Posted: May 26, 2009
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh swimming and diving program is coming off a season that culminated in the setting of 13 new school records at the league championship meet. Despite the team’s middle-of-the pack results, individual times continued to drop and personal best times were achieved up and down the Mountain Hawks roster. One of the main reasons for Lehigh’s improvements in the water is the revolutionary training program that Lehigh has been using. The Mountain Hawks are at the forefront of a movement that combines the increasingly popular CrossFit training program with the team’s regular in-pool workouts, and the results speak for themselves.
“Breaking 13 records is pretty significant,” explains Lehigh head coach Rob Herb. “Overall we were setting season-best times earlier in the season than we had in previous years. We’re doing well earlier in the fall, which is something we were looking to do, and the amazing thing is we’ve barely scratched the surface of what we’re capable of doing.”
CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program used by a variety of groups including police academies, military special operations units, martial artists, and athletes in a variety of sports. Its workouts are based on varied, functional movements performed at high intensity. The goal of the program is to train the individual to by physically prepared to meet all of life’s demands.
At the forefront of this operation for the Lehigh swimming and diving program is strength coach Markus Riggleman, who opened CrossFit Lehigh Valley in the summer 2008. Riggleman worked extensively with the Mountain Hawks last season, and also passed his knowledge of the program to Herb and Lehigh assistant coach Keith Grabowski.
“The general philosophy for CrossFit is a wide variety of functional movements executed at high intensity,” explains Riggleman, who earned his certification in CrossFit training last summer. “Typical strength and conditioning programs never really prepare you for ‘game ready’ experiences. What we do is we fatigue you and make you perform at a high intensity in a specific event.”
Many of the CrossFit workouts do not require much more resistance than the athlete’s own body weight. Weighted balls, kettle bells are used in workouts, which also include exercises that involve running, jumping and pull-ups.
“We’ve been able to take all that and bring it into the pool,” contends Herb. “We still do our stretching program. We still do our work in the weight room and with conditioning. The CrossFit work is just so dynamic and different. It’s innovative and it keeps our swimmers interested and is getting them to push further in their workouts.”
From a swimming perspective, Lehigh has benefitted from workouts in which the CrossFit work taxes the body, with athletes then working through fatigue in their in-pool workouts. The in-pool and out-of-pool work varies and alternates to keep the athlete’s minds and bodies fresh and interested.
“It’s exciting to be a part of this movement which is really starting to catch on across the country,” says Riggleman. “We’ve seen immediate results in our program. Rob has taken an incredibly open mind to this program. He was willing to cut back the yardage in the swimming workouts, so we could add more training to blend in with the swimming. The team has enjoyed better results and we see the program we’ve implemented as a more efficient use of time.”
“The intense dry-land improvements to our workouts have been very effective,” adds Herb. “This program has worked with a number of athletes from other sports, but it has been incredibly effective with swimmers. Our student-athletes are getting stronger and getting in shape faster. Now we want to see if we can accelerate the program, see what else we can do to make it better.”
While the Mountain Hawks performed better, earlier in the year than in previous seasons, the big payoff came when 13 new school records were set at the Patriot League Championships in late February. The program is such that it can have a positive impact on an athlete in a short period of time, and can also greatly benefit the athlete who trains year-round. It also should help the Mountain Hawks recruiting efforts.
“Our results have shown that we can take an athlete who qualified for a consolation final and drop his or her time two full seconds to where they would now qualify for the championship final,” explains Herb. “We can recruit better talented overall athletes and help them lower their times, as opposed to just natural swimmers.”
Riggleman credits the Lehigh student-athletes for buying into the program.
“Lehigh Athletics epitomizes the student-athletes,” says Riggleman “With our swim team the academics are challenging, and physically all the work we put them through is challenging. Their ability to balance both is impressive. Our program gets them to perform better not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. It’s a testament to both their conditioning and their mental toughness.”
Overall, Herb and the Mountain Hawks could not be happier with the results and the fact that the program is at the forefront of this movement.
“The program gets you to become stronger physically, emotionally and mentally,” says Herb. “The results have been consistent; more speed and more power. What we’re trying to do is make it different from everywhere else, and we have athletes here who want to do that and will benefit from that.
Herb concludes, “A big test will come from our rising sophomore class. They had an outstanding year as freshmen, but can we get them to continue to do well.”