Staff Photo: John Bohn Karl Krug, a nine-time All-American swimmer at Auburn, performs a set of lunges while working out with trainer Scott Shetler at Extreme Conditioning & Fitness in Norcross. Krug will compete in the US National Championship swim meet in Indianapolis later this month.
Karl Krug could barely bend over on the starting blocks before a swim race last year.
With two herniated discs in his back, it hurt to just swim.
Despite the injury, he helped Auburn to another Southeastern Conference title. He competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials and missed making the finals by a fraction of a second.
Almost a year later, Krug's back is healthy. He's spent the last six months training with Scott Shetler at Extreme Fitness in Norcross building his strength. He's improved his swimming times with Chris Davis at SwimAtlanta in Lawrenceville. Now he's ready to see how he'll fare in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle races at the USA Swimming World Championship trials.
"I'm real excited. I have a new slate. I'm not injured," Krug said. "Everything is built up and I'm ready to release it and see what I can do."
Krug was one of the nation's top swimmers coming out of Yucaipa High (Calif.), about an hour outside of Los Angeles.
He signed with Auburn, one of the nation's top swim programs, where he had a decorated college career. Krug was a nine-time All-American and helped Auburn to four SEC championships and the 2009 NCAA national title.
He had most of that success before injuring his back during a team workout prior to his senior season.
"That kind of set back what I really wanted to do," Krug said.
Krug still managed to compete in the Olympic Trials, reaching the semifinals. He could barely bend over to get in his stance on the blocks. When he did, he was slow to move because of the pain.
"I didn't finish as well as I wanted to, but I was still close to the best times," Krug said.
Krug, 23, graduated from Auburn in December with a degree in political science and sociology. He moved to Atlanta specifically to train at SwimAtlanta, but needed someone to help him build his strength. That's when he found Shetler.
"I didn't know what level he was," Shetler said. "You can tell right away his work ethic is incredible. He knows what he wants to do."
Shetler specializes in kettlebell training and Krug has used that as the foundation of his training. It's a different type of training for Krug, who never lifted weights in high school and did mostly Olympic lifting in college.
"It's a little out of the box," Krug said. "Kettlebell training is really not a traditional swimming training. I really like it. It's really cardio intensive like swimming."
Krug spends about an hour, three days a week, training with Shetler and the rest of the week working out at SwimAtlanta. In his six months in Atlanta, he's posted his fastest training times in the pool.
"I went back to the basics. It's actually helped me a lot," Krug said.
Krug credits his improved times to his strength. Shetler will have him do exercises that mimic him on the starting blocks or in the pool. He'll usually only work for about 48-50 seconds, the same amount of time it takes to swim a 50-meter freestyle race.
"What we do is use the kettlebells as dry-land training where we have him working at similar times to the pace he's doing in the pool," Shetler said. "We're trying to get him to maintain power in those later seconds of the race."
Krug's workouts aren't just strictly with kettlebells. They range from doing explosive back squats and 36-inch box jumps to the dreaded sled push.
"You just get that gut-wrenching, throw-up feeling," Krug said. "I hate that machine, but it's one of the better ones for me."
Krug will find out if it was all worth it at the World Championships Trials on June 25-29 in Indianapolis. He's trying to earn a spot on the U.S. World Championship team that will compete in August in Barcelona, Spain. It's the first step on his quest to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
"It's probably the best six months I could remember," Krug said. "It's kind of just sharpening up for that."