Monthly Archives: January 2010

Advanced Total Immersion Seminar in SF with Dave Cameron

Yesterday I took an Advanced Total Immersion Seminar in SF with Dave Cameron, a coach who teaches at Minnesota Tri Masters and is known as Distance Dave and has swam the English Channel among other things.
This is a relatively new seminar as most of the ones I’ve seen prior, including the one I took way back in 2003, were more basic. They go through the basic drills of TI which is about all you can do in a few hours, or now over two days. If you’ve never encountered TI drills before, you can only pretty much get to some basic level of mastery of the drills in a few hours.
I am glad to see that they are finally creating seminars which go beyond the basic drills and help us figure out what to do next after we get proficient in the drills.
The session consisted of one hour of swimming, then an hour of video examination, then another hour of swimming. First we were videotaped at the beginning, which we examined during the hour of instruction. In the first hour of swimming, Dave ran us through a whole bunch of new drills, and each time we swam we would have a different focus. This was important, as even though we were swimming freestyle each length, we would have a different aspect of the stroke to focus on and make sure we were doing exactly right.
Some of the focal points we practiced were:
1. Swing the arm on recovery using internal shoulder rotation, don’t jack it up and over. (This was very interesting as it helps prevent shoulder problems by not putting your shoulder in a disadvantaged position during each stroke).
2. Kick in the shadow of your body.
3. Shoot arm forward to the outside, not crossing over.
4. As you extend, feel the stretch diagonally across your body, from your finger tip down your arm, across your chest to the opposite hip.
5. Extend forward arm as much as possible forward.
6. Use hip turn to drive arm forward.
7. As recovery arm comes up, wait, wait, wait (feel the glide), until the last moment to shoot arm forward.
8. Let the catching hand perform catch naturally in front, as recovery arm comes up and then shoots forward into the water.
9. Keep back arm in water (not swiping back the stroke) and then snap arm forward out of water into recovery.
Other things:
1. Don’t be stacked at 90 degrees to water; be angled somewhat, like 60 degrees.
2. To practice the inner shoulder rotation recovery, feel as though you are scraping your bicep across the water. Swing the arm around and don’t lift shoulder.
3. Forward arm needs to be deeper, not so shallow.
4. Avoid DDE (Dreaded Dropped Elbow) upon stroke back.
5. Potentially the kick can be corrected by fixing the track on which we stroke.
6. Somehow today I was able to kick a whole 25 yards in side skate position! I’ve never been able to do that before.
We also worked a bit with the tempo trainer. First we found our nice, comfortable tempo. Then we swam this and they videotaped us. Then we dropped .3 seconds in tempo to simulate a sprint and got videotaped this way too.
After this, Dave will send us all flash drives with our videos along with commentary on each video. I love this part: technology certainly enables great teaching and delivery of materials we can study. I can’t wait to get to the pool and practice, and also looking forward to seeing what Total Immersion comes up with next.

How I’ve Been Using the Tempo Trainer

Surfing through the Total Immersion forums, I responded to someone wondering how to use the tempo trainer. I thought it would be worthwhile to re-post that here:
I have found that the tempo trainer is one of the best ways to introduce measurability and repeatability into swimming. It’s much more detailed than just remembering how fast you can swim laps; you also gain knowledge into efficiency when you couple tempo and counting strokes per laps. Remember that you can always swim faster by just cycling your arms faster, but you want to know across workouts that you are consistently putting out a certain effort, combined with efficiency, and still keeping to a speed, or going faster/slower. It is not as good to know that you swam the same interval at given speed over two workout days, but one day you worked your butt off because your form was off but the other day you were more rested/better form and you actually had less effort.
I use the tempo trainer both for improving stroke technique and efficiency and then for endurance training.
For improving stroke technique/efficiency, I first setup baseline counts for 25y lengths from 2.6 seconds tempo all the way down to 0.8 seconds tempo. Around 1.2-1.3 seconds is considered cruising, and .8-.9 you’re pretty much sprinting. In/around 2.4-2.6 seconds is almost unbearably slow. Over a period of workout days I would swim 4×25 (or 2×25) at each time and then record that down. Sometimes I would start at 2.6 and work my way down .1 seconds at a time, sometimes I would start in the middle, ie. 1.6 seconds and go to 1.2, sometimes I would start at 1.4 and go all the way down to 0.8. Sometimes I would go directly to 0.8. I usually stop when I feel I am getting too tired and losing concentration and focus.
BTW, writing it down sure beats trying to remember. Bringing paper and pen doesn’t work because they fail when wet. I use a cheap plastic acrylic picture frame and a grease pencil which is better, although it can fail when there is condensation on the acrylic, but it’s still much better than pen and paper.
Once you establish baselines, then you can see if you can figure out ways of beating those stroke counts. Mostly this is about firming up your technique more than anything else. Also, you will notice that at certain points you’ll jump 1-2 strokes per length. These are critical points at which something is happening; maybe your technique is deteriorating, maybe you’re getting tired.
BTW, if you get tired, it may be a good time to just get out of the pool because you don’t want to imprint bad habits!
At some point you’ll find that it’s almost impossible to beat your stroke count at given tempo time. This is now your max and now you can use this to practice against from time to time to know if you’re technique is suffering for some reason. However, I also think it is an interesting exercise to take some time to see if you can actually beat and maintain a lower stroke count for a given tempo time, so play with this.
For endurance, it’s been about figuring how to maintain a tempo in the face of declining resources, and maintaining form at those tempos over a longer period of time and distance. So I use tempo trainer on more continuous sets, starting with 50, 100, and then longer, usually by adding 50m every week, or sometimes varying it up with more short 50m lengths, or sets of 200s, or one big 500 or 1000m set. But definitely start low distance in lengths and give yourself some rest, even upwards to 30 seconds rest. The object is to slowly increase lengths, and reps, and lower rest between reps (ie. 20 sec, down to 10 or 5 seconds rest) gradually such that you do not ruin your ability to maintain optimal swimming form by getting too tired. If you find that at a certain interval distance that you are having trouble keeping up or your form is getting messy, I would back off and practice that workout a few more times before increasing the difficulty.
Over time, you will get better and be able to go longer, with your tempo trainer keeping time along the way as a relentless timemaster.
The other thing to do is to practice different tempos with this protocol. Then you will have different speeds to engage, such as sprinting to get in front of a pack and then cutting back to cruise mode and being able to switch cleanly from all that.
A word about training on the slow end. I have found that, while almost unbearable, it has also been extremely valuable as a way to reinforce holding perfect form and practicing balance in the water. I find this translates to helping my form with faster tempos.
Hope this helps…Coach Shinji is going to run me through a “strategic use of tempo trainer” talk soon. I hope to learn more from him on how he is using the tempo trainer to help improve swimming.

Measurability and Repeatability in Training

In recent months, I’ve come to realize how much I love the tempo trainer for swimming. It also sparked the realization that I have finally found a method for to ensure measurability and repeatability for swimming.
What’s so important about measurability and repeatability?
Repeatability is the ability to come back day after day and train with a certain level of effort, intensity, etc. and ensure that you’re creating the same conditions as you had the last time you trained. Measurability allows you to measure those conditions to ensure repeatability.
For example, weight training has both easy measurability and repeatability. That 30 lbs. dumbbell is still going to weigh 30 lbs. the next time you pick it up. Thus, you’ll know if you are getting stronger or weaker, depending on how many reps you can curl that dumbbell.
The problem with us triathletes is that it’s not so easy to have measurability and repeatability with our three sports. Of the three running is probably the most measurable and repeatable. With cycling and swimming it’s not so easy.
If you don’t have an accurate way to measure effort and the ability to create conditions to ensure repeatability, you won’t know for sure if you’re improving over time. For example, you may have increasing effort, but you may be actually performing worse if you’re overtraining.
So it’s important to be able to measure your training conditions and to recreate them so that you know with some level of certainty that you’re improving, or how your body is performing so that you know when to back off or increase effort.
I thought I’d list my favorite training tools to maximize measurability and repeatability:
Treadmill – The treadmill allows you to recreate running conditions with great accuracy, in both speed, duration, and grade. Its relentless nature doesn’t allow you to fall behind; if you do, you either fly off the back of the treadmill or have to keep up. Thus, I can generally know if I’m either improving over time or not, or if I’m just a bit tired and can’t repeat a workout on a particular day.
Track or measured distance running – Running a measured distance and recording the time allows you to know if you’re improving over that distance and path.
Power meter – Riding outside with my Powertap allows me to see what my instantaneous power is, as well as for the entire ride. I can compare that over a given path, or even just against other rides, and see how my power output compares to previous rides. With power measurement, I don’t necessarily need to ride the same path; I can compare power outputs and see if I was able to increase overall power output or not.
Computrainer – The Computrainer is the best way to repeat workout conditions. After the calibration step, it will give you the same workout conditions as you had last time.
Tempo Trainer + Counting Strokes – You would think that swimming intervals was good enough for repeatability. However, swimming is a complex activity that is dependent not only on raw endurance and strength, but also on your technique. If your goal is not simply to just work harder (which I would argue it shouldn’t be because you can only go so much faster by more effort and you can do much better by refining and reinforcing technique), then you need to not only measure your interval time but also how well you swam the interval. If you think about it, you can go faster by increasing your stroke rate. But if your technique gets messy, you might swim an interval at the same time as if you had swam it before with better technique but lower stroke rate. Thus, the tempo trainer ensures you are not changing your stroke rate, and counting strokes gives you a measure of how good your technique is.
With these training tools and methods, I can ensure measurability and repeatability of training conditions, giving me a nice picture of how I’m improving (or not!).

Total Immersion: 7 Strokes for 25 yards!!!

This morning I got up early before my usual swim time and read some blogs while eating a bit before leaving for the pool. I came across this post on the Total Immersion forums, shinji asked how i cut strokes to 7, which caught my eye for two reasons: one, my coach was referenced, and two, this guy was going to talk about how he attained 7 strokes!
I quickly skimmed through it and set it to memory, and then went out to the pool today to try to apply some what he had done and see if I could get my minimal stroke count for 25 yards down to 7 (previous best was 9).
On the first try, I hit 8! It took two more 8s before I actually glided in for 7! Unbelievable! I then managed to do a few more glide-ins to 7 and 2 actual solid 7s. I stopped when I started drifting to 8 and knew that I was getting tired.
Some notes on how I achieved the 7 strokes:
1. Everything that don h said worked great!
2. There definitely was a lot of gliding. I found that I must be able to hold my body position without a single wiggle and be perfectly balanced between strokes in order to glide as far as possible on each stroke.
By the way, gliding is harder than it looks. You have to be perfectly balanced *and* also in body position for the next stroke with your arms. You also have to be relaxed and not tense, and not anticipate the next stroke but just wait patiently for the right moment and let it happen. Total Immersion drills really helped here.
3. Forget breathing. I haven’t perfected breathing without some slowdown, so I elected to hyperventilate and recover fully before each length, so that I could swim the entire 25y without taking a breath.
4. The push off the wall was with a traditional streamline, with both hands pointed into a spear in front of my head with one hand on top of the other. This allowed me to travel further before slowing down.
5. As Don mentioned, I too played with the first stroke, which was my right hand. I attempted to make that stroke also propel more further before my official first stroke (remember that my coach told me that the first stroke is counted *after* this initial stroke pulling the arm back from the first streamline). This was difficult, and very much brought me back to skating drills; I had to stroke back strongly and then get into skating position without losing balance. Once I get the knack of that, I could go 11 yards or so before taking my first stroke.
6. One interesting note. I tried to glide with my arm up in cocked position, ready for the next stroke as Don suggests, but I found that where my previous head position was, this would actually drive my head forward and deeper into the water, sometimes actually even sinking me down! This was not good, as it did not allow me to use gravity to drop my cocked arm down into the water and forward into the next stroke. In fact, being partially submerged made it harder to even perform that movement with that cocked arm. So I had to actually lift my head up slightly, which counterbalanced my dropping hips with the cocked arm’s weight and I was riding much better and higher on the water that way.
7. I practiced minimizing my leg movement between strokes. I relaxed and tried to keep the insides of my feet lightly touching. This minimized drag.
8. One thing I tried actually not to do was to glide too much with my recovery arm in stationary cocked position. I was feeling like this may relate to some of the comments my friends and I have regarding efficiency training as “cheating” because you glide so much and this doesn’t happen in real swimming. While I have come to feel that super slow swimming for efficiency training is not cheating, I felt that it was better to just pretend that I was super duper slow motion swimming where my recovery arm never really stops moving. In this way, I could just imprint the movement, however slow, and in theory speed it up and hopefully keep form.
Super slow swim training really works, in my opinion. I can really examine everything my body does in slow motion, and I know when something is wrong when all of a sudden I need an extra stroke to the touch the wall. Or, sometimes I need to glide just a little longer on that last stroke to hit the wall. Then I replay my length in my head and try to remember where I didn’t do so well and try to not to that again on the next length.

Yin Yoga and Super Long Stretching Times

A little while back my sports medicine doc recommended I try Yin Yoga, which is a form of yoga where you are put in a stretching position and then directed to relax completely for a very long time, like 3-5 minutes. Previously I was taught to stretch 20-30 seconds; this is probably good enough for a warmup or cool down, but it didn’t address tougher situations like tightness that has been present for a long time, or releasing fascial tightness.
I went to a Yin Yoga class and unfortunately thought it was kind of bogus. Not bogus in its practice, but bogus in the fact that I had to pay $20 for an hour of super long stretching.
So no more dishing out $20, but I do now do some super long stretching at home. One I’ve been working on is laying on a foam roller, and then letting one arm, bent at 90 degrees and held perpendicular to the body, just drop with its own weight over a period of 3-4 minutes. I have found that my pectoralis minor has been really tight due to swimming, and I need to get it and the supporting fascia to release. The only way to do this is to relax completely, and let my arm slowly drift downward as muscles, joints, and fascia slowly release their tension. It’s kind of amazing; over 3 minutes, my arm will start out there in the air and then slowly drop all the way down to the ground.
The trick is to put yourself in a position to relax completely. This means that you can’t be supporting yourself with a hand or arm; that will automatically put tension in your body. I bought a cotton bolster which I sometimes use to lay on and support myself while stretching various body areas.
I tried this many years ago when I took martial arts. It was my lifelong dream to do Chinese splits. But I never could do it. In fact, I would sometimes pull muscles by stretching too long. I think my mistake back then was that I needed to find a way to stretch muscles and be able to get completely relaxed. If I tense up at any point, it could set me up for potentially overstretching my muscles and hurting myself. Perhaps I will try again to attain the Chinese split position and finally achieve my own Jean Claude Van Damme super split kicks!

Trying to Lower my SPL Part II and Repeatability in Swim Training

Yesterday, the day after my longer swim with LAMVAC’s annual 10K swim, I was feeling a bit tired. Still I went to the pool to limber up and try to lower my SPL again on a 25y pool. Based on my previous attempt and hitting 10 SPL, I decided to try to figure out what my tempo was at that SPL so that I could use my tempo trainer to help me figure out how to maintain that SPL and increase tempo.
By the way, I have figured out that the tempo trainer, in concert with counting strokes for a given length, is an excellent way to determine if you are working out at a level that is consistent with past workouts. On my bike I know I can do this with my Computrainer and training by watts; on running, I have the relentless treadmill to repeat training conditions, and also measured distances and times on either the track or known running paths. For a long time, I didn’t have a good way of doing that with swimming. I only had swim times per length or lap, but I don’t think that is good because I may be swimming with more or less efficiency across workout days but yet still hit the same time for a length or lap. Now, with the tempo trainer and counting strokes, I have a more precise measure as to how I’m swimming, how much effort I am putting into that interval, and even know when I should get out of the pool because I’m tiring.
My reason, thus, for determining my tempo at my 10 SPL is to figure out how to maintain SPL while increasing tempo, which should mean that I am maintaining efficiency while increasing my speed.
I had a pleasant surprise though; I hit 9 SPL! Here are my results:
Tempo 2.6 seconds:
11, 9 strokes
10, 9
9, 9
Tempo 2.5 seconds:
10, 9 strokes
10, 9
9, 9
Tempo 2.4 seconds:
10, 9 strokes
9, 9
9, 9
Tempo 2.3 seconds:
10, 10 strokes
10, 10
10, 10
I began at 2.6 seconds on my tempo trainer, which is almost unbearably slow. I knew my 10 SPL was also at a very slow tempo, so I just started here. Then I increased it by .1 seconds, doing 6×25 at each tempo. I flipped flop for a while between 9 and 10 SPL and eventually could not maintain 9 SPL at 2.3 seconds. This is my critical point at which I need to see if I can pull it down to 9 SPL at some point.
Some notes:
1. I need to relax more and not anticipate the beep of my tempo trainer. This caused me to lose balance as my body began to turn in anticipation of the beep coming but I was conditioned to swim at a faster tempo and I would turn too soon, resulting in an unbalanced position while gliding and creating drag.
2. My body was unstable and I need to learn to maintain my glide position and balance in the water for longer. I got better at this as my session went on. Also, being tired from the previous day’s swim session didn’t help.
3. For some reason, I had a decently coordinated switch with my left hand driving forward/right hand stroking back, but my right hand driving/left hand stroking was terrible. Bad hip drive with bad arm drop, and even bad beginning body position because of item 1 above. I need to make sure my switch/stroke is perfectly coordinated. Swimming super slow is tough!
4. I need to hang my head more; at times I seemed to lift up and I know my hips are also dropping as a result, creating more drag. This seemed to happen intermittently.
5. Relaxing is key and maintaining perfect balance, slightly on either side as my arm recovers overhead, so that I just glide with minimal water disturbance and drag.
6. Sometimes my feet would start to drift apart, mostly in anticipation of the beep and wanting to do a kick. But the beep wouldn’t come and then my kick was cocked for longer than it need be, creating more drag. Need to keep them together for more streamlining.
7. Breathing still slows me down. I need to practice doing this more at slower speeds.
8. Despite the problems, there were times I felt that my stroke and glide between beeps was perfect. I would stroke with a perfect switch and arm drop, and then I would be in perfect gliding position as my arm recovered overhead and timed the next beep perfectly. This is the situation I need to imprint and work on repeating over and over again.

Checking Out My 50m SPL

On New Years Day, my Master’s group, LAMVAC, hosts a 10K swim each year. I think this was the first time I actually went and swam this annual swim, although I was pretty sure I would not make it to 10K as I haven’t swam more than 1600y since Ironman CDA!
I did want to test two things, which was to see what my SPL was for a 50m length, and also practice a bit of longer distance tempo training at various tempos.
Here are my results for trying to minimize SPL for 50m:
38, 36, 37, 33, 35, 35 strokes
That was a vast improvement for my usual 50 strokes to hit the other wall of a 50m length!
After that, I did some tempo training by doing 100m laps at 1.6 seconds tempo, and then lowering my tempo by .1 seconds for each 100m thereafter until I hit .8 seconds. Definitely finding that I am limited now, because I really haven’t been training for distance in the last few months but only on refining technique. As it gets warmer, I will begin to add a longer distance swim each week just to practice long distance at various tempos. But I don’t want to turn all my workouts into distance training as I don’t have any race to train for this coming year, but rather want to focus on cementing and imprinting the right body movements for technique.

Protein for Recovery

Rummaging through some old papers, I found a note scribbled by my doctor about how much protein intake someone should have during heavy training. He said that you should take 0.85 to 1.0 grams/kg of body weight every day, if you’re in a heavy training period.
I weigh about 150 lbs., or 68 kg. Therefore, I should be taking in about 68 grams of protein each day. Looking back on my typical long training day, I’d actually not eat much until after my swim/ride/run – about 8.5 hours later. Then I’d eat a cake of tofu and a bowl of rice, and then a big dinner. But that doesn’t add up 68 grams of protein; it’d often fall short.
For Ironman CDA 2009, I really was training hard on my long days. But my recovery would often stretch out to 4 days where I could not do my normal loads until then. It was not until I started taking extra protein in the form of powder dumped into my normal recovery drink that amazingly my recovery was brought in an astounding 2 days!
I never would have thought that I wasn’t eating enough to recover. Obviously I was wrong. Now I supplement with protein powder in my recovery drink regularly to make sure I get enough protein to repair my damaged muscles, and to make sure I am as fully recovered, in as short a time as possible.