Water Polo is one of the most difficult and physically demanding sports in the world. “It combines the endurance of swimming, the strength of wrestling and the spatial skills of soccer or basketball,” according to four time Olympian and current U.S. Captain Tony Azevedo. “It’s such a dynamic sport and there’s so many different areas you have to train, you have to be trained out of the water in the gym. You have to have the endurance to swim 6,000-7,000 meters a day. Then you have to wrestle in the water and then you have to shoot and pass and still learn tactics and play together.”
Traditionally the sport has been dominated by more physical Eastern European squads (U.S. Men’s team has not won gold since 1904). In an effort to alter this trend, U.S. Men’s Olympic Water Polo players decided to forgo lucrative contracts playing in Europe to train together for London. Team USA also enlisted the services of P3, as a means of gaining an advantage over the traditional Olympic powers.
Many of the USA Men’s Water Polo players have had serious injuries (check out Peter Hudnut’s inspirational story) and or significant physical pathologies from years of playing high level water polo (average age 31-32 years old). P3 coaches had to carefully consider the full physical history and movement patterns of these seasoned water polo athletes. Along with taking injuries into account the coaches at P3 researched the sport of water polo extensively – consulting water polo coaches and players to develop quantifiable metrics for assessing the physical systems of water polo athletes.
After testing each athlete physically and mentally, P3 coaches reviewed the data and considered these objective metrics in reference to each athletes playing style and movements in the water. With a comprehensive view of the athletes, P3 began individualized training protocols to address each athlete’s particular set of physical needs.
While each athlete has a unique set of needs, the general focus can be described as emphasizing big functional strength movements (e.g. front squats, RDLs, lunges, etc.) and powerful, ballistic movements. We also placed a heavy emphasis on improving shoulder stability, thoracic mobility, hip mobility and trunk flexion power. In addition, our work with USA Men’s Water Polo certainly involved significant focus on rotational mechanics and generation of rotational power. Rotation, being a complex biomechanical process, is often neglected and/or minimally understood in traditional water polo strength programs.
At P3, a major route to improving performance is through the application of complex training. Complex training not only allows Water Polo players to build power and sport specific skills during a strength workout, it increases training density and work capacity. These factors are of vital importance in a sport that requires players to wrestle off their opponents for anywhere from 5-20 seconds at a time, subsequently create big power movements (i.e. rising up for a shot, block or pass) and then race down to the other end of the pool.
We have measured and observed significant physical gains in USA Men’s Water Polo players over the past year. Coaches and players have also seen the results and believe it will give them a big advantage in London:
“Now we’re going to add that we’re in the best physical shape…because in a pro season, you can’t physically train as hard because you’re playing big games. . . . You can’t lift three times a week. You can’t train more than four hours a day. We’re going to be much more physically prepared.”
- USA Captain, Tony Azevedo
“I feel that P3 has given us the competitive edge and we are stronger than we have ever been before.”
- USA Head Coach, Terry Schroeder
In the final three weeks leading up to the Olympics we primarily focused on building power, maintaining strength and increasing hip, thoracic and shoulder mobility.
We will continue to focus on keeping power up during the Olympics, as critical movements such as jumps (getting hips high out of the water), shots, and rolling off defenders to get open or retrieve the ball all require lots of power. Strength work was tapered down as to avoid excess loads on the body. Maintenance work and mobility work through the hips and shoulders will be a primary focus and crucial for polo players when it comes to performance and avoiding injuries during the Olympics.
P3 Performance Coach, Alex Ash, will be providing running commentary from London on USA Men’s Water Polo training and recovery, via P3′s Twitter.
Also, be sure to check out P3 athletes Jake Gibb (Beach Volleyball), Sean Rosenthal (Beach Volleyball), Deron Williams (Basketball), Lindsey Berg (Indoor Volleyball), Sheena Tosta (400 Hurdles), Sara Hammer (Cycling), Andrei Kirilenko (Basketball) go for gold in London.