Today I had the chance to interview Dr. Greg Wells, I will let him introduce himself, but Dr. Wells is one of the best of combining research and performance:
Please introduce yourself to the readers. Include how you got started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc.
I have been involved in the sport of swimming my whole life. I started in competitive swimming at 10 and competed for all the way through University in Canada. After graduating, I started a company that delivered sports science performance programs to businesses, then went on to do my Masters and Ph.D. in exercise physiology with a focus on respiratory and exercise physiology. I coached swimming through grad school at the Toronto Swim Club and during that time the club improved from being ranked in the 300’s in Canada to a consistent top 5 team. Now I am the Director of Sports Science for the Canadian Sports Centre, an organization that delivers sports science support services to international level athletes, including national team swimmers in Canada.
What aspect of coaching do you feel swim coaches do particularly well? What aspect of coaching do you feel swim coaches don’t do particularly well?
In general, I think that coaches do a pretty good job of cycling through energy systems and training swimmers physiologically.
I think that we are very weak in teaching good technique, especially at younger ages. I think that as a sport we don’t do enough training at or above race quality in practice. I do think that aerobic training is critical and that we spend about the right amount of time in the water, but more of that could be quality rather than volume.
What do you feel international swimmers do better than American swimmers? Visa Versa?
International swimming programs do not have the number of swimmers that America does, so they have to be much better at developing limited numbers of athletes in a systematic way so that we maximize the potential of each athlete. So many countries have better swimming development systems and support for swimmers than America does. But because there are so many American swimmers, the quality of week to week competition is much higher than what an international swimmer might experience, therefore I believe that Americans learn to race better. I also think that the emphasis on short course yards puts a premium on starts and turns, which Americans do very well. Check out the attached picture I took at World Championships – you can see both Americans (lane 3 & 6) clearly winning the start.
What aspect of exercise science do you feel most swim coaches implement incorrectly?
I think most swim coaches have a pretty good understanding of exercise physiology. I think that we need to do a better job at using biomechanics and tools like video analysis. I realize this is very hard for coaches to do, so I highly recommend that clubs consider hiring a video coach – an extra person on deck to help with data collection and analysis so that the coach can do their job of managing the group practice and implementing the results of the video work. I also see that there have been huge advances in the field of nutrition, and this is absolutely critical for us to teach swimmers and their parents in order to maximize recovery, sleep, and body composition.
What projects are you working on now or we should anticipate in the future?
We are doing research on a new form of “instant altitude training”. It should be published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in the next 6 months. I can’t say much more than that, but its a really cool technique that improves performance by 1-3% in a matter of minutes.
What books would you recommend for swim coaches to improve their use of “evidence-based” training?
Books typically pull together well-established information, but the information is usually dated. If coaches really want to follow the most cutting-edge advances they should read peer-reviewed research articles, which you can access at www.pubmed.com. Review articles are the best for coaches because they synthesize all the research in an area and describe the overall trends in the findings.