Jun 302012

How’s summer going? Hope you have some extra time to spend in the pool. After watching the Olympic trials this past week, I am super motivated in the water right now!

Here are the workouts for the week:

#362 – IM & Free

#363 – Your Stroke Specialty

#364 – Short Sprints

#365 – Distance Free

#366 – Long Axis – Back & Free

Jun 242012

There are three ways to do a back to breast turn. I’ve mastered two of them. But the third, The Crossover Turn, has always confounded me. I could not do this turn. Because I could not do it, I could not teach it. Aargh! However, while doing some research on breaststroke (which I am teaching at the upcoming USMS High Performance Camp, August 25-29 in Greensboro, NC),  I found this incredible clip. I love this!!! Finally, I think I just might be able to learn this turn. Thanks to the folks at SwimAffect.com for their expertise in guiding us through this turn.

To view the video, click:

Back to Breast Crossover Turn Swimaffect.com

In future posts, I’ll go over the other two options for a back to breast turn. Meanwhile, go try this, especially you IM swimmers.

Jun 172012

Ok, so we’ve been posting some drills to improve your timing on breaststroke. I’m doing some research for the USMS High Performance Camp that I’ll be coaching at in August (Greensboro, NC). I’m always on the hunt for new thoughts and ideas. While researching, I stumbled on this very challenging breaststroke drill for advanced level breaststrokers. I found this on SwimmingWorld. While it is dated 2004, it is still worthy of attempting!

Here’s a photo of Ed Moses doing the drill.

Here’s the write up from SwimmingWorld:

This is an advanced breaststroke drill, performed with only one arm and one leg. The drill will force you to use the proper timing of “Pull-Breathe-Kick-Stretch”. If you are not using the correct stroke timing – for example, you are not stretching long enough — you will receive immediate feedback from the stroke and go nowhere.

Begin the drill by holding your left foot with your right hand (or vice versa). Always begin a new stroke cycle in a streamline position, with your left arm extended out in front of you and your right leg straight. Pull as close to your normal pull pattern as possible. As you begin the insweep phase of the stroke, lift your head to breathe. During the breath, bend your kicking leg, bringing the heel of your foot toward your hip. During the power phase of the kick, place your head back down into the water, and straighten your leg into your “streamline”.

The timing of the stroke is a fundamental skill common of all successful breaststrokers. You will find this drill to be almost impossible to perform without proper timing.

Let me know how you fare. I’ve given it a go and can’t begin to master this – yet. My knee surgery has my right knee a bit challenged by that much bending back.

By the way, I had the pleasure of watching Ed Moses swim (and win) the 200 yard breaststroke at the USMS Nationals in Arizona May of 2011. He went out in a 24 on his first 50. Ahem, a 24?!?!?

Jun 102012

For our Bay Area swimmers in CA who like open water, do you know about SwimArt? I tried them out a few years ago, joining some members from my team at that time, Marin Pirates Masters. We attended the “Introduction” course that SwimArt offers. They do a terrific job of working with all levels of participants. Even though I consider myself an experienced short distance open water swimmer (1-3 miles), I picked up additional tips from the great instructors they had with us that day. If you are interested in swimming in SF Bay, the Alcatraz escape, and other ventures, consider looking into Swim Art. They offer many open water swimming programs in San Francisco Bay and beyond. Not just instruction, but regular guided swims as well. Check ’em out!

SwimArt Facebook page

SwimArt website

Jun 102012

On May 20th, I wrote a post on a drill for breaststroke timing. You can read that here. That post also gave a link to an article by Swimming World on breaststroke timing. This week I show another application of the drill I call “Pull Stop – Kick Stop”. (If you need a review of what the Pull Stop, Kick Stop drill is, you’ll see that at the bottom of this post.)

This drill is relatively simple. Apply the Pull Stop Kick Stop drill to a 100 yard breaststroke. The idea is that you start with a big separation between the pull and kick on lap one, and then reduce that separation on lap two, further reduce it on lap 3, and then lap 4 is done as normal breaststroke. Try a series of 100 breaststrokes in this fasion.

Here are the specifics:

  1. On lap 1, count “1-2-3” after the pull, before you execute the kick. Make sure you are in full streamline before you start your count.
  2. On lap 2, count “1-2” after the pull (in full streamline) before you execute the kick.
  3. On lap 3, count “1” after the pull, before the kick
  4. On lap 4, swim normal breaststroke. It is important that you allow your body to fully extend after each stroke. Finish your kick quickly and firmly, bringing your feet AND your legs together, and pointing your toes at the end of that kick. Get those arms fully extended and finish them close together up front (but not overlapping).

Some key points:

  • Work your streamline each and every stroke! You want to achieve that same type of streamline that your coaches ask you to do when coming off the wall. Arms full extended (although not stacked on top of each other), and touch your biceps to your ears. Eyes should be looking at the pool bottom.
  • Get your hips to come up by pressing your chest down when you are fully extended. Be careful not to point your hands or head down – just press your chest down. Pressing your chest down helps your hips to rise. Getting your hips up sets you up for a more powerful kick.
  • Start each pull with your thumbs down and palms facing the sides of the pool.
  • Keep your knees fairly narrow on your kick. Your first action of the kick is to bring both heels up to the side of your buttocks. Your feet should separate slightly on the draw up (of feet to butt) in order to prevent your knees from going wide.


Drill: Pull Stop, Kick Stop

This is a drill that can help in establishing timing between the pull and the kick. It also promotes “riding the glide” in breaststroke, driving the head down between outstretched arms, and finishing the feet before starting the pull.  

• This is a breaststroke separation drill where we separate the pull from the kick. Do a single pull of breaststroke with no kick at all (legs just hang out). At the end of the pull, dive your head down between your biceps into a tight streamline and stop or freeze in this position for just a moment. Without lifting your head or taking a breath now execute a single breaststroke kick with arms remaining in the streamline position. Finish your feet firmly and glide in this streamline position for a moment. Repeat the cycle through the lap.
•It is important to make a distinct stop after each pull and each kick. After you practice this for awhile, it should feel quite rhythmical. Once you have this drill down, begin to narrow the gap between the stops and eventually work it into a regular breaststroke. An accomplished breaststroker actually has a slight separation between the pull and when the kick starts. You’ll see that they initiate the arm pull first and about the time they are turning the corner to the insweep (from the outsweep) they begin to draw their heels up to start the kick. This requires a compact and speedy kick with a very quick heel draw.


Jun 032012

Are you experiencing headaches when you swim?  I followed a blog on the USMS forums the last few days that was quite interesting.  If you get the chance,  check out the blogs at USMS. You will need to create a user name and sign on, but it is a free service to USMS members and there are so many great forums to peruse.

Ok, back to headaches. I was interested in this particular posting because I suffer intense headaches after some swim races. Rarely in practice and I am thankful for that! My headaches come on within 5 to 15 minutes of finishing only a few of the races that I compete in – 200 Breast, 400 IM and occasionally, 100 Breast.  I’m a first hand witness that those headaches can be excruciating and debilitating.  I’ve thought it was asthma, hydration, too much sun, bright glare from sun or sun on the water, nutrition, etc. Never found the answer. I do know that I must have my normal cup of coffee on a swim day or the headache is a guarantee.

On this USMS forum, this particular swimmer was experiencing headaches routinely in practice. A pool temp of 85 degrees (ugh) and 90 minute plus practices were some of her baselines. All kinds of ideas were bandied about, including hydration, proper nutritional aspects, water temp, etc. The post that caught my attention was a fellow swimmer noting a Mayo Clinic web post on “exertional headaches”.

Here’s some excerpts from the Mayo Clinic post.

Exercise headaches occur during or after sustained, strenuous exercise. Activities associated with exercise headaches include running, rowing, tennis, swimming and weightlifting.

Doctors divide exercise headaches into two categories. Primary exercise headaches are usually harmless, aren’t connected to any underlying problems and can often be prevented with medication. Secondary exercise headaches, on the other hand, are caused by an underlying, often serious, problem within the brain — such as bleeding or a tumor — or outside the brain — such as coronary artery disease. Secondary exercise headaches may require emergency medical attention.

I’ll forego analyzing the “secondary exercise headaches”. If you think you may fall into this category, be sure and read the full write up by Mayo and go call your primary care physician. For now, more from Mayo:

The exact cause of primary exercise headaches is unknown. One theory is that strenuous exercise dilates blood vessels inside the skull.

Those who suffer primary exercise headaches describe them as throbbing, say they take place during or after strenuous exercise, and, in most cases,  affect both sides of their head. That fits my own headaches to a “T”.  It is so bad that I’ve occasionaly had to bag the rest of the meet and I struggle to make it home. The headaches I get usually subside after 12 to 24 hours. It makes swimming those events intimidating knowing that kind of pain awaits me after a breaststroke race that is only 1:11 (short course) to maybe 3:15 in length (long course). Many would tell me just give those races up. Geez, really? They are my best events and I just hate the thought of caving in to the possibility of pain. Well, let’s be honest, 400 IM is kind of easy to give up. 🙂

Ok then, we’ve got this theory that strenuous exercise dilates blood vessels. Jim Thornton, a sufferer of excercise heaches, posting on the USMS blog writes,

…have you ever tried drinking some coffee before (and maybe during) practice? A known effect of caffeine is to constrict blood vessels in the brain, and this might help you–no joke!

You could take some Jolt gum to practice and pop a chiclet every half hour, chew vigorously, then pop beneath your tongue for maximum buccal absorption!

I would also consider taking some pain pills before practice–Alleve or even Tylenol.

I don’t know Jolt gum, but I have experimented with caffeine intake during the swim meets, trying just small doses before an event. Have not done this enough to judge its efficacy. It is worthy of more attempts, and in the future,  I’ll keep a log. Perhaps I will find the right amount of caffeine to stave off these exertional headaches.

Risk factors, as noted by the Mayo post are:

You may be at greater risk of exercise headaches if you:

  • Exercise in hot weather
  • Exercise at high altitude
  • Have a personal or family history of migraine

Primary exercise headaches occur most often in people in early adulthood or adolescence.

Hmm, that last point doesn’t quite match as I am now in my 5th decade. Seriously though, if you are a sufferer of exercise headaches, there may be hope for you! I’d encourage you to see your doctor, even if the bouts are infrequent. By being able to describe in detail when they hit, what they feel like, how long they last, what gives you relief from them, etc., your doctor may have answers for how to address this problem. If you are like me, you probably don’t want to give up what you love. Maybe, just maybe you won’t have to.