Sunday, May 31, 2009

Redefining Effort

In our never ending quest to find techniques that will get us to our desired places quicker...and that word "quicker" is the key one...we have been talking amongst ourselves looking for better ways to train. Our primary objective in these discussions has been to make training more relevant to our swimmers in a meaningful way. We define "meaningful" in this context as training that the swimmer can see will make them stronger and faster.

So, rather than keep repeating the same old sets on the normal intervals, we have been mixing things up a bit...and not just for the sake of mixing them up. We are exploring new territory that has direct implications to more speed. We, after all, are competitive swimmers seeking more speed.

Here are two simple things you can do that will redefine effort on your part, or on the part of your swimmers.

1 - Swim with added resistance. Take this one step at a time or you may push yourself into a deep hole. You can swim 25's and 50's with parachutes. Go to your online swim shop and start with a yellow one. Or swim with ankle weights...or with tennis shoes on...or with a Clorox type bottle tethered to your ankles with a tube or band (a cut up inner tube works well). The last one is nice because you can vary the amount of resistance by filling more water into the plastic jug.

2 - Swim with a pair of soft fins. We define "soft" as anything more flexible than the traditional zoomer style fin. Big scuba fins are too big and may load up the legs and hips too much. We also have our butterflyers swim with mono fins. The idea here is to be able to swim so fast that you become aware of what real speed feels like. You also have a much greater appreciation for body position at super fast speeds. Give your self enough rest so you can swim fast and as with the resistance idea start modestly. We swim up to 100 repeats with fins.

As you redefine effort you gain a greater appreciation for exactly what is involved in preparing for faster swimming. Give this a try and let us know how it goes for you!

Monday, May 25, 2009

To Shave Off Some Time

One of the quickest ways to swim faster times in the pool, whether in meets or practice, is to work the walls more efficiently. If you watch super fast swimmers at the elite level you will notice they all turn well. While you may not swim as fast as they do you certainly can learn to take advantage of the tremendous push off of the wall. And to do so is remarkably simple.

The two main components are depth of the push off and the streamlined body position.

The "cleanest" water in the pool is between three feet and five feet under the surface. The top three feet are turbulent due to the disturbance you have created by swimming into the wall. Once you get below that turbulence you get "clean" water, i.e. more stable water you can get leverage on for moving forward again. Also, if you get deeper than five feet when you begin kicking the wave action created from your legs will bounce off the bottom. If you swim in a pool that is shallower than 7 feet you will need to adjust the depth upward accordingly. (A pool six feet deep will have an optimum underwater range of something in the 2.5 - 4 foot depth, as an example)

A way to measure this is simply push off on the surface and glide until you stop. See where you are on the lane line or side of the pool. Repeat three feet under and you will gain several inches or even a foot more distance. So push off the walls down into the clean water to gain additional distance without even swimming another stroke.

A streamlined body presents less resistance to the water and therefore allows the force used to move it further. A sports car cuts through the air much cleaner than a snow plow...forget the horsepower issue! (If you took the snow plow off the truck it would be faster!)

The three simple things to consider when streamlining your body as you push from the wall are: 1) put one hand on top of the other while gently squeezing your ears with your biceps; 2) pull your belly button up into your spine to reduce mid body sag; 3) point your toes toward the wall you just pushed off from.

If you will come off the wall in clean water (deeper down) with a streamlined body position you will travel farther with the same amount of effort. That is an excellent thing!

Let us know how it goes for you!

Quote for the Week

"Long course swimming is the truth serum of our sport"
Terry Stoddard...Head Coach Swim Pasadena

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It May Be Time To Change

We went to the races this weekend and did we ever learn some in a ton! As coaches we are a lot like teachers. If there were never any tests we wouldn't know how much the students were learning. Racing is the absolute best feedback mechanism for measuring our effectiveness as coaches and swimmers.

When we finish a training block with a series of meets that matter to the swimmers we really get a chance to evaluate our progress. When things go well it is tempting to think we have it all figured out. And conversely when they don't go well it is equally tempting to toss everything out the window and start from zero again.

As is often the case, we believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle. The additional challenge as coaches is that we must evaluate for an entire group of swimmers. The easiest way for us is to make lists...what we did well so that we keep doing those things and what we need to improve upon so we can look for solutions. We issue a "report card" to each swimmer and that gives them specifics they can work on in the context of the general workouts.

As an example, the following are two case studies from swimmers we train with a focus on the need to change what they are doing. (They do many things correctly but in the interest of space and time we will limit this discussion to the changes we want).

George (not his real name) swims the 200 and 500. He swam lifetime best times in the just concluded training block. When he races he swims with his head too high which means his body position is not as flat as we would like. Also, off each turn he pulls first with his breathing side arm which means he gets very little forward pull on the first stroke.

Solution: We will have George swim more in practice with a snorkel so he and his body learn what it feels like to swim flatter in the pool. While swimming with a snorkel he will get more aerobically fit in addition to having his correct body position reinforced. We will have him pull of each turn first with his non-breathing side arm so that his muscle memory knows that he pulls first with his left arm (non-breathing side arm) and then with his right arm (his breathing side arm). We will allow him to swim with fins for added speed assistance so he can make more challenging intervals and still swim correctly. Laps swum incorrectly are not only a waste of time; they build more poor muscle memory.

Rachel (not her real name) had a couple of tough weeks leading up to the big meets and for several reasons did not swim her best times. We think her primary event is the 200 free. She was very disappointed and frustrated. Even more critical, she has lost her confidence. She loves swimming but feels a little lost as many of her teammates had lots of success.

Solution: What we as coaches and she as the swimmer have been doing obviously is not working. It is time to admit that and find a new direction. She has excellent stroke mechanics so we don't need wholesale changes there. We are going to drop her dry land program of lifting and have her work out with a local boxing coach. This will keep her aerobic fitness level high, give her some one on one athleticism work (this coach really puts his clients through the paces in a positive no nonsense way - we already have three swimmers working with him), we will challenge her more in workouts with different sets than she usually uses (this will keep her from being able to compare too much with what she already knows about) and we will have her train with the sprint group two days a week or even three vs. the 200 group. On kicking days will have her use fins and even a snorkel occasionally so she can kick on faster intervals so she knows what it is like to move faster in the water. We also will no longer use her lifetime best times as a reference point. Rather we will use her season's best times and work from there. We don't really know if this will work. What we do know is that our current path is not working. Her confidence will grow from the work with the boxing coach and her faster swimming in workouts with fins. We may find that she needs more sprint work even though her best event is the 200. We may even discover we were wrong and her best event will be the 100 free. She also can swim fly so that may emerge as another event for her.

We encourage all coaches and swimmers to use meet performances as feedback mechanisms. Keep doing what is working well and drop that which isn't. The best coaches - measured by their effectiveness - adapt to their athletes...not the other way our opinion. What is yours?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

And the Answer Is...?

A lot of our swimmers are in the final stages of their school year and there is a round of state wide testing going on soon to be followed by final exams. Add to this the usual end of year reports and projects and it promises to be a very busy time for all student/athletes.

Oh, and did we mention that at least here in Northern California it is high school championship swim season time? Well it is! And so there are lots of excited and occasionally nervous, anxious and at times over amped athlete/students.

We thought you might have fun with this little test, even if you are no longer hitting the books as it were.

1. You are racing a 50 yard free. Would you rather be?
A) Over trained and under rested
B) Under trained and over rested

2. You are racing a 100 yard breastroke. Would you rather be?
A) Over trained and under rested
B) Under trained and over rested

3. You are racing a 500 yard free. Would you rather be?
A) Over trained and under rested
B) Under trained and over rested

4. You have a late night of studying. You will only get 6 hours of sleep. What is the best option for those precious 6 hours?
A) 10 PM - 4 AM
B) Midnight - 6 AM
C) 1 AM - 7 AM

5. If you had a choice (and you always do!) is it better to hold your breath into or out of a freestyle flip turn?

6. All things being equal which start is faster?
A) A track start with your thumbs on the top of the block for good balance
B) A track start with your back leg slightly "loaded" up
C) A start with both feet gripping the front of the block for explosiveness

7. Which of the following is the fastest part of the 100 yard freestyle event?
A) The second lap because you are still fresh
B) The first 6 yards off the turns
C) The last 6 yards to the touchpad because you are inspired

8. True or false: You want the most distance per stroke in all events from the 50 on up.

9. As soon as possible after your race you want to:
A) Find your teammates and get your picture taken
B) Find your parent(s) and have them tell you what a great swim you did
C) Find your coach and recap your swim
D) Get in the pool and loosen down

10. True or false; In butterfly you want to have a very smooth undulation from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes.

11. It is race day. Which of the following is most important to your success?
A) That you have your fastest suit available
B) That your goggles stay on the entire race
C) That you keep your focus in your lane
D) That you race the rest of the field
E) That you do your best time
F) That you swim your event correctly
G) That you negative split your swim
H) That you had a really good breakfast
I) That you felt good and had fast times in warm-ups
J) That you hit all your turns
K) That your start was really quick
L) That your coach said all the rights things to you before you swam
M) That a teammate gave you a pat on the back on the way to the blocks
N) That your Mom/Dad stood at the end of your lane cheering for you
O) That your Mom/Dad blended nicely into the background and were basically invisible
P) That you were well hydrated
Q) That the warm up pool wasn't too crowded and you could do everything just right
R) That your breathing pattern was perfect
S) That your depth on the push offs was correct
T) That you wore your shoes to the blocks (plus hat and gloves if it is cold)
U) That you had the perfect state of arousal behind the blocks
V) That you had a massage and feel relaxed but strong in the water
W) That if you have the chance to win, you grab it
X) That you were able to put aside for the day your "other stuff" (we all have other stuff)
Y) That your Coach/Mom/Dad/Boyfriend/Girlfriend loves you
Z) That you had a few good solid weeks in training with some fast times as well

Or the bonus option: That you "got lucky" and "it" all just worked out fine

12. Rate the above in importance from 1-27

Let us know what you think about our PRE-SAT test. In case you were wondering, the SAT comes when you get behind the blocks. Have fun and swim fast!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

More on Hand Position

We have been learning how to use some software about which we are very excited. Dartfish allows us to take video then watch it frame by frame and draw on it. We also are developing the ability to put voice over the video and still frames for stroke analysis.

We anticipate this tool will give us the ability to do technical stroke feedback for any swimmer who sends us video. We will have more to share as we move up the proverbial learning curve. What we know now is that we can demonstrate correct body and hand position if we have the video.

Last week in our blog we discussed hand position, specifically as it relates to forward propulsion. We said that if the knuckles are facing forward (and therefore the palms are facing backwards) your hand is in a more efficient position. We discussed how we use a drill where we pause for 3 seconds, then for 2 seconds, 1 second and then no pause (four laps total). All the time our finger tips are pointing to the bottom of the pool, knuckles facing forward.

Another drill we use is simple sculling. We use the out sweep and the in sweep to get hands in the most advantageous position. Sometimes we scull an entire lap; other times we scull maybe 3 or 4 times and then break into stroke having "warmed up" our hands to the correct position.

In the photos above, using Dartfish, we have drawn some lines to elaborate on the positions we are after. It is a shame that John Madden retired but now we are excited about having the ability to draw on the screen. We don't know enough about football to take his place but perhaps we can influence TV's coverage of swimming to include this exciting and informative aspect of our sport.

Let us know what you think. Send a quick email to as your comments help us improve our coaching. Thanks!