Monthly Archives: September 2009

TI Swimming with Shinji Takeuchi Third Lesson 9-18-09

My TI coach will be out of the country this next month, so I signed up for my next class for today so that I could practice some more things while he is gone.
Following my amazing feat of hitting 13 strokes for 25yards, I was actually able to hit 12.5 today! Well, the .5 was due to a Michael Phelps-ian half stroke near the wall before touching it; I was not sure if I could glide to the wall or not on my 12th stroke. Oh well – I’m still amazed that 12 strokes is within my reach now. Given that I started at 21, getting to 12ish shows me that I am not a failure at swimming, and that I just needed the right type of instruction to get there.
Some notes from today:
1. Last week’s lesson, my coach told me not to throw water back on the tail end of each stroke. It takes a lot of energy and is not really needed. It was not until today’s lesson that I felt that this was really true. Corrections in my form and using the two beat kick to generate power virtually eliminated the need for throwing water back and I could glide so much further on each stroke without such a tiring move.
2. Today it took me about 3.25 superman glides to get to the other side of the pool. Now 3 is my goal! See next entry on why.
3. I need to flatten my back more, which will make my body more smooth in the water. To do this, I rotate my hips slightly forward, which removes the arch in my back and flattens it out. Doing this on the superman glide made me glide forward a lot longer than with the natural arch that is in my back. I must research this more and also employ it in my regular swimming. This means a slight tightening in the stomach muscles to keep the hips rotated just enough forward while swimming.
4. On the zipper switch and over switch, I should think about the one shoulder shrug when bringing my arm up for the stroke. This movement is also tied to extending my shoulder blade forward. And while doing this, it drags my whole side, and thus my butt higher in the water! Cool no more butt dragging!
5. OK now that I am working on an overhead arm recovery with the zipper switch and overswitch drills, I should practice the overswitch by gradually dragging my wrist, my hand, and then my fingers through the water on the path to a recovery with my hand completely out of the water. All this with 90 degrees at the elbow.
6. With overswitch, I now have to pretend there is a target in which my hand will spear back into the water. My coach tells me that if I enter the water closer to my head, this is generally better for trying to decrease my stroke count. But for more speed, the target shoud be further out. He encourages me to play with different entry points to see their effects. But generally the target is about at the same level out as the other arm’s elbow.
He also notes that advanced swimmers going fast will have an entry point further out and the catch happens almost immediately as the hand enters the water, and the catch is strongly engaged by the bending of the forearm and hand at the elbow very far forward of the head. Thus, the pull back is very strong and is very long as it travels through more water.
7. As the hand spears through the target, it should stop going down but instead bend more forward and shoot to the front, with the hip drive and two beat kick helping to make the move strong. This helps with propulsive force going forward.
8. For drilling, I should pause in the overswitch, and then do a small exaggerated hop into the target. This is to get my feel for entering and hitting the target correctly. I should also practice this with the tempo trainer with what is called half tempo training, where the first beep is the pause at the top, and then the second beep is when I spear into the water and extend forward.
9. Using the tempo trainer, my coach suggests:
Half tempo training:
Start at 1.15 seconds, and then try to lower by .2 to .70 seconds
First beep, elbow up. Second beep, spear.
Full stroke overswitch training:
Start at 1.6 seconds, lower by .2
Arm must get into position before beep!
Underswitch training:
2.4 seconds
Zipper switch training:
1.8 seconds
Tempo trainer workout:
Recommend 1.2 seconds and try to swim 30/60 min at the same tempo.
Notes: He notes that you *will* get tired. So you need to figure out what is causing a particular slowdown of tempo. It could be stroke length, it could be the kick snap is too big or too small. The idea is to move the arms at the same tempo and train that.
He also recommends separating tempo trainer days and reduce stroke count days, so for example, swim either 500 tempo trainer or maintain stroke count.
10. For stroke count training, he recommended trying this workout:
Swim a few 25y sets and find baseline stroke count. Then swim a few lengths of 25y and try to change the stroke count: 0, -1, -2, -1, 0, etc.
11. In watching my video during one drill, I had a severe up and down motion during a stroke. My coach tells me this is because my stroke is not straight back but slightly down also. This is bad! So I should concentrate on pull straight back as much as possible.
12. My first breathing lesson: the idea is that I take a quick breath and then I watch the hand come down into the water, spearing through the target. This will take some practice for sure.
Lots to practice this next month, and looking forward to my next lesson which is more about breathing while swimming.

The Two Beat Kick Decreased My Stroke Count!

On Friday, I learned how to do the two beat kick. Previously, I had no idea what two beat was, nor four or six or two beat crossover kick was. I still don’t. I’ve read the literature and they try to describe in words a physical action and I still can’t get it. Someday I might, but not today.
In any case, my TI coach went over the two beat kick with me. It was a tough coordination exercise as I’m supposed to kick the foot that is on the same side as my stroking arm. I discovered that I was right foot dominant, and tended to kick that foot on either side. My coach then ran me through some exercises to focus on kicking the correct leg on a particular side.
Today, I went to the pool after that session and was determined to get the coordination of the two beat kick down. I ran through some of the isolation exercises for a while and thought I got it. So then I went to swim some normal laps, trying to maintain the correct form of the two beat kick. I would actually cock the leg a bit more than normal just to emphasize which foot was kicking, and attempt to keep my other leg relaxed and extended straight back.
On my first swimming length of 25y, I counted my strokes and made it down in 14 strokes! WHOA. This is a significant result. In my first swim lesson, my coach took a look at me, my swim style, my body shape and height, and figured that 14 would be a great goal for me. In weeks previous, I’ve been working hard at decreasing my stroke count, and seemed to hit a wall at 16. Most of the time, I was at 17 strokes to touch the far wall, and I felt like I was cheating a bit since I would just stroke less to let myself glide more. But today, while stroking normally and using the two beat kick, I made it down in 14 on the first try.
Well, I didn’t believe it. I thought I counted wrong. If you swim a lot, you know what I mean. Your brain wanders, you get confused as to which stroke was which number. It’s easy to lose count.
So I pushed off the wall and swam another length. This time it was 13 strokes! Now I’m starting to believe it. I swam another 2 or 3 lengths at 14, and then I got tired and/or messy in the technique and dropped to 15 which I swam for several more lengths.
As far as I can tell, the two beat kick does a few things for me. As I kick, the leg helps my hip rotate to the other side. Apparently, as the hip gets an extra oomph to rotate, that helps to drive the lead arm forward, and lend more energy to the stroking arm which is pulling back via connection to the hip. In other literature, I’ve read that kicking correctly also stabilizes the body more during a stroke. I didn’t feel this particularly as it seemed like the hip rotation was throwing me off kilter, but perhaps not as I was propelled forward more with each stroke than before using the two beat kick.
I’m looking forward to drilling the two beat kick more and seeing if I can more consistently maintain 14-15 strokes per 25y, or perhaps even less (12 anyone?).

TI Swimming with Shinji Takeuchi, Second Lesson

Yesterday I had my second lesson with Coach Shinji. Once again it was full of insight and watching the video of me swimming afterwards was again painful (haha!). But Coach Shinji is great at breaking down the details of swimming and explaining it well, and also has taught enough people to know that there isn’t one way of swimming that fits everyone. He is able to articulate things to try to improve someone’s stroke as an individual, versus trying to shoehorn the “one way of swimming” into everyone.
Some things I learned from yesterday:
1. I need to be completely relaxed in the water. That means holding my body straight without tension but being relaxed. I tend to stiffen my neck too much in particular.
2. He advocates a flatter back. In watching my videos, I seems to arch a bit. I need to figure out how to rotate my hips forward just a tad to reduce the arch in my back.
3. I discovered my head position was too tipped forward, meaning my chin was too close to my chest. He told me that they tell their students to look directly down at the bottom of the pool because too many look forward. However, then he told me that actually you should be looking very slightly forward once you get more advanced.
For me, when my head was too tipped forward, it proved to be a factor that slowed me down considerably. I think the water was being stopped by the way my head was positioned, and once I tilted my head upward slightly, it presented a better profile for cutting through the water.
4. The under-switch is very interesting as its apparently used for underwater swimming in competition in Japan. There is an interesting video of a group of swimmers who swim the length of a 25 yard pool the whole way underwater using the under-switch stroke.
I also need to widen the pause position slightly, which is when my hand comes up under my body and I pause with it approximately extended to the same level as my other arm’s elbow. It is pointed too much towards my centerline.
5. He suggested I change my 6 beat kick (well, my feeble attempt at 6 beat kicking) to kicking my top leg a little bit less in frequency, and my bottom leg with more frequency. It’s definitely a bit weird to not be kicking with the same frequency and took me a while to get the hang of it, but somehow the different kicking frequencies allowed me to travel faster while kicking only. I need to research this more.
6. He taught me the two beat kick, which I think I like better because it allows me to maintain an undisturbed streamline better than kicking a lot. It also means less kicking, which conserves energy a lot more than kicking more. The funny thing for me is that the two beat kick means that I need to kick the bottom leg as the lead arm, which is on the bottom, strokes back, or kick the same leg as the stroking arm. I definitely need to practice this more. I seem to kick both legs when I try to kick the left leg. Need to uncoordinate the legs so that only one leg is kicking, and also at the right time. For some reason, I want to kick the top leg when I stroke the bottom arm.
For practice, I am to accentuate the kick on the stroke while attempting to keep the other leg extended, straight, and motionless.
7. I got into the zipper-switch practice today. This is beginning of practice the over-arm recovery. In TI, the elbow is high, but the wrist should be directly down from the elbow. Also, the elbow should always be at 90 degrees. As the elbow comes up, you need to lead with the elbow and not with the hand. This keeps the elbow high and gives you a reserve of potential energy which you use to help drive the arm forward once it enters the water. Also, I learned to actually extend with the shoulder blade versus lifting the elbow; this has the interesting effect of dragging the side of my body forward, which (bonus!) then brings the back half of my body up and helping keep my hips high in the water. Definitely a good thing to help cure me of my hip dragging swim style!
For the drill, I hold my elbow at a position that is about the same as where I pause for the under-switch, and then drive my hand down into the water with the potential energy stored by the high elbow, as well as using the hip turn for giving it even more energy.
8. TI Swimming teaches stroking your arms along tracks, which are the width of your shoulders. One thing that I learned was that the tracks should be positioned when you are flat on the water. However, when you’re swimming, your body is angled BUT the tracks remain at the same width as you’re flat. Because your body is angled, the result is that where your shoulders are during the angled body position are actually too narrow. This means that as I extend my arm out during a stroke, it needs to drift to the outside slightly to compensate for the fact that I am angled.
If my hands get too narrow during the stroke, this is bad because it slows me down as it tips my body in strange ways, creating more drag.
I’m looking forward to drilling all this over the next few weeks, and then onwards to my next lesson!

To Shim or Not to Shim Part II

Check out this shot of a poster in my PT’s office:

It looked eerily like my X-ray many years ago when it was determined that my right leg was about 1/8″ shorter than my left. The whole body gets jacked, the spine even curves to compensate. Impact forces from running get transmitted along a crooked axis up my body, really causing tons of problems because the muscles and bones just aren’t lined up optimally to take the stress. Pedaling on the bike doesn’t have impact forces to deal with, but man think of the weird stresses on my muscles/joints/bones due to the fact that one foot needs to extend a tiny bit longer than the other to transmit power to the pedals!
Thankfully in my case, it was not a basic structural issue (ie. my body’s bones weren’t actually 1/8″ shorter in my right leg) and a functional issue. ART and Graston released the muscles that were shortened and/or tightening up to draw my right leg up. Then, muscle strengthening, balance training, and correcting/refining my swim/bike/run technique helped prevent it from coming back and causing injury or other problems.
All I can say is, take the time to go through treatment. Embrace the time and cost to truly fix the problem if it is functional versus structural (in which case you’ll need shims or similar). Know that you will have to break old physical movement habits and engage new ones. I guarantee you that the pain and frustration you are experiencing in your training/racing now will diminish greatly, or go away completely…

To Shim or Not to Shim

Around 2004, I had been doing triathlons for about 2 years and was aiming for my first marathon, the NYC marathon, in the fall of 2004. It was during this training period that I went to my physical therapist at the time who took an X-ray of my spine and saw that it was curved, due to the fact that my right leg was shorter than my left which jacked my spine due to my hip being not level. Because of this imbalance, all sorts of weird problems kept coming up in my knees, IT band, calves – you name it, it was hurtin’!
The fix was to get some hard orthotics, made from carbon fiber no less, and to shim up my right heel by about 1/8″. He told me that this was very common and that this should fix a lot of things. After using these hard orthotics for a little while, they cured not only my pronation related problems but also removed a lot of other nagging problems. I was ecstatic! While I wasn’t totally problem free, I was at least on the path to making it to the NYC marathon in one piece.
Then I discovered ART. And more significantly, I started using ART for performance enhancement, not just curing and managing my problem areas. In my case, this involved freeing up my hip areas where it meets the top of the leg. When my PT worked on these areas, he discovered so much constriction and adhesions that had developed over decades of being non-athletic and sedentary. He aggressively and regularly worked my psoas and glute muscles, and of course continued working on my quads, IT band, and hamstrings. The net effect was that all of sudden when I was struggling to run 2:00 400s on the track, this dropped instantly by 15 seconds after only 2 weeks!
This is significant, but not quite the focus of this post – the other effect was that after working on the whole leg, and using anatomy train and kinetic chain concepts in his ART treatment, he would place both legs together to assess the difference in leg lengths and….now they were both the same length!
Whoa. All this time, I was thinking that perhaps I was just born with a slightly shorter right leg and now that was clearly not the case. What was going on?
In the course of many discussions with my PTs over time, I had discovered that this is often a common phenomenon with many athletes. As a matter of fact, I encountered this often in magazine articles when they talk about cyclists, who after going to get an expensive bike fit, will be recommended a heel lift on one leg to help balance out power output. In subsequent discussions, I also learned that some people ARE actually born with a severe leg length differences, sometimes over 1/2″! I can’t imagine what that would feel like when walking, but then we just adjust our bodies to do so and we don’t feel any problems until something bad happens and we come into PT to get assessed and realize that we’re not symmetrical.
However, given my own experience with this on my own body, I know it’s curable. And in talking with my PT about it, he thinks it’s curable in over 90% of the cases. Wow. Something as simple as a leg length difference, which would be caused by all sorts and types of muscle imbalances, leading to injury due to the imbalance and uneven stresses on your body parts. And totally curable, but without the need for a crutch such as a heel lift or shim.
Why is the heel lift/shim a crutch? Because it doesn’t address the actual problem but only puts a bandaid on it. Think about what could cause your leg to be shorter than the other. In my case, it was a lot of bunched up, super tight muscles up by the hip area that were so tight and inflexible that they yanked my entire leg upward into the hip joint, causing a shortness of about 1/8″. So now I put a shim under my foot and at least I’m not running unbalanced, but my muscles are still constricted up there. Over time, this can cause all sorts of problems in the muscles, affect your speed, and potentially cause wearing down of the hip joint because additional pressure is being put in the ball and socket there. Isn’t this bad?
It is unfortunate that so many people are not aware of a cure for leg length problems and prescribe such things as heel lifts and shims. I am also surprised that those who do know unfortunately are not very likely to seek treatment and go through what it takes to remove this problem. Instead, they would rather just put a shim under their heel and go on with their lives because it’s easier, and certainly less expensive and less troublesome than going to a competent PT who can eliminate this problem over time.
Personally, I would rather not put a bandaid on a problem and make time to completely remove the problem which I know will extend my ability to race injury free for many years to come.