Monthly Archives: December 2009

Trying to Lower my SPL

This week, for kicks, I decided to take one workout to see if I could lower my SPL for 25y to as low as I can get it.
My best SPL before this was 12 strokes for 25y. I was determined to do better, but also figure out what I needed to do to actually get a low SPL.
On my first 2 tries, I hit 11 SPL. Then I hit 10 SPL and held that for 4 lengths, and then ping ponged between 11 and 10 SPL as I got tired.
Some thoughts on getting to a lower SPL:
1. For this exercise, I had to lower my tempo a great deal. This increased my glide time for each stroke.
2. At higher tempos, I try to ride my speed curve, meaning that I try not to let my speed drop too far as my current stroke ends, before my next stroke picks up the acceleration again. But for this exercise, I let myself get further down the deceleration part of the curve after my current stroke ends, and I let myself maximize my glide before my next stroke begins. This minimizes my stroke count and maximizes the distance I glide for each stroke.
3. I found that I for each stroke, I had to really stroke back with great force, as well as shooting the lead hand forward at the same time. This is to maximize the distance I cover with each stroke. However, I tried to do so with proper form, not throwing water with my rear hand backward, really engaging the core in my stroke for more energy, and using my kick to give my rotating hip extra energy.
4. My bodyline needed to be perfect. It needed to be straight and extremely streamlined, so that on each glide I would minimize deceleration due to body drag.
5. My body also needed to be stable, and not be rocking back and forth during a stroke and glide. Any kind of extra movement creates drag.
6. I need to be as relaxed as possible and just let my body glide in between strokes. A tense body creates all sorts of disruptions leading to more drag in the water. Besides, it also wastes energy.
In some ways, I felt like I was cheating; I would just stroke once and then ride the glide for as long as possible. In thinking more about this, I think this is a beginning to a set of exercises to increase efficiency in the water. I had to go through this first to figure out what it would take to get to 10 SPL. What did I need to do to my body? My stroke? How much force do I need to generate with each stroke?
Obviously to maintain my SPL at a higher tempo, I would have to be moving faster and farther with each stroke or else my increased tempo would add a stroke before I would cover the same amount of distance per stroke, at a lower tempo. This means I have to do all those items I noted above, but just at a higher rate and with more forward acceleration and momentum.
My next task is to slowly increase my tempo and seeing if I can still maintain my 10 SPL, and then find my breakpoint tempo-wise where I cannot maintain 10 SPL no matter what I do. This is a critical point at which I’ll have to practice a lot.

Exercise Your Brain

I’m a voracious reader, and love to buy and read books on the topic of training. I’ve bought so many books on the topic and found many to be really lame and some that are truly outstanding. I’ve also picked up a number of DVDs some of which were also lame and some that were really great.
As a triathlon enthusiast, I’m a big believer in consuming as much information about the topic as possible so that I have a broad knowledge base to draw from. Right now there is so much that is crap out there about training it’s really bad. The sport is advancing so much but yet very little has been captured in literature that is available to the public; a lot of people are still ingrained in old traditional ways of training, some of which is very harmful and unproductive. So I thought I’d list some of my favorite DVDs and books on training for your perusal.
A word about DVDs: I have found that training by DVD is pretty tough if you’re just starting out. I think it’s much better to use DVDs as a supplement to training, versus using it solely. Working with a live, good coach is much better, or even if you attend a seminar by a DVD author, it is better than just viewing the DVD by itself. However, viewing video is great for visualization, so that when you see someone performing great technique, you can watch the video over and over to imprint it into your brain.
TI Swim Japan’s Youtube Channel – my Total Immersion coach Shinji Takeuchi maintains a great collection of videos for learning and teaching the TI techniques. Sometimes I just watch Shinji swim and try to imprint his smooth body movement.
Terry Laughlin’s blog, founder of Total Immersion – Wow amazing tidbits from the man behind TI.
Total Immersion DVDs and books – Order it all here, for reference in practicing your TI swimming!
Breakthrough Swimming and Swimming into the 21st Century by Cecil Colwin – Great historical perspectives on swimming and how people trained for swimming way back when. Lots of great stuff on competitive training techniques.
Swimming Fastest by Ernest Maglischo – Another huge tome on all aspects of swimming technique and training.
Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Hunter Allen, Andrew Coggan – I am a big proponent of power training. This is a bible of power training, although some of the concepts are hard to apply. It’s good to read to see what people are doing with it.
Watts Per Kilogram by Richard Wharton – I love my Computrainer, and this book shows you details on how to use it.
Watts Per Kilogram by Richard Wharton, free from iBikeSports but adapted for use with the iBike Power Meter. I bought one once but found it was hard to calibrate. I like my Powertap much better.
The Time-Crunched Cyclist: Fit, Fast, and Powerful in 6 Hours a Week by Chris Carmichael, Jim Rutberg – Great insight into how to train the quality way, and the effects of training volume on performance.
Spinervals DVDs – Before I got my Computrainer, I used this DVDs to help me train. They are even better with my Computrainer as now I can more accurately repeat workouts from a load standpoint. My favorites are these two, which I use if it’s raining or cold out:
Spinervals: Competition 26.0 – The Hardcore 100 – a 5.5+ hour interval workout on the cycling trainer.
Spinervals: Competition 13.0 – Tough Love – a great 3 hour interval workout, which I would do twice when forced to cycle indoors and before the Hardcore 100 workout came out.
Serious Cycling – 2nd Edition and High-Tech Cycling – 2nd Edition by Edmund R. Burke – Two great collections of deep research into cycling performance.
Lore of Running by Tim Noakes – The ultimate resource on the science of running.
Dr. Nicholas Romanov’s Pose Method of Running and companion DVD – This was the first resource I used to change my bad running form of heel striking to a much better mid to fore foot strike. I like a lot of his drills, but some of his drills were downright strange and I didn’t get into them much.
Galloway’s Book on Running by Jeff Galloway – His run/walk method got me through my first NYC marathon; he really reinforced the fact that you don’t have to run the whole way and that it’s OK to walk – something that you often do during the Ironman marathon! I unfortunately don’t agree with his recommendations on not stretching.
ChiRunning DVD – Similar philosophies to Pose method, I found the small section on down hill running to be very illuminating.
Recovery and Sports Medicine
Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists by Thomas W. Myers – Anatomy trains are chains of muscles that have been shown to work in concert. Treating the area where acute pain is felt may not be the complete and most effective solution; treating all the muscles in the chain is even better. Combining ART and Graston with anatomy trains theory makes treatment that much more effective.
Muscle Medicine: The Revolutionary Approach to Maintaining, Strengthening, and Repairing Your Muscles and Joints by Rob DeStefano, Joseph Hooper, Bryan Kelly – This book shows you how to perform ART on yourself!
Functional Soft-Tissue Examination and Treatment by Manual Methods, Third Edition by Warren Hammer – A heavy, in-depth book on all sorts of treatment methods, including ART and Graston.
Other Training
Jumping into Plyometrics: 100 Exercises For Power & Strength by Donald A. Chu – I’m experimenting with plyometrics now, to improve my sprint speed and power generation.
Periodization-5th Edition: Theory and Methodology of Training by Tudor Bompa, G. Gregory Haff – The original guy behind training periodization wrote this book. Great reference for understanding training and how to use periodization to your advantage.
DVD: Resistance Stretching With Dara Torres by Dara Torres, Anne Tierney, Steven Sierra – I have played with resistance stretching but have not had the time to get really into it. But whatever works for Dara Torres must work for moi, no?
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Core Conditioning Illustrated by Ed.D. Patrick S. Hagerman – A great basic guide to core training, showing you a whole bunch of core and balance exercises.
Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes – Dean is an amazing athlete, and shares his journey to where he is today.
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall – Amazing story about a group of people living in Mexican mountains who run barefoot, and never get hurt. Perhaps this is why we should chuck our running shoes?
30 Years of the Ironman World Triathlon Championship by Bob Babbitt – The look through history of the Ironman Championships never ceases to inspire me to go out and race yet another Ironman.
Age Is Just a Number: Achieve Your Dreams at Any Stage in Your Life by Dara Torres, Elizabeth Weil – In her mid-forties, Dara went to the Olympics and set new world records; proof that as we get older, we don’t have to slow down. I want to be just like Dara Torres!
Comeback 2.0: Up Close and Personal by Lance Armstrong – Following Lance through his recent comeback, a great pictoral on his path from retirement to 3rd overall at the 2009 Tour De France. Can I have a comeback like that every year?
We Might As Well Win: On the Road to Success with the Mastermind Behind Eight Tour de France Victories by Johan Bruyneel, Bill Strickland, Lance Armstrong – A great look at thoughts, strategies, and life of Johan Bruyneel, who led Lance Armstrong’s cycling team to 8 Tour De France victories.
What, no triathlon books? I looked at a few and none really stood out for me. The knowledge in those books was OK; for some reason, I really didn’t learn much from reading. I got better information from talking to my experienced racing friends. I also tried some training programs in those books but, like most training programs found in books, they were way too generic and did not adequately prepare me for a great race. Yes, they did get me to the finish line but did not address my individual needs and tell me how to work on my weaknesses.
An even better source was my coach Mike McCormack who also runs a great triathlon training studio in San Francisco called M2 Revolution. M2 has such progressive training ideas that only now am I finding discussion on similar training techniques, like in Chris Carmichael’s Time Crunched Cyclist book. Basically, you don’t have to put in a huge amount of training hours or miles; quality is much more important than quantity. But yet, you still hear of coaches putting their athletes through tons of junk mileage training. It’s wasteful and doesn’t help you get past plateaus after you reach a certain level of fitness and ability. You can read about his training philosophies on his M2 Articles page.

Tempo Training and SPL at Faster Tempos

Based on my coach’s suggestion, on the next workout I decided to swim at a higher tempo settings.
After warming up, I set my tempo trainer at 1.6 seconds, swam 4×25, then lowered my tempo by .1 seconds, swam another 4×25, until I got to 1.2 seconds tempo where I determined my comfort breakpoint usually is.
Here are my results:
1.6 seconds, SPL: 13, 12, 12, 12
1.5 seconds, SPL: 4×12
1.4 seconds, SPL: 4×13
1.3 seconds, SPL: 4×13
1.2 seconds, SPL: 13, 13, 13, 14
Once I started getting tired at 1.2 seconds, I drifted to 14 SPL and stopped, knowing I would probably get frustrated with trying to keep my SPL with rising fatigue.
At my next workout, I decided to go even faster. My coach tells me that sprinting tempo is around .8-.9 seconds. I wanted to see what that felt like and whether I could even keep up a decent form. Starting from 1.6 seconds tempo to give myself a bit of warmup, I did 2×25 at each tempo setting until I got .8 seconds.
Here are my results:
1.6 seconds, SPL: 13 12
1.4 seconds, SPL: 13 13
1.2 seconds, SPL: 14 14
1.1 seconds, SPL: 15 15
1.0 seconds, SPL: 16 16
0.9 seconds, SPL: 17 16
0.8 seconds, SPL: 17 17
The fast tempos are too fast for me at this point. My body coordination to stroke, body turn, and kick, as well as breathing at that tempo is a bit too difficult to maintain right now. I also found that I could not maintain my stroking force as well as when my tempo is slower. In order to maintain tempo, I have to reduce my force and just get used to cycling my arms at that speed.
Computation of speed to complete a 25y length is, using my coach’s formula:
1.2 seconds @ 14 SPL: 20.4 seconds
1.1 seconds @ 15 SPL: 19.8 seconds
1.0 seconds @ 16 SPL: 19 seconds
0.9 seconds @ 17 SPL: 18 seconds
0.8 seconds @ 17 SPL: 16 seconds
One of these workouts, I have to time myself to see how accurate these time computations really are.
1. I think that I did not “spin” and that I was actually gliding a bit with each stroke. But it was harder to see this effect at the higher speed.
2. I need to find a way to maintain force at higher tempos. To maintain that force is very difficult for me now and also cycle fast.
3. My coach told me that when you cycle faster, you need to stroke shorter, lifting your arm out of the water sooner. Also, everything is happening faster so I have to get used to doing the whole swim movements faster and precisely. At the same time, I need to be as relaxed as when I was swimming with slower tempo. Tensing up just makes me slower and more tired.
4. Like with running, I am going to start neuromuscular training for swimming. I think I will add in a training session where I am just swimming at fast tempo, but not necessarily caring what my SPL is.

Tempo Practice Maintaining Strokes Per Length

Monday I swam, thinking a lot about what Coach Shinji and I worked on Saturday.
I warmed up and then instead of only practicing Strokes Per Length (SPL) I did SPL with the tempo trainer.
As one workout, I will practice SPL without caring about tempo. I just keep trying to maintain the lowest SPL for as many 25y lengths as possible, until I start to tire. This time I decided to do something slightly different. I wanted to see if I could maintain the same SPL but at a higher tempo. In doing so, I could practice efficiency but at higher speeds. I can start practicing what it takes to be efficient at higher tempos, and what I need to do in my stroke and body position to make it so.
I started at 2.0 seconds on my tempo trainer and did the first 25y length at 13 strokes then got to 12 strokes on the next three 25y lengths. I then went to 1.9 seconds and maintained 12 SPL for four 25y lengths. I then dropped to 1.8 seconds and so on, swimming four 25y at 12 SPL at every tempo setting. I finally found my limit at 1.5 seconds where I was feeling like I was gliding a little bit longer at my 12th stroke to the wall. At 1.4 seconds I lost 12 and did 13. I tried for the next three lengths to hit 12 and think on the last one I could have finally glided to the wall on 12, but took the extra stroke anyways.
It was very interesting to note exactly what I had to do to maintain 12 SPL especially at faster tempos. At 1.5 seconds, I really had to shoot the forward arm fast while stroking back with the other arm with more speed/force. But I also had to do this by being more relaxed and not tense, and also making sure my body streamline was more precise. Just more stroking force and forward arm speed was not enough. At 1.4 seconds tempo, it took me 3 lengths to get the right technique to barely make the 12, even as I took the 13th stroke to firm up hitting the wall.
I was also getting tired too so that didn’t help. In addition, as my tempo rose, it seemed my breathing technique got messier and I was not gliding as much when I took a breath.
I sent this to my coach for feedback and he told me that this is a good thing, which is to be able to control my speed at the same stroke count. He estimated my time to hit the wall on a 25y length at 2.0 seconds tempo to be about 30 seconds (12 SPL x 2.0 seconds tempo + 2.0 seconds tempo x 3 additional strokes my coach adds for the push off the wall and glide = 30 seconds). Using the same formula, at 1.5 seconds tempo it took me about 22.5 seconds. So between 30 seconds to 22.5 seconds I could control my speed and still maintain my SPL.
He also told me that my body position must be more precise as I increase my tempo, and that being tense will make me slower. He mentioned that as I practice the various tempos, I can eventually determine what part of my body I should loosen and tighten up to maintain SPL.
He then told me to practice the same process with 13 strokes, but now at a faster tempo range like 1.6 to 1.3 seconds. Then I repeat until I get to 15-16 SPL at a super fast 0.8 seconds. If I can master this tempo control and maintain efficiency, then I can employ a variety of speeds during races.
Cool stuff. I think over the next few weeks I will work a bit on seeing if I can maintain 12 SPL at higher tempos for some of my workout sessions. I will also try to figure out what it is my body needs to do to be more efficient at higher tempos. It will be critical in figuring out how to get faster in the water and not just be exponentially increasing my effort needlessly to get a tiny increase of speed.

Total Immersion’s Superman Glide

Total Immersion has this drill called the Superman Glide. You basically push off the bottom of the pool (not the side; that’s cheating!) and launch yourself forward into the “Superman” flying position.
The object is to practice good streamlining, relaxation and no tension. If you do it right, you will zip farther in the pool before you stop than if you have poor streamlining or have an extremely tightness in your body.
My Coach Shinji can glide 18y on a single push off. It’s pretty freakin’ amazing:

One exercise I did was to see how many Superman Glides it would take to get to the end of a 25y pool. At first, it took me about 4.5. Over the last few months, I experimented with a lot of tweaking of my body positioning and finally made it in 3 glides. Some things I found that worked:
1. Relaxing is much better than stiff or tight. I just exercise enough tension to hold my arms straight out in front of my head, and to extend my legs. But no more than that.
2. However, relaxing totally didn’t work either. It meant that my body was a bit too loose and resulted in a less streamlined profile than holding enough tension to extend my body more sleekly.
3. I discovered that narrowing my body profile by extending my arms forward of my head is better than just putting them out there in a “V”. my shoulders are actually extended forward with my arms so it reduces the width of my shoulders.
4. I straightened my back, which feels a bit like arching the back to remove the natural curve of the spine. This is also achieved by rotating the hips forward a bit. A flat back seems to make me go further.
5. My legs do not just hang back relaxed. There is too much drag if they are just hanging out straight. Instead, I make a conscious effort to keep them straight back and touch my feet gently together, which puts my legs in my slipstream.
6. On the push off from the bottom of the pool, I plant my feet firmly before pushing off. I also try to push forward, which is tough because the bottom of the pool is slippery. It is better to plant the feet on the non-tile portion of a lane. Tiles are much more slippery than the other non-tile surfaces of the pool bottom.
I push off as straight as possible. Any angle or upset in my direction will either push me into a lane line or cause me to rock, which increases drag.
I try to push off as hard as possible. This is very hard because my feet slip on the bottom, even if they are not on the tiles. A harder push means more forward momentum, but is hard to achieve because your feet don’t have a nice surface to grip onto.
7. As I glide and slow, there is a tendency for my legs to drop. I try to flex whatever muscles in my back I can to keep my legs as high as possible, and to extend the time before my legs drop. Letting your legs drop is OK as far as the exercise goes, but it does not let you achieve your maximum length glide.
I only let my legs drop when I come to a complete stop.
8. By the way, you should be rested and not out of breath from warming up, or doing laps before. Gliding a long time also means holding your breath a long time until your forward motion stops so you don’t want to stop the glide early just because you’re running out of air!
9. I am very sensitive to the water flowing around every inch of my body. As I develop my position, I try to sense where is water causing drag on my body and where it is not. If there is drag, I try to change something on the next glide to see if I can remove the drag. This is also helpful during regular swimming, which is to see if anything on your body is slowing you down.
One of these days, I hope to achieve an 18y ultimate Superman Glide!

TI Swimming with Coach Shinji 12-12-09

Another great session with Coach Shinji this last Saturday. It was a rainy, cold day but us swimmers don’t care; we’re wet anyways. It’s not so nice for coaches who have to stand in the rain though.
Everytime I work with him, I always get a few more tidbits of insight from him. Some notes:
1. Practice varying the entry point from very wide to very narrow. Find the place which is most comfortable and also generates the most speed. Open water swimming tends to have a wider entry point than in the pool. Narrow entry points allow for longer hand motion under the water as the hand shoots forward, generating more momentum.
2. Wetsuits don’t allow as much roll so you have to learn how to generate motion on a wider track.
3. Push down on the instep when snapping the kick.
4. If I increase tempo too fast, then I could spin, which is when my arms are just cycling but I stop after each stroke and there is no glide. I must learn how to increase the tempo but do not spin.
5. If my SPL jumps at a certain tempo then this is the point at which something is wrong or something has changed.
6. At each tempo, I should count stroke and look at how it changes as tempo changes.
During this session, Shinji and I started at 1.2 seconds tempo, and did 25y lengths counting strokes, with each length decreasing the tempo by .1 seconds. I did this all the way up to 2.0 seconds tempo, and my SPL ranged from 15 in the beginning to 12 at the end. Then I increased the tempo by .1 seconds for each 25y length, all the way down to 1.2 seconds. I discovered that at around 1.3 seconds, my SPL jumped to 15 and realized that at this point, I needed to concentrate on what had changed, and how to maintain SPL.
7. Slower tempo requires more relaxation and good balance. There is more gliding, so you need to glide with balance and not rock.
8. Eventually I need to get to .8-.9 seconds tempo, which is sprinting and used when you’re trying to break out of a pack of swimmers during a race.
9. I need to turn the elbow slightly inward which will prepare my hand for the catch. This is also done my turning the thumb in and down. If my elbow is turned the other way, then I will waste a bit of time getting my arm in position for the catch, which can deter me from achieving a higher tempo.
10. When skating, I need to end my hand on top of my thigh, or else my body will more easily over rotate.
11. When I swim, I am throwing water backward with my right hand and not my left. Need to examine this further. I should not be throwing water back.

Learning to Breathe and Sight with Shinji Takeuchi’s TI Swimming 11-13-09

It’s been almost a month since my last lesson with Shinji. My blog was busted until now but finally I can post my notes from my last swim session with him.
This session was focused on improving breathing, and also learning TI’s sighting method which was slightly different than what I was doing.
Previously I noticed that my speed would suffer when I took a breath. Every time I would breathe, I would take the breath and turn my head and look back downward in the water and notice that I had come to almost a complete halt. I needed to figure out how to breathe and still be gliding and not at a dead stop due to bad streamlining.
We went through some drills to improve breathing and not slowing down. The drills were very basic, which was to break down the movement and drill each part partially until the whole movement was perfected.
Generally, the head turns with the body and remains in neutral position with respect to the body position until the very last moment as the head is almost breaking the water, at which point the head turns slightly to take what they call a “sneaky breath”. The water is still sticking to the mouth at this point, and you have to exhale slightly to clear the water away from the mouth so that a breath can be taken. If you move the head too much, you create drag which slows you down.
Also, I’ve found that after reading the TI forums, that slowing down occurs when I do not completely shoot the lead arm forward and complete a strong stroke, and that when I breathe, sometimes I forget to complete the stroke sequence correctly.
These drills were:
1. Take 4 strokes with head down, then turn the body and head until you look at the raised arm (after the stroke and arm recovery, but holding it up in the air) but no taking the breath yet.
2. Take 4 strokes with head down, then turn the body and head until you are almost breaking the water, then turn the head slightly and exhale (to clear the sticking water), and take a breath. Then turn the head down and glide, leaving the recovering arm in the air after its stroke.
3. Do 2, but then recovering arm completes the next stroke after breath.
Since I breath on the right side primarily, I start with the left arm leading and do the 4 strokes, at which time the right arm is the last stroke and can breathe on the right.
For sighting, Shinji says to sight when I shoot the right arm forward. It needs to shoot a bit shallower, as I lift the head up to look above the water. Then drop the head down and complete the stroke.
Drills to practice:
1. Take 4 strokes, then when I shoot the right arm forward, look up to sight and glide.
2. Do 1, then take a stroke after looking up.
3. Do 2, but take a breath after a stroke to get the rhythm of sighting regularly and breathing.
4. If 1-3 too hard, try stroking a few and then shoot the right arm forward and left head to sight, and scull the arms to practice gliding a bit while looking.
I practiced this extensively in the oceans of Hawaii a few weeks back. It works pretty well but the timing is a bit funny for me in the beginning, but I think I got the hang of it.
Other notes:
1. To improve breathing, practice active balance drills. Practice glide and while kicking, rotate the body and practice the ease of doing so.
2. I was still kicking with a lot of splash, so practice silent kicking. Quick, smooth, minimal splash.
3. Same with stroking. No bubbles, enter the arm smoothly into the water, no splash. Focus on quiet entry and shoot forward.
4. On left arm forward skating, I tend to tilt my head to the left. I must keep it straight.
5. Overhead arm recovery is not choppy, but smooth.
6. Another arm recovery drill, while underwater, is to lift the arm circularly up from the bottom.
7. We talked about improvements to practicing rhythm and SPL control. I have not done this yet, but one practice to try is to continually swim lengths at a SPL, and then figure out how to increase or decrease from there. So if the base SPL is at the “0”, then do this:
0 – at the base SPL, it should be an easy pace
-2 – focus on power, more speed
+2 – less power per stroke, focus on rhythm
Repeat this. Don’t worry about the tempo.
Today, I have another lesson with Shinji on extending TI swimming for speed and time. TI has been running seminars for Advanced Total Immersion which is to drill with TI techniques for speed and distance. I’m hoping Shinji can help me to extend my TI skills to swim longer and faster. I also signed up for an Advanced TI seminar in January. Looking forward to taking that!