Mitch Larkin’s new program under Simon Cusack shows positive signs
Three weeks out from the national trials in Brisbane, world backstroke champion Mitch Larkin doesn’t have a clue what to expect.
His training process under new coach Simon Cusack has been so different from his previous regimen with Michael Bohl that Larkin can’t predict how he might swim as he prepares for the defence of his two world titles won in Budapest in July.
“People ask ‘How are you swimming?’ and I say ‘I don’t really know’,’’ Larkin said.
“I’m training hard but … I’m enjoying it. I’m learning a lot, new challenges, every session Simon does something different. I’m asking a lot of questions.’’
Cusack, who has made his name guiding sisters of speed Cate and Bronte Campbell, is approaching Larkin a bit like a car enthusiast who has just got his hands on a classic roadster.
He is adjusting almost every part of the engine in an effort to get better performance out of a swimmer who is already a champion.
Larkin, who went looking for a coach to bring a harder technical edge to his swimming after he won an Olympic silver medal in Rio, has made changes to his stroke technique, to his underwater kicking, and to his daily training.
Cusack and Queensland Academy of Sport biomechanist Koji Honda have identified an imbalance in Larkin’s stroke that they attribute to years of swimming backstroke on the left side of the lane.
Training squads in Australia usually swim on the left side of each lane so multiple swimmers can train together in a lane without crashing into each other.
“We circle (in training) so for me constantly swimming on the lane rope, this catch (when his right hand enters the water) was a lot deeper compared with my left which was nice and shallow and strong.’’
He has adjusted his pull with his right arm to match his left and he has stopped circling on the left in training.
“Simon has put me in one lane by myself and said ‘swim up the middle’, or we circle the other way,’’ Larkin said.
“It was a little bit of imbalance it’s the difference between a 52.1 (seconds) and a 51-high in the 100m backstroke.
“So if I can strengthen my right arm to where my left is and get a lot more of an even stroke, then my kick balances up a lot more. I’ve noticed that already: my legs burn a lot more because I’m kicking a lot more.’’
Cusack has also instructed Larkin to count the number of underwater kicks he does before surfacing off the start and turns, which he said helped him to keep his mind from wandering.
“It was something I did in training but come race day I never thought about actually counting my kicks,’’ Larkin said.
“I think it gives me a bit of confidence in my start knowing that I can hit the right number and I won’t go past 15 metres (swimmers must surface within 15m of the start and turns).
“In Rio I was about 12 and a half (metres) on the breakout. I think I kind of just panicked and rushed my kicks and that shortened up my underwater and put me about half a body length behind and then I sort of rushed and my race plan was out of the window by then.
“Now if I can really focus on that I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m just there to nail six and three, so six flat and three on an angle to break out, and that’s been really working.’’
Larkin is renowned for his hard and consistent training but after eight years working in Bohl’s more aerobic-based program, he said Cusack’s high-intensity approach had floored him regularly in the first three months.
“It’s a really different system that we are training, a lot more nervous system, high intensity and it’s knocked me around a fair bit,’’ he said.
“Some sessions I bounce back really quickly and some sessions knock me around a lot more than I expected and so I’m in a rollercoaster of adaptation.
“Cate and Bronte, they do the same work and are getting similar results.
“Then they come back the next day and they are fine and I am on my death bed. But they have been doing this for 10 years.’’
The trials will be the first meet where Larkin and Cusack will work together. They had planned a rehearsal at the NSW titles two weeks ago but Larkin’s entry form was late and he was refused entry.
Instead, he did a time trial at the end of each session to mimic the competition program he would have done. He put together impressive 100m and 200m backstroke times (53.58sec and 1:56.21) which rank him in the top three in the world this year.
Larkin said he was trying not to focus too much on results this year as he adjusts to his new coach and said his priority was to improve his technique
“I think me being a bit of a perfectionist, I’ll still have goals and times that I want to swim at the world titles, but I said to Simon that this year I really want to fix my stroke,’’ he said.