Forget About Laps

Apr 19, 2016

Introducing ‘Speedo Fit’ Water Training… Featuring Lochte, Missy, Cullen… and Mr. Laird Hamilton

Upper West Side, Manhattan, Equinox Fitness Club, 7:30am.

It’s not often that Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, and Cullen Jones are overshadowed when they’re standing around a pool. They’re three of the most recognizable faces in the world of swimming, and on Tuesday morning in New York City the trio was serving as ambassadors for Speedo’s latest initiative. I was there to cover the event for Swimming World. Their sponsor is launching Speedo Fit – think of it as cross training in the pool. Complete with running shoes, compression shorts, and an assortment of exercises familiar to dry land workouts, but seldom executed underwater.

It’s an interesting though less than revolutionary concept. (Water aerobics, aqua spinning, underwater hockey, they’ve all been ‘things’ for awhile now…) And that’s just what the event’s main attraction was quick to point out. “The first underwater cross training was introduced by the Polynesians a couple thousand years ago,” he said. His name is Laird Hamilton, aka world’s greatest Waterman – and with all due respect to Kelly Slater, the most recognizable surfer on earth.

Lochte, Missy, and Cullen might be superstar bold-faced names in the Olympic orbit, but Laird has transcended all those pool-bound glories. Seeing him speak to the assembled 60+ media, with the Speedo stable looking on, was a bit like watching Michael Jordan showing up at March Madness. Sure, the players on the court are riveting in their own right, but we’re talking single-name icon here.

With Laird’s inspiration, coupled with a partnership with human performance gurus, EXOS, Speedo has forged a program that “takes the laps out of pool training.” For a retired swimmer like myself long burnt out on laps, but who still deeply relishes every moment in the water, this was an appealing pitch. That pitch fulfilled its promise when 18 of the braver media members assembled slipped into Speedo’s ‘swag’ and tried out the workout ourselves.

Lochte, Missy, and Cullen hopped in too, standing in the middle of our group and offered some pointers. From the pool deck, EXOS founder and president Mark Verstegen, led us through the drills. Verstegen’s company has trained an impressive assortment of professional athletes – from “over half of the NFL Combine” each year to a range of Major League Baseball players, loads of Olympians, and plenty of others. It’s hard to imagine a founder who more looks the part of the business he started than Verstegen. Ripped and electric with energy at 46, he’s served as the perfect complement to Laird’s laidback wisdom. Or as one magazine editor in attendance put it: “He’s legitimized the science behind Laird’s intuitions.” It’s a formidable partnership, and Speedo’s earned some props for looking beyond the laps and the strokes that define – and sometimes suffocate – our sport.

Swimming, they’re saying, is about a whole lot more than butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. Indeed, the most telling part of the event was what wasn’t said. Not once during the morning’s presentation were any of the four strokes mentioned. There was zero mention of anything recognizable as a traditional ‘swimmer’s workout.’ If not for the three American swim stars there, it might have been easy to miss the connection at all.

And that’s a good thing. The sport has long held itself back with its over obsession on competitive swimmers’ notions of what it means to be a swimmer. If you’re not doing laps and racing the clock between a pair of lane lines, then you’re not really swimming, you’re just in the water. Which isn’t the case at all, but we can all get caught up in that assumption. Laird was there to help disabuse us of that thinking.

“It’s all about breath,” he said. “Something we take for granted when we’re standing around on land. But when you’re under the water, breath is foremost on your mind.” This from someone who has spent many minutes of his life pinned under mountains of white water. Fall off a giant wave or two and you’ll never take breath for granted again.

The ‘Speedo Fit’ program is “all about the benefits of water for sustainable high performance,” he said. “But it doesn’t just make all athletes better. It makes humans better.”

And as we wrapped up our aqua workout – which it must be noted felt nothing like water aerobics – Laird and Verstegen led us in the most relaxing warm down ever. Everyone grabbed a noodle and a kickboard. We stuck the noodle under our shoulders, the board under our thighs, and we were instructed to just lay back and breathe with eyes closed.

Lochte, Missy, and Cullen joined us.