Do you know how to condition your mind & body ?

When we train, we have to remember that there is more to it than just doing the routine. There are certain aspects of our being aside from our physical body that we have to consider conditioning. Our mind is a very powerful weapon that can be used even in training. Among many things, it controls our feelings, emotions, and perspectives.  Let’s take a look at what can help condition both your mind and body to help you get more out of your training, specifically for swimming.

The Body

While it is true that swimming has a lower impact on your body than other sports, this does not mean that your body needs less attention. Your body still gets tired. Swimming is highly recommended as it works on all aspects of your body but it still adds on a great amount of stress. A lot of athletes push themselves to the limit and use up a lot of that energy by training overtime with heavy workouts, putting themselves on a diet, and sacrificing hours that should be used for a bit of socializing. What do we do to refuel that energy? Refueling your energy and keeping yourself from being “burnt out” takes more than physical needs. What usually comes to mind is food, water and rest. While food can be perceived as a reward for your body, the mind is in control of the discipline. Your mind has to want to keep that discipline or else the urge to have extra junk food will kick in. Once your mind is conditioned for a proper diet you will notice that the cravings for unhealthy food will decrease.  Keeping yourself hydrated is very important. You’d be surprised at how many athletes forget to drink enough water. Water helps maintain strength and a clear mind. Make it a habit to drink water after a few laps until your body gets used to it. Resting is the easiest but not the least important. Without proper rest, it does not matter how good you are at keeping a diet. You have to get ample amount of sleep (usually set at 8 hours a day). Insufficient rest hinders the detoxification and repairing tissue damage in the body and your mind suffers too.  

The Mind

Stress takes a toll on both the mind and the body. Your mind and body tend to go into overdrive when you are stressed. Mental stress is seen having a greater effect on people than physical stress. This is because your mind is your processor. It controls your emotions and then your body reacts to it. Keeping a healthy, happy mind set will help keep you fully functional.  If you don’ beat your record today don’t stress out and train an extra hour. Explore a healthier mental approach. First, clear and ease your mind. Check yourself once in a while to make sure that there is a balance. Keep your mind and body clear from negativity. This way you can focus more on the goal at hand. Attracting negativity will only hinder you from what you want to achieve. Unwind by giving time to social activities. Being around your loved ones nourishes you and calms you on a deeper level. Relaxing is important too, so don’t sacrifice it. When you give yourself a good dose then you may revisit your workout and strategies to improve. Endurance does not come easy. Don’t be too serious about your training all the time. Swimming can also be similar to meditation. Studies show that being around the water has a powerful effect on the brain. It is said to make you happier, healthier, more connected to yourself, and rejuvenates a tired mind.

The Injuries

Being an athlete comes with physical and mental injuries from time to time. When struggling with a physical injury don’t brave it out and use the line “mind over matter”. In this case, if you don’t mind, it does matter. Tend to the pain and rehabilitate before continuing your work out. You might make things worse by ignoring it. Give your body some tender loving care from time to time. Same goes for dealing with problems that life throws at you. Deal with it before it eats you from the inside out.

Balance is the key. Being aware of your needs versus your wants can strengthen you and help you achieve your goal and sometimes even beyond what you expected.

The 50 Freestyle; Optimal Starts and Breathing

The 50 Freestyle is one of the most anticipated races in competition, it is the truest test of speed and puts a microscope on swimmers skills. A slight hesitation on a start, a poor turn or an extra breath can be the difference between gold and mediocrity. Although this is obvious it is unbelievable how many swimmers and coaches still believe a 50 is something you can’t really coach. I have heard coaches state, “It’s just a 50, go bash it out and try not to breathe too much”, and as a former sprinter this annoys me to no end. If you look at some of the truly great sprinters – yes they are over 6 foot, yes they are big and powerful but they are also technically very good swimmers. Anthony Ervin is a fantastic example of this, the Rio Olympic Champion was up against some huge powerful swimmers but stuck to his flawless technique and ultimately bested them when it mattered and at 36 years old no less.

How to calculate your start:

Training for a 50 freestyle exclusively is almost never the case, you will usually swim other events including 100 and 200’s of freestyle but within the training there should be some 50 specific work. Obviously starts are important for all races but for a 50 working in different length sprints and timing each of them can be a great advantage. Within a start there are many different options, how many underwater kicks is the main area I believe should be worked on. Timing splits to 10 and 15 yards with varying kick choices giving the athlete adequate rest between each can tell you how many kicks is optimal for each swimmer. A practice may look like this:
Sufficient warm up
3 x 10 yards with 4 under water kicks
3 x 10 yards with 3 under water kicks
3×15 yards with 4 under water kicks
3 x 15 yards with 3 under water kicks

This is a highly unique area as some swimmers will kick to 15 yards optimally and others it can be two kicks and up into their stroke for the best result, once you know the type of dive and number of kicks it should be practiced and practiced. It should be possible for the swimmer to complete the start, underwater phase, break-out and first few strokes with their eyes closed. Where swimmers fail is they change their start in every practice and then when they get to their races they are still unsure as to how to perform their optimal start. Throughout the season you can revisit this protocol and adapt their starts but until this is done it should remain the same.

Many swimmers through their season of training get reliant on breathing patterns. The most common is a swimmer breathing every stroke but any breathing pattern can become an issue in a 50 freestyle. For the best hand speed possible breathing should be limited yet rotation within the stroke should still be complete and this is where swimmers who rely on a breathing pattern to get that rotation struggle. Longer distance training for sprinters should include a lot of odd pattern breathing so their rotation stays even when breathing becomes limited. 200’s using a 3,5,7,3 or 3,5,7,9 by 50 breathing pattern is a way to include this. On top of this there should be a lot of sprinting preformed with limited breathing. Last season our team adopted 50’s with no breathing on lap 1 and 75’s with only 3 breathes per lap while sprinting and it worked excellently. Our sprinters firstly realized they did not need nearly as many breathes as they thought and also that the oxygen debt they incurred did not catch up to them during the race. This is where a 50 becomes so different, in a 100 free limiting breathing too much on the first half will dramatically affect the finish but a 50 can be completed by the right individual optimally with no breathing. Through my experience one to two breathes is usually optimal for most swimmers but these breathes should be pre planned. For example, one breathe at the flags on lap 1 and one breathe 4 strokes after the break out, after that second breathe the only thing in the swimmers mind should be holding prefect form and swimming through the wall. This can also be practiced even in lower level meets by the athlete, if they take one breathe and still feel gassed at the end they need to add in another somewhere. These are just two facets of the 50 but will help a swimmer feel more confident in what they are doing in this race, having a game-plan is key.

By Kevin Dickson

You need to Journal Your Way To Success

A question often posed to coaches is “what do I need to do to improve my swimming?” Although we could launch into bio mechanical analyses and break down all the components of the strokes until they’re reduced to minutiae, the main theme is mindfulness. Pay attention to what you’re doing, focus on doing it well, and you’ll see improvement. The body is controlled by the mind, so training your mind to be a better swimmer is a reasonable course of action.


Mental skills are actually really simple to train. Thinking about what you want to do has been proven to be as effective as actually doing it; Marc Jeannerod and Jean Decety’s 1995 article “Mental motor imagery: a window into the representational stages of action” tested the th  eory by having individuals train a five-finger piano pattern either mentally or physically,and found that results were largely similar between groups. A similar study by Ranganathan et. al. in 2003 yielded similar results, indicating a 35% success rate in “mental training” candidates versus 53% in “physical training” candidates performing voluntary muscle contractions in their little fingers, while the “no training” control group showed no significant changes.


To journal your way to success, you need to harness your mental capacity for learning motor skills. All you need to get started is a blank journal, a writing implement, and the motivation to spend ten minutes after practice writing about it.


Step 1: Log your workout


Even if you can’t remember the entire workout, write down what you do recall. This gives you the chance to reflect on your effort and organize your thoughts about it.


Step 2: Rate your sets


Once you’ve written out the workout, go back and rate each set. You can assign a numerical value to them or simply place a checkmark or an X next to them, but make sure to rate based on your perception of how the sets went. It’s natural to rate based on what you liked and didn’t like, but that’s not the goal. You want to record whether or not your effort was valuable to your training.


Step 3: Record your feelings


Look over your ratings and write down a few words about the sets that jump out at you. If you had a set that rated a 0 or had a heavy-handed X next to it, ignore it. It’s best not to focus on the negative sets too much. Instead, make an effort to write more about the positive sets, making sure to focus on feeling: “felt strong” and “breathing pattern felt easy”are examples of how to record positive training feelings.


Step 4: Record your thoughts


This step is crucial because it provides a road map for mental imagery. Once you’ve finished recording feelings, think back to the thoughts running through your head during the positive sets. If you were singing a song in your head, write down the title. If you were focused on your stroke count, write down what it was. If your mind was blank and you were focused on the feeling of every stroke, write it down! Regardless of what the thoughts were, they contributed to a good performance and are worth remembering.


Step 5: Relive the good performances


Look through your swimming journal before practices or meets to remind yourself of the thoughts and feelings you had during your best moments in the pool. Better yet, use those cues to make a mental image of your upcoming workout; picture yourself in the water, swimming your best, nailing every set, and feeling good about it afterwards.


The best thing about journalling is that it’s personal. No one else has the same thoughts or feelings as you, so your journal is a perfect reflection of your own swimming. You can even use the same five steps to journal about your performances at a swim meet so you can create mental images of your races to run through before you get onto the blocks. Play that song in your head, shut your eyes, and see yourself swimming your best. Chances are you’ll have yet another good performance to write about when the race is over.


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Why you should practice bilateral breathing.

Bilateral breathing is a swimming technique that involves breathing on the left and right side. If you swim competitively or just for exercise, you should use this technique. When swimmers only breathe on one side of their bodies, their strokes become lopsided and so do their bodies. Breathing only on one side also causes the body to roll to that side more often and that can stress the body. When swimmers use bilateral breathing, they have more even strokes and their “weak” side actually performs well.


Over training One Side

This about what happens when you breathe to the same side with every stroke. Imagine how many times you do that in one practice session. The muscles get trained to work a certain way on one side and a different way on the other. As that single-side breathing stroke is practised, your body will develop the habit and a different shape on each side. This can leave permanent effects on the body long after you have stopped swimming competitively.


Improve the Weak Side

When you practice bilateral breathing, your “weak” side will actually improve. When you breathe to the left and right, you get to see the people who are on either side of you. While this is not extremely useful when you are simply exercising in a pool, it is helpful in races and when swimming in open water. Your strokes will even out as your muscles do, too. Your balance improves in the water, so you actually can because you rotate less.


Helps With Open Water Swimming

If you like to swim in the open water, bilateral breathing is a useful technique to develop. This type of breathing actually calms swimmers who are in choppy lakes. There might be times when one side has bigger waves, so it can be challenging to take deep breaths. Instead, you will have to breathe on the other side and since you have practised bilateral breathing, you can breathe on either side at any time.


Take the Time to Learn

Learning to bilateral breathe is easier than it seems. It will feel awkward at first, just like trying to brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, but once you practice it a few times, you will get better at it. To prepare yourself before you start swimming, it is a good idea to stretch out your non-dominant side. Most people have tightness on the non-dominant side, which can make swimming with bilateral breathing extremely uncomfortable. Once you start swimming, you should breathe sooner than you normally would on the weak side. You will get a good deep breath and stay relaxed. It is important that you do not lift your head, you should just rotate it enough to get a breath. Your stroke will help keep you from inhaling water.


Watch Your Stroke Adjustments

Another common issue with weak-side breathing is with the underwater pull. Do not straighten your arm when you are breathing. This will create issues with your stroke and make the breath more difficult to take. If you straighten your arm, you will suck in water rather than oxygen. You can avoid the straight arm problem by being sure to over-exaggerate the high elbow on the catch.


Mix Up the Strokes

Bilateral breathing does not have to be done on every single stroke. Once you understand how it works and you can breathe on both sides evenly, you can alternate the way that you breathe. Some swimmers will breathe every three strokes. Some will breathe on one side all the way down the pool and then the other side on the return. For many swimmers, they actually need to do more breathing on their non-dominant side so they can begin to realign their bodies and become more comfortable with the .


Even though it is awkward at first, bilateral breathing is an excellent way to make the body feel better in the pool. It makes your more even and your enter body benefits from using both sides of the body.

School Swimming makes great swim sense.

Learning to swim is really a life-or-death situation. Because of the fact that 60 percent of children in Victoria, Australia cannot safely swim, the government agency responsible for decisions regarding education decided that students must learn how to swim prior to graduation. The Education and Emergency Services Minister understands the importance of knowing how to survive in the water, which is why they want all children in Victoria, Australia to know how to swim, too.

Proving Kids Can Swim

swiming-in-school-2Children in this Australian state will need to prove they can swim 50 meters in order to earn their Victorian Water Safety Certificate. This certificate shows that the child has passed a handful of water safety tasks. Children who earn this certificate have to be to prove they can use rescue skills and that they can properly survive using a sequence of abilities that they learn in their coursework. This course was selected because children will needing to learn how to be safe in the water. This life skill was neglected for too long and too many children were developing water safety skills. The Education and Emergency Services Minister decided to make swimming mandatory for safety purposes. One child dying from a lack of water safety skills is one child too many. The Education Minister understood the fact that swimming lessons are just as important as learning to read and write.

Despite the fact that students must take courses in swimming, students will not have to retake classes if they do not succeed. Each school has to set up their own lessons and courses for this new mandate. And, the local schools will decide what consequences happen for students who do not master the skills.

Prioritizing Funding for Swimming Lessons

Unfortunately, those local schools are going to be given any additional funding for this added mandate. This makes it difficult for schools that do not have swimming pools to teach their students how to swim. Schools that do not have swiming-in-school-4pools will have to decide where they will teach the lessons. They can be taught off-site, which can result in extra fees for students and schools. To supplement the costs of implementing a swimming program, the government has established a grant program for schools.

Schools Implementing Swimming Outside of Australia

Fortunately for children around the world, Victoria, Australia is not the first government to mandate swimming lessons for children. Bangladesh is one of the most recent governments to do the same thing. In this small Asian nation, children have to learn how to swim in a way that will prevent lives from being lost. Schools all throughout the country taught their students to stay alive in the water.

swiming-in-school-1Schools in the United States have also been slowly focusing on water safety training for children. On the west coast of the US, two schools districts have begun requiring swimming lessons for their students. Wenatche School Board in the State of Washington has been requiring all high school freshman to swim in their physical education courses. In California, San Castro Valley High School is doing the same. In the California school district, students who do not take the lessons fail their physical education class.

Why Adopt This Important Class?

The plans of these schools should be adopted by all schools all over the world. Water safety is a serious issue and too many children leave school without learning how to save themselves in the water. With the ever-decreasing budgets in US schools, the once mandatory swimming lessons have been disappearing.

At one point in time, schools swiming-in-school-3taught all children in one grade (usually in the upper elementary grades) how to swim. Since most elementary schools in the US do not have indoor swimming pools, children were bused to the nearest school with a pool. With budget cuts, many schools have stopped using their pools and they have stopped with intra-school busing, too. This has left too many students vulnerable to the potential dangers of water.

Great tips for your swimming stroke.

 There are very few contentious issues in swimming and most of them can be solved by scientifically looking at the evidence. One of the minor issues in swimming is whether to swim with closed fingers or hand-image-4open fingers. Since humans do not have gills or fins, it is important that we learn how to best use our bodies to get the most out of our strokes. The question about what to do with our fingers and hands makes for an interesting debate and for interesting results. What is the best way to hold the hands?

Paddles or Not?

Your hands are very important in the pool. The difference between open and closed fingers may not seem like that big of a deal, but when races come down to split second finishes, any little advantage can make a big difference. When the fingers are closed, the hand acts like a kayak paddle and when the fingers are open, water can move between the fingers. So, what is the most beneficial position?

Resistance is Key

hand-image-2If you prefer to swim with your fingers closed, you are actually moving against the water. Your hands are a form of resistance and the drag includes all of your arm, from the shoulder to the fingers. When you think about physics, resistance slows objects down. So closing your fingers and using your hand like a kayak paddle does not increase speed. It might seem you would swim faster because a closed hand should be able to move more water, but you have to work harder to go faster with closed fingers. When you want to move water, you need surface area. With closed fingers, the surface area of the hand extends the length and width of the hand.

Build Surface Area

When you swim with your fingers open, you actually get more surface area. With the fingers open, the surface area actually includes the space between the fingers. So your surface area is wider, but not taller. When it comes to smart swimming, the most powerful hands are not muscularly engaged and purposefully spread. They are relaxed and open naturally. When you swim this way, see if you can notice the water moving between your fingers. You probably cannot and that is just fine. The larger surface area can move more water, but it does it with less resistance.

Stay Balanced

Another benefit to swimming with relaxed hands and open fingers is better balance. We may not think of balance in a swimming pool, but with good balance, your body will move more smoothly through the water. Balance helps with all aspects of swimming, from the stroke to the breath. The more balanced the body is, the better it moves and theless friction and resistance it creates.

Research Proves the Case

When researchers looked the debate and the actually hand-imagebiology of hand positioning in swimming, they realized that when the fingers were open to a natural level, the fingers acted like webbed hands and added more than 50% force to their strokes. With open fingers, swimmers were able to stay horizontal and actually get higher in the water with more of the body out of the water – thus reducing drag and resistance. When swimmers are higher in the water, they do not have to work as hard to swim fast. It is also better for people to swim with their toes spread slightly, too. If you think of the size of swim fins, it makes sense that a “wider” foot will move the body more efficiently.

Test It Out Yourself

So, the best way to swim is with the fingers naturally open. If you want to see proof, watch footage of Michael Phelps in the water. His hands are open and relaxed. His fingers are spread. If you need to see if it really does work, test yourself. Time yourself with your hands in both positions and see what lets you swim the fastest.

Which comes first? Technique or speed.

Swimming Technique or Speed: Which is More Important?

Okay, so you are new to swimming. You got your new swimmers and a flash pair of goggles and now you’re ready to dive straight in and go flat out. But before everything else, ask yourself these questions: Do you have a program? Do you have the right drills? More importantly, do you know the basics?

swimmers_swimming_race_214323 - Copy

You need to understand swimming is not simply a competitive sport. It is actually a sequence of highly coordinated set of movements. Altogether, these movements create speed, power and high performance. In my opinion, good swimming technique will develop in two stages: technique improvement and fitness improvement.

Poor Swimming Technique Can Slow You Down

Through extensive research and observation, I have found out that while you can be able to do these stages at the same time, focusing on one stage at a time makes the next stage easier. For example, you are trying to do 10 x 50-metre laps on the minute. You start off thrashing your way down the pool and get to the other end with 10 seconds to go. Then off you go again and thrash your way back. Sure, you will get fit and go faster but only at a certain point. Why? Poor swimming technique hinders speed.

What can you at this point? If you were to back off the speed and do 10 50-metre laps instead within a minute and 30 seconds. This will help you focus more on your swimming technique and be able to reduce your time down to a minute eventually without feeling as puffed as you initially were.

Try observing swimming competition participants. They may look like they are simply thrashing up the pool but actually, they are using their technique to swim within a short amount of time. Their drills may still focus on stretching and increasing stroke reach. Keep in mind that as you go faster, things shorten up. Its like typing the sentence The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog on the keyboard. If you start slowly, your accuracy will be excellent. As you go faster, your fingers may start making mistakes. The same goes with swimming. If you are not in control of your body movements, the purpose of training becomes vague.

The approach I have discussed have worked for 90 percent of the people I have coached. Their technique was great and after some time, their speed picks up and times drop. I would love to get feedback and discuss this topic with you if you have any thoughts.

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