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Ask the Swim Doctor: 1997

"Ask the Swim Doctor" is a popular column written by Dr. Paul Hutinger. This column appears regularly in the Florida LMSC quarterly newsletter, which is the recipient of the 1998 USMS Newsletter of the Year Award.

May 1997: Training techniques for Older Swimmers

Question: I was a sprinter in college and like the short events. What's the best training program for a 43-year old swimmer?

Answer: There are several examples that may work for you.

Dan Thomas, record holder of :23.63 for the 50 fly (40-44), gave his workout as a warm up of 8 x 25 kick and then 16 x 25 swim. The key was long rest at a 1 to 4 ratio (Example: 15 seconds on a 1:15 interval).

Another approach, if you have two hours a day, is the Alexander Popov program. This program was set up as a three week training cycle followed by one week of competition. An example of one week's training includes main sets of 8 x 800, 16 x 400, 16 x 100 at aerobic and anaerobic threshold levels. Once a week do a step test: 3 x 100 at aerobic speed (on 1:45), 3 x 100 at anaerobic threshold (on 2:00), 3 x 100 maximum aerobic (on 2:00), 1 x 100 maximum swim at lactate tolerance level. The stroke efficiency of 28 strokes per 50m (12 strokes/25 yards) was maintained throughout, even at sprint speeds.

A research study in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (March 1997) gives scientific insights into the effects of high intensity training. This training is used by the Japanese coaches of the Olympic speed skating team. IE1 protocol was bouts of 20 seconds with 10 second rest, repeated six or seven times AT ALL OUT INTENSITY. This would be six to ten x 25 yards on 30 seconds with a maximum heart rate). IE2 was a 30 second exercise x 5 with 2 minutes rest (4 x 50 yards for swimmers). There was a 10 minute warm up for each training session,which lasted six weeks.

The IE1 program was superior, but both programs increased aerobic as well as anaerobic capacities. When you do the 6 x 25's, ALL OUT, with 10 seconds rest, you will understand what stress is put on both energy systems.

August 1997: Learning the New Breaststroke

Question: Can a Masters swimmer change his old breaststroke to the new style used by the Olympians?

Answer: Yes. Although it's not that difficult to change from the flat, old-fashioned style to the newer wave style breaststroke, you need to make a full commitment to the new technique. At a recent meet in Sarasota, several swimmers reverted to their old stroke halfway through the race. Concentrate on the stroke rhythm and not a performance time in your event while you are changing styles.

The arm stroke uses a delayed breathing on the insweep and a pause during the streamline position. The hands accelerate from slow on the outsweep to fast on the insweep (don't stop to pray), and extend to a streamline position, head down.

DRILL: (use fins or zoomers) Use a dolphin kick and the breaststroke pull for a set of 10 x 25 on 45 seconds. The hands are about six inches under to begin the outsweep. Change from out and back to down and back to begin the insweep, then inward until palms come together and elbows are near the surface. Dive and extend the arms. Shrug the shoulders at the end to start the next outscull. Shrugging the shoulders narrows the shoulders and reduces resistance. Try to raise out of the water, keeping elbows close to the surface then dive, head down and streamlined. The hips move forward like an inchworm on the insweep. Moving the hips forward and arching the back brings the head up to breathe, with an immediate dive (lunge) forward to streamline.

The body is flat on the surface in the wave stroke, with the feet kicking downward from the surface, causing the hips to raise. Recover the legs by bringing the feet to the buttocks, not by pulling the knees forward.

Beginners should use the glide pattern with a pause after the kick in the streamline position. Some swimmers, using the wave style, come up higher than others, so find a rhythm that works for you and the flexibility that you have. If you don't have a coach, work with a swim partner to learn this new technique.

November 1997: Surviving Shoulder Pain

Question: What can I do to keep training when I have persistent pain in my shoulder?

Answer: You can verify rotator cuff injury by testing as follows: stand, arm against your side; bend forearm at 90 degrees; resist a force on your hand, inward and outward. A weakness in movement will indicate rotator cuff injury.

The most important muscles for the swimmer, and the most overused, involve the rotator cuff. These are a group of muscles and tendons that help hold the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) in the shallow socket in the scapula (shoulder blade). There are no strong ligaments to do the job. The tendons of the rotator cuff pass under the bony arch of the acromion (outer tip of the shoulder). The muscles and tendons can get pinched under the acromion arch, especially with poor stroke mechanics. Other swimming injuries can occur from overwork and old injuries to the shoulder and arm.

The rotator cuff is primarily four muscles (subscapularis, infraspinatus, supraspinatus, and teres minor) and their tendons. It stabilizes the upper arm in the shoulder socket and allows a great range of motion. Rotator cuff pain is caused by an "impingement syndrome." This is because exertion or overuse causes a compression of tendons by the shoulder bone, resulting in tears and/oriflamation. Bursa are fluid-filled sacs that protect muscles and tendons from irritation by the bone. A shoulder problem of tendinitis or bursitis may be a result.

1. Use ice before and after practice. Invest in a commercial fabric bag, cold compress, that is reusable, to keep in the freezer. Check your local drug store.

2. Change the strokes you use in training or competition. At LC Nationals one year, I had to change from my usual fly and IM events to the three breast strokes.

3. Use fins or zoomers for all your swim training, and do more kicking. A national record holder used this approach over ten years ago. Unable to do any training because of neck and shoulder problems, she implemented fin training for the entire season. She made the switch to regular swimming several weeks before Nationals and swam some of her best times. Use more kicking-- do sets of repeats and time them. Heart rates of 150-160 or at the anaerobic threshold and VO2 race speed, for your age, should be part of your kick training.

4. Use stretching and flexibility exercises to keep your range of motion.

5. Strengthen the rotator cuff with special exercises for the muscles involved. Since the rotator cuff muscles are small, you only need to use 2# to 5# weights. The emphasis should be on a high number of repeats, such as three sets of 25 repeats.

6. Use aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen as an anti-inflammatory.

7. If the pain persists, see your physician. He may refer you to an RPT. Extreme problems may need surgery, as a last resort.

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