Monthly Archives: September 2013

Postural Considerations for Swimming

One of the biggest issues I see first with my swimming clients is their posture. When they cannot get their spine aligned properly, nearly everything about swimming is very difficult.
We start with balance in the water, but if you cannot get truly horizontal in the water, then balance is hard to achieve. Most of my clients are Silicon Valley professionals – hence, a desk job at a computer for years, if not decades, with their upper (thoracic) spine and neck both dropping down, and their shoulders pulling inwards towards their chests as they look down on monitors and type on keyboards. When your posture is like that, and for many years, your body and mind think that is normal posture. All your structures and muscles have (mall)adapted to this shape. Then, one day, you want to start an athletic endeavor (great!) but unfortunately your posture is now not in an optimal shape for movement.
What does poor posture, and therefore, poor spinal alignment, produce? The body is an amazing machine. It has mechanoreceptors (nerves which sense mechanical pressure or movement) which will fire the right muscles to do what the brain is telling it to do. If you want to move or lift or whatever, and your spine is aligned, then the correct muscles will fire to perform the movement. Primary movers, big muscles like your pectorals and lats, that are designed to move your body parts fire and do the main work. Stabilizers, smaller muscles whose main function are to keep your body parts in alignment during movement, fire to keep the body structures stable so that primary movers can do the heavy work.
When the spine is not aligned, your body will do its best to enable it to perform whatever instructions your brain gives it. But knowing that your spine is not properly aligned, it will begin to fire the wrong muscles, meaning stabilizers or the wrong primary movers, in order to perform the movement. Stabilizers are great at one thing; they are designed by nature to keep the body in alignment – they are not great at creating power for large movements over long periods of time. They are smaller, and they do not have the proper mechanical leverage due to their location on the body which is not like primary movers which are placed in the right locations and attached to create huge mechanical advantages for movement. Consider the list from the Postural Restoration Institute in the document entitled Swimmer Dyssynchrony Syndrome. Muscles perform duties they were not designed to do, leading to poor swimming and injury.
Not only do muscles perform the correct functions, but also things like balance in the water get hard to accomplish. Trying to press the front part of your body down into the water becomes nearly impossible when your upper spine is frozen in a curled position. Nor is holding your body truly straight possible – so the lower part of your body wants to bend downward and trying to straighten resists muscles and structures that won’t or can’t get there.
Fixing posture then becomes a critical part of swimming well.
Sometimes, posture can be addressed by practicing activity. For example, some coaches have told me that continuous, diligent practice with Superman Glide can often aid in postural correction enough to improve balance.
Humans were designed for movement. It is the lack of movement that is creating problems in our postures. So sometimes getting people moving again and doing something other than sitting is enough. Other times it is not. Or, if someone wishes to speed up the process, then other interventions are possible and desirable.
There are many resources to address posture. I recently took the Gokhale Method which was excellent. Its methods are very much suited for the non-athletic population and think they are great for both athletes and non-athletes.
Another great resource is Foundation Training. Their therapy involves a bit more exercise and movement. However, there are some excellent exercises to help you tone up muscles and your nervous system to hold your body’s shape during movement. You can look at their DVD or find a resource who is trained in their methods on their website.
If there is anything I’ve discovered about swimming, it’s that swim training doesn’t have to take place only in the pool. There is a lot you can do out of the pool. A lot of postural correction and training can and needs to take place out of the pool. It can be like Gokhale Method where the practice does not resemble traditional exercise, or it can involve practice like more traditional exercise, like the movements described more fully in Foundation Training. Working on spinal alignment and reawakening muscles that support proper spinal alignment is a 24/7 activity.
In summary, postural improvement is an important part of swimming. Corrections to your posture both in and out of the pool will be beneficial and speed up your ability to become a better, faster, more healthy swimmer.

Eating for Recovery

A while back when I was still racing Ironman, I figured out that taking protein powder mixed in sports drink for the days after my long training day could bring in recovery by one whole day. Still, my recovery was up to 3 days after, meaning it was really tough to do a decent workout until 2-3 days after that long day of swimming 4000m, biking 6 hours, and then running 30 min. I was elated to discover that protein powder could accelerate recovery by a whole day, but I just chalked the slowness of recovery to my age.
Little did I know….
Fast forward to today. Over the last seven months, I’ve been doing dual kettlebell and EVO/POV workouts (EVOultrafit training with an ARPWave POV electrostim machine). Since both were completely new training stimuli to my body, I knew there would have to be some fine tuning on how much I could do. For many months, I tried to figure out how to be ready and train for as many workouts as possible in a week. For kettlebells, I was building muscle and strength to handle heavy weights in a ballistic manner; for EVO/POV training, I was using a ton of resources through neurological training.
I tried varying the number of workouts per week and also what workouts I was doing each day. I tried EVO first and then KBs, but that made me too tired for a good (and safe) KB workout. So I ended up with KBs first and the EVO/POV next. But still, I would wake up the next day sore from yesterday’s workout. This wasn’t good – I felt like I couldn’t put enough time into training technique for KBs each week. I tried doing 2 days of KB/EVO workouts one after another but sometimes that would wipe me out for 2 days straight! At this point I ended up doing 1 day of KBs/EVO-POV and 1 day off.
The EVO guys told me that I should be eating 1g of protein per pound of body weight to enable good recovery. I started doing some calculations on how much I was eating and I was coming up short! So I upped my protein intake to about 150g (I weigh about 150 lbs), and started taking protein powder before and after my workout to help with recovery. Still, while eating this much, I was not recovering overnight but needing an extra day or two.
About a week ago, I decided on a whim to eat more. Every day I started eating one meal where I would eat a pound of beef. I also added more protein powder across the day. What a difference that made! One the first day I did this, and did a KB/EVO-POV workout that day, the next morning I was completely not sore but only tight in a few places, which I addressed during warmup! Amazing! I went back to my notes and did a calculation on protein intake and I was up well over 200g of protein! Apparently the rule of 1g per 1 lb body weight wasn’t right for me!
I asked Garrett Salpeter of ARPWave Austin what his experience with eating was and he said that in many instances, the ratio was more like 1.5g to 2.0g per lb of body weight, sometimes even more, depending on the circumstances and how heavy they were training.
It seems to me that the 1g protein per pound body weight is a good starting guideline and that you have to experiment to get the correct ratio, sometimes upwards of 1.5 to 2g or more protein per pound body weight! You try 1g/lb first and see if you recover by the next morning; if not, eat more!
Looking back to my Ironman training days, I was clearly not eating enough to fuel recovery. Potentially it was also a reason why I was healing so slowly too. Yes, age is a factor but when I am burning through resources through heavy training, there may be not enough left for other things. But age clearly isn’t as much a factor as I thought as after eating a ton more, I could recover from a tough workout overnight!
Other related items to note – having regular stool is a sign that my body is processing food and expelling waste well. Not having regular stool is a sign that something isn’t working right. This was another sign that something was amiss but I did not know how to read it, as I was not having regular stools for years! However, to fix this, it took Dr. Justin Marchegiani of JustInHealth. I did a series of blood tests: adrenals, thyroid, iron, cholesterol – to see what was wrong with me that I could not see through non-chemical means. The test result that was problematic was my ferritin; it was off the charts! As Dr. Justin put it, I was rusting from the inside out!
I took some supplements to help absorb iron and also stopped taking an iron supplement plus the multivitamin with iron in it. Then I gave blood which was the fastest way to remove iron from your system. After my first blood donation, magically my stool became regular! A month later, I gave blood again and my stool became not only more regular, but more than once a day. This showed that my digestive system had come back to better and proper function and somehow the excess iron was causing this problem. Doing some detective work like this on my blood composition was definitely helpful in putting me back on track.
One more comment – eating more is a training effort in itself. I had to adapt to stuffing myself with more food every day. I am not sure about reports about the stomach needing to stretch but it did take a day or two to get used to eating this much food. But now that my digestion was back on track, and the fact that my training uses up so many resources, I find that eating so much isn’t so bad and that my processing of the food is fast and good.

6.5 Month Update on my EVOUltrafit and POV Training

It’s been about 6.5 months since I started training with EVOUltrafit. Here’s the update:
1. Whenever I start a new training system, I need to learn and internalize the vocabulary of the system. In order to solicit the correct training responses, Charles Maka, my coach at EVOUltrafit, will often give seemingly vague or convoluted answers. I take copious notes and need to re-read them over and over again to internalize what he actually means and what he is trying to achieve by saying things in that way. So far, I think I’m finally able to understand some of the language used and be able to apply what they say. Still, there is a lot to learn as I work in the system, hear them talk, and try to encourage results in myself.
2. I’ve been attending their monthly webinars. This is where I can regularly listen to Jay Schroeder, the leader of the system, and Charles talk a lot about training in the EVO system and with the POV. They started by giving us POV protocols to try (ie. pad placements, POV settings, duration of treatments) and we would spend the month executing the protocol, and then the following month we would get together to discuss our observations and results. They have since changed the webinars to focus on training with the POV.
Recently I’ve learned a lot about how the mind’s end picture or goals are strongly correlated with how well/fast you master movements. Now when I train, I will spend some moments placing that end picture in my mind and focus on it as I go through my normal workout and then following up with a POV workout.
3. The EVO folks recommend eating about 1g protein per 1 lb body weight. Given how hard it is to achieve this much eating, I also have realized that in the past I was not eating nowhere nearly enough to recover effectively from my intense workouts, especially during my Ironman triathlon days. Once I reached about 150g of protein (I weigh about 150lbs now), I was recovering a lot better. Still, I felt there was room for improvement. Just this last week I upped the protein by another 20-40g per day and THAT made a big difference. I am up to about 170-200g depending on the day and has allowed me to recover fully with virtually no muscle soreness the next morning! HOWEVER, eating does not take away muscle tightness which I’m addressing via MobilityWOD techniques (BTW everyone should be reading Becoming a Supple Leopard – it is THE definitive guide for athletes to take care of themselves. Subscribing to MobilityWOD Pro to watch the videos has also been worth every penny). I also still go weekly to my ART/Graston guy who is awesome.
4. The latest “end picture” that I sent them to derive a workout from was:
a. Get me through the SFG Level 1 Kettlebell Certification.
b. Improve my upper body’s ability to maintain shape and absorb force.
c. Improve my lower body’s ability to absorb force.
Has EVO/POV training had a positive effect?
It is hard to pin down as I have a tendency to throw the kitchen sink at my training, trying everything at once. Still, I believe there have been positive effects.
The Isoextremes that I do seem to have improved my lower body force absorption. I had to run impromptu the other week and found that my stride was subtly different, and that running had a different springy feel to it.
In my 2 arm kettlebell swings, I was having problems transitioning from a 60lb to a 70lb. For some reason, I was feeling some creaking in my sternum area and also was having problems with my left ribs. Then I asked for help in improving my upper body force absorption. It took a week or two, but then I blasted through 70lb and now am 2 arm swinging the 44kg/97 lb.
5. Wanting to put my POV to more uses, I tried some search and destroy which is a technique to ferret out neurological problems in muscle function and to treat them. I was having three problems, and here was what I found:
a. Persistent tight flexor hallicus upon waking in the morning.
Search and destroy found a hot spot on both my insteps. Apparently this is consistent with a “tib-fib problem” post ankle sprains, which I’ve had on both ankles in recent years. In the tibiofibular joint at the ankle has only ligaments to support it, and the ligaments can get stretched causing the tibula and fibula to separate from each other. If this happens, then the nervous system’s joint receptors don’t function right, and after an ankle sprain this doesn’t heal properly causing further problems down the line.
When I figured this out, I didn’t immediately think it would affect my flexor hallicus. Thinking that it was a problem generally in leg force absorption, I began taping it (need to tape it for 8 weeks straight) and on the first day, the flexor hallicus problem was magically gone! I have another 3 weeks of taping to go and need to see if the taping has fully healed the problem after the full 8 weeks.
b. Abnormal, excessive tightness in the right high hamstring/glute junction.
Search and destroy revealed that my rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, and both glute/hamstring junctions had hot spots. Trying the S&D protocol on these areas unfortunately didn’t seem to have a positive effect. It is possible that this treatment method is not appropriate for clearing this up, or the POV isn’t the right tool for this. More on this in a bit.
c. Activation and soreness in the stabilizing muscles of the left shoulder during swimming and pressing movements. For some reason, my subscapularis, pec minor, and supraspinatis get really sore.
Search and destroy revealed hot spots on my front delt, high tricep, high bicep, and inner forearm. For this the POV worked great. I did several sessions, first doing overhead pressing movements and then some sessions doing swim stroking movements. This worked great and my left shoulder is quickly getting back to doing the right thing.
Having said all that above, apparently the POV shouldn’t be used for search and destroy but rather its clinical cousin the RX100. The RX100 is different than the POV in that supposedly it flushes inflammation and is more appropriate for such neurological treatments, whereas the POV leaves inflammation around longer to produce a training effect. Still, anecdotally, it seems that the POV is used on occasion for therapeutic applications but there seems to be some cases where if you’re not careful, you could really throw yourself into some bad place neurologically with the POV.
“Searching” apparently reveals the muscle problems that are connected neurologically. I went to my ART guy and told him about what I found, with respect to my right glute/hamstring junction problem, and he went and cleared up some of the muscle stickiness and tightness in those areas, which improved the problem greatly. So perhaps the POV may be risky in “Destroy” mode, it definitely seems to provide a more definitive guide as to what to target with other treatments.
6. Loosening the body’s muscles with the POV is fantastic. I try to do it every day. Loosening reduces tightness in the muscles and better prepares them for absorbing force. It’s about a 10 minute protocol, placing pads around the body from feet to head, and performing some movements. After loosening, I feel so much better and a lot of my tightness has gone away. Loosening with the POV is much more effective than just warming up!
7. The go-to healing and “remove pain” protocol seems to be background mode on the POV. You sandwich the area that is sore, put the POV in background mode, crank the power to the max, and leave it there for 20 minutes or more. It is amazing how well it works as I don’t perceive any kind of muscle contraction while using this mode.
In about 3 weeks, I am updating my “end pictures” slightly and will ask for a new program. I actually spent 3 months on the current program instead of the single month that it called for as summer proved to be highly interruptive in my workout time. Lots of interesting things to see and learn with this kind of neurological training.

Truths about Spearing Angle in Freestyle

This post was sparked by some discussion in the forums on finding the perfect spearing angle. Here’s my take on all aspects of the spearing angle during Freestyle.
There are two spearing angles: depth and horizontal.
Most people think of spearing angle as mostly depth. Actually, you can also spear at a horizontal angle. Using the shoulder line as center, you can spear inward towards your body centerline – a bad thing to do – or outwards or away from the shoulder line – much better and safer.
Spearing depth angle helps with body balance.
The depth angle at which you spear your hand/arm into the water can greatly affect your balance. Spearing deeper will tip more weight onto the front of your body and bring your hips up like nothing else. Spearing higher is possible, but there is a higher risk of your hips dropping unless you have good control of body balance independent of spear angle.
Spearing horizontal angle can alter direction of travel and affect stability.
You can definitely spear wider of the shoulder lines and still go in one direction. However, spearing in a direction can also start you moving in that direction as well. So horizontal angle spearing acts a method of steering.
We have also found that spearing wider can improve your stability in the water. It provides an anchor on which you can ride your body on its edge, thus improving streamline and reducing drag.
In open water when the conditions get rough, spearing wider can help you stay stable and on course when the water is constantly moving and waves are present.
Spearing angle is dynamic, not static.
Given many different factors, spearing angle can be very dynamic. For example, if you are swimming a long distance using Early Vertical Forearm (EVF) and you are getting tired, you may want to switch to a lower depth, non-EVF spear to recover a little. As mentioned previously in open water, you may need to adjust to different conditions by altering the depth of your spear. In an open water race, you may need to do a turn around a buoy and horizontal spearing angle will help you make the direction change quickly.
Spearing angle can also be dynamic based on what you’re trying to do. For example, when I practice Skate with Kicking, I always spear much deeper than when I swim full stroke because I instinctively know that I go horizontal with a depth of spear, and it helps me kick my way across a pool while in Skate position.
Spearing angle will also change based on your skill level. A deeper spearing angle is great for beginners because it is the quickest way to achieve good balance in the water. But as your skill increases in affecting body balance, you can start spearing more horizontally to learn other aspects like EVF which require a horizontal spear to perform.
Spearing deeper provides many advantages for beginners.
In TI, we teach a deeper spearing angle to most beginners. There are many advantages to this for someone just beginning to learn and imprint good swim habits.
We have already mentioned one, which is a deeper spearing angle is the easiest and fastest way to achieve a horizontal body position. The other ways: pressing the chest, leaning the body, using the weight of the recovering arm, etc. all are much more difficult and require time to master. I have found that spearing deeper is much quicker to learn and affects body balance in a positive manner the most, than any other balance aspect.
Another advantage of spearing deeper is that it helps cure the dropped elbow problem which sets you up for a poor catch and less than effective stroke back. By getting your hand/wrist below the elbow with a deeper spear, you simply cannot have a dropped elbow.
With the hand pointing at an angle downward, we say to relax the fingers and let them droop downward. When this happens, your palm is already nearly, if not fully, facing back and in perfect position to catch and push water straight back. This removes issues with spearing more horizontally with the wrist locked, and then the stroke back happens with either locked straight wrist which results in water being first pushed down – dropping your hips – then pushing back – adding finally to forward momentum – and then pushing water up at the end – again dropping your hips down. A similar thing can happen when the stroke back occurs with a locked straight entire arm.
Deeper spear angles does not necessarily mean you swim slower.
It is true that there is more frontal area exposed on the upper arm to the forward direction of motion when the spear is deeper. In theory, this does mean that a deeper spear should have more drag than horizontal spear. But in reality, we’re only talking about a thin sliver of an arm. When compared to the drag created by dropping hips due to a horizontal spear, the drag of a slightly deeper spear is pretty miniscule. The optimization of this aspect should be left to those who have sufficiently developed their skills such that they need that extra bit of speed to win a race.
There are many swimmers who do not spear horizontally, nor do they use EVF, and still swim VERY FAST. They have awesome body balance and streamline, and they have fully developed their coordination of using the entire body during a 2BK to drive their bodies forward. These factors are much more important in speed than worrying about whether your deeper spear angle creates that much more drag.
If you have to, use the deeper spear to get your hips up. This will give better results than spearing horizontal to attempt EVF but your hips start dropping.
As mentioned previously, when you fully extend your spear, your hand is already in “catch” position. All you need to do from there is pull it back, pushing water straight behind you. Accomplished swimmers will also have perfected their ability to keep their palms pushing water straight back, versus pushing in all sorts of directions other than back.
In order to swim with EVF, you must adjust your spear depth angle to horizontal.
There are many factors related to achieving EVF. One of those is that you need to get your arm as high as possible in order to be able to let the forearm/hand drop below the elbow. If your arm is not horizontal, then your arm isn’t really dropping too much since you are partially “catched” already. You also lose a little bit of stroking length in front of you – spearing horizontal means you can get your arm as far forward as possible and use the full potential of stroke length to push water from front to back.
To many swimmers, there is THE spear angle that they must find. In my experience, spearing angle is a complex, dynamic element of swimming that changes given conditions, fitness and skill level. The ultimate skill, therefore, is to build your ability to swim at a multitude of spearing angles and you can easily switch between all of them depending on what situation you find yourself in.