Monday, January 27, 2014

Why am I swimming so fast?

I thought I would get off the beaten path of my nutrition blogging to discuss training in this blog.  I am confident that for some triathletes who struggle with their swim, this may be of extreme benefit.
It's no secret that I did not grow up a swimmer.  Heck, I didn't even "learn" how to swim "competitively" (and by that I mean putting my head in the water when swimming freestyle) until my sophomore year in college when I took lifeguard training.  Growing up a land sport athlete (soccer), I didn't know you were supposed to swim with your head and face in the water.  Well, not until my lifeguard training instructor asked me after the first class why I swam like I did.  My answer was simple and was actually a question back to her, "that's not what I am supposed to do?".  Ha!  Joke was on me because ever since then, I have been trying to make myself a swimmer, well in the sense of a triathlete who wants to minimize the amount of energy wasted so I could get on the bike without being completely exhausted.

I have been working on this for 20 years.  I've read all the books, talked to great swim coaches, had video analysis done.  It worked, a little but nothing that was really noticeable.  I remember last year when swimming under 1:30 pace for 100 yards was a success for me.  That just didn't cut it for the level of competitiveness that I wanted to achieve.

So, what did I do?  Nothing particular ground breaking and nothing that costs a ton of money.  What I would like to share with you is my process of swimming faster.  If you can take some of these tips and apply it to your training to become faster in the water, great!  That is my intention.

Tip 1: Be a student of the sport
As I mentioned earlier, I have read all the books. Have done my homework and all that jazz.  What I failed to do was spend time on my own in the pool trying to correlate my learning with the biomechanics of my body.  I got a swim snorkel, went slow and paid attention to my body moving through the water.  I had someone video me so I could analyze it and pick myself apart.  After doing that, I went back in the pool, by myself, and slowed everything down so I could manipulate my biomechanics.  Specifically, what I found was that I was reaching too far, too much extension and actually putting the brakes on because of this.  I changed my hand entry to about a 15-20 degree angle which allowed me to engage my catch sooner and ease the pressure on my shoulder.

Tip 2: Get stronger
I have spent the last 6 months aggressively building my swim specific strength. I do 5-10 minutes per day doing pre-hab shoulder exercises with tubing.  I pay particular attention to posterior chain exercises when lifting weights.  Yes, weights.  I lift heavy weights and do sandbag and plyometric training for my upper body.  The icing on the cake for me has been the introduction of rowing.  I row most weeks 3-6 times from 20-60 minutes.  Sometimes steady state.  Sometimes intervals.  It's a huge contributor to my swimming speed improvements.

Tip 3: Learn how to kick
Yeah, I was a competitive soccer player turned triathlete.  I have strong legs so I thought kicking would be easy.  Not so much.  I wasn't kicking properly.  Too much from my knees.  No engagement from my hips.  Too wide of a kick.  What I have done to help this is get a piece of easy resistance tubing and put it around my ankles while swimming.  When swimming alone (important: not in a group), I practice swimming with this tubing.  It is not the same as having a bike tube around your ankles.  This resistance tubing allows me to kick against it but I know I am kicking correctly when I feel my hips engaged.  It also prevents me from kicking too wide.  

These three things have been blessings for me in developing my swim.  I have gone from celebrating hitting just under 1:30 pace 100's to consistently being able to hold 1:20's in this short amount of time.  Will this work for you?  Yeah, I'm pretty sure it will.  Consistency is the key.  Don't rush it and don't try to swim fast before you implement these tips.  Patience will go a long way in developing your swim.  It did for this non-swimmer and I am confidence it will for you also!

Happy swimming.

Coach Bob

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Supplement Savvy

Happy New Year!

I have written a few articles about supplement savvy in the past and this blog will not be a reproduction of those.  As athletes, supplements are part of our lifestyle.  It doesn't matter if you agree or disagree.  The fact of the matter is that athletes use supplements.  As a Registered Dietitian, I was taught the food first model back in the days.  Around the same time where I was also taught about the benefits of following a high carbohydrate, low fat diet.  Also around the same time when, as an endurance coach, I was learning that the best strategy to improve most performances was to build a huge aerobic base of long slow distance training.

My, my, how things have changed over the years.  Specific to this blog is the supplement topic.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I fully believe that we should eat wholesome foods but I also agree that we cannot obtain all of our nutrients through foods all of the time.  We are athletes and we stress our bodies differently from the average person.  Throughout my career as a Sport Dietitian, I have developed a much more liberal approach to supplements, have taken many myself to see if they work or not, and have developed a more systematic, periodized approach to using them and educating others on what and when to use.

Supplements can be classified into three categories: 1) dietary, 2) sport and 3) ergogenic.  Dietary supplements include your basic multivitamin and single nutrients like iron, vitamin D, omega-3's and calcium.  Sport supplements include any bar, drink, gel, electrolyte or anything else you would likely consume before, during or after training.  The last category, ergogenic, includes supplements like creatine, caffeine, and herbal products such as rhodiola rosea.  

There are just as many studies to say we need certain supplements as there are opposing the usage.  What is important is that each athlete have blood work analysis done to determine what is really going on inside their bodies.  From there, it is easy to "clean up" your daily nutrition plan and add the appropriate supplements to combat deficiencies or to improve athletic performance.  

Recently, I have had the honor to sit on the Advisory Board for Thorne FX.  I attended a 3 day educational retreat at their headquarters in Idaho to learn about what makes them different and why.  I was pleasantly surprised to see, upon touring their facility, the degree of quality assurance in which they hold their manufacturing processes to along with the science that goes into choosing the right ingredients.  No fillers.  No product contamination.  No BS.  The reason I have aligned myself with this company is not only because of their supplement philosophy and manufacturing/sourcing of ingredients but also because they believe in lab testing.  In fact, they offer the most comprehensive lab testing that you can get.

And no, they are not like other companies that develop a test to show you how low you are in something and so conveniently have a product to sell you in the next breath.  The lab testing is to help you achieve a better understanding of your health and determine what dietary strategies you need to implement to make improvements.  My collaboration with ThorneFX is an extension of the services that I provide athletes.  My job is to improve your health and performance by looking at your daily and training nutrition, find the problems and come up with solutions.  Solutions, in this case, often lead to changing the way you eat and your food choices along with educating you about supplements that can help in this process.

As much as you can argue with the research that is published, one thing is for certain: you are unique in your nutritional needs and were dealt a different deck of genetic cards than someone else. Get your lab work done first to see what you are starting with.  From there, you can develop a plan to improve your health and performance.

I would encourage you to visit ThorneFX for lab testing options and their full supplement line.  I wouldn't be on their Advisory Board if I didn't believe in them!

PS-you cannot order lab tests or products from ThorneFX without a special code so you can use this one: THRNFX1062544

ThorneFX website

Coach Bob