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Ask the Swim Doctor: 2005

"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, 2005:

Question: What are the benefits that can be derived from Masters swimming, other than cardiovascular?

Answer: Yes, there are benefits from a regular Masters program, many of which we tend to overlook. Scott Rabalais, 1996 Masters Coach of the Year and present Savannah, GA Masters Coach, lists an all inclusive combination of nine benefits: cardiovascular conditioning, strength, technique, flexibility, kinesthetic ability, nutrition, rest, knowledge of swimming and psychology and motivation.

A Masters swimmer who had never trained before, discovered that his enhanced performance capability from swimming workouts, carried over to his business. At his business meetings, he would look around at the group of out of shape and overweight partners and he felt more confident about his self-esteem.

A former average college swimmer, discovered that his Masters training program gave him more power and strength and he had greater successes at meets. As he reflected later on in life, he realized how much his Masters training and successful performances in swimming increased his self-confidence in his ability which benefitted his career as an investing consultant.

Many Masters do not have the time or motivation to follow Rabalas' guidelines. However, many items can be part of a healthy lifestyle, like training (at whatever level satisfies you), nutrition and rest. There are many benefits from these basic principles, which are known by most who have been in the program.

One area unknown to many, is the benefit to the brain. Many of you know about endorphins and the runner or swimmer's high. Many sufferers of depression take drugs, like prozac to normalize the serotonin in the brain.

Research has demonstrated that aerobic exercise, like swim training, increases serotonin levels which combat depression. The potential dangers of mood altering drugs neurotoxicity can also be avoided.

Social opportunities are available after workouts and meets.
Many former age group swimmers have complained about their unpleasant early swimming experiences and didn't ever want to compete again. In Masters, they've discovered that they are responsible for their own program, at their own level and can fit in their workouts around their jobs and family. Masters is different than age group swimming, for both the coach and the swimmers, and should be a refreshing change of pace.

Talking during your intervals is also important for an overall positive therapy and improvement in neurogenesis. While it was not allowed during age group practices, Masters see it as a positive force to talk at times, and should be encouraged for interaction and stress relief. .

May, 2005

Question: I've watched you at meets and you always seem so relaxed and have a positive attitude about your events. I train hard, but I¹m always tense and nervous before my events. What mental strategies would you suggest I use to improve my swimming performances?

Answer: Psychocybernetics, mental preparation, for Master 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. Your success program should include the following:
*Establish goals or targets.
*Develop self-confidence; correct any errors.
*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 this same technique to prepare for your events before a meet. Many Master swimmers never plan ahead and train for their specific events, 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 actually going 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. During warmups, get to know the physical characteristics of the pools where you are competing, flags, blocks, etc.

This imagery, used frequently helps to keep your goals within sight and creates motivation to practice and train to make it a reality. Many people feed in failures instead of successes which interferes with achieving their goals. You should dehypnotize yourself from these ideas. Avoid negative statements like, "I can't....." or "I never do well......." as an ending in all aspects of your life. How many times have you put yourself down by saying you do not have the capabilities to do certain things? Measure yourself by your own standards. Have good thoughts about yourself and remember the successes that you have had. This servo-mechanism will help guide you toward goals and a higher achievement level. Use your failures as a guide to motivate you toward success.

August, 2005: In this column, I will deviate from my usual questions, and answer questions that many of you have asked about my shoulder.

Question: Which arm would you swim with?

Answer: The arm in #1 "Looks OK to me." What about the CT scan? Everyone that sees the CT scan, #2, says, "That looks bad! How can you swim with that arm?" Pictures are of my left arm.
As a regular cylist, I have experienced many bike crashes over the years. In early 1998, my bike crash at 20 MPH, (over the handlebars and onto the street) was the final trauma to my left shoulder. In Oct, 1998, I had a reattachment of the superspinatus (rotary cuff muscle). Seven months of rehab, three days a week at a clinic; a home exercise program; training with fins, including lots of kicking and swimming with one arm, prepared me for aging up to 75. I achieved my goals of breaking nine backstroke National records in the three courses.

In 2004, I aged up to 80 and won the three LCM back events at the Worlds in Italy. I set two back National Records in LCM and two in SCM.

In late December, 2004, my left arm started to go out of place in all strokes, except back, therefore, I can¹t swim free, breast and fly. In January, 2005, my left arm would dislocate on back push offs, so I switched to one arm push offs and starts. To prevent my arm from dislocating on backstroke, I used a high position of the humerus. This position of the humerus, high against the acromion, brought the lateral side of the scapula against it during the backstroke pull thru. This caused the degradation in my humerus (shown in picture #2).

After seeing my CT scan, in May, 2005, my orthopedic surgeon recommended a total shoulder replacement. I wasn't a candidate for a regular replacement, due to previous injuries and considerable damage to the shoulder, from rheumatoid arthritis. My local doctor recommended a more experienced doctor in Dallas, and on June 16th, I had a consultation with him. In my case, a reverse prothesis would be used, and, I wouldn't have a ball and socket joint. With the extensive damage to my arm and shoulder joint, I have fewer options with surgery. Seeing this information from the CT scan, it is apparent that the scapula would continue to erode the humerus if I swam as I used to. My present option for training and competition is to only swim with one arm and incorporate lots of kicking. Without a regular shoulder joint, I do not know if I will be competitive as I have been in previous years. Shoulder replacements for 80 year old swimmers are rare.

At the St Pete July LCM meet, I swam back, free and fly with one arm.
My 200 back was 55 seconds slower that last year at the Worlds. I was DQ'd in my fly events. This disability is a permanent, physical impairment, that limits my major life activities. As such, I would like to be able to legally compete in fly and breast events. I am working on securing the necessary paperwork that will satisfy the USMS rules.

November, 2005

Question: I am a new Masters swimmer and have been wondering about my hand position in the water while swimming. It seems to me that I would be able to pull more water with my hand cupped and the fingers together. What is the best position for the fingers?

Answer: My coaching friend, Bob Bruce, OREG (2003 USMS Coach of the Year), puts on many Masters clinics every year. Some of these, focus on only freestyle, so I turned to him for his opinion. He said he is constantly asked this question. "The surface area of the hand is not changed whether or not the fingers are held together tightly, held together loosely, narrowly separated, or widely separated. If we believe that we should avoid excessive tension in the hands, we should avoid holding fingers tightly together. If we believe that there is significant (sculling) component during hand/arm propulsion, we should avoid holding our fingers widely separated (wide finger separation interferes with lateral water flow over the hands). This leaves held together loosely or narrowly separated, which underwater video indeed reveals to be the hand configuration of nearly all strong swimmers. [Doc Councilman's original published comments are in the "Science of Swimming", 1968, pp.9-12].
"I have developed another supporting theory (only a theory with a theoretical basis in nervous system anatomy but no experimental proof):
Slight separation of the fingers leaves more surface area of the hand exposed to water flow than if the fingers were held together. Since the surface areas of the hands are loaded with sensory nerve endings, slight separation of the fingers should allow more exposed surface area and thus more (potentially better) sensory input to the cerebral cortex, which in turn may allow better proprioceptive and exteroceptive control to the motor output (i.e. better kinesthetic sense leading to better stroke control)." Think of this as "feel for the water."
"The surface area of the hand is diminished when the hand is cupped--avoid this! The surface area of the propelling unit is greatly increased when the forearm is combined with the hand into one unit."
I agree with Bruce's assessments. Doc Counsilman was my Assistant Coach while I was at the University of Iowa, in the late 1940's. We had a hydro-plant and dam on the river flowing through campus. Doc worked with the hydro-engineers to research the water dynamics of the hand in swimming.
These early experiments identified what Bruce describes as the "classic high elbow position and slightly separated fingers," which is just as efficient today as it was over 60 years ago!
The picture shows Mark Spitz swimming fly with fingers loosely separated. He was one of Doc¹s swimmers when I was at the U of Indiana, doing my graduate studies.

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