Born On: October 26th, 1976
Hometown: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Resides in: Berkeley, CA
Education: Hawaii (Business)
Profession: Strength & Conditioning Coach at the University of California, Berkeley
When Nick Folker was rising as a young national swimming star in South Africa, he couldn’t escape the long shadow of rugby, the nation’s collective pastime and top revenue-driving professional sport.
The biggest impact rugby had on the swimming community was in strength training, where Folker found most dryland activity to be little more than tweaked rugby workouts, with little swimming-specific thought put in.
Now, ten years after those early South African experiences, Folker has dedicated his career to doing for swimmers what no one did for him: tailoring dryland training to swimming in a hyper-specific way.
“I feel that a large number of swimmers, myself included, would have had more successful, prolonged careers by implementing a thoughtful strength program,” Folker says.
Though he had an outstanding competitive career for South Africa on the international stage, including medaling at the 1999 World University Games in the 100 free, Folker really hit his stride upon leaving the pool and entering the realm of coaching.
His star rose rapidly as the head strength and conditioning coach for the University of California’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs as well as the men’s and women’s water polo teams.
The numbers in his 9-year tenure are eye-popping. 2 NCAA titles with the men’s swimmers. 3 with the women. A pair of national championships with men’s water polo and a runner-up finish with the women.
There simply hasn’t been one of Folker’s programs that didn’t rise to elite status. He’s even worked with Cal’s storied post-graduate training group, which includes Olympic stars Nathan Adrian, Natalie Coughlin and Anthony Ervin.
Folker left Cal in 2013 to start his own project. BridgeAthletic is an organization dedicated to bringing swimming (along with other sports) down to the details, creating ultra-specific training programs to help each athlete get exactly what he or she needs - not the leftover workouts of someone training for different events or even different sports.
Folker’s methods are born out of his own experiences, beginning in South Africa but ranging all across the swimming world. He was a top-tier sprinter for his home country, winning a pair of medals at the 1999 All-Africa Games and competing at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, all racing in the 50 and 100 freestyles, perhaps the swimming events best-known for their need for elite strength.
He also competed in the NCAA, leaving South Africa for the University of Hawaii, where he smashed school records, but also continued to shape his future coaching philosophy.
“Upon moving to the US on a collegiate swimming scholarship, I assumed that all my frustrations would be a thing of the past,” Folker says. “Surely the US colleges would have swimming-specific weight workouts and tracking systems.”
He was disappointed to find that instead of swimming emerging from the shadow of rugby in the U.S., the shadow was simply replaced by that of football.
“This was absolutely mind-blowing given the dominance of the US Swimming team on the World and Olympic stage,” says Folker.
That’s hardly the case any more, though, as Folker has helped to change the game, altering the entire landscape of swimming-specific strength training. He’s placed 25 athletes on Olympic teams, piling up 22 Olympic medals along the way, and more importantly, his training methods have made a giant shock-wave in the swimming community, with sport-specific training like BridgeAthletic offers appearing as the new wave for dryland philosophy.