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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Shoulder Is Not What We Think It Is

Why are we spending so much time working and stretching the small and realatively fragile rotator cuff, when we could be spending our time strengthening the entire shoulder girdle?  A strong shoulder girdle provides the stability needed to keep our entire shoulder in the proper position.  It's correct positioning that keeps the shoulder healthy!

I know plenty of coaches who get this issue, but too many do not get it and make (seemingly) no effort to get ahead on the knowledge curve -- and help the athletes.

Oftentimes there is a disconnect between USS Club coaches and local High School coaches.  Many club coaches are fulltime professional coaches (we don't teach at the school or have another fulltime job), and because of this we have more time to study, read, learn, etc about swimming.  I don't fault High School coaches for having less experience, and to be clear: I believe a coach who coaches 'high school' only can get great results.  I've seen it happen!

My point is: we all need to be accountable for the health of our athletes.  If we share the athletes, we can share the joy of their success -- but we must also share the responsibility of proper preparation, and as well the blame if our athletes cannot keep themselves from getting injured at practices and prior to meets.  Overdoing the passive stretching before meets, overdoing the amount of "rotator cuff" excercises, and underdoing the amount of true "shoulder stability" excercises is the basis of many of our poor decisions.

Literature on shoulder health for swimmers is fairly new (as well as literature regarding passive stretching and its misconceptions) -- so I can understand that education is needed.  Much of the recent thinking on this subject is opposite what many coaches have been taught!

G. John Mullen has a few tips to heed when thinking about shoulder health.  This article should be called "(Mis)understanding the Rotator Cuff" because it argues the typical thinking RE the rotator cuff, and suggests new ways to understand our shoulder and its function.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Wednesday's Workout

Today's workout for Erika Erndl follows a strong Monday/Tuesday where we did the following:

Monday AM: resistance training (work on the buckets) followed by some assisted sprints
Monday PM: 10x100 Kick (130) Best Average, some pulling, and an aerobic threshold set.
Tuesday PM: 6 rounds of {100 Free (120) + 75 BBF (110) + 50 Free (1) + 3x25 easy (45)} ...with the 100s descended 1-3 and Negative Split.
Wednesday AM: more resistance training followed by some short FINS work with Fly.

Now....for Wednesday afternoon

3x300: Free IM (410) + Kick-Drill (5) + Pull (4)
3x200: Free IM (250) + Kick-Drill (320) + Pull (240)
3x100: Free IM (125) + Kick-Drill (140) + Pull (120)

16x25 (30) Free, Fly Drill, Free, Fly Swim Fast with perfectly timed finish

3x300 (4) Free with short fins ....HR at 25-26

Main Series:

8 rounds of.....

100 (120) {50 Free Kick + 50 Free Swim}
50 (1)       {25 Fly Kick on Front with small scull + 25 Fly Drill 2R 2L 3Full}
50 (1)       {50 Fly Swim descend 1-4 x2}

(The interval should be fairly short on the 100s, then easier on the 50s.  ALL repeats should be strong -- not just the 50 Fly, but the 50 Fly should be a bit stronger in terms of intensity than the rest of the set).

200 easy

8x50 (1)   {Short FINS Breast Pull -- one kick per pull -- Fast}

200 easy

It would be awesome if other coaches/athletes did the workout and posted times and comments!

Of note, to clarify some things: Erika trains by herself multiple times per week...and this one of those days.  My Senior athletes (18 and under) do similar type of training -- particularly the girls -- although for many of them their total volume is a bit more.   The practices are longer, and the main sets are longer. My distance boys (which is most of my youngers guys) don't do this type of thing too often...they are going much more 30-40 minute threshold sets and longer active rest sets.   

Monday, 17 September 2012

Remember......to get FAST:
You HAVE to work on your STROKE TECHNIQUE everyday!
You HAVE to TRAIN HARD everyday!
You Have to GET STRONGER in & out of the pool, multiple times per week!
You Have to FUEL YOURSELF and GET ENOUGH REST, as a way of life!
By accomplishing ONE of these things, we may create mediocre athletes within ourselves & our teams.
By accomplishing TWO of these things, we may create REGIONAL level success for ourselves & our teams.
By accomplishing THREE of these things, we may create STATE level success for oursleves & our teams.
By accomplishing ALL FOUR of these things, we may approach NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL success for ourselves & our teams.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Sometimes, Athletes Just Gotta Keep Plugging....

I've got a few younger guys at T2 Aquatics who have some good potential, performance-wise, in swimming.  Some of them are highly ranked (Top 20 per age group in the U.S.) -- and many of them are not....but my mindset remains the same: we can become great through hard work and dedication.

It helps to realize that not all U.S. National Team members were amazing age groupers.  With this realization, we can better see how a guy who is ranked 100th in his age group might eventually get to the top level of our sport.  It takes time to go along with dedication and the ability to stick to it.

To see what I'm talking about, check out U.S. Olympian Scott Weltz's progress, which I dug up looking at the U.S. Swimming "Times" page.  We all know Scott came "out of nowhere" to make the team this year.  But did he really come out of nowhere?  Scott was a pretty good swimmer....in the Freestyle and IMs as an age grouper and college swimmer.  A decent breaststroker, but not amazing.  Look at his ups and downs (am I missing something here?....maybe some of his meets weren't recorded....maybe he was injured -- full disclosure: I am only as knowledgable as the US Swimming website allows me to be in this case). 

But for sure, this progression is a lesson to all athletes, coaches, and parents: improvement is not linear in many cases, and Scott's ability to deal with the ups and downs of swimming improvement -- from an outsider looking in -- is a huge reason why he was able to find the big swim when it counted, and put himself on the US Olympic Team.  Congrats to Scott and his Coaches on his impressive performance!

Here's the progression from the US Swimming website:

                                       100 SCY Breast     200 SCY Breast     100 LCM Breast    200 LCM Breast    …other

2002       14/15                     1:03.9                    2:15.5                    1:08.4                    2:29.4

2003       15/16                     59.7                        2:18.1                    1:07.4                    2:24.5

2004       16/17                     1:01.4                    2:15.5                    1:08.3                    2:24.3

2005       17/18                     1:01.6                    2:14.6                    1:11.6                    2:24.0                    45.9 1Fr

2006       18/19                         x                                   x                     1:10.0                    2:28.5                    424 5Fr

2007       19/20                         x                                    x                         x                         2:23.7                    356 IM

2008       20/21                         x                            2:07.3                    1:09.9                  2:18.9                    207 LCIM

2009       21/22                     56.3                        1:54.9                    1:03.4                    2:17.6                    201 LCIM

2010       22/23                     53.7                        1:56.1                          x                              x                       145 SCIM

2011       23/24                     55.1                        2:00.5                    1:02.2                    2:14.4

2012       24/25                     54.4                        1:59.1                    1:00.2                    2:08.9

{Congrats to Scott, and I'd be happy to clarify if this is not all correct -- please leave comments if you know more on this subject!}

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Pushup Help

Am I the only coach that has a problem with this pushup position?  It's not really a pushup unless an athlete can establish a plank position with their arms fully extended, and maintain a plank position all the way through the motion. At some point, a weaker athlete will break their plank on the way up or on the way down during the movement.  So how do we go about building the strength to actually DO a real pushup?  First, we have to work on planks (holding proper plank position while breathing calmly, for extended periods of time).  Once our athletes can hold a plank they can actually DO the pushup   within a few weeks if they use this simple progression -- which breaks the pushup into two simple parts. 

Here's the progression:  First, situate the athlete on the ground (fully touching the ground with their entire torso).  The athlete's palms should be placed under and slightly behind their shoulder.
This is an easy position to accomplish!

Next, ask the athlete to go directly from the first position into a plank.  The back should be flat, and the neck should be long and flat.  The athlete's eyes should look at the ground 6-12 inches in front of their hands.  Take care to allow the hips to rise simultaneously with the chest (the toughest part for many). Many athletes who are terrible at pushups can actually DO this "modified pushup".  So, my suggestion to them is to go through a "modified" pushup set, pausing on the ground as needed between reps (a full second is good enough for most although some may need a few seconds).  I'd prefer one second rest between repeats if it means the athlete will keep her back flat and connected through the entire motion.  Soon, a weak athlete will be able to do a few "real" pushups, and then it's just a matter of time and continuous focused work to get consistently good at sets of 10 or 15 at a time.

Why do we spend time allowing athletes to do terrible pushups?  Do we think that an athlete should struggle for a while, somehow gain strength through poorly-formed efforts, and eventually get strong enough to do a "real" pushup?  I am certain an athlete will be unsuccessful at forming a good pushup if all they do is perform unsuccessful pushups.  Let's consider ways to break the exercise into parts, so that eventually we can put good parts together, creating a strong full movement.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Swimming is a "body position" sport.  Without correct positioning in the water, we are going to be behind those who are valuing the body's best positioning within the water.  There have been many articles written and many clinics conducted about this subject -- and certainly if you get on youtube, you can see plenty of videos outlining "correct" and "incorrect" swimming body position.

I believe "Proper use of Vision" to be an important component to finding the proper bodyline in each stroke.  As coaches, if we can get an athlete to adjust the direction of their vision (actually where their eyes are looking), we can get them to change their body position in a positive way. 

Using vision properly is just one way of getting an athlete to perfect their body postion.  I have seen the use of video serve as a great teacher, as well as the use of peer examples, drawing the proper position on a white board for an athlete, working with an athlete on land to find the proper position...and I believe that each of these ways are valid and important keys to learning.  But as a coach, we must be able to use an array of tools -- to get through to different types of athletes who may learn and hear things in different ways.

The quick tool that I've found effective is simply asking an athlete to adjust where they are looking.  Here are a few examples:

1.  An athlete who is burying their head after taking a breath is oftentimes looking "at the bottom of the pool" like we teach them to do.  But where exactly are they looking?  The bottom of the pool is a big place!  Athletes who adjust where their eyes are pointing by a foot or two can create a different, and perhaps improved, bodyline.

2. An athlete who is lifting their head too much on Fly or Breast can adjust their bodyline by adjusting their vision.  I usually ask an athlete where they are looking, then make the adjustment.  I may ask them to look at the surface of the water, at a certain distance in front of them -- or I may ask them to look at the T on the wall, depending on the problem they are having.

3. An athlete who approaches a flipturn should look under the "T" on the wall, and deeper as they get closer to the wall.  I find that too many athletes focus on the "T", and as they get closer to the wall they lift their head.  Skillful use of vision (and optical muscles) prevents an "inline" athlete from getting out of line inside the flags.

These are just a few examples. I try to get the athletes to "use their eyes, not their head" when looking at a different place -- for a subtle change, as oppossed to a really big change.

Please use the comment section on this blog to identify areas that help your athletes with their body postion -- I'm sure all readers would like to know alternative ways to get our athletes faster!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012



I had the chance to coach many of T2 Aquatics' 8-12 year olds last week as I filled in for Coach Jon Caswell (congrats to Jon on his wedding!).  Every day I was reminded of the pieces which must be
placed properly into each athlete's repertoire!  It takes a LONG time to create high-level "pieces" --
parts, placed together properly, that make up a high-level athlete.

(See Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 Hour Rule Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XS5EsTc_-2Q).

It's important that each athlete in our training group gets some insight into how to build these pieces....but how can we ensure that they are all hearing the message?

The answer comes down to repetition.  We ask the athletes for repetition, but in order to commuicate well with each member of the training group coaches must repeat as well.  Think about it:
how often are we talking to part of our training group instead of all of our training group

Speaking to one athlete at a time is necessary -- in particular for the high-level athletes (they are ready for more skills, and in addition they will generally have more time on the wall).  But a quick reminder to push off the wall deeper, or to connect the pullout to the first stroke on breaststroke can be repeated pretty easily to each of our athletes 5 seconds before they leave the wall. In particular with our younger athletes (6 to 11 year olds) this reptition from a coach can be very effective in offering proper cues to an athlete as they approach a skill repetition.  

To offer this specific instruction to everyone, we may have to repeat ourselves 5 or 6 times per practice item, so each athlete hears the proper message -- and just as importantly, they hear it at the correct time.  We may end up saying the same thing, seemingly over and over, to get the point across to every athlete in our training group -- but the differences will be noticable at the next meet!