May 272012

Know anyone who does CrossFit? I’ve got a couple of friends involved with it. Not sure what you think about it, and I’ve not tried CrossFit before, but I understand it gives you one heck of a workout in a short amount of time. Well, one of my friends that does CrossFit told me to check out this website.

It is a blog written by a doctor of physical therapy, Kelly Starrett, from San Francisco who focuses on “performance-based Orthopedic Sports Medicine with an emphasis on returning athletes to elite level sport and performance”. He advocates:

All human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves

He has postings on upper back, trunk stability, dealing with patela femoral pain, and oh, so much more. If you are looking for specific exercises to deal with a weak point you might have, it is worth checking out. Like most blogs, you have the ability to search by words or phrases, and that seems to bbe the best way to peruse this site.

The site is: MobilityWOD

May 272012

As with breaststroke, butterfly is considered a “short-axis” stroke where you use your hips in a forward-backward motion to generate rhythm and kick. Most people try to power through fly, relying predominately on their arms and upper body and a kick that is just too hard with too much knee bend.

Butterfly is often seen as one of the more difficult. Yet, done properly, it is rhythmical and beautiful and the good flyers make it look effortless. They’ve learned how to minimize resistance and finesse the water. That is what we are trying to do with butterfly drills.

The foundation to a relaxed and fluid butterfly is the ability to undulate your body. Instead of relying too much on your arms or legs, you really want to rely on pressing your torso. Minimize the bend in your knee – try to keep it well under 90 degrees – maybe 45-60 degrees at the most. Work to keep yourself from diving down at the front end of your stroke. Keep your arms low and skimming right over the surface of the water.

One way to set muscle memory for your arms in fly is this dryland exercise. Stand in front of a mirror with your hands by your side. Raise your hands straight out from your sides as if you were going to make the letter “T”. Now continue to raise them up to your head. Do this now in one slow movement? Feel how easy and smooth that movement is? That is the same movement you will do in the water.

For the drills this week, I have a few that focus on awakening your torso to the role it plays in swimming quality butterfly.

Chest Press

This drill is designed to help you feel the press and release in fly.

Go face down in the water (no fins) with your hands at your side, and undulate through the water. Press with your head and chest as you undulate lightly through the water. Think of pressing your lungs down into the water. This is not about speed and you are not kicking – simply pressing the water.

A more advanced version is to try this face down in the water (no fins) but this time you will have your arms out in front of you, just outside your shoulders and with your pinkie finger up at the surface (thumb down) while you press your chest between your shoulders. This requires some flexibility, which is a key component to good butterfly. Remember, this is not about kicking, but about working your torso. Done properly, you will feel the shimmy travel down your torso into your legs. If you struggle, try this with fins. If you still struggle, return to the first version above.

Hands Down Dolphin Kick

This drill is also designed to help you feel the press and release in fly. 

Wearing a snorkel (a GREAT training tool), kick dolphin kick face down in the water with hands down by your hips. Keep your shoulders and head flat on the surface with very little up and down. Keep your neck long. Kick from your hips. This differs from the above drill in that you are kicking on this drill. But remember to continue pressing your lungs into the water and establish undulation of your body with your kick. Feel the shimmy!

Single-arm Butterfly

This drill helps develop timing and emphasizes soft hands. Key to all progressions of this drill is to remember that fly is not “up and down”. It is now swum low and flat across the water with just a little undulation of your body and not big dives down–because you just have to crawl back up to the surface!

In this drill, focus on staying as relaxed as possible, keeping your shoulders and head on the surface and your feet in the water. On your first run through of this drill,  you will keep one arm down by your side and you breathe to the side of the stroking arm. Keep your shoulders up and hands down on the front end of your stroke. Make your entry soft with your hands. Skim your stroking arm across the top of the water, keeping palms “to the sky” and dropping the thumb in first up front on your entry.

Do this again and pick up the tempo. This is now more like a racing drill. With the increase in speed, you should be even flatter. Remember, keep your recovery low, right across the top of the water instead of trying to power through it. Try to find rhythm in this drill.

For the second version of this drill, leave one arm stationary up front and stroke with one arm. To find your rhythm, you should have a kick on entry and a kick on exit. Both kicks are soft – what you really feel is that chest press and slight undulation in your body.

The next progression is to leave one hand stationary out in front. This will keep your line a little longer and prepares you more for racing. This progression allows for a bit more rhythm, and a more shallow entry. Concentrate on relaxed recovery and rhythmic kicking. You continue to breathe to the side as your stroking arm is back behind you. Get your face back down and eyes looking at the pool bottom before your hand strikes up front. Remember to stay low across the water with your stroking arm. Here’s a link to an example of this approach at GoSwim. 

An advanced technique progression is to incorporate front-end breathing. Leaving one arm out front, swim one arm fly and, using proper timing and your shoulders, lift up just enough to sneak a breath in front of you. Don’t use your head to lift for the breath (slide your chin forward across the water) and get your head down before your hands enter up front.

May 262012

Happy Memorial Day weekend Symnuts! Here is your line up of workouts for this week, May 27 – June 2.

#31 – Middle Distance & IM

#32 – Sprints

#33 – Sprint, Free Emphasis

#34 – Free & Stroke

#35 – Free & Backstroke, Sprint
Hmmm. Seems to be a sprint theme.

Of course, there is always the option for the 2012 Check-Off Challenge! Read all about it at USMS. Just did this today in a long course pool in Lawrence, Kansas. It is my second year doing the challenge, and doing it all in one workout. Feels so good when you are done! Let us know if you do it this year!

May 232012
There is a lot of nutritional information out there. I found one today on targeted toward athletes.
Basically, it says the top 5 carbs for athletes are: sweet potatoes, oats, wild rice, bananas, and chickpeas. I score great on 3 of the 5, but need to work on adding more wild rice and chickpeas into my diet. How do you rank?
Here’s a recipe from Kraft with one of the five on the list, sweet potatoes. Both Coach Susie and I make this recipe. It is super easy and incredibly yummy!
One-Pan Baked Chicken & Sweet Potatoes


what you need

what you need



1/2 cup KRAFT Zesty Italian Dressing

3 Tbsp.  brown sugar

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme

1-1/2 lb.  sweet potatoes (about 3), cut into 3/4-inch-wide wedges

1 broiler-fryer chicken (3 lb.), cut into 8 pieces



make it


HEAT oven to 375ºF.

MIX dressing, sugar and thyme in large bowl. Add potatoes; toss to coat. Transfer potatoes to 15x10x1-inch pan, reserving dressing mixture in bowl.

ADD chicken to reserved dressing mixture; toss to coat. Place in pan with potatoes.

BAKE 1 hour or until potatoes are tender and chicken is done (165ºF). Transfer chicken and potatoes to platter. Strain drippings from pan; pour strained sauce over chicken.



kraft kitchens tips



Serve with your favorite steamed vegetable to round out the meal.



Substitute fresh rosemary or 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves for the fresh thyme. Try using thighs and drumsticks, or chicken breasts in place of a whole chicken.


May 192012

Workouts for the week of May 20-26, 2012. The emphasis is Freestyle!

#26 – Free DPS & Build

#27 – Easy Free Recovery & Stroke

#28 – Sprint Free / Stroke Mix

#29 – Distance Free

#30 – Sprint Specialty Stroke & Free

May 132012

Happy Mother’s Day to all of our Mom’s out there! In thinking about what an incredible job that Mom’s do, and knowing how hectic life is these days, I thought a post on something soothing and smooth might be in order. I’m combining our Drill of the Week and Tip of the Week as one post. As you read through, you’ll see why.

Sometimes we have those days in our swimming where it all seems so easy and smooth. You sail through your workout and even contemplate that you just might be Olympic calibre.  Visions of Jessica Hardy and Ryan Lochte dance through your head.

Then there are those days that are quite a bit more challenging. You know what I’m talking about! You thrash, you splash and somehow, most unelegantly, you make your way to the other end. No matter what happens, you just can’t “get your groove on”. What’s up with that?

Ah mate…you just lost your rhythm. Thoughts of the Olympics are dashed and you think you just might need remedial lessons. The good news is that the loss is temporary, and you can work to get it back.

In an earlier write up, I posted about cylinder swimming. It isn’t something that just happens, you have to concentrate and be vigilant about your position, line and balance in the water. There is another component to your swimming, your rhythm, and it requires the same level of attention. You need to pay attention to your rhythm and cadence – in your breathing, in your stroking, in your kicking.

For me, backstroke and freestyle provide optimal opportunity to feel rhythm. Both are very symmetrical strokes. I often find myself counting some form of cadence as I stroke along – 1-2-3-4 or 1-2-3. It can be so mesmerizing and relaxing! Definitely my “Zen moment”. This is possible, also, with butterfly and breaststroke, just takes a bit more work to relax and get into the stroke.  Those two strokes can suck away the oxygen rather quickly, so establishing proper breathing is critical.

Alright then, so how do you find this magical feeling? Allow yourself to experience a practice session without a clock or timing device. Let go of that for the purposes of this goal to find and maintain rhythm in your swimming. Start out by focusing on your breathing. Do some very easy laps kicking on your back while you gently breathe in and out. Don’t kick hard (and fins are fine).  Keeping that breathing relaxed, focus on your streamline, and then your kick. Keep the knee bend to a minimum, kick from the hips, point the toes slightly. Is your kick even? Smooth?

Now try gentle and easy freestyle strokes, continuing to focus on keeping that breathing relaxed. If kicking isn’t your strong suit, for now, put on a pull buoy.

Breathe when you want – don’t worry about whether that is every stroke, every third, or some other cadence. Each time your face hits the water, be sure and exhale – gently and smoothly. Don’t hold your breath for even a second! Just let it flow back and forth. Continue focusing on finding a rhythm in your breathing – whatever your cycle of breathing may be.

When you have your breathing relaxed, swim a lap where you focus on noticing the timing of your strokes with your breathing. Can you find a pattern? Do you have a “hitch” in your stroke that you can smooth out so that it feels like it can match up to a metronome?

As you begin to feel that you’ve got rhythm at slow speeds, take it up a notch. Don’t work harder at your stroking or kicking, just simply increase the rhythm ever so slightly. If you falter, back up a step (or steps) until you begin to find the rhythm. Keep at it! Once you find that incredible feeling, it is addictive and you will want to find it again and again.

For you competitors out there, this is a great way to ramp up for meets or open water swims. Do sets where you first find the smooth rhythm, and then increase the tempo of that rhythm. Focus on those increases in rhythm more than effort in your stroke. You just might like those results. 🙂

Once you can do a few laps “with rhythm”, up the ante. Can you do a 200? Can you hold this for a 500? If you cannot, a few things could be going on. One, your breathing may not be executed properly. Remember, no holding your breath when your face is in the water! Two, you may not have your aerobic conditioning down. Work to increase yardage and decrease rest. Three, other elements may be working against you. If you don’t have proper position, line and balance in the water, finding rhythm will be difficult. Return to some basics on stroke improvement. Use your core, work your catch, align your body.

Be patient with yourself and know that this magical transformation doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve been working on this for over 5 years. I don’t find that sweet spot in every lap of my practice. But, I am now able to find it in almost every practice. Try it in backstroke. This is my most favorite stroke right now. Backstroke used to be my absolute worst stroke. My former coach, Sharlene, used to chuckle a lot when I tried backstroke. I flailed and was all over the place. I very much appreciate all the time she spent with me, because eventually things began to gel as  I worked on it, over and over. And when my best stroke, breaststroke, neeeded a rest due to injuries, I set my sights on dramatically improving my backstroke. Sometime over the last two years, I began to find the rhythm in the stroke and have fallen completely head over heels in love with it. Whether it is 50 back, 200 back or even 500 back (in practice), I just feel strong, confident and smooth, and oh so rhythmical.

Give it a go. Be patient and just keep at it. Once you “find it” you won’t be disappointed. So go swim smooth people!

May 062012

Last week I posted on different freestyle forms (see TOW April 29-May 5). While there are a variety of styles in freestyle, all should share one common trait – Early Vertical Forearm. Are you like me when you first heard that term? One big “HUH?” It really took me a bit to understand first what they heck the term meant, second, how I was supposed to apply  “EVF”, and third, what the benefit would be to my freestyle.

Early vertical forearm – EVF – is actually simple to describe, and harder to attain. A simplified definition is that when your hand enters the water up front and begins to catch the water, you want your fingertips and forearm – as one unit – to go vertical. Your fingertips need to point down to the pool bottom. But, you want to hinge at the elbow! If you don’t, you are pulling through with your shoulder and not getting enough grab on the water. I like to think of my fingers, wrist and forearm as the main fulcrum in my pull. I bend at the elbow (or pretend my elbow is a hinge) to get that position early in my pull.  That means my elbow stays high all the way through as my hand catches the water and pulls to my hip.

How do you know when you have achieved it? Well, ideally, with someone watching from underwater. Even so, you can feel the difference. When using EVF, I feel the use of my lats and the shoulder muscles near my arm pit. It feels as if I am vaulting over a barrel and my stroke definitely feels more powerful. I am able to cut my stroke count down by 1-2 strokes per lap when I do EVF properly. So there is your benefit! You will be more efficient in the water, taking less strokes per lap. That means it is good for all levels of swimmers – fitness, triathletes or pool competitors. An added benefit? Employ the proper muscles in your freestyle pull and you have a lot better chance of avoiding some serious shoulder injuries.

EVF is not a simple transition. It will take you a lot of practice time to train your body for the adjustment. To really grasp EVF, you need to watch different videos of swimmers using EVF, try it out yourself, and supplement that with some isometric exercises that strengthen the muscles needed for this action.

My suggestion is that you focus on some one arm swimming to start. Leave the non swimming arm up front, keep your stroke wide (remember – out from your shoulder – don’t cross into your center line). Try a 25 with one arm, really focusing on pointing the fingertips to the pool bottom while keeping the elbow high. Now try a 25 with the other arm. If you are like me, one arm seems to handle it easier than the other arm. A good visualiztion is to picture yourself paddling on a surfboard. The elbow can’t drop (because of the board) and your fingertips, wrist and forearm, all grab the water and push through to your hip.

After doing some 25s one arm, try a 50 swim where one lap you concentrate on the right arm, one lap you concentrate on the left arm. Just keep focusing on this and you’ll get where you need to be!

Here is a great write up and collection of EVF videos and drills that I found. If you Google “early vertical forearm” you’ll see quite a collection of materials.

May 062012

So what exactly does really good breaststroke look like? Let’s check out U.S. Olympic swimmer Jessica Hardy – a very, very fast breaststroker. What makes her so efficient in the water? GoSwim has a nice short video segment to a new breaststroke DVD:

Jessica has a very efficient front end of her stroke.  Notice how, as she ends the streamline and prepares for the next stroke, she points her thumbs down and faces her palms out to the side of the pool. If you tend to leave your palms facing the bottom of the pool when you start the breaststroke pull, you won’t keep tension on your palm and will wind up massaging the water.

  • First tip: Try to start each pull with the thumbs down position. If you do that, you’ll have even more grab on that first part of the stroke. It is challenging when you first start this, but worth it!
  • Put it to work: Try some 25s where you do breaststroke pull with either a flutter kick or dolphin kick. Take it slow and make sure each stroke begins with thumbs down, palms out. The Wide Y Sculling Drill covered in an earlier posting on our website is an excellent drill to establish this position.

Let’s look at Jessica’s outsweep. Jessica has a wide outsweep, but notice how she “turns the corner ” into her catch as her hands reach her head. That “corner” position is key. Many swimmers bring their hands well behind their head and that is what causes their elbows to get caught behind and beneath them. This is a death blow to the front end of breaststroke as you expose too much of your chest and shoulders to the water (creating resistance) and it is tough to get your hands back under you to shoot them forward quickly.

  • Second tip: Feel free to pull wide in your breaststroke, but understand that where you turn the corner from outsweep to insweep is at or near your head. Don’t let your elbows go back behind your shoulders. Keep the elbows high (near the water’s surface) on the outsweep and insweep before shooting your hands forward.
  • Put it to work: Take those same 25s from the first tip and concentrate on feeling exactly where you switch from outsweep to insweep. Work to keep those elbows high!

Now let’s look at her kick. She does a great job of bringing her ankles up close to her rear end. She finishes each kick nicely and she has incredible ankle flexibility. Her knees may seem wide (as they are drawing outside her hip line), but when you look at the width of her shoulders, she is within the line of her shoulders,. The idea is to try and keep your knees no wider than your hips or shoulders. We do that to minimize resistance by minimizing how much we are extending our limbs outside our cylinder. (See my post on Cylinder Freestyle.) I try to think of pigeon toeing my knees as I draw my feet up. You certainly don’t want to keep your knees locked together! But many swimmers struggling with breaststroke kick simply allow their knees to separate too far.

  • Third tip: The first action in your breaststroke kick is to draw your ankles to your rear end. When you draw your feet up, it is okay to allow your feet to separate – you don’t try to draw them up tight together because your knees will drift apart. Finish the feet together at the end of your kick, and allow them to separate as you draw them up. Here’s the danger. If you try to go as wide as Jessica does with her feet, there is a chance that you’ll use your knees to separate first, and then try to draw your feet up. That is a death blow to breaststroke as you present your entire thigh to the water, creating enormous resistance. As long as you always think “Draw ankles to butt” as your first action in the breast kick, you should be fine.
  • Put it to workTry some 25s kicking breaststroke first with a board, and then do some 25s kicking in a superman position on your stomach. Make that first action to draw your ankles up and try not to let the thighs move forward of your body line. If you are struggling with your draw, a drill that might help is Wall Kicks (below). You can also try doing some breaststroke kicking wearing a pull buoy between your thighs. This will really narrow your kick!

Drill – Wall Kicks                                                         

This drill teaches you to use the muscles in the back of your legs and in your hips to recover your heels rather than using your knees.

  • In the water, position yourself at the edge of a pool – deep enough that your feet do not touch the bottom. If the pool has a gutter, position your arms in the gutter. If there is no gutter, position your arms on the pool deck. The object is to “hug” the pool as closely as possible with your face, chest, hips and knees initially touching the wall. Point your toes. Recover your heels toward your hips without letting your hips come off the wall. It is close too impossible! But, the more you narrow the gap between your hips and the wall, the more successful you will be at breaststroke kick. Note which muscle groups need to fire up to make this successful. Low back muscles and your abdominal muscles play a big role in the short axis strokes of breast and butterfly.