts and Federers, etc… There isn’t and there aren’t and for good reason… HiiT is a losers approach and the losing approach to training because it is a form of gambling with your health which attempts to game your neuro-hormonal body systems to cause a spike in effort allowing a spike in performance (provided you don’t suffer a stroke, heart attack or mental breakdown in the process).
Phelps, Bowman, Bolt, Federer, any and all true athletes, any and all true consistent peak performers are not in search of one offs or temporary spikes… they are in pursuit of being champions, of becoming a champion from the deepest core of their being.
Follow HiiT and you will find yourself amongst athletes who are dopers: chemical and mechanical cheaters, athletes who are mentally and emotionally unstable typically outside of training but not uncommon while training, athletes who are willing to sabotage competitors equipment, athletes willing to cut courses in order to “win”, athletes who are typically injured, in pain, and eagerly train through their pain to demonstrate their toughness, athletes who are at high risk for self harm which includes suicide, and individuals who really cannot be called athletes because their ability to perform is cosmetic, an illusion, a temporary high fueled by their sports nutrition and HiiT not unlike the temporary happiness of a drug addict… short lived with disappointing after effects.
If you are in search of your true potential, then be like Phelps… seek sustainable training solutions, seek a coach who believes in sustainable training, in sustainable racing, who believes that you can only become your best when you are honest in your effort, and that arrives through consistent training, day after day, year after year, with optimal results coming after no less than 5-10 years (or as is commonly suggested in the literature after 7,000-10,000 hours of mindful purposeful healthy goal oriented training).