33 Meters: with Sarah Gibson

Most professional swimmers are living between two worlds: the swimming world and the “real” world. As any competitive swimmer knows, life outside the pool is a juggling act, one that gets even harder when you are no longer a student-athlete and have to pay your own bills. This is a look at a week in the life of Sarah Gibson: World Champ Qualifier, Team USA member, Fike Swim ambassador, and medical researcher at the University of California San Diego, studying acute kidney injury and artificial intelligence.

Morning Practice: 6:00-8:00am
Lift: 11:00-12:00pm
Lab Meetings: 1:00-4:00pm
Afternoon Practice: 5:00-6:30pm

“Mondays are typically aerobic, focusing on preparation for the week ahead. We incorporate a lot of technical work as well to ensure the stroke we’ll train the remainder of the week is sound.”

The Monday lift is heavy, with snatch grip high pulls, kettlebell swings, chin ups, and barbell reverse lunge or step up. She’ll do five sets of five reps each for most things. Other exercises, like handstands, are for 45 seconds to a minute.

After she gets done with her lab meetings, Sarah hits the pool and trains alone, usually a big kick set with more aerobic swimming tacked on the end.

Morning Practice: 6:00-8:00am
Afternoon Practice: 1:00-3:00pm
Ballet Class: 5:00-6:00pm

Tuesday mornings tend to be threshold, while the afternoons can vary from kicking to quality work. Regardless of the type, expect to work hard.

A main set (LCM): 4 x 100 @ 1:15, 200 @ 2:35, 300 @ 4:30, descending each of the six 100s
Minimum kick off each wall to 15m

“I’ve taken up ballet to add core stability, strength, and postural control to my swimming. It’s a lot of fun, even though I struggle with my pirouettes.”

Morning Practice: 6:00-8:00am
Lift: 11:00-12:00pm
Lab Shift: 1:00-6:00pm

“While the rest of Team Elite West enjoys a morning off, I swim earlier so I can spend the afternoon at the medical center. Practice tends to be recovery, but best to never assume.”

The Wednesday lift is like Monday’s, except it adds some more core-based work like alternating-arm med ball pushups or TRX ab saws. “I’m the sorest after this lift of all my dryland activities, with perhaps the possible exception of when I go ice skating. My coaches don’t like letting me skate because they think I’ll get hurt, which is probably a fair point and totally reasonable of them. I still go, though.”

Morning Practice: 6:00-8:00am
Afternoon Practice: 1:00-3:00pm
Ballet Class: 5:00-6:00pm
Ballroom Dance: 6:00-7:00pm

Thursday is more or less a rehash of Tuesday with more butterfly-based sets, but it has a dryland-based twist.

“I’d always joked about taking a ballroom dance class, and UCSD’s rec class program gave me the opportunity to give it a go. The more I explore different types of exercise and movement, the more I appreciate how everything we do outside the pool contributes to our performance in it. My favorite style so far has been the Viennese waltz, a rotary-style dance where you’re (almost) constantly spinning.”

If you are not as familiar with the Viennese style, it’s done very quickly (double time in dance speak, or 180 beats per minute), which makes for great cardio if you don’t fall over from the dizziness.

Morning Practice: 6:00-8:00am
Lift: 11:00-12:00pm
Lab Shift: 1:00-6:00pm

Friday is usually something race-paced, focusing on maintaining distance per stroke and tempo.
A sample main set:

4 x {50 swim @ :50
{100 drill/swim @ 2:00
{150 swim (fly-free-fly) @ 3:00
{200 swim desc. to 200 race simulation @ 3:00
{100 ez @ 3:00
Sarah did two rounds free, two rounds fly.

By Friday, Sarah has spent roughly 13 hours in a lab at UCSD, either testing samples as part of research into acute kidney injury under her cardiologist Dr. Lori Daniels (Sarah has had heart issues that should have ended her career) or training an artificial intelligence network to diagnose diseases of the eye under Dr. Kang Zhang, who was recently on “60 Minutes” for his work in CRISPR – a gene editing tool that may revolutionize medicine in the near future.

Morning Practice: 7:00-9:00am
Saturdays are all about getting up and getting after it. Best average sets are common.

Two examples:
24 x 100s @ 1:40 SCY, 1 easy 2 fast.

Sarah did four rounds free averaging :55, and four rounds fly averaging :58, with a :54.6 on the last one with :10 additional rest.

5 x 200 fly broken at the 100 for :20 @ 6:00 SCY, best average from blocks
Sarah went: 1:48, 1:49, 1:49, 1:45, and 1:49 (broken at the 50s for :10 on #5)

“This last one was painful because the pool we were visiting was hosting a water polo tournament and had no space for warmup/cooldown, so the lactic acid built up very quickly. After practice, I like to go surfing or snorkeling if I don’t have research to do.”

The common theme for professional swimmers on Sundays seems to be resting and preparation, whether it be mental, physical, or logistical. “My Sundays are for resting and meal preparation. I wake up early so I can get to the grocery store before it gets crowded and then take a nap. I also make sure to foam roll, stretch, and use my Normatec so that I’m ready to go when Monday morning rolls around.”

Clinic Weeks
Clinics are a staple in most professional swimmers’ schedules including Sarah Gibson’s, but how do they keep the clinics from disrupting their training? “I love teaching, so clinics are a great way for me to combine my skillset with something else I enjoy. But the challenge of being a swim clinician is maintaining your training when traveling. I usually let my coaches know immediately when I book a clinic, which allows us to adjust the practice schedule. That may mean tacking on 30 minutes to the next few practices when I get back to make up for missed practices, or training at the clinic location by myself. Clinics wear me out, though, because I go non-stop demonstrating and jumping from one swimmer to another trying to help in every way I can.”

And that’s one week in the life of Team USA swimmer Sarah Gibson. Stay tuned for the next installment of 33 Meters with another Fike Swim ambassador! In the meantime, support Sarah on her journey to Tokyo by following her Instagram and Facebook pages, and you can get the latest Fike Swim news, product updates, and videos by liking them on Facebook and subscribing to their YouTube channel. And you can get a candid look at Fike Swim’s journey to help swimmers SWIM DIFFERENT by following them on Instagram.

About Fike Swim

“We design products exclusively for the toughest athletes in the world.  We unapologetically place swimmers on a pedestal.  The rigors they embrace on a daily basis can only be understood by another swimmer and they deserve a company focused 100% on helping them succeed.  Whether you’re just starting out or training for Tokyo, we stand behind you.”

– James Fike, Founder

Fike Swim Products was born when founder James Fike put a brick on top of a kickboard and transformed just another legs-only kick set into a total body workout felt into the next day. Since then it’s been our mission to create unique swim equipment with the single-minded goal of making you faster. We don’t sell toys. We create tools to help you reach your potential.

Swim Training courtesy of Fike Swim, a SwimSwam partner.

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