I.U. Swimmers are using pulleys and ANALYTICS


Perhaps the best article from a sports information post, ever. Important content below in bold text.

Looze Using Unique Technique to Build Stronger, Better Swimmers

Source: BLOOMINGTON, Ind.  

Ray Looze is ready to pump you up.

Actually, he's ready to pump up his Indiana swim teams, and, no, this isn't some motivational ploy involving dramatic speeches, feel-the-beat music and Arnold Schwarzenegger videos.

Looze has tapped into the stronger-athlete-is-a-better-athlete territory once dominated by football coaches, and that means pumping iron.

Except, in this case, it's all about pulleys.

Yes, pulleys.

The key -- they are attached to weights and then hooked up to swimmers.

"We treat pulleys like the weight room," Looze says. "It's like weight lifting."

Once upon a time, strength training and swimming were done separately. You went to the weight room to lift weights. You went to the pool to swim, and never the twain shall meet.

Or something like that.

Now, thanks to the pulley system, you can swim and lift weights at the same time.

Basically, you hook yourself up to pulleys that stretch above the pool and swim against weighted resistance.

"We have people use 10 pounds," Looze says, "with some people using over 100 pounds."

Using that much weight, he adds, was more experimentation rather than application for a while.

"It was like, Can you do this?" Looze says. "Now we have a formula to streamline it better. It's a way to train power."

Does the pulley system work? Consider IU is a top-5 national power for the men and a top-10 power for the women. The third-ranked men have a 30-meet winning streak that includes victories this season over No. 2 Texas, No. 4 Michigan, No. 6 Florida and No. 8 Louisville.

Yes, talent and coaching are major factors, but in this highly competitive world, you look for an edge wherever you can find it.

Looze has found it. IU put three swimmers on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in Lilly King, Blake Pieroni and Cody Miller. Four other Hoosier swimmers made the Olympics for other countries – Kennedy Goss, Ali Khalafalla, Marwan Elkamash and Anze Tavcar.

King won a pair of gold medals. Miller won a bronze and a gold medal. Pieroni won a gold. Goss won a bronze.

"We saw results pretty quickly," Looze says. "We started it, they were doing well, we kept doing it. We started in September of 2015 and put three people on the Olympic team.

"Now we're not concerned about how many times we (train with pulleys). We do it almost every day."

How does it work?

IU's pulley system utilizes 41 stations. They hang from a beam about 12 feet above the pool. The weight is on a bench off to the side 12 to 16 inches off the ground.

That elevation, Looze says, is critical.

"When they're swimming with it, the weight never gets to the deck level, which means their bodies can be higher in the water," Looze says. "That's advantageous. A lot of times when you're doing resistance training, it puts you under the water, which is not a great tradeoff."

Looze, if you haven't noticed, is very much in to great tradeoffs.

"Because our system is higher," he says, "we have fewer pulleys. That means we're able to pull more weight."

That should translate into stronger -- and faster -- swimmers.

And so it has.

Whether it's Vini Lanza in the butterfly, Lilly King and Ian Finnerty in the breaststroke, Zach Apple in the sprints or Michael Brinegar and Cassy Jernberg in the distance events, IU's rosters are littered with some of the fastest in the nation this season.

Looze has coached IU's men for 16 years and the Hoosier women for 14. Last year the Hoosier men placed third in the NCAA Championships, their best finish in 43 years, and their sixth top-10 showing in the last seven years. Looze won the College Swimming Coaches Association of America coach-of-the-year honors. He's won nine Big Ten coach-of-the-year awards, the most of any coach in Big Ten history.

The pulley system, which doesn't replace regular strength, is designed to help continue that success for the foreseeable future.

"We do it in combination with strength and conditioning," Looze says. "Our theory is this connects the weight room to what we are doing sport specifically better."

That was huge in 2016. Looze wanted to develop faster swimmers for his IU program as well as for the U.S Olympic team set to compete in Rio.

"With our breaststrokers we were like, Hey, the traditional thought in our sport was you shouldn't strength train more than three times a week. With our breaststrokers, we started doing it five times a week.

"It was an experiment at a critical time. We rolled the dice in an Olympic year. To that point, we hadn't had our own Olympians. IU had some, but none since the 1970s in swimming.

"They (trained with pulleys) five times a week and shattered that thought that it couldn't be successful.

"Now a lot of people do it - every day."

Looze got the pulley idea about 14 years ago. A club coach in Texas had designed his own pulley system, with impressive success. IU coaches visited him, liked what they saw, and installed the system in 2005.

"We implemented it here," Looze says, "on a really large scale."

It wasn't instant national success.

"It didn't become more widely known," Looze says, "and we didn't have as good of athletes as we have now."

As the athletes improved, so did IU coaches way of using the system. It was as much of mind as well as body.

"It's more getting somebody stronger and showing them where they stand on the team," Looze says. "It's giving them knowledge. If you show them they're 10th strongest on the team, they'll work a little harder to get to eighth or sixth or fifth.

"I can tell them, if you go from 10th to third on the team, you'll get a lot faster. I'm positive that will happen."

As for what's next, "I love the whole analytics thing," Looze says.

"How can we do our pulleys more analytically? Our director of operations has written an algorithm so we can track the improvement of the swimmer on the pulley, Are we improving power per stroke? We're trying to measure that. We're grading everybody and ranking them based on how much weight they can pull.

"We're also doing that with recruiting. For instance, we value competitiveness. We're using analytics for that.

"To me, analytics is the next thing. We should be able to use it because we have lots of numbers. Sports that have lots of numbers should be able to use analytics to their advantage.

"We know the pulleys are effective, but we don't know how. Is there a way to use them in a more accurate manner? If you can improve faster than your competition, you have created an advantage. We're trying to give these pulleys an analytical spin. Make it more accurate than just trial and error."

Look for less trial and error, and more success, in the years ahead.

"We had the pulleys," Looze says. "Then we added video to the pulleys. Now we're adding analytics to the pulleys.

"That's the future."

About the author 

Mark Rauterkus

Insert YOUR comments in the box at the bottom of this -- and all the other pages. Questions. Insights. re-writes, whatever.

Swim, water polo and SKWIM coach in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Also the webmaster for the International Swim Coaches Association.

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