Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rehearse Daily Championships - Start with the Legs

Gotta love this internet thing…check out…As coaches we are always looking for new ideas or new teaching concepts for trusted ideas…

Dry land training takes on all sorts of forms from fancy gyms with personal trainers to basic backyard set ups with ingenuity mixed with personal passion. Go to Floswimming and check out Germantown’s dry land program. The young man demonstrating was outside by the parking lot with a simple 45 lb bar, a medicine ball, a wall against which he was sitting (no chair) while doing exercises. He also showed a nice set of jump ups onto simple wood boxes of various heights. And then, rope climbing with the pool as his “net”. That one might be tough to figure out in an outdoor pool. The message was clear. A few simple and inexpensive tools and you have an athletic dry land program.

If you ever doubted that leg power was important, then you missed the Olympics on TV. This week – as seen on Floswimming – on October 21st Coach Paul Yetter at North Baltimore had his gang kick 5x200 descending 1-5 on the 3:10 interval. One of the gals kicked a 2:13.4 on her back. A bunch of people were under 2:40 in #5. Very impressive.

The motto written on the wall spoke volumes about the mindset in that facility. “If we are to be champions, we must rehearse daily championships within ourselves”. Each of us, coaches and swimmers alike, need to remember that it is daily application of our best that sets us up for championship performances.

Have a great week and rehearse daily…!

Practical Application of Mental Toughness and Use of the Gap

We shared the article from last week with our team. We reinforced several of the ideas focusing on the "Gap" concept. To recap...authors Rick Paine and James Robinson state that mental toughness is "an inside-out, self-leadership, principle driven, developmental process for athletes."

Mental toughness, they assert, starts, "out with self-awareness, with an understanding that (swimmers) could control their thoughts, emotions and thus their behavior...There is a small gap of time between the stimulus they receive and their response. Between each stimulus, such as the conclusion of a race, the human brain has a moment of time to create its response; the Gap. The decisions swimmers make in that moment of time either enhance or teardown mental toughness...All swimmers are capable of deciding what their thoughts, emotions and behaviors will be in the Gap. Human beings have the power of choice...Each choice (is) like a small thread of steel. With each decision to compete rather than fold, another small thread of steel (is) added and before long the habit of mental toughness (becomes) like a steel cable, strong enough to support them in any situation."

Finally they add the "typical club/high school swimmer will take approximately 23,000 freestyle strokes per week during training. Do you have any doubt that doing anything 23,000 times a week becomes habit? The question is, is it a good habit or bad habit?"

We thought the concept was so simply and clearly presented, not to mention accurate in our minds, that we began referring to it in practice. This last Saturday we constructed a workout that was designed to specifically give each swimmer a chance to practice their response in the Gap.

Here is the workout...

Warm up: 1500+/- 30 minutes
Main set:
Progressive to 80% on the final swim of each distance
swim 150 snorkel cruiser

progressive to 85% on final swim of each distance
150 snorkel cruiser

progressive to 90% etc
150 snorkel cruiser

- all swims - 95%
150 snorkel cruiser

then pick one, your choice...
1x100 or 2x50 running dive in fast suit...go for it

set=2475 + running dive.../60 min...900 of it cruise the rest at up interesting to see how they handle it by the end of the set

3975 + loosen of 500 = 4475

Some notes of explanation about this workout. These are senior level swimmers some with National/OT cuts. The pool is 25 meters. The work to rest ratios led to some very fast swimming toward the end of workout. On the running dive swims we had them put on a fast suit (no LZR or blueseventy). A sample of the times we saw were 100 frees in the 55-57 range for guys, 59-1:05 for girls, we had a 1:02 fly for a 14 year old boy and a 1:07 for breast from a 17 year old guy.

What we talked about all morning was the Gap. After the faster swims in each set they began analyzing how they were doing and it was interesting to note some became critical of how slow they perceived themselves while others were pleasantly surprised at their speed. As the authors mentioned above, each swimmer has a choice in the short gap of time between the stimulus (in this case, workout times) and the response. We believe that the response helps (or doesn't) the mental toughness habit.

There were 4 swims, one at each distance from 100 down to 25, at 80% effort; then 4 at 85%, then 4 at 90% and finally 4 at 95%. And then their running dive swim(s) in a fast suit. We practiced a fair amount of fast swimming with plenty of discussion along the way about the Gap. We have a meet in two weeks and we will be ready for it with more mentally tough swimmers.

You can use the workout above as a template and simply modify the distances etc. Most swimmers train without much thought to the concept of building mental toughness daily. We believe each day is an opportunity to build it. Let us know what you think!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Resistance Training

We are always looking for ways to train that incorporate good technique with extra resistance. In the olden days (the 60's and 70's) swimmers would swim with Clorox bottles tethered to their ankles with rubber straps cut from inner tubes. We would then fill the bottles with differing amounts of water for resistance. Swim coaches weren't looking ahead much in those days...they missed the manufacturing and marketing opportunity! Today all sorts of resistance devices are available. We do quite a bit of training (at least one day a week) with parachutes for drag. We are looking to build power.

While on the plane ride home from Junior Nationals this summer Ken and Don were discussing the idea of developing a suit that had pockets which could be filled with water to add weight without distorting the body's natural position and shape. Like many excellent ideas this one got shuffled to the back burner.

One of our SwimCoachDirect members turned us on to Hyper Vests about three weeks ago. And we thank you Mark! We contacted the company - you can find them at - and found an innovative and progressive group of folks who wanted to know more about how this would work with swimmers. They have had some swimmers use their vests during dry land training. We were interested in how they might be used in the water.

We now have several of their vests and recommend them highly after our initial testing. The vests fit comfortably. The weights can be fairly easily changed to increase resistance. One of the things we like best is that since the additional weight is distributed over the entire thoracic cavity there is very little chance for a specific muscle or joint strain occurring due to the additional weight. We are always watchful about injury due to change in resistance. These vests seem to pose no problem at all. We recommend that you kick with fins since the extra weight (up to 5 lbs) does make a significant difference in how the body rides in the water. We also suggest beginning with 25's until the stroke can be down correctly with the added weight before moving to 50's.

Remember, as in all things new, progressions are the key. Let us know what you think!

Mental Toughness

The following article is an exceptionally well written treatise on the subject of mental toughness. We are in the midst of heavy training right now. We have had a couple of early season meets that are taxing our swimmers. We talk often about doing the best you can with what you have available on any given day. We discuss that all racing opportunities have merit including the ones that come during the season when you are not rested. This article hits the nail on the head. We really liked the concept of the "Gap"! Congrats to Paine and Robinson on a job well done!

Swimming World Magazine
October 8, 2008
"Coaching and Recruiting the Habit of Mental Toughness"
by Rick Paine and James Robinson

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Public, Prep, Home Amateur, Professional

The landscape is certainly changing when it comes to secondary educational opportunities. At the same time, the path for swimming development at the higher levels is changing as well.

There have always been "Prep" schools, or so it seems. Many on the East Coast have been in existence for over 100 years. Originally they were considered mainly for the wealthy, the elitist folks - read, the ones with money. The overwhelming secondary experience was in public high schools or to a lesser degree the "trade" schools which were also public.

We were thinking about this topic the other day as we coaches pondered the work load placed upon today's student/athlete. It seems that schools take it fairly easy on freshman, then turn up the work load in the sophomore year, sort of acclimatizing them for the junior year which is by far the most rigorous, or so it seems from our vantage point. If you can survive that third year you probably will handle whatever you need to do to finish up in your senior year. Granted this is a generalized snap shot but it seems a valid one.

Then we came across an interesting article in this month's Swimming World Magazine by Bill Colucci who is the director of Admissions for Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, CA. Colucci states "Prep schools offer swimmers the opportunity to excel not only in the pool, but to develop into young men and women who have the intellectual and social skills necessary to meet the challenges ahead of them in college and beyond." His article goes on to make several points about the value, as he sees it, of the prep school experience. It focuses on the "Opportunity for Growth" and the "Emphasis on Leadership".

We'll leave it to you to agree or not. In our county there are numerous private school options, as well as charter schools and religious based schools. And of course there are some public high schools with wonderful reputations and others with, what? not so grand images. We guess our landscape is not so different from yours.

Now there is even a very real and growing presence of home-schooled youngsters. We know of several places in the country where home-schooling is the preferred option if your youngster has been identified as an outstanding swimming prospect.

You read that correctly! For decades parents with "promising" tennis players and young gymnasts have enrolled their youngsters in "academies" focused around those sports. Part of the curriculum has been academic but the focus was on the sport. One of the driving forces is the money and fame (read more money) that comes with excelling in those sports. Until recently swimming was not part of that mix.

Today that has changed. Swimming superstars command impressive amounts of money. Put aside Michael Phelps and his economic appeal. He is similar in our sport to LeBron James or Tiger Woods in theirs. We are talking here about the rest of the field. Every single swimming Olympian on the US Team - and there were 51 besides Phelps - has a pay day coming.

So if you can home-school your son or daughter what do you lose? A very good argument can be made for that option. He/she still gets an education. The swimming career is fully explored. Socialization occurs with the team and the travel to meets. And there is no interruption of the training regimen due to homework or school demands. So the swimmer has a much better chance of reaching her/his potential. We are not saying this is correct or even true. It is, however, the argument being made.

Correspondingly, the path was always from secondary to collegiate. Now that is not the case. The fastest swimmers coming out of high school are often faced with the option of signing a lucrative professional endorsement deal vs. signing a letter of intent at a university. Either way their education gets paid for. Either way they can compete at the international level. Once they sign for money they cannot compete in college. Michael Phelps did this 5 years ago. Our understanding is that Kate Ziegler and Katie Hoff have followed this path.

So, while we will keep our opinions to ourselves for today, we think it is interesting to note that educational options and swimming path options exist today that were not available even a few years ago. Life is rarely static. The very nature of it makes it dynamic. We challenge ourselves every day to adapt, to be aware of the changes. We hope you will as well.

This much is true. If you don't keep your eyes and ears open, you will not be equipped to deal with the change - any change.

Task vs. Result

Here's something to try this week. Pick something that is fairly challenging to do in a workout. It could be a set or a particular skill such as a stroke correction you have been working on. Or it could be a particular dry land routine you have been trying to master. An example would be a new stretch to lengthen your hamstrings or a certain weight you have been attempting to bench for 6 or 8 repetitions. It could even be some particular cross training segment you have attempted before without much luck such as a spin class or a particular trail loop that is a tough one for you.

Whatever the task is, it has been a challenge and you would really like to master it. You want the result as it were. Following along from the examples above it might look like this.

1 -You have struggled with 8x100 repeats on the 1: 45 for a few weeks now.

2 -Try as you may, learning to breathe on both sides seems impossible.

3 -No matter how hard you try you cannot master the jump rope.

4 -Your hamstrings will not cooperate; you still are no closer to touching your toes than you were a month ago.

5 -You can get 4 (or 5 on a good day) repetitions of 90 pounds on the bench but 6 or 8 are out of reach.

6 -The spin class at the gym is so frustrating. Everyone else seems to do it with ease, at least compared to you.

7 -Whenever you get to that section on the trail where it heads up you run out of steam, no matter how hard you try.

Research into high level performance consistently shows that those who are at the top of their game know what they want in terms of a goal. Yet the achievement of that goal comes from an ability to stay present in the moment focusing on the task needed to deliver the goal. Some call it process orientation. The concept is still the same. Focus on the task and you will achieve the result. Focus on the result and often you get overwhelmed with enormity of the challenge before you get half way there. You end up judging yourself even as you attempt to do the task which will yield the result. It is important to evaluate. The question is "When". We believe the answer is "Later". Quite simply stated, if you want something, figure out what you need to do to get it. Once your plan is in place focus on the execution of the plan - the task - and you'll have much more success getting the result.

Following on our list of examples above, a task oriented approach might look like this.

1 - Instead of trying to do 8, just do one or two and then a third, taking each one separately. If you can do 2 or 3, 8 is simply a matter of really relaxing about it and simply doing the swimming.

2 - Swim one lap breathing on the non normal side. Follow that with a lap breathing on each side, every third arm stroke. Do that one more time. You will have swum a total of 4 laps. Put that aside for the day. Come back tomorrow and repeat the drill. The third day add two more laps really focusing on the exhale and head rotation. Take as much rest as you need. When learning a new skill be patient with yourself. Give yourself permission to be imperfect.

3 - Try jump roping without the rope at first until you can master the motion, rotating your hands and wrists as if you were holding a rope. Then add in the rope. Perhaps you can only do 5 or 10 seconds before you stumble. No problem. Just do what you can. It is amazing how quickly your body will adapt if you give it a chance. Or, instead of focusing on doing a certain amount of time count your repetitions instead. Jump for 5 then 10 then 12 etc.

4 - Measure your progress in terms of halfinches or in degrees of bend if you lie on your back with a stretch cord. Work toward 90 degrees and then progress from there. Practice patience and persistence.

5 - When lifting the weight imagine a set of pulleys attached to the ceiling that someone else is pulling on and you are simply guiding the bar up and down; or that the bar has helium balloons attached to it and their job is to assist you in lifting.

6 - In the spin class focus on what you are doing all the while giving yourself a pep talk. Positive self talk is such a key to getting what you want. If you compare yourself to others you will always be frustrated because there is nearly always someone who can out perform you. Also, a very wise Tai Chi instructor is famous for saying that if you compare yourself to the person next to you, you must assume all of their "stuff" - the unpaid bills, the car in the shop, the hassles at work, etc. You don't want to go "there"!

7 - Focus on the running motion, not the top of the hill. Keep your arms moving gently and strongly at the same time. Relax your face and keep breathing rhythmically. Think of your legs and arms as the pistons in an engine or perhaps the wheels of a locomotive as it chugs along the track. Pick an image and run "to" and or "with" that in mind. Forget about the top of the hill; you will be there soon enough.

You get the idea. Give it a whirl and let us know how it works for you!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Break Out of the Box

Every now and then it is good to shake up the routine, to break out of the box as it were. We continue to challenge our swimmers and ourselves to seek new pursuits that compliment what we are trying to do in our sport that are also "outside of the box".

This weekend in northern California we had an opportunity to do just that. Several of our pool swimmers swam in the annual RCP Tiburon Mile open water swim. For many of them it was the first time they had swum in San Francisco Bay. Several overcame anxiety about being able to see the bottom. We encouraged them to do this because, in life, we often never "see the bottom" as it were.

We encourage you as well to try an open water swim. There are many every year in lakes, rivers and the bays that are near you. Pick one that has good support and safety features. The RCP Tiburon Mile had numerous chase boats, kayaks and support staff. While this swim annually features top Olympians and Open Water professionals swimming with amateurs, many of the swims in your area are less formal. That doesn't mean that they are not equally valuable to you. The value, we believe, is in the trying of something new. Each time you step outside of your own comfort zone you have the opportunity to learn new things about what works for you...both in and out of the pool!

Let us know how it goes for you!

Relaxation vs. Arousal

These two states of readiness and more accurately the balance between them is something coaches and athletes continually strive to "get right". The fascinating paradox is that what is "right" for one is rarely "right" for another. The article by Ms. Kolata in a recent NY Times edition provides some interesting insight into the age-old challenge; namely how does an athlete find her/his groove? Read the original article, "Before Hustling to Finish, Relaxed Is a Good Way to Start" to learn more.