Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Lifeguard! Lifeguard! Help!

Why Martin chose to swim the Amazon perhaps?

Extending My Freestyle Reach

Want to increase your reach so you can pull more water? I've been practicing and noticed that some techniques work better than others. I've mentioned in past posts how stretching one's torso extends one's reach. Today I found myself working on my arm reach. I was focusing on keeping my arm straight and pulling with my shoulder. In doing so found that I could add what I perceived to be significant additional length to my reach. I did this by exaggerating the depth I turned my shoulder into the water (toward the bottom). In doing so I could distinctly feel my deltoid muscle move and extend further than it naturally did. It almost felt as though my reach extended an additional inch or two (which never occurred to me as a possibility). This may be something any skilled swimmer already knows about, but it felt completely new to me. I do have somewhat loose shoulder muscles (I've temporarily dislocated them on several occasions) so the extension shift I felt in my shoulder muscles may not be reproducible by everyone. I'd like to hear comments on these observations.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Disservice of Swimmng Pools with Little Depth

About six months ago, before a workout I was changing in the locker room (I know, TMI). The regional head of the fitness facility (a national not-for-profit, everyone knows by name) who had finished his workout was getting ready for his day. He knows I'm a swimming nut and often asks me my opinion of how the pools are doing from a heavy-user perspective. Somehow that morning we got on the subject of pool depths. The organization had in recent years filled in a diving well for a new kiddie pool and raised the depth of a fifty-meter pool from a gradiated pool with a maximum seven feet to a flat four and a half. They'd also eliminated the swim meet diving blocks and removed a diving board at one of the facilities (they've left it at another - so this was perplexing to me). Today most of the pools in our area have signs posted saying people can't dive into the pools off the pool edge. I asked if these changes were due to insurance premiums. His reply was immediate. "Exactly," he said. This wasn't a surprise to me, but since then I've not felt comfortable with the answer - not his answer "exactly," but that they believe that they are doing their organization and the public a favor. I contend they are doing the public a disservice by taking away the opportunity to swim in pools with depth. I have a number of problems with this. First, how can people really learn to swim if they can always put their feet down? If they are really teaching people to swim as they contend in their lesson plans, why don't they realize that teaching people to swim in a shallow pool can lead many to believe they can swim in any depth. Sure, some will be able to. But others will be surprised when they most certainly one day find themselves in water over their heads someplace other than the protective confines of a facility with safeguards every twenty feet (poles, throw lines, guards, etc). This could lead to unnecessary drownings or, at a minimum, horrible scares. Next, what about other skill sets? The users will never learn to dive head first into water, much less dive down deep (as much fun, if not more fun than swimming around on top). I contend that this money saving decision - certainly not a system wide decision since some of the pools still have depth - is wrong and that it needs to be re-examined as pool renovations and new pool plans are developed. People need to know how to swim in depths. It could save their lives!

Friday, February 23, 2007

WaterTemp Does Make a Difference

I've harped on water temperature enough in this blog to write a book. In keeping with the theme, here's another post. Over the past two weeks I've seen my preferred lap pool's temperature swing from an average of 81F up to 87F and as low as 77F (this is an indoor pool). Today it was at 83F. What's amazed me is my speed variability as a result of these temps. I typically do a pretty consistent mile in terms of time. In the short period of two weeks, I've seen my times swing 1.5 minutes (maybe more) on either side. I always knew warm water fatigued me, but I find this disparity amazing. Obviously, I can factor out fitness or lack there of as a cause for this disparity. I've seen swings in my speed over the course of six months, but never so much over just a few days. I honestly don't think the people in charge of pool temps really have any idea of the impact they are having on those of us who use the pool (much less the impact on their own facility's bottom line. Sure they get a lot of hell from both sides - some are too cold, others too hot. But don't the high temps and the big, fast swings effect the bottom line - i.e. the utility bills? I'm all for saving money. Swimming faster is an added bonus! I think I'm on the right side of this argument. Save money and lower the pool temperature. Now!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Is there an Optimal Pull Speed

This morning I noted that at times during my swim I was pulling faster, but making less progress. I slowed down the pace of the stroke and found it more efficient. I didn't change the stroke in any other way and I didn't time myself, but felt like I was making better progress through the water with the slower stroke. Strange. This begs the question, is there an optimal pull speed that works best for the speed the body is traveling through the water? If one's stroke pace exceeds the speed of the water flow, are you defeating yourself by using excessive energy? I'm thinking the right speed is where one catches the water such that you can maximize the pull. But what is that? If you pull too fast, you pull less water and consequently use more energy than you get back in terms of forward momentum. Am I on track to something here or just full or it? Your thoughts dear readers ...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Getting Past Swimming Tired

All my posts about Martin Strel make me feel guilty whenever I feel tired in the pool. Since Feb 1st, he's covered over 1,000 kilometers in his record breaking Amazon River Swim! Sure there's a strong current! Nevertheless, this post is about swimming when you're tired (with no current - try that Martin!). No, this post is not a rant about being careful. It concerns watching your style when you are fatigued - the result of boredom, a hard day, etc. I'm finding that getting fatigued when doing laps can be a vicious circle that saps my progress - the result of all sorts of mechanical flaws that come up. Here's how it generally happens for me. First - following the fatigue - I lose focus, then I stop keeping my form, and soon I'm working harder than I should be. I know. It's all is in my head! If I stay alert and keep my form, following all my self-imposed, self-help rules (see many of my prior posts) I glide through the water with seamless effort. If I lose focus, it's not unusual to find stupid things I'm doing like opening my palms (thumbs extended - a big no no) leading to water flowing past my hands rather than staying captured for the big pull, or I'm not pulling through to my thighs, or worse, I'm bending my torso (aaack!). In such cases, I may be better off just getting out of the pool. What's that? No way! When I see this happening, the best thing to do is to get focused again. I try a quick 50 - 100 meter sprint. It focuses me and forces better form. With better form, I start making better progress, and that fatigue generally goes away since the required effort to stream through the water has become easier.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Get Moving and Stay Moving

When doing flip turns, there's one thing I hate almost as much as getting the occasional sinus jolt and that is the repercussions of a poor push off the wall. If you routinely do flip turns, you are all too aware that hitting the wall perfectly - you know, with both feet planted and knees perfectly bent, primed and ready to push out - isn't necessarily a sure thing every time. Do two hundred flip turns, and your bound to miss a couple. It just happens. This happens most often with me when my mind is off somewhere else (in la la land). Anyway, missing that good push off the wall leads to the inevitable need to exert extra effort to get back up to speed. Basically, a poor push off means you must start from almost zero. When it happens to me, it just makes me mad. I don't want to work back up to speed. I propose that maintaining momentum is a primary reason some people can swim well and others can not. In past posts I've mentioned the torpedo body form to enhance a slipstream through the water and minimize the opposing force of oncoming water - which slow one down. Kicking off is basically the same thing. It gets you moving and negates the excess force you must expend to resume your speed. So wake up when you get near that wall, you've got to keep the wheel turning!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

English Channel Swim

Since my posts of late have swung into the adventurous high jinks of swimmers - thanks to Martin Strel (see prior recent posts) - I've been seeking out like-minded sites. Here's a web site I came across that gives some good insight into English Channel swimming. Check out the FAQs page for lots of good info on what a channel swim can entail and the recommended preparation.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Martin on way to becoming Continental Hero

Martin's progress tracking web site is showing what an amazement he is, even to the people who live with the Amazon on a daily basis. Great pics of the village populace welcoming the "gringo". They are also now reporting that even the local Coast Guard is getting involved to help make sure he and his support team are not bothered by pirates. Imagine having gunners keeping you safe while you swim! The pics are there. Check'm out (this is not spam).

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Shower Before You Swim - A Reason You May Not Have Thought Of

It's a little known fact by people who swim regularly that odors linger just above the surface of the water. I've been swimming alone, not looking up and known when someone else has entered the pool room (clear across the pool) just from the minor change in odors in the cavernous room. Just a small change might be evident, but whatever it is, settles just above the water and stays there - magnified. This can be particularly unpleasant when the gardening crews lay down organic mulch (read cow poop) around the grounds of outdoor pools I've noticed it with people who follow advice to keep their hair in good condition. They'll put conditioner on prior to jumping in. Then of course there is the unwashed or cologne/perfume people. These really hit hard. For some reason, it's just stronger right above the water. So people, here's a tip. Shower before you jump in. While most folks just ignore the "Shower before you swim" signs, and go right in, there is a real problem you just might not realize. You might think you smell good when you pass by that hot looking life guard, but those of us in the water? We're gagging! Shower please!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Amazon Shows Hints of Future Challenge to Martin

I was going to write today more blah, blah, blah about swimming technique but the most recent posts from Martin's Amazon swim are too fascinating to ignore. Here are some highlights I've gleamed from the site. Over the past few days, an alligator slipped off the bank into the water. Martin swam on. Later, the support boat got stranded and sent out an SOS. Martin swam on. The team had dinner with a regional dignitary. Martin ate barefooted (very cool). The team arrived at one "abandoned" village where a man approached with a gun, followed by women waving machetes. Talk about Amazon!

Friday, February 02, 2007

TV Teaches How to Battle Sharks

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Martin Strel Starts Amazon Swim

I read about Martin Strel a few days ago and blogrolled his web site. Now I see he is getting publicity from the BBC. Apparently Martin kicked off his 3000+ mile swim yesterday (Feb 1st) doing a mere 102km (in case you don't realize it - that's huge). Here are some pictures of Martin in action. Am guessing there is some good current in the Amazon. Will keep an eye on Martin's progress and wish him all the best in his pursuit. We're with you, Martin!