Sunday, October 25, 2009

Here We Go Again - Time vs. Effort

It is the beginning of the competitive swim season and all across the country, indeed the world, swimmers and their coaches are hitting the first couple of meets to see what is going on.

So, what do we see? What exactly is going on?

Coaches see swimmers doing the following:
1 - Attempting new techniques
2 - Struggling with new techniques
3 - Doing the same old routines
4 - Being dissatisfied with results
5 - Wondering if they are in shape
6 - Wondering if they are out of shape
7 - Asking familiar questions
8 - Asking new questions
9 - Eagerly trying new racing strategies
10 - Frustrated by results when using new racing strategies

You can see this list is nearly endless, or so it seems to us.

What is very clear to us however is that to improve upon previous performances, swimmers must look to gain new insights to swim more effectively. If you want to swim faster you must embrace change...and know what to change and what to keep the same but do more efficiently or effectively. The difference between these two is a subject for another time.

Today we want to reinforce the need to look at the difference between times achieved when racing and the effort or improvement achieved when racing. Our sport is wonderful in that we require zero subjective input – namely, no judge determines the outcome of a race based upon how we look while we swim. The clock tells the story, period. And this is often the bane of our existence, especially as coaches. Extended improvement occurs when new skills are learned. For the sake of simplicity we will say today that those skills fall into two categories: technique and pacing.

When you race using a different technique you are challenging your brain enormously. Old habits are tough to overcome. When you race using a different pacing strategy you are challenging your brain enormously. Old habits are tough to overcome.

No, you didn’t read that incorrectly. The brain and its wiring are extremely powerful in regards to how we swim and how we race. The same old strategies and techniques that yielded the same old results make it challenging to make change.

This is the same for all swimmers, from the slowest to the fastest. When you think of the fastest swimmers in the world they too must continually challenge their preciously held beliefs about what works and what doesn’t.

The message today is that while you are working on change focus on your effort. Time improvements occur when more effective technique blends with more efficient pacing strategies. Those two items require time for the brain to make the change and for you to become comfortable with that change.

For now, focus on improvement and let the time take care of itself. When we were in sophomore history looking at the clock, waiting for the period to end, the teacher remarked, “Time will pass, will you?”

Enough said. Enjoy your week at the pool! Let us know how it goes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hang Time

On page 94 of this month's issue of Outside Magazine Nick Heil writes an absorbing article entitled Hang Time. See if you can find it, perhaps even online. The captivating part of the article is Heil's assertion "that by moving slowly and repeatedly through complex and dynamic movements, we can rewire our minds to perform those movements more efficiently. The unfamiliar movements get the brain reacquainted with muscles that it rarely calls on (or may have stopped calling on in the wake of an injury) but that are quietly waiting in reserve."

Here at swimcoachdirect we have been reading a lot about the brain over the last six months or so. We have ideas to share with you in the coming weeks about what we are learning. This article is one of many that have been popping up in more mainstream print media lately that talk about the connection between the brain and the body. Science has learned a huge amount that is now being shared about how the human performance machine works, what causes some folks to be more efficient than others...the list is nearly mind boggling!

So, for now and for the pure fun of it follow this link and watch the five short video clips of Nick Heil in the "Lab Rat" section as he demonstrates technique on 5 very familiar exercises. What we like about them is that they are simple, can be done nearly anywhere and yet when done correctly will make a huge difference in the way your body is able to move.

So check it out at and let us know what you think. See you at the pool!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Then There is the Matter of Confidence

As US Swimming Club coaches one of the many bonuses we have is real time connectivity to a number of collegiate programs. This connection comes as a result of our swimmers who graduate high school and matriculate into college and university programs.

This week one of our swimmers sent to us an interesting article he received as a member of his school's swim team. Sport and Clinical Psychologist Scott Goldman, Ph.D. writes about the matter of confidence. In all areas of performance, not just sport, confidence plays huge role. We were particularly struck by Michael Jordan's comment that one of the big reasons for his success was his failures.

Have a great week in the water. Enjoy the article and let us know what you think!


Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Case for Surfing

There are any numbers of cross training activities that can be beneficial to swimmers. Indeed, swimming is a very favorable cross training activity for many other types of athletes! But we digress...

Many swimmers currently do some sort of dry land training which may incorporate anything from basic calisthenics at home to more detailed lifting programs in a gym to spin classes to gymnastics to yoga to tai chi and other forms of martial arts to boxing. The list is nearly endless.

If the activity does any of the following it probably has merit:
Promotes basic strength
Develops any type of core muscles
Has any cardio element to it
Safely promotes risk taking

We know lots of swimmers who bike, run, hike, rock climb and box in addition to the more standard (still enormously beneficial) weight lifting.

Here in northern California we have some on our team who love to surf. This option is not available in many locales but for those who have access we would ask you to consider it. We even go as far as giving those who surf a regular pool workout off so long as they go to the ocean.

In our minds surfing has excellent value. It is water based and as such it still places a premium on figuring out how your body works best in the water. It often demands super strength in the upper body to get the board out into position. When you catch the wave it presents all sorts of timing issues which is great for swimmers working on coordination in the water. Then when you stand up on the board all sorts of core muscles are being recruited.

Perhaps the quality we like best though is the one involving choice and risk. Every day the ocean is different such that you never really know if what you expect is what you will find. That is very much like many swim workouts and never really know what you are up against until you engage. The icing on the cake in surfing is that once you are there and get a "read" on the scene it still changes! One minute you are looking at riding 4 footers and then along comes a 6 or 7 footer and everything immediately and without warning changes. If you look over your shoulder expecting a 4 footer and are faced with a 6 or 7 footer you are faced with a decision that must be made NOW. Are you willing to attempt riding it? And if so, what do you need to do to be successful?

Competitive swimmers often face instantaneous decision making. How well you respond often determines how successful you are. You had a great prelim swim and now you are in the finals - often unexpectedly. You are racing a well known competitor and suddenly she/he makes a move that is not expected thereby catching you off guard. How will you react and how well will you handle the unknown?

To our way of thinking, surfing presents you with a chance to practice all these skills. For that reason alone it is a favorite cross training activity in our book. If you have ever surfed and have a story to tell, let us know. We would love to share it with the swimcoachdirect community. Have a great week!