SwimBox and Vasa Trainer Project: More Work w/Katie!

Before you read any more of today's blog, I want to let you know I'm 100% aware of how repetitive my posts about Katie's and Flaca's lessons are. And that's exactly how working on swimming should be, repetitive. As I've said before, swimming is a sport of centimeters, and every 100th of a second counts. So working on the minute details of your stroke and constantly reinforcing proper technique is exactly how you're going to make positive progress and help yourself to swim more efficiently. Yes, it can be boring at times, but you're always working at moving forwards. Especially with people who have been swimming for years and are set in their ways, changes take time. 

But anywayyyy, I wanted to start off my post about Katie's latest lesson with that little bit of background information so you don't think I'm just writing the same thing over and over again with different pictures. One thing Dan noticed during her recent lessons was that Katie's elbow was moving upwards as a result of her arm exiting the water too early. You want your elbow to stay on the same plane as your torso, not move higher or lower than that.

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In case you missed last week's post, Katie's lesson focused on connecting the movement of the finish of her stroke into the recovery. You want to keep your palm facing backwards and make a "J" shaped movement from the finish of your stroke into your recovery in order to fully benefit from the propulsion you get from your catch and pull. 

After working on this movement again Dan had Katie focus on the paddle you want to make from your fingertips to your elbow during the catch and pull of your stroke. In order to gain the maximum amount of propulsion from this paddle you want to make sure you're bending at your elbow, not your wrist. To ensure this Dan fashioned together a splint of sorts to prevent Katie from bending at her wrist and losing out on the majority of her paddle.

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The splint forces Katie to keep her arm straight from her fingertips to her elbow, which creates the largest paddle possible to propel her through the water. The larger the paddle, the more efficient your stroke will become, and the easier it will be to move forward faster. Using the splint gives Katie better body awareness as to what she's looking for when she removes it and swims on her own. Understanding the feeling you're looking for when making a change to your stroke is key to making the change properly and progressing more quickly. 

In between her lessons here Katie's doing workouts on her Vasa Trainer SwimErg that she has at home to work on strengthening the main muscles we use for swimming as well as up her endurance. An example of one of her workouts is listed below.

Repeat each three times:

  • two minutes of good catch movement (do butterfly or freestyle catch; no watts needed, just focus on proper movement)
  • two minutes freestyle catch at 20-40 watts (make sure you focus on keeping a good catch movement - keeping proper movement is key, especially when picking up the pace)
  • :15 seconds of freestyle catch at 100+ watts x 6; :30 seconds rest in between each round

Being able to focus on strengthening these movements outside of the pool is such an important piece to training and progressing in your times. The more endurance you gain on the SwimErg the more efficiently you'll be able to move through the water when you hop back in the pool. It's also a great tool to use when you're trying to find proper body awareness.

Stay tuned to see how Flaca's lesson goes this week!

The Best Drills to Perfect Your Open Water Sighting

When you wake up every morning, open your front door, and walk straight into a wall of sticky, uncomfortable humidity, what does that mean? Besides that you want to turn right back around and bask in the refreshingly cool feeling of your air conditioning that is. Summer's here in Northern Virginia! And in the summer open water races and triathlons take over a lot of your calendars, so we thought this was the perfect opportunity to have a refresher course in our favorite sighting drills.

The first place to start, especially if you're learning to sight for the first time, is Alligator Eyes Drill. This is kind of like a modified tarzan drill where you're swimming with your head and shoulders much higher in the water than you normally would. For Alligator Eyes you want to swim with just your eyes above the surface of the water, keeping your nose and mouth in the water, allowing you to see what's in front of you. 

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Make sure not to lift your head up too far when practicing this drill, as doing so will quickly drain your energy from having to hold your head up without the help of the water. It's important to know that lifting your head for this drill will cause your hips to drop, increasing your drag/resistance, and causing your stroke to become less efficient. Don't worry, it's just a drill! When you go back to swimming normally, with your head down and your eyes looking at the bottom of the pool, your body will go back to the proper position.

To take a breath simply put your head back down into normal position and breathe to the side, just like you would in your regular freestyle. When practicing this drill in a pool, find something in front of you to use to practice your sighting. 

My next favorite progression for sighting is a Rolling Sight, which is an advanced version and the next step towards sighting in the open water. This is actually the exact way I've come to sight in open water, as it very easily incorporates into a correct freestyle. I used to swim Tarzan Drill every time I got in the open water, and let me tell you, it wasn't pretty. It also zapped my energy and I kind of looked like an injured seal...but anyway, back to the point,.

A Rolling Sight works on adding a sight to your stroke while still swimming your regular freestyle. As opposed to keeping your head up the whole time, like in Alligator Eyes, you want to lift your eyes out of the water every 4-6 strokes. This movement is meant to quickly sight an object in the distance, most likely a buoy if you're racing, to keep you on course. Keep in mind this sight is not meant for you to be able to see everything perfectly! It's a quick look up to check where you are and keep you swimming in the right direction.

Play around with this one the first time you try it out to get the right number of strokes for you. Some people swim straight without evening trying and only need to sight every 8-10 strokes, whereas others need to sight more frequently. My stroke count in between sights varies depending on how choppy the water feels and if I'm feeling jostled around. There's no right number, just whatever feels comfortable to you. However, it's always better to sight more frequently than less frequently to stay on the safe side. 

SwimBox and Vasa Trainer Project: Katie's Third Lesson

In case it's not clear at this point, these ladies are really dedicated to improving their swimming! We've been seeing them as close to once a week as all of our schedules will allow, and both Katie and Flaca are making huge improvements to their stroke technique with our swim lessons and work on the Vasa Trainer SwimErg. If you haven't already make sure to check out the breakdown of Flaca's lesson from last week here to read about her work on elbow position and timing of her catch.

The main focus of Katie's lesson this week was on her finish and recovery. With so much emphasis on having and maintaining a proper catch position, the finish of your stroke into your recovery is often an overlooked aspect of freestyle. In order to fully benefit from the propulsion you get from your catch and pull, you need to keep your palm facing backwards and make a "J" shaped movement from the finish of your stroke into your recovery. For clarification, the recovery is the portion of your stroke from when your hand exits the water after you finish your pull to when you place your hand back in the water to start your next catch. Essentially, the entire time your arm is out of the water is your recovery.

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To practice and gain better understanding of the "J" shape we're looking for, Dan had Katie work on just the finish of her stroke without actually making any full stroke movements. Lying face down in the water with her hands at her sides, Katie made an egg beater motion with each arm, only pushing backwards and slightly out using her forearm and hand. Dan has his hand in the water to give Katie something to aim for in order to give her direction as to where we want her to finish her stroke.

It's commonly thought that you want to pull back and finish your stroke in a straight line. And in a perfect world, that would make sense. BUT, because your hips are rotating during the entirety of your stroke, it pulls your arm and hand inward towards your body. This movement prevents you from pulling back in a straight line, and will even result in recoveries starting behind you or stacked directly on top of your torso. We use the "J" shape movement to keep your paddle in a straight line and to keep your palm facing back - not up towards the surface - in order to connect the fluid motion into your recovery. The finish of your stroke, the "J" shape, is the beginning of your recovery.

SwimBox and Vasa Trainer Project: Lesson 2 w/ Flaca Guerrero

Time for week 3! In case you're just joining us, make sure you go back and read about our first and second lessons in our SwimBox and Vasa Trainer project we're currently working on with Katie Gage and Flaca Guerrero. Unfortunately Katie's daughter was sick this week and she was unable to come in, so we worked solely with Flacca on catch position and the timing of the movements of her catch, pull, and rotation.

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At this point in our project I'm sure you've noticed a lot of repetition, and you're right. Our lessons are full of do this, do it again, again, make a correction, do it again, again, and so on. Repetition of small movements helps reinforce the movement as well as gives you more body awareness of how you want to feel in the water. We also drive concepts into the ground to make sure you're keeping proper positioning even when you're tired and frustrated. It can be a hard process, but one that definitely pays off. 

One of the biggest things Dan noticed we need to correct with Flaca's stroke is that her wrist was always beating her elbow to the finish of her stroke. When that happens she's losing the power of her catch entirely and her arm becomes drag in the water. To work on this Flaca practiced hinge drill, which is where you float on your stomach with your arms in a superman position, and the only movement you make is in your forearm by beginning your catch. This drill is great to show the amount of power you develop from your catch as well as the position you're looking for when your hand first enters the water to start the catch.

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After working in the pool for a bit we moved over to the Vasa Trainer SwimErg (for the first time with Flaca!) to have an in depth look at her catch and pull. Being able to work with clients and actually move them into the proper position is one of our favorite things about the SwimErg. There's nothing else out there that lets us do this while at the same time being able to mimic the resistance of the water. This week Dan worked with her on using her elbow to bring her arm forward and keeping her elbow from dropping.

When your hand enters the water you want to make sure your elbow is the driving force that has moved your arm forward to get to that position. By keeping your elbow up and not letting it drop (which is the natural movement your body wants to make) your hand will be setup to enter the water in proper catch position. This will prevent you from having your hand enter the water, and THEN move it into proper catch position. Swimming is a sport of centimeters, and every tenth of a second counts, so setting this up properly adds up to quite a bit of time that you would have wasted otherwise. 

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A very important thing to be mindful of when focusing on not letting your elbow drop is that you don't start to make these movements with your shoulder joint. As you move from your catch into your pull and the finish of your stroke make sure your shoulder blade is sliding downward towards your heels. This will ensure you're utilizing your back muscles instead of your shoulder joint, which prevents injury as well as gives you a greater power in the water.

SwimBox and Vasa Trainer Project: Lesson 2 w/Katie Gage and Lesson 1 w/Flaca Guerrero

Week 2 is in the books and we've already made a ton of progress! Katie Gage came in for her second lesson and focused on rotation, and we had Flaca Guerrero jump in the pool for the first time and begin her work on her head/body position. Flaca wasn't able to get on the Vasa Trainer just yet, as we need to fix a few foundational things first, but we'll get there soon.

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What would you say if I told you Katie didn't rotate before her lesson this week. Crazy, right? It's actually a lot more common than you'd think, because rotation can get a bad reputation. The key is to not over-rotate. For a swimmer who uses a relaxed recovery, the sweet spot is to have a 45 degree rotation. This amount of rotation allows the mobility to take a proper full stroke (catch, pull, finish, recovery), as well as a proper breath. Swimmers that use a straight arm recovery can get away with less rotation, but probably no less than 35 degrees. And as you become a better/stronger swimmer you can comfortably alternate between both types of swimming depending on the situation.

In Katie's case her lack of rotation was causing an improper catch position. Because of this improper position she was not able to develop and maintain a paddle with her hand/forearm to propel her through the water. To have a proper catch, and in turn create a strong paddle, you want to start your rotation as soon as you start your catch. 

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Back to the SwimErg! After focusing on rotation and the proper timing we hopped out of the pool to do some catch position exercises. One of our favorite things about the Vasa Trainer SwimErg is that we can focus on small movements without making you do the entire stroke. This makes it easier for your brain to understand the change you're trying to make and allows you to make changes faster than you would be able to otherwise. It's the same concept we use when we work on something in the pool and have our clients use a snorkel, because it takes the breath out of the equation and allows you to focus on the task at hand that much better.

For Flaca's first lesson we had her get in the pool and see her stroke for the first time. This allows us to see the pros and cons of her stroke and figure out what we need to start working on first. With Flaca, the first things our instructor Dan noticed were her head position, body position, and sinking legs.

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By making a small change in Flaca's head position it started to fix her sinking torso and legs, as well as keep her much more streamlined as she moves through the water. Before we put her on the SwimErg it's important to make some foundational changes to her stroke and practice those in the water. Trying to change too many things at once will overload your brain and most likely will result in no change at all. It's very important to us to focus on injury prevention above all else, and making these changes before moving forward will help keep Flaca swimming safely for the rest of her life.

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By having Flaca look downward towards the bottom of the pool, as opposed to slightly forward and looking ahead of herself, she's already made huge changes to her body position and sinking legs. Take a look at the picture above! The before shot is on the right and the after shot is on the left. Because this is such an important part of a strong, injury free, and efficient freestyle Dan had Flaca work on this for her entire lesson. Can't wait to put her on the SwimErg next week!

SwimBox and Vasa Trainer Project: Lesson 1 with Katie Gage

Yesterday marked the first day in our SwimBox and Vasa Trainer lesson plan for athlete Katie Gage!  Over the next few months we'll be working with both Katie and her friend/swim training partner Flaca Guerrero on their swim technique. During this project we'll be combining swim lessons, swim technique training, and Vasa Trainer SwimErg workouts to help improve their technique, strength, and overall performance in the water.

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Katie started her first lesson off by jumping in the pool so we could see her swim. One of the keys to the swim lessons at SwimBox is checking our swimmers' starting point. Once we have that our instructor pinpoints the pros and cons of the swimmer's stroke, explains these to the swimmer, and then develops a lesson plan of where to begin and how we'll progress forward. So after our instructor Dan McGuire watched Katie swim he decided her catch was what needed to be worked on first. What did that mean? To the Vasa!

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If you're not familiar with the Vasa Trainer the one we work with is their SwimErg. The SwimErg is a machine that allows you to focus on your technique while at the same time strengthening your endurance and power. Like a rowing erg, the SwimErg has an adjustable airflow system that simulates the resistance you feel while swimming in the water. It's really a great tool to help us break down swimming technique and focus on one aspect at a time. It's also a rare opportunity to be hands on in swimming, which can be extremely helpful when a swimmer is having trouble figuring out a new movement they need to make with their body.

With Katie on the SwimErg we spent the rest of her lesson explaining the movements behind a proper, and safe, catch position. When I refer to catch position here I'm talking about hand position as it enters the water, arm/elbow position as she catches and pulls through the water, and shoulder position/movement while pulling through the water to the finish of the stroke.

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Quick tip? You want your shoulder blade to glide down your back towards your back pocket (imagine that you're wearing jeans while swimming, but don't actually try this...it's not fun). Keeping this movement allows your body to engage the proper muscles for your catch and pull, as well as prevents you from utilizing your shoulder joint to muscle through the water. Not only is the VASA a great tool to help us gain/work on proper swimming technique, but it gives us the perfect avenue to show you how to make the movements to stay injury free.

Now that Katie has a better grasp of the proper movements she needs to be making in her freestyle catch and pull, we gave her some workouts to do on the Vasa Trainer SwimErg she has at home. Stay tuned next week to read about Flaca's first lesson!

Pull Ups and Push Ups for Days

When you wake up every week day at 3:45am and head into swim practice, what's the best thing that can happen? DRYLAND. Dryland was the best surprise I ever got when I used to walk in the door to my morning swim practice in my high school days. Why? Because it meant I didn't have to plunge into the depts of the frigid, ice-like water that was the pool at George Mason University (don't try to tell me I'm a wimp; that's the coldest water at any pool I've ever swam at). They used to (not sure if they still do) keep their water at 78-79 degrees, which is basically the equivalent to dry ice in the swimming world. 

So when dryland days rolled around and I got to wake up at o'dark thirty but NOT jump directly into the icy waters akine to that of Antarctica I was one happy kid. But when I transitioned into working with mostly triathletes and found out they didn’t do dryland exercises, or really knew what the word dryland meant (apparently that’s a swimming term), I decided something had to be done about that. How could I let some of the happiest workouts I used to have when I was younger go unrecognized? Anyway, I’ll stop my rambling and reminiscing and move on to the meat of this post. The best dryland exercises swimmers can do to to benefit their swimming: pull ups and push ups.

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Pull ups are really great because they focus on strengthening the same muscles you use during freestyle without needing consistent technical expertise. Meaning that you can safely do them by yourself without a coach watching over your every move. That being said, you should definitely start these exercises with a coach present to make sure you're starting with good form. Having good form is one of the keys to making sure dryland exercises are giving you the most benefit, as well as keeping you injury free.


Pull ups work your back, rear shoulders, and forearms. This move also focuses on strengthening your lats better than any other exercise on the market, which is one of the main muscles used during your freestyle pull. You want to start with your hands shoulder width apart, palms facing away from you. While keeping your shoulders back and down, try to pull your elbows toward the ground. This is my favorite cue to use to help make sure you're engaging the proper muscles for a pull up.

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Now if you’re like me and have trouble doing pull ups without assistance, then your best place to start off with is negatives, which strengthen the same muscles without having to actually pull your body up from the ground. A negative is a movement where you stand under a pull up bar, use a box/stool to jump up from and grab the bar, placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart with palms facing away from you. Using the momentum from your jump, pull yourself upward until your chin is above the bar. This is your starting position. Now slowly, and with control, lower yourself while keeping your core tight and focusing on using your lats to bring you back down to the box/stool. Make sure you keep your shoulders and back and down while lowering yourself. This move might sound easy but it can definitely be a tough one. Whenever I do these I’m usually sore for a few days afterwards.

Moving onto the push up, which, done correctly, is an upper body workout AND a core workout. Think plank, but with additional work on your upper body. This combo of strength is what swimming is all about, using your upper body to propel you forward through the water and using your core to stabilize you as you do it.

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Both of these exercises can be done without the use of weights and take up very little time. Try adding them to your workout routine 2-3 times a week to start strengthening your swimming muscles. In the beginning you might not notice a difference, but as you progress and get stronger you’ll definitely see some changes in and out of the water. Most notably for me is that I now understand the feeling I’m looking for when I pull during freestyle (which I definitely didn't when I was growing up and swimming 10 times a week).

Doing these dryland moves in conjunction with your normal swim workouts is not only a great way to add strength, but also to give you more body awareness of the movements you’re making in the water.

Jarrett Brumett Guest Series Post #2: How Strength Training Helps You Recover

You just finished a week of your highest volume in the pool yet and you’re drooling over next week’s taper. The taper hits, but you’re still feeling like your limbs are lead. Not only that, but your coach has a dryland session planned for you later and you’re shaking in your Speedo just thinking about trying to lift later. One of two things are going to happen. #1 You hobble out of dryland feeling even worse than before and look for the nearest pillow to cry into. #2 You walk out feeling fresh and re-invigorated from the special methods that were thrown in to help your system recover. How do you accomplish #2? I’m glad you asked.

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How Dryland Can Help Your Recovery

We’re so used to thinking of dryland to increase our strength and explosiveness that we rarely look at other potential physiological benefits. Like how it can bring balance back to the autonomic nervous system, increase delivery of blood to recovering tissue, and provide a nice mental break from the repetitiveness of your competition season. There are several ways that this can all be accomplished, the key is to understand some of the physiology at play in order to best implement all of these benefits. 

There are two main physiological systems that I view as being able to be influenced in the weight room for recovery: The Autonomic Nervous System and the Circulatory (cardiovascular and lymphatic) System. Both of these are powerful influences in ensuring that you, the athlete, are fully recovered. They also directly play with your tissue quality, nutrient absorption, and inflammatory profiles. And both have specific ways to maximize their function for recovery.

Working with the Autonomic System

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is comprised of two parts: the sympathetic (think fight or flight) and parasympathetic (think rest and digest) systems. A common problem when you're over-worked is that you become stuck in a state of sympathetic dominance. Meaning, your parasympathetic system is not performing well and you're never tapping into a good recovery-driven state. The curious thing is that you can also have the sympathetic system be dampened so that you can’t tap into what you need to perform optimally. Or, you could even have it so that they both suck and everything is screwed. It’s never a black and white problem, and as more research comes out, we are starting to see just how complex everything is. One common theme that keeps getting driven home, however, is the need for balance and the importance of developing a good system solely meant to seek out this balance.

This can be done over time with good warm-up and cool-down protocols in every training session. But you need to 100% emphasize this element when creating a program that facilitates recovery. Creating an athlete that can easily turn up or tone down is crucial and can be done by programming with some of the following methods.  

Parasympthetic Coaxing

The 100% best way to improve the function of your parasympathetic nervous system is through breathing drills. In my last post I touched on their importance as well, so I’m not going to beat a dead horse. But starting your session with a postural-based breathing drill and ending it with a relaxing, decompressive breathing drill will go a long way. My personal favorite drill for ALL ATHLETES to perform at the end of their cooldown is Feather Breathing.

Another great way is to put an emphasis on low-threshold, somatic movement (easy and reflexive movement). Some light mobility drills can do this, but the key is that they need to be LIGHT. If the drill causes you to hold your breath, it’s not a good fit for this purpose. There should be no need for feed-forward tension, it should be reflexive and comfortable. I’ve actually found some drills of this style to be very useful for increasing mobility when done correctly, even though they don’t put anything on stretch. Your movement quality and fitness-level will highly influence what is right for you, but there are a few go-to’s that I use for everyone:

Sympathetic Coaxing

As I said earlier, sometimes the sympathetic system may be dampened and needs to be revved up. But, even if it doesn’t, revving it up enough just to stimulate the system can be a very powerful recovery tool. Either way, the key is to give it just enough stimulus without creating more metabolic stress. There are two different ways I like to perform this depending on where you are in your performance schedule and what my overall goal is for the session.

If the goal is still to create a training stimulus, it's best to use a form of dynamic-effort work, as it will still help improve force output. This means that none of your lifts will exceed ~70% of your max, and are done for lower reps and higher sets. This is commonly used in powerlifting circles to help with enhancing recruitment of muscles and rate of force development without adding stress to your system. It’s also good for working on motor patterns that need practice since all these movements are performed with very little fatigue. The trick is to find a total-body movement that is a beneficial for your specific sport, which in this case, is swimming. Personally, I use pushup and pull up variations, or a trap-bar deadlift for my swimmers. With athletes that don’t have true One-Rep-Maxes (in terms of lifting), it highlights the importance in recording training weights and knowing roughly how much weight an athlete can move at a particular rep range. I have found that in general, a resistance that they have previously done for a hard set of 8-10 reps will be about what they should use for dynamic effort. So if one of my teenage female athletes needs a band to perform 8 pullups, she will use that same banded assistance to knock out this method. And the same is true for the opposite end of the spectrum. If an athlete does pushups with 45lbs on their back for a hard set of 10, they will use that same weight for a dynamic effort day.

Programming this is simple, you want to do 6-10 sets of 1-3 reps with anywhere between :30 - :60 seconds rest. You then coach them to perform each rep with the tension and force as if it was a max effort lift.

The other method I will use to stimulate the system is High Resistance Intervals. Ideally this method is performed with a heart rate monitor, but can also be effective with a timed interval. For this method, you choose a ballistic-style movement that never reaches top velocity and also lacks any eccentric loading (read as the lengthening portion of the lift, as in the lowering into a squat).

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The eccentric portion of a lift is what is known to create the most micro-tears in the tissue. By removing this portion you are significantly lowering the stress of the movement. You perform that movement, at an intense pace for :08 - :10 seconds, then rest until the heart rate has reached an ideal, rested rate. This ideal will be different for each athlete, but 120 bpm is usually a safe bet for most. The other option is to perform “every minute on the minute,” in which you do your :08 - :10 seconds of work, then active recovery for the rest of the minute.

My personal favorite movement for this method is Rope Slams, as seen below, and then I use specific active recovery drills, as you will see in the next section.

Working with the Cardiovascular and Lymphatic Systems

In a simplified view, these systems work together to not only transport nutrients to your tissues, but also to transport byproducts from your tissue to be processed. So to maximize their influence on recovery, you ideally want to help mobilize nutrients/byproduct and increase fluid flow.

The simplest way to do this is to foam roll. And not even the hardcore foam rolling that everyone seems to think is needed to be effective (because yes, that can be pretty painful). Simply spending 30 seconds of some semi-gentle rolling can be enough to help get some blood into some of your tissue.

The next way that’s almost equally as simple is through dynamic mobility drills. I'm using the term mobility drills as I don’t necessarily mean just passive stretching. Passive stretching has it’s time and place, but I’d much rather see some active, dynamic mobility work. The pulsating tension in dynamic mobility movements has the potential to create a pumping mechanism for fluids and stimulate synovial movement in your joints. My two favorites for swimmers are the Adductor Rockback and the Quadruped Lat Mobility.

The final way to help get some fluid movement is through good ol’ fashioned, steady-state cardio. Keeping you heart rate around 130 bpm (again, this is athlete specific) for 30-60 minutes can be very rejuvenating on your system. At this heart rate, it should also be fast enough to create full expansion of the left ventricle and increase the overall stroke volume of the heart, which can also improve the your overall endurance.

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One trick I use with a lot of my swimmers that combines the last two sections is a method I call the Hybrid Cardiac Output Method. It’s pretty simple, you have the athlete keep up their heart rate to the desired BPM by doing dynamic mobility and medicine ball drills. So long as they don’t hold their breath on any of the drills, you will get the increased left ventricle expansion and you will also help to facilitate more blood flow into the tissues that you’re mobilizing. Win-win.

So, if your coach knows any of these methods, then rest assured, you’ll feel better leaving then when you came in. Not only that, you’ll leave a better athlete than when you came in. Next post I’m going to cover how we can maximize the direct performance benefits of strength training for swimmers. Stay tuned!

Not Kicking in Your Triathlon = Bad News

When it comes to the triathletes I know they're always telling me how they need to "conserve their legs" to be able to perform on the bike and the run. So what does this mean to them? It means they kick little to not at all during their swim. Before you try to tell me I’m wrong, I know that at least 75% of you have all thought to yourselves, “if I don’t kick during my swim, I’ll save that much more energy to use for the rest of my race.”

And you know what? I can’t blame you. On paper, that makes complete sense. But in actuality? That’s a terrible idea, and you’ll only be hurting yourself and hindering your race performance if you do so. Having a consistent kick during the swim portion of your triathlon is key to keeping proper body positioning, maintaining rotation, and preventing unnecessary drag from your legs sinking and being pulled behind you.

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Think of it this way, have you ever tried to run while keeping your arms motionless and straight at your sides? If you have, please tell me there’s video, because I would pay good money to see that. But seriously, imagine running without the aid of your arms. Not pretty, and it definitely isn’t efficient. Which if you think about it is what we're always aiming to be in these long races, efficient. The same goes for your kick in swimming. Your kick is needed to round out your stroke and keep the rest of your body/arms in line with what they need to be doing.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t want to go all out and be crazy with your kick either. There’s a sweet spot we’re looking for here. How do you find that sweet spot, you ask? Well, that’s what practice is for! You need to find a pace that you can maintain for the length of your swim, preferably longer, that isn’t detrimental to your energy stores and promotes a balanced and efficient swim. A small kick that stays up at the surface of the water, is driven from your hips, and doesn’t create too much of a splash is what you’re looking for. The best way to figure out this movement? Start by practicing out of the water to get the feel for a good pace and help your body become more aware of the movement goal.

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The pace is going to be different for everyone, so don’t go asking your friends how they kick during the swim portion of their triathlons and try to copy them (because if you do 3rd grade is going to call you asking for it's tactic back). Chances are high it’s not going to be right for you.

Put in the time to find that sweet spot. Don’t exit out of this window and keep on not kicking during your swims. If you do, the time and effort you’re putting in to work on technique and all the other aspects of your swim will have been a waste, and your race times will show it.

Worried because you don't know if you have a proper kick or not? Check out our video Kicking on Land to start from scratch and focus on learning each step properly before you even step foot back in the water.

Jarrett Brumett Guest Series Post #1: How Strength Training Can Help Bulletproof You

Necks, shoulders, hips and low backs. The areas that bark out to let you know that you did 4,500 yards yesterday. How can adding more exercise possibly help them to feel better? Well, by addressing the negative affects that a lot of swimming can have on the body:

  • Poor Breathing Mechanics and Core Stabilization
  • Poor Joint Dissociation and Body Awareness
  • Compensatory Shoulder Mechanics
  • Excessive Fatigue

I’ve seen these 4 variables time and time again plague elite-level swimmers. It’s why I actually put a priority in addressing them in my programming. Here’s how I do it:

Breathing Mechanics

All of my athletes start off with breathing exercises, whether they’re swimmers or not. It’s mandatory and pays HUGE dividends in how the core functions and it helps to modulate their nervous system into a better state to take load.

Swimmers get an emphasis on breathing work for a few extra reasons:

  • It helps to teach them how to create stiffness through their spine.
  • It helps to turn off the accessory breathing muscles and keep them from affecting shoulder mechanics
  • It can be used to improve thoracic and rib mechanics and address mobility restraints.
 Dysfunctional Breathing  courtesy of In Pursuit of Yoga

Dysfunctional Breathing courtesy of In Pursuit of Yoga

 Functional Breathing  courtesy of breathing.com

Functional Breathing courtesy of breathing.com

In fact, breathing work is so important for swimming that Dominic and I even made a course on it last year and it’s been spread throughout the world. We’ve had many swimmers reach out to us and note how simple of an intervention it was, yet how much time it shaved off.

Below is a video of one of my favorite drills for teaching diaphragmatic breathing to swimmers.

Once they can own a full breath, I let them practice it for a minute or two to try to really coax more rib expansion and then I move them onto this next drill to teach them how to create core stiffness.

This is incredibly important to address as many swimmers are in the habit of pulling their belly button to their spine, which has been actually proven by EMG to turn off a lot of the core musculature. Teaching them how to engage their abdominal wall and be able to maintain its tension throughout a breath cycle will lead to dramatic changes in spinal mechanics and will significantly help with alleviating stress off the low back. It also brings us into our next point….

Body Awareness

In the early progressions of strength work with a swimmer, it will literally be like watching a fish out of water. I have found that many swimmers have a poor ability to dissociate their joints and create the proper tension to execute many traditional strength movements. I’ve always hypothesized that it’s because the water gives resistance to their movements when they swim and their body gets used to the feedback. Then, when they’re out of the water, the volume of that feedback is significantly reduced, and thus their body awareness decreases. Admittedly, there’s no research to support my theory, but I can site many other strength coaches who have run into similar issues with their aquatic athletes.

The braced breathing work helps to kick start the joint dissociation, but it needs to be expanded upon to have a major effect. The tension from the drill helps to give feedback on spinal positioning. When they can create stiffness and get that feedback, they can prevent it from moving and doing the work. I can’t understate how many times I’ve seen swimmers try to use their spine for exercises. Pushups, rows, hinge work, squats, you name it, and I've seen a spine try to do it. By creating a solid and strong base with the core tension, you can prevent this and slowly build up other movements and teach them how to more appropriately load their joints.

Now even though I just drove home how important tension is for movement feedback, there are other gaps to be filled. You also want to teach the athlete to be able to inhibit their over-recruitment strategies and simply move through specific segments. This is great for those athletes that create high-threshold strategies for simple movements (read: athletes that tense up all the time when they don’t need to). One of my favorites of these drills to drive dissociation home is primal rolling. It’s actually an exercise that was created by a famous PT, named Gray Cook, to help clean up spinal firing patterns and encourage healthy spinal mechanics, which is a added plus for me since I mainly use it to get an athlete able to focus on dissociating limbs from trunk. To perform them, you simply lay on the floor and lift one leg up in the air and use that leg to pull yourself over. Sounds easy, right? Well, try doing that while keeping THE ENTIRE REST OF YOUR BODY LIMP, ESPECIALLY THE OTHER LEG! Not as easy as it sounds. See below.

Again, keep the whole body limp except the active leg. It’s super common to see swimmers shift their hips and try to use their trunk muscles during this movement.

By progressing the appropriate joint loading strategies and increasing the internal feedback, you are essentially making an athlete that will be easier to coach and correct, as well as one that is more body aware and able to detect changes in positioning. This is why it’s so common to have swimmers a month or two into training with me start to talk about how they can actually feel their lats now when they swim. They have better awareness, which gives them better access to the muscle, and then in turn can give them better feedback on accomplishing the movement correctly. Which again, brings us to our next point:

Shoulder Mechanics

If the Greek legend Achilles had been a swimmer, the story would have told of his weakness being his trap, not his heel. Swimmers are notorious for being trap-dominant and having poor shoulder mechanics. It is by far the number 1 complaint I get from my newer athletes.

The problem is that swimming under fatigue can really coax the shoulder into some bad positions, especially in freestyle. The athlete will often ditch using their upper back on the pull and instead try to recruit with the pecs while doing so in what we call downward rotation of the scapula. Think of this as a form of desk-posture. And it’s a pretty bad position to try to emit force from.  

Good strength training should help to place more balance across the shoulder and help to cue the athlete out of these pathological movements. A well thought out program will have a high emphasis on strengthening the upper back and lats as well as promoting that healthy movement and awareness of the shoulder positioning. Below is my favorite drill to give swimmers in their warm up to help warm their shoulders up:

Notice how I cue them to first keep the core tension? The tension creates awareness and then allows them to disassociate their shoulders from their spine. It comes full circle.

Fatigue Management

Fatigue management is probably the most important aspect of injury prevention that no one talks about. It’s actually so important, that SwimBox now offers a special service for it. And yes, strength training can help. Or I should say, it can help to prepare the system to take on more stress when implemented at the right time of year.

If an athlete starts strength training at a time of year when their swim volume is low, it will allow them to build their system up and condition their joints and tissue to be able to take on more work. That is why it’s called Strength AND Conditioning. We are conditioning the body to be able to do more and better work. To be fair, if a swimmer is regularly doing an ignorant amount of yardage and their body can’t keep up, it won’t matter how much strength work has been done or how much recovery work is implemented, they’re cruising for a bruising.

The important thing to note here is that the harder and more intense strength work is done when swimming is on the lighter side. When the athlete is building large amounts of volume, that is when strength work should be manipulated to accommodate all the stress that is already on their system, not add to it.

The manipulation doesn’t have to just be in pulling back on the amount, it can actually be manipulated in such a manner that it stimulates recovery. If a swimmer is really building volume and they’re showing high signs of fatigue, a strength session can be written to facilitate recovery and give them a bit more juice to get them through their build problem-free.

How can you make a dry-land session so that it helps the athletes to recover? The answer may actually surprise you, but you will have to wait for my next post to find out!

Bahamas Training Trip Recap: Week 2

It's been a little over two weeks since Dominic and I got back from our Bahamas Training Trip and I'm missing the sunshine and our swimmers even more than ever. Last year, the first year we hosted this trip, we had one group of swimmers and were there for 7 nights. This year we had two groups and were there for 19 nights...quite the jump if you ask me. Going into it we were more than a bit nervous we would be completely drained after saying goodbye to our first group, but thankfully with a day to rest in between groups (and a little, okay a lot, of rum cake) we found ourselves amped up to welcome our new swimmers and get back into the water with them.

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Last year's group and this year's first groups were made up entirely of women, so it was nice to have two guys join us for the second week. This entire group was made up of newcomers and it was great to get to show them around the cove and the island for the first time. The first morning swim in the cove was absolutely beautiful, everyone loved it and couldn't get over how clear the water was and how many sea creatures they could see while they were swimming. 10 minutes after we finished that workout? Torrential downpour. No stop in sight. Thankfully it was Sunday, which means traditional Bahamian breakfast was called for: chicken saus and johnny cakes.

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It might sound terrible, being on a gorgeous island for your swim training trip only to wake up to pouring rain your first morning. But is there anything better than a warm, comforting meal right after a long workout? Especially when that meal is hot soup, buttery grits, and thick cut johnny cakes with melted butter? I don't think so, and I'm definitely not one to see the silver lining, especially when it's raining. The first group of swimmers wasn't here on a Sunday, so unfortunately they didn't get to partake in this weekly tradition Bahamians have (restaurants only prepare this meal on Sunday mornings), but that just left more food for the second group! Chicken saus is essentially a rustic chicken soup with potatoes and juice from sour oranges mixed in with the stock. It's warm and the sour orange gives it a perfect tang mixed with the starchiness of the potatoes. Johnny cakes are cornmeal cakes that have a slight amount of sweetness, and grits are grits. If you don't know what grits are then you most likely didn't grow up in the south, which means I'll just describe them as savory oatmeal made from coursely ground corn kernels. There, that's my culinary lesson for the day. Back to swimming.

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One of our favorite aspects of this trip is the fact that we get to see our clients out of our Endless Pool applying what they work on in their lessons in a different environment. Some drills can feel differently in a 25M pool, and it's a great opportunity to help our swimmers work through the differences and get the proper feeling we're looking for. One of our pool workouts focused on only technique work, we weren't there to get the yardage in that afternoon (don't worry, we did anyway). We set the pool up as a circuit and got in some of our favorite drills: paddlehead, parachute on the head with a theraband around the ankles (lots of focus for this one), paddles in hands, and parachute around the waist. 

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This group of swimmers reallyyyy wanted to take advantage of getting to swim in some waves, so we actually took two trips to the ocean (not the cove) to work on entry and exit of the water. A lot of the work you need to do to prepare for this aspect of open water swimming is mental, and in my opinion you just need to bite the bullet and go. That being said, I hadn't swam in the ocean - in this respect - for years. Last year I watched and took pictures from the beach while everyone got their ocean workout in, so saying I was scared was a bit of an understatement. But I didn't panic, I made sure I had calmed myself down before walking towards the waves, and I just got in. As simple as that. Once I was out there I realized I just had to work with the ocean, not against it, and as long as I stayed calm I would be okay. And I'm SO glad I did because I saw countless schools of fish, sting rays, and the largest parrot fish I'd ever seen. It was great.

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I could honestly write about this trip for hours and still not be done telling you about everything we did, but I think you get the gist of it all. Wake up, swim, breakfast, break, swim, dinner, sleep, get up and do it all again the next day. Not to mention many of these athletes went for runs in between the swims everyday, so they definitely put in a lot of work. Yardage count? 33,000 yards. Not too shabby you guys. And by that I mean you crushed it.

This trip is such an incredible experience and one I'm so glad I get to be a part of. Having our swimmers travel with us to this special place and get a chance to swim in the sun is one of my favorite parts of the year, I can't thank our clients enough for making this trip possible. Can we go back yet?

Jarrett Brumett Guest Series: Strength Training for Swimmers

We're so excited to have Jarrett Brumett, owner of JB Pain and Performance Solutions taking the time to write for us about the importance of strength training for swimmers. His intro to this series is below.

I want to start this post off by removing a few misconceptions regarding strength training and the sport of swimming (especially in regards to endurance events). To put it bluntly: smart strength training can improve a swimmer’s performance, help facilitate their recovery, and decrease their risk of injury. Let me repeat that, SMART strength training can improve a  swimmer’s performance, help facilitate their recovery, and decrease their risk of injury. This means that strength training, when performed and done right, can:

  • Increase force production (without adding mass if necessary)

  • Improve mobility

  • Improve body awareness

  • Give powers similar to that in Disney’s The Thirteenth Year

  • Decrease overuse injuries

  • Improve breathing mechanics and utilization of the breath

  • Make you an all-around more useful person

  • Improve the effectiveness of a taper

  • Make you look better naked


Now I say when done RIGHT because incorrect execution or negligently programming can:

  • Mess with mechanics and reinforce poor body awareness

  • Increase injury rates

  • Cause overtraining AND completely kill a taper

  • Make me want to put my head through a wall

  • Add unwanted mass

I use a repetitive and semi-arrogant tone with this because over the years I've found swimming to be a completely different beast when compared to other sports. The means of force production is much more methodical, the amount of volume can seem ungodly to those outside of aquatic circles, and the importance of a well executed taper is often unrivaled compared to other sports.

Let's also not forget that a competitive swimmer, even in their early teens, is often a highly specialized athlete and has a totally different physiology when compared to athletes of land-based sports. This means that much more care needs to be taken in regards to their programming and its implementation.

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With all of these factors hanging in the balance you can see why dryland training for swimmers can get pretty tricky, especially if you’re actually trying to address deficits and get the swimmers stronger and faster. It’s not as straightforward as, “just lift more weight,” or “just do more pushups.” There are some easy methods and ideologies that can be implemented that will get people faster, with less wasted effort.

So that brings me back to my point: smart strength training can improve a swimmer’s performance, help facilitate their recovery, and decrease their risk of injury. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to dive further into these subjects and give you things you can implement into your dryland training to help you to channel your inner-Phelps in the water. You will learn:

  • Do’s and don’ts of exercise selection

  • How breathing interventions can be used to strengthen your core

  • How to prevent shoulder and low back injuries

  • What exercises have been proven to help your speed in the water

  • How many bullet points I can put into one blogpost

  • How to adjust your dryland when on a taper

  • How to use dryland to facilitate recovery when you’re beat down from high volume

  • How to train your core for swimming

If all of this tickles your fancy, then stay tuned and prepare for the gainz.

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Bahamas Training Trip Recap: Week 1

As I write this I can't believe I'm sitting outside at a restaurant in the Bahamas in 81 degree weather. Last year was the first time we did this trip and we were here for a total of six nights (five nights for our swimmers), and this year we've been here since 2/15 and still have four nights to go. This is one of those times I can really appreciate owning my own business and the perks it can come with. Don't be fooled, this trip is a lot of work, before and during, and my downtime is usually limited to about 20ish minutes a day, but I know when to see things from a positive light when I need to. 

Our first group of swimmers landed on 2/16 and we went right to work. Well, after a few drinks and some lunch that is. Less than 2 hours in the Bahamas and Dominic and I were already leading them to the pool for their first workout.

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The days on this trip are setup pretty similarly every day. 7am open water swim, group breakfast cooked by yours truly, free time, 1:30pm pool swim, then it's time for more food before collapsing into the pillows and getting up to do it all over again the next day. Think that sounds like a lot of swimming? At the end of this week the ladies had each swam over 20K meters in 5 days. So yea, I'd call that a lot of swimming. 

One of everyone's favorite parts of this trip are the morning open water swims, which we do in a gorgeous cove behind our hotel. The cove swims are used to see where everyone is starting at, then work on open water drills and techniques to get them better prepped for their upcoming seasons and work on their problem areas. We set up a course with two of our buoys and do workouts around that course. One day this week we brought our swim parachutes to have them work on adding resistance and bringing some of the drills we do in the pool into the open water. This helps familiarize what we do at SwimBox with the swimming they'll be doing when they compete.

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After our morning open water swims in the cove we all shower/rinse the salt off (or not shower, I've decided the salt water is my favorite new product for styling my hair) and scarf down as many pancakes and eggs as I can whip up. Once everyone is done with breakfast our down time varied. For instance one day we explored the island on foot, another the swimmers napped while Dominic and I worked, the next we trekked to the nearby Lighthouse to take in the incredible views of our surroundings.

This year we added a well deserved (and much needed) rest day in the middle of the trip. We took a drive out to a place called Little Harbour and had freshly caught seafood and drinks at Pete's Pub and enjoyed not getting in the water in the attempts to break records at how much yardage we could get in. But before we did that we drove into the woods of Marsh Harbour and took in the natural beauty of the Treasure Cay Blue Hole. You have to be lucky to see this, because it's not listed on a map and there are no directions. 

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All in all we'd call the first week of this trip a success. Everyone had a great time, got some incredible swimming in and a ton of work done, and we got to know this group of our clients that much better. Ohh and I almost forgot. I got this delightful rum cake, which just happened to arrive the afternoon everyone left...oops?

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Dr. Marc Luko Guest Series Post #3: Training Well

In my last two posts we talked about Recovering Well and Moving Well. If you missed
either of those posts make sure that you check them out. For today’s post, we will be
discussing the concept of training well.

A decent amount of you that are reading this probably have a coach. Your job as an athlete is to
show up to practice and complete the workout that day. Simple, right? Well, nothing about
training ever is. Showing up for your training is important, but what are you training for? What is
the goal? If you don't have a goal for your training, i.e. drop 3 seconds in the 400 IM,
then you're just guessing, and when it comes to reaching peak performance, are you willing to

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    Every good training plan starts with a goal. As world renowned strength coach, Dan John, likes
    to reiterate, “The goal is to keep the goal the goal." So when devising a training plan, you have
    to ask yourself what your goal is for a specific training cycle and reverse engineer it from the end
    result. In our example of the 400 IM, what would you need to swim 3 seconds faster? Here are
    some examples:

    • Speed workouts
    • Speed Endurance workouts
    • Strength Training
    • Skill/Technique training
    • Turn Work
    • Race-Pace Workouts (at a pace 10 sec faster than current race pace)
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    Now, when you look at your training, what do you see? If the goal is to swim 3 seconds faster
    in the 400 IM but your workouts consist of long, slow, swimming, then it's no surprise that you
    have not gone faster. This leads to the next important concept of training well: auditing.
    No one wants to find out after six months of training that their training was not up to par. While
    you cannot know if your training is effective after one week, it's important to schedule training
    audits to make sure that you're “keeping the goal the goal,” but also that what you're doing
    in training is having a positive affect on your performance. Part of the auditing process is
    performance testing. While the best test is a race, you can't always race every 4-6 weeks. In
    this case, testing and measuring the different abilities that lead to peak performance in your
    sport is important. Examples include:

    • Reaction time
    • Power: medicine ball throws, jumps, Olympic lifts, etc.
    • 50-meter test
    • Video analysis for technique
    • Lactate Threshold Testing
    • Heart Rate Variability

    These are just some examples of metrics that you can test every so often (4-8 weeks) to make
    sure that the training you are doing translates to the results you are looking for. As the saying
    goes, “what gets monitored, gets managed." If you aren't setting goals, developing a training
    plan that supports these goals, and monitoring to make sure that you're on target, this may be
    why you are not seeing the results you had hoped for. Log every workout to make sure that there is a track record. That way, you know what worked
    and what did not. Even if you are not the one making the training plan, it's very important that
    you still log your workouts in some fashion. This allows you, the coach, the strength coach, and
    the clinician to have an understanding of what may have been the cause behind poor

    Training hard is important, but training smart is crucial.

    Valentine's Day Gift Guide for Swimmers

    It's that time of year again, everyone's favorite Hallmark driven holiday is almost upon us and I, for one, cannot wait to celebrate with an over-priced box of chocolates and sweatpants (hint hint husband). Candies aside, there are a lot of people who prefer actual gifts on Valentine's Day, so I wanted to throw some ideas at you guys that are specifically for swimmers, as well as the staples I've used to get to and from the pool pretty much my entire life. Get ready, there's a pink and red theme ahead...

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    One thing I always coveted were the backpacks all of my older swimmer friends had when I was little. They have side pockets for caps, goggles, and shampoo, as well as a mesh compartment to put your wet suit in after getting out of the water. There's enough space in the main compartment for shoes and the clothes you want to wear afterwards as well as a towel and any hair dryer/straightener you might need. 

    The one I use to this day is the Speedo Large Teamster Backpack. It's also great as a carry-on bag for short trips that fits easily in the overhead compartment of airplanes.

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    This one might seem a bit odd, but I promise you'll be finding uses for it for years to come. I've had mine since I was a freshman in high school and I've never had any issues with it. What I'm talking about is the Finis Tempo Trainer. This tiny little tool sits inside your cap and gives you something to pace yourself off of. Think of it as a cute little metronome (any orchestra buffs out there? Fun fact: I played the violin for 9 years and my metronome became one of my closest friends when I first started). If you don't know what a metronome is it's something that helps you keep a beat. You can set it to whatever interval you like and it will make an audible beep for you to follow along to. The Tempo Trainer is a great tool to help you work on your pace, rotation, kick, timing of your breath, etc. It's a bit pricey for what it does but it's a great product that lasts for years. And no, sadly, it doesn't come in pink.

    Back to the pink theme! My next pick is something I actually stole from my diver friends when I was swimming for my summer team as a kid. The Speedo Sports Towel is 12.5 by 16.5 inches and is the most absorbent thing I've ever come across. It's incredibly light and dries quickly as well. This towel is perfect to have at meets, open water events, and triathlons that won't take up too much room in your bag but will get you drier than any beach towel ever could.

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    Now before you say it I already know what you're thinking, why in the world is a silicone oven mitt listed in a swimmers gift guide? The answer is that this thing saved my life growing up when it came to getting ready for school after swimming every morning. This one's pretty specific and I'm sure isn't for everyone, but a Silicone Oven Mitt was the one thing that kept my hair straightener from burning a hole straight through my bag. I know, like I said, this isn't for everyone. But it was my mom's idea when I was in high school and I still use it to this day. It's also perfect for hair driers!

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    Last on the list is simple but something every swimmer should have at least one of, if not 2-3. The Speedo Goggle Case is exactly what it says it is, a goggle case. I had a lot of different variations of this one over the years but this is the best one I've found. It's cheap and easy to use and won't take up too much space in your bag. I used to think these were just silly and unnecessary, but now that I'm an adult and buy my own goggles I use this every time I swim because it keeps them from getting all of those teensy, tiny, scratches all over the lenses, which means it keeps me from buying goggles every 3 weeks because I can't see out of them anymore. Think you don't need this because you're a triathlete and don't swim as much as you bike and run? Think again, because this case will save your goggles from getting damaged in your bag where they're hanging out with all of your other belongings and keep them pristine for race day.

    Dr. Marc Luko Guest Series Post #2: Moving Well

    In my last post I talked about the importance of recovering well. If you have not read that post yet, you can check it out, here. Today I want to address the second secret to elite performance: the importance of moving well.

    Moving well is all about efficiency. Whether you're a runner, swimmer, soccer player, or a gymnast, the better you move, the more efficient you are. In sports where the objective is to be the fastest, this can mean the difference between finishing in 1st place or 3rd place. So, what does moving well look like?

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    Look at these two athletes. Which one do you think “moves well”? If you said the one on the left, you would be correct. But can you tell me why the athlete on the right does not? We can all guess, but one frame does not tell you about the whole movie.

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    This leads to my next point. Moving well can be broken down into two parts: the mobility that we have and the mobility that we can use.

    The mobility that we have is called range of motion. Range of motion is a measure of how much movement is possible at each joint, e.g. knee, shoulder, elbow, etc. For a visual, think about how much motion a swimmer is going to have at their shoulder vs. someone with arthritis. This can be limited because of injury, surgery, short muscle length (e.g. hip flexors) or a slew of other factors. If someone has an issue with range of motion, they can work to improve theirs. This is where stretching, manual therapy, manipulations, dry needling, etc. are appropriate. But, what happens when there is plenty of range of motion but the athlete is still limited? This is an issue of the mobility we can use.

    The mobility that we can use is a concept that is not so obvious. Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents would tell you not to use a calculator for simple math because you would lose that skill? They would say “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. As hard as it may be to hear, they were right, and that concept doesn’t just apply to math, it also applies to movement. Just because someone has a lot of range of motion does not mean they have the ability to use it, or, more importantly, control all of it. If you have the available shoulder range of the person in Figure 3a (180 deg) but you only use the amount of the person in Figure 3b (90 deg), you will lose the ability to control the shoulder at the upper ranges. This scenario tends to lead to injury because you are taking your body to a place it rarely goes and it's not comfortable with. Think of it like this, if I'm a runner and I have the genetic capability to run 30 miles, but I usually only run 15 miles. What do you think is going to happen when all of a sudden, I attempt to run 25 miles? Here's a hint: nothing good.

     Figure 3a.

    Figure 3a.

     Figure 3b.

    Figure 3b.

    So how do you move well? By practicing good form with exercises and going through full ranges of motion. This will help you reinforce good movement and gain control through all ranges of motion. Never push through ranges that are not available to you. Your body will naturally give you more motion when it feels you are able to control it. While stretching can help, particularly after surgery when joints are stiff, strength training through full range of motion will give you more bang for your buck in the long run. Strength training in this way will help you improve the mobility that you have and the mobility you can use, while at the same time making your stronger in these movements. Once you have done that, follow the words of well-known Physical Therapist, Gray Cook, “Move well. Move often”.  And your parents, "If you don’t use it, you will lose it."

    Not sure if you move well? Get screened by a Physical Therapist and have them give you tips on how to improve where you are at. 

    New Year New...Failures?

    I feel like January can be a very hostile time of year, even if it doesn't appear to be from the surface. Everyone's starting New Year’s resolutions and promising themselves to work harder, eat healthier, and most of all (I'm sure you guessed it), go to the gym. That being said, it's always come across to me as the perfect time to fail. There's even more societal pressure than normal, which can lead to a big let down if you make even the smallest of slip ups.

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    Well, I just wanted to take a second and tell you how I really feel about it when my friends tell me they're beside themselves because not even a month into the new year they're already back to their same old bad habits: so what? Just taking the time to think of ways you want to better yourself is a step in the right direction. So many people think they're done growing up by the time they get out of college, but you're here working every year at learning something new to make yourself grow and become just that much of a better person. That's huge! So dust yourself (and try again, any early 2000's R&B lovers out there giggling with me?), pick yourself up, and try again. Fun fact? It took me 3 years to figure out how to change one small piece of my freestyle catch. Yup, you read that right. Three. Years. It was discouraging and enraging at times, and I thought I was a lost cause more than once (changing something minute in your stroke after swimming for 23 years is no easy feat you guys), but I never gave up. I tried different things and kept coming back to trying to make that one little thing better. And that eureka moment when I finally got it? It was just incredible. Almost as good as that first bite of a freshly baked cookie (...almost).

    You're going to have goals. You're going to come up with lists of things you want to change to help keep yourself growing and learning and bettering yourself. And you're also going to have setbacks. And failures. So what? Take what you've learned from those failures (even if it's nothing, because let's be real, we all have setbacks where we don't think we've gained anything) and keep moving forward. It's almost come to seem like failure is a taboo word nowadays. But who hasn't had their fair share of failures? It's okay to fail, it's okay to get upset (and console yourself with a donut or 4), just keep your goal in mind. It's that simple.

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    It might seem hard and silly to think that way just because some virtual stranger online is saying this, but you know I'm right. Deep down that nagging voice we all have (that we love to hate so much) knows I'm right too.

    Don't beat yourself up over the mistakes, the failures, and the setbacks. Acknowledge them, let yourself pout for a bit, and keep moving forward. You'll reach your goals and have your eureka moments. It might not be overnight, but you will.

    Dr. Marc Luko Guest Series: The Secret to Elite Performance

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    Who knows the secret to maximizing your performance? I believe there are multiple secrets, because one thing alone does not turn you into an elite athlete. In my opinion the three utmost points to elite performance are:

    Recovering Well

    Moving Well

    Training Well

    If you don't read any further, you will have just learned the "secrets" to elite performance. But if this is the end of the line for you, implementing those three points properly - and knowing why you should be doing so, will remain a mystery. For those of you that are curious, read on, as today's post will be about the first point: recovery.

    SwimBox Swim Lessons Performance Maximization

    Contrary to popular belief, working harder does not constitute performing better. While hard efforts are par for the course and necessary to improve performances, training hard all of the time will only lead to injury. With the advent of social media and the internet, many athletes are gaining insight into what elite athletes are doing for workouts. But, what they are not seeing, is the aftermath. And that is just as important - if not more so - than the actual workout. Elite athletes don’t just train hard, they recover hard too.  

    The science and benefit of sleep has been gaining a lot of media attention lately, and for good reason. It is the cheapest and most effective form of recovery there is. Yet, it is highly underutilized. The focus for so long now has been on how to gain more training hours, when it should really be geared towards looking into more recovery hours. Triathletes that have increased their recovery times while still maintaining quality workloads have demonstrated less injuries and better times.

    SwimBox Swim Lessons Performance

    Some of you may be asking yourself “Well, that’s nice, but how do I know how much sleep I need? Or whether or not I'm ready for another hard workout?” This is a completely valid question, as up until recently, most athletes would judge their state of "readiness" based on unreliable factors, such as soreness levels. Today, the world of sports science has evolved and has discovered that many of the “secrets” of recovery are accessible and reliable, with the right technology and data analysis. When these variables are monitored and managed well, athletes are able to get the most out of their workouts as well as reduce injury so that they can continue to train well and perform better.


    As an athlete, you're already doing a lot. Whether you’re a high school swimmer and have a job while also juggling classes, clubs, and your social life, or a mother of three who is a competitive triathlete who also works 70 hours/wk at a law firm, adding something else to your training is difficult, even if it will ultimately help you. In my experience athletes who want to be performing at their peak don't necessary yet another person telling them to workout, they need someone telling them when not to. It's ingrained in our brains that the more we train the better we'll be. But speaking from experience, over-training without proper rest and recovery won't get you anywhere but stuck on your butt while everyone else is out there getting better. 

    SwimBox Swim Lessons Performance Marc Luko

    I'm so happy to be a part of SwimBox Elite, our new performance optimization service. Over our careers, Dominic and I have seen too many athletes that have trained themselves into short or unfulfilled athletic careers due to overtraining, not to mention more injuries than we can count. Discussions of how to fix this lead to extensive research and testing that ultimately manifested into our new program. If you have experienced poor recovery from workouts, inexplicable drop-offs in performance, long history of injuries, or want that slight edge over the competition, this is for you. Our program offers virtual recovery monitoring with email updates on actionable steps, 24/7 data collection, and personalized coaching based off of your specific needs. This will ensure that you are getting the most of your training. Each component of our program ensures that you are recovering well, moving well, and training well. Our goal is for each of our athletes to improve their performance by at least 5-10%. 


    *stay tuned for the next post in this guest series: Moving Well