Tim Crowley is Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Montverde Academy. He also is an accomplished triathlon coach and age-group triathlete. He owns TC2Coaching and coaches many triathletes, including beginners, age group contenders, and Olympians. Since 2006, Tim has used the Vasa SwimErg and the Vasa Trainer for coaching and in his own triathlon training. Recently, Vasa founder and CEO, Rob Sleamaker, had the privilege of meeting with Tim to discuss dryland conditioning for swimmers & triathletes. They also discussed why Tim regards Vasa as a game changer for him and the athletes he coaches.
Vasa: What are you most passionate about in your coaching?
Tim Crowley: I’m most passionate about making a difference in people’s lives. I’ve been fortunate to coach a lot of professional and high-level athletes in the past. Currently, I work with age-groupers, elite age-groupers, and high school athletes, so my coaching is more about the process. It’s more than just winning and more than just improvement. I want to have an impact on people’s lives and help them be better. When you make people better, that has a ripple effect on all the other people in their lives.
Vasa: Where do you find your inspiration and your motivation?
Tim: My inspiration began when I was really young. My Dad was a high school coach and I have now been coaching for 30 years. Coaching with integrity is very important to me. It’s important too that we have a high level of integrity and not be swayed by big business. What drives me on a daily bases is the continual training process and asking myself, ‘How can I make the athletes better?’ ‘How can I do better?’ When I focus on that, everything starts to fall into place.
Vasa improves swim-specific strength
Vasa: What are some common weaknesses that you’re seeing in swimmers and triathletes today and how do you go about improving those weaknesses on land and in the water?
Tim: When we’re speaking specifically with swimming and triathlon, I see it’s a lack of specific strength. Lacking swim-specific strength limits their ability to produce effective power in the water and sustain it. So lack of power in general, and then not having muscle endurance to be able to hold that technique and swim correctly over the duration of a swim – those are the 2 most notable limiters in the athletes I see. That deficit leads to decreases in performance and form, while increasing their risk of injury because they’re fatiguing and there’s compensation going on. That will probably lead to some sort of injury down the road.
NOTE: check out Tim’s advice for preventing shoulder injuries.
Vasa: Vasa Trainers (and Vasa Swim Ergs since 2004) have been used by swim coaches and triathletes for 25 years or more, thousands of [machines] worldwide. Why do you think that is so?
Tim: Because they work. There are two parts to that. First, they do the job that they are intended to do extremely well. Second, they’re very efficient. There’s a lot you can do with them; you can use them for entire workouts, you can use them to supplement workouts, or you can use them from a rehab perspective.
“Time is money”, so one of the benefits I love about it for triathletes who really need to improve their swim is that it’s one of the ways I can ramp up their swimming really quickly. We’ll often use the Vasa for the second workout. If we do a typical swim workout that might be an hour to an hour and a half in the pool, we can come back later in the day and do a 10-15min. session on the Vasa and get tremendous value on that. If we’re doing that multiple times a week, we’re really getting a lot of swim value.
Are you also having them focus on anything in particular in those short sessions to really maximize the benefit of the workouts?
Tim: It depends on the athlete and it depends on what else is going on, but typically in the course of a week we’ll focus on some technique, especially if they’re fatigued at the end of the day. That’s a really good time to work on proper technique and power development in the face of fatigue because that’s one of the key things; a lot of people’s swim technique can look really good when they’re fresh, but what does their form look like on the back end of the swim when they’re tired?
We want to make sure their stroke pattern is the correct pattern even when they are fatigued. I think it’s easier to do that on the Vasa Swim Erg than in the pool because the athletes can see and track their power numbers. If they’re not finishing the stroke at the back end, it’s going to be reflected in lower power numbers. Or maybe their strength levels are good but their stroke rate is dropping off, so we can observe those things and make sure we’re holding a sustained power output, steady stroke rate, and efficient form. Training with the Vasa Swim Erg with a power meter on land makes it easy to observe these aspects. The athletes can see their own technique a lot easier on the Swim Erg than in the water.
(editor’s note: use of Mirrors and/ or simultaneous video recording will enhance that learning)
Coaching with Vasa
Vasa: You’ve relied on the Vasa SwimErg and the Vasa Trainer for many years in your elite-level coaching and now you’re using them at Montverde Academy. In what ways have they been fundamentally useful for coaching?
Tim: It’s great when I’m working with athletes that need objective feedback. We can get them on the Swim Ergometer and really analyze what’s going on with the power meter. We use the ANT+ power meter to record and analyze the data from a workout set and not have to rely only on viewing them while they are swimming in the pool.
As the head strength and conditioning coach here at Montverde Academy, I work with all the sports teams. We use Vasa in some unique ways with the coaching staff and working on specific technique stuff. We’ve also used it at different times of the year, certainly in the fall and in the spring when we often have a lot of thunderstorms and afternoon swim practice is delayed or canceled due to thunder. We’ve created circuits and a whole bunch of different ways that we’re going to use the Vasa Trainers and Ergometers for training athletes from other sports, too.
Efficiency, Versatility, and Portability
Another unique way we’ve used it is for dealing with athletes who have injuries, as a way of general conditioning. Several times during the year, we’ll have athletes who might be in a boot due to a lower leg or ankle injury. Their injuries prevent them from doing water running, or even stationary cycling, so we’ve used our Vasa Ergs as a way of doing interval training and upper-body conditioning to make sure we raise their heart rate and keep their fitness at good levels.
We keep and use our Vasa swim trainers and Ergs in the weight room. The pool is right outside the weight room, so we also wheel them out onto the pool deck. This flexibility allows us to do whatever we want with them. So efficiency, versatility, and portability are invaluable, versus a piece of equipment that only does one thing.
Vasa: Regardless of someone’s life circumstances, whatever gets in the way, whatever’s disrupting the ability to maintain consistent quality swim training, especially for triathletes, is going to mean that you’re going to show up on race day not fully prepared. If you’re not feeling fully prepared, that will negatively affect one’s confidence. Once the gun goes off and you’re in a mass-start race, you want to be as confident as possible, right?
Tim: You’re exactly right. I find that sometimes with my busy schedule, every couple of weeks there will be one day when I can’t get to the pool to swim. But in the back of my mind, I always know that at some point during that day, I can find 15 minutes to do a quality session on the Vasa Swim Ergometer. That 15-minute quality workout allows me to maintain fitness, and in most cases, it’s probably going to make me better.
Vasa: You’ve been using the power meter with ANT+ technology for a while, which allows the user to do a workout and record the workout by way of a receiving device like a Garmin or an ANT+ stick plugged into your computer. What’s been useful about having that kind of technology and data in your coaching?
Tim: It’s a game changer. If I give someone a workout, say (5x100m) at a certain power output and set stroke rate, I want to know how they’re producing the power. Is the power being produced through force, or is it by stroke rate? And when they start to fatigue and slow down, we can figure out which of these areas is causing the slow-down. It has to be one of the two or a combination of both. Stroke rate and force are the two things that are going to produce the power. Does the training need to focus more on muscle endurance and power or is there a need to hold a steady stroke rate? Those metrics drive the workout. Stroke rate and force are the two things that are going to produce the power.
Vasa: It was great being with you at the 2016 USA Swimming Olympic Trials in Omaha. We had over 1,000 athletes “race” a 50M Freestyle on the Vasa Swim Ergs that we had set up in the AquaZone. You got to see a lot of swimmers race on the Swim Ergs. What would be one significant observation that you made?
Vasa Improves Swim-Specific Power
Tim: Swimmers of all ages and abilities lack specific power. We need to change that!
Vasa: How has the ability to maintain consistent swim training by supplementing with a Swim Erg or Vasa Trainer helped your athletes in terms of confidence on race day? Are there any particular workouts that you feel really make a difference for that athlete’s confidence and feeling prepared?
Tim: Race simulation works really well. The confidence piece is always there. Developing start speed is really key because we can overload and develop that quick burst to get out of a mass swim start. Build your start speed into your race pace simulation workout. So we can do 100m really hard and then settle into race pace. We can look at the stroke rate and power output numbers and find out what’s too much. If you go out too hard and you can’t maintain the race pace, then it was too hard. Then we find out those numbers and dial them in on the Erg, we dial that in the water, and then we will have more confidence on race day.
Vasa: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Tim: Earlier in the conversation we talked about integrity and doing the right things. That’s why I love doing these things with Vasa. I think they fall right in line with those principles: doing things for the right reasons, to help people, and it’s great being surrounded by companies like yours who are doing those things.
Vasa: Thanks so much, Tim! It’s been great talking with you today!
About Coach Tim Crowley
Tim was the 2009 USA Triathlon Elite Coach of the Year, and 2007 USA Triathlon Development Coach of the Year. He holds Elite coaching licenses with USA Triathlon and USA Cycling, as well as certifications with National Strength and Conditioning, the American Swim Coaches Association, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
As the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Montverde Academy, Tim is responsible for the training and conditioning for all varsity and Academy teams. In his first 3 years, MVA teams have won 7 National Championships. He has coached athletes who are playing in the NBA, Major League Soccer, and European Professional Soccer. This includes the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft (D’Angelo Russell) and the current #1 Collegiate player (Ben Simmons). Tim is one of 11 of the world’s most respected coaches & athletes from the Vasa community who contributed to our highly useful ebook, Four Keys to Fearless Open Water Swimming. It’s free – Click here to get your free copy.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @tc2coaching