Sunday, January 24, 2010


Swim coaches and swimmers who compete are always looking for speed. We would be willing to guess that even those who swim mainly for fitness would like to improve their speed in the water, if for no other reason than it feels fun to be smooth and efficient.

We were lucky enough to attend the last part of the Cal vs. Arizona Women's and Men's dual meet last Saturday in Berkeley. These two teams feature many of the finest and fastest NCAA swimmers in the country. Watching competitive swimmers at that level is a real eye opener.

We came away from the meet with two observations about speed. The first came from watching the swimmers. The quickness they demonstrated in the turns was very impressive. They all changed directions with what can only be described as "blazing speed."

The 500 swimmers, the flyers, the imers, and the relay swimmers - you name it and they were blasting the entry and exit of their turns. It occurred to us as we watched this that turning speed is similar to kicking prowess in that it doesn't take much pure genetic talent to excel. It does require discipline and will power; and those two characteristics are free for the taking. All you need to do is decide you want to get faster, focus on the entry and exit and the quickness of those moves and bingo! You are faster. Pretty simple and yet when you attempt this for a set or two you will quickly realize that it can be very demanding on you, both physically and mentally.

The second observation came from a discussion with one of the coaches. He said he likes swimmers to think about and then find the body position that creates the least amount of drag and resistance in the water. We coaches often lump this type of discussion into the category of "streamlining" and while that is fine there really is more going on here than meets the eye.

Every single time one part of your body moves in an unstable environment - such as water - there is another movement, usually in contradiction to the first movement. If you want to go forward in the pool you will want to have all your energy used to do just that - go forward. You want to avoid having your energy compensate to overcome unnecessary drag and resistance. That's one reason swimming with a snorkel is so helpful: your body doesn't move out of line with the turning of your head to catch a breath. You can swim freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly with a snorkel. While doing so pay attention to how streamlined your body feels in the water. Then swim a couple of 25's without the snorkel and see if you can feel any difference in your body position. Then put the snorkel back on. If you keep repeating this on and off drill you will find your awareness about your body position increases. With this increased awareness you can begin to make small but very significant changes in how you move through the water. And you will get faster!

So, two ideas about how to get more speed and neither of them require anything more than your willingness to apply some basic gumption! No extra talent required! Nice!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

We Are Trapped

The seemingly never ending quest for best times in competition provides a trap when a swimmer keeps comparing his/her current performance to an "all time best" swim time. It is a similar challenge faced say by a runner who is working to improve her 5K or 10K time.

So here we are in the middle of heavy winter training and occasionally we go to a meet (or enter a local 5K or 10K run) for fun and/or to check our fitness level and/or to get feedback on how we are progressing with a certain type of training. A for instance might be we have done a fair amount of aerobic fitness swimming and the meet can tell us how well this training is working by how fast we recover from a certain swim or series of swims.

But with many swimmers the comparisons continue. "I was off my best time in the 100 fly by 4 seconds. What is wrong?" This is often accompanied by the pained expression, the wrinkled brow, perhaps even a hint of a tear.

In our never ending quest to come up with ways to make early and mid season competition meaningful we like to ask our team to evaluate their swims by having them ask themselves if the race was "a best time effort" not merely how close or far it was from an actual best time.

One skill is invaluable: the skill of being able to "lay it out there" on a consistent basis. If when one does this, and then evaluates by asking if the effort was "best time worthy" and can say "yes" then we call it "mission accomplished".

We want to cultivate the atmosphere where taking risks and pushing one's limits is rewarded by the recognition - by self and team - of a swim or run or bike "well done" regardless of the absolute time achieved.

So, let go of the comparisons to best times for a while, especially in the early and mid season. Rather go with the idea that every single time you compete at a high level of effort expended you are practicing a very necessary skill - namely the ability to leverage your actions in a positive way regardless of the numerical value attached to your effort.

Make sense? We hope so. Let us know if you agree or disagree or have questions. We are here to help. Have a great week at the pool or on the road!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Value of Drills

We were at the Annual Northern California Swim Coaches Clinic this weekend. It is always a treat to spend time with colleagues away from the pool, especially in a learning environment. It seems like many coaches spend so much time honing their craft everyday, on the deck working with kids in the pool that they don't have much chance to listen to peers, interact, ask questions, that type of thing. So when they get an opportunity such as at a clinic to have the luxury of time to absorb news ideas, or fresh ideas about a subject with which they are familiar it is very exciting.

In this space a couple of weeks ago we talked about kicking, its value and how to incorporate more of it into your practice time. It was clear this weekend that everyone clearly understands the need for leg power.

When the subject of drills came up an interesting comment that nearly slipped through the cracks came from Dave Marsh. Coach Marsh is an individual with exceptional results over a long period of time with many different swimmers. He clearly is what we refer to as an advanced thinker when it comes to the approach to faster swimming.

He said he was more in favor of a swimmer really knowing and being excellent at 4 drills than simply having an awareness of a dozen or more. We only swim 4 strokes, not a dozen so why not get really competent at 4 he reasoned. It sure made us think. Each of our swimmers has one or two specific issues with their primary and secondary stroke. Perhaps we need to have a drill portion of our workout and each swimmer do the one that fits the bill for their improvement. We think that is what we will work on beginning Monday!

So, what can you do as a coach or swimmer to help yourself get better and therefore faster, more efficient? While you work on that one, we will again make the pitch for every swimmer having a snorkel. Go to any swim shop, online or otherwise and purchase one. It is the single most important piece of equipment after suit, cap, goggles that a swimmer can own. You can swim freestyle, breastroke and butterfly with it. Your body position will improve, your balance in the water will improve, your body's ability to process oxygen will improve...the list goes on.

There are many sources of drills for the various strokes, including There may even be some ideas for new users with the packaging of the snorkel. Be prepared for a week or so of getting used to it, especially doing turns. Bottom line is this - very shortly, as in a number of days - you will notice a marked difference in the way you move through the water. We urge you to give it a try. If we sold them we would offer a money back guarantee; that's how sure we are about them!

Let us know how it goes for you and if we can help, ask away!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

It's Kind of Corny But...

We weren't going to head down this path - the one about predictions for the coming year and all that - but then we open this month's issue of Swimming World Magazine. Right there on page 6, Publisher and CEO Brent Rutemiller mused about his predictions for our sport for the next decade. We were intrigued and since the scope is the decade we felt compelled to share some of his thoughts with you. Below is a partial list. We will get back to our usual stuff next week but for now, enjoy. Your comments are always welcomed!

1 - A Professional Swim League will be established in the US, Europe and Australia.

2 - Masters swimmers will be the first to embrace a professional circuit that allows for technical suits and no testing for performance-enhancing drugs.

3 - The banning of full body suits will be reversed and material will be redefined once again for Olympic competition.

4 - Advertising will be allowed on swimwear during competition, similar to NASCAR.

5 - Open water racing will see the largest growth in popularity.

6 - As a budget savings, the NCAA will combine all of its NCAA division championships into one week of collegiate championships at one venue.

7 - The courts will rule that Title IX discriminates against males.

8 - Swimming will become the No. 1 fitness activity in the US based on a national movement and national health care recommendations.

9 - Current dope testing procedures and periodicals will be abolished and a new blood passport system will be installed in Europe.

10 - Supplements taken by athletes to assist in nutrition and recovery will be regulated by governing bodies.

11 - Masters Swimming will actively become part of groundbreaking quality of life and longevity studies that test scientific breakthroughs in genetic engineering.