An interview with Olympic swim coach Johan Wallberg

Johan Wallberg is the head trainer for Sweden’s national swim team. He competed twice at the Summer Olympics, in 1996 and 2000, both in the Men's 4x100 m Freestyle Relay. Recently Svexa have been supporting his team as they prepare for the upcoming Olympics.

Photo - Jessica Gow

First of all, how are you handling this uncertain situation? Have you ever experienced anything that has prepared you for adjusting and keep pushing even though you until very recently didn’t know if the Olympics were being held this year?

So far Sweden is handling the situation calmly and we are allowed to keep training. The lack of competitions affects some swimmers more than others. But if you are looking for that perfect race the situation gives you time to prepare. I do feel for the ones who pushed themselves really close to the brink and were very ready to perform. Hopefully they can keep some perspective on life and go one more round. What is your own sporting background, and the experience of competing in the Olympics? I tried a lot of sports when I was young, and around my mid-teens swimming started to take up most of my time. My Olympic experience was both good and bad. My first Olympics was a great experience not only because I had a good performance but also because I was in a great team. Come 4 more years of training and a second Olympics, you want to swim much faster and swim in the finals but that didn’t happen.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I get up early cause I like to either work or train myself before our first practice starts at 07:30. As I have small kids this is the time you have peace and quiet and your brain is still functioning. Most days we swim twice so most of my work is on pool deck or around it to get the team and support staff coordinated and working towards our goals.

What are the most important dimensions of strength and conditioning for an elite swimmer? If you can prepare them to be fit and fearless it´s a good start. Then to have the sport specific intelligence and the traits to go all the way to the top is a much bigger challenge.

What trends have you seen in the world of elite swim training over recent years? Has the importance of data increased?

Trends have a tendency to come and go in cycles, physiology seems to stay the same. But the data feedback has become much better, faster and user-friendly, especially in the field of technique and race analysis. Also as the computer power has increased a lot of things can now be done semi-automatically which saves time and gives you fast feedback. Advanced algorithms speed up the analyzing process and give the coach and swimmers different scenarios to improve performance/training.

Photo: Getty Images

What new innovation were you expecting to see at the upcoming Olympics, in swim training/tech/performance? With metabolic profiling and good stress monitoring I think we will be able to understand and individualize the training better to reach supercompensation. Automatic technique feedback can help the athlete practice more deliberately.

Lots of coaches feel they get overwhelmed by all the data from apps and other tech devices, can you relate to that? How do you deal with the data tsunami? There are a lot of gadgets out there but they can’t do the real work for you. You need to slim it down to 2-3 key points to focus on and monitor that process. If a handy app or a good testing device can help you in that process it can be very helpful and also motivate you.

You have recently started a collaboration with Svexa, helping guide the training and recovery for your athletes. Why did you decide to do that? To know what you have done and how stressful it has been for the athlete is very basic but very important. With the help of Svexa we get more information out of the numbers and also help with asking the right questions. Svexa recently built individual algorithms for your swimmers, and predicted their performance very accurately. How did this help inform your training or recovery plans? It is very helpful to have an empirical individual framework to work with. What would be the best progression? It gives you more room to do daily coaching and small important adjustments to get the most out of each single practice. It will probably help us not to make the same mistake twice and maybe even avoid some mistakes in the future.

What do you believe will be the benefits of this Svexa work for your athletes?

We will learn much faster what works and what does not. Svexa also helps the coaches and our swimmers with important data in one more user-friendly overall picture instead of having everything spread out. The Athlete Advisor app for example gives us important status of the swimmers trainability for the day and the trend of the week.

How are you and your athletes handling the coronavirus constraints and the Olympics delay to 2021, how are you able to continue? Personally it gives me time to do the work I missed out on or wasn't happy with. I just hope the swimmers find that just as interesting and appealing as I do.

Good luck Johan!