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Other/Mixed Water Polo Strength and Conditioning - Youth Sports

Other strength modalities (e.g., Clubs), mixed strength modalities (e.g., combined kettlebell and barbell), other goals (flexibility)

jkvandal

Level 5 Valued Member
Hi all, been a while since I have posted on here. I performed a search on this topic but didn't see too much come up so thought I would make a post. I've recently started helping out coaching youth water polo in my area (14 & under club and high school level) and I'm working to convince my co-coaches of some StrongFirst philosophies for both dry land training but also for the in-water conditioning. I'm specifically in need of more recent data that I can show them as to the applicability of this type of program that can help get through the stubborn "we've always done it this way" resistance.

I found an article from many years ago that was Water Polo specific that shares a lot of the StrongFirst principles: Applying the Research: Specific Swim Sets for Water Polo - Water Polo Planet
"SAID Principle – “The body adapts to what ever it does, but really the body always adapts to exactly what it does.” (Cobb, 2009)

“Specific exercise elicits specific adaptations, creating specific training effects” (McArdle, 2006)"
I'm looking to change some of our longer-duration swim sets to be more centered around shorter bursts of higher intensity. Most swim-sets are centered around repetitions of 100yd or 200yd distances, which builds a good base of endurance but really doesn't help make you any faster. I'm thinking that incorporating more 25yd sprints (should be around 15sec or less of high effort) would be similar to a set of KB swings and can incorporate into some form of S&S or Q&D style workouts.

I came across this post here on SF and thought I could incorporate some of the principles from Jason's programming: Strong Endurance in Schools to Strengthen the Next Generation | StrongFirst

jason-avelar-strong-endurance-table-1-small.jpg

I am looking to incorporate the same push-pull combination of exercises but think I need to change them around based on the nature of swimming and the muscle groups involved. I'd love to incorporate kettlebells and swings, but equipment availability is an issue as is the technique that I'm certain most of my players don't yet have. The table above uses pushups and running sprints and I think I could substitute those for jump-squats and swimming sprints. Since jump-squats would be working on explosive legs (critical for treading water, mostly lower body) and swimming fast (obviously important in the sport, but also mostly upper body). I'm thinking about something like the below:

Minute 05 jump-squatsMinute 15half length sprint (12.5yd)
Minute 15 jump squatsMinute 16full length sprint (25yd)
Minute 3half length sprint (12.5yd)Minute 185 jump squats
Minute 4half length sprint (12.5yd)Minute 195 jump squats
Minute 65 jump squatsMinute 21half length sprint (12.5yd)
Minute 75 jump squatsMinute 22half length sprint (12.5yd)
Minute 9half length sprint (12.5yd)Minute 245 jump squats
Minute 10half length sprint (12.5yd)Minute 255 jump squats
Minute 125 jump squatsMinute 27half length sprint (12.5yd)
Minute 135 jump squatsMinute 28full length sprint (25yd) -race teammates!

The key to the above would be ensuring that the athletes are putting out 100% intensity during the exercises, which is why it would be important to inspire competition in some fashion. I also very much like the idea from the article about the different colored shorts...I'll have to see how we can get the school or club to pay for some different colored practice suits...I imagine the idea of wearing a gold speedo in practice will really inspire some of the boys!

My problem is, I don't think my co-coaches will see workouts like the above as "enough" conditioning. My plan would be to be more efficient with the rest of practice and make sure everyone is very active all through practice to help out on that end as well, but if anyone has any tips/ideas or sources for additional data to point me to that would be most helpful!

Thanks everyone and hope you all have a healthy and strong Holliday season!
 

Boris Bachmann

Level 7 Valued Member
There's a lot I could say about swimming and dry-land work. I have a lot of experience w. competitive swimming as an athlete and as a coach (and very little experience and direct knowledge about water polo, so take what I'm about to say for whatever you think it's worth).

You're probably working w. kids who still need to develop swimming skills and strength and that should be done in swimming workouts separate from your dryland work. Mixing the two will just result in (pardon the pun) watering down results for both SPP and GPP. Also, dryland on a slippery pool deck presents its own unique challenges - plan accordingly.

As far as "specificity" is concerned w. youth swimmers, I'm a huge believer in a significant amount of pool time being dedicated to technique and drills - this would differ a little for water polo players of course, but the basics of straight up swimming wouldn't change much, and quite frankly I feel this way about youth sports in general. A solid technical base from which to grow (and later "specialize") is the greatest gift a coach can give a youth athlete imho.
 

jkvandal

Level 5 Valued Member
Boris, good input, thanks. I'm definitely aiming on focusing more on fundamentals with the youths, both with swimming and water polo skills. That is the #1 thing I have noticed after coming back to the sport many years after playing, fundamentals are lacking and coaches are jumping right into running more advanced plays and ideas before the players even have basic fundamentals down needed to execute those plays.

I was thinking that shorter distances and more recovery would help with training the fundamentals and techniques than longer, slower distance work. Although high intensity can also make technique fall off.
 

Manuel Fortin

Level 6 Valued Member
I played water polo for about 20 years. I started on the late side as an adult, but for the last 12 ones I was in the water 2-5 times a week, 50 weeks a year. That included practice, tournaments, and swim practice. I am not a coach, but here are a few thoughts, in no particular order. What you're asking in your original question is basically worth a book to write. Maybe you know already a lot of what I write below.

- Longer sets have their place. I know Pavel is not a big fan ("the dishonor of aerobics"), but if you want to play water polo, you need to be able to swim a mile or two in a practice session (not necessarily in a single shot). The only way to do that is to swim a lot. The problem with competitive kids is that they will treat each 200 yd as a race. On long sets, you need to slow them down. Establish a pace, and the swimmer has to get to the wall within a few second of the pace. No longer, no slower. The trick of course is to pick up the right pace for each player.
- If you're thinking more of A+A training, you probably don't have time for it. I wonder what would 40X 7-10 yd EMOM would do for your water polo, but can you really spend 40 minutes of pool time twice a week to find? Also, I find that LSD (long slow distance) is a must anyways. I neatly complements any A+A work.
- Water-polo is highly technical. Strength is important, but skill development needs to be performed also. The player who can gain 1 foot in front of a pursuer when starting from a dead stop is advantaged, and this is as much technique as strength. There should probably technical practice for the first few strokes, to get as much distance as possible in a short amount of time, and longer distances, typical of a pool length.
- Same for all kinds of movement. Over the period I played, not many coaches spent time on technique development in the water. This is motor learning, and also strength development. As you probably noticed, unfortunately, coaches have a tendency to treat jumps out of the water and other similar movements as HIIT practices. Not very conductive of strength development and motor learning.
- I would stay away from mixing out of water strength exercises and swimming in the same practice, unless you can get your hands on a program by an experienced coach who knows what he is doing. If you tire your muscles, your technique will go down the drain. That's not what you want to encourage. Also, you have limited pool time. Better use it as pool time. You can do pushups in your living room. You can't practice shooting at the net at home.
- As to strength training, it really depends on the level you coach and kids motivation. However, anyone who wants to play center should probably lift weights.
- Maybe you could assign a pushups/pullups/squat program to be done at home, with Strongfirst principles (if you can do two sets of 10, do 5 sets of 5 instead, ...). This is very dependent on player motivation. However, if they are not competing at a level at which they would do the work to win (ie more recreationally), then why bother with pushups, etc. A bit of swimming and a lot of technique are worth more.
- Did I mention technique ;) ? Matches are lost with lazy passes and lack of vertical above the water. Even at the Olympics. I was watching some of the games last summer and the top teams can all make 5-6 passes without the ball touching water if they want to, and when they are man up, the players at the post all raise their hand above the top bar of the goal. Yes, you need strength to do this, but at the lower levels, technique needs to be taught and practiced.
- Core strength is also important. How will you jump out of the water and make a nice shot at the goal if your core is weak? Of course, sets of 50 crunches are not the proper way to train this, as you probably already know.

This is long winded, but maybe my suggestion would be:
- Train mostly in the water when you have access to the pool.
- If the players are motivated enough, have them do strength at home (or in a group setting at school, but separate from pool sessions).
- Yes, long rest is a good idea, but this is going to be a tough sell if mentality is still as it was 10 years ago when I stopped playing.
- Technique should be emphasized until the moves are well mastered. Just as with kettlebell and barbell lifts, technique and strength are closely related.


If you want more science, Google is your friend. One thing you will note, is that water polo is much more glycolytic than what most at Strongfirst like. It's closer to rugby than to powerlifting. You need to prepare accordingly. The following keyword combination seems to reveal relevant papers:
water polo energy systems
 

jkvandal

Level 5 Valued Member
Manuel,

You nailed it all around...
I played water polo for about 20 years. I started on the late side as an adult, but for the last 12 ones I was in the water 2-5 times a week, 50 weeks a year. That included practice, tournaments, and swim practice. I am not a coach, but here are a few thoughts, in no particular order. What you're asking in your original question is basically worth a book to write. Maybe you know already a lot of what I write below.

- Longer sets have their place. I know Pavel is not a big fan ("the dishonor of aerobics"), but if you want to play water polo, you need to be able to swim a mile or two in a practice session (not necessarily in a single shot). The only way to do that is to swim a lot. The problem with competitive kids is that they will treat each 200 yd as a race. On long sets, you need to slow them down. Establish a pace, and the swimmer has to get to the wall within a few second of the pace. No longer, no slower. The trick of course is to pick up the right pace for each player.
- If you're thinking more of A+A training, you probably don't have time for it. I wonder what would 40X 7-10 yd EMOM would do for your water polo, but can you really spend 40 minutes of pool time twice a week to find? Also, I find that LSD (long slow distance) is a must anyways. I neatly complements any A+A work.
Agreed...there needs to be some sort of conditioning base. However, some of the experienced coaches that I have been talking to have tallied up actual distances covered during a game and the numbers are pretty surprising on how little of the game is actually active swimming. There is a lot of active "rest" between shorter bursts of high intensity sprints...especially in a lot of the more stationary offenses you tend to see these days. Also agree the A+A sets may burn up too much pool time...

- Water-polo is highly technical. Strength is important, but skill development needs to be performed also. The player who can gain 1 foot in front of a pursuer when starting from a dead stop is advantaged, and this is as much technique as strength. There should probably technical practice for the first few strokes, to get as much distance as possible in a short amount of time, and longer distances, typical of a pool length.
- Same for all kinds of movement. Over the period I played, not many coaches spent time on technique development in the water. This is motor learning, and also strength development. As you probably noticed, unfortunately, coaches have a tendency to treat jumps out of the water and other similar movements as HIIT practices. Not very conductive of strength development and motor learning.
When I was growing up and playing, I was fortunate to have played for some very good coaches who spent a LOT of time on fundamentals. Much more than the coaches that I have seen coaching my son, which is why I am trying to help out...need to bring those fundamentals back. I saw WAY too many coaches spending practice time on advanced set plays when their players have a hard time just completing passes.

- I would stay away from mixing out of water strength exercises and swimming in the same practice, unless you can get your hands on a program by an experienced coach who knows what he is doing. If you tire your muscles, your technique will go down the drain. That's not what you want to encourage. Also, you have limited pool time. Better use it as pool time. You can do pushups in your living room. You can't practice shooting at the net at home.
- As to strength training, it really depends on the level you coach and kids motivation. However, anyone who wants to play center should probably lift weights.
- Maybe you could assign a pushups/pullups/squat program to be done at home, with Strongfirst principles (if you can do two sets of 10, do 5 sets of 5 instead, ...). This is very dependent on player motivation. However, if they are not competing at a level at which they would do the work to win (ie more recreationally), then why bother with pushups, etc. A bit of swimming and a lot of technique are worth more.
I think you're right. The "homework" solution may be the way to go. A few random test days thrown in here and there should be able to expose who is putting the extra work in and who is not.

- Did I mention technique ;) ? Matches are lost with lazy passes and lack of vertical above the water. Even at the Olympics. I was watching some of the games last summer and the top teams can all make 5-6 passes without the ball touching water if they want to, and when they are man up, the players at the post all raise their hand above the top bar of the goal. Yes, you need strength to do this, but at the lower levels, technique needs to be taught and practiced.
Yes you did mention it, and it still needs more mention! Totally agree, especially at the youth levels.

- Core strength is also important. How will you jump out of the water and make a nice shot at the goal if your core is weak? Of course, sets of 50 crunches are not the proper way to train this, as you probably already know.
Big fan of core strength. I want to work in crawls and farmer carries somewhere in the strength and conditioning program...those should strengthen and stabilize both the core and shoulders of the athletes and aren't as reliant on technique as something like TGUs.

This is long winded, but maybe my suggestion would be:
- Train mostly in the water when you have access to the pool.
- If the players are motivated enough, have them do strength at home (or in a group setting at school, but separate from pool sessions).
- Yes, long rest is a good idea, but this is going to be a tough sell if mentality is still as it was 10 years ago when I stopped playing.
- Technique should be emphasized until the moves are well mastered. Just as with kettlebell and barbell lifts, technique and strength are closely related.
Right now I'm working on modifying the club's standard practice plan that the coaches have to follow to include drills that allow more reps to be fit into the same amount of time. Lots of players waiting around in a line for their turn when we can be more efficient and get more of those reps in.

If you want more science, Google is your friend. One thing you will note, is that water polo is much more glycolytic than what most at Strongfirst like. It's closer to rugby than to powerlifting. You need to prepare accordingly. The following keyword combination seems to reveal relevant papers:
water polo energy systems
Thanks for the tip, I had done some googling on the water polo specific workouts but hadn't thought about the energy systems. I entered your search query and you're right, I've got a lot of reading to do.

Great stuff, thanks for the feedback! I played for about 10 years from youth through college, then took a break until my son started recently and I caught the bug again. I'm now playing and coaching and the game has changed quite a bit, especially at the Olympic level. I was surprised at how little movement there is in the game these days at all levels, but especially at the international level.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
@Manuel Fortin and @jkvandal, I notice neither of you mention hip mobility, but in my limited experience, that's important and not everyone has it. Tough to do the egg-beater kick for treading water without it. Perhaps this is one of those "self-selecting" (credit: Dr. McGill) things and people who don't have good hip mobility just quit early on.

Curious to know what you both think on this subject.

-S-
 

Manuel Fortin

Level 6 Valued Member
@Steve Freides I have no idea. It's for sure essential for goalies. I didn't have good hip mobility, and at the level I used to play that didn't prevent me from playing. To give you an idea, the first time I tried a goblet squat with 16kg, I could not break parallel. This was after I stopped playing. When I was playing, I was able to do whole pool widths egg-beating with my hands above my head, so egg-beating was possible. Maybe with better mobility it would have been easier. Who knows.

One thing I didn't mention is that you should learn to take care of your shoulders at a young age. After I stopped playing, my shoulders only got back to moving well after over a year of TGUs and armbars. All the players I know who played for a long time complained about their shoulders. Heads up crawl can really beat them up.
 

Manuel Fortin

Level 6 Valued Member
I was surprised at how little movement there is in the game these days at all levels, but especially at the international level.
True. This may have to do with the rule changes. Now, we have longer pools ( I don't remember what they used to be at the international level, but I remember the switch from 25m to 30m at the provincial level. That was a lot more swimming. I think it used to be 25 m also, but that was a long time ago) and shorter shot clock (used to be 35 sec, now 30), with the reset after a shot even shorter. By the time you get in the attack position, you don't have much time to do drives, blocks, etc... and if a team drives and the ball is lost, the counter-attack can be disastrous.
 

jkvandal

Level 5 Valued Member
@Manuel Fortin and @jkvandal, I notice neither of you mention hip mobility, but in my limited experience, that's important and not everyone has it. Tough to do the egg-beater kick for treading water without it. Perhaps this is one of those "self-selecting" (credit: Dr. McGill) things and people who don't have good hip mobility just quit early on.

Curious to know what you both think on this subject.

-S-
Steve, great question and I don't know the answer either. I don't recall any of my coaches ever working specifically on hip mobility.

Looks like I need to run an experiment...I can do some hip mobility exercises and see if I can determine any trends. I.e., do my better players have better mobility in the hips? We won't know if that is the cause but at least observing if there is a trend there would be interesting.
 
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