What I learned about Swimming from Muhammed Ali

MuhammadAliLast weekend I participated as a guest coach with Dinah Mistillis of Discovery Aquatics to help teach a two – day swim clinic.   Dinah asked me to lead a 15 minute talk that was a condensed version of my  “Every Day Skills for World Champions” talk that I gave in Minneapolis as  keynote speech for the Total Immersion Coaches Summit in May.

For this open water clinic I chose three key skills to share with the dozen swimmers present on Sunday. My first key skill was “Plan a Map to Your Success.”  In order to plan your way to success in swimming or triathlon, you need to know of course where you are now, and where you want to go.

In the context of open water swimming, recognition of problem areas might included open water anxiety, difficulty swimming in a wetsuit, trouble sighting in open water,  that pesky left hand that smacks the water…this list can get really long!  It’s easy at this point for swimmers to feel overwhelmed.

The reality is that each of these skill and mindfulness issues takes time to address.  While Dinah and I were discussing this, she shared a quote with me…eerily this was the day before Muhammed Ali passed away.

It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe. Muhammed Ali

3x Heavyweight Boxing World Champion

In these swim camps and workshops, we typically have a set order of skills to present to our athletes, and we present them in a logical building order that allows each skill to build on the next.  But even if the athlete is 95% competent in a foundational skill such as head position, for example, the review allow that athlete to find any pebbles or grains of sand that may be interfering with a better execution.

There are probably bigger pebbles or grains of sand as well, and at some point, the pebbles become rocks or boulders which are simply too big to be addressed in one lesson, one trip to the pool, and at times, even one training block or season.

I used this quote in our clinic and it was well received, and then I investigated the origin of the quote.  It was used by Muhammed Ali, but it also appeared in military literature 50 years prior to his use of it.

An early appearance of this quote also included several other inspirational admonitions alongside of it:

It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it is the grain of sand in your shoe.

Back up your ideas with courage that will not back down, and there will be no way too long, no road too rough.

The reason most men and women do not accomplish more is that they do not attempt more.

My takeaway from this quote parallels what I’ve learned in my own journey of becoming a better swimmer, triathlete and coach:  be courageous and one by one you’ll remove every obstacle in your way.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes, or how difficult it seems, you and I have the skills and tools we need to improve bit by bit…one pebble out of the way a ta time.  We can accomplish far more not only as triathletes, but as individuals than we think we can because we often don’t even attempt to do something more.

 

Monitoring Your Injury During Recovery–Tips from Halle Frederiksen

Coach Suzanne leading a skills clinic while wearing a walking boot!

Coach Suzanne leading a skills clinic while wearing a walking boot!

It is important to monitor your progress through an injury so as to know where you stand. This is made much easier once you start monitoring yourself while healthy so that you have something to compare it to. When you are injured, monitor how you feel every day. In general, how do you feel doing different tasks, at different times of the day. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to monitor how you’re feeling and set goals for yourself.

  • Recovering from an injury requires dedication and hard work for a triathlete in order to get back on track
  • When one is injured,monitoring what aggravates the injury, how it is recovering, and what hurts or doesn’t hurt is important to track and look back on progress.
  • The best way to improve when one is healthy is by monitoring ones progress,  which may be done through software like Trainingpeaks.com (not an affiliate link, although I do use them).

As I write this, I am edging my closer to a start line. My body is close to full health and as my fitness builds, soon it will be race time again. Nothing excites me more than the thought of battling with the best in the world. But how did I get here? How did I, and so many others, get through such a long period of injury?

Helle Frederiksen

Professional triathlete and current holder of the fastest half-distance time by a female 3:55:50

Kirsten Sass Team USA, Duathlon World Championships 2016

Kirsten sass duathlon world championshipsGood luck to Kirsten Sass, Steel City Endurance  athelte coached by Suzanne Atkinson in this weekends Duathlon World Championships in Aviles, Spain.

Kirsten earned her spot in Team USA by winning last years sprint and standardized Duathlon National championships on the same day!

Kirsten entered 2015 wanting to improve her running form and dedicated herself to both technique as well as training. Running transformation camp with Bobby McGee early in the season set the stage for her to not only improve her form, but also quickly improve her post bike speed and resiliency in run training.

Her “secret” run training included short post bike race bricks. Not simply doing a hard bike ride followed by a trainig brick, but competing in road bike and time trial races (often winning) and then immediately doing a quick 10-15 minute run.

These sessions forced her to learn leg turnover after digging deep in a race effort not just a hard trainig effort. The difference may seem subtle but it’s significant.

Kirstens training also included progressive training blocks that built strength, leg speed, neuromuscular connections and of course overall fitness.

Her run improvements since her stress fracture in 2013 have been from a long term planning arc, and not from a need or desire to hit a specific pace at a specific time in her season.

This is is the true result of process over outcomes…competing with team USA at the World Championships.

Good luck Kirsten!!

4 Keys for Open Water Swimming this Spring

Open Water Swimming & Spring Triathlon Season is here!

DonSwimMorgantown09The first local triathlons are coming up soon and our local club membership kickoff is right around the corner. This summer two local to the Pittsburgh and Eastern Ohio area lakes will have organized open water swimming for triathletes including safety boats as well as buoy marked courses set up.  It’s my favorite time of the year!

I’ve invited Dinah Mistilis of Discovery Aquatics in Moorsville, NC, my fellow Fresh Freestyle author who also received the distinction of Master Coach during her time with Total Immersion, to share some of her insights with you and I.  Dinah has distinct advantage as a triathlon & open water swim coach of living right on a lake with an endless pool in her ground floor.

Are you getting the picture?   Take a day trip to Moorsville, spend a  Saturday doing a 90 minute endless pool session, have a snack then go straight out on the lake to put your open water skills into practice.  What an ideal setup for triathletes! Dinah your swimmers are lucky to have you there.

Here is Coach Dinah’s post…and if you read to the end you’ll also find information for our local open water swim events you can put on your training calendar.

It’s heating up!

dinahMistillisMugThis time of year is wonderful! The air is getting to be that perfect day time temperature and the lake water is not far behind. Open water racing is underway and the first local triathlons have been completed. Last week also saw Discovery Aquatics athletes swimming at the USMS National Masters competition in Greensboro NC. So much swimming to be done!

If you have taken a break from swimming that is okay too.Most of us will take a break from swimming at some point. It may be a few weeks, months or longer between swims. Making the decision to head back to the water is the first step. Now, what to do when you get there?

Take these ideas with you to make the first swim back enjoyable, purposeful and successful so that you will want to do it again. and again. and again!

1. Relax Into It – choose a warm up distance and pace that is a comfortable for you. The goal here is to find relaxed exhalation and inhalation, and to keep the body tension free. Use this time to make a connection with your environment by stimulating your senses – what do you see, hear and feel?

It may be 4×25 repeated 3 times, or 6×50, or 3-5 x 100, or a 300, or a 500. Make it your practice from the start by feeling what your body can do comfortably.

2. Find a Focus – training yourself to think about swim technique in all of your practices is important. Start in this practice by repeating your warm up distance, this time with one swim focus in mind.

You may recall the focus from previous coaching, or from watching a swim video, or self assessing your stroke, or by watching graceful swimmers at the pool. Make it your practice by feeling the focal point and holding the thought and form for this set.

3. Add Some Speed – just enough to wake up your neuromuscular and cardiovascular systems. Choose some short distance repeats, a series of 25s or 50s and pick up the pace. Keep the focus from the second set and allow yourself recovery time between each repeat.

4. Warm Down and Reflect – round out your first swim back with an easy relaxed warm down. Use this time to congratulate yourself and to reflect on the swim. What went really well today? What can you improve? and….When will you be back for the next swim?

Coach Dinah

Thanks coach Dinah! We always love your insight.

 

2016 Summer Open Water Swimming Opportunities in SW PA

Keystone-_Lake_1Here is information for the local open water swims in our area of southwestern PA and southeastern Ohio.   Be sure to put these on your calendar and note what the requirements & costs are.

The first opportunity is at Keystone State Park with a series of four monthly swims by No Boundaries Fitness.  Each swim day has two start times, 10AM & 11AM. Show up for the first, or the second or for both.  Safety kayaks will be present.

The second opportunity is weekly Monday night swims at Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park.  These are set up by Joella Baker of Get Fit Families.   In addition to the ‘open house’ swim setup, she has several open water races on her calendar as well.  Joella’s swims have become something I look forward to every summer.  Whether you swim 200 yards or 2 miles, it’s so gorgeous to swim in the setting sun on the lake with the safety of a marked course and plenty of kayaks.  Usually after I swim I’ll hop in a boat to do some coaching as well.

This summer I’ll be doing some mini open water clinics in conjunction with her swims as well.  If you’d like to be notified of those events, please take a moment to fill out this contact form.

 

Fresh Freestyle: 99 Practices for Triathletes & Swimmers

Fresh Freestyle Cover

Looking for more practice ideas?  Pre-order my book of 99 Swim Practices for Swimmers & Triathletes.  Fresh Freestyle, a refreshing way to approach your freestyle practice. Fresh Freestyle is perfect for new swimmers, fitness swimmers and triathletes. This collection of progressive technique based practices will have you swimming with focus, ease, confidence and speed.

 

Now taking pre-orders at a discount, with shipping expected by May 31st, 2016

Can I qualify for the Boston Marathon?

During today’s running of the 120th Boston Marathon, one of my former athletes sent me a message on facebook.  “Do you think with coaching I can qualify for the Boston Marathon?”

This video was my short answer to him, basically, it depends on what your training has looked like at the time you’ve set PRs for various distances.   Watch the video for a longer explanation. I’ll continue to provide more insight on what the different factors may be in a series of “Can I BQ?” videos!

1000 Meter Freestyle Workouts for Triathletes

1000 Meter Freestyle Workouts for Triathletes

suzSwimUW1000 Meter Freestyle Workouts for Triathletes

Whether you are looking to swim a sprint distance or an Iron distance triathlon, having a few “goto” 1000 meter or 1000 yard freestyle workouts will help keep you from getting into a rut when training.   For the long course triathletes, do these 1000 meter/yard sets 2 or even 3 times through to cover the distance needed in your training.

Creating a Mini-Project Accelerates Your Progress

You can use these sets to create mini projects or tasks to challenge yourself. It is a great way to stay engaged with your swimming and take control over your own training plan.

For example, a 1000 yd improvement project may look like a sequence of 3 sessions cycled through for 3-6 rounds before retesting.  You can use these 1000 meter/ yard sets as the main set, add a 500yd tuneup or warmup to swim exactly 1500m (a swimmers mile).  If you are swimming in a yard pool, just add on a 150 yard cool-down for an imperial version of the swimmers mile (1650 yards)

If you are looking for a main set that’s longer, such as 2000 or 3000 yards or meters, you can repeat the main set, or combine two of these into one practice.

Suppose you’re looking for 2000yd main sets, you could take these three suggestions below, each at 1000 meters/yards and to them in any of 3 combinations (1 & 2, 2 & 3, 1 & 3).  Rotate through these combos for a unique set of 3 main sets, each having a set that you do twice before taking a break from it.  There are a lot of ways to customize this practice idea.

Here are sample 1000 meter practices sets for you to play with

Pre-project test set: favorite warmup, 1000yd TT with splits & stroke counts, cooldown

Swim #1: 5 x 200

Swim #2: 10 x 100

Swim #3: 5 sets of 4×50

For each of these swims you can choose some element to improve like…consistent SPL across all sets, or consistent tempo (use a tempo trainer). When you gain or if you already have good control, manipulate a variable…like 5 x 200 swimming the first 50 at one SPL, the next 100 at SPL + 1 and the last 50 at SPL + 2. This should result in a build within each 200.

Vary the rest intervals to create a bit of variety. Since the 200s are more aerobic, keep the RI short in that practice. Since the 50s *can* be anaerobic, maybe choose to swim descending 50s with 30 sec rest, rest 2 minutes and repeat that 4 more times.

Then you cycle back to the 5 x 200 set and have some comparison…choose 1 metric to try and improve.

After 3 cycles of this…whether you swim every day, every other day or 2 times a week…you go back to your 1000yd TT and by that time you should KNOW before you swim it that you’ve improved based on metrics from the previous sets.

Maintain Focus on Form and Skill During this time as well.

Be sure to toss in at least 1 swim, possibly 2, of un-timed, form only swim sets, other strokes, or a team workout for variety. Or a water aerobics class.

Comment below with how you are using these sets!

For more ideas on creating swimming improvement projects consider downloading this Fresh Freestyle Sampler for 3 practice swims from our book.

‘Tis the season for spring half-marathons!

Congratulations to our Steel City Endurance athletes & coaches competing in spring running races.  Here are a few photos of our superstars who have been outside dealing with winter training elements including snow, ice, rain, fog, morning & evening darkness and are getting results worth sharing.

Spring races are not only our first chance to get out of the winter training doldrums, but also provide great information on where our fitness level is at the current time, which can help you structure upcoming training blocks for the best effectiveness in training.

Nick Hamilton, Just a Short Run

Nick ran the 13.1 mile distance “Just a Short Run” as a training event and took 4 minutes of of his prior half-marathon time, placing 3rd in his age group!

nick hamilton profile

 

Ahmed “Doc” Fahmey, New York City Half-Marathon

Doc Fahmey took time out of his crazy clinical schedule to sneak in this cold half-marathon in New York City, while building up to his next two races, Syracuse 70.3 and Lake Placid Ironman.

ahmed nyc half 2016

 

Steven Benardete, 60-64 yo Age Group Winner, Two Rivers Half Marathon, PA

Steve entered this half-marathon race as a taper event for the upcoming Boston Marathon and took first place in his age group.

SteveB Two Rivers Half 2016

Running Intervals to improve your 5k Times – 12 Week Plan

suzalcatrazrunMany triathletes coming from single sport or team sport backgrounds are used to integrating variety of practices and intensities to improve.   Mile repeats (track) , Auburn sprints (swimming), 3-on-3 scrimmage (soccer or basketball), “around-the-horn” (baseball) are all well known practices in their respective sports.

A challenge for the triathlete is how to continue to use interval training while drastically reducing the frequency of workouts in one sport.   This triathlete expresses the concern well. I’ve removed his actual 5k speed, because the answer that follows is somewhat irrelevant.

 

Question:

I’m new to triathlon but I have been running for a few years now. It’s recently dawned on me after many years of half marathons and that a workout without a purpose is a wasted workout. It’s often not the time you spend on it that makes the quality.

My running is not what I would like it to be over 5k and 10k. Can anyone recommend a decent set of running intervals to do to start me improving my times?  My idea is to do two running sessions a week; 1 long run and 1 on interval / speed work.

A common response to this type of question is to simply run more…4-5 runs a week with most of them being easy miles.  That’s definately an option, but reality for many triatheltes is that they can’t fit in more than two sessions a week of one sport, because perhaps they are limited to 6 sessions a week or maybe they are already swimming 5 days a week and cycling 4 days.

From a coach’s perspective I look for ways to help the athlete get the most out of their training time.  Sometimes it may require that they find time to train more often.  But I’m not the controller of their schedule and in the end, there will be plenty of folks who can only run twice a week.    So what’s the best way for them to use their time?

In the case of this triathlete, it sounds like she is an experienced runner.  Doing interval training once per week and an easy run once per week will probably result in some speed gains or at least prevent speed losses.

Here is an example of a 9-12 week progression, that can easily be extended to a 4-6 month routine if a runner is limited to only two runs per week.   I’d recommend starting with a 5k test or race (keep it fun!) and repeat that at 4-6 week intervals.

 

12 week plan for 5k/10k interval work

Weeks 1-4

3-4 weeks of 1 weekly fartlek session…google fartlek if you don’t know what it is

Weeks 5-8

3-4 weeks of 1 weekly hill repeat session progressing duration of hills from 5-6 repeats of 30seconds week1, to 45 seconds week2 to 1 minute week 3 and 90 sec week four. Downhill walk/jog recovery. next time through the progression, start at 1 miin, then 1:30, then 2 min, then 3 minute hills.

Weeks 9-12

3-4 weeks of 5k paced 400 repeats. Take your 5k pace, calculate your equivalent pace for a 400 & subtract 2-4 seconds from that. week 1 do 4-6 repeats, week 2 do 6-8 and week 3 do 8-10. Week 4 8-12. The goal is to nail the pace, not beat the pace.

 

Strong Before Long  – Why this works

This progression is moderate, meaning there is a low likelihood of injury.   It allows you to build playful speed first, then leg strength, the 5k specific speed. This is a concept that is sometimes referred to as “strong before long” by run coach Bobby McGee. Building leg strength functionally with hill intervals, then take that leg strength into 400 (1/4 mile) repeats at your current 5k pace or slightly faster to work on leg speed.  The combination is powerful for building speed at 5 & 10k distances.

If you’re just coming off of marathon training, half marathon training (or half-iron & iron distance) training, the endurance you’ll carry over will also stick around for a little while.  This plan would then help you also run a pretty speedy half-marathon even when cutting your run frequency back significantly.

Even if you can running 3-4 times per week, I’d suggest the above as your weekly “speed” work and let me know how it works!

Steel City Endurance Athletes in the News

Our athletes occasionally make the news due to their accomplishments, fund-raising efforts or interesting local involvement.   Here is an annotated collection of such stories in no particular order.

Sass Memphis in May 2015

Sass, Isabella win MIM Triathlon

Kirsten Sass wins the 2015 Memphis in May Olympic Distance Womens race in a timed 2:02:18:54.  She also won the Sprint race the day before in 1:00.49, for an overall combined winning time in the Amateur Challenge (best time for both races)

Your Burning Triathlon Training Questions – Wednesday Weekly

Triathlon  / Freestyle Swimming - Total ImmersionWe have athletes of all experience levels training with our coaches, and sometimes we take for granted how much knowledge triathletes have. There’s no such thing as a question too simple, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that a question that seems basic was once a question we didn’t ahve answers to.

It’s only through familiarity, repetition and surrounding ourselves with training resources daily that common sense triathlon answers become common sense! (more…)

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