In my last post I mentioned that I will be attending a series of swim clinics put on by Active Life. I have been working on my swimming technique for about a year now and I’m excited to get some new feedback and tips.
I caught up with Wolfgang Guembel, who runs the swim clinics, to talk to him about what has made him a successful swimmer and triathlete, and what to expect at his clinics.
J: Wolf, for people who don’t know you, can you talk about your athletic journey?
W: Well, since 2003 I made a career of racing triathlon and being a faster swimmer was paramount. I swam for Laurentian University, then Waterloo, and the University of Birmingham with the UK National Junior Team coach, with the Munich team at the Olympic Park, then with Western and their coach who went to the Olympics for Canada in the 1500. This was followed by six years living and training every winter in Florida at the National Training Center with many of the best triathletes and swimmers in the World.
As a competitor I had overall wins including the Steelhead 70.3, the Muskoka Chase, Strongman Japan, (and course records in Windsor, Welland, and Peterborough) and many others. More often than winning overall, coming out of the water first was almost a signature. I lead Chris Maccormack (Ironman World Champion) out of the water at Nevis 111, Jarrod Shoemaker (US Olympian) at the Florida Great Escape tri, was first out at Ironman Arizona and Strongman Japan twice, and swam nearly every Ironman swim under 50min.
This came from logging up to 70,000m of swimming in the pool a week at my peak of swim training.
J: Wow, that’s pretty impressive.
W: Thank you!
J: And have you always been a swimmer?
W: Well, I swam as a young kid, but quit in grade 9.
J: But you were still athletic?
W: Yes, but I didn’t take endurance sports seriously until the third year of my undergrad. At the end of my first year of engineering at Waterloo I weighed in at just under 200lbs at 5’11” and couldn’t do a full chin up on my own. It took me several years to build endurance, strength, and develop better nutrition and eating habits.
J: But once you started you just kept at it?
W: Yes. From all of this I understand what it feels like to start from literal scratch. I know what it feels like to be uncomfortable walking on deck in a bathing suit surrounded by lean, mean FAST athletes. I know what it feels like to swim 400m and need to take a break. I know what it’s like to suffer, to be last, to be lapped, and I know what it’s like to spend a year focusing on a weakness and not see major improvements. But I kept at it.
J: So what would you say has most contributed to your success as triathlete?
W: Well, some of the most important skills I learned in swimming, biking, and running came from filtering out the foundational principles of all three sports.
J: What do you mean by foundational principals?
W: It’s simply this: if you talk to 10 swim coaches you’ll get 10 different ideas of what to do with your thumbs, your roll, your hands. Same is true for 10 different running coaches, or cycling coaches. Many, many, coaches and books and blogs have their ‘secret recipe’. You see this year after year when athletes ‘switch coaches’ or switch diets. There’s always a ‘new coach’ or a new ‘training plan’ or some magic solution. Diets are the same… Paleo, wheat free, no gluten, no sugar… we’re in a constant search for the ultimate tool.
The reality is, there are some fundamental concepts to swimming (and running and cycling) that are universal to all fast and successful swimmers and coaches. The key is to focus on the founding, or “first” principles of swimming and develop those first. “Style” and preference elements can evolve later as you become a better athlete.
J: So a “Wolfgang” swim clinic focuses on those principles.
W: (Laughing.) Yes. When you attend a “Wolfgang” swim clinic, you’re exposed to the founding principles of endurance swimming as a whole. Holding water, balance, breathing, feeling water, and leveraging your own physical strength to swim fast and build additional strength and endurance. Fins, paddles, snorkels, bands, mirrors, and buoys are all fun and cool, but effectively meaningless if you don’t have a solid handle on the foundational principles. A swim clinic with Wolf is like no other, and it leaves you with an understanding and skill set that you can take with you to every solo swim workout or masters workout you ever do in the future, making every lap you do that much more productive.
J: Thanks, Wolf, for talking with me!
W: My pleasure. I look forward to seeing you at the clinics!