Jan 142015

I have been using USRPT since June 2014 as have a few swimmers on our Swymnut Masters team. To help my swimmers, I created this written guide that has undergone several revisions. Each time I update this guide, I will post a copy of it here. You can obtain a copy by clicking the image below.

Feel free to contact me about your own experiences with USRPT. We all learn from each other!

Ultra Short Race Pace Training Guide v3.5

Sep 012014

Here is the latest instructional video from USMS featuring Coach Cokie and Swymnut Margaret De Somma. It is about the role of your hips in backstroke and freestyle and accompanies an upcoming article in the September/October SWIMMER Magazine titled “Get Hip With Your Hips”. The key is to understand the role your hips play and then learn to control the action to help propel you forward by tapping into the largest muscles in your back, your latissimus dorsi! Thank you to Margaret who makes this look so easy.

Jul 082014

The folks at Swim Smooth have a great write up (click here) on why stroke rate is such an important aspect of your swimming. Stroke rate is different than stroke length. There has been a lot of emphasis in the past with stroke length (I’m sure you’ve heard the term “distance per stroke”) but a better tool for improving your speed is to know your stroke rate. Stroke rate applies to all four strokes, but for the purposes of the Swim Smooth article, they are concentrating on freestyle.

Stroke length is how far you travel with each stroke. A longer stroke length means less strokes to the end of the lap. Stroke length does have a place in our swimming strategy, especially for newbies and beginner-intermediates, but stroke length can also work against you. If you have too much glide in your stroke it can leave you with some significant pauses where your forward momentum begins to stall out. That can create drag and a loss of balance for you as well as an increased use of energy needed to come back from the stall. It can look smooth and pretty but may not give you the efficiency or speed you desire in your swim.

Stroke rate is how many strokes you take, otherwise known as turnover. In a very simplified way of thinking about stroke rate, the longer the swim, the lower your stroke rate. The shorter the swim (think 50 free and its wild splash-and-dash approach) the higher the stroke rate. Stroke rate is measured in strokes per minute (SPM). In the Swim Smooth article they even have a tool you can use to establish your strokes per minute and see how that rate equates to reaching your goal in something like a 100m freestyle race.

There are a few ways to measure Stroke Rate. If you use a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro (the yellow one with the replaceable batter) you can go into Mode 3 and play with a range anywhere from 60-110. 60 is a slow, easy turnover. 110 is frenzied. Try several swims from slow, easy and comfortable to fast and furious. Where do you fall? What can you sustain for a 25? A 50? A 400? Use that knowledge and plan some sets around it.

If you don’t have a Tempo Trainer – well heck ya big goof, go get one – then you can have someone simply time you for 10 strokes. They would start the stopwatch with the first hand entry and each subsequent hand entry is a count, stopping the watch on your 10th hand entry. Have them do this for a few 10-second stretches so you get an accurate look at your stroke rate. You can also get video taped and then conduct your own stopwatch assessment in the same fashion.

Along with the Swim Smooth write up, I found a YouTube video (below) that shows how they took a swimmer, analyzed his stroke (which was too slow with too much glide) and improved his stroke rate so that he would be faster and more efficient. It is a long video (26 minutes) but worth watching. There are some good tips in there on how you can improve your own stroke rate in freestyle.

Again, knowing and working with your stroke rate encompasses all your strokes. Using the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro is one of the best tools you have at your disposal. Keep a log of your stroke rate and set some goals on how to improve it. Remember, you still have to have efficiency in your stroke so don’t sacrifice good stroke mechanics simply to flail yourself down to the other end of the pool. After all, it is about image, right? We want to swim pretty, right? ;-)

Jul 082014

Drag Trumps Power – Gary Hall Sr.

Great video clip on why you need to correct your pull in freestyle – especially if you are a swimmer that pulls with a straight arm or that pulls way under your body (to your opposite hip).  Gary walks you through why drag trumps power and what you can do to get the most out of your freestyle pull.

Click here to see The Race Club Secret Tip on How To Pull In Freestyle

Don't pull like this!

Don’t pull like this!












Instead, pull like this!

Instead, pull like this!

Jun 292014

Feeling frustrated because you’ve hit a plateau in your swimming, or for that matter just about any sport? Could be that you aren’t working hard enough or smart enough.  It takes both to improve. Working harder does not necessarily equate to putting in more yards. (I know, many of you are now off the couch and jumping up and down with excitement!) Granted, there are swimmers out there that love yardage and can handle monster 5000 and 6000 yard workouts on a regular basis. Gotta admit, I’m not one of them and neither are about 90% of the swimmers we coach in Masters swimming. Those swimmers that do heavy yardage workouts (and I have to admit I am envious of their ability to do so) may hold the same time year in and year out for various timed swims in the pool, perhaps even experiencing a moderate time drop. Again, cool! But, if you are a meet goer, or even a fitness swimmer that regularly times yourself in practice on certain events, and wants to get faster, then this posting is for you.

Talking to a couple of coaches this week (Kerry O’Brien and Stu Kahn – some truly amazing guys) we chatted about a common theme in Masters swim practices. Most swimmers swim our easy sets too fast and swim our fast sets too easy. To swim fast in a race, you MUST swim fast in practice. To swim smart in a race, you MUST swim smart in practice. That means executing with excellence in your starts, turns and race strategy. Whatever bad habits you have in practice WILL come back to haunt you in a race (one handed touches, sloppy turns, poor race strategy, inability to handle breath control, etc.)

Stu Kahn spoke about an article he had read from the NY Times, so I came home and did some research to locate the article. It is fascinating as it talks about a protein we have in our bodies – CRTC2 – and how that protein plays a role in improving our fitness and reaching our fitness goals. The gist of the article? There is some truth to the old saying, “No Pain, No Gain”. Check out the NY Times article here by clicking the title.

For Fitness, Push Yourself – NY Times

You are the master of your own destiny – in and out of the pool. You have to WANT something and you have to WORK toward it. There are a rare group of people who can seemingly crank out some pretty awesome sprint times without much work in the pool. I am soooo jealous! Sure wish I could. Every 100th of a second drop in time for me comes from working hard, swimming smart, and pushing myself in practice when I don’t necessarily want to. That seems to be the formula that works for the vast majority of us. In other words…


Yup, I’m talking to YOU! You have to push your body. Ah, yes, I acknowledge that therein lies the challenge for us, ahem, aging Masters swimmers. We have certain frailties – cranky shoulders, wobbly knees, backs that don’t flex anymore – well, you get the picture. My response to that? Where there is a will, there is a way! Key things to consider:

  • Warm Up thoroughly (that means getting to workout on time!)
  • Cool down at the end of your workout (if you run out of pool time, cool down on deck)
  • Swim fast when and where directed (either by the coach or from the workout if swimming on your own)
  • Swim easy when and where directed (again from the coach or from the workout)
  • Challenge yourself. Set goals and work toward them. Set the big goals and the little goals that will get you there.
  • Strive for excellence in what you undertake! Swim smart. Work to minimize resistance and your ability to maximize propulsion will improve.
  • Listen to your body. There are days when you need to back off or even step away from the pool. Don’t push through your injuries. Get help and find cross training programs that strengthen your weak areas without damaging you.

And the final tip?

  • Throw away the concerns about “total yardage” in a workout. 2000, 3000, 4500, 6000?

Yardage really doesn’t have much bearing on the big picture. It just doesn’t matter unless you are training for some significant distances such as big open water swims. If you don’t believe me, then study up on Ultra Short Race Pace Training which is prescribed not just for sprinters but also for distance swimmers – even those doing the 1500m free events. Check out USPRT and you’ll see that this form of training is the big buzz spreading far and wide in the swimming community.

I’m currently studying everything I can find on USRPT. As I get a better handle on how it works with Masters swimming and the constraints we have with our older bodies, I’ll apply it to our program. In the meantime, get focused, set some goals, and swim smart. You want it? Go get it.

What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.

Return to the pool with a whole new mindset. Whether your workout is 30 minutes long or 90 minutes long, use it to work toward some goals. Let go of measuring quantity and start measuring the quality of your workouts. Activate your catecholamines and watch what happens!



Found another article that is helpful on the mental and physical aspects of sprint training. See 5 Training Tips For Sprinters

Jun 132014

Berryessa Kyle and MaryWe are smack dab in the middle of the open water season, so it seems a good time to share some tips and tricks. Check out these two articles, one on the language of open water (you’ll be surprised at what you might not know) and one on what to expect in an ocean swim. Click on the titles below.

The ABCs of Open Water Swimming by ACTIVE.

What to Expect During an Ocean Swim. 

Jun 042014

Susie PowellPerhaps you’ve read or heard about different styles in freestyle. Terms most common are shoulder driven, hip driven, hybrid, and body driven freestyle. Then there is straight arm recovery vs. bent arm recovery. Definitely gets a bit confusing. I’ve done some research to get a better understanding of the different styles, why you might prefer one style over another, how they work, and how this applies to sprinters vs. distance swimmers and open water swimmers.

Let’s start with looking at a video on “Three Style Freestyle”, developed by Coach Mike Bottom. This gives you a brief glimpse of each style (hip driven, shoulder driven, body driven).  Right away you can see some of the essential differences. For a quickie definition, Hip Driven free is what we should be swimming the bulk of our practice time. It is long, smooth, relaxed and incredibly efficient. Shoulder Driven is used for sprint freestylers. It is less efficient than Hip Driven but incredibly powerful and works great for sprint races. Body Driven free is the least efficient and hardest to maintain. It is used at the end of our races and has a lot of power but is very hard to sustain for an entire race. Hybrid is a blend of Hip Driven and Shoulder Driven and looks lopsided. You might hear someone say, “He has a loping stroke”. Chances are that swimmer uses a Hybrid style. If you remember Jason Lezak’s freestyle, he would fall into the Hybrid classification.


Next, let me show you a video from another Olympian-turned-Coach, Gary Hall Sr, titled “Picking The Right Technique”. In this video, Gary shows three styles: Hip Driven, Shoulder Driven & Hybrid. This is a terrific video because not only does he tell you pros and cons of those styles, he also demonstrates how they look in the water from multiple angles.



To synopsize key points from the Gary Hall Sr. video.

Hip Driven Freestyle

  • Stroke rate is about 67-70 stroke cycles per minute
  • Involves pushing or gliding the hand forward in the initial catch.
  • Path of the hand is down, then back with a push
  • It has a slower stroke rate.
  • Requires driving with the legs. Kick enables more power at the end of the stroke.
  • Distance swimmers benefit most from this style.
  • It is not the best for sprints because it is harder to get the high tempo stroke rate needed.

 Shoulder Driven Freestyle

  • Stroke rate is in the range of 80-90 or even 90-100 strokes per minute
  • Hands catch early and quickly, elbows remain high. There is a quick catch to grab and pull the water back, and a quick release.
  • Not necessarily as dependent on a strong kick, although a strong kick is especially helpful at the end of the pull. (That being said, all of the elite sprint freestylers have phenomenal kicks.)
  • High stroke rate over the top
  • Sprinters benefit from this style. In fact, it is universal in elite freestyle sprinters
  • Hand path is wide – you need to avoid pulling under the body

Hybrid Driven Freestyle

  • Stroke rate is generally in the 75-80 strokes per minute range.
  • You see style this in the freestyle of Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Jason Lezak.
  • There is a loping effect or lopsided look to the stroke.
  • Basically it is a combination of Hip Driven and Shoulder Driven.
  • There is a quick catch on one side (shoulder driven) and on the breathing side more of a skate of the lead hand (hip driven) that holds out front longer than the opposite hand
  • There is more hip rotation to the breathing side, and not as much rotation to the non breathing side
  • Most suitable to middle distance swims (200-400 range)
  • Requires strong legs
  • Not as much power as shoulder driven, but still has a higher stroke rate than Hip Driven.
  • Not necessarily as dependent on a strong kick, although a strong kick is especially helpful at the end of the pull. (That being said, elite sprint freestylers who use the Hybrid style have phenomenal kicks.)


Mike Bottom’s team at University of Michigan, Club Wolverines, has some helpful videos on the three styles: Hip, Shoulder, Body Driven.

In these videos, Mike talks about Hip Driven free and shows some drills to help establish that style. First up, we have the “Connection Exercise”.

Next up, we have the Set Up & Drive, also for Hip Driven

Here are three videos showing how Club Wolverine gets their swimmers to understand and learn the Shoulder Driven technique. The first drill is Shoulder Driven with Style Sticks.

The second drill for Shoulder Driven is “Head Up Free”

The final drill for Shoulder Driven is “Kick & Dip”

To learn the Body Driven technique, Club Wolverine use the “Crock Kick” drill shown in the following video and then swim freestyle with a dolphin kick.

Straight Arm vs. Bent Arm Recovery

Gary Hall Sr. has also written a 3-part article on the biomechanics of freestyle recovery – straight arm vs. bent arm. It’s definitely worth a read.

Part 1: – My Take on Freestyle Recovery- Biomechanics

Part 2: – The Science behind Straight Arm vs. Bent Arm – Newtonian Mechanics

Part 3 – A list of Pros and Cons of Straight Arm Recovery vs. Bent Arm Recovery


Apr 092014

taper-timeYahoo! Swimmers are practically doing back flips because we have reached Taper Time. Beginning Sunday, April 13th, we start the 3-week taper for the Nationals held May 1-4 in Santa Clara.

A taper can be anywhere from 2-3 weeks long. I start our taper 3 weeks out in concept more than in design. For those on the team, you will have received our Swymnut Taper Guide by email (if not, drop me an email). The Taper workouts are constructed to work for both those actually tapering and the rest of the team not heading to the meet. As we progress through the taper weeks, you’ll notice those on taper exiting the pool earlier than the rest of you. Dang, don’t you wish you were going to the meet now? Either way, our non meet goers will not be forgotten. We’ll take good care of all ya all!

The first week of taper keeps our yardage totals pretty close to our normal 1-hour practices where we usually see total yardage (including warm up and warm down) in the 2800-3200 range. In fact, the whole idea of a taper is to cut volume incrementally to about 60% of pre-taper values just before the big meet. The first week of taper is about sharpening our focus on race strategy and stroke technique. We have some longer rest periods in that week, but need to maintain our aerobic base. We begin to bring down yardage week two and reach that 60% mark in the third and final week.

We need to maintain intensity of training, which is why you see a lot of sprint work or speed work indicated. The good news is that we allow much more rest in our sprint sets. Intensity also comes in the form of focus, so there is a lot of emphasis on good push offs, quality stroke technique, race finishes, and lots of time to work starts and turns.

It is important to swim frequently the weeks before and during taper. While we do want you to listen to your body and rest it as needed, we also need you to maintain your feel for the water. Come to practice and we will work together to analyze what you need that day. Just stay in the water to maintain your connection to it!

Distance swimmers (doing 500 or more) can add a little more yardage to the taper workouts. Remember, the key is “what is your 60%” yardage value?

And don’t forget, this whole Masters Swimming is all about having fun and staying fit. Don’t take yourself too seriously! Don’t analyze things to death. Don’t worry. Go, enjoy, and swim the very best you can that day, that event. Relish in what you are able to do not in what you didn’t do. Your well being and happiness are not dependent on the outcome of your race, so don’t beat the crap out of yourself when you stumble in an event or even at an entire meet. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, learn from your experience, and know that there will be many more swim meets down the road. It took me years to realize this and it is one of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn. Meets are now much more enjoyable than ever before and I hope they are for you as well!

Soreness often comes into play during taper. To understand why, check out this article from the Swim Sci folks:

Why am I Sore During Taper?

Apr 092014
Swimmers should definitely avoid stretch #2 and #4!

Swimmers should definitely avoid stretch #2 and #4!

I get a lot of questions about whether swimmers should stretch and which stretches they should do. I’m doing some research into this. I do know I’ve heard that “static stretching” is not beneficial in warm up and, in fact, can cause harm. I’ve also read that static stretching has a role and that would be in post workout. Here are some articles I found today while pursuing the web on this topic. Click the titles to jump to the online article. As I get more information and links, I’ll add to this posting.

General Static Stretching is a Waste of Time (a 4-part series)

Reasons Not to Stretch – NY Times

How does Static Stretching Affect an Athlete’s Performance?

 Top 5 Worst Stretching Mistakes

Nov 022013

Erica Sutherland has made the centerfold of the November-December 2013 issue of SWIMMER Magazine! The center of the magazine has the technique article, and this issue was on Backstroke Starts. When I was asked to write an article on this topic for USMS, it didn’t take but a second to realize who I wanted to do the modeling. Erica has one of the most amazing starts that we all want to emulate. Incredibly graceful and flexible, Erica launches like someone half her age.

Along with the article, we were privileged to have USMS film a segment on Backstroke Starts. That video is embedded here. Enjoy!

This was our second Swymnut taking centerfold status this year, with Jimmy Nam appearing in the July-August issue. That article was on 5 Missteps in Breaststroke Arms and the accompanying video to that article appears here.

Thank you to both our swimmers for doing such a great job and representing Swymnut Masters in THE magazine for U.S. Masters Swimming.