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Ryan Cochrane, an Olympic bronze medal winner in the 1500m freestyle in Beijing, China in 2008, talks with Head Coach Randy Bennett between sets as he prepares to compete in this year's summer Olympics in London,UK, during a training session at the Saanich Commonwealth Place near Victoria, BC. (Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail)
Ryan Cochrane, an Olympic bronze medal winner in the 1500m freestyle in Beijing, China in 2008, talks with Head Coach Randy Bennett between sets as he prepares to compete in this year's summer Olympics in London,UK, during a training session at the Saanich Commonwealth Place near Victoria, BC. (Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail)

Science of Sport

Part speed, part stamina, all strategy Add to ...

Wrigley is the man who video records Cochrane at the pool, analyzes what he’s doing in the water then helps Bennett, the coach, go about fixing it. The beauty of swimming, Wrigley says, is it’s evolving ever so rapidly and yet “we’re not even close to the human potential yet …”

But to get Cochrane to swim his absolute best, Wrigley has more than numbers on his side. He has the tools.

In the gym, Cochrane and his Island Swim teammates get to train on the swim bench. They lay stomach-down, insert their hands through straps attached to pulleys then pull themselves up and down along a bench. Sometimes, there are mirrors placed below the bench so the athletes can see a different angle of their stroke.

“Like your elbow position on your catch; to make sure that you don’t drop your elbow as soon as your hand goes into the water,” Cochrane says. “When your arm goes into the water, you drop your elbow you miss the entire top 30 per cent of your stroke, where if your elbow is up you can have a strong pull. Its things like that where as soon as you get tired it drops off.”

The bench is one thing; the “power tower” is something altogether more fiendish. It stands like a guillotine at the end of a pool. Swimmers wear a belt that’s attached to pulleys designed to raise a large red bucket. As the swimmers swim away from the tower, they raise the bucket, which can be filled with water to offer resistance. Some swimmers can raise as much as 83.91 kilograms of water while merrily working on their stroke.

Cochrane loathes it.

“I get so frustrated sometimes because I go so slow,” he says. He doesn’t like to go slow.

“[Bennett] is using it as a technical adaption tool,” Wrigley notes. “You can do a lot of strength training in the gym; do a lot of miles in the pool. But how do you marry the two? Fill these buckets up with water and start pulling on them. You’ll feel it. When your hand slips and you’re no longer hauling water, you get a jerk from the bucket. Neurologically, the athletes harness their power.”

Wrigley does more than study Cochrane’s every move and elbow positioning to catch more water. He also follows the competition. Video analysis of Sun’s races is used to give Cochrane a sense of what to expect in the water. Sun, for example, likes to start slowly; Cochrane likes to get out in front early.

Full-on preparation is knowing when to challenge an opponent and anticipating the response.

“We can provide information to Ryan, ‘When you turn at the 200-metre wall, likely if you look to your right, and Yang is on your right, you will be here on his body based on how you typically swim,” Wrigley says. “How do you get Ryan head to head and really push him? You play to your strengths and you let [Sun] know tactically you’re in that race.”

The Physiologist

Liz Johnson’s job is maximizing Cochrane’s health and stamina to swim the race he wants, which makes her the keeper of the body. She tests Cochrane regularly – sometimes daily, sometimes weekly – depending on whether he’s in a hard block of training, recovering or at a meet.

“With Ryan, we’ll look at all the performance factors – times for the 100, 200 metres, his stroke rate, stroke count. From a physiological perspective, heart rate then blood/lactate concentration would be the two main physiological variables we’d monitor,” Johnson says. “Both of those are indications of how hard and efficiently he’s working.”

For the past year, Cochrane has been giving blood and having his hemoglobin mass numbers charted and discussed. The Canadian Sport Centre in Calgary was the first to do the test in this country; CSCP is the only other doing it.

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