Category Archives: Swim

Swim Fitness

6 beat kick

To become a better swimmer, you need to gain Swim Fitness. Swim Fitness is earned on a few levels:

  1. Endurance
  2. Technique
  3. Mental
Endurance

Endurance is the first point, since you probably thought of this first. No matter how great of shape you are in, if you do not have good Technique, you will feel like you are out of shape when you swim. grizzly bear eating salmon(Not to mention, you might look like a grizzly bear. Don’t look like a grizzly bear! Look like a salmon! Wait, bad analogy.) To gain Endurance, you need to swim a lot. But swimming a lot will not
necessarily help you swim fast. If you do not have good Technique, you can have better overall fitness than all of the other swimmers and still be slower than all of them. So let’s come back to Endurance after we establish good Technique.

Technique

If you are new to swimming, you should be focusing on your Technique all of the time. When you first get into the water, your body doesn’t truly know what it should do to swim efficiently. After all, swimming is a complex, dynamic set of movements. Even if you did know where to place every part of your body at every moment of the swim stroke, it is possible that your body may not be able to get into that position if you have mobility issues. For example, as a Gym-Ratformer gym rat, my shoulders have always been very tight and I am constantly working on opening up their range of motion. There are many methods of doing this, but that is for another article.

Once you are able to get into the proper position and mobility is not your issue, then can safely put repetitive load in that position. When you work on your Technique, you are training your neuromuscular system how to perform the movement properly. You pick the total movement apart using drills to coordinate the intended movement with your actual movement. To really make that connection, you need to intersperse swimming with the drills. Maybe it looks like “Drill for 10 strokes – Swim for 10″ strokes”, or maybe it’s “Drill for 25 meters, Swim for 25 meters”; either way, you are constantly applying the drill to actual swimming and you are training your body proper Technique.

However, simply drilling and swimming isn’t enough to give you good Swim Fitness. You need to make sure you are doing the drills correctly. How do you do that? Well, you can film yourself and then compare that to YouTube videos, you can hire a coach to give you drills that will specifically help your issues, or you can join a beginner swimming class! It is no coincidence that the DFW Tri Club can help you with these second two options. In my personal swimming journey, I put in my time with private swim lessons and now I can comfortably go for a mile swim in the open water after taking several months off! (Unfortunately, I’ve done this twice in the last year.) Each lesson was an investment. I retained it all and those lessons have not left me. I’ve committed them to muscle memory, they are now apart of my Swim Fitness.

Endurance

Guess what else happens when you work on your Technique? You magically gain Endurance. Yep, before you know it, you can swim 500 meters straight. And then 1000. And next thing you know, you just swam a mile and you have more energy left. All this time, your mind was tricked into working on the task at hand, Drill 25 here and there and magically you became a swimmer. Sure, some of this is due to your improved Technique reducing drag, making it easier to slip through the water, but there is also the part that your swim muscles are now ready to handle the load longer.

Mental

Well, the Mental side of this comes with gaining confidence by doing it regularly. When you start swimming, you are constantly adjusting and trying new things. You may find yourself uncomfortable at times, but if you trust the process, you will slowly become more comfortable. And actually, there may come a point when you embrace the discomfort. When you swim past your comfort zone, you are pushing the limits of your Swim Fitness. You know that you can recover from a hard set while still swimming at a recovery pace, as opposed to stopping to take a break.

Knowing alternate strokes can also help your race times if you find yourself needing a break. You can do back or breast stroke, both of which allow for more breathing and you still proceed forward toward the finish, rather than just stopping and treading water until you are ready to proceed again. When you have recovered and you are ready to proceed with freestyle, then you will have started at a position that is now 10, 20+ feet closer to the finish than if you just stopped in the middle of a race. When your race time is now a minute faster than it would have been if you stopped, you can interpret that as being more Swim Fit. Again, these strategies come with swimming more… but more importantly, swimming smart.

Conclusion

Don’t be intimidated by learning how to swim. Most adults do not know how to swim properly. Take it from me, a Californian who grew up at the beach and in pools! Let a coach guide you. It will be much more efficient that way. Your faster progress will reward you with greater enthusiasm toward mastery. As adults, it is hard to find new skills to master. Swimming is an excellent skill to master. It increases your breathing capacity, works a lot of different and often neglected muscle groups, and it is easy on your joints. Thus, it is one that you can do until you are very old, well beyond your running and cycling years. Come and boost your Swim Fitness with us soon at DFW Tri Club Masters or the Swim Basics class!

Part II: Lactate and Performance

Effect of Training on the Lactate Threshold
Effective training pushes the LT line to the right, meaning fitness is increasing.

This article is continued from Part I: What is Lactate?

My first Olympic Distance Triathlon was not an easy one. I picked HITS Marble Falls, in the hills outside of Austin. I deemed it a “B race”, since it was more of an experiment than anything else. It was my first 1500 meter swim so that was my biggest concern going into the race. I got through the swim just fine, rather unmemorable in the long run. I do remember the bike though. I found that I was able to pass a lot of people on the rolling hills. I muscled up the hills every time. By the time I got to the run, my legs were mush. There was a steep climb right out of T2. I could not understand why my legs were so tired. It was the first time that I remember walking in a race. Most of the people who I passed on the bike while blasting up the hills ended up passing me on the run. If I had invested in lactate testing before the race, I would not have blown up like that and I would have had more fun. Lactate testing gives you your individual training and racing zones. Armed with your new lactate knowledge from Part I, these six tips will help you perform better and may help reduce the (H+ ion) acid burn. Less burn equals better quality training and quicker recovery. Do all of the following:

1)      Get stronger. Your muscles are made up of mitochondria, as well as other building blocks. When you exercise, it is the mitochondria that process the energy. The average person’s muscle mass consists of 2% mitochondria. A pro runner or triathlete can have up to 10%. This is 5x the capacity that can process energy and convert the waste back into ATP, which fuels your Anaerobic System. The ATP function of the Anaerobic System does not last long, from 2-10 seconds, but it is just long enough for the Lactic Acid System to kick in – that starts at about 10 seconds and lasts another 20 seconds.

2)      Stay hydrated. Water is H2O. Or, 2 parts Hydrogen and one part Oxygen. If you stay hydrated throughout the day and during exercise, you will avoid that limitation. Blood consists of 55% water. If you are dehydrated, your blood will thin and not carry the necessary nutrients that your muscles need to perform.

3)      Breathe deeply. Also known as diaphragmatic breathing. It is important to get enough oxygen, but for human beings, it is difficult not to. Our lungs are overbuilt, so getting oxygen is the easy part. It is the exhale that we need to do more of. A full exhale gets rid of the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) waste product. (Glucose plus oxygen produces carbon dioxide, water and energy.)  So a deep breath will not only get rid of CO2, but it will also clear your lungs of this to give you more room to take in more Oxygen (O2). Thus, this is not just an issue for when we exercise at the higher intensities; it can affect you well before that. If you focus more on expelling a full breath, oxygen takes care of itself, it will come into the lungs without much effort. Train this when you are at work, driving in the car, or while reading this article! It will become habit and easier to do when you exercise.

4)      Eat carbohydrates and sugars. Glycolysis breaks down sugar in your blood stream and turns it into ATP.  H+, Lactate (H+ buffer) and Lactic Acid (fuel source) are also generated in glycolysis. Glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrates and sugars that we have in our muscles and use for energy. During a long workout (or after a workout), we deplete the glycogen levels in our muscles. For them to recover and get stronger, we need to replace glycogen by consuming more carbohydrates. (Note: for full muscle recovery, we also need to consume protein, amino acids and other essential nutrients – feel free to search the interweb on this subject if you do not want to wait for my take on it). Note that muscle soreness is activated by inflammation and nociceptor (pain receptors) activity. Overtraining (especially in relation to the amount of carbohydrates and sugars you have eaten) and poor diet contribute to inflammation. Thus, eating the right food and at the right times will help improve your performance. (Click HERE for the hands down best rap about glycolysis there is.)

5)      Detrain your anaerobic system. For an endurance event, you should attempt to minimize the amount of acid that goes into your muscles. You do this by staying below your Lactate Threshold (“LT”) for as long as you can, but if you do go above it, to keep it as short as possible. Every time you go above it, you “burn a match”. It is possible to train to make your matches last longer and to increase the number that you can burn, which may be useful if you do Sprints or Crits (Criterium bike racing). As mentioned above, if you always work out hard, then you might have an overbuilt anaerobic system. So even at an easy effort level, your body thinks you are about to go hard again and instantly produces acid. This is why sprinters hate running long distance; they produce too much acid to go long. To correct this, you may consider substituting anaerobic work for Zone 2 aerobic work. Your top end speed may suffer, but you will delay your H+ (and lactate) production, which will allow you to go faster for longer. You can always circle back to the Zone 4/5 work later.

6) Recover first. Most of the H+ acid is gone in 30 minutes to 2 hours. If you work out hard again later that day you may generate acid again quickly, since your muscles are still sore and inflamed. Plus, you won’t get much out of that workout for this same reason; your muscles haven’t healed yet. If you keep adding stress to your muscles before they recover, you become weaker and your fitness decreases. If you give yourself enough time to recover in between hard workouts, then your muscles heal and get stronger, or supercompensate. When you start again, you will be stronger and you will be fresh, so you will not flood your body with acid right away.

In the final installment of this series on Lactate and performance, we will examine lactate testing and how this compares to other forms of testing as well as what the test will tell you. Train smart and stay tuned!

If lactate testing is something you are interested in, check us out!

Masters Swimming versus Triathlon Masters Swimming

I am a triathlon swimmer. Although I grew up in the water, I did not swim competitively. When I started swimming for triathlon, I realized how bad my swim actually was. I tried many things to catch up to speed and some worked better than others. In the end, what worked best was simply “time spent in the water”, complimented by a coach’s eye from time to time to push me past a plateau. Time spent in the water must be consistent in order to reap the benefits. Time spent in the water can be very productive when it is also spent in a Masters swim group. In Dallas, I have swum with two groups, DAM (Dallas Aquatic Masters) and the DFW Tri Club and they are both effective, but have their differences. DAM is what you typically think of when you think of a swim Masters program, made up of swimmers with some triathletes sprinkled in. Triathlon Masters Swimming is made up of triathletes with some swimmers sprinkled in. This article talks about the differences between the two.

Snorkel

In Masters swimming, it is rare to see a snorkel. Experienced swimmers who have been swimming competitively for much of their lives likely did not use a snorkel when growing up so do not bring one to Masters now. In a ten lane pool, when you have the area’s top swimmers in lane 1, lane 5 can be daunting for the triathlete new to swimming. Swimmers in lane 5 don’t use snorkels, because the lane 1 & 2 swimmers don’t. And if lane 5 people aren’t using a snorkel, well it certainly trickles down from there. Maybe you’ll find one in lane 9 or 10? In Triathlon Masters Swimming, we celebrate the snorkel. It isolates the mechanics of your stroke by taking the breathing out of the equation. You can focus on your stroke, you can isolate your kick, work on your balance, use it for active recovery… and even work on your breathing with a snorkel. But you don’t see them at Masters. Tri Masters: 1 – Masters: 0. I recommend this snorkel: snorkel

Kickboard

You see them all the time at Masters. But kickboards cause your hips to drop. Purposefully practicing with sinking hips reinforces this bad habit. Since swimming places so much emphasis on proper form, it is counter productive to practice kicking with a kickboard. The more you practice movements with your body in the correct position, the quicker your body will learn to be there when you are in full swim mode. But they’re great for your ankles! Yep, don’t even put the kickboard in the pool, just keep them on deck and kneel with the top of your feet and shins laying on it. You want to go faster with the same effort? Stretch your ankles to get a better rudder. This is particularly important if you are a big runner, who likely has a hard time with plantar flexion (the ability to flatten your ankle as it becomes a straight line with your leg). Tri Masters: 2 – Masters: 0.

Stroke

Regular masters has their participants swim with the other three strokes much more often than Tri Masters. Although it pays to be specific and triathletes mainly need to focus on freestyle, using the other strokes engages your other muscles and helps keep you more balanced. Triathletes can always use more balance. Tri Masters: 2 – Masters: 1.

Flip Turns

Although flip turns are not specific to one masters or another, it is safe to say that swimmers at Masters are much more comfortable with consistently doing them than their Triathlon Masters swimming counterparts. Not to mention, there is a small debate in the Triathlon community with some triathletes questioning the use of them, since there are no walls in the open water. However, the ability to do them consistently is important. Walls in a pool interrupt your swim. The shorter the pool, the more interruptions you get. In open water swimming, there are no interruptions, so the ability to do a flip turn more closely resembles open water swimming. Plus, flip turns force you to improve your breathing. They help develop the ability to control your breathing better and they force you to deal with the discomfort of hold your breathe longer. Finally, the fast swimmers flip turn. If you want to swim with the fast swimmers, you need to be able to come off the wall with them. If you’re not flipping, they’ll lose you after the first lap with zero extra effort. I am not an advocate of beginners worrying about doing flip turns. They have other more important things to worry about than the flip turn. The wall is your friend until you build a bigger swim fitness base. You get to rest at the walls! But there comes a point when you need to learn them and start incorporating them into your workouts. When you think you are ready to start flip turning, don’t be shy to try them! Start by doing it once every 100 meters and then increasing their frequency. Since this is more of a Masters thing, Tri Masters: 2 – Masters: 2.

Open Water Simulation

The best way to practice for open water swimming events is in the open water with other swimmers; however, that is not always practical. In Triathlon Masters swimming, it is not uncommon to work on drills that simulate the open water. For example, you may do sets with crowded lanes to practice drafting or sets where you sight to the front. I have never seen a Masters swim coach ask us to do a “Tarzan swim”. Masters swimming typically prepares you for swimming competitions in the pool, so these other drills may not be necessary. Our local Masters did have a special OWS simulation once in a while though, where they took the lane lines down at the 50 meter pool and swam as a group across it. It looked like a lot of fun, but it was not incorporated in their regular daily practices. In a nutshell, open water swimming is an important skill and Triathlon Masters Swimming wins, Tri Masters: 4 – Masters: 2. DTC masters 2

Triathlon Coach on Pool Deck

A swim coach without the experience of having completed a triathlon may not fully understand the demands of the bike and the run, as well as how you might be able to compensate for that on the swim. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for swim coaches to teach adults the same way you would a youth swim team. Most triathletes are adult onset swimmers; it’s an entirely different ballgame. Most of the time, a Masters swim will have a swim coach on deck; but every time, a Triathlon Masters swim will have a triathlon swim coach on deck. Not a total loss, but specificity can go a long way for a final score of Tri Masters: 4 – Masters: 2. 

Conclusion

If you are a triathlete, you are better off in a Triathlon Masters swim program, but you are not far behind in a Masters swim program. Although variety is important, including triathlon specific workouts that you often find in Triathlon Masters swimming each week will translate to better racing. If there is a Triathlon Masters swimming program in your area, definitely check it out, but don’t think you are missing too much if it doesn’t work for you. You will still get the the benefits mentioned above with Masters swimming, in addition to building confidence and swim fitness.

Happy swimming!
Tri Coach Mark
@ExclaimedMark
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Why Triathletes Need to Kick on the Swim

6 beat kick

I swim with a talented triathlete who is not a great swimmer.  Well, that’s half true; he always torches me when we do pull sets.  But throw the kick into the mix and the ball game has changed.  A familiar story, he comes from a running background and has learned through observation that triathlons are won on the run.  He noticed that the athletes who kick hard in the swim tend to be the same ones who he passes on the run, as they bonk out of the race.

As a previously self-coached athlete, I understand his logic.  In fact, I believed exactly that when I first started, so I experimented (miserably) with Total Immersion.  This athlete is not a newbie; in fact, I think we have been in the game for the same amount of time now.  Although the competitive side of me wants to race him head-to-head, we are in the same club and I really want him to reach his potential.  If he were to unleash his swim kick, I think he’ll find more success.

His kick looks something like this:  Very wide, little propulsion (only about a 2 beat kick), hips sink and little to no splashing.

Here are my problems with this:

1)  A wide kick is doing more harm than good.  If your leg pushes past your slip stream, then you incur unnecessary water resistance.  If you keep the kick tight, then you don’t have to work harder to push past the extra water you are now coming into contact with.  Look how much extra water (read: resistance) this swimmer comes in contact with:

photo (1)

 

2)  Kicking with the knee makes for a shorter lever to gain propulsion from.  I have seen people kick extremely hard from their knee, barely move forward and tire out quickly.  Kicking from the knee engages your hamstrings too much, as you pull your foot back hinged at the knee.  Using your hamstrings in the swim will surely wipe them out for the run.  With a mostly straight knee, you start your kick from the hip, tapping that to generates a lot more power and then you use a lever that is twice as long.  It’s like lifting something with a wheel barrel (kicking from hips) instead of lifting it with your hands/biceps (kicking from knees):

 

 

Versus

 

 

3)  The slow kick cadence causes there to be a dead spot in between arm pulls.  Every time there is a delay, your legs drop and it slows you down, taking more energy to get back up to speed with the next pull.  “An object in motion tends to stay in motion”, Sir Isaac Newton describing his Law of Inertia.  Kick faster (but smaller) to eliminate this dead spot and keep your motion going forward.  Use the six beat kick, or simply, the flutter kick, to bridge the dead spot gap and stay stream lined. The dead spot can be eliminated with a two beat kick, but practicing the flutter will train your neuromuscluar system on where your body position should be.

Balance:  Correcting these issues will help minimize your exposure to the oncoming water.  You will be in a better streamlined position, so minimizing the amount of drag you create will ease your work load.  Balance in the water often starts with the kick.  My favorite way to work on balance is by kicking with a snorkel.  My favorite method to work on the kick is with the snorkel.  Using a kickboard to do your kick-sets reinforces improper balance, so a snorkel kills two birds with one stone.  Good balance starts with the kick and makes pulling easier.

If you already have great balance without the kick, then you are fortunate.  That still does not give you the excuse to kick wide or kick exclusively from your knees.  But in a long course race, especially if you get the added buoyancy from a wetsuit and maybe some salt water, then there may be a race plan that includes holding back on the kick.  This usually does not mean the entire race will be executed with an easy kick.  There will be times when you’ll need to kick it into high gear to hang onto a draft or tactically maneuver past a turn buoy.  For this reason alone, you need to practice a proper kick.  It is better to practice a good kick so it’s there when you need it rather than ignore it altogether.  After all, perfect practice makes perfect.  For those of us with a run background living in Texas, where we swim in warm, saltless (and dirty) lakes, that goes without saying; we really need to stay on top of our kick.

This athlete is just fast when it comes to biking and running.  Since I also have a bike and run background, I can relate to the feeling of getting to T1 with the majority of the bikes already on the road.  I know what the uphill battle is like, always looking for the next competitor to pick off.  But if I want to get to the next level, I need to get out of the water with the lead or second lead pack.  My talented club mate; even more-so.  He’s even closer than me to the next level.  To do it, swim fitness is a huge part of the equation, but having the fitness will get you the gift of drafting with the top leaders.  Getting out of the water with them lets you draft off cyclists who are closer to your pace.  Rather than working through the field and jumping on an occasional draft before moving on to the next one, you are already with the big dogs.  Those in front of you are the ones who you are really racing against, so you can make better judgment calls and really race instead of just Time Trialing.  Finally, when you get off of the bike, you get to run with those who are fighting for the podium!  If you could not quite hold the bike pace, your chance at redemption is real, because you are that much closer to them.  By the time you approach the finish line, you know exactly where you stand.

Direct message to my friend:  I want you to succeed!  You already put in the time training, made significant sacrifices and battled back through crazy adversity.  Become a complete triathlete and nail down that kick!  At a minimum, practice it. When your race plan calls for it, you will have it in your tool box with confidence.  If you agree… and you are in a base period*… your next step is to purchase a snorkel and a swim band.

Happy swimming!
Tri Coach Mark
@ExclaimedMark

*In other words, don’t experiment too close to an A-race!

 
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