Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Avoid the Slosh Zone

Something occurred to me while swimming with the Masters this Saturday. For one thing, I got thrown to the wolves... er.... swam in the fast lane. So I got an opportunity to watch the fastest of the fast guys up close. Even when swimming a workout, I'm always observing what the other swimmers are doing, both good and bad. Sometimes my underwater perspective helps me coach them differently than I do when I'm just coaching from the deck. Anyways, we did a really fun workout (fun as defined by "really hard work that was kinda cool") called "Rush Hour". We did 4 sets of 250 yards with 4 swimmers in a lane. The first swimmer takes off, followed closely by the 2nd and 3rd swimmers, all swimming at a moderate-to-easy pace. The 4th swimmer has to sprint by all of them and reach the wall, execute a good strong turn and glide out in front of them to lead the next lap. Repeat with the new 4th swimmer sprinting so that each 4 lengths you are sprinting and the other three recovering. It really gives you some motivation to put on a good strong sprint when you have to get by all of your lane mates.

So what I noticed was that the fastest swimmers were able to move past me without my feeling anything until their feet were ahead of my shoulders. In other words, they had no sideways slosh from their stroke, none of their energy was being used to move water in directions that did not propel them forwards. From swimmers in other lanes to my sides who are not as efficient, I was feeling moderate to severe sloshing, meaning that some of the energy in their stroke was being used to push water sideways. In some cases, this was due to inefficiencies in the pull phase of their stroke, in others it was due to that sideways frog-kick that some swimmers give every few kicks, especially when breathing (the body naturally seeks to stabilize itself by turning your legs into water-skipper legs and reaching out to the sides).

In order to swim our fastest and most efficiently, we have to work diligently to reduce the slosh effect, to direct all of our energy to moving water behind us only. So if you go and swim, visualize yourself moving past an object. How is the water that you're moving affecting that object? Does it reach the object before you do? Some people's hand entry actually pushes some water forward, if the hands are not slicing neatly into the water. Are you splashing the lane beside you as your elbow drops on entry, creating a big sploosh with each stroke? Are you pushing water sideways underwater with your pull? Is your kick inadvertantly moving water down or sideways?

Sometimes in the summer, if I'm lucky enough to get an outdoor lane all to myself and the sun overhead, I can see the shadow created by the water ripples that I am moving. Ideally, this shadow looks like the triangular wake of a boat stretching out behind me, but I'm alert to any ripples or eddies that are extending from my sides. This is a great feedback mechanism if/when you have access to observe yourself like this. You can also ask a friend to watch from above if you have a calm moment when the pool opens and the lanes are empty.

Here's the whole workout from this Saturday:

Skill: Forearm Catch
Drill: Closed Fist

250 Swim
4 x 75: 50 Closed Fist, 25 Open
200 Swim
4 x 75 Kick, Build Each
150 Swim


1 x 250 Pull, work Distance per Stroke

2 x 50 Swim Golf (score is time in seconds plus total strokes)

3 x 200 Desc. @ 3:15

4 x 250 m M. Rush Hour (last in line sprints to start each lap) @ :30 rest

5 x 25-50-75 5 sec. rest @ 1:20 pace (2:15 for each total set, with rest)

6 x 50 Cooling Down

4200 y

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fun on a Bike

This was posted on the Crossfit Endurance blog, and I just had to share. For anyone who loves bikes, this is just amazing. It's not the kind of biking that I do or that I could ever do (I'm way too chicken) but it's just so cool to see someone have that much control of their two-wheeled device that they can do these amazing things. Sometimes when I'm biking I feel like my bike is just an extension of my body, like it almost feels like I've grown wheels, but this guy just embodies that on a whole new level.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Two Exercises Every Swimmer Should Do (and Probably Every Biker and Maybe Every Runner)

So I've been working with the variety of Crossfit exercises for about eight months now, and while I totally believe the Crossfit methodology of constantly varied workouts, I know that not everyone has the time, inclination, money, interest, or opportunity to train like this. But I think that especially for swimming, there are two exercises that I've learned that really really transfer great power, so I wanted to share them here. Being as both exercises greatly increase your core strength, especially in back and neck, I think they'll be very beneficial in biking and running as well, since often in those two sports it's the tiring of the core muscles that lead to form deficiencies that eventually lead to slowing down (ever watched someone do the leaned-over "Ironman shuffle" at the end of an endurance race? That's core muscle exhaustion right there). Also, these two exercises can be done with a bare minimum of equipment (a kettlebell) in your own living room, garage, hotel room, wherever.

So here they are:

The Kettlebell Get-up
(also called a Turkish Get-Up)

No, not this kind of Turkish Get-up:

By the way, the first time I did a workout with a lot of Get-Ups in it, I couldn't believe how many muscle groups were sore afterwards. Two sheaths of muscle across my lower back took a big hit, along with some fiddly muscles in my neck, and all of those muscles that stabilize the shoulders. This exercise combines a weighted sit-up, a lunge, and a weighted arm extension for an excellent total-body strength workout.

And the Overhead Kettlebell Swing. If you've looked at other kettlebell videos or books (like the wonderful resource Enter the Kettlebell by Pavel Tsatsouline) you may have noticed that the Russian-style kettlebell swing only goes to about chest level. If you're curious why Crossfit (and I) believe that the overhead swing is superior, you can read this really fascinating little essay that, incidentally, also gives a really interesting window into how the Crossfit folks select their exercises for inclusion in the program. In addition to what they've said here, I'd add that for a swimmer, the overhead swing brings your lat muscles into play at the top of the swing because to counter the arc of a heavy kettlebell, you have to start pushing down with your lats before the swing reaches the top extension. Master this one, and you'll have those killer swimmer lats in no time! It totally blows that silly lat machine at the gym out of the water (literally).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Swim Heiroglyphics

For a lot of swimmers, one of the most confusing things is trying to read the sribblings on the whiteboard in the pool area, or on a workout found online. But learning the lingo of swimming can be really useful, especially if you get tired of just going in and swimming straight laps. I ran across this useful website with a glossary of swimming terms and abbreviations, not to mention a description of some of the common strokes and drills to help make sense of the workouts you might run across.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Not Designed With a Mom in Mind

I'll just have to say that whoever invented the karategi (or traditional white karate uniform) was probably not a mom. Sure, they have some mom-approved advantages. They're unisex so they can be handed down among siblings whether male or female and loose enough that growing kids don't require a new gi every year. However, white? C'mon, who thought that up? No mom would ask their kids to tussle around in something white and expect it to stay that color for two seconds. And one has to wonder whether the white color was specifically designed to keep women out of karate, or if that was an accidental side-effect of the color choice. Let's just say that there are many times when I really don't appreciate jumping around in all-white, and neither do the rest of my female friends in class.

If I ever get to the point where I can choose what I wear, I think it will be more along these lines! Some senseis wear black pants at the least, and that looks pretty appealing from where I stand. The best thing about gis though is there utter lack of any kind of commercialisation. In a sports world dominated by Nike Swooshes and Ironman M-Dots, the simplicity of the karate gi is refreshing. Until now that is...

Can you believe this? Adidas figured out a tacky way to introduce their three stripes onto the gi shoulders. I can hardly wait for the swoosh version to come out. For some reason, this just bugs the crap outta me, have they no shame?? Obviously not, or they wouldn't have put that much hair shellack on their models. You could break boards over those hairdos!

But in finding those photos, I did unearth this little gem: an article by Chuck Norris, Elvis, Priscilla, martial arts and me about teaching Prisciila Presley and meeting Elvis, who was a lifelong martial arts student who had been awarded a 7th degree black belt. And now it's time to try to scrub the muddy dog-paw stains off the back of my gi pants in time for class tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Gettin' All Rocky Balboa in the Garage Gym

I know those of you in the great far frozen North will scoff, but it's been a chilly 12 - 15 degrees Fahrenheit here the last few mornings and that is C-O-L-D to be getting up and getting a workout in. Our garage is approximately one degree warmer than the outside air temp I think, though without the wind chill it feels just a teensy tiny bit warmer. Over the past few months, Wayne has been working really hard to sort through old tools and camping gear and turn half of our garage into a home gym. There has been several motivations for this. The first of course is just that in the long run it will save us a fair bit of money. He was able to drop his club membership and we both dropped going to an outside Crossfit gym, and we will have the equipment for the garage just paid off in savings from all of that within a reasonable timeframe.

There are other factors at work though. For one thing, I hate to drive anywhere that I don't have to. As much as I would've loved to ride my bike out to do Crossfit all the time, the reality of the class schedule there was that I had to wedge it in among other commitments and the kids' schedule and so most of the time I had to drive. There's something in me that really rebels HARD about driving somewhere to go workout.

And then there was the injury/overtraining issue. I found that in doing something as intense as Crossfit in an environment that fostered heavy competition for times and rounds, and in a place where I was being pushed to do more weight than I really should've, I was always nursing some nagging injury. I know I'm a highly competitive person by nature, and so for me it's way better to do the same kind of workouts by myself, or with Wayne or a few friends in a much mellower more supportive atmosphere. I'm getting just as much out of the workouts, but am able to concentrate more on holding good form and on making sure I get the most out of each exercise in range of motion.

So it is that on these 12 degree mornings I find myself in the company of a few solid die-hard friends facing down some tough WODS (Workouts of the Day for those of you not familiar with the Crossfit slang). I love how we look all Rocky Balboa in our sweats and watchman's knit caps. No fancy schmancy gym garb here!

On Monday we did our home garage version of the Lumberjack 20, a tribute workout on Crossfit's main site to the victims of the Fort Hood shootings, 4 of whom (and 11 wounded) who came from one Crossfit affiliate, Lumberjack Crossfit. Since we live on a big hill, by necessity the 400 meter run that repeated 7 times in the workout was down and up the hill, which we have knicknamed Heartbreak Hill. And at a chilly 12 degrees, our lips were about freezing to our teeth during the hill runs! Here's the workout in all its glory:

20 Deadlifts (54 pound Kettlebell)
400 Meter Hill Run
20 Overhead Squats (45 pound bar)
400 Meter Hill Run
20 Kettlebell swings (1 pood = 36 pound kettlebell)
400 Meter Hill Run
20 Burpees
400 Meter Hill Run
20 Pullups
400 Meter Hill Run
20 Double-unders with jump rope
400 Meter Hill Run
20 Medicine Ball Squat cleans (20 lb ball)
400 Meter Hill Run

Yah, I know most triathletes scoff at Crossfit, and many are turned off by Crossfit's own sometimes-overbearing rhetoric. But expect to hear more from me about how Crossfit is having a positive impact on my overall fitness. Sure, triathlon is great for endurance training, something most Crossfit athletes seem to lack, but that's only one aspect of fitness. I'm working on a personal program for ultimate health and fitness balancing out areas of strength, endurance, speed, agility, flexibility, coordination, balance, overall body health, and more.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

Survived It

My last brown belt test, made it through. There were a lot of little things I thought I could've done better (aren't there always??) most especially my spinning side kicks continue to falter on the side with the injured hamstring. But nothing big went wrong, I didn't forget any kata or stand there with a blank expression when I needed to demonstrate a technique. And the head sensei stood practically right next to me the whole test, which only puts a teensy eensy bit MORE pressure on! I'm surprised I didn't draw a total blank just for that.

This is also the last test I will do with the kids, ever. We started out together as white belts several years ago. This test was open to Purple (which both of the kids are currently), Green, and Brown. My next test will be when I face all of the black belts and go for black, but that will be at least 6 months and no family or anyone else gets to watch.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I'd Prefer Not to be Run Down in the Road

That's why I had to go back and change before going out running. You see, I got this awesome UnderArmour insulated top at Goodwill on their Halloween sales rack. I guess it was there because it was orange (thus Halloweeny??) but it was only $2 and it's a great running shirt. I was about to head out the door when I noticed that had paired it with some black running tights. Ordinarily, you can probably guess that I don't really care about fashion when I'm running, but on the even of the Civil War game that will decide which Oregon team goes to the Rose Bowl, one has to be careful. I live in the land of the green and yellow Ducks and not the orange and black Beavers, so I had second thoughts about going out for a run among thousands of rabid duck fans streaming all sorts of yellow and green banners and pom poms from their SUV antennae. I wouldn't want one of them to get the wrong notion and just decide to run me over or something.

So I went for something a little more orange-and-turquoise. Hey, those are Ironman Florida colors, bring back some good memories while I'm at it.

As for the "O" hands, for those of you who have never had the pleasure of attending a Duck game at Autzen stadium, when the crowd starts in with the "O", and 60,000 fans are screaming, that place is insane. The crowd noise at Autzen Stadium has been recorded at over 127 decibels. That's about the same level as a jet on the runway, or a jackhammer. Loud. Lee Corso of ESPN College Gameday says that "Autzen Stadium is the loudest stadium that I have ever been in my entire life!" I'm thinking it might just exceed that decibel level tomorrow. Go Ducks!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Darned Bilateralism

I'm swimming along in the Saturday workout, enjoying the fact that my left hand is about 90% back to normal in my stroke. Just my index finger still doesn't have the strength to pull after being in a splint for so long and tends to bend on hand entry and catch. That will come back though.

I notice something odd though happening in my right hand. My right index finger is also lagging through the water, mimicking the damaged left hand! With all of my force of will, I can barely get the stupid right finger to straighten out, even though there's nothing wrong with it.

I think this illustrates why swimming can be so frustratingly difficult at times. When we run, our hands are pretty much working in parallel processes, swinging or pumping by our side. But when we swim, our hands have to do completely different things. One is pushing while the other is pulling, one is relaxing while the other needs to be engaged. It's like the old pat-the-tummy-rub-the-head thing, and can be really hard to sort out. In swimming, it's often only the force of our will that can improve our stroke. Swimming is a mental sport, we have to be able to bend all of our focus toward making our body do something that is often not very intuitive. It's not normal to have straight knees and floppy ankles, for instance. We can only accomplish that and achieve a good kick by making our body do something it's not really used to doing on land.

Swimming, it's all mental. You can take that as a double entendre!