It has been 4 years since SwimGym opened its swimming pool in Amsterdam. Since then, SwimGym has grown rapidly as a swimming brand and community, both offline and online. We have asked Johan Kenkhuis, the founder of SwimGym and a former olympic swimmer, few of your burning questions regarding SwimGym’s approach to training, misconceptions about training, and more...
Why did you start SwimGym?
During my career as an Olympic swimmer, I often got the question if I wasn’t getting bored of swimming laps up and down the pool for hours each day. I quickly realized that the majority of people don’t know what it’s like to train as a competition swimmer. Competition swimmers don’t just ‘swim laps’ all day. Our training program is so diverse, fun and challenging, that's why we can train for hours, days, weeks and years in a row without ever getting bored. With SwimGym I wanted to give people that same experience that I had as a pro swimmer. To get the same motivation and fulfillment out of training as I did for years. And still do. To let them experience the diversity of swimming and that swimming can have a huge impact on your life for the better. Four years after we opened our Amsterdam pool it is still my biggest thrill to see every day: the sense of fulfillment and accomplishment in the eyes of our members after a great workout at SwimGym. That’s what I was going for and it worked out even better than I ever imagined.
SwimGym’s motto is ‘Train Like A Pro’. Can everyone train like a professional swimmer?
Yes! Train Like a Pro is our training philosophy as well as our mindset. We use training methods from professional swimming and apply them to any level swimmer. Paying attention to detail without losing the bigger picture. Professional swimmers love variety in their program and that’s exactly what we provide to our swimmers every day. We do not believe in counting laps; we believe in making every lap count. Quality over quantity. Technically, but also physically and even mentally. We try to let our swimmers feel and experience what it's like to be a professional swimmer, without expecting them to qualify for the Olympics of course (but never say never!)
What is the secret to SwimGym’s approach to training effectively?
It’s not really a secret to anybody who has swam competitively, but for the majority of recreational swimmers it might be. At SwimGym we combine technical improvement training with physical strengthening in every workout that we provide to our members. We believe that the more swimming skills you learn, the better and faster you will become. For instance, learning a flipturn might not help you in your open water race, but there are skills to a flipturn that will help you control your body movements, breathing patterns and streamline a great deal. And you might not ever learn how to swim butterfly like Michael Phelps or Caeleb Dressel, but by learning butterfly skills, you develop strength and stroke timing more than you would by only swimming freestyle all the time. Learning new skills and becoming better at it over time is the main driver for an everlasting motivation to keep training. The biggest secret perhaps is our team of wonderful coaches who work with our members every day to help them become the best swimmers they can be. And our coaching doesn’t stop at our Amsterdam pool, you can follow our training program online as well at SwimGym.com in case you swim by yourself or you don’t have access to a swim coach.
How does that translate to everyday training at SwimGym?
At SwimGym we have weekly themes, which are mostly technical themes such as breathing, body positioning, hand entry and the catch, but we also have weeks such as ‘sprint week’ where we focus on details to swim faster over shorter distances. Or ‘benchmark week’ where we challenge our swimmers to set some goals and break records. Every day there’s a new workout, also known as our Swim of the Day (SWOD in short). These are workouts of 60 minutes based on your personal swimming level. We start with a 10-minute warm-up, then 20 minutes skill training and 30 minutes body conditioning. Of course, we spend more time on skill training with swimmers who are still novice to swimming. The intensity of the SWOD also varies from day to day. From easy, low intensity training to HIIT training: high intensity interval training. One thing, our SWOD’s are never really easy or comfortable to swim, there’s always a hidden challenge which makes swimming such a dynamic and beautiful sport.
What advice would you give to swimmers who are working on their stroke technique?
Take your time! Swimming is not a trick; it is a real skill that takes time to develop. Especially because there are some challenging factors that play a huge role in developing your stroke. For one, you can’t breathe freely so you have to learn all these technical movements while trying to keep your breathing as calm as possible. You’re also floating in water, which means that you have to learn and control all the movements without being able to hold on to something or make use of gravity (as you do in all sports on dry land). The best tip I could give is to follow a program that will build your technical skills step by step. Either with a physical coach or online. Breaking up the stroke and isolating movements is key. Then you train these movements with drills to improve your body coordination. Then slowly integrate these drills into your swimming routine. If you stick to the program, then you will notice a big difference over time.
What is the biggest misconception about swim training?
Well, probably that people think it is something like a trick they can learn in a few training sessions. Swimming is one of the most technical sports and you have to progress step by step to improve it. That doesn’t mean technique is all that matters, swimming is just as physical since the water is over 800 times denser than air, providing you with quite some resistance when swimming. But to me that’s what makes swimming so interesting, all these elements and skills, they make you want to train more and harder to become better and better. To me, swimming is all about the process, not so much about the results.
What’s your personal challenge when it comes to improving your stroke?
My strongest point in freestyle has always been my body positioning (high on the water) and my push out. However, my catch has been my biggest challenge. I can’t seem to get that high elbow catch, but I’ve learned to work around it and focus on my stronger assets (that’s a tip to any swimmer who’s struggling as well, haha). Since I was a freestyle specialist and have been working on my freestyle technique for so many years, I really enjoy training other strokes at the moment. My favorite stroke is breaststroke, which is more challenging than you think. It’s a very physical stroke as well as technical, the stroke timing is the most difficult thing to get right. I’m just having fun with it, without having to stress about swimming competition in breaststroke.
What do you think is the most beautiful thing about swimming?
Becoming one with the water is something that separates swimming from any other sport. Swimming is my way to disconnect with the world and truly connect with myself. No distractions, no noise, no talk. I’m aware of every breath I take and every muscle I use. With nothing else than the sound of the water in my ears. Pure bliss!