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Ask the Swim Doctor: 2003

"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.

January, 2003: Motivation Before Aging-Up

Question: I'm approaching the top of my age group, and haven't been very motivated to train, as my times are slow in my present age group with all the younger swimmers moving in.

Answer: Aging up is a superb renewal of life, and provides an excellent opportunity for motivation and the setting of new goals, at whatever skill level you possess. Prepare for aging up the year before, when you are at the top of your age group, by choosing from any of the following ideas.

If you want to expand your horizons and TRY NEW OR LONGER EVENTS, enter the "Check Off Challenge." For your entry, found at www.usms.org (fitness), you receive a t-shirt with all 18 different events listed on the back. As you swim each event, even in practice, you check it off, as a mark of your accomplishment. Some swimmers do this annually. The times that you do are
not as important as the training it takes to swim every event.

Start by SETTING UP SOME EASY goals for your next age group, like achieving a FL Top 5 time, or if capable, one or more FL records. This is an excellent time to concentrate on improving your strokes and/or training techniques. Take advantage of one of the new clinics to be offered in FL.

Swim some of your FAVORITE EVENTS and compare your times with your NEW AGE GROUP. Next, do special work and try to improve for the next meet. I've given new swimmers the FL Top 5 list, and have challenged them to attain each of the 5th place times in any practice. This would also work for the USMS or World Top Ten listings. Set your goals based on realistic times that you would be able to reach, and still provide a challenge for your overall ability.

One of my swimmers, Robert MacDonald, ages up to 75, in 2003. In 2002, I encouraged him to work for the National record times at meets in his breast stroke events, in all three courses. He has these goal times posted prominently on his desk. These new goals sparked a new interest and motivated him to continue working out and competing. At a recent meet, he could see how close his times were to the new goals. He realized his performance goals were realistic, and with a specific training program, he would be able to achieve the record times.

I age up to 80 in 2004. With my hemorrhagic stroke in April and nocardia bacterial infection in June, 2002, my training has been mostly rehab, trying to regain speed and endurance. I can identify with slow times in my present age group. My primary goals for this year include surpassing all the FL records for my new age group. Beyond that, I'm training for my five special
events, including National and World records in the three backstroke events. So far, I've reached that goal in my 50 m back and am within 4 seconds on my 100 m back.

Be specific with your goals, and train accordingly. Your patience and persistence will pay off in the long run.

April, 2003: Medications and Swimming Performance

Question: What are the effects of drugs and medications on my swim training and performances?

Answer: Many Masters swimmers are on long term drugs for heart problems, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, etc., or temporary drugs for bacterial infections. Some blood pressure medications are beta blockers, which can cause a decrease in your heart rate, which can effect your performance. Medications affect patients differently, and the Masters swimmer must be aware of the side effects that may interfere with their daily training. Be sure to read the leaflet that comes with your medication, so you are aware of them. Some of the common complaints are a too low heart rate, extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, cough, constipation, diarrhea, etc. If you have any unusual symptoms, check with your doctor immediately, as he may be able to prescribe a substitute that your body can handle more easily.

One example, (JAMA, Dec. 18, 2002) using the diuretic (Chlorthalidone 25 mg) had no side effects compared to high-priced blood pressure drugs. Most trained individuals do have a greater total body hemoglobin, due to the greater total blood volume. While working on my doctorate at Indiana University, we measured the amount of my blood, and I had 15%-20% greater than the predicted blood volume, which is based upon body size. Research studies verify this. If you train year round, three or four days a week, for 30-60 minutes, you are in a special category of a trained athlete, no matter what your age, and have more total liters of blood. With approximately 15% more blood, it appears your hematocrit and hemoglobin are lower than normal. This person may be misdiagnosed as having anemia. Sometimes, it is known as marathoner's anemia.

Roger Franks, a multi world record holder at age 75, recently experienced problems with the side effects of lipitor, a cholesterol lowering drug. He consulted with his doctor as he became progressively weaker and ended up unable to walk without a limp, climb stairs normally, lift himself out of a chair without help and occasionally collapsed on the floor. In addition, he experienced muscle aches, cramps and spasms, especially at night. Needless to say, this was a frightening experience and his swimming was adversely affected. Be sure to inform your personal physician if you are a trained athlete. If he has a background in sports medicine or has knowledge of your regular training, he can more adequately advise you and your special needs. As competitive Masters swimmers, we want more out of life than to just sit around in our rocking chairs and watch the world go by.

August, 2003: Returning after Injuries

Question: Recently, I was in an auto accident and had multiple broken bones in my legs. I haven't been able to get into the water for three months. What suggestions do you have for getting back into training for competition?

Answer: I’ve had similar questions regarding rehab from surgery, injuries and long term illnesses. All involve special planning and the rethinking of your goals and objectives. You must realize that your early performances will not be close to what you had accomplished previous to your accident.

Depending on the severity of your injury, just being able to swim easy 25’s is a major accomplishment. Working up to one half the distance of your usual workout is another big step. This is an excellent opportunity to concentrate on technique, rather than yardage. Instead of using the pace clock for intervals, just swim your events. In order for you to have a sense of accomplishment and the patience to survive training and competition with your limited performance, I encourage you to establish new Personal Records (PR’s). These are your best times, not only for competition, but also in your training--best sets, swimming other strokes, etc. These PR’s (After Accident (AA), After Surgery (AS), After Whatever (AW) will give you a reason to go to practice or to a meet. I consider these technique swims. If you can’t swim fast, you can at least look good!

On June 2, I had surgery, and was in the hospital for four days. During this time, my Hematocrits dropped from a high of 14.5 to a low of 11, due to loss of blood. I don’t expect a return to higher levels for several months. Almost four weeks after surgery, I competed at the Sarasota meet. My 100 m back, 1:43 and 200 m back, 3:52 were slow times for me. Two weeks later, I swam in St Pete. I improved my PR’s AS in the 100 to 1:39 and in the 200 to 3:46. Neither times are what I’m working towards when I age up, next year, but I was pleased that they were both faster than last year, following my stroke and bacterial infection.

Roger Franks (mentioned in the May, 03 issue) is concerned that he may have a permanent set back in muscle strength as a result of taking Lipitor earlier this year. As a result, he is no longer able to swim at the World Record pace he did last year. With a 3 minute slower time in his 1500 m free, he feels “incredibly slow in the water and is depressed about the whole swim business.” In spite of his challenges, he will be competing at Nationals.

In summary, have realistic goals and objectives to help you overcome your adversities. We all will need this persistence, sometime in our lifetime.


November, 2003: Improving Your IMs

Question: What are your suggestions for improving my individual medley events?

Answer: You can achieve a better performance in your IM events by analyzing your splits from meets. All coaches have various methods of doing this. Counsilman, in “The Science of Swimming,” states, “In this, more than any other race, it is impossible to come up with a theoretical pace that is perfect for all swimmers, because each swimmer excels in one or more strokes over some other.”

One way to analyze the IM is by determining the percentage of each stroke to the total time. The ideal percent, computed from swimmers’ times, is presented in the following table, accompanied by a comparison of my splits, done when I was much younger! This table demonstrates one way to analyze pace and the strength or weakness of strokes in the IM.


In comparing my splits to the ideal percentages, the fly is fast on the 200 IM, but slow on the 400 IM. I could take out the fly faster in the 400 IM, but needed a higher training yardage than 2,500 a day to be able to do this. The back is my best stroke, and close to the ideal. The breast also matches the ideal as I improved my weakest stroke. The crawl stroke is slow in the 200 IM, due to going out faster in the fly, as compared to the 400 IM. How to Arrive at Your Ideal Splits. Using split times is probably the most important technique for training for the IM in terms of doing broken swims. This consists of doing 4 x 25 for the 100 IM; 4 x 50 for the 200 IM and 4 x 100 for the 400 IM. The broken swims are started about eight weeks before a selected meet in which top performance is desired, like Nationals.

Training With Broken Swims. Now that you have figure your goal time for the 200 IM and splits for each stroke, you can put them together in broken swims. The first broken swim can be done on two minute intervals. If needed, add more rest. Do a dive-in start with fly and swim it the same way you plan to do in your race. The other strokes are timed from push-offs, leaving every two minutes, or more. Do not swim as fast as you can but try to stroke smoothly and efficiently. Work toward doing three or four sets of these broken swims in one workout with a shorter rest between each 50 yard swim. The ideal is to take only 5-10 seconds rest between each 50. These times will probably be faster than your actual times because the turns have not been included. To make the broken swim close to the actual swim, include turns with the broken swim. Summary. Use the preceding analyses to gain a better understanding of your performance in the IM’s. Begin by compiling your split times over several meets, then check the percentages to see if your pace is correct. Use these split times for your training, especially with broken swims.

Anyone wanting more info, please send a large SASE to: Dr. Paul Hutinger; 1755 Georgia Ave. NE; St. Petersburg, FL 33703.

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