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Ask the Swim Doctor: 1999

"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 1999: Heart Rate During Training

Question: Is it important to know my heart rate during training?

Answer: Yes, it is the most important and practical physiological measurement that you can analyze. Blood lactates have been popular with many elite programs. For the Master swimmer, heart rate monitoring can easily be included, without expensive equipment. Unfortunately, many swimmers and coaches think only in terms of the quantity of yardage done in a training session.

Heart rate can be taken at the carotid artery (neck, slight pressure) or wrist, immediately upon completion of the required swim or sets of swims. Take HR for 6 seconds and add a 0 for your minute rate. Monitoring your training swims can give you information and identify which aspects of your program you are achieving. You can apply this scientific approach to the energy systems needed to train for your events and plan ahead to when your meets are scheduled. The following table gives information on HR's to elicit training of the three energy systems.

 3 primary energy systems classification

 HR age 20-30

 HR age 50-60

 % of training for endurance phase
A1---low intensity aerobic





AT---anaerobic threshold



V02--above threshold



LT---lactic acid



Max HR=220 minus your age (example, for a 50-year old: 220-50=170)

Swimming elicits a lower HR by approximately 10%, compared to running. Recovery HR should be taken 1 minute after the previous HR. In this time, a highly trained swimmer will recover from a max of 170>100. By taking your recovery HR each week, you can measure your fitness improvement. Straight sets with the same average time each week should show you a lower HR as your conditioning improves.

The 50% of your training at aerobic levels includes your warm up, cool down and usually, any short rest swims, such as with 5-10 second intervals. Your AT and V02 levels are usually at your race pace intensities. If you swim 5000 yards per session, you would need 8x25's or 4x50's each workout at close to all out swims. Follow these guidelines to maximize your training for performance. If you specialize in only distance, like 500 yards and up, or sprint 200 yards and under, modify the percent of energy systems. The early season training, however, needs all systems.

Anyone wanting additional information, or having personal questions, please send a large SASE to Dr. Paul Hutinger, 1755 Georgia Ave NE, St. Petersburg FL 33703. You can e-mail me at phut@usms.org.

May 1999: Improving Flip Turns

Question: How can I improve my flip turn in a meet? Top swimmers have helped me in practice, and my turn improves. However, when I compete, I worry so much about missing it, I always mess up.

Answer: A swimmer posed this question to me at the April St. Pete meet. He is an experienced 70-year old who swims the 50-yard free in 29.1.

This is a classic example of a swimmer who prepares physically and technically for a skill, but uses negative thoughts to prepare mentally. The reader may remember my answer from last year about using visualization techniques to prepare for the 100 IM, with the servo-mechanism in your brain and nervous system. Similarly, set your goal and use positive feedback to keep it on course. The swimmer uses negative thoughts, saying to himself that he will miss his turn. He always does and continues to worry about it.

Use the following suggestions to accomplish your goal, a perfect flip turn in a meet (or whatever you want to correct or perfect).

1. Skill learning is accomplished by trial and error and correcting, at practice, until you have perfected your flip turn. FORGET past errors and REMEMBER successful responses.

2. Your success mechanism must have a goal -- in this case, a perfect flip turn. It operates by steering you to this goal.

3. The automatic mechanism is established for your turn -- timing, tuck, push-off, streamline. Think positively of this result and the "means whereby" will take care of itself.

4. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Your servo-mechanism achieves this goal by correcting any mistakes and moving forward.

5. Learn to trust your creative mechanism and not "jam it" by being too anxious. You must "let it" work rather than "make it" work.

6. De-hypnotize yourself of negative thoughts. Use your imagination and program yourself for success with positive thoughts and actions, by seeing and thinking perfect flip turns. Put yourself on automatic, and when it's meet time, the servo-mechanism will guide you.

In summary, your success program should include the following:

Establish goals or targets
Develop self-confidence and correct errors
Keep trying; forget failures; remember successes
Have faith; don't wait for proof -- "let" your creative mechanism work, don't try to "make" it work.
Use mental practice by using imagery and self-hypnosis.

August 1999: Breathing

Question: What advantage is there to heavy breathing before swimming a race? Does this give extra oxygen to the body, that I can use during the race?

Answer: The technique of heavy breathing, or voluntary hyperventilation, used by some top sprint swimmers, has been demonstrated to be an advantage in sprint events. Both coach and swimmer should understand the basic concepts of the breathing mechanism and the role of oxygen and carbon dioxide, CO2, in controlled breathing.
Automatic breathing is controlled by the respiratory center located in the brain stem (upper area of the neck). It is activated when CO2 reaches a certain level. This occurs about 12 times/minute. The oxygen content within the body is a back-up system. Low levels of oxygen will activate receptors for the body to supply more oxygen; however, the system continually operates various feedback mechanisms to maintain a constancy of the internal environment, or homeostasis.
The red blood cells are normally saturated with oxygen to about a 99% level, as physiologically, hyperventilation does little to help with the oxygen supply, since the body cannot store oxygen. Hyperventilation does have the effect of reducing the concentration level of CO2 in the blood, producing a buffering effect and decreasing the desire to breathe. This is dangerous for underwater swimmers.
Research studies, such as the most recent one by Dr. Robert Neeves, an exercise physiologist and Masters swimming champion, demonstrate an advantage for hyperventilation. Neeves found an improvement in time of 1.12 seconds for the 100 yd free and a reduction of breathing by 24%. He recommends a 30 sec. period of hyperventilation prior to swimming an event. I recommend only 15 sec. This takes some planning and timing however, to be ready for the start of a race.
Personally, I have found limited hyperventilation is useful in the 100 and 200 IM events in Masters swimming. In the 200 yd IM, the ventilation enables me to maintain a two stroke breathing pattern for the fly, without undue stress. I can then start the back without the usual feeling of breathlessness. Caution: 5 deep breaths as a maximum.
How much deep breathing should you do? Besides the 15 sec. guideline, you can use several other keys. DO NOT prolong hyperventilation to the point of dizziness, but just to the beginning of feeling light-headed or having tingling feelings in the tips of the fingers, then reduce the frequency of breathing. Hyperventilation can also cause unconsciousness, impair judgement and reaction time, so use it with caution. It does not produce any permanent damage to the body. But, if hyperventilation is used with underwater swimming for distance, it can increase the probability of blacking out, which could be fatal!
Gary Bastie, a 47 yr. old former coach, only uses a few deep breaths before underwater drills and competition. The underwater rule allows only 15 m (16.4 yds) on the start and turns for fly , free, and back. Many world record holders, like Bill Specht, swim off the wall, underwater, for top performance, and practice this skill frequently in training. David Berkoff, a former Olympian, perfected the underwater kick and caused a rule change, because of his talent. A drill of his at Olympic team practice in 1994, was unbelievable. Berkoff, with fins, did a 50 m underwater kick on his back (35 sec). On the 45 sec. interval, he did a total of 10 repeats.
A recent death at the Eckerd College Pool in St. Petersburg, July 19, 1999, of a 15 yr. old boy who was practicing breath holding underwater, should be a warning for all swimmers. I discourage breath holding underwater, preceded by hyperventilation.

November 1999: Dolphin or Flutter on Push-Off?

Question: When I push off the wall on backstroke, is it better to dolphin kick or flutter kick?

Answer: Almost all top backstrokers dolphin kick off the wall, then flutter kick for the breakout. However, the kick must be very narrow and quick; a slow, big dolphin kick could slow you down as you can push off the wall faster than you can swim.

Underwater kicking is faster than surface swimming and limited to 15 meters off the wall (yellow marker on lane line). If you have a good dolphin kick, use this challenge to improve your backstroke. Practice with zoomers instead of fins to keep you kick narrow.

Sets you could use on; your back, without a board, with zoomers and a nose clip are : 8 x 25 dolphin kicks underwater @ 1:00, or 4 x 50 staying under water the maximum distance@ 2:00. On kick sets, do 10 kicks underwater before surfacing, and include swimming under the flags with turns as part of these sets.

Berkoff, past world record holder and Olympian, did sets of 10 x 50m underwater dolphin kicks, with fins @ 45 seconds and held 35 seconds. A high school swimmer in Florida swam 46.9 for 100y back, 80% under water. Bill Specht, 41, has the 100 SCM back record, 59.26, and does almost 50% of his stroke underwater with a short fast dolphin kick. He does sets of 100 LCM kicks, with zoomers, at a 1:20 pace.

These examples show the importance and speed of underwater dolphin.

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