Coaches Corner

Newsletter Coaches Corner - Greg Smith - Head Coach

Might seem like the thing NOT to do, but in fact, it is very valuable to concentrate and swim very slowly in training, especially before more intense efforts. 
Even excellent swimmers have small flaws in their strokes.

By swimming very, very slowly these inbalances are highlighted, and a swimmer can become more aware (and hopefully rectify) these flaws. It also prompts greater concentration.

Remember, when you do this, swim VERY slowly (most overrate their stroke) and concentrate on each part of your connection and timing/alignment. The benefit will come when you finally speed it up!

25-Oct-13  PERSISTENCE…….
Our sport has many things to teach us — One that may not be obvious (at first) is dealing with set-backs and failures. What happens when everything doesn't go to plan? DO YOU

(a) give up
(b) blame someone else
 re-adjust your time-line for achievement.

Success rarely comes early or easily in life - you may need to apply yourself much harder and for longer than you first thought! Swimming is very much like that; Which means that persistence is NOT an option but essential. Failure is only failure when you quit trying - till then, its just an annoying speed hump! 

Well Summer’s arrived early - and its not just your physical conditioning that needs attention. Hydration is vital, most young swimmers do not replenish with sufficient water (through the day or during training). Even during cool weather you will need adequate water replacement (the body naturally dehydrates at night and during the day regardless of obvious sweating), but on hot days this can increase dramatically. Drink regularly—if you find yourself thirsty, then you've left it too late!!!  Training places greater stress on the body, and it will need water post — training nutrition for muscle cells to recover, adapt and ultimately strengthen. Without it you may NOT improve and could even run yourself down.

So its simple - water bottle and/or sports electrolyte drink ON POOL DECK. After training nutrition ASAP (best within 30 mins) or quick snack (protein & carb’s) before full meal later. 

What to race in OCT/NOV? Well most of your major championships are in JANUARY to MARCH, and to race well over 100m you need to first race over 200m! So, its important that you race all the 200m and 400m early in the Summer Season. It will hold you in good stead later in the season.

What type of training is appropriate during this pre—season phase? Well we always need to concentrate on technique: but pre-season can be good for working on deficiencies - yes, those aspects of your swimming that are the weakest. Eg more kicking &/or underwater skills— also a liberal amount of aerobic conditioning is needed prior to Summer. So a few extra sessions are recommended. (much of our higher intensity training needs a good fitness base in the first place for it to be effective).
Additional strength and resistance conditions prior to Summer is also a good inclusion. So hop to it, Summer’s only a dive or two away.

For freestyle, young swimmers often “roll” their bodies to achieve breathing. This is how they are usually taught when they first are learning to swim. However, it is not ideal, and once in squad a swimmer should resist rolling (most over rotate), for this usually results in a dropped elbow pull, loose rotation, poor alignment and dissipation of energy. It is better to think of “lifting” your hip rather than rolling your head and torso. This stabilizes the “high elbow catch” and increases torque (tight rotation).
NOTE… The hips lift - not the hands — they push straight back! SO...Lift it don’t Roll it

22-Mar-13 PITCH REPORT….
No, not a report on a cricket pitch. In swimming, it has to do with the angle and direction of the palm of your hands. In FS, BS & BF the final ‘push’ phase of the stroke is critical for optimal transfer of power. Where is the palm of your hand pointing? If the palm of your hand continues in an arc upwards, then the power is going skyward! If it is slewing away diagonally (common!), then you are short and pushing energy side ways! So give yourself a ‘pitch report’ whilst swimming. It will ensure best length and power in your stroke.

Hands and feet making lots of noise? Hitting or splashing a lot with hands and feet whilst swimming? Not good! A good check of your efficiency is to LISTEN to your own swimming — hands should be entering without a splash — feet should not be thumping ( a sign that the feet are coming too far out of the water — kicking air is not effective) A smooth stroke also creates less turbulence around the body — so less drag!
So listen to your stroke — it should help your efficiency.

01-Mar-13 POSTURE……
Ever been told to sit-up straight in class? Well, ‘sitting-up’ high in the water with good posture is equally good. Resistance is a major factor in swimming (it increases exponentially with speed!). So the higher you can position yourself with least frontal area the better! This involves optimal streamline posture and a high base position in the water. Think flat neck and torso with tight tummy — combined with sit-up high ‘on top’ of the water: not below. This involves lifting the hips up whilst swimming — if they sink — then so will you! So sit-up and pay attention!

22-Feb-13 DIVING…….
What is the most critical phase of the dive? Reaction Time? Feet leaving time? Flight distance & time? Underwater distance, or time, or breakout velocity? While all these are important the most critical is none of them! It’s the quality of the entry. A rough entry will spoil the momentum and speed into the underwater phase. This is why young swimmers need to achieve a perfect streamline position upon entry and allow hips & feet to follow through the one ‘rip:’ hole. When this is achieved you will go further faster. Just what we want!

15-Feb-13 PB’s……..
The PB approach to swimming development is essentially a good one…..
Alas it is invariably misunderstood. Often swimmers & parents are disappointed when PB’s don’t come when they were expecting them. There are many reasons for this. Training loads & type of training are not administered uniformly over time. They are staggered to allow for adaption & for long term goals. Nor do young swimmers absorb training methods uniformly. Adaption takes time and varies from one swimmer to the next. Swimmers and parents looking for short term results are likely to be disappointed. A realistic expectation is a step or staggered pattern of PB’s development which will come as the swimmer gets older. Early season training is designed to give best results later in the season. (When the important meets are). Health, strength and growth complicate the process long term benefits are given priority over short term results.

25-Jan-13 SPRINTING……..
Young swimmers need to keep in mind that sprinting involves a few changes to your usual swimming pattern.
1. Breathe only on need - and only to your favoured side! This is because breathing slows your stroke rate, which must be high in a sprint: while oxygen uptake is NOT needed for such a short 50m distance (enough oxygen exists in you for that short period for maximum effort).
2. For Freestyle - lift hips strongly as hand passes underneath - this increases torque and power.
3. Kick should be maximum.
4. Increase speed of last stroke to wall. In Freestyle - stretch onto your side for maximum reach!
5. Practice hypo in training - this both trains the body to tolerate CO2 build up (which triggers breathing) and represents ‘slow motion’ sprinting!
Its only one lap, but you must practice in training what you need on race day!

04-Jan-13 WHAT’S MISSING……..
Young swimmers often shy away from tackling aspects of their swimming that they are weak at. Smart swimmers don’t, because these stroke aspects are the keys to further improvement. Even at elite levels, the training regime is often guided by deficiencies. What are your deficiencies? And how to overcome them.
So don’t be surprised if I hone in on your deficiencies & program more (not less) of your weaknesses into a training session. These are the missing pieces that contribute to a better whole. So don’t grumble at workouts that are not your favourites, these are the ones you need!

14-Dec-12 SPECIALIZING?......
Is it good to specialize in a particular stroke or event? If so, at what age and/or level? It is NOT recommended for swimmers under 13yrs to specialize. Young swimmers should aim to become competent in all four strokes, culminating in a good 200m IM! They may still have their favourite and/or best event, but it is interesting that this can change in later years and 2nd and 3rd best events can become their best. Even elite swimmers do not specialize completely. However, at about 12 to 13 years of age some degree of preference is usually required for higher achievers to be competitive at State or Australian Age level. Thus the targeting of particular events at that age and Level. You will note that in training we still keep the medley going, even when sets involve such targeting. So don’t be shy in entering events which are not your best.
It’s a great way to improve on your weaknesses!

16-Nov-12 ONE THING AT A TIME…..
Having trouble trying to focus on a dozen different aspects of technique at a time? Well don’t. It’s best to break up complex movements into their elemental components and hone each separately. In other words — Focus on one thing at a time —- perfect it, move on to the next — perfect it, etc, etc, then put it all together. One simple thing done well is of greater benefit than many done poorly. So set yourself “process” goals and focus on each at a time and be single minded…..

Might seem like the thing NOT to do, but in fact, it is very valuable to concentrate and swim very slowly in training, especially before more intense efforts.
Even excellent swimmers have small flaws in their strokes. By swimming very, very slowly these inballances are highlighted, and a swimmer can become more aware (and hopefully rectify) these flaws. It also prompts greater concentration.
Remember, when you do this, swim VERY slowly (most overrate their stroke) and concentrate on each part of your Connection, timing and alignment. The benefit will come when you finally speed it up!!!!

28-Sep-12 PUSH POWER.
We usually refer to the underwater arm action on FS/BK & BF as 'pull'', but it is really the 'push' phase of these strokes that provides most of the forward thrust. Think of the last part of each push as being the most important (the final push to full extension) and speed up your hand towards the end of each stroke. (This maximizes stroke power)
Strokes that lift out early in FS and BF will never produce optimal results - SO PUSH LONG AND STRONG!
Similarly in BR, the final whip of each kick is the most important, with feet increasing in speed towards the end - so never incomplete a kick, it's the last part that is the most important.

Think of early season racing as a prelude to the second half of summer, when most of the major meets are held.
While early season PB's are welcome they are NOT essential. In fact, seniors who train very hard at this time rarely PB at this stage. This is the groundwork time, (Sept/ Oct/Nov) not final preparation time.
So don't be concerned about racing untapered (this is normal at this time), just race! Accumulate the intensity and experience that will pay dividends later.

31-Aug-12 SCAT...
What is Scat? And why is it important?
Scat stands for "Stroke Count at Time', in other words - how many strokes needed for a given speed.
It is both a measure of stroke power and efficiency. Achieving a fast interval speed (pace) with too many strokes is fatal in events beyond 50m. (the secret to Magnussen's success has been a very efficient 1st 50m).
So aim to achieve target speeds with less strokes when training intervals, and your 'backend' of the race will be stronger. This holds true for all strokes and all distances above 50m. It is also give's you a barometer to your improvement and an important training goal / stepping stones.

20-Jul-12 OLYMPICS.. Day 1 Events
400free.. A tough event. Note that one of our representatives is David McEon. David was a very later bloomer (didn't get competitive until after 16 years of age & was nowhere during age group competition).
Good! Too many young swimmers quit during their young years because they are not as big or fast when growing. David 'shot-up' at 17 years of age and then decided to 'get serious' and is now on his first Australian Team.
The Ian Thorpe story skewed reality, you don't have to be successful between 9-15 years of age to make it big eventually.

29-Jun-12 RELAYS..
Always a crowd & competitor favourite: from Club to Olympic level it gells a team and raises the spirit.
OK, watch the change overs. Relay rules permit the incoming diver to be 'in motion' before hand touch (one toe must still be on the block at hand touch). It might seem like a guessing game - but it isn't. The Olympic team will measure 'foot leave time' (about .7 sec) and then calculate distance and timing of the finishing stroke and then practice it many times. (thus the advantage of early selection trials).
Of course, its still tricky business, but by watching your team mates last stroke you can anticipate (provided your team mate does NOT glide and slow down the last stroke - please note.

It’s OK to have a short break (in fact, its preferable that dedicated athletes rest and re-charge their batteries before beginning there winter season)
Winter training is quite important, so in June get ready to focus on building greater power, efficiency, technique and skills before next summer arrives.
Short course meets also give swimmers an opportunity of achieving qualifying times before early summer endurance phases (often easier to achieve at 25m pools) and thus be 'ahead of the game'.

23-Mar-12 PITCH REPORT..
No, not a report on a cricket pitch.
In swimming, it has to do with the angle and direction of the palm of your hands. In FS, BK and BF the final push phase of the stroke is critical for the optimal transfer of power.
Where is the palm of your hand pointing? If the palm of your hand continues in an arc upwards, then the power is going skywards! If it is skewing away diagonally (common!) then you are short and pushing energy sideways.
So give yourself a 'pitch report' whilst swimming.
It will ensure best length and power in your stroke.

Hands and feet making lots of noise? Hitting or splashing a lot with hands and feet whilst swimming? Not good!
A good check of your efficiency is to LISTEN to your own swimming - hands should be entering without a splash: feet should not be thumping (a sign that the feet are coming too far out of the water kicking - air is not effective)
A smooth stroke also creates less turbulence around the body - so less drag! So listen to your stroke - it should help your efficiency.

02-Mar-12 POSTURE..
Ever been told to sit-up straight in class? Well, 'sitting-up' high in the water with good posture is really good.
Resistance is a major factor in swimming. (it increases exponentially with speed!) - so the higher you can position yourself with least frontal area - the better! This involves optimal streamline posture and a high base position in the water. Think flat neck and torso with tight tummy combined with sit up high on Top of the water, not below. This involves lifting the hips up whilst swimming - if they sink - then so will you.
So 'sit-up' and pay attention!

Many swimmers ask about Race day warm-ups. The simple rule is to warm-up as you would do prior to any sprint set. However, it is interesting to note a few other considerations.
All coaches know that, individuals respond to race day pressure in different ways so the mental/emotional aspect IS important.
What motivates you? Leave enough time for this mental focus or diversion if that’s what relaxes you. (Yes, that’s right, a certain amount of relaxed focus is usually required)
Nerves in small quantities is usually OK - too much and it can strangle a swimmer. It might sound like a contradiction, but a balance of nervous stimulation with relaxed confidence is usually the best.

No not a promotion for a new phone!
Connection refers to the coordination between arm, body and leg actions in your swimming. Optimal connection provides for maximum transfer of power. Poor connection results in wasted energy, short strokes and less power per stroke.
Most young swimmers loose their connection (if they have it) when maximum efforts are called for, as this is difficult.
Optimal connection is best practiced at slow stroke rates - so slow swimming DOES NOT mean slow thinking! Maintain maximum concentration while performing drills and slow laps; then increase power and finally stroke rate as your connection improves.
So the slow laps really do count!

03-Feb-12 HOW TO IMPROVE..
We all want to improve, but how? Of course, hard and consistent training counts, but what else?
Concentration while training is very undervalued. Many swimmers 'Daydream' while swimming and as a result fail to maximize intended training benefits. Swimming is very much a sport of many facets, you don’t have to improve everything all at once (impossible anyway), but you can focus on one small thing at a time and make very small improvements each set. In the long run, this can make an enormous difference. EG. Concentrate on taking one less stroke per lap (an improvement of just one less stroke per month makes a huge difference in a year) or streamlining just a few centimeters longer each day (again, a huge difference in a year) The effect on your technique is equally profound. So concentrate in training and set yourself small incremental goals. Remember it ALL adds up!

27-Jan-12 THE KICK..
How important is the kick in swimming? Well, for Breaststroke it’s the major source of propulsion (over 80%). For Butterfly, the dolphin kick forms the basis of the whole body action, if it weakens or fails the whole stroke collapses!
And Freestyle and Backstroke? Kicking in these two strokes provides minimal (though not insignificant) propulsion (less 20%). So is it important to train it? Absolutely!
Don’t just think of the kick in isolation. Poor kicking technique and/or lack of stability and endurance will impead or even ruin your stroke. Good Kicking provides the essential 'base position' for optimal stroking. Sinking hips and knees nullifies stroke length and power. So don’t treat kicking like its unimportant 'down time' in training. Your technique, length and power will never be optimal without it.

Warm up should not be called Warm Up! Why? Because the warm up sets contains far more than just warming up. A better term would be preparation.
A full warm up (or rather preparation) involves many important stages which begins with a range of general stroke and kick applications (usually Medley based) before proceeding to special drill, Skill and efficiency preparation for the targeted stroke. After which, further specific speed and pace targets are set before tackling the main set.
It is not uncommon for the warm up set to contain more complexity and detail then the main set, since this full procedure can be quite extensive. So miss the warm up set, or simply cruise through it with little thought and you are probably missing most of the sessions intended benefits! So be on time, pay attention to the pre-training explanations and apply yourself properly to the warm up set.

DPS (Distance per stroke) development is essential for good swimming. Why? Quite simply, it is the foundation of the stroke upon which power and speed are superimposed. It doesn't work the other way around. (add length to stroke rating)
So young swimmers will spend a lot of time in training lengthening their stroke. At this stage, stroke rate is considered a finishing touch!
It is far more important to develop great length and power through the developing years. (most young swimmers over-rate when racing and thus spin their wheels)
Young swimmers who never sufficiently develop DPS do not progress as seniors.
In fact, benchmark stroke length factors are an excellent guide to who will go on! So lengthen your stroke in training and hold it as much as possible when racing.

23-Dec-11 DIVING & TURNING..
Many swimmers and parents are surprised when they learn that nearly all of the improvements in elite records and performances (excluding the ‘suit’ era) have not come from increases in swimming velocity but substantial improvements in the underwater phases of diving and turning.
In other words, they are not swimming any faster, but improving their turn speed and underwater work!!!
In fact, race analysis has shown that some gold medals swims were 4th or even 5th in free swimming velocity (in other words, they just out turned and streamlined the opposition.
So the message is clear, work on your turns each training session and always seek to improve turn speeds and streamlining !!!!!!

Coaches endless rave on about maintaining a good streamline position. Why?
In fact there are many reasons ..
1. Moving through the water causes resistance, (quite a bit) so being 'narrow' to the water will always be more efficient & faster for any given power.
2. Resistance increases exponentially with speed, so at race pace it becomes even more important!
3. Essential for a neat dive entry. (the most critical aspect in the diving sequence)
4. Critical for underwater speed & distance after the dive entry & during turns.
5. Stable base position for good technique in all strokes.
So always apply and maintain a good streamline.

Many young swimmers struggle with Butterfly and it is often the case that they avoid entering Butterfly events and express a desire not to train it. Bad choice!
The foundation of Butterfly is the dolphin kick and the strength it develops is essential to powerful swimming in all events, except Breaststroke. Interesting, core strength development is crucial to good development in most athletic sports. ( have a look at a runners abdominals) These muscles are vital for transfer of power through the body and thus speed.
So even if Butterfly is not your favourite stroke remember its dynamics will help you in ALL your sporting endeavours and so its worth persisting with.

What are your favourite events? What are your best chances of success in those events at which meets? And how does one plan for the future.
Obviously, this will vary from swimmer to swimmer. But as a general rule most major swim meets (such as State, Metropolitan, School Regional & State PSSA & CHS) are positioned in the second half of the Summer season. Therefore, the first half of Summer can be viewed as preparation for the second half.
Not unlike age development over many years, seasonal planning involves tackling aerobic and endurance events in the first half of Summer. This provides a better platform for later speed work & targeting 50m’s and 100m’s later in the season.
So once again, don’t skip the distance events early in the season|!

Its good to specialize in a particular stroke or event? If so, at what age &/or level?
Its not recommended for swimmers under 13yrs to specialize. Young swimmers should aim to become competent in all strokes, culminating in a good 200IM! They may still have their favourite &/or best event, but it is interesting that this can change in later years. Even elite swimmers do not specialize completely.
However, at about 12 yrs of age some degree of preference is usually required for higher achievers to be competitive at State or Australian Age level. Thus the targeting of particular events at that age and level. You will note that in training we still keep the medley going, even when sets involve such targeting.
So don’t be shy in entering events which are not your best. It’s a great way to improve on your weaknesses.

04-Nov-11 SPRINTING..
Young swimmers need to keep in mind that sprinting involves a few changes to your usual swimming pattern.
1. Breathe only on need - and only to your favoured side! This is because breathing slows your stroke rate, which must be high in a sprint: while oxygen uptake is NOT needed for such a short 50m distance (enough oxygen exist for that short period for max. effort).
2. For freestyle lift hip strongly as hand passes underneath this increases torque and power.
3. Kick should be max.
4. Increase speed last stroke to wall. In freestyle stretch onto your side for maximum reach.
5. Practice hypo in training - this both trains the body to tolerate CO2 build-up (which triggers breathing) and represents slow motion sprinting!
Its only one lap, but you must practice in training what you need to do race day.

Remember early summer training is typically aerobic so expect a few bigger sets and endurance work. This is the platform for latter pace and speed work which will be applied in the coming months.
In other words you need to get fit first before engaging in speed work.
Alas, too few get fit enough first! Volume is only one training stimulus: Its not the only one, but it still counts!
So be prepared for some hard works sets. The benefit comes further on in the season.
A realistic expectation is a step or staggered pattern of PB’s development during the season and the best results will be seen at the end of the season. (When the important meets are).