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!