How Swimming Helps Your Balance

How Swimming Helps Your Balance

Yesterday this interesting article in the Washington post discussed a study linking a decreased risk of falling to the activity of swimming. Men over 70 who had fewer falls also swam more than their counterparts. While the study does not identify a causal link, I have a few ideas that I think are worth sharing.

Swimming may help improve Balance.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/2014/12/05/e10f272c-5ad0-11e4-8264-deed989ae9a2_story.html

Swimming may help improve balance and neuromuscular response, for additional reasons that are not discussed in this article.

The horizontal orientation of swimming challenges the cerebellum & vestibular system in a different orientation than on land…without the risk of injury. Much like a baby learning to walk by falling, catching itself, trying again and again until it “learns” how to balance, a human body in the water is always falling towards gravity…without the impact.

Every time the body rotates or changes its orientation there is an up/down shifting of the body in the water due to gravity…much like the body is “falling”. But as soon as buoyancy equilibrium is found, the body returns to neutral buoyancy.

During these “falling” episodes, humans respond by kicking or flailing or sculling or lifting the head…they are in built reflexes. Overcoming those reflexes forces the vestibular system to deal with a new normal…an new sense of orientation.

Whether a swimmer realizes it or not, swim time is “play time” for the brain and new pathways are be established. Like a baby learning to walk.

A sense of “falling forward” when swimmers get to the positions that are better swimming positions, horizontally balanced head, shoulders & hips, is due to the vestibular system & cerebellum being used to a much more vertical orientation.

If this sounds like you, try this curious experiment. Lay flat on a bed and let your chin be off the edge so you are looking at the floor…do you experience any vertigo? And if you do so then look right and look left a bit…how does that feel? This is the position you should be in ideally in the water…body horizontal, head looking down & aligned cervical spine.

Could be interesting to play with!!

Better Swim Drills: Arm Lead Streamline aka Skating  or Side Kick Drill

Better Swim Drills: Arm Lead Streamline aka Skating or Side Kick Drill

Suz-arm lead streamline numberedI’m fully convinced that every coach out there is doing their best to help their athletes improve. Drill recommendations are made based on their own knowledge, understanding, background and exposure to various coaching techniques. Great coaches pick up the best of what they are exposed to and add their own customizations based on their own personality.

And as we learn, we discard old ideas, ones we may have previously thought were grand…in favor of a new, better or different way that seems to work better.

SO here are my thoughts on better ways to do the freestyle swimming drill known as “side kicking drill”, “one arm extension drill”, “statue of liberty drill” or the older version of “skating drill”. all describe a similar body posture, but there are better ways for triathletes and swimmers to execute this and practice it well.

In this drill the body is rotated, head is looking down with nose/chin directed at the bottom of the pool, and the arm that is lower in the water is extended forward. This drill helps imprint the “slipperiest” streamlined position in swimming freestyle. However because full stroke freestyle is not a static activity, the most streamlined side kicking position is NOT the best position from which to initiate a freestyle stroke or recovery.

It’s best to practice a body position that is in a better dynamic position to initiate the next stroke when ready. Here are three quick checks to make sure you’re doing it better.

Rather than having the body rotated a full 90 degrees or with shoulders “stacked” one on top of the other, flatten the body’s rotational angle just a little bit so that the top shoulder comes closer to the surface.

Belly button is pointed at the corners of the pool where the side walls meet the bottom, rather than the side of the pool.

The lead arm and the head should have a small gap or separation between the shoulder and the chin rather than being resting or touching together.

These small changes may be very subtle but the approximate the posture of full stroke swimming better than the “older” versions of the drill, and help to avoid imprinting cues that may lead to errors down the road.

All drills compromise the full freestyle stroke and while understanding their benefits we should also try to minimize detrimental takeaways. By making these deliberate adjustments, flatter rotation, gap allowed between the chin & the extended arm, and fingertips/palm tipped down towards the pool bottom, you can bring focus to each of these three areas in subsequent full stroke if you choose.

Critical Swim Speed (CSS) and Total Immersion Swimming

CoachSuzanneOlympicSwimClubI was always a math geek. Way back in 2007 or 2008 I took a clinic from Dr. Phil Skiba on periodization…but it was much more than that. Phil is an experienced coach who also has a lot of expertise in physiology and testing.   Phil’s clinic was one of the first times I can recall that the formal idea of a “time-distance” relationship in endurance sports was brought up in the context of how to coach athletes and interpret their abilities.

I started experimenting with using this assessment in my own swimming & my athletes.  Several years later I began combining this idea with what I had been practicing as a Total Immersion coach.  I tried combining ideas that were well studied in traditional sports science literature with what I’d been doing in developing better swimming agility on my onw.

Shortly after experimenting with these ideas…in fact the very first day I used it in a  group of triathlete swimmers, many of my swimmers set PRs for 50 & 100m swims just by refining and defining their control over their stroke.

in 2012 I shared some of my thoughts on the total immersion website. I have often gone back to that thread to review what I wrote at the time as well as revisit the thoughts of another coach, Charles Couturier of Montreal, Canada. Charles is an outstanding coach at the University of Montreal and runs a large tri training program for people of all abilities.

Here is the largely unedited text of what I shared that day in response to using CSS to train speed and pace. CSS is concept that dates back to at least 1965 when a distance-time model was prposed by Monod and Scherrer as they evaluated world records in swimming, running, speed skating and cycling.

Since that time many sports scientists have examined and used the model to try and define specific stroke rates and stroke lengths in swimming, resulting paces, power targets for cycling and running paces. Swim coaches began using “Critical Swim Speed” as measured by using either a 400m & 50m swim test or a 400m & 200m swim test. The choice of distances affects the resulting slope & intercept (speed and anaerobic work capacity) as calculated by the model.

In theory the shorter test, which taps into anaerobic energy stores, helps to “strip out” the anaerobic contribution from the longer test. The resulting pace represents an aerobic swimming speed that can be sustained for long durations by trained swimmers.

I use the CSS concept to establish initial goals along with tempo & SPL targets for my masters swimmers who are new to pacing, or have not trained with me long enough to have a feel of their targets or points of improvement.

About once a quarter I’ll have my swimmers do the following:

Assessment Set

10 minute warmup
300-500yd/m time trial (this should be at  least at least 5 minutes)
8 minutes of active recovery in the pool
50m-100 yd/m all out sprint (this should be 90 seconds or less)

The critical swim speed plots the time vs. the distance of each of the two swims. A line drawn between the two is described by the basic algebraic equation:
y = mx + b

m is equal to the theoretical critical speed (or power in the case of cyclists)
b is the intercept and represents the anaerobic work capacity

by plotting a “long” and a “short” time trial test, the anaerobic and aerobic capacities for each effort are normalized. The above equation to determine the slope, removes the anaerobic component from the longer time trial (whether it is 300, 400 or 500yd or longer TT).

Here is the easy way to calculate it Critical speed = [long distance – short distance] / [long time – short time]

Example:
400yd TT: 8 minutes
50yd TT: 35 seconds

critical speed = 400 – 50 / 8 * 60sec – 35sec
critical speed = .78 yds/second

Even in a yard pool, I like to normalize in meters per second as a lot of the literature is written that way. Just 1.1 yards = 1 meter so .78 yd/sec = .78/1.1 m/s = .71 m/s

.71 meters/second (or .78 yards/second) is the critical swim speed for that swimmer, or 2:08/100 yards

Why is the critical speed slower than the 400 yard time trial speed?

In an activity lasting 8 minutes, even 20-30 minutes or more, a component of the speed comes from anaerobic muscle activity…brute force.

The comparison between the long time trial where the aerobic system makes a significant contribution and the SHORT time trial which is primarily anaerobic, allows you to subtract the brute force component out of the longer time trial speed.

This leaves us with what should in theory be completely aerobic training.

In the Total Immersion approach to swimming, this is vital because the intensity level is low enough to allow us to focus on technique improvements while swimming at a pace that isn’t “too slow” by anyone’s standards as long as the CSS was calculated from two recent time trials.

We are left with what in theory, represents the highest aerobic speed a swimmer can swim, meaning that at this pace and anything slower we should be able to more easily implement technique changes and adjustments.

Just as you would practice a new or challenging passage of a piano piece or any other musical instrument slowly enough to allow you to learn proper timing & finger placement, an aerobic pace in swimming allows you to learn and imprint new and better neuromuscular pathways to make your swimming faster and more streamlined.

Here is where the Total Immersion twist comes in….

With Total Immersion we focus on the neuro-muscular connections and movement pathways from brain to muscle. We can swim at the critical speed in many different “gears”, but we want to find the optimal gear, or stroke length and rate, that will allow the swimmer to work in a comfortable capacity while leaving ample room to grow in speed and get faster.

Once I’ve calculated the speed with a spreadsheet I’ve set up to do that, I”ll give my swimmers a test set of 10×50 at critical speed + 5 seconds rest. Again I have this already set up in a spreadsheet so the set is ready to hand to them when they finish the test and I put the numbers into a calculator on my ipad.

While they are swimming their 10×50 they count their average SPL. For some this the first time they have every done that, but it’s in the context of a familiar type of training…a time trial followed by sets at a prescribed pace. This helps people understand that counting strokes is not the same thing as aiming for lowest stroke count…we are just collecting information at this point.

With this 2nd data points, average stroke count per 50 at their CSS pace, they are now honing in on a really valuable set of training parameters…not JUST critical speed, which can be swum at many tempos and stroke lengths (ie many different stroke techniques or GEARS) , but they are establishing an average SPL, which turns into as well as a target for improvement.

After the 10×50 counting strokes, their next set (on a subsequent day perhaps), will be to use that SPL and the critical swim speed, and swim the long set again, but with focus on holding SPL at that average number and not exceeding it.

What we’ve done is used the swimmers current fitness & ability to give them a starting point, without placing any specific focus on the swimmer adhering to SPL or tempo constraints while swimming the initial time trial. This allows anyone to do the set, not just people who are math inclined.

I can take any of my swimmers with any level of experience, have them do the assessment set, plug their times in and my spreadsheet does the calculations, recommends the 10×50 pacing and the swimmer then begins their journey!

Minimal vs Optimal Metrics – The Story of “Minimal Wade”

Dinah Swimming

During the last month, WM has started lessons at the Discovery Aquatics studio looking to improve his swimming technique before entering his first triathlon in 2014. I was impressed with his self taught TI technique and his ability to integrate technical changes to his stroke. After the first lesson I asked WM to collect some baseline metrics. Here are partial results from the first metric assessment:

Assessment 1

Distance (yd)

Time (s) = 100yd pace

SC/25yd

100

117

13.5

100

116

13.5

100

115

14

100

113

13.5

100

112

13.5

 

At first glance his ability to generate distance per stroke looks wonderful.  But, at what cost?

 

The added column below tells the story.

 

Assessment 1

Distance (yd)

Time (s) = 100yd pace

SC/25yd

Tempo

100

117

13.5

1.75

100

116

13.5

1.73

100

115

14

1.69

100

113

13.5

1.68

100

112

13.5

1.68

We discussed the results at WM’s next lesson. How could he optimize his metrics for faster swimming? I suggested that WM remove some distance per stroke to enable him to have a more optimal and sustainable relationship between distance per stroke and tempo. This would result in increased speed.

Current average 100 yard pace= 115 seconds.

Achieved by a SC of 14 (plus 3 for push off) at 1.7 seconds per stroke. This is a minimal relationship between SC and tempo.

 

Faster 100 yard pace=105 seconds.

Achieved by a SC of 17 (plus 3 for push off) at 1.3 seconds per stroke. This is a more optimal relationship between SC and tempo.

 

Shoot for the stars 100 yard pace = 90 seconds.

Achieved by a SC of 16 (plus 3 for push off) at 1.18 seconds per stroke.

This path requires mindful practices combining skill focal points to optimize distance per stroke and metric sets to facilitate neuromuscular changes.

 

That week WM completed a second metric assessment set. Here are the results:

 

Assessment 2

Distance (yd)

Time (s)

100yd pace (s)

SC/25yd

100

106

106

17

200

221

110

17

300

336

112

17.5

400

458

114

18

500

583

116

18

 

By removing the thought of trying to sustain minimal SC, and replacing it with aiming for optimal SC for the given task WM improves 100 yard time and has respectable pacing control over all distances.

The added column below shows the more optimal relationship between pace, SC and tempo.

Assessment 2

Distance (yd)

Time (s)

100yd pace (s)

SC/25yd

Tempo

100

106

106

17

1.34

200

221

110

17

1.38

300

336

112

17.5

1.36

400

458

114

18

1.36

500

583

116

18

1.34

 

Where do we go from here? We will work on WM’s ability to maintain technique and SC at increasingly faster tempos to further achieve speed gains. Balancing technique with neuromuscular challenges of tempo change, to optimize metrics, will take thoughtfully planned practices and continual assessment of both aspects.

 

 

 

Reference Material for Strokes Per Length Based on a % age of Height:

height SPL graph 25y

Drill Sequence B for Breathing Tuneup – Freestyle Breathing Technique

Drill Sequence B for Breathing Tuneup – Freestyle Breathing Technique

Freestyle Breathing TIpsThis tuneup is similar to the previous tuneup, but we are now focusing on obtaining your breath during the recovery portion of the stroke. This sequence differs in that the one armed swimming is done with the opposite arm as the skating drill that precedes it.

During the initial one-armed swim with no breathing, focus again on how the body tends to sink during the recovery, and return to the surface after the entry of the leading arm. To sense this it’s important to stroke deliberately yet gently, recovery smoothly and then re-enter and pause in skate. Once you become tuned into the instability caused by the recovery arm, we can actually use this timing to help time the breathing.

Tuneup:
2-4 1/2 lengths: Arm Lead Streamline, a.k.a. Skating, with a sip of air or “sneaky breath”.
2-4 repeats: One armed swim, NB (opposite lead arm)
2-4 1/2 lengths: One armed swim, “sneaky breath” (towards recovery arm)
2 x 25 Swim

You may repeat this sequence as often as you like. Repeat on your “weak side” breathnig as well.

****Descriptions ****
Skating with sneaky breath: Body should be slightly rotated in skate position. Hips & Shoulders aligned. Lead arm is on it’s wide track. Sneaky breath: Pivot the head away from the lead arm to grab a bite of air while keeping lead arm on it’s track without moving under the body or pressing down.

One Armed Swim NB (No Breath): Do 4-6 one armed strokes without breathing first. Use the opposite arm as the leading arm from skating drill above. Note that this is the opposite of the previous breathing tuneup sequence. Focus on evenly rotating the hips & torso with each stroke while non-stroking arm remains at the side of the body. (ie when lead arm is out, that side of the hips and shoulders are rotated closer to the pool bottom. As the arm strokes, body rotation occurs and finshes with the opposite side hips & shoulders rotated near the bottom of the pool at the end of the stroke and during recovery. When the recovery arm reenters the water by spearing back to skate, the torso rotates back to original position. Pause a moment in skate to feel streamlining as well as letting the body return to the surface. Begin next stroke when you sense stability returning. **In this version, focus as well on how quickly the body begins to sink after finishing the stroke. Does it occur only after your arm exits the water? Before your arm exits the water? Does it change with the width and height of your recovery?

One Armed Swim with Breathing: Same as above, but now, let head swivel/rotate to grab a breath just as you did in the skating drill above. You are now combining it with the one armed stroking. Breath toward from the stroking arm as it begins it’s recovery. You’ll hopefully find that there is a clear, early window in which to grab air effortlessly as long as you don’t wait too long. During the recovery, the body begins to sink, and if the breathing occurs too late, you’ll be forced to lift the head and use an early downward push on the water to find air. Instead, the neck should remain relaxed and the head floating on the water as you look towards the recovery arm, and even observe the recovery forearm pass in front of your face while the elbow leads the recovery. ,

Swim 2 x 25 focusing on breathing towards the recovering arm, while allowing the elbow to lead recovery. The breath begins relatively “early” in the recovery phase. Allow the head to rotate with the body towards the recovery arm for a no-strain breath.

 

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.

 

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