Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More on Drafting - The Basics

In my last post, I provided a short silly clip of my kids' goldfish. I said they were drafting. They really weren't since they were barely moving, but the point I wanted to make can be seen be watching their positioning and the move the fish in the back makes to sprint to the front. You really can draft when you are swimming, but few folks know this because swimming adjacent to another swimmer or right behind is so rare. Usually we are in separate lanes. Only kids on swim teams who are advanced usually know this trick. Try it yourself sometime. You'll need a friend or someone who won't be weirded out by you swimming so close. You might ask a regular during your lap-time to try it out with you. You'll both get a kick out of it, I promise. To take advantage of the flow of water being pushed behind the swimmer in front of you, stay within about two to five feet of the front swimmer's feet and a little bit to the side. You don't want to get too close or be too far away. You want to be in the wake of the front swimmer it is the strongest. If you do it properly, you will notice that you can reduce your "efforting" considerably while you are in the drafting position. It can almost feel like you are swimming without even trying. If you don't understand this description, watch the goldfish video. It's a great example of swim drafting. Really!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

How Drafting Works - A Demo

I was experimenting with my new cell phone and took a short video of my kids' fish tank. When I played it back in YouTube, I was floored. The fish were drafting. Take a look for yourself. The fish in the back enjoys the slipstream of the fish in front, then at the right moment, sprints ahead. Just like a pro!

Friday, October 26, 2007

How to Swim in an Overheated Pool

Indoor pools are notorious for being too hot for lap swimmers. Unless the pool managers have made a concerted effort to attract lap swimmers with cooler temps, one can expect the indoor pool to be very warm - too warm for any serious lap swimmer (leading to early fatigue and body hydration loss). Then there are the schizophrenic pool heaters that are either on or off (too hot or too cold). Pools with these dysfunctional heaters are "like a box of chocolates ... you never know what you're gonna get." I come from the school of the schizophrenic pool heater so my advice is based on that. This leads to the question, if hot water lap pools are so pervasive, what is the best way to swim in them and still get a good workout. Here are my ideas:
1. Always bring a water bottle pool-side and drink from it regularly throughout your workout. Some non-lap swimmers may think a water bottle pool-side is loco (crazy). No! You will get hot if you are doing any significant workout in a hot pool and you will sweat and lose body fluids. You just won't notice it.
2. Don't go at a high-speed for a long period in hot water. You can do sprints, but take lots of breaks at slower speeds or do some wall-hanging to let your body recover (just like you might on a hot day on an athletic field).
3. I like to use the hot water days as a good time to do long-pull, slow swimming. This builds the muscles and is a great way to perfect your form (e.g., roll, stretch, arm position, etc). You can use cold water days for the cardio.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kickboard Techniques that Build Speed

Several years ago I saw two young women with a college team logo on each of their swim caps using kickboards, seemingly gliding along parallel to one another and chatting amiably. What was most interesting was not any of this, but that they were going very fast, and their "efforting" didn't seem to phase them at all. Their conversation was animated and they weren't breathing particularly different than had they been walking down the street. I'm guessing they were averaging one minute per 50 meters. The speed to them seemed inconsequential. Obviously, those two women had some speed secret I did not share.

Ever since, I've striven to have a strong kick. Not to chase the women - though that might come in handy should that pair ever return - but to build up my swimming speed. I devote twenty percent of my workout to the kickboard and have found it has definitely helped my overall swimming performance.

In the several years since I first saw those kickboarding women, I've found a few techniques that have built my speed:
1. Lift my toes out of the water to maximize my leg length and depth of my kick
2. Keep my legs as straight as possible for maximum sized paddle thrust and kick from the hip.
3. Whip my legs like one whips a rope (kick from the hip - see #2). The whip action promotes a stronger leg thrust than your typical back and forth leg motion.
4. Focus on the whole leg rather than the ankles and feet. Feel it in your belly.
5. During the kickboard period - I do it at the end of my workout - do periodic sprints to the point of getting yourself nearly out of breath and legs burning. I use key points in the pool as my starting and stopping points.
6. Don't lie on the kickboard. Push it out in front of you and extend your body to its full length.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Cold Water - The Barrier to Entry

Today while I was resting along the wall following my workout, a man of about 35 years, two lanes away, had just jumped in. He looked over at me and exclaimed how cold it was. I figure the water temp was somewhere between 80 and 82 degrees F. I told him I thought it was perfect and that he just needed to get moving. Was I being sanctimonious? I don't think so. I perceived a good chill when I touched my toe to the water before I entered. When I had gotten in, I had put my experience to work and jumped, feet first (can't dive in the pool ... someone says I might hurt myself - yeah, right!), angling my head forward so the water slapped my chest. It forces me to ignore the chill that might envelope my body upon entry and instead forces me to focus on the slight sting from the slap of the water. Still, I suppose, I had to learn that over time. People who don't swim routinely don't know these sorts of tricks. So I'm wondering, how many people don't use the pool for their exercise routine simply because they don't know that the water temp will be just fine once they establish a sense of understanding and give it a minute? How does one explain this? Kids just jump in - cold water or not - and they end up staying there? Why are adults such weenies?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Novel Swimming Gadgets I'd Like to See

The NIke people recently released a tie-in with iPods (I guess they didn't want to be the last ones) that allows a runner to link his/her shoes wirelessly into the player so the player can tell the runner to speed up or slow down, etc. Cool, or what? I think swimming needs more gadgets. Let's start with lap counters. They seem to only show up in competitive swimming pools. Really, they are needed in everyday lap pools - folks need to see they've done two laps. It might inspire them to do another. Really, though, lap counting to me is a daily chore. I'd much rather focus on something other than what lap I'm on when I'm doing anything longer than 400 meters. How about those rabbits that the greyhounds chase at dog tracks? Some racing LEDs along the lane line in the bottom of the pool would work for me. Then there's laser tracking and targeting. Every pool should have something that zaps the occasional clueless lane partner who strays into your part of the lane. I've read they're working on heads up displays for goggles. I even linked to them once or more in this blog in the past. Besides the lap counting function, speed, etc. I think some good cinema would be in order for these babies. I know these are somewhat off base, but why not? Any other suggestions?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Why Swimming is Doomed

Swimming may be doomed. The signs are all there. The population is aging, so more and more of us are embarrassed to even put on swim suits. The boards of most organizations that make decisions about swimming facilities have few if any swimmers to vouch for why money should be spent on them, much less how they should be designed - deep pool more than four feet? Why?, a pool longer than 25 yards? Why? Extended season past Labor Day? Why? Diving boards? Why? They've kept larger pools around because they are marquee facilities that are great to show off to attract new membership. But are these people really using them? Sadly, only a few of us still use them as they were intended. Mostly pools have become grand patios with a pretty view. A good place to catch intense sun rays - and now we hear that's bad for you. In place of grand facilities of the early to mid-twentieth century, we now see these new replacement trends: small, heated pools for soaking aching joints, heated large pools for (see previous entry), shallow pools because people can't stand up in deep water and haven't learned to tread water. Will people ever again truly appreciate the value large, deep pools? It's doubtful. The skill set is being lost. If most people never even learn to tread water, future decision makers certainly won't make the sacrifices necessary for people to enjoy these facilities. The next generation will never have had the chance to even had experienced what a good pool is. Those that survive will be a novelty. I think swimming, as we know it, is doomed.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Breast Stroke Caution - Swimmer's Knee

You may have noted in this blog a sad limitation in content - that is I've focused almost entirely on freestyle technique, leaving out all the other strokes. There's a good reason for at least one of these being missing - related to a health problem I've had with breast stroke. A health problem? Yes! I don't really know if there really is such a thing, but I know I get what I call Swimmer's Knee when I do the breast stroke over an extended period of time and it isn't fun. The symptom isn't painful, but certainly can lead to other problems. What is "swimmer's knee"? To me, it's simply loose, wobbly knee. It presents itself most clearly out of the water - when I go down stairs. The muscles around my knees stay loose (from the exercise, I guess) and don't hold the knee in place to support my stepping down. The result is the center of my leg at the knee joint, flops over to the side, involuntarily, and I tumble if I don't grab a stair rail or wall fast. Frankly, it's scary when it happens because it could lead to a sprained knee or a fall down the stairs. To keep from incurring a personal disaster, I stopped doing much breast stroke. This may be limited to me, but I caution anyone else with long legs who does much breast stroke. Hold the railings when you go down flights of stairs, or you may go down much faster than you ever expected.

Monday, October 08, 2007

How Pointing Your Toes Helps with Speed

What's the value of pointing your toes in the flutter kick? By that, I mean lifting your toes up higher than the highest point your heels go in your upward kick. Over and over this past Summer, when I was using the kickboard, I heard advice to point my toes. It perplexed me. All it ever seemed to do was to cause my calf muscles to cramp up and my thighs to burn. But since the advice was so repetitive, I kept working on it. The result? More speed. I really never found additional speed using the kickboard, but when applied to the freestyle flutter kick, the additional speed was noticeable. I believe the additional force of that extra leg extension and the small additional distance added to the vertical kick itself is where the extra speed comes from. If you are trying this yourself, give yourself time to build up the muscles in your legs - a few months. It's not easy, but you'll find you go faster over time.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

How to Get that Big Kick and Win

Have you ever watched a swim meet and seen someone really sprint ahead just before hitting the finish? Are you wondering how he/she did that? I've found a secret that seems to work for me. I'm not saying this is sanctioned by professional coaches, but like I said before, it works for me. Instead of flutter kicking faster, I just kick bigger. I force my legs to go deeper (several inches more than my usual flutter) and from that I get a much stronger push forward out of the whole motion. I learned this watching an adjacent lap swimmer who seemingly was equal to me except for his deep kick. He just seemed to go further than me for every stroke. I couldn't figure it out until I tried the deep kick myself. Suddenly I was even with him again - even passing him! Of course, it wore me out almost immediately. I need to train myself to be able to sustain the big kick. I still can't maintain it for long, and don't know if I want to, but it comes in quite handy when I want to catch up to someone or sprint ahead to win an even match. In the latter case, I don't apply it until I'm nearing the finish. That's when I open up the afterburners, kick deep and fly ahead. Try it and see for yourself. You might start winning more than you ever expected.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Fountain of Youth in a Chlorine Bath?

It's October 1st and I've officially started back to short-course swimming (25 meter pool). Swimming indoors has its advantages (the wall is usually closer - ha ha) but I'll sure miss the beautiful and warm sunshine on my back as I swim through the cool Autumn water, breathing in the crisp fresh air. I find that combination totally invigorating. Keeping with that theme, I was pleasantly surprised to see an ad on the entrance door to the pool promoting the Masters swim team and the pitch - get this - was that adult competitive swimmers stall the effects of aging - retaining muscles tone, maintaining good blood pressure, etc. - by one to two decades! It said that this was a University of Indiana research finding (will have to check that out - anyone have a link?). Stalled aging - so that's why I act like I'm fourteen and keep this blog.