The Labor Pool: Nick Folker and BridgeAthletic
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
No swimmer wins Olympic gold on his or her own. Behind every great swimmer is a coach, a series of coaches, a team, family, and/or support network. This is especially true at the University of California – Berkeley, home of a number of elite swimmers, both in college and in the professional ranks.
A huge part of the aquatic success at Cal not only has to do with the athletes and coaches, but also a conditioning coach behind the scenes who used an unorthodox, swim-specific strength program, Nick Folker.
Now, though, Folker has left his position at Cal to begin a new business called BridgeAthletic. He will develop mobile technology for swimmers around the world to monitor their own dryland workouts, in addition to other handy online analysis tools.
“I felt I could reach a greater audience,” Folker said. “That’s been my goal. Try and help a broader scope. Cal was awesome. They helped me a lot. From my perspective, I wanted to branch out a little bit.”
Folker has developed an app that allows swimmers and athletes to monitor and analyze what they’re doing using data tracking, leader boards that allow you to compare yourself to teammates, and customized workouts from BridgeAthletic staff. He wants to target up-and-coming club swimmers who want to gain swim-specific strength.
“Swimmers don’t do any dryland work until they get to college,” Folker said. “In the last few years, one of the reasons we’ve started BridgeAthletic to bridge that gap, trying to get them ready for high school or college.”
Folker aims to attract swimmers, since that’s his area of expertise. A swimmer for Miami and Hawaii as well as a 2000 Olympian for South Africa, Folker began swimming to help his asthma. Now, Folker has been involved with Cal for nearly a decade. Over the years, he’s seen many swimmers only start serious dryland programs when they arrive on a college campus. He’d like to see elite swimmers begin earlier.
“We will try to make younger athletes more athletic. As they become stronger and more powerful, we just have to work out with more specific stroke work for the pool.”
BridgeAthletic is not only for club swimmers. Folker would like to attract elite Masters swimmers, too.
“The great thing with building the program is athletes can do it on their own time. If they’re in business, they might not be able to make it to 5 p.m. to do dryland,” Folker said. “They can do dryland on lunch break or on their own time, or fit it into their schedule.”
“They can have their workouts, and have it with them where they can go. They don’t have to worry during their board meeting saying, ‘What am I going to do today?’”
Folker came onto the strength and conditioning scene disillusioned with the fact that swim-specific strength programs weren’t being utilized in many elite swim programs.
“Most swimmers are athletic and aware of what they are doing. A lot of coaches want to do explosive work, but if swimmers aren’t stable, there’s a breakdown. We try to build that stability.”
His very specific programs have proven successful at Cal, where he has worked with Olympic veterans like Natalie Coughlin and Nathan Adrian. But Folker said he would also like to expand the program to many swimmers, from age 10 or 12 to elite Masters swimmers.
Folker stressed that being injury-free is another integral part of the program.
“Being injury-free is huge. I’ve watched two swimmers with injuries that were in college or people I competed with who had to stop. We can solve some of that,” Folker said. “Many swimmers get bored or hurt. We want to make swimmers injury-free and the sport more exciting.”
Though it was admittedly difficult to leave Cal’s program, exciting endeavors awaited Folker. He’s already learning so much about the business world. He compares that world to swimming.
“The learning curve is almost like a bell curve. Sleep is a second thought. Someone is always trying to get ahead of you. I enjoy it. It’s like being an athlete. If I’m not getting my work done, someone else is.”
Folker has advice for younger swimmers:
“Just be careful. Be patient. I grew when I was 19. If you’re an athlete and you struggle, be patient, it will come together. With the right progression, it will come together. Let dryland complement your swimming.”