Lessons from Legends: Don Swartz and Training Cycles


By Chuck Warner//Special Contributor

In 1971, a fledgling young coach in Marin, Calif., named Don Swartz, lost his star swimmer who left to join the world’s greatest club program, the Santa Clara Swim Club, coached by the legendary George Haines. Coach Swartz was upset, but particularly at himself for not helping his swimmers reach their potential. He was frustrated with going to championship swim meets with swimmers who were tired and performing below their potential. As a matter of fact, they would tell Coach Swartz that they had “lead arms.”

By chance, Swartz befriended some world-class race walkers that trained in Marin. Coach Swartz shared his frustration with them, and they shared the concept of “cycle training.” Swartz transferred their concepts to the pool by developing a program with shorter, less-difficult days, alternated with longer, very difficult days. In Swartz’s program, the cycles included:

  • M, W, F: Kicking, off-stroke work, and pace work. (about 8,500/day)
  • T,Th,S: High ‘intensity’ including 20 x 200s, 5 x 800s (about 12,500/day)
  • Athlete predictability knowing to be prepared to work very hard on the intense days.

Some coaches scoffed at the idea calling it a ‘psychel’ that would help the mind but not help swimmers train to their potential. Many successful coaches insisted that swimmers should create their own cycles based upon their ability to recover and put in work. But Don Swartz innovated by listening to his own intuition.

Quickly, almost magically, out of the Marin program came the fastest male distance swimmer to that point in the history of the sport: Rick DeMont. At just 16 years old, Rick set his first world record in the 1500-meter freestyle. At the 1972 Olympics, he won the gold medal in the 400 freestyle, when he came from behind to nip Australia’s Brad Cooper at the finish. The tragic treatment of Rick DeMont is documented, though not well enough, and cost him a gold medal in the 400 and 1500 in Munich, because of mistakes made by the USA medical staff.

Rick DeMont is now “Coach DeMont” at the University of Arizona, and recently called Don Swartz “the father of modern swim training” because of his development of the cycle so widely used around the world in some form today.

Since the 1970s, Coach Swartz has been through his own cycle in and out of coaching. His recent return to the pool deck came from an opportunity to work with Rick’s younger brother Ken at North Bay Aquatics in Marin. In 2013, he accumulated 20 years in coaching, which met the criteria to become inducted into the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Rick DeMont said of his former coach, “I don’t talk with him too often, but whenever I do, I amazed that he always gives me about seven different ideas that I find interesting and useful.”

His former champion greeted Don following his Hall of Fame induction. Coach Swartz said, “You know an interesting thing about life is that when you’re born, you’re crying and everyone else is smiling. And if you’ve lived your life well, when you die, you’re smiling and everyone else is crying.” And Then They Won Gold (Small)

The cycle of life continues. And if you are lucky enough in yours, to know, to spend time with, or to listen to Don Swartz, it will be richer.

For more information or to order Chuck Warner’s books Four Champions, One Gold Medal or …And Then They Won Gold, go to (access Books * Media). You can follow Chuck Warner on twitter@chuckwarner1.

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