Monthly Archives: August 2011

Muscle Cramp Update

In my experience, cramping is caused by at least 5 factors that i’ve encountered. these are:
1. Strength – lack of strength in your muscles means they are faster to tire and cramp up due to lack of ability to keep up with your demands of the muscles.
2. Fitness – poor or lowered fitness in that activity or overall can cause cramping as muscles unaccustomed to an action are forced to do that action repeatedly.
3. Overworked muscles – muscles that are pushed beyond their ability to keep up will inevitably cramp. This can be either a function of 1 or 2 above or something more non-obvious like your nervous system not working right to make all your muscles in a kinetic chain fire off in the right way or at all. This will put more stress on the muscles that are doing the work versus ones that are shut down. The glutes are a typical muscle group that has shut down due to inactivity of sitting, which overworks the back erectors and hamstrings when running and squating.
4. Not enough blood/nutrients getting to your muscles – this can happen in situations like windsurfing in cool seas where hypothermia starts to set in and your muscles simply stop getting enough blood flow to function properly. I encountered this during the LA Marathon 2010 when my right quad cramped up under rainy, cold weather. I thought it was lack of strength which may have contributed in general, but an examination of my heart rate trace showed a slow drop in heart rate, which meant that not enough blood was getting to my muscles while I was demanding so much from them during a race.
5. Electrolytes – you may not have enough electrolytes in your system to support that level of activity, or through sweating and hot weather racing/training you lose it through the skin and it is not replenished. electrolytes are important for proper functioning of muscles and the nervous system. Without proper levels, you will undoubtedly cramp. I sweat a lot, more than other people, and I take 3 Saltstick pills per hour during Ironman races in moderate warm to hot weather. This has become more of a preventative measure now as my strength and fitness has increased.
Science has not been able to pinpoint the exact causes of cramping but suffice to say that training over the years and trying many things, these are things that I’ve worked on the most and have nearly removed cramping situations, except for the extra cold, wet conditions experienced during the LA Marathon 2010.
My latest experiments have been in the area of increasing strength (but not bulk or weight) via Russian strength training techniques in benchpressing and deadlifting. Another has been in the area of recovery between intervals, relative to my fitness level. I have found some great results in training intervals with full recovery in between them, versus trying to use set minimal recovery intervals in order to build endurance. The last has been in the area of removing “gluteal amnesia”, which is getting my glutes to reactivate in the kinetic chain involving running. This has all but removed issues with hamstring cramping and I have also improved my running speed as well.

Total Immersion: Training for Higher Tempos and Higher Speeds

In this thread of the Total Immersion forums, I replied to Terry Laughlin’s post of:

Sun Yang is the new TI poster boy. (No we are not claiming him as a TI swimmer, only as a demonstration that longer strokes ARE the way to superior swimming.

with this comment and query:

I have been working towards a race and using the TT to prepare. My goal has been to gradually raise the tempo and practice relaxing and maintaining proper form. So far, I’ve made it to 1.08s where I find my 50s are still getting faster. However, once I move past 1.08s I find that my 50s are slowing down quite a bit, and even slower than 1.08s. So faster SR doesn’t necessarily mean faster times!
But your statement intrigues me above, that longer strokes are the way to superior swimming. It would seem that when my TT goes faster, a few things happen:
1. My ability to recover between left and right arm strokes reduces exponentially. It’s amazing how sensitive that is to minute drops in tempo.
However, training with the TT means I can change that week over week which is pretty amazing.
2. In order to achieve speed, I find the limiting factors are:
a. My hip connection to the spear is diminished, as I’m trying to keep up with the TT but I can’t seem to generate the same authority in the spear with the hip.
b. My hip rotation is diminished in order to keep up with the TT. I find that a tiny bit more hip rotation means I can get a little more oomph in a spear. But hip rotation is lowered as the TT interval is diminished.
c. In reference to 1. above, each stroke has less force pulling since I’m tiring faster. With less pulling force, I diminish my speed when compared to pulling with more force.
d. My pull also shortens in an attempt to keep up with the TT, while I get tired and can’t pull back fast enough to maintain a SL from earlier when I am less tired.
e. The recovering arm must also move very quickly forward. Getting tired can make this slow down.
Is the goal to then train such that at higher tempos:
1. maintain SL, which means a faster pull to make the tempo interval.
2. As I maintain SL, I must also train to maintain the force of the pull. Simply swishing my arm fast through the water doesn’t have enough effect.
3. I also have to work on maintaining the authority of the hip’s contribution to the spear/pull.
Thoughts? Any other insight you could share about training at higher tempos and actually getting faster versus just getting tired faster?
Also, my goal to reach higher tempos is driven by the fact that my next race is in OW and in choppy waters, I am challenged to swim at lower tempos as the waves batter my body…
Thanks in advance!

To which Terry replied:

As a tech guy, you’ll appreciate the following:
1) Your Tempo is a Data Point
2) Your SPL at any given Tempo is a Data Point.
2) Every sensation you experience when you approach or cross your current threshold of 1.08 is also a Data Point.
The more data points you have the better your information and the more targeted your efforts can be.
Key tenets of Mastery, Deliberate Practice and Flow are
i) Be error-focused. Constantly practice in ways calculated to expose weak points.
ii) When you find an error or weak point, develop strategies to strengthen them.
All those sensations you experience at or below 1.08 are things to focus on improving as you patiently work your Tempo Threshold to 1.07, 1.06, . . .
As you improve them, you’ll reduce then eliminate the extra strokes, and your times will continue improving as you continue increasing Tempo.
Just a month ago I was hitting a point of diminishing returns above 1.00. Since then I’ve improved my tempo threshold down to .95. I feel as if .90 by Labor Day is not out of the question.
PS: The process you are describing will produce intuition that will be invaluable to your clients when you earn your Coach Certification.

and also, member dobarton replied:

I could not agree more with all your observations. The trick seems to be to use the TT to do exactly the same thing at 1.07 as you do at 1.08 secs. Synchronizing hip drive and spear, setting the catch perfectly, timing the re-entry of the spearing arm, shaping the recovering arm perfectly, kicking at the perfect time to assist the spearing arm to move forward… The faster your stroke, the more perfectly timed all these components must be while still doing so with grace, balance and streamline!!
Your observations are spot on!!

The trick with increasing tempos and increasing speed is to figure out how to maintain your stroke length while your tempo is getting faster. At my current breakpoint of 1.08s tempo, I find that it is impossible right now for me to stroke faster and increase speed; in fact, my efficiency drops so much that I actually slow down!
As I approach the Waikiki Rough Water Swim on Labor Day, I am using the tempo trainer to keep practicing maintaining similar, long stroke length while my tempo increases. My goal is to get as close to 1.0s (or faster) as possible since I find in open water, I need a higher tempo to combat waves and choppy conditions that force me to stroke faster in order to maintain control in the ocean.
FOOTNOTE: In reference to that guy, Sun Yang, mentioned in Terry’s initial post, check out this 400m race. Sun is the guy in lane 4. Check out his stroke rate relative to his opponents especially on the last lengths of the race. Notice how much slower his stroke rate is but yet he is pulling away from the pack!