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Ask the Swim Doctor: 1998

"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.

February, 1998: Supplements

Question: I am interested in taking supplements and would like your opinion on their effects to aid Masters swimmers in their competitive efforts.

Answer: My answer includes comments regarding two popular supplements, creatine and caffeine. Two recent articles in the Jan./Feb. 1998 issue of Swim Magazine, "Keeping Up with Creatine" by Cindy Carroll and "Beyond Training" by Edward Nessel, will give you an insight into ergogenics, or substances used to enhance swimming performances. Several of the top research journals in sports medicine have articles relating to creatine: Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, September, 1997, "Creatine Supplementation Enhances Intermittent Work Performance" and The Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter, August, 1996, "Creatine Updates." Currently, I
am taking creatine and will update you on the benefits to my swimming in the next issue.

"Caffeine and Swimming Performance" was published in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology. The study, a double-blind, was designed to eliminate the placebo effect. The trained swimmers swam a 1500 M, two days apart. The average time with caffeine, 20:58, compared to 21:21 after taking a placebo. The caffeine was 6 milligrams/kilogram of body weight. This would
be 420 mg/154 pound person. A cup of coffee equals 200 mg; a coke, 70 mg. and a no-doz tablet, 100 mg. The caffeine was taken about 2 hours before the swim trial. I always drink two large cups of coffee the morning of a meet and one or two cokes at the meet.

Keep in mind, with any supplement, you must still put in the necessary training to perform at a top level. An adequate, nutritious diet will aid in the absorption of the supplements.

Creatine Update: I used Creatine for three months previous to Y Nationals, and recorded excellent swims. I had seven 1st places, one 2nd place and set 3 Y National Records. At Masters Nationals in Indianapolis, I had one 1st place, three 2nds and one 3rd. Three of my times were the fastest in two years. A good training program contributed to a major part of my performance. Every individual reacts differently to supplements. What works for some, may not have the same effect on others.

May 1998: Mental Strategies to Improve Performance

Question: What mental strategies do you suggest I use to improve my swimming performances?

Answer: Psychocybernetics -- mental preparation -- for Masters swimmers will give you some basic principles to improve performance beyond training and stroke mechanics. Since the person needs to be considered totally, confidence must be built into a positive self image for a well-rounded program.

Establish the groundwork for a good self image and confidence during the year with regular training sessions. Program yourself for success with mental practice training, stroke mechanic skills, and race strategies. The success program should include the following:

establish goals or targets
develop self-confidence, correct any errors
keep trying, forget failures, remember successes
have faith; don't wait for proof; let your creative mechanism work, don't make it work

These basic principles should give you a new mental picture of yourself after a period of time. Use mental practice and imagery to improve your training techniques and stroke skills. Spend time thinking of correct stroke mechanics and how it feels to do the stroke correctly.

Use the same technique to prepare for your events before a meet. Many Master swimmers never plan or think of the event ahead of time; they just dive in and swim as fast as they can. Top swimmers mentally go through each event stroke by stroke from the dive in to the finish. To use imagery for your events, see yourself performing or feel yourself go through each detail when you swim the event. You can avoid many mistakes in races with this technique. Starts and turns can be enhanced with mental practice used as a supplement to the actual skill practice.

The following describes what I do to mentally practice for my event. You will also need to know the physical characteristics of the pool where you will compete.


I see and imagine I am at the pool preceding my event and after I have warmed up. I slow down time, I think through all the details and stretch every joint of my body.

The starter calls the 100-yard IM and I visualize the starting block, the pool, and the lane markers. The referee blows his whistle and I stand on the block. I see my lane 4, the lane lines and backstroke flags. I concentrate only on the lane lines and starter's command.

I grab the block with my hands inside my feet, pull down and listen for the starting signal. I explode off the block and feel the water as I enter and streamline.

I start my fly kick with two beats, my arms start pulling, with no breath until the third stroke. I breathe every two strokes, visually going through the seven strokes for fly. I time the last two strokes so I don't have to chop or glide to make my turn from fly to back. I touch the wall on my last fly stroke and see the wall underwater with the turning target. I turn and push hard, while streamlining under water on my back, air exhaling out my nose.

I start my kick and the first arm pull brings me to the surface, while passing under the flags. I line up with the ceiling lights, with the lane lines vaguely visible in my peripheral vision. I feel each arm pull and push through the correct stroke. At 12 strokes, my head passes under the flags and I count -- one, two, three, and drive my fourth stroke for an open turn and kick hard to keep moving. I feel the wall, then see it while turning on my side to bring my feet into the wall, keeping them low to get a deep push off for the breaststroke.

I push and glide, looking at the bottom of the pool, then a long hard pullout for my underwater stroke, my kick bringing me to the surface for my first breath. I pull hard, lift my head for a breath, kick, and turn over fast as I approach the 75-yard mark. I time my stroke to make an efficient but speedy turn with a two-hand touch, and push off in the crawl stroke, with no breath off the wall.

I single-breathe down the pool, putting every last bit of power into each stroke as the wall gets closer. I hold my breath for the last six strokes, then a fast finger tip touch on the pad, especially important for automatic timing pads.

I look up at an imaginary score board that shows my goal time -- a fantastic time of 1:08.08 for a new National Record in the 100-yard IM for the 70-74 age group. I imagine my friends and officials congratulating me for my record. I check to find out my 25-yard splits-- 14.1 fly, 17.4 back, 20.09 breast, and 17.3 crawl.

August 1998: Preparing for a Big Meet

Question: In my daily workouts, I use a variety of strokes and training techniques. What changes in this routine do you suggest I prepare for an important goal meet, such as Nationals, or another big meet?

Answer: I recommend broken swims as an excellent way to prepare for your events 100m or longer. Example: To train for your pace for a 200m back with a goal time of 2:40, I suggest 40 second pace 50's. Feet to feet times, with race splits of 1:19 and 1:21 for the 2:40 (adjust all times to fit your speed). Here is a favorite set for a broken 200 on 5-minute intervals.

1. Swim 200m back on 2:50 (or 10 seconds slower than goal)
2. 2 x 100m back -- 10 seconds rest at 100
3. 2 x 100m back -- 20 seconds rest at 100
4. 4 x 50m back -- 10 seconds rest at 50
5. 4 x 50m back -- 20 seconds rest at 50

Repeat this set every week for four or five weeks before your goal meet. Keep track of your times in your log book. At the meet, do some pace 50's in warm-up. If you can, use your assigned land for practice in specificity.

If you swim the sprint events, do a set of eight to ten all-out 12.5 and 25 sprints, with one minute rest, at least once a week. Include speed turns and starts for all your events at least once a week.

After the meet, evaluate your training to see what worked and what you need to do differently.

November 1998: Warmup for a Meet

Question: Is there any one good warmup for a meet?

Answer: If you have a warmup that has been successful for you in the past, use it. If you normally swim about 2000 yards in your training, you should swim about 500 yards for your warmup.

Concentrate on technique, be relaxed, and loosen up. Pace 50's will help on your distance events. Include 50's and 25's of each stroke, gradually building up to race pace.

Get acquainted with the starting blocks by doing several starts for each of the strokes you are swimming. Sprint as you plan to do in your race, because your body needs to get used to swimming fast. Do turns for your events, and if the meet is outdoors, note how the wind is blowing the backstroke flags. Observe how that changes the number of strokes you need from the flags to the wall at each end of the pool.

It's a good idea to practice the warmup you will be doing at the meet in your training sessions, especially the week before the meet.

Preparation for the meet also includes eating whatever foods work well for you. Do this before workouts, so your body doesn't have to adjust to new foods. Get to the meet on time and you won't be rushed. Check the heat sheet to know your events and lane assignments. Do a short warmup and stretch your muscles for each event. Cool down after each event to reduce the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles.

Mentally prepare for each event. Think about the event and visually go through your race: step up on the block, go through each stroke, turn and touch out at the finish (see "Ask the Swimming Doctor," May 1998). Program your meet so you will be on automatic, and you will make fewer mistakes, be more relzxed, and enjoy the thrill of the competition, whether it's your first meet or the umpteenth.

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