Sunday, December 26, 2010

What We Want for the New Year

“We take all the action we can meet
And we cover all the northeast state
When the strip shuts down we run ‘em in the street
From the fire roads to the interstate
Some guys they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece,
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin’ in the street.”

Racing In The Street - Bruce Springsteen

Sunday, December 19, 2010

So Simple, So Effective

You may remember Terry Stoddard from a blog a year or so ago about the difference between being disappointed and being discouraged. Terry coaches the Pasadena Swim Association US Swimming club team. We are in Long Beach this weekend so we had a chance to chat with him while competing at the Speedo Sectional Championships.

We were comparing notes about how we began our training block back in late August which is culminating for many swimmers right now. We found his comments and approach refreshingly straightforward, simple and - if done correctly - very effective.

He said he began the season with a 5 week block that focused for one week on each of the following 5 topics. His contention is that if his swimmers could master these 5 things they would improve dramatically.

They are as follows:
1 - head position
2 - body position
3 - kicking
4 - pull pattern
5 - breathing pattern

You may not agree with his 5 or the order of importance but we think if you will pick a manageable number of focal points and drill those until they are second nature you will be well served. We see far too many swimmers striving valiantly with easily correctable bio-mechanical flaws. None of us are "perfect" in the sense that our way is "best". The object is not to be "right". The task as coaches is to impart what we know to our swimmers so they can use it to be more effective and faster. Our goal is to make certain that what we are imparting to them is correct...and then to do it in such a way as to make a difference in their performance.

Have a safe, happy and healthy holiday season. Keep coming to the pool and keep smiling...and keep your head down!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What is "Pain" Anyway?

There is a distinct difference between the pain of an injury and the discomfort (pain) that comes from exerting yourself while exercising. In the athletic world these two are often lumped together - unfortunately. We hear phrases such as "play through the pain" and "you can heal in the off season" and it makes us cringe.

When you feel your body sending you a signal that you are injuring yourself you need to listen or you might not play again for quite a while.

Today we are interested in an athlete's reaction to the other kind of "pain", the one that comes from exercising, often strenuously, in an effort to improve her/his game.

You build your body's ability to do work by - well, working. Some folks say "you have to work hard" to get anywhere. We don't like the word "hard" since it often has negative connotations. We encourage you to look for a more accurate way to express what you are doing - perhaps "challenging" or "rigorously" would do the trick. The idea here is to get away from the negative when it comes to working out strenuously so as to improve your body's ability to deliver a higher level of output.

When you push yourself you either work aerobically or anaerobically, or both. When you do so vigorously, pushing to previous limits, or beyond, your body sends signals to your brain which in turn sends signals back to your body to "give me a break". This is the "pain" of exercise. If you are either an athlete getting better or an active person working to stay fit this "pain" is indeed a good thing to experience. It is the best verification you can get that you are making a difference right now! We encourage you to embrace it!

How do you do that? Well, if you change your "comfort zone" as regards "pain" tolerance you will end of welcoming this discomfort rather than dreading and or avoiding it. Superior athletes welcome the distress that comes from training. The "regular" person (what a misnomer, none of us is regular!) who simply enjoys working out likes the discomfort now and then as well. Both know this signal is a sign of good things happening...and good things won't happen without it!
So, figure out how to search for, embrace and relish the "pain" of exercise. It is a key ingredient to your athletic improvement and a long and healthy life as well (ultimately way more important!).

Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Really good things happen when you do this.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Life’s Wonderful Surprises

This one’s for all you coaches and parents out there…an early Christmas present of sorts. Those darned kids, what are you going to do with them.

In the swimming world in the United States, December marks the “unofficial” end of the short course season. We say “unofficial” because while US Swimming wants us to focus on long course training and racing from January through August the reality tells a different story. Many regions in the country have high school seasons that are winter or spring. College swimming is a winter sport with their championships in March so there is a ton of short course swimming in that arena still to come. But, most teams look for a meet or two in December to “peak” for, something to validate all the training that has gone on since late August/early September.

And that is what we live for; the racing. Training is fun and stimulating and all that malarkey but racing is where it’s at! This weekend provided us with two classic examples of why our sport is so fulfilling…a couple of nice gems if you will.

The first took place here in Northern California at the local Junior Olympic meet. Our (North Bay Aquatics) 13-14 boys had two 200 yard medley relays entered. As race time neared we were missing one backstroker. It was five minutes to start time and still no backstroker. So we made an adjustment. We took the “B” team backstroker and put him on the “A” relay. The remaining three guys from the “B” team became the cheerleading group for the “A” team. The 13 year old handled his leg well – we were around 6th in the final heat - against many bigger 14 year olds. Our breaststroker put us almost to 4th; our flyer swam lights out and gave the freestyler the lead which he never relinquished. Those guys finished 1st when ten minutes before race time a bit of chaos was developing. Talk about a turn around. And while the three who missed a chance to race were no doubt disappointed all seven were pretty darned pumped!

The second took place at a big college invitational in Texas where one of our club swimmers was racing as a member of her college swim team. (Notice as coaches how possessive we are; what are you going to do with us?) This young lady has been chasing a sub 2 minute 200 fly for two years. Not anymore. This was her text last night, “1:59.7 – 27, 30.8, 30.4, 30.9 – no death, 14 kicks under last lap.” We texted back our congratulations and her final comment was the “a ha” moment every coach lives for, “Thanks, I’m happy but I know there’s a lot more I can do. It’s a good feeling!” Priceless in our estimation.

So, for all you parents and coaches out there, keep doing what you are doing for those youngsters in your sphere of influence. You will be rewarded – that much in life is certain!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jim Tracy – A Coach for All Seasons

60 year old Jim Tracy coaches cross country at San Francisco’s University High School. We are going to make it a priority of ours to meet him personally before too long since we live so close.

SF Chronicle High School Sports writer Mitch Stephens introduced Tracy to those of us who never knew about him in his November 23rd column “Coach enjoying wins while he can”.

Jim Tracy has ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no known cure at this time. That is not deterring him from his passion; “I’ll coach as long as they’ll have me – as long as I can keep making a difference.”

If you are/were lucky to have a coach (or teacher for that matter) in your life that cared enough to “keep making a difference” we think you are/were lucky enough. Period!

Tracy’s coaching philosophy is “brutally honest and direct”…we like it a whole lot: “1- Show up; 2- Keep improving; 3- Enjoy what you do”. Like many things that have a great impact in our lives it is quite simple…all the verbiage boiled down to the basics. We have reminded our swimmers often this week that since they are at the pool, they have shown up; next we challenge them to improve.

We especially liked his comment about winning; “One thing I’ll never apologize for is winning. The way I see it, if someone is going to win, it might as well be us.”

In case you were wondering, his University High teams – boys and girls – have won 32 North Coast Section titles since 1993, the most of any school in any sport. They are also tied for the most state crowns in any division in California.

For you coaches out there, listen to what one of his athletes has to say about Tracy; “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had in any sport because he knows so much, he gives great individual instruction and he’s incredibly fair.”

Enough said for this week.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It’s All About Team

Our North Bay Aquatics team had a visit from Ed Spencer who is on the National Team Staff at US Swimming. He shared with us the value of “Team” as it relates to working with the Nation Team at US Swimming. When a National Team, such as the Olympic Team, is chosen, the first and foremost task of the coaches and managers is to “bond” the swimmers together into a “team” so that each individual swimmer will know they matter, that their performance and actions in support of their teammates counts. Relays are obvious extensions of the team but so too are the individual actions of each member so that all members know they have value and “matter” to each of the others. The following came across our desk this week and we think it speaks directly to this matter…that teams come first and when they do, individuals have success beyond what they could have done on their own.

What sets a successful organization apart from its competitors? You can bet having a successful team is at the foundation of the answer.

• Are you putting your team first?
• Do your team members really understand your overall vision?
• Do team members know what is expected of them?
• How can each team member contribute most effectively?
• What constants hold the team together?

John Murphy's book, Pulling Together...The Ten Rules for High Performance Teams will help you answer these questions...and an easy-to-read format that will give you the tools you need for success, John is a highly recognized author (seven books), speaker and management consultant who has helped some of the world's leading organizations create environments that value and reward teamwork.

Today, I'd like to share an excerpt from John's book entitled "Rule #1 - Put the Team First."

An Excerpt From
 Pulling Together
 by John Murphy

At the center of every high performance team is a common purpose-a mission that rises above and beyond each of the individual team members. To be successful, the team's interests and needs come first. This requires "we-opic" vision (What's in it for we?), a challenging step up from the common "me-opic" mindset.

Effective team players understand that personal issues and personality differences are secondary to team demands. This does not mean abandoning who you are or giving up your individuality. On the contrary, it means sharing your unique strengths and differences to move the team forward. It is this "we-opic" focus and vision-this cooperation of collective capability-that empowers a team and generates synergy, the power of teamwork.

Cooperation means working together for mutual gain-sharing responsibility for success and failure and covering for one another on a moment's notice. It does not mean competing with one another at the team's expense, withholding important data or information to "one-up" your peers, or submitting to groupthink by going along, so as not to make waves. These are rule breakers that are direct contradictions to the team-first mindset.

High performance teams recognize that it takes a joint effort to synergize, generating power above and beyond the collected individuals. It is with this spirit of cooperation that effective teams learn to capitalize on individual strengths and offset individual weaknesses, using diversity as an advantage.

Effective teams also understand the importance of establishing cooperative systems, structures, metrics, incentives and rewards. We get what we inspect, not what we expect. Think about it. Do you have team job descriptions, team performance reviews and team reward systems? Do you recognize people by pitting them against standards of excellence, or one another? What are you doing to cultivate a team-first, cooperative environment in this competitive, "me-opic" world?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It is Never Too Late to Start

We thank fellow Masters swimmer James Collins for sharing this excellent article. If this won’t inspire you – or someone you know! – into action well, then we guess we will have to try another approach. We find it interesting that all over the world folks are getting motivated to “do something with their life”. We also find it instructive that the impetus so often comes from a friend or colleague who pulls, pushes or otherwise moves a person in need off of dead center. Thanks James and we will see you at the pool very soon!

Training for Ironman Triathlons at Age 70

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Short and Sweet

"Good Judgment Comes From Experience

Experience Comes From Bad Judgment"

Mark Twain...wiser than most and certainly more adept at expressing his ideas...

Perhaps a good goal for us as athletes, coaches, parents and supporters of same would be to garner as much good judgment while making as little an impact as possible while gathering it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lots of Truth in Here

"What is the use of climbing Mount Everest? My answer must at once be, "It is no use." There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possible medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for."

- George Leigh Mallory, one of the English mountaineers who took part in a British expedition to Mount Everest in 1924

Coach Allan Kopel shared this with us. It came to him from a runner he is helping be more proficient in the water.

David Winters, who coaches with us at North Bay Aquatics, observed a few months back that swimming is not extra-curricular but rather co-curricular. When viewed this way, the pursuit of personal success seems rather worthwhile regardless of the outcome.

Larry Fulton, a local basketball coach and trainer we know, said he thought swimmers, runners and rowers (and we add tri-athletes) are the toughest and smartest athletes around since they work so hard without compromise in a very exposed way; they get no rest break; they either keep going and succeed...or they don't.

Lots to think about here...seems to us. What say you?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Connecting the Dots

We have our senior team training really well right now preparing for the November “mid-term” meet which comes up in three weeks. As coaches we always strive to get the swimmers to see how things they do in practice relate to results in meets. We refer to this as “connecting the dots”.

We came up with a simple explanation that seems to be taking hold, having a positive effect if you will. We tell swimmers that “you race like you train, so train like you want to race.” We apologize to the English teachers out there for the grammar. Having said that, this rather simple statement is having an effect. We had a tri meet last Saturday and our finishes are much better. We have been emphasizing that recently…no breathing at the end of free and fly races.

We have also been talking about turns…turning at the same speed you are swimming, as opposed to relaxing through the walls. In this last meet we saw that we need to be better at this in the later stages of the race. We had a number of swimmers who turned well at the 25 and even the 50 wall in their 100’s but really coasted into the 75 wall. It is as if they were taking a short pause in their effort while readying themselves for the last lap and the finish from the 7 or 8 yard mark to the touch pad. So we need to fix that…and we will.

It is really simple sometimes and as coaches we tend to make things a little too complex now and then. Football coaches talk about the fundamentals of blocking and tackling; basketball coaches talk about getting in position for the rebound; swim coaches talk at length about the importance of the start and the turns.

Effective coaches are able to communicate the essentials to their athletes in such a way that those same athletes learn the value of the skill(s) and then make it habit. We are willing to bet a large amount of money that Ryan Lochte spends a lot of time underwater off turns in practice whether he is swimming easily or going for it. He is more than someone who turns really well. Indeed, he is an underwater phenom who to no one’s surprise crushes opponents on the turns. He wasn’t born that way. Neither was Natalie Coughlin. They both learned the value of it and then learned how to do it. It is a skill that is now part of who they are in the water.

What do you want to change in your game? How are you going to do it? Find the dots then connect them. Pretty darn simple…

Sunday, October 17, 2010

To Reward Yourself or Jumpstart Your Next Cycle

Every now and then it is good to take a small step back and see what you are up to…and we mean this in the most positive way. Sometimes we forget just how much energy it takes to do what we do, making the sacrifices to train the way we do. Or perhaps you feel like you are in a rut simply grinding out the same routine day after day, week after week. If either of these feelings describes what you are sensing lately then here is an idea. Try it on for size; it may be just what you needed.

Look around at what other events might be available to you that could work as a reward or a challenge…or both. This event could be in your sport or even outside your sport but part of a cross training regimen.

We had over 60 swimmers from our North Bay Aquatics team, both youngsters and Masters, compete this weekend in the RCP Tiburon Mile. For some it was a first time open water event in the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay. The event begins at the ferry terminal in the town of Tiburon, CA. Swimmers ride over to Angel Island, line up on the beach for the start and then race or swim (we had both types of swimmers) back to town. Water temps were mild for the Bay – 63 degrees. There was a flood current so swimming in a straight line was not really a consideration. For many of our group being part of a 600 plus mass start was invigorating, intimidating or both. And that is part of our point here. Do something a little outside of your comfort zone and you get to explore yourself while having the time of your life – OK, maybe we are exaggerating a little

If you are a veteran of open water swims perhaps you could sign up for a pool meet just to see what the other side of your sport looks like. Or you could find a tri or biathlon to mix some variety into your game.

You already know how we feel about surfing. We will add a note of caution here, be safe and surf with a buddy.
We even have one of our young women who is in a boxing match this weekend…for real! We have had several of our swimmers who love boxing as a cross training vehicle who have gotten ready for actually stepping into the ring to see what real contact is like.

As winter time approaches and seasons begin to wind down it is a good time to look ahead and plan something for early in the New Year to keep yourself focused on why you train so diligently. For some it is all about the competition. For most it is all about the lifestyle. Whatever your reason we recommend rewarding and or jumpstarting yourself by stepping slightly outside of the proverbial box.

Let us know what adventure you choose!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Revisiting Cycles

This may be a little remedial for some of you but it has been a while since we wrote about cycles in training. At the very least we hope it will give all of you pause about what works - or doesn't - for you. It matters not if you are a part time fitness swimmer or a full time Masters, YMCA or US Swimmer.

What does indeed matter is that you remember you are not best served by going full bore every time you train. Your body recovers and actually gets stronger during the rest phase. Weeks can have cycles, months or seasons can have cycles and even Olympians look at four year cycles. If you are feeling a little beat up you may want to consider changing your cycle.

Here at North Bay Aquatics our Senior team trainers have a weekly cycle that looks like this.

Dry land training is M/W/F for 75 minutes in the morning before school.

Swim training in the morning for 75 minutes is on T/Th before school. It is dedicated
to specific stroke work issues including underwater work.

Additionally, distance swimmers train Wednesday for 75 minutes before school doing longer swims, grooving their strokes while working negative splitting with heart rates in the 140-160 range.

In the afternoons we swim from 5-7 and they look like this.

M/W are full tilt stress days specific to the events that are primary for each swimmer. We have a sprint group with emphasis on 50's and 100's. We have a breaststroke group. We have a 200 group and we have 500, 1000, 1650 group.

Tuesday we have a team meeting for 30-60 minutes often with a special guest presenter. Then we swim 25's and 50's stroke work. This is a total recovery workout. No one's heart rate is elevated.

Thursday is what we call a "light aerobic" day where we swim about 30 minutes with heart rates in the 140-160 range.

Friday is a 90 minute recovery, again stroke work.

Saturday is a 2+ hour long course workout with split groups along the lines of M/W. This is a full tilt stress session as well.

We film every swimmer on T/F so they can see what they are doing from a different vantage point.

So when you look at the big picture we have 8 swims available and 3 dry lands. It is the rare week when anyone can make all 11 sessions due to school demands etc. Having said that, each swimmer knows when the dial gets turned up and when it is turned down. The great thing about this is that each session has a stated specific purpose. Some sessions it is challenging physical work, other ones it is specific muscle group work (dry land) while still other workouts are very specific stroke issues; muscle memory, building myelin wraps.

When do we kick? We kick on M/W/Th/S. The underwater specialists kick with fins, monofins and regular "bare" feet on those days as well as T/Th mornings. We occasionally kick with tennis shoes on as well.

We are very happy with our cycle right now. Our team is swimming faster in workout each week and they have to swim faster on Thursday to get their heart rates to indication of cardiovascular fitness. They all feel empowered. They have a huge amount of confidence. We had a pre-season meet a couple of weeks ago and they could see the results of their training. We have another one this coming weekend and we will have more of the same.

This cycle will change a little as we get closer to the "peak" meet season in December. The basics will remain the same. 8 pool sessions will have no more than 3 stress workouts. The closer we get to the big meet in December the less we will be doing on the stress days.

We encourage you, no matter your level of interest to consider what kind of cycle you can adopt so that your training levels get more advanced. It is truly a self confidence booster when you know without a doubt that you are becoming more capable or faster or fitter...or all three!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Burn Up Those Legs & Arms

Here's a set we had fun with last week. Take this out for a spin and let us know what you think!

After you get yourself warmed up with 1000 - 1500 there are two sets.

Set 1:
1x200 swim negative split (2nd 100 faster than the first)
4x25 kick fast / .40 (pick whatever interval gives you 15 seconds or so rest)
1x200 swim neg split
3x25 kick fast/same interval as above
1x200 swim neg split
2x25 kick fast/ same as above
1x200 swim neg split
1x25 kick fast
Swim an easy 100

Set 2: you will want some drag device like a parachute, small inner tube, a tethered plastic jug you can fill with a little water, ankle weights (go lightly at first) - you get the idea. You also will want a pull buoy. We recommend a snorkel on the 50's.

1x50/ scull lap one, swim lap two: with pull buoy and drag device
4x100 swim (no toys - snorkel OK) burn up the last lap - interval = 15 seconds rest
1x50/ as above
3x100 swim as above - be sure to blast lap 4
1x50/ as above
2x100 swim as above
1x50/ as above
1x100 swim as above

Cool down with 300 or so

Make sure you blast the 25's kicking and the last lap of the 100 swims and we think you will feel pretty darn good about your workout. Let us know and or share a good one with us!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Two Very Cool Guys

We speak often in these pages about the value of sharing – sharing our wisdom, our experience, and our perspective – so that others may gain an insight into how to practice their craft. We had the opportunity this last week to have Mike McCarthy speak to our senior team on process. Mike was a member of the US Olympic Cycling Team in 1988 and 1996. Our kids ate up his presentation since it came from “one of them”…not another coach☺. He explained that his belief centered on needing the 3 “P’s” – Psychology, Physiology and Passion. He felt you could get by, do OK with any two but to reach your personal best results you are better served with all three. He was also very clear about the value of Passion. With it, the sky is pretty much the limit; without it – well not so much.

Paul Lundgren swims with us rarely but is a kindred spirit. He always gives warmly and freely from his vast pool (pun partially intended) of knowledge on a wide variety of subjects near and dear to our hearts. Learn more about Paul at His article below gives you an insight into his Passion.

Thanks to both Mike and Paul for enriching our lives this week – and forever!

Swimming in the Wild

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Might Seem Like Rocket Science But Is It Really?

How to actually get faster at swimming can get terribly complicated when you look at all the factors involved. The list includes – but is not limited to – body position, strength of a multitude of muscles, coordination of those muscles, flexibility to use those muscles, training regimen, health, nutrition, sleep, staying injury free, dealing with injuries (all athletes have them), race planning, execution on race day, finding a coach who can help, finding a coach who will listen, being mentally tough, being emotionally sound…you get the idea. It all can seem overwhelming at times.

But is it really that complicated?

We give you the tale of two swimmers who have very different events. Each of these women is after the same thing – excellence. Each of these women has different challenges. In our minds however, by looking at the challenge – the goal – it seems rather basic. At the very least the main factor(s) for each is straightforward.

Sasza is a collegiate sprinter. Tyler is a professional Triathlete. Sasza has a spinal disc challenge. Tyler is a world class cyclist and runner. They are very different as is each person. They are very similar in that their quest is a high level one. Sasza has been 50.5 in the 100 yard free and wants to go 49.5. Tyler has won several international events and wants to win this year’s Ironman in Hawaii on October 9th.

At the risk of oversimplifying Sasza needs to be at her best for less than 50 seconds while Tyler needs to swim 2.4 miles in the ocean without using very much energy so she can ride 112 miles on her bike and then run a marathon (26.2 miles).

So how do we assess what each swimmer needs? We look at the task, find the critical elements relative to where each swimmer is today and then develop a training regimen that addresses those needs. Pretty simple from where we sit☺.

Sasza takes about 16 strokes per lap so figuring the dive lap at 12 or so she needs to be able to go full bore for 60 strokes on a total body energy basis but only 30 for each arm. She also needs an incredibly strong core to support her back. Her start will be critical as well as her turn speed and push off strength from the three walls.

Tyler needs completely different things. Her main skill to work on is body position. The less resistance she offers the water the faster and easier she will swim 2.4 miles. She needs to raise her head pretty regularly to keep her sight lines but do it in such a way as to minimize the impact on body position. Her core is very strong yet she needs to connect it to her feet to keep her lower body in line with her hips and torso.

Both women need sound biomechanics so their strokes are efficient. Sasza needs a higher tempo for a much shorter duration than does Tyler. So if you were the coach for each of these women how would you design their training?

At the risk of oversimplifying we offer this snapshot. Sasza needs lots of easy laps with perfect body position and stroke technique – she needs myelin wraps. She also needs a ton of dry land including Pilates. She needs as much high intensity speed work in the pool as she can tolerate. She needs a ton of leg strength work plus as much explosive work with her legs as her back can handle. She doesn’t need any real aerobic work.

Tyler also needs a ton of core work to be able to maintain body position for 2.4 miles. She needs stroke work as well – she needs myelin wraps. Dropped elbows will be a major deficiency for her. She needs very little speed work compared to Sasza. She needs more of the speed play or fartlek type of training plus lots of smooth “steady as she goes” swimming to groove her stroke.

Tyler needs to be efficient and still be able to race for hours after her swim. Sasza has to figure out how to empty her tank precisely at the 49 second mark. Anything left over has been wasted.

This is why swimming is so intriguing to us. The racing options are as varied as the swimmers themselves. We encourage you to boil down your goals to the basics, saving the more complex issues for the rocket scientists.

It could even be as basic as setting your alarm so you actually get to the pool! See you there soon!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Example of the Power of Sharing

Jim Sugar is on our Masters team. He is a videographer and photographer who has been captured by the power of the pool. He shared the article below with us this week. It is written by Tony Schwartz on 8-24-10 and found in the Harvard Business Review. We liked it so much that it is the focus of our team meeting this Tuesday. See you at the pool!

Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything

by Tony Schwartz

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Our body adapts to stress - gets stronger - during periods of recovery. Athletes tend to push themselves, always testing limits. We find this to be the case regardless of age. Show us a motivated swimmer and we'll show you one who 9 times out of 10 is over trained and under rested.

You can get away with this for quite some time, especially if you are generally healthy and well nourished. But know this for certain, at some point you reach a stage of diminishing returns.

We see it in our Masters group as well. Often adults use physical exertion to balance and relieve the stress of mental effort. A really good workout relaxes you from the workday stress while improving your fitness level. That is an excellent reason to workout!

Yet, if you find yourself exhibiting any of the following symptoms you may need a day or even two off:
1 - Hard to get out of bed in the morning
2 - Once you get out of bed you still feel sluggish, like you are dragging around
3 - Your early morning pulse rate is elevated 8-10%
4 - You feel achy, flu like
5 - Your swim (or bike or run) times are off noticeably
6 - Your motivation seems to be slipping a little
7 - You are cranky in general
8 - Your body weight is dropping even though you are eating the same
9 - You are trying harder and going slower

You get the idea we are certain. These types of effects suggest that you are nearing or actually in the "Zone of Failing Adaptation". This means that your body is not getting stronger between workouts but actually is still breaking down. And this is not a good thing.

We have seen swimmers who push themselves while in this "Zone". The result is usually a lost season or if you are lucky only part of a season. In our Senior training group - the kids heading for Sectional/State and National meets - we have 11 workouts each week. They look like this: 3 in the weight room and 8 in the pool. It is a rare week when anyone makes all 11. Of the 8 swimming sessions only 3 are listed as "Stress" workouts with an additional 1 listed as "Aerobic". The other 4 are for drill work, pacing skills etc. When we get closer to a December Peak Meet we will drop all those numbers significantly. If anyone shows signs of weakness we will limit their attendance immediately until we see signs of life again.

Our Masters swimmers have workout opportunities 7 days a week. Even if they could figure out how to come 7 days we are pretty sure they would soon find a need for skipping one or just showing up and swimming easy for 20-30 minutes and getting out.

You do not get stronger and faster unless you push yourself. You do not get stronger and faster unless you rest between stress sessions. You can still swim but change your focus to technique and don't even count the laps or yards.

Remember this: when you find yourself in a hole, put the shovel down and stop digging or the hole will get deeper!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Couple of Sets to Keep Things Interesting

Last Saturday at our Masters training session we offered two different formats. The first is more aerobically focused while the second is more anaerobically based.

We warmed up with a basic 200 pull, kick, and swim. Then we swam 300 yards every 3rd lap half way under water. This was followed by 6 X 75's where we kicked the first lap and swam the 2nd and 3rd laps. We also asked each swimmer to stop after the 2nd lap and do a pull out on the edge of the is basically an assisted (water helps make you lighter at the beginning of the press out) pull up.

Then we split into two separate groups. Everyone - we are pretty sure - enjoyed themselves and the challenges offered. Give one or both (we recommend separate days) a try and let us know what you think...better yet, share a favorite set of yours. We'll put it out there for the entire community to try!

The two sets of 4 rounds above the line are for the aerobic folks. The one set below the line are for you sprinters and or folks just getting started. Have fun!

4 Rounds...choose your own interval, be as ambitious as you want

1x200 neg split (2nd 100 faster than the 1st 100)
1x100 neg split...and faster than last of the 100
1x50 ez recovery
Total set = 1600
4 Rounds...choose your own interval

1x100 build to 75% (then 80%, 85%, 90%)
4x25 taking 3 breaths at each wall at 75% (2nd round 80%, 85%, 90%)
1x50 ez recovery
Total set = 1000


3 Rounds...every swim is on the one minute interval except the last 100
Round #1 effort = 80%, #2 effort = 85%, #3 effort = 90%

1x50 with 15 yards effort
1x25 ez

1x50 with 25 yards effort
1x25 ez

1x50 with 35 yards effort
1x25 ez

1x50 entire swim at effort
1x25 ez

1x100 recovery SAS - Smooth As Silk

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Time vs. Effort or Time + Effort

The big meets for the summer are just about done. The last of the summer championships are in the books. We know there are still several big "end of season" triathlons still on the books but in general things are beginning to wind down.

What we do, especially at this time of year, is to think about things we learned from observing our team perform at the big meets. We add to that what we learned watching other swimmers in the same setting. We have been asking coaches for tips. One very nice thing about American swimming is that coaches seem willing to share ideas about what works and what doesn' least in their situations. So here are some of the observations we have made. We'd love to hear from you about yours. Sharing is a wonderful of getting better.

Jim Bauman, the US Swimming Sports Psychologist, encourages athletes to "make sure your autopilot is engaged" when it comes to being able to perform at big meets.

In butterfly we saw Tyler McGill breathe every stroke for about 90 meters and then none at all for the last 10 meters. We also saw Michael Phelps take 17 strokes per lap - talk about distance per stroke.

Larry Liebowitz who coaches women at Oregon State turned us on to tabata training. Look it up on the web and or You Tube. He also said he has been collecting old "retired" fire hoses which are free instead of having to purchase heavy ropes.

Nort Thornton said he had recently seen an older interview with Popov who said the three things he kept thinking about were "rhythm, range and relaxation".

Several coaches spoke about Matt Fitzgerald's new book "Run".

John Dussliere who coaches the Santa Barbara Swim Club said since he has put his kids on jump ropes his shoulders problems have vanished. He also mentioned a good book, "Evolve Your Brain". He has developed a monster drag chute that seems very interesting. Watch for news about that.

David Marsh talked about how important his Masters group was to his Youth swim a variety of ways from fund raising to development of additional coaches. He is speaking on this topic at the ASCA World Clinic.

And then this gem, from Theo St. Francis, a sophomore who swims for North Bay Aquatics. We were talking about the upcoming season and how many workouts each week he would be able to make given his school schedule and his commute. He had big improvements in his backstroke this year and can now "see" making his Junior National cuts. We said to some degree it matters how many sessions you make but it is even more important to put your best effort forward when you do train. He responded nearly instantaneously, "If I'm going to put in the time I might as well put in the effort". Truer words have never been spoken. It made us think about how many athletes - and coaches - put in the time but not the effort. And how many put in the effort but not enough time to really make a difference. It is definitely the combination that makes the difference. Put in the time plus the effort and you will get the results...especially if your auto pilot is engaged.

See you at the pool!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Every Race

If you are a competitive swimmer or tri-athlete you probably have been racing this summer. We have been to many meets and watched maybe close to 1,000 swims in which our swimmers have raced.

One of the things we have observed is that each and every single swim is an opportunity to learn something. It always is; never fails.

This is true regardless of the time posted or the place achieved.

If you are interested in becoming more proficient at what you do you need to realize this as a given. The trick of course is to then determine what you are going to do with the information.

To be able to get at the information – and we mean really access the information – you must get past the emotion of the race. Emotions are part of the mix; always will be. You are perhaps elated or disappointed or embarrassed. It makes no difference and that is OK.

You can use the emotion to fuel your desire to learn. If you raced well and are super pumped, use that excitement to your advantage. If you underperformed then likewise use that to get energized about fixing some “stuff”.

What we are driving at today is that unless you use the information that is always available you have wasted another opportunity to learn about your craft.

Those who improve do so because they use what they learn and get smarter at figuring out how to perform their best when it counts the most.

The process of learning and then using the knowledge is absolutely what fires our engines as coaches. It really is pretty darn simple, not always easy, but worth every single early morning wake up call!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Controlling the Outcome of a Race

We were in Irvine, CA last week at the US Nationals where all the top racers in the country were vying for spots on upcoming National Teams. Initially they were racing to make the Pan Pacific National Team which is competing in Irvine later in August. Additionally, spots on the US World Championship Team next summer are up for consideration as are places on the World University Games. So you get the picture; there was a lot a stake. To no one's surprise there were some excellent races as all finishes in the top eight counted. Who knows, there may have even been a couple of places in the B final that will get selection officials attention. We watched riveted to the action.

Swimmers at all levels have had the experience of having a particularly excellent race where they knew, or fairly certainly knew, they controlled the outcome of a race. One of our swimmers said when talking about Michael Phelps' 200 Free final that 'I can't imagine having control of a race like that". She was referring to the way that Phelps answered Ryan Lochte's challenge off the third wall. Phelps was in the lead with Lochte in close pursuit throughout the early going. Lochte made a move coming into the turn at the 150 actually touching .01 ahead of Phelps. He - Lochte - kept the heat on actually opening a half stroke lead by the 180 meter mark. It was at that point that Phelps hit another gear and at the 192 mark you could tell that he had set up the final 4 strokes so he would hit the wall exactly at the end of his recovery - and just in front of the furious pursuit of Lochte. The margin between the two was about 3 inches and yet you could see that with about four strokes remaining Phelps had set the finish up perfectly.

That is what our swimmer was referring to in her comments about being in control of the outcome of a race. When we see the most accomplished in any field perform at their highest level we simply take for granted that we could never be so equally capable. And yet the exact opposite is true. Most swimmers, indeed all swimmers at a National Championship meet, have experienced this happening. Our swimmer had just done the very same thing 10 days earlier at Sectionals. They have been on the giving and receiving end. If more swimmers gave themselves more credit then they would also be in "the thick of it" when it comes to competing at ever increasing higher levels.

This is the best part of the swimming experience. When we learn the skill of "controlling the outcome of the race" we actually can transfer that skill set to any phase of our life in which we wish to use it! Think about that one for a minute or two...while you are swimming next time

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Handling Disappointment from the Parent’s Side

One of the absolute toughest roles in the sporting experience is that of being an athlete’s parent. For the most part a parent wants only success for his/her daughter/son. The role the parent plays changes as the athlete gets older and more experienced. Imagine Michael Phelps’s Mom’s role over the years. As a swim parent you go through several levels as the swimmer grows up both chronologically and experience wise.

An 8 year old needs to be transported to practice even encouraged to go on many days. They need suits and goggles picked out and purchased. Events at meets need to be chosen and then entered (and paid for). Driving to the meet, feeding, handling the towels and all the logistics fall in your lap. In many ways all the 8 year old does is swim the race and you as parent pretty much do all the rest. The coach plays a role here but in reality probably much less of a role than she/he thinks. The overall focus here is FUN. Make swimming and racing fun and the little ones will keep coming back for more.

If a swim doesn’t turn out exactly how the swimmer wanted it to (and keep in mind that many of them have no real idea how they want it to turn out) as a parent you MUST hide your disappointment. Remind the swimmer they have lots more races and things will change for the better. For the young ones this is true beyond a doubt.

As the swimmer gets older they can start to connect the dots between effort put in to practice and results achieved in meets. They can begin to pick events they choose – not the ones you have chosen for them…remember they do the swimming. If you really think they should swim a 500 but they prefer the 100 perhaps you need to join a Masters team and enter a 500, you know, to sort of get it out of your system☺.

And remember, as they get older and start to distance themselves from you, you must still hide your disappointment when they do not perform up to their and or your levels of expectation.

Trust us on this one point if on no other. No matter what your relationship is with your swimmer, as a parent they so much want your approval, especially when things are going tough for them; and every swimmer on the planet has down cycles. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team as a sophomore. As a pro, he was trusted to take the game winning shot and failed 26 times in his career. He got over it. Your swimmer will get over his/her slow swim; they may never get over the look of disappointment on your face after a tough race. Show and give love and support and you will win another day, sooner than later. You MUST hide your disappointment.

Not long ago we were coaching at the local Junior Olympic long course meet. We observed a young man in the 15-16 age group racing the 1500 meter swim. His Dad was counting for him. After about 300 meters it was obvious – at least to the Dad by his body language – the swim was not going particularly well. At about 600 meters the volume in the Dad’s voice came up 20 or so decibels and had a decidedly critical tone to it. As the swimmer came into the turn Dad was furiously shaking the counter up and down and yelling “Kick harder, come on kick harder”. We wondered if the swimmer could read the counter since it was moving up and down pretty fast. We wondered if the swimmer could actually hear the words the Dad was yelling. We think there is a difference between a loud voice exhorting a swimmer on to glory and a loud voice yelling “commands”.

When the race concluded the Dad walked away from the end of the pool, heading down to the finish end, his head hung down dejectedly muttering to himself. One could only imagine the scene that was to become the swimmer’s next life’s chapter. The ride home gave us pause to think.

Swimming is important to our kids especially as they get older. As one gets closer to 0:00.00 the time reductions become more challenging to achieve. Olympians often go years without improving a time, rather they look for improvement in how well they swim, not merely how fast.

Our sport offers a refreshing respite from subjectivity. No one cares how good you look (though every coach worth her/his salt cares about how good you look in the water!!) they just hand out the medals based upon how fast you swam relative to the rest of the competition. And at the end of the day as a parent it is your responsibility to reward your swimmer’s effort based upon their level of accomplishment in the big view, not merely upon time. There are many swimmers who have posted a very fast time and yet the swim was not done correctly. Conversely, we have seen many excellent swims where the time was not a personal best but there was a lot to be excited about of which to be proud.

As Helen Swartz said many times in the last few months of her glorious life, “I think it is important for each of us to do the very best we can. And only we know if we are doing our best.” As most of you know, Mom’s often have the final word!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

If You Have Ever Wondered

We swam at the California Summer Sectional Meet last weekend in Santa Clarita. The company was there filming and broadcasting live all the heats and finals. You can go to their site and see all the finals including relays.

If you ever wondered how important the underwater portion of a swim is check out North Bay Aquatic's Stephanie Christofferson in the women's 100 fly final. Hit the pause button a couple of times on the turn at the 50 and then the breakout. Stephanie won this race and qualified for the US National Championships in the process with her excellent underwater work off the wall at the turn.

So, when you think of your body position and distance underwater remember this swim. You may not be the fastest or the slowest at this part of the game. It really doesn't matter to most of us. What does matter is that we 1) recognize the value of the skill and 2) practice the skill on a daily basis.

Stephanie has been working on her skill set for more than 6 years. Last Sunday it paid off big time. Ask her if it was worth it over the years and she will answer a resounding "Yes"!

Have fun, be smarter and improve your skill set

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More Ideas on Short Stuff

For the last couple of weeks we have been swimming some longer repeats and pushing the yardage up toward 4,000 in our 75 minute Master's workouts. We noticed that we had a few folks mention the amount of swimming, the wear and tear and then wondering out loud about 'where was all this nonsense going?"

So this past Thursday we changed things up a bit. See what you think about this workout. Maybe you can find something here to sink your teeth into...or not.

After a nice relaxed warm up consisting of nearly 2,000 yards we did the following two sets. Each one takes 15 minutes. You can adjust the intervals if you wish but our idea was to give most folks enough rest so they could do the sets and still not be entirely "winded" at the end.

All repeats were on the .30 per lap basis, so 50's on the minute, 25's on the .30 - mix and match strokes any way you like.

Set #1
1x25/.30 at 80%
1x50/1 recovery
2x25/.30 one at 80%, one at 85%
2x50/1 recovery
3x25/.30 - 80, 85, 90%
3x50/1 recovery
4x25/.30 - 80, 85, 90, 95%
4x50/1 recovery

Rest one minute

Set #2
4x25/.30 all at 80% effort
4x50/1 recovery
3x25/.30 all at 85%
3x50/1 recovery
2x25/.30 at 90%
2x50/1 recovery
1x25/.30 at 95%
1x50/1 recovery

So, each set is 750 yards in length with 250 at effort and 500 of recovery swims. Each set takes 15 minutes to complete. Your work to recovery ratio is 1:2. This means that if you are feeling decent in the water you can probably crank pretty well on the effort 25's and recover nicely on the 50's.

Our gang loved this workout. Short swims made it easier to stay engaged in the sets for 30 minutes. Let us know what you think and please share a favorite set you have done recently. We will put it out there on the www and see what folks think. Have a great week in and out of the pool!

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Here is a workout we did this week. The goal of the set was to do some match racing with the intent of putting some reasonably comparable swimmers together each keeping the other one honest in the effort. Since each swimmer has a slightly different way of approaching a swim, and since each of the other swimmers know the "X MAN's" style then the strategy can be varied depending upon the swimmer and the situation.

You can morph off of this infinitely. The key is putting two or more swimmers together with comparable skill sets.

We did this set short course on the 4 minutes. All the times ranged from 1:50+ to 1:57+. At the end of the set all four guys agreed it was engaging, challenging and stimulating...a coach's dream!

Bradley goes 3x200 on 4 minutes (@ 1:1 work to rest ratio) he is the X MAN
Pieter pushes him, keeps him honest whatever you call it on #1 then cruises #2 & #3
Dillon pushes him on #2 while cruising 1,3
Sandy pushes him on #3, cruz 1,2

Pieter becomes X MAN
Dillon pushes 1
Sandy pushes 2
Bradley pushes 3

Dillon is X MAN
Sandy 1
Bradley 2
Pieter 3

Sandy is X MAN
Bradley 1
Pieter 2
Dillon 3

So each guy goes 6 x 200 fast - 3 of them back to back to back with a fresh pusher and then gets 6 cruisers...the main focus on this idea is to have someone fresh enough to really press the X MAN into digging deeper than he/she would if simply doing a regular set...I keep thinking back to making each racer aware of when the guy/gal next to him is going to make a move and then figuring out how to physically and mentally stay in the race, stay in the swim even if he/she is getting clobbered...some best swims are when there is a guy/gal in the lane next to you going crazy and you figure out a way to hang onto your swim, perhaps getting beat by a couple of seconds but still doing your best time by a second or more when you thought that you were really folding.

There are lots of combinations off of this format. Play around with it and see what works best for you. You can even do this with only one partner. You go one swim fast while your partner pushes you, then you each cruise one and then your partner goes one fast while you push him/her...then you each cruise one. Do several rounds of that and you will have a fine speed/anaerobic set.

Let us know how this works for you. Feedback on all these ideas is important. Have a great week at the pool!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Simon Burnett Kick Set

Simon Burnett came to the University of Arizona by way of England. He is a many time collegiate All American and a multiple time member of many England National Teams. The swim most vivid in my mind (Don Swartz writing here) was his 1:31.20 200 yard free at the 2006 NCAA Championships in Atlanta, GA. He was out in 44+ and back in 46+. His leg power was phenomenal until I learned that he spent a lot of time on his kick board.

The following set is credited to him. I am certain others have done this set but since it came to us from him we call it the Simon Burnett kick set. When we tell our team, as we did this week, that we are doing it, they know what is coming. It goes like this. We did this in a 25 yard pool.

1 x 100 kick / 1:30
1 x 50 recovery / 1:30 (we swim this 50, he may have kicked it)

2 x 100 kick / 1:30
1 x 50 recovery / 1:30

3 x 100 kick / 1:30
1 x 50 recovery / 1:30

4 x 100 kick / 1:30
1 x 50 recovery / 1:30

5 x 100 kick / 1:30
1 x 50 recovery / 1:30

This is 1500 yards of kicking and it is deceptive. By the time you are entering the round of 4 x 100 you get that you are in for a tough stretch. And since kicking is all will power it is a good test of that. It is doable but not a "piece of cake".

On our senior team we have about 35 swimmers. Tonight 12 went on the 1:30 interval. They all made the entire set. One of the women was dolphin kicking on her back going 10 yards underwater off each wall - very impressive. We had a handful that was under 1:20 and three guys under 1:15 the entire way. We had all but 3 others on the 1:40 interval and the slowest grouping was on the 1:45 interval.

When the set was over they all felt a valuable measure of accomplishment. We have done this set before and it always is a refreshing reminder of how powerful the kick can be; and it empowers the swimmers. We had a ton of excellent team building in the lanes and across the pool.

You can riff off this set in a thousand different ways. We encourage you to explore and have fun doing so! Let us know what you think.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

When Size Really Does Matter

We often get asked the question about body types and swimming. This particularly comes up when parents of a younger swimmer are concerned that their child may not "have what it takes" to be a great athlete.

Our first - and always unspoken - reaction is, Whoa! Do we as parents really want to be looking at our kids that way? And then we have our first overt reaction...We cannot at any time early in a person's development know what their final position in life will be. We are not able to tell about swimming or school or eventual vocation etc.

What we do know from our experience is that it is foolish to try to predict based upon any early success or for that matter any early lack of success. We also know that the world is full of folks with huge amounts of obvious potential who do very little with it. Conversely the world is populated with many people who have what appear to be ordinary skills who achieve extraordinary results. Sports is an obvious field where these two discrepancies standout. Having said that, if we were academicians we would no doubt have similar observations. From our own personal standpoint we know this to be true in the field of medicine. We have known doctors who obviously have passed all the tests but we wouldn't want to spend too much time in their care.

So what does matter?

The size of a person's desire matters. Give us a swimmer who is excited about the opportunity that swimming affords and we want her on our team. We love swimmers who have passion for the sport.

The size of their ambition matters. Does he want to get faster? If so, we want him on our team.

What about the respect factor? Does she understand the relationship between respect for self and team and how those two go hand in hand for her development? If yes, then we want her.

How big is their brain? We use this not in the anatomical sense but rather the sense of how well does he connect the dots? Does this swimmer have the ability to figure things out? If he can do this, or exhibits the willingness to learn how to do this, then we want him on our team.

None of these attributes is determined by physical size. They are rather determined by a person's character. Give us a person of any physical stature who is a giant in the character department and we will be at the pool ready to coach that swimmer on a moment's notice.

Perhaps it is time to take inventory of your team or yourself. Champions come in all shapes and sizes. Look at any Olympic Team if you are not certain about this!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What We Learned This Week

In no particular order we amassed a significant amount of new knowledge while simultaneously reconnecting with bits and pieces we already knew but had lost contact with from the past. And isn't that just like most darned near every week? That's what gets us excited each and every day. What follows is a sampler of our last 7 days.

Monday we had Day One at the Dominican University Summer Swim Camp. Since this was the first week the University had ever had a Swim Camp none of us knew exactly what to expect. We had several kids who are competitive swimmers and about twice that number who could barely side breathe. What we learned: Have plenty of staff, be patient, teach only the basics and most of all make it fun. They will tell others and all kids and parents with kids talk to each other. By Friday everyone was swimming better.

Tuesday was our first conversion day at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, CA. They built a new 40 meter by 25 yard pool (the district didn't want any summer long course competitions held) and we have morning access. This is our long course water for the summer. It works great for our team. It is a trick to turn 16 lanes short course into 8 long course. What we learned: Give everyone assignments, help them realize the value of "teamwork", time them (they are competitive swimmers after all - Tuesday = 15:48, by Saturday we got down to 10:12) and make certain all the various workout groups finish together so everyone is still in the pool and willing to turn the pool back to short course.

Wednesdays we take the afternoons off for recovery purposes. It was a good thing because even after two mornings of long course the kids were showing the signs of long course training fatigue. What we learned: long course fit plus short course speed makes a very dangerous long course (we suppose even open water as well) swimmer.

Thursday was our third consecutive long course morning workout. The team is getting used to more open water. We took our foot off the gas a little and got more out of them. Then in the short course afternoon workout we went more for power than speed using parachutes. What we learned: Give swimmers (any athlete) a judicious mix of work and rest and they respond very well indeed.

Friday we have no morning water due to pool cleaning. It was Day Five at Dominican Swim Camp. We weren't as prepared as we wanted to be. The next four weeks will be easier having gone through a week. What we learned: We will spend time refreshing our skills and then testing them. They can see and feel their progress. Making certain kids feel successful is the singular most important ingredient in their continued participation in any activity...swimming is no different in that regard. We also had great results from giving them a simple Certificate of Completion plus a ribbon. This isn't a fancy swim camp like those run at bigger institutions. This is a fun and learning experience. We all - staff and campers alike - did both this week.

Saturday we had our final workout of the week. We went long course. We had some swimmers at meets and some doing things for Father's Day so attendance was lighter than usual. We had some individual sets that addressed specific needs. It was a great week and we set ourselves up for next week's aspirations. What we learned: Have a good mix of long course swims building up momentum one lap at a time with faster short course swims blending speed and power; always do kicking sets since legs make the whole stroke go and the swimmer's ability to finish races...this all builds the most important muscle in the body - confidence.

Sunday was the final day of the 43rd Annual Santa Clara International Swim Meet. Four years ago we had one swimmer at this meet. This year we had 11 entered individually plus 2 others as relay swimmers. We had a swimmer who qualified for finals and four free relays, one of which finished fourth and one ninth. What we learned: Starts are critical even in long course as a poor start puts you behind the proverbial 8 ball with the first wall half a football field away. Keep at your craft pursuing excellence whenever possible. That one swimmer four years ago made finals this year. Our team is growing up and able to compete at this level. We have college swimmers coming back to us this summer for the 2nd year. It makes a difference. It is important to build loyalty to our program since those college swimmers help define the path and light that path for the high schoolers behind them. Finally, some swimmers need to stay with their college program in the summers for a variety of reasons. We know that we are in the development game, always working in the best interests of our young people, giving them the skills they need to succeed in the pool and life.

It was a fine week, not perfect by any means but rather one to be proud of and to build from beginning tomorrow morning. Hope yours was also and goes well too. Let us know how we can help!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Set Ideas...Graduation...Louise L. Hay

Here is a set we did that seemed to engage everyone. It covers both the aerobic component as well as the anaerobic side of the equation. This is what our senior trainers did. You can modify the totals and the intervals to suit your own needs. The idea to grasp is the attack of the system from both the oxygen and lactate side of the equation.

Warm up was about 20 minutes of swimming and drills.
Set 1 - 5x300/ 3:30 negative split...we also had a group going on 4 minutes

Set 2 - 10x200/2:20 - 1-5 negative split; 6-10 progressive (descending)...also had a 2:40 group

Set 3 - 15x100/2 - 1-5 negative split; 6-10 progressive; 11-15 neg split & progressive...this set had a lot of the various strokes and IM's involved.

Loosen 500-800

Sets 1&2 worked the aerobic side while Set 3 was more challenging form the anaerobic side since the rest to work ratio was closer to 1:1. We ended up with some really fast swimming on #'s 13, 14, 15 as well as #10.

Graduation has been on many of our swimmers' minds this week and last. We hope most, if indeed not all have gotten the message that they make their choices about how life unfolds for them. We recently found a set of "Wisdom Cards" from Louise L. Hay. These wonderful and inspiring cards have eye catching graphics and thought provoking observations about the human condition. One in particular caught our eye and seemed particularly relevant given the graduation theme at this time of year. You can find her on the web.

It is written as follows:

On the front side...I have the power to make changes...

On the reverse side...It is so comfortable to play victim, because it is always someone else's fault. I have to stand on my own two feet and take some responsibility.

Here's to fast swimming and standing on our own two feet!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Time to Shake Up Your Paradigms

It is hard to believe it is June 2010...what happened to the beginning of this year. It seems like just yesterday we were discussing whether to call this year two thousand and ten or twenty ten. Oh well, we here at swimcoachdirect hope you are having as much fun as we are because time surely is flying!

The question for today is this: Are you still operating under the same assumptions as you were 5 months ago? Are the things that were true for you January 1 still working for you June 6th?

If you want to get fit what have you done to change your approach to fitness?

If you want to get faster what have you done to change your way of gathering speed?

If you want to be able to handle the swim leg of your Tri how are you approaching that one? Is it the same as last summer?

Our challenge to you this week is a simple one...with potentially profound results. If you are doing the same things you did a year ago at this time you can expect pretty much the same results. And if you improved a lot last year, congrats to you! Now, what are you going to do to keep progressing from here?

There have been huge strides made by performance specialists in all fields of physical performance. These gains come from some of the traditional disciplines such as weight training and cardio vascular fitness regimens. However, in your quest for improvement it may be time to look at cyclical training, nutrition, flexibility training and mind/body dynamics.

We all get comfortable in our routines. The point today is that even if you workout for your personal satisfaction and have no interest in competition it is still in your best interests to change up your approach. Doing so changes the way your brain operates and this is a fabulous benefit to life long total body health.

The simple addition of 10 push ups and 20 sit ups before bed each night is a start!

Have fun with this and let us know how it goes for you!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Make Your Memorial Day

Workout guru and chief set designer Ken DeMont came up with an interesting and challenging set the other day. He is a master at presenting things that seem rather simple dare we say almost benign. Then presto! You realize you've been "had". It goes like this.

4 can figure out your intervals that work for you. The ones listed here are for our senior training group in their first regular workout after two to four weeks of taper. After rounds one & three do 2x100 pull/1:40 doing some sort of drill work; after rounds two and four do 2x100 kick/1:40

1x150/2:30 each 50 gets faster
1x75/1:30 each 25 gets faster
1x50/.50 at 80%
1x25/.40 fast no breath fly or free
1x50/.50 at 80%
1x25/.40 fast fly or free no breath
1x50/.50 at 80%
easy 25 back to starting end then go into the 2x100 as noted above

Round two is exactly the same except the 50's are at 85%; round 3 the 50's = 90%;
Round 4 the 50's = 95%

So the sets = 1900 plus the 800 yards of pull and kick give you a total of 2700 for the set plus your warm up and cool down.

We altered this for a masters workout as follows. Again we had 4 rounds with the 100's pulling and kicking after each round.

1x100 negative split
1x75 each lap faster
1x50 at 80%
1x25 fast
The only difference in the rounds 2-4 were the 50's went up to 85, 90, 95%

This series = 1000 + 800 of kicking and pulling or 1800 plus your warm up and cool down.

It is fun to see how the swims unfold. Typically everyone starts out with a variety of reactions and then - Bingo! - you are in the set rolling along working with your lane mates and next thing you know, your heart is pounding, you are reaching for your water bottle...and life is oh so sweet!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Geese...and What They Teach; What We Can Learn

Tanveer Naseer who describes himself as a "Business strategy coach, writer and overall nice guy" (we especially like the third part!) discusses what happens when Canada geese work together on their many thousands mile migration. We found it very instructive and will share it with our team in tomorrow's team meeting. We hope you enjoy it...

Migrating Geese – A Lesson in Leadership and Collaboration

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thoughts for Champions & Championship Meets

Here in Northern California it is high school swimming championship season. Many swimmers are putting their hopes (and fears) on the line figuring out how to coax a little (or a lot) more speed out of their bodies. Also, the National Masters Championships are next weekend as well. We have a number of swimmers heading into that meet with high expectations.

It seems to us that the trick is to dance on the fine line of exertion balancing the complimentary/contradictory forces of power and grace. When we see someone practicing their craft exceptionally well often the phrase that we use is, "They make it look so easy." Indeed, that may be a very good definition of someone combining power and grace.

Mull that one over a little and see where it leads you.

The following quotes are contributed by Coach Allan Kopel. Thanks for sharing Allan. If you are racing soon, perhaps one of these is the "pearl of wisdom" you have been searching for.

+ Hall of Fame basketball great Jerry West was asked about his message in an upcoming graduation talk. West hoped to encourage the graduates to embrace three attributes that let people be particularly successful.

- Take Risks
- Have Lofty Goals
- Be Able to Bounce Back From Disappointment

Some Quotations:

+ "Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm." (Winston Churchill)

+ "Energy and persistence conquer all things." (Benjamin Franklin)

+ "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." (Benjamin Franklin)

+ "Your attitude, not your aptitude will determine your altitude." (Zig Ziglar)

+ "You do not pay the price of success. You enjoy the price of success." (Zig Ziglar)

+ "Friendships born on the field of athletic strife are the real gold of athletic competition. Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust."
(Jesse Owens)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Holiday Speed

No matter what type of swimmer you are every now and then it is necessary and or fun to do a simple little set that gives you the feeling of how it feels to swim fast. It is a nice break from the usual routine of yardage based workouts. Think of it as a special holiday just for you!

After you get warmed up for 30 to 45 minutes give this set a whirl and see if you don't end up with a smile on your face.

Go 4-6 rounds of the following taking no extra rest between the rounds:

1x75/1:30 with the first lap at 75%, the second at 80% and the third lap at 85%
1x50/1:30 smooth easy recovery
1x25/1:30 fast as you can but remain in control of your stroke

Remember to go right into the 1x75 in round 2 after the 1 minute and 30 seconds you are allowed for the fast 25. You can mix in different strokes anywhere you want.

This set gives you enough rest to really hit the 75, 80, 85% efforts. We have used this set with our elite senior trainers, younger age groupers and Masters as well. Make certain you loosen down well after any speed set.

If you have something similar in the speed department please let us know and we will share it with our swimming community. Have a great week in the water!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

What a Gem

We hope you find this enlightening as well as entertaining. This is how it feels to be "right there." Annie captures this very private moment exquisitely. Enjoy!

Last Stand on Land; By Annie Chandler

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Smallest Possible Hole

When you think about swimming more efficiently and therefore faster you always want to be considering what kind of "foot print" or more specifically what kind of "body print" you are making as you go through the water. There is a reason torpedoes are shaped the way they are; they present very little resistance to the water; they are "slippery" as they move through the water.

The fastest parts of any pool swim are the pushes from the hard surfaces, namely the starting blocks and the walls at the turns. Every single elite swimmer utilizes those hard surfaces to the max. Now it is your turn as well. Even if you have no real desire to swim at the top of your division why not make the commitment now to improving off the walls. It makes swimming easier, more fun and more relaxing which in turn makes it more satisfying.

Open water swimmers can benefit from this concept as well. Work on getting your head down a little (except when you need to sight of course) so that when you turn your head to the side to breathe you will be pushing less water. Work on your core strength so that you can support your body in as streamlined a position as possible while swimming normally. Work on your kick so your legs will "anchor" your hips and keep them from slipping out to the side, especially when you turn your head to breathe.

In the pool practice getting a little farther out from the wall before you begin your first stroke. Mark your spot on the bottom and see if over time you can extend the distance. Inches matter so even a small improvement makes a difference. Ultimately you will find that you will drop your stroke count by one or two counts by really extending the wall push.

On the streamline position put one hand on top of the other. Extend your arms straight so that your biceps are squeezing your ears. Keep your head down, leading with the crown not your forehead. Hold your belly in a bit and tighten your glutes a little, engage your hamstrings and point your toes, and keep your feet together. We tell our swimmers to get "skinny" in the water.

One drill you can do is to get in deeper water and push off from the bottom seeing how high you can get in the air before you run out of momentum and sink back down. Next add a handful of dolphin kicks and see how much higher you go. You will notice the difference.

When you swim laps make the commitment to begin your first stroke after your feet have passed the backstroke flags. Keep working to "shorten" the pool.

Have you ever tossed a stone high in the air over a pond? When it comes down it makes a sound of "thunk"; same goes for a coin. A good racing dive sounds the same; there is very little splash. This is so because the hands, head, hips and feet all go through the same hole in the water. If you have a SAFE PLACE to do so, practice running dives off the deck. See if you can get the feel of being an "arrow" shot from a bow. Your hands are the tip and your feet are the feathers. Your body is "skinny" and straight like the shaft of the arrow. You must push down some on your upper torso once it hits the water because your chest is full of air and wants to pop to the surface. Use your core strength and body awareness to pull this off. The telltale sound when this is not happening is a big slap of the shins and feet. This is accompanied by a significant splash. The best dives have very little splash.

All of these ideas will make you faster without any extra exercise. You just need to be more careful about how you practice your craft; be more thoughtful; less mindless swimming.

Any other ideas out there on this subject? We are certain there are and we welcome you to share with us and our readers. Have a great week in the water, wherever you swim!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Need for Speed

It matters not your competitive distance. All swimmers who want to improve in their chosen event ultimately need to gather more speed. This seems obvious for those racing the 50 and 100. It also applies to the 1500 meters, the open water and the tri-athletes. If you want to move up in the rankings you need speed.

It is relatively easy to find. It is in your home pool every time you go there. The key phrase is "every time you go there". You bring the speed and you "purchase and bank" it when you train in a certain way.

The workout below is an example of how to build some speed into your body. It mixes some reasonably paced recovery/technique swims with some pure lactate threshold rushes. It is perfect for racing junkies. Even if you are not one of those give this a try and see what you experience. It may open your eyes to some new possibilities.

Warm up well for a total of about 1500 yards/meters; be sure to include some stroke work. Finish with 4 or 5 x 50 build up to 80% effort, say on the minute interval.

3 rounds continuous of the following: each round = 750 with 300 worth of "effort"

1x200/4 - 150 at 75% - rest 10 seconds - blast a 50
1x150/3 - 100 at 75% - rest 10 seconds - blast a 50
1x100/2 - 50 at 75% - rest 10 seconds - blast a 50
1x50/1 - blast the entire 50
Then go directly into
1x100/2 - 75 at 75% - rest 10 seconds - blast a 25
1x75/1:30 - 50 at 75% - rest 10 seconds - blast a 25
1x50/1 - 25 at 75% - rest 10 seconds - blast a 25
1x25/.30 - blast the entire 25

Here is the key: go directly into the next round of 200/4 as above etc on the .30 second interval of the last 25 blast.

At the very beginning you will wonder, "Why all the rest?" after the first 200 and then the 150. If you do this properly, you will quickly understand the intervals. They give you enough rest for basically "active recovery" but then the rest begins to go away but the effort swims keep on coming. Done properly this will challenge you. You can add in stroke on the blast 50's and 25's. We recommend the 75% swims done freestyle (or backstroke) with a snorkel to rebalance your stroke.

Make certain you loosen well, in the 600-1000 range depending on your training and fitness level. If you are new to interval training begin with one round of this set progressing to two rounds and then finally three. Two rounds = 1500 with 600 at effort; three rounds = 2250 with 900 at effort.

When we do this type of intense swimming we always follow it with a recovery workout...or a day off! Let us know what you think. If you have a similar set to share send it to us and we'll put it out there. Have a great week at the pool!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

An Important Reminder

A few of our team, from 10 year old Claire to 17 year old Allan, raced this weekend at the Far Western Age Group Championships. It was a good reminder that it is important to always (strive to) do the best you can with what you have available.

For some of our younger less experienced swimmers this is a very big meet. Over 250 teams from the west coast plus several from the east coast come out to this meet. The first two days were warm and sunny and spirits were high and times were fast. On days three and four the weather turned ugly. Sunday was 50-ish, winds gusting to 40 and heavy rain. Did we mention the meet was held outdoors? You get the picture.

For our older high school age swimmers this was a training meet. We have been pushing very diligently in the pool for 4 weeks now. We asked the group to pick one day of the four and go race since we knew the level of competition would be high. It was an opportunity for them to see what they could do in a tired state. (One of the things college programs look for is swimmers who can race well when tired.)

As we went through the meet, especially today, we kept reminding the swimmers to do the best they could with what was available.

10 year old Claire entered the day with a best time of 29.8 in her 50 free. She left the day the same. She swam a 30.1 and was so disappointed since she has in her mind a 28 something. But we reminded her that she held her breath off the turn – for the first time! – And was very close to her best…in the pouring rain. We turned tears into smiles.

17 year old Allan swam a 5:08 in his 500, out in 2:33 and back in 2:35. This from a young man who kicked 10x100 on the 1:40 on Friday, most of them under 1:15, several under 1:10. A very solid training swim in our minds.

Madison actually improved her 100 breast from 1:17 to 1:16 by executing much better pull throughs. We have been working on this aspect of her swimming for a while and today…in the storm…she pulled it off.

Sandy swam his 200 im in 2:03…his best is 1:53. Yet his under waters in backstroke were a full 10 or 11 yards…not the 12+ we are looking for but much better than he has done before. He was out in 58 for the 100. This is from a 15 year old swimmer who is headed for the top of the mountain. His last 4 weeks of training are spectacular. This swim today is really good. He then followed it with a nice, clean start and turn 50 free in 22.7. This is a very impressive morning for him.

His 13 year old brother swam his 200 fly breathing every other stroke the entire way for the first time. Scott actually swam his best time improving from 2:14 to 2:11.

Charlotte has been training up a storm of her own. On Friday in the sun she swam 54.5 in her 100 free which is darn fast for her. Today in the storm her 50 was 25.3. She was disappointed but the effort was solid, out in 12.1 back in 13.2 which if you consider the dive is negative split. Charlotte has very little easy speed right now. She will go a 23+ in 7 weeks at the high school championships and 52 in her 100. She is a sophomore who is going to make some college coach very happy.

As we went through the weekend we were reminded that no matter what meet you go to not every swimmer will record best times. It matters not your level of preparation or rest. No meet winds up at the 100% level…not even the Olympics. And yet there are many swims that are noteworthy for a wide variety of reasons.

Our task as coaches and swimmers and parents too is to find the value in every attempt regardless of the outcome. Each of us has swum or witnessed a race that resulted in a best time that was nonetheless not constructed well nor executed the way it was intended.

We are blessed in swimming with the non-subjective valuation of the stop watch.
We are cursed in swimming with the non-subjective valuation of the stop watch.

Do the Best You Can With What You Have

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Kicking, Kicking, Kicking

This is the headline of the third point listed in the March/April 2010 Splash Magazine article entitled "So Long, Suits". The article outlines the "top 4 adjustments swimmers must make" now that FINA has sent the high tech suits to the Smithsonian. The other adjustments are "Improve Core Strength and Stability", "Eliminate Excess Drag" and "Technique Rules Again".

The main point of the Kicking adjustment is now that the buoyancy provided by the suits is gone swimmers will need stronger legs so that their kicking stays with them all the way to the finish so their body position remains advantageous. As the article so succinctly states, "Whether it's the end of a race or off the start or turns, no suit will cover up legs that are out of shape."

Fortunately there is a very clear and inexpensive solution; the more and faster you kick the less you will be hampered by leg fatigue or lack of a high tech suit. And the best thing about kicking is that it requires no special talent; all you need is will power!

However, it is all too often that swimmers (just about any athlete for that matter) will continue to work on their strengths figuring that will save the day. We figure that about 1/4 to 1/3 of training needs to incorporate leg work. We don't hit that number yet but we are working in that direction. We want leg power for short course and we know we need it for long course. If you are an open water aficionado you need it too. Tri-athletes need it as well.

We are including some kicking in our warm ups often and will add it to our loosen down swims as well. We even break some swims into part kick and part swim. The way to incorporate this into your training is only limited by your imagination.

Pick your starting point - where you are now in terms of a normal kicking set and interval. Then set a goal to work to change the duration, distance, interval and intensity of the kicking.

An example: you currently can kick 8x50/1:30 and that is pretty much it for you. Next time go 4x50/1:30 and then 4x50/1:20. Then try 2x100/2:50 and 2x100/2:40. Then add a couple more repeats and then knock another 5 or 10 seconds off the interval. If you swim 4 days a week make a kick set part of the workout twice a week. You can put on fins regardless of the caliber of kicker you are. It is fun to kick really fast! You can even begin, with fins, to kick on the same interval you usually swim. Be patient and give yourself some time. You will see steady and encouraging progress. And you will see an improvement in your racing as well. You will feel fresher deeper in the swim. You can actually pass people in the last 10 yards if your legs are still with you. When you do that you will feel so empowered and encouraged.

On our senior training team we now can kick 100's on the 1:40 for 2000 yards worth. Two years ago that was not possible. We kick 200's on the 3:30 and we are headed down from there...beginning this week!

You can do 100 short course repeat swims where you kick 25, put the board up, swim a 50, then rest 10 seconds and grab the board and kick the last 25 full blast. Find an interval that gives you 15 or 20 seconds rest. If you do 10 of these you will have added 500 yards/meters of kicking to your workout. Trust us when we say "that is a good thing".

Send us your favorite kick set and we will share it with others. Have a great week at the pool and bring your kick board. You will be pleased with the results...guaranteed!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Helping Put Things in Perspective

Now and then we run across a well written piece about a meaningful topic. The article below is an example of this. There are several themes running through it and we hope you will enjoy the messages. Parenthetically, as we write this on Saturday morning March 27, 2010 the NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships are being contested with a never before seen twist. The meet was postponed for 24 hours due to a number of athletes from three different schools being stricken with what appeared to be an intestinal virus on their flight to the meet. We wonder if Nimrod was one of them.

Patrick Finley: Israeli finds peace in, out of pool

Arizona Daily Star Monday, March 22, 2010

Arizona's Nimrod Shapira-Bar Or found out he was going to swim in the Beijing Olympics just five days before his first race. He finished 15th in the 200-meter freestyle and set a personal best in the 100. Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or isn't political, but he has a story to tell.

The Israeli stood on the pool deck of Hillenbrand Aquatic Center last week with plenty to worry about. Today, the freestyler will fly to Columbus, Ohio, where, starting Thursday, he will compete in five events at the NCAA men's swimming and diving championships.

For two years at The Bolles School, a prep palace in Jacksonville, Fla., Shapira Bar-Or, who is Jewish, lived with a man who would become his best friend.
Jowan Qupty is a Palestinian from Jerusalem. The two were acquaintances as kids, but didn't grow close until they shared an apartment together.

Qupty, who swims at Missouri, said that, back home, "people were amazed all the time" that a Jew and Palestinian could coexist.

That's a statement in itself.

"It's all a group of leaders," Shapira Bar-Or said. "And it's making both sides stress. "It shows how simple the situation is. If I can live with a Palestinian guy, I'm sure in our country we can live with a couple millions of Palestinians and Israelis together."
Qupty said politics didn't come up much in the house - "so, just in case, it wouldn't ruin our relationship."

You don't come to this spot in the Sports section - or talk to a UA swimmer - for geopolitical analysis. But, even in a small apartment in North Florida, a little peace is a great thing.

"It showed how simple the case was," Shapira Bar-Or said. "That two people can live together. All the war, all the money spent, for nothing."

Qupty will check in with his best friend via phone all week, when Shapira Bar-Or swims the 100, 200 and 500 freestyles, and the 4x100 and 4x200 free relays. He struggled last season after missing most of it with mononucleosis.

He doesn't want to be nervous this week; it'll ruin his swimming.

"It's kind of a secret," said the man whose first name recalls a biblical hunter. "It's a really, really simple thing. Don't stress about it."

If the 20-year-old sophomore sounds like the author of "Zen and the Art of Freestyle Swimming," it's because he learned the lesson in the most amazing way possible.

He knew at 12 he wanted to swim competitively, and that Israel's youth programs were no longer the way to improve. With a passport - his mom is British - Shapira Bar-Or moved to Bath, England, where he took an apartment on campus and attended high school.

He trained twice a day alongside record-holders and even lived by himself, cooking his own meals, just to swim faster. At 16, he moved home to Israel and quit school just to train.

Despite the training, he missed the cut for the 2008 Olympics - but then Israeli freestyler Max Javen tested positive for drugs.
Shapira Bar-Or was on vacation with his family, having not swam for eight days, when he was offered a spot on the team. His first race was five days away.

After a life of training, it would have been easy to stress out. He didn't. He worked in the pool, but not to exhaustion. He flew to China three days before the first race. He smiled a lot.

Then he finished 15th in the 200-meter freestyle and set a personal best in the 100.
"It taught me a lot, how swimming is in your head," he said. "You don't have to think about anything other than jumping in and having fun.

"Your body's like a machine. We train for six hours a day. Your body knows what to do. It's only the brain that can be like, 'Don't do it.'"

The result was astounding.

No stress, no anger.

Just peace.

"I had the best race of my life," he said. "I hope (this week) I'm going to have better races."