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Ask the Swim Doctor: 2004

"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, 2004: Sprinters Who "Do" Distance

Question: How was your swimmer, Jean Troy, primarily a sprinter, who set
World Records in the short free events, 2002, able to also break the World Record in the 1500 m free in 2003?

Answer: Troy’s answer is, “I worked my butt off!” My answer is a change in attitude. When she set the World Records in the 400 m and shorter events at age 75, I suggested she had the potential to break the 1500 m record. She shrugged that off very quickly. Several months later, she had a change of heart, and set her own goal. I felt fortunate to have a swimmer with that mindset. Here is an e-mail I sent to Jean in June, 2003. In addition, phone calls and discussions at local meets helped prepare her. Although not ideal, she did all her training in a 25 yard pool. She did swim a preliminary 1500 m free in a local meet.

“Your goal of swimming the 1500 m Free at the Nationals in August is an excellent one. You will need some special training and I have confidence that you can get the record of 27:40. You have the speed that with some pace work several times a week can achieve a high performance for you. A pace of 1:40/100 yards will give you a 27:30 for a 1650.

Week 1--2 times a week--10 x 100 @ 2:00, ave 1:40
Week 2--2 times a week--15 x 100 @ 2:00, ave 1:40
Week 3--2 times a week--20 x 100 @ 2:00, ave 1:40

Give me a report after week 1 so we can make any adjustments necessary. Good luck. Paul”

At LCM Nationals at Rutgers, in August, she swam a 27:09.75, breaking the record of 27:33.
In summary, to achieve her maximum performance (these principles apply to all swimmers):

1. Set her goal and committed to it.
2. Confidence in her ability to achieve a realistic goal.
3. Training program to achieve her goal.
4. Followed her training program, “worked my butt off.”
5. During warmup, concentrated on her event with pace 50s.
6. Had a support group. Trained with teammate, Jim Browne (who also improved); husband, Ed, who also served as lap counter; post event cheers from teammates and critique from coach.
7. Handled the extra pressure at meets and stress of being a record holder and celebrity.
8. Pushed through the pain to keep the pace she needed for the record.

April, 2004: Improve Your Kick

Question: My kicks aren’t very effective. Can you give me some suggestions
on how I can improve my kicking?

Answer: You want to kick butt? Start with your own, and add more kicking to your workouts.
The average training program for Masters swimming includes some kicking. However, to maximize your swim potential, it is important that you get the most from each of your kicks. Slow kicking develops a bigger and wider kick that can actually make you go slower, because of the increased resistance. The propeller on a tug boat is set at a different pitch than on a speed

After the war, I competed at The University of Iowa. Doc Counsilman was the Assistant Coach. He questioned many established ideas in swimming and was creative and scientific in his approach. As the Assistant Coach, he had us swim 440 time trials one day. The swimmers on deck thought my hard kick was outstanding. Doc said, “I think he could swim faster if he narrowed his kick, giving him less resistance.” He had me repeat the swim. He was right, I was faster.

TIME ALL YOUR KICK SETS. The principle applied is to power kick for specificity to your events. Instead of kicking a 200 or 400 straight, do 4 or 8 x 50 with short rest of 10 or 15 seconds. On breast kicks, count the number of kicks per length and note your time. For back kicks, lock your arms behind your head to streamline. Stroke into your turns from the flags and kick off from the wall with as many underwater dolphin kicks as you can handle before your breakout.

DRILLS. It is important to do some kicking without a board. Kick back and free on your side with one arm extended. This will give you improved diagonal kicking to maintain horizontal and lateral alignment in your swimming. To do breast kicks without a board, extend your arms backward and have your feet touch them. This will enhance the heels to buttocks skill. Do dolphin kicks underwater for 25 yds and/or several kicks under for each push off.

FINS. Kicking with fins is good practice and will improve your flexibility and leg strength. Keep your kicks narrow and use them for power and speed. Kick sets of 10 x 50’s and 10 x 100’s with back, free and fly. I prefer to think of fins as a kick enhancer, and not as cheaters.

WHICH FINS? I recommend the Hydro Training Finz, approximately $35. They are short fins with a wide blade. If you already have a pair of swim fins (not force fins), use them.

PERSONAL LOG. Keep a log on all of your kicking. This is how you can tell if your kicks are becoming more effective and you are kicking butt.

KICK CHALLENGE. One idea to make kicking more challenging, as well as fun, is for your team to have records for kicking. Use 100 and 200 yds for each age group and all four kicks, as well as the IM. Either include these kicks in your group workout, or time yourself to keep it more informal. Post these times on your bulletin board or include in your team newsletter to encourage improvement in kicking. How about a most improved kicker award?

July, 2004: Do Body Suits Help?

Question: What are the advantages, if any, of Masters wearing a full suit?

Answer: Research in the past has not demonstrated a big improvement in swim times by wearing a full high tech suit. In the July/August 1998 issue of SWIM Magazine, the author gives the following information. The suits have been tested in the lab to give 10% reduction in skin friction drag which is one to two percent reduction in overall drag. Claims are tenths of seconds in sprints and seconds in longer events. Keep in mind, the research and data was compiled on the younger college and elite swimmers. I have not seen a study on older Masters swimmers.

In the spring of 2004, I decided to buy a full suit and see what it could do for an 80 year old. I consulted Bonnie Pronk, a 60 year old Canadian and World Record holder, and her personal choice was an Arena suit, $230.

Here are samples of some of my comparisons. In a March practice, wearing my regular Speedo suit, I swam a set of 10 x 100 yds back @ 2:30, with fins, with times of 1:20. At a meet in March, my best 50 yd and 100 yd back times were 37.1 and 1:27.5, swimming against my top competitor in the 75-79 age group. In April, wearing the full suit, my times for the same set of 100’s, dropped to 1:12. At Y Nationals, in April, I again competed against top competitors, and my times were 36.1 and 1:22.8. In a 50 m pool, my practice repeats of 10 x 100 m back @ 2:30, with fins, were 1:25 wearing my Speedo and 1:20, wearing my long suit. During my first practice at the 2004 World Championships in Italy, I wore my long suit and did 8 x 50 m back @ 2:00, with a :48 pace, to prepare for my 200 back. The next day, I wore my Speedo and my times for 4 x 50 @ 2:00, increased to 52 sec. I initially thought that I was really tired from the previous day. I put on my long suit and did 4 more 50’s, same interval. Again, my times were :48. The placebo effect may have been working, but not for four seconds for each 50.

When I raced my 200 m back, I won it with a time of 3:30.5, and broke the National record. My time was 13 seconds faster than my best time in 2003, 3:43. My 50 m back time of 41.4 was also a National record, and better than my 42.7 from last year. My 100 m back, 1:35.7, improved from a 1:36.9.

Can a cheap close out sale of$50 for a full suit, Nike, give you better performances? I discovered that it can, as I have worn it for several practices, and have had similar results. My comparison of goal time intervals wearing this cheaper suit also demonstrated that it streamlined my body, which resulted in better performances. An improved streamline is achieved by compressing the loose
skin that most people have as they get older. I am 80 years old, 5”5’ tall, weigh 135 pounds, with a 13% body fat, but with extremely loose skin. This picture of me demonstrates how loose skin can cause high resistance, hence a lack of streamline. A full torso suit can enhance your streamline, and as a result, your times could be faster. It worked for me. It could work for you.


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