Apr 292012

One of the best tips I ever received on swimming is: Swimming is all about minimizing resistance. Minimize resistance and you WILL get faster. Warren Lager, Coach and owner of the Marin Pirates (USA team) & Marin Pirates Masters,  furthered that tip by telling me, think of yourself as swimming in a tight cylinder. For efficiency in all strokes, keep the body in the cylinder as much as possible. The limbs will break the cylinder, but you still want to minimize how far outside that cylinder you let those limbs go. For something like breaststroke, you want to keep your knees no wider than your hips. For dolphin kick, you want that knee action to be minimal, and have the kick generate from the hips and torso – always thinking about that cylinder. For back and free, you keep the legs contained in the cylinder, and on free, you want to make sure not to let the arms pull way outside the body (your cylinder).

Ok, so for freestyle, we know that it is critically important to stay in your cylinder – especially with your legs. How to test whether you are keeping your legs within your cylinder? Well, a great drill is to swim freestyle with a pull buoy held between your ankles (and not your knees where we all like to keep it). This is a great core test as well as this forces you to use your abs and tighten your core in order to keep your legs straight behind you and not allow them to swing side to side. A key is to keep your hips at the surface when swimming in this fashion. And bonus, you can do this same drill with backstroke! Start first (with backstroke) getting used to pulling with the pull buoy between your knees. Keep your feet and legs from swaying side to side. As you get stronger, then move the buoy down to your ankles. You will definitely improve your cylinder swimming with this drill.

Check out the GoSwim video on this.

Apr 292012

Ok, probably a no-brainer for most of you, but did you know that there are a variety of freestyle types? Sure, we all know that your freestyle may look different than your “gutter buddies”. But did you know that there are formal names for some of those different looks? Well, thanks to The Race Club, we’ve got some good descriptions of those different styles along with when you might want to change up and try a different style.

In the video link at the end of this post, Gary Hall Sr (Olympian and super freestyler!) demonstrates and narrates four different styles:

  1. Hip Driven Freestyle
  2. Shoulder Driven Freestyle
  3. Shoulder Driven 2-beat kick Freestyle
  4. Hybrid Freestyle

“Yeah, so what?” you might be saying. Well, check it out. A shoulder driven freestyle is used when you need to get up and go – you know, when you want to beat the person in the lane next to you. But a hip driven stroke might be what you would apply in your warm ups and in longer swims. Here’s a brief breakdown of each style. To really understand them, check out the video link below.

  1. Hip Driven. This is a style you might use in longer events. It has a lower stroke rate, roughly 67-71. In this style, your hand enters and extends out front and holds just a little longer than the other styles. Your hip is driving the rotation and your shoulders. This requires a good steady kick in order to do this style correctly.
  2. Shoulder Driven. You see this in 50 freestyles and some swimmers mix two styles of freestyle in a race and use this shoulder driven style at the end of their race. It has a much higher stroke rate, anywhere from 80-90. In this style, the hand enters and catches quickly, going into that early vertical forearm right after entry. Your hand doesn’t extend on entry, it catches quickly and drives that stroke rate higher. Your shoulders are the driving force here.
  3. Shoulder Driven with a 2-Beat Kick. This is rare as it is tougher to pull off an increased stroke rate with a very low kick rate. Here your leg kicks opposite of the arm stroke. So if you are about to enter the water with your right hand, your left foot starts the down kick. Your stroke rate on this hovers around 90. I find this darned impossible, as my legs want to kick furiously!
  4. Hybrid Freestyle. This has emerged over the last several years. You see it in some of the Olympians like Jason Lezak, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. You’ll recognize it because the swimmer seems to have a “hitch” in their stroke. In this hybrid style, swimmers are combining a shoulder driven style with a hip driven style. They have a quick catch on one side (shoulder driven) and on their breathing side they are using a hip driven style as they push out their shoulder and hold their catch just a little longer on the breathing side. This is often seen on 200s or 400s (or longer such as in open water). You do need strong legs for this stroke style to be effective. The stroke rate is generally 75-85.

Here is the video link: http://www.theraceclub.net/videos/freestyle-picking-the-right-technique/ Hit the water and see if you can do each of these styles. Can you change your style to get up and go? Or, if you are already that shoulder driven style, can you switch to either a hybrid or hip driven style?


Apr 242012

Got sugar problems? I have always had a HUGE sweet tooth. As far as I’m concerned, dinner should start with dessert. Don’t you think we’d eat less if we just started with what we really crave? I mean really! I’ve got great willpower to stay away from breads, cheeses, pastas, fast foods and more, but willpower is no contender against the sight of a beautiful 3-layer triple chocolate cake, a homemade cookie, or other baked goods, my definite weakness. Over the years, I’ve learned to enjoy those devilish delights in moderation. Or, as the article I’m writing about says, I’ve learned to “practice mindful eating”.

We all know that obesity and diabetes are on the rise here in the U.S. Hopefully not so much among you dedicated athletes out there, but something always to be on guard about. So keeping an eye on your sugar intake IS important. Here’s an article I spotted while reading my morning news on Flipboard (an awesome App for both the iPhone and iPad). It offers some simple and practical tips to nip those cravings. One of my personal favorites of their tips is to eat within 30 minutes of exercising. A mix of protein and carbs does the trick quite well for many of us. Alright, now sit down with your cup of coffee and cinnamon roll and check this out.

5 Tips to Nip Sugar Cravings in the Bud

Apr 222012

Tip #1: When it comes to choosing goggles, it is definitely a personal choice. Here is a great article on How to Choose Swim Goggles.

Now, I personally feel like I am in goggle crisis. Perhaps my face is morphing and that is why they are all uncomfortable. Goggles that have fit me for years (TYR Racetechs) now seem to fit less well. Ah, I can hear you saying, “Well fine then, quit yer bitchin’ and just try another pair!” Uh yeah, did you think I hadn’t thought of that? I mean really. After this many years of swimming, I have quite a collection – Barracudas, AquaSphere, Speedo, Finis, more TYR offerings, and even an assortment of some off the wall brands. Lack of comfort is one complaint, leaking and fogging are also high on the list. And don’t even get me started about the raccoon rings that stay with me for half the day or more. It seems I have to cinch them super tight to keep them from leaking (especially my AquaSpheres). Coming away from practice with very sore eye sockets and a headache is making me grumpy!

Now, I’ve got options – oh yes, I could don one of those big ‘ol snorkel masks. OMG – are you kidding me? My ego isn’t quite allowing me to do that – yet. But, after reading this blog and other postings, I’m going to venture into unchartered territories – I’m giving a go at Swedish goggles. Not quite brave enough to try them sans silicone ribbing, I’ve ordered some TYR “Socket Rockets” from Amazon. I’ll let you know how things go after a trial run. I’ve also ordered a pair of Speedo Vanquishers as many swimmers swear by them.

Tip #2: Ever have problems with your goggles fogging up? Do you go through goggles about every 2 months?  No matter what the makers say, all goggles seem to inevitably fog up. Many of your anti-fog goggles have instructions telling you not to rub the inside of the goggles as they are coated with a special solution to keep them from fogging. So first and foremost, stop rubbing the inside of those goggles with your fingers during practice or a towel after practice! However, even when I’ve adhered to that advice, they’ve fogged up. And, I know there are lots of anti-fog solutions out there from wipes to commercial spray, but honestly, those haven’t held up very well for me either.

I think I got this next idea from USMS Swimmer magazine, and I’ve used it the past few years. I now get very good life out of my goggles. Instead of maybe 6-8 weeks for a pair of goggles, I’m now getting 6-12 months. I carry a small spray bottle filled with distilled water. After practice I rinse my goggles and then give them a quick spray. I do not dry them! The distilled water breaks down the chemicals that are in the pool water you swim in. Those chemicals build up and coat over the anti-fog layer, and when you try to rub those chemicals off, you are rubbing right through the anti-fog coating. Ewww, what are those chemicals doing to me? Don’t ask – just stick your head in the sand, uh, I mean the pool.

You can find spray bottles as pictured below at just about any CVS Pharmacy, Target, dollar store, etc. And distilled water is everywhere and around $1 a gallon. Now that is a cheap solution. I’m telling you, it works!

Another tip that works is to wet the inside of your goggles with your own saliva. Do this just before you jump in for your swim. I lick the inside of the goggles, dip them in the pool, and put them on my face. This does counter the “don’t rub the anti-fog coating off” guide above, but hey, it works. If I’m going to swim in salt water, I skip dipping them in the water (as my eyes burn like crazy) and just use my saliva or a little water from a water bottle to give a partial rinse.

One final tip. Invest in a goggle case and you’ll get even more life out of those goggles by saving them from getting scratched. Here’s hoping you don’t find yourself in goggle crisis!



Apr 222012

This week’s drill centers on your turns, but not necessarily just flip turns. Actually, we are going to focus on using dolphin kicks to come off the wall. Many swimmers struggle to know how many dolphin kicks they should use. Some use just one, others may use up to 12. Those that use those higher numbers have very efficient, tight, compact dolphin kicks (not to mention great lungs). Most of us find our efficiency somewhere in the 2-4 kicks range. Well, this drill will help you determine how many kicks is most efficient for you. If you’ve got aid to a coach or teammate, all the better, as you will be able to time your distance from the wall to a specific point. Here’s how it works. To see a video of this in action, I refer you to my “go to” site for videos on all things swimming – the GoSwim folks. The video is embedded at the end of this post.

Here are the instructions from GoSwim on their video posting – Turns – How Many Dolphins?

We all have to realize that even though the majority of time at swim practice is spent going back and forth, it’s the switching from one direction to the other that is more important than ever.

Coaches can say it until they’re blue in the face, the fastest you’ll ever be going in a race is when you’re leaving a wall… either starts or turns. Since you have so much opportunity to practice turns… you should probably do it.

Why do it:
Switching the sport of swimming from a guessing game to a habit and system will help you improve in both your knowledge and performance. It will take time, consistent practice, and the help of your coach or another swimmer.

How to do it:
1) Set a mark on the bottom of the pool… it doesn’t have to be anything exact, but it needs to be a permanent mark so you have a standard to reach when you practice.
2) To find out exactly how many kicks you’ll need to maintain your momentum, create a progression.
3) Start with one dolphin, which for most isn’t enough, then swim to your mark.
4) Progress this by adding one dolphin until you’re either at your mark or you simply run out of momentum.
5) We added dolphins until we got to five.

How to do it really well (the fine points):
Sure you can practice this based just on feel, but if you want to really know what’s the best for you, you’ll need to add a time factor. Have your coach or friend time you from the wall to the mark. You’ll then have to determine, over time, which solution is going to be the one that allows you to continue to swim at your pace with the most efficiency.

While you may be the fastest with four or five kicks, the day you add this to your practice, you’ll quickly realize it’s not easy to do. You’ll have to build this up over time, so consistency will count for a LOT. This works for both starts and turns.

Go have some fun with this! Get your lane mates in on the action.



Apr 172012

On April 11th, I posted a quick note about findings that caffeine is not the big dehydrator that we once thought. Days later, I was reading Athletic Foodie. Have you discovered them yet? GREAT source of information from a terrific team of athletes and nutritionists. Athletic Foodie was founded by gold medal Olympian Garrett Weber-Gale and his family who believe that good taste and healthy food really can go together. Garrett considers nutrition to be a key element in his success, helping him to win two gold medals in the Beijing Olympics. Beyond his athletic pursuits, he has gained considerable experience as a foodie by working with world-renowned chefs in America, Denmark, France and Italy.

In a short post on hydration, the author, Emily Ng, a registered dietician, stresses the importance of hydrating before, during and after an event. She goes on to offer a simple test you can do to measure hydration. Hop on the scale before, and then after, your exercise. Do you weigh less? While we’d love to think that weight loss means fat loss, chances are it means you did not hydrate properly before or during that exercise. Her suggestion is to drink 1-2 glasses of water when you get up in the morning, especially if you workout in the morning. Her post links you to a Urine Color Chart that will show you how to measure your hydration based on the color of your urine.

Grab that bottle of water and drink away!

Apr 152012

Do you sleep with your swim fins? Are they always in the back of your car? Do you own more swim fins than shoes? Do you cancel your swim workout when your fins go missing? For Pete’s sake, are you running with your fins on? These are all signs that you may be FIN DEPENDENT. There is help for you, but it will require a series of steps to conquer this addiction. Let’s start with, “My name is…and I am addicted to fins.” 🙂

In all seriousness, fins can be a wonderful tool. They quicken your workouts and shorten up the amount of time you spend in the water; many of you will actually commit to more kick sets with the fins on; you can keep up with the rabbit swimming in the lane next to you; and, it feels awesome to fly through the water at top speed, doesn’t it? And for those nursing some type of a shoulder or elbow injury, fins can help ease some of the strain on that body part. Still….if you really wear them all the time, you need an intervention team. I’m here for you!

As a coach, I’ve had many swimmers wear their fins the entire workout. This is where things get a little tricky. I’ve heard all kinds of excuses, I’m sorry, reasons, that swimmers want to wear them the whole workout. Many will say they go “nowhere when I kick without the fins”. Ahem…all the more reason to work some sets without the fins and learn to kick properly. Of course you are slower without the fins. But how can you really develop your kick when you are “cheating” by wearing the fins for all or most of your workout.

Another one is, “I can’t keep up with Billy” or, “I am always the last one in”. Well, big fuzzy duck, so what? You aren’t going to get much faster if you don’t put those fins up throughout your workout. This is about you and your time on the sets, not the speed demon next to you. You are sacrificing learning better stroke technique and positioning in the water when you regularly don those fins. If you are falling far behind and getting no rest between your sets, then talk to your coach about how you can modify the set or rest period. For example, if your swim group is doing 6 x 50 and you are getting just 2-5 seconds rest on a set where everyone else gets 10-15 seconds rest, then maybe you swim 5 x 50 and take that 10-15 seconds rest. You’ll finish up about the same time as the rest of the group.

I once was a fin addict. Don’t get me wrong, I still love ’em and I still use ’em. But, like my sweet tooth, it’s the whole idea of “everything in moderation”. Some workouts I don’t wear my fins at all. Other workouts I may do as much as 20-30% of the workout with my fins, or as little as 5-10%. When I wear my fins, it is for a distinct purpose. That may be to enable myself to hold up to swimming 10 x 25 fly on :30. Or, it may be to do some hypoxic sets of underwater kicking or even for a series of long kick sets. I might put them on when I want to feel pure sprint speed and attain that feeling of riding high in the water on my freestyle, or flat and low on my butterfly. It may be to practice my underwater dolphin kicking to extend how far out I can go on my starts and turns. I don’t wear them to keep up with so-and-so. Even when I have been unable to stroke (from surgery or injury), my 2000 yard kick workouts are not all done wearing fins.

Once I broke my addiction, I began to realize how poor my flutter and dolphin kick were. They have become much more efficient over the past few years. I also ditched the kickboard and do all my kicking in various streamline positions, and have found that has really heightened my awareness of body position in my swimming. I actually gave up the kickboards because of shoulder problems, and it was one of the best things I did for my shoulders and low back.

Here are some tips to begin cutting down your fin use in practice. Set an ultimate goal for using your fins 20% or less in your workouts.

  • Start by not wearing your fins in warm up! Go as slow as you need to go; take breaks as needed, but don’t wear them for warm up!
  • When a set comes up where fins are an option – talk your lane mates into ditching the fins. All for one and one for all is a powerful motivator. 🙂
  • Try some kick sets without fins. Start with maybe 4 x 25 flutter kick or dolphin kick. It will feel awkward and maybe even awful, but stick with it. 
  • Throw in some combination kick /stroke – maybe a 50 that is 25 kick, 25 stroke, or 75s with the first and last lap kicking, and the middle lap stroke. In other words, start small and work your way up.
  • Eventually, try an entire workout without using your fins. You do that and the goal of using your fins just 20% or less per workout will be a snap.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you.
Apr 152012

Hey, Happy Tax Day to you all! To celebrate giving all of your money to Uncle Sam, I figure you need to drown your sorrows in the pool, so I’ve got three drills for this week (April 15-21). These are freestyle drills and all three involve swimming with one arm.

There are three ways to swim one-arm freestyle. One is to leave the non-stroking arm extended in front of you. The other is to leave the non-stroking arm behind you, at your side (a much tougher version that really helps you work your core) and breathe to the “open shoulder”. One more twist on this (and another challenge) is to take that same drill and now breathe to the stroking shoulder. These are some of my favorite freestyle drills.

Remember, as with ALL drills, go slow on these drills. Master the technique and purpose of the drill, and don’t race to the other end of the pool. These one arm freestyle drills will help you 1) work your catch, pull through and recovery and 2) understand the critical nature your core plays in developing an efficient freestyle.

The folks at GoSwim demonstrate each of these drills perfectly in videos on their website.

If you want to know if you are doing these drills correctly, send me a video tape of you in action!