Saturday, January 27, 2007
When swimming, however, the opposite flex is desired. For an efficient swimming kick you need to point your toes by flexing ankle away from the shin. I’m guessing this is called ventriflexion, the opposite of dorsiflexion, but apparently the term is so esoteric I can’t find a dictionary which will confirm my hunch. The best comparable example of this type of ankle flexibility is ballet’s pointé. Apparently the highest caliber swimmers can get
their toes almost to the ground when sitting down with their legs outstretched flat, either by natural ability or by training. This ability to point the toes is important because a kick’s mechanics mean the lower leg travels in an arc moving both backwards and downwards. A foot which continues the leg or, even better arcs backwards, will maximize the backwards force of the kick, thus directly contributing to forward propulsion (big feet help too). This is why swimming with fins works so well, because the flexibility and surface area of the fin maximizes rearward thrust. As the foot returns from maximum ventriflexion towards its normal position at a right angle to the leg the possible amount of backwards force which can be generated from the kick rapidly declines until, in certain cases, the foot can actually create a net forward thrust from the lower part of the kick’s arc. This can result in the kicker literally moving backwards, something which is seen from time to time, especially in long time runners or people with very poor ankle flexibility.
What to do to improve your ankle flexibility for swimming? Well, beyond using flippers when kicking there’s not much out there. Coach Brad recommends the “Sitting” stretch where one kneels on the floor with feet behind and then sits down on the heels to compress the ankles. Apparently ‘Doc’ Councilman of Indiana University had his swimmers use a simple device developed for the school’s gymnastic team which is available by mail order for a reasonable cost. Ballet dancers use what is referred to as a ‘Theraband’, a rubberized elastic sock which the foot is placed into and held in position while the foot is pointed against the resistance. I suspect though this device is primarily intended to strengthen the ankle, the bête noir of ballet dancers, rather than increase the ankle’s flexibility. I’m simply pointing my feet for a few seconds every once and awhile as I sit at my desk. I would think pretty well anything will work; the key is to know the ability to flex your foot downwards will make for a greatly improved kick and taking it from there.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
The trick for breathing during backstroke is to breathe when the least amount of splash is around to interfere. Surface tension causes water to temporarily cling to the arms before being shed so you need to wait for them to pass overhead before breathing. Consequently everyone should try to breathe just before one arm enters the water and before the trailing arm gets high enough to cause problems. You then breathe out on the trailing arm stroke, which provides the near universal one breath per cycle breathing rate. Water splash, of course, is ever present so to minimize accidental water intake I purse my lips during the exhalation phase. On reflection I think this is a mistake, perhaps I should experiment with breathing out through my nose, which would be an even safer practice as well as complimentary to carrying out my underwater dolphin kick. And since I’m playing around I think I’ll experiment with using the same breathing pattern I use running, the popular 2-1 pattern (yes, all aerobic sport employ breathing patterns, including running). The 2-1 breathing pattern is to take a breath in on each of two consecutive strides and then breathe out in one exhale over the next two. The rationale behind this is it’s easier to completely fill a partially inflated lung than a fully deflated one. The first inhale becomes the ‘starter’ and then the second finishes the job, therefore maximizing your total oxygen intake. The longer exhale period also better clears the lungs for the next round. Such a profound change in my breathing pattern would be a long term project. I’ll be sure to post updates on my progress and on the practicality of using a 2-1 pattern for backstroke from time to time.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
So here I find myself in the midst of revamping all my strokes. I don’t have a problem with this; in fact I find it rather enjoyable, a delightful bonus my swimming technique can be improved while carrying out rehab. My chiropractor once asked me if I didn’t find Bikram’s yoga repetitive and boring after a while and I could honestly reply the thought never occurred to me. So long as I haven’t mastered all twenty six positions (and I’m not close to mastering even one) I’ll always have something to work and concentrate on. The same goes for swimming. Every lap swum I’m thinking about where my hands are entering the water, my elbows, my breathing, or any one of the other myriad points where I’m technically weak. I’ve always had a good feel for water so now knowing each stroke’s deficiencies I expect to make steady progress correcting them. There’s little doubt in my mind I’ll eventually get close to achieving the current technical ideal for all four strokes, certainly close enough for my purposes. I’ve also written about some of the criteria I use for evaluating this season’s times (for example my November 18, 2006 post ‘Feeling Good But Unfortunately Not Fast’). I might not place great store on my initial times, but certainly this first season I’m aiming for subsequent swims which indicate further improvement potential (i.e. taking significant chunks of time off the next swim). So just what are my swimming goals? Well as a child I was competitive with individuals who later became world class swimmers and Olympic medalists when I was at a considerable disadvantage in physical development. I’d like to finally put to rest the question of what my true potential was. If you haven’t already read my November 12, 2006 post ‘Talent, God’s Gift’ it’s one of my favourites and I encourage you to read it. Whatever happens happens. I’ll give my very best for possibly two more years and then withdraw from competitive swimming regardless of the results. I might continue training with Hyack Masters for my general fitness but I won’t race anymore. Of course there still exists the distinct possibility I'll withdraw from serious swimming in a month or so anyways. It’ll depend on how I can handle tax season and swimming at the same time and I have real doubts it is possible. But that’s the future. For the upcoming UBC meet I’m planning to enter the 200 back, 100 fly, and the 50 free. Not keen at all about doing the 50 free, but I added it to my selected events when meet scheduling prevented me from entering the 100 free or its planned alternate, the 200 free. I’m a little apprehensive about my pacing in the 200 back and how I’ll handle the seven turns, but that’s why we race isn’t it? So we can find out.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
You need to understand our Masters team encompasses a wide range of ability, from top ten nationally ranked Masters swimmers to individuals attending practice to lose weight. Every other Hyack team is either designed or selected to create a group whose members swim relatively the same level. With several workout variations to choose from our pool ran out of lanes to accommodate both available selections and swimming abilities. Not surprisingly the flow of the workout suffered. Even so I found this a minor problem compared to the quality of swimming the workout required. For example, those selecting the ‘pure’ sprint warm up (as I did) were called upon to do 12x50 meters from a dive; for my lane the first six on 0:50 and the second six on 0:45. Subtract getting out of the pool and getting settled on the blocks and you’re left roughly with intervals of 0:42 and 0:37 for fifty meters. This is a warm up? I’ll be up front and say I was not one of those who made all the interval times. I did, however, gain a couple of valuable lessons from practice. The first was from a recovery 300 stuck in between sprint sets which was a combination back swim/drill. I haven’t been doing many back drills lately and in doing this 300 rediscovered my shoulder roll. I’m definitely adding some more backstroke drills to my repertoire. The second was from the end of practice 100 backstroke sprint, where I messed up the timing of my breathing and eventually had to bail on my third roll-over flip and do an open turn. Yes, there is a breathing pattern required for backstroke; if you try breathing when one of your arms is above your head there’ll be a good chance you’ll just get a mouthful of water. I think while concentrating on technique I lapsed into an old breathing pattern which no longer matches my new faster turnover and voila – water instead of air. Drat, another thing to add to my list.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Here I am four months into masters swimming and every one of my strokes is in the process of being completely overhauled. In freestyle I’m working on a wider placement of my hands, a more direct pull, higher elbows under water, longer stroke, more body roll, tighter core, easier recovery, and head positioning. In breaststroke I’m working on better coordination between kick and stroke, a more efficient pull and recovery, seeing some “going downhill” undulation, improving my kick preparation regarding drag, a more symmetrical kick, and increased flexibility in both core and hip. In backstroke I’m working on keeping my head position steady, better balance in the water, shallower catch, more roll in my shoulders, tighter core, more efficient hand entry, a smoother transition from one arm to the other, and especially, a faster stroke rate. In butterfly, after three solid months of stroke work, I’m still working on a wider pull, more relaxed recovery, stronger second kick, better body undulation, and increased kick and stroke coordination. And I haven’t even mentioned my kicking tempo and efficiency; haven’t practiced block starts or backstroke starts more than a handful of times; and don’t get me started on my turns, which range from poor in my open breast and fly turns, to worse in my crawl flip turn, and then only pitiful can be used to describe my back rollover turn. And on top of all this affecting every stroke there are my aerobic capacity, endurance, and strength issues – all major weaknesses right now.
I raise this because even my limited racing experience this season has shown when I become tired my technique falls apart rather quickly, and in a little more than one month my last ‘tune-up’ swim meet comes along. After that my opportunities for swimming ‘make-ups’ for blown races and racing the events I want to this season become ever more restricted. So I have a lot of meterage to put in to both try to better assimilate my coaching plus make my new techniques natural enough I can stick with them when I start tiring. It’s going to be interesting for sure.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
It was because of this theme of ‘tempo with quality’ I decided to drop my back set. I could have continued and included it in the workout, but it would have needed to be done at an ‘easy’ pace and that’s completely out for anything involving backstroke. Earlier in the workout I did a short 4x50 back swolf to see how my new pace stacks up and found my cycles per fifty meters has increased from seventeen to eighteen, a not so impressive 6% increase in tempo, but from little acorns do mighty oaks grow. We’ll see how well I can increase my rate incrementally over time, as I understand this is something very difficult to do. In notes on the USA Swimming website from the 2001 Australian World Clinic Tony Shaw of Australia is quoted saying, “Start teaching them about rate early on in the teaching progression – don’t want pretty backstrokers that can’t turn over.” Ouch! In a similar half-hearted pat on the back butterfly is also seeing a certain amount of progress as I’m starting to learn how to swim it at less than full throttle. At least I think that’s good since it will mean I can choose to avoid blowing up in my upcoming 100 fly by simply swimming more slowly, a choice I’ve not had until now. It takes a lot of pressure off me and will make progressing at whatever rate I manage to do much more palatable (as well as less painful).
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
You’ll be glad to know osteoporosis is preventable and, no, taking calcium supplements won’t be enough. To even just absorb calcium properly the body needs other supplements and vitamins to be available as well. After analyzing the results of a study using healthy children the Menzies Research Institute in Hobart, Australia has suggested increasing vitamin D intake and eating more fruits and vegetables may be a better strategy for building healthy bones than supplementing diets with calcium. Besides which, just like sarcopenia (the loss of muscle) osteoporosis of the bone has a strong link to the level of physical inactivity. Plainly put a lack of exercise will have the body concluding it doesn’t need strong bones. "Without consideration of these effects," says the nutritional biochemist Dr. Neil S. Orenstein of Lenox, Massachusetts, "no amount of calcium supplementation will prevent osteoporosis."
I, of course, am going to concentrate on the need for exercise. The best bone builders are exercises that place stress on the bone, such as weight-bearing activities like running or dancing, and resistance exercises like weights. In general, the greater the impact and load involved, the more it strengthens. As every engineer will tell you the more the stress a structure has to sustain the stronger it has to be. However, certain aerobic exercises such as swimming, rowing, and biking do not strengthen bones precisely because they are non-impact and non-load bearing. This shouldn’t come as a shock as this is the very reason these activities are popular for rehabilitation purposes. In Prescription Alternatives, Professor Earl Mindell and Virginia Hopkins describe the amount and type of exercise needed to be productive: "In a recent study on bone density and exercise, older women who did high-intensity weight training two days per week for a year were able to increase their bone density by one percent, while a control group of women who did not exercise had a bone density decrease of 1.8 to 2.5 percent. The women who exercised also had improved muscle strength and better balance, while both decreased in the non-exercising group." High intensity weight training for osteoporosis seems to be working out for at least half an hour using moderate weights. The sooner the better, especially for women, for whom having a lot of estrogen around helps when trying to build bone. But everyone can benefit from strength training at any age. In the above landmark study referred to by Mindell and Hopkins the ladies were all post menopausal with some as old as seventy. And certainly if you like your bones at all don’t smoke. Smoking a pack a day over a lifetime will cause the loss of between five to ten percent of bone mass plus decrease estrogen levels, a double whammy on any woman on estrogen replacement therapy to treat her osteoporosis. But I don’t need to tell readers smoking is bad for them do I?
Monday, January 08, 2007
So Joe liked the workout. Well Ian may say, “When the going gets tough the sprinters get out” but in this case there was plenty of bitching from our side for a change. And it wasn’t as if the set for us was materially different from Joe’s lane. Other than a slightly faster interval time for the 50s and the fact most of us opted to swim without fins (I swam the first two 25s with them and then went without them until the third round) all the lanes swam the same set. I hated it; there was no time to get into rhythm. Doug, one of our team stars who picked the wrong time to show up for his first Hyack practice of the season, complained about the havoc the sprints were causing with his asthma and then rhapsodized about doing something at least a hundred in length. And though Ian was his usual stoic self he didn’t hang around for the normal soak in the hot tub after practice – in fact virtually no one did. For only 2,200 meters it was a very difficult practice. I hate sprinting. Really I do.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Somewhat disappointed after viewing these pictures. It seems most of the improvement I saw last month has mysteriously vanished. Perhaps the regression is due to muscle memory and my now slightly more flexible back is simply accommodating long time habits and so has reverted somewhat. But maybe the improvement seen in November wasn’t as great as I’d thought. The left shoulder does seems better so at least that’s one positive. Perhaps some Alexander Technique lessons are in order to bring about better progress in my posture. Don’t know where I’d find the time though. I also still have around five kilos of fat to lose which will make a significant difference to my overall appearance. Expect to lose December’s weight gains this month, and from that point would like to hold my monthly fat loss down to better match any muscle gain and so reach some sort of equilibrium in so far as body weight.
That would keep my weight above a barely acceptable eighty kilos, but whether my body will agree with me given my current training conditions is a complete unknown. My big fear is continuing to lose beyond the desired five kilos which would require further months of work to compensate for, as well as require me obtaining a complete new wardrobe (the situation is looking pretty grim as it is).
Thursday, January 04, 2007
This morning I swam a workout definitely orientated towards backstroke. Normally I try a more balanced approach since I’m only in the beginning stages of my conditioning but today I decided to really work my back. I was also curious as to my new stroke’s cycle rate so I threw in a short swolf set.
Warm up: 200 fr bth 3/5
200 IM K (w/fins)
400 fr P
200 IM K (w/fins)
200 fr bth 3/5
Main set: 6x50 bk swolf at est. 200 race pace w/0:40 rest
bk ladder 100,150,200,200,150,100 @1:00/50
Sup set: 4x50 fl (alt sw/dr) (w/fins) @
Sup set: 4x50 br @
Warm down: 100 K (easy)
200 free (easy)
Total meterage: 3,100 meters. I’ve been throwing in a lot more sprinting lately as my aerobic capacity is really bad and the only way to build this up is to work at 80% effort or better. I’m also old and slow which doesn’t help so its short sprints rather than fast endurance distances. Actually building aerobic capacity is best done going 100% and, as an added bonus, if one does it for very long at all you get to work on your anaerobic capacity too. Everyone who’s tried to build their lung capacity knows this is a very unpleasant process: essentially what you’re doing is telling your body if it doesn’t better utilize what little oxygen it’s getting you’re going to kill it (stupid body!). But when restricting my breathing to every five strokes exhausts me aerobic capacity is a major problem. Oh dang – another major problem!
For my back swolf I set my pars using my freestyle stroke rate as I had no idea of my backstroke cycle rate, a complete cycle being two strokes (breast and fly have only one stroke for every cycle). My first fifty was bang on time wise but a full six strokes under my crawl’s stroke rate. Figuring I must have miscounted I swam again without any modifications; and got the same results! Now I’m thoroughly confused because this is my new fast turnover stroke. What cycle rate was I swimming before? So on my third go around I deliberately sped up my stroke … managing to add a piddly extra two but at the ‘cost’ of swimming the fifty a full two seconds faster, thereby tying my personal swolf record of six under par established the previous two reps! That exclamation point is not excitement or elation – it’s “what the hell is going on?” punctuation. I make it through the remaining three reps and as soon as I returned home looked up the actual cycle rates of real Olympians on the internet. Surprisingly my new backstroke has the same rates as those recorded (in this case the
My swolf back set had a second purpose which was to tire me out before I started my ladder and so better work endurance. That I accomplished all too well. I’m glad I was the one who came up with this workout because if it was Brad I’d be thinking deeply malevolent thoughts. A very good practice which achieved its target objectives, but the sort of workout which makes people seriously reconsider their choice of swimming for a sport. Workout rating: 5/10.
Monday, January 01, 2007
Before moving on to weighing myself and doing the requisite measurements I should reveal I realized a couple of weeks ago my body fat percentage calculations were in error. It seems I took to heart a little too much the premise one’s neck circumference provides an excellent reference point for body type and so didn’t remeasure my neck when doing my monthly calculations. Actually I’ve achieved the loss of a full inch off my neck from the time I first started tracking my body fat. So rather than my having only 15% body fat as stated last month I really had 17% (my thinner neck showing I have a more ectomorphic body than originally calculated). For a moment I thought it meant in November I had actually lost muscle mass (a disaster!) which can happen if you over train, obviously a very real possibility for me, but then realized the error was included in my very first calculations. So for the record my November body fat percentage was 17% not the 15% previously stated, and consequently it will be a little longer before I’ll see my handles disappear.
Now for the weighing. My weight comes in at 82.3 kilograms (181 lbs.), a gain of some three pounds from last month. I find only a slight change in my waist and no change in my neck measurements, and consequently both together are insufficient to change my estimated body fat percentage. At 17% body fat and weighing 82.3 kilograms I now carry an estimated 14.0 kilos (31 lbs) fat. Since on October 1st I weighed 85.0 kilos with 23% body fat, or 19.5 kilos (43 lbs) fat, this means I’ve lost 5½ kilos fat while losing only 2.7 kilos overall – a gain of 2,800 grams of muscle over the last three months. Over 900 grams a month! Nearly twice my expectations! A huge relief to me I’m glad to say. Of course this quarter’s estimate is still just that, it’ll take another three months to more fully mitigate the measurement error inherent in this method of estimating body fat percentage, but regardless I'm confident I’ll be over my 600 gram threshold. Now my problem is figuring out how to not only to maintain my current swimming levels but to actually increase them. It’s not going to be easy.