Thursday, February 21, 2008

All In Good Time

I mentioned in an earlier post how my Alexander Technique lessons seem to be at the root of recent advances in rehabilitating my decades old back injury. There's been real progress in hip flexibility and the way I hold myself. All the same the distances I'm now swimming has created a lot of shoulder strain because, despite Coach telling me to relax on recovery, the only way I can bring my arms forward is to ‘muscle’ them through the shoulders: a very tiring process. Plus I can still observe the severe compression evident in my left side even if my shoulders have pretty well leveled out. Impatient I want to see more improvement there as well. So when my Alexander teacher Gaby left my back for a few minutes and looked at my shoulders I was delighted.

We first tried to see how high I could lift my arms from the prone position without engaging my shoulders, but didn’t get much farther than a few centimeters before they started seizing up. Next we tried having me completely relax and rely on her to move my arms. No luck there either. Reminding me about the perils of ‘end-gaining’ she then took hold of an arm with one hand while resting her other on my shoulder blade and while moving the arm applied a certain directed pressure to my shoulder. I was almost immediately rewarded with a dull ache from deep within the shoulder. Wonderful stuff! After about thirty seconds of this she then went to the other shoulder and did the same to that side. Once finished Gaby said she'd not do that again; my shoulders were far too resistant to tackle in a direct manner and we’d have to ‘trick’ them into releasing by using more indirect approaches over time. I only partially accepted her verdict. Figuring I could duplicate the shoulder position I decided I’d work my shoulders on my own. So for the rest of that day and the following I would revisit my shoulders on a regular basis and work them for a couple minutes. By the second evening, however, my lower back started to hurt. The next morning I woke up to back pain which necessitated a prescription anti-inflammatory before leaving for my next Alexander lesson. Gaby shook her head at my story. “Never work at recreating the feeling”, she explained, “because what feels right or comfortable to you right now is almost certainly something which comes from habit, and for you habit is not good.” Serves me right for trying to hurry things up.

Speaking of putting in the required time and effort rather than take short cuts I decided early last month to abandon my aspirations towards setting any notable times this year and instead concentrate on building an appropriate aerobic base for two or three years in the future. A significant departure from the anaerobic training prevalent in masters swimming today. Admittedly there are good reasons why masters training concentrates on anaerobic sets rather than aerobic. For one thing speed is a real concern for most of us old codgers so we need to practice at being fast. For another thing we consider a 200 to be a distance event. With a population who race mostly fifties and hundreds many who coach masters rightly believe there’s no reason to concern themselves with endurance. But ultimately the reason why more time isn’t spent training aerobically is that we don’t train enough. Why even try if the average masters athlete can’t put in the hours of practice necessary to achieve proper aerobic conditioning anyways. Well, I’m going to be one of the few to bother and at least try. Certainly this is a real gamble on my part as I might not be competing next year much less in three or four. On the other hand I’m weary of trying to ‘taper’ every month for every local race while simultaneously trying to build up my conditioning. I’m also sick of being afraid at the start of any race over a hundred.

My inspiration towards a more aerobic oriented training program came from an article transcribing a talk Eddie Reese gave the ASCA World Coaches Conference in 1998. Titled, “What To Do and How To Do It” Coach Reese discusses how American swimming could be improved and what he proposed needed to be done. It focused exclusively on age group swimming and the need to allow the greatest number of America’s youth to reach their maximum potential while preventing some of our most talented youth from burning out. At least back in 1998 what Eddie Reese thought coaches needed to concentrate on when training age group swimmers were, in order of importance: aerobic conditioning, stroke work (particularly distance per stroke), and the dolphin kick. Sounds good to me, and since James ‘Doc’ Councilman was the ‘go to’ person when I last competed I’m not going to quibble about any minor changes which may have arisen over the past ten years. Besides which, just as Coach Reese likes to quote people who share the same views he does, I happen to prefer a training philosophy which ties in very nicely not only with the giants of my era (Doc and George Haines) but with many of today’s leading figures like Bill Sweetenham and Bob Bowman. And of course, let’s not forget Eddie Reese. Take a gander and find out how a world class coach views our sport by reading his presentation. It’s exactly as I thought it should be.

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