Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Slogging Away in Morning Practices

Hyack Masters swim at night, so when I practice on my own it’s almost always early morning, a time when Canada Games Pool makes available it’s full fifty meter length to public swimming. Yesterday it was a madhouse, with something like four times the normal number of casual swimmers making the public lanes look every bit as crowded as the adjoining Hyack club lanes. I can deal with full lanes but have a much harder time dealing with the wide variation in swimming abilities trying to swim together in the public lanes, from people who basically float along in fins with an occasional swipe at the water to others like me who fancy themselves competitive swimmers. So when I came to my long backstroke set halfway through practice I didn’t even attempt to weave my way up and down the lanes and just packed it in. This morning I intended to redeem yesterday’s abbreviated workout figuring, correctly it turned out, the pool would be practically empty and thus allow backstroke into my repertoire once again. One minor hurdle I had to overcome before getting into backstroke, however, was to get through what is now a standard feature of my self-designed practices - my butterfly and breaststroke set. After Hyack Festival I’ve decided my workouts had to have at least 20% of their distance split equally between my two orphan strokes, but what with the big boost in weekly kilometrage along side a full program of strength training doing even such a small amount of fly and breast every practice hasn’t proven feasible. A case for me of just too much too soon. So today’s session instead called for a mere 200 meters of each stroke, slotted in right after warm up when I would be still relatively fresh (nowadays I’m sore getting into the pool); still enough to wipe me out for the remainder of practice. One lap into my backstroke main set I decided doing the planned 6 x 200s wasn’t going to happen and instead did only half the intended distance per rep, and finished my practice with a desultory 200 free warm down. At least the reduction in kilometrage means I achieved my targeted 20% of the workout in fly and breast today and, upon reflection, yesterday as well. Faint praise indeed.


Peter said...

Well, as my partner and I always say on occasions when we leave practice early: it's better than zero!

I've been mostly avoiding swimming with my team because of crowding in the lanes (we have a wonky 5-lane, 25 yard pool) that puts people of too wide a range of speed in the same lane - even in the fast lane. Marathon training has reduced my swimming already, but I'm coming up to the campus instead to have a 25 yard 3-lane pool mostly to myself (entirely so this morning) at about 6 in the AM. It's not a great pool (though it is clean), but it's still getting a swim in!

As for Fly and Breast, not so much at this time of year. Heck, I almost never do full Breast anyway, but it's almost all free/pull/kick these days.

Scott said...

As a former middle distance runner I'm well well of the grind involved in training for distance events. If you can get in a couple of swims a week it should give your poor legs some rest and get the upper body some much needed exercise. I too hate sharing a lane with others who aren't close to my own level (either better or worse) because I can't concentrate on my swimming when looking out for other people. Consequently I'll swim anywhere in anything if it means a reasonably free lane. Don't be concerned about the pool's length - in my day our local swimming hero was a boy from a remote logging town who trained for years in a twenty yard pool and it didn't seem to bother him. Ralph Hutton held the world record in the 400 meter free for a short while and won a silver medal at the Rome Olympics.

Scott said...

Oh, about you not doing full breaststroke - I hear you brother! I cannot adequately describe how I hate that stroke. I figure I'm paying my dues when working on my breast. Fly is just as difficult but I expect some payback in decent times for my fly so I don't begrudge the effort nearly so much. Besides which a good fly is beautiful so I have something to shoot for.

Peter said...

My fly isn't horrible - I have sufficiently good endurance to swim it for longer distances and really stretch out the stroke. I use the three knee dislocations I've had as my excuse for doing dolphin kick on the breast, though. Swimming in Montreal was a killer because the coaches there wouldn't let you get away with that!

3650 yards this morning in the pool, 5 miles to run tomorrow morning. Sunday will be complete and utter rest! And lots of good dining, I believe!

Mike said...

I am a flyer (though I'm certainly no fan of the heathen spastic frog hop) even if I didn't get to race any in Surrey, my only meet of the year.

That being said I do very little full stroke fly opting instead to do much more fly kick and backstroke. I really don't like doing more fly than I can comfortably do at the desired speed, relative percieved effort and form.

Scott said...

Yea, when I push myself my fly just disintegrates. That said I don't know any other way to get better in the stroke than swimming more fly up to the point when technique starts to break down.

Mike said...

It may be a good idea to workout with your coaching staff just how and why your tech is breaking down. There are a few likely/usual suspects:

-An old back injury would suggest to me that one might check against weak glutes, QLs & rhomboids.

-Restricted pectoral range of motion carries a double penalty - destabilizing the shoulder girdle with poor posture and radically reducing the ROM available for, and efficiency of, the catch.

-The only successful international level 'fly I can think of off hand without a strong kick would be that of Frank Esposito. It would seem likely that increasing kick efficiency and fitness would be beneficial for all your strokes. Even the breaststroke needs that short axis rhythm.

-Ankle flexibility takes only a little stretching every day and pays immediate dividends. Fins can help but only if you actually kick with them on. Resist the temptation to over kick with a large, slow knee dominated kick. Fast, aggressive & small is the key.

-Rhythm and timing are very important but very very often the emphasis gets stuck at the wrong point of the stroke. A weak second kick, over undulating stroke and a 'hard' entry are very very common. If that sounds at all like you I'd try taking all your full stroke fly for a couple months and doing it with fins and minimal breathing. Keep that entry soft, accelerate through the stroke, keep the finger tips inside the elbows and breath early.

-Did I mention breath early? I like the thought of climbing a fence. Picture hot august afternoons, fierce fenced neighbor dogs and lost footballs. Dashing back over the 7' fence one jumps up looks up, pulls/pushes up tracking the hands all the way 'down'. You don't want to be looking up to the sky and risk catching your toes on the top of the fence. Breathing early and getting your head down before the bulk of the recovery is a good thing.

-When the rhythm is a little lacking much can be done simply by powering through a little bit more. Good lat activation & recruitment is essential. Avoid over sculling - Enter tall and wide, pulling hands towards the navel. There's no significant outward scull or bicep curl. Think a lot less 'keyhole' and a lot more 'Y'.

-Cross train - a nice rolling, bent elbow back pull requires a lot of the same lat and tricep movements found in the butterfly. If your bicep insertions hurt after a lot of backstroke, though, or if your stroke is known for bouncing or over reaching you're, again, probably pulling more with your bicep than your lats. Or straight arming the pull which is just all kinds of bad. I also like the swim bench. A good way to see the stroke, weight it, speed it up or slow it down, and work it eccentrically/negatively.

-Is your breakdown a metabolic thing? Perhaps some structured lactate tolerance work might be a more efficient way to develop functional endurance. I'm not a fan of over distance to address technical concerns ever. Shorter faster distances with sufficient rest, moderate distances and extreamly low effort levels, longer distances with fins and strict adherence to breathing pattern and stroke goals. Mileage with a goal and mindful attention will win out over pain & strain any day.

So, uhh, kick more, stretch more, look for joint imbalances, make friends with your fins, polish every meter, don't practice crap.

A few thoughts at any rate.

Scott said...

Wow. Thanks for all those comments – I had to print them out to ensure I understood and address each one properly. As to why I break down technically when I get tired swimming fly I’m pretty sure it’s because my stroke is very inefficient right now and consequently it takes a lot of brute strength to get me moving and out of the water (and I can assure you anyone looking at me won’t think ‘brute strength’ is one of my present attributes). But of course your comments and suggestions are technically based so pretty well point by point here goes:

Yes, my back is really screwed up and it has a big impact on my swimming. My glutes are OK, but my quadratis lumborums and rhomboids are an entirely different matter. I’ve actually posted about them in my December 14, 2006 post ‘My Hips Don’t Lie’ and am presently relying on the combination of swimming, weight regime, and yoga to at least minimize the many problems I carry around in my back. It will be a long term project.

Regarding my pectoral range of motion I’m fine there, though if you read my latest post you find out I’m struggling with my catch in all strokes. I’m attributing it partly to being overwhelmed by more serious technical problems and partly on my general overall weakness (even if I incorporate a proper catch into my strokes it will merely add another fatigue factor which would offset any gain in my pull, endurance being my pre-eminent concern right now).

“It would seem likely that increasing kick efficiency and fitness would be beneficial for all your strokes.” My immediate response to such a statement was, “Don’t try to teach your grandmother to suck eggs”, but you’re just setting up the following paragraphs on developing a kick aren’t you? I quite agree about the importance of a good kick in fly. The fact that there has been even one world-class flyer without a strong kick takes me by surprise. I’ll have to look Esposito up. He must have been built like an ape. Every example I’ve seen emphasizes the extraordinary propulsive outputs generated by the kicks of such greats as Pablo Morales and Mary T. Meagher (see one of my very first posts ‘Learning to Swim Butterfly” dated September 19, 2006). I have been also working on my ankle flexibility (‘Ankle Flexibility in Kicking’ dated January 27, 2007) and that area is showing significant progress. But I will try to emphasize going small with my kick. Your advice echoes several other sources so I’ll talk to Coach Brad about what exactly ‘small’ means and what drills I can use to incorporate ‘small’ into my kick.

Your comments about rhythm and timing could be coming from Coach Brad, who has been working on my weak second kick, late breathing, and insufficiently easy recovery. Correcting all three and coordinating them is clearly going to be another long term project (you see the trend here don’t you?). Right now I’m swimming long course fifties on 1:30 with fins to work on my technique, so obviously I’m not pushing myself to the point where technique falters. Too much undulation? It’s difficult to conceive of me doing too much undulation given my lack of flexibility but I’ll keep it in mind it is possible (really, it’s possible?) but up to now every coach who has seen my fly has told me to undulate more, not less. Minimal breathing may be a problem however; I have a strong preference to breathe every stroke because I feel my stroke isn’t as smooth and fluid when I don’t breath (I’m also hypersensitive to my present lack of aerobic capacity). This is something Coach Brad has tried to coach my away from (i.e. I should be working on breathing every other stroke) but up to this point I’ve resisted. I’ll reconsider the idea at some point when I’m starting to think more about speed than technique. No promises at this time though. I do like your fence analogy for breathing early. I’ll have to tell Brad that one – he can use it when he coaches his ten year olds. Your comments about lat activation and recruitment are equally well made and also duplicate Brad’s pointers but, as I pointed out in the beginning of this response spending strength and energy to overcome technique is a losing game for me.

Your comments about how a good back pull requires a lot of the same lat and triceps movement found in butterfly are very interesting. Unfortunately I do have a tendency to over reach and straight arm in my back; my shoulder roll isn’t the best either. They’re all things I’m working on at the moment with the specific intention of using my shoulder muscles more and biceps less. But it has never before been pointed out to me my problems in back could mirror my problems in fly, a stroke where when my technique falters even a little I revert to trying to muscle my way through by arm strength alone. I can use this improved understanding to know when my fly pull is being done correctly by referencing to the feeling I get in my shoulders on a good back pull, which is a very good thing indeed. Your comments on using a swim bench are also well made, but as a master swimmer I don’t have access to any of the Hyack’s training equipment unless Brad ‘borrows’ it – and I don’t see him borrowing their swim bench! So using a swim bench isn’t in the cards right now.

And last but not least the suggestion to add some structured lactate tolerance work to my training could have been ripped out of my own training log. Everything you mentioned has provided the template for all my workouts. Endurance was always been my greatest strength, whether swimming or running, and I find my present lack of it extremely disconcerting. It is ever present in my mind. Kick more, stretch more, use my fins – you’ve read my game plan. Polish every meter, don’t practice crap could be my training motto. Thanks for your time and advice. It will be very helpful.

Scott said...

Mike - after thinking it over I'm going to make your "Polish every meter, don't practice crap" my Masters swimming motto. It sums up my basic training philosophy in a nicely succinct and rude package. Perfect! If any reader wants a more elaborate understanding of what makes me tick in the pool you could do a lot worse than read my December 9, 2006 post titled 'Coaching & Dale Long'. The improved quality of coaching nowadays and the ability to improve my strokes are two of the primary motivators for me to stay with Masters swimming.