Monday, November 22, 2010

I joined a Masters Swim Team

I've been swimming regularly for 15 months under the direction of a college swim coach. To be clear, I am well beyond college age, but I wanted a coach to help me on a weekly basis, and he was offering lessons. When I started swimming, I had an aversion to putting my face in the water during the freestyle stroke (aka front crawl). I had to rest every 25 yards. I had never swam breastroke, butterfly, or backstroke. So until now, my coach and I have been working on teaching me the basic strokes, turns, and starts. We've been trouble-shooting placement of arms, the strength of my kicks, my streamlining underwater, the pull of water by my hands, the rotation of the body during freestyle and backstroke, and breathing techniques. But now it appears my coach and I will work on me getting faster. I've joined a Masters Swim Team associated with my local YMCA. This was not my coach's idea. I've been thinking about it for many months and I got close to joining a couple months ago. I asked my coach what he thought and he said "we could work on that." This was a supportive and loving statement, but it lacked enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I joined the team this week because a friend encouraged me to do so.

I went to see my friend swim on Sunday at a competition. He swam well, but that wasn't the real reason I went. I wanted to see how competitive his teammates were and what the attitude of folks was. I can easily envision me being on a swim team and then getting really nervous before a meet. That will probably still happen, but my scouting revealed that the people who compete in these competitions are fairly oblivious to the swimmers in the other lanes. People are simply swimming to better themselves and give advice to others. For example, as my friend was swimming a 400-yard medley, one of his teammates was watching him and said "look, he's not even working hard, he can go faster!" and then she proceeded to take a water bottle and spray him with it during the race as he pushed off the pool wall at the 300-yard mark. It was all a joke, and it shows pretty clearly that the competitors don't take this particularly seriously or else that woman would never have taken the risk of playing around with Dan as he swam in his race. So sure, it looks like I might feel comfortable on a team like that. If I don't like it, feel too nervous, or lack the time to go to competitions, then I can always quit the team without any trouble.

We will compete about once a month at various Ys in the region. Given the travelling involved, it will usually require a whole Sunday to be dedicated to competitive swimming. I will have to miss church, and this is disappointing and a large reason why I still have some reservations about joining the team. Will I be a dedicated member? I don't like joining a team, committee, or service organization without being entirely dedicated to it. Anyway, I won't have to do any extra practicing because I am already swimming 4-5 times a week. How will my weekly swim lessons change with my coach? I suspect he's going to ramp up the effort he requires of me, and I'm afraid of that. It takes a lot of mental energy to push myself into the physical range that is required. I don't like the fatigue that sets in afterward.

Speedo racing swimwear jammer
I will worry about my goggles leaking, as that still happens about once every 4 dives. This probably has more to do with my form as a diver than the fit of the goggles, so I must be patient and hope for the best.

I will need to acquire a racing swimsuit before my first competition on December 5th. I just placed an online order with SpeedoUSA for the suit pictured at right. I hope I like it. It will take some getting used to, particularly how revealing it will be of my male anatomy. But as I've mentioned in a previous post on running shorts, I don't plan to be too self-conscious.

My waist is 33 inches in circumference (used to be 34!), so I ordered a 32-inch and a 34-inch and I'll return the one that doesn't fit. I hate to do an online order when there is a locally-owned swim shop in my town. But the local shop lacks the selection I desired, and more importantly, their hours of operation are sporadic and inconvenient. The flip side of the argument is that if I bought from them, I wouldn't have to go to the trouble of buying two suits and returning one.

I briefly thought about buying a true competition suit (a $120 price tag instead of $38), but what would it get me? The fabric of the competition swimwear is meant to glide through the water even better, but I am unlikely to notice this benefit for two reasons: (1) I'm simply not that fast of a swimmer, and (2) with all the body hair I have, the savings of having a more slippery suit will be negligible. Most of the swimmers I saw at the Master's swim team had very little chest hair, but their legs and arms were unshaven, so I assume they were just naturally this way. I'll be one of the hairier specimens, I guess. But I still look good. Besides, everyone will be looking at my new suit!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Saying goodbye to the old swimsuit

The seam of my old blue swimsuit tore several months ago, back in the summer when I was swimming both in the indoor pool at my workplace and the outdoor pool next to my home. I was using the blue suit in the indoor pool, and I had acquired a new Speedo swim trunk (like this one) for use outdoors. Needless to say, when outdoors at a public pool I wanted to show off my newest suit; the old blue one was clearly out of style. But the blue one had been with me a long time and there was nothing wrong with it other than being old. I wear most articles of clothing until they wear out. But once the blue suit's seam tore, I stopped wearing it and I now wear the Speedo suit exclusively.

The old swimsuit
I did not throw away the old suit right away. I just couldn't. I bought that suit sometime in the late 1990s and I had seldom worn it until I started swimming regularly in the late summer of 2009. The fact that it was 10 years old is a testament to the fact that I was not a swimmer until recently. And now, because of the daily swims I now complete, the suit finally fell apart. This old, torn suit is now a monument to all the accomplishments I've made in the pool over the last year. I have gone from a complete novice that could not swim with his face in the water, and who could not swim more than 25 yards without needing to rest, to someone who today can swim 650 yards non-stop, with flip-turns in between and a dive (of sorts) to start. I can also swim all four strokes, a feat I never dreamed of 15 months ago. Oh yeah, and I've spent around $2000 for weekly lessons...and it has been so, so worth it. In fact, what I've done while wearing that old blue swimsuit is probably worth four times that amount of money to me in the long run, as regular swimming has given me greater self confidence, greater strength (particularly in the deltoids and obliques), considerable gains in cardiovascular endurance, an interest in cross-training sports like running and cycling, and a high metabolism that burns calories faster than I can consume them.  That blue suit means a lot.

I memorialize it here so that now, four months later, I can finally throw it away. Good bye old friend!
Saying goodbye to an old swimsuit

Monday, November 15, 2010

Feeling ho-hum when work responsibilities limit workout time

I just re-read a previous post in this blog and I am so glad that I did. It is my favorite post, and it is written to encourage me to keep pushing harder. I need to push myself harder during my workouts these days. Thinking back to the workouts I've done in the past week, I don't see any glowing moments, no personal bests. I also think how tired and sore I've been after mediocre workouts. I've gone swimming six days in the last seven, so that's very good. But with the exception of my Wednesday swim lesson, my time in the pool has been about 30 minutes per day, and my total yardage has been 1,000 yards per day. It's been around a 1,000 yards since July, so I'd like to increase that now. I think the amount of time I dedicate to my workouts has declined. This is not due to lack of interest (obviously, since I've swam 6 of 7 days), but my time in the office has restricted my free time. I also do a lot of volunteering at my church and while that's a good thing, I'm really tired of it right now!

Looking at my records from 2009 and 2008, I see that November is a month where work responsibilities go up and the number of workouts drops. In 2008, just a few months after starting my workout log, I recorded a 45% drop in gross weight lifted comapred to the month before. This is mostly due to the fewer number of workout days. In 2009, I also recorded a 45% drop in weight lifted compared to the month before. It's amazing how consistent this pattern is. So, I guess there is nothing new here. I just wish it weren't so.

On a brighter note, I did do some treadmill running on Friday. I ran for 29 minutes and covered about 2.6 or 2.7 miles (includes warm-up and cool-down walking). I maintained an average heart rate of 154 bpm. My maximum heart rate was 180 bpm, so this was a good workout for me. My leg muscles were a little sore for the following two days. I'm pleased with this run because I did it. I'm not really a runner...maybe later!

I have avoided weight lifting yesterday and tonight because my pectoralis is very sore from some chores I did on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Four things learned at swim practice

I had a very productive swim practice today and I want to write down what I learned so I will remember to work on the things my coach taught me. I started off with a 500-yard warm-up. Then we worked on backstroke and breastroke for a total of 1250 yards.

  1. Somehow I lost the body rotation that is desired. I was able to restore it quickly upon my coach's suggestion that I concentrate on making my feet kick toward the pool's side walls rather than toward the pool's floor and ceiling.  And "kick" might be too great of a foot movement here. I think my coach called it a foot paddle.
  2. We worked on coordinating arm motions so that the arm extending behind me parallel to the water surface pauses for an instant before I pull it in to my side. At the same time, that my arm is extended behind me, my other arm should be half way through its rotation out of the water in a position perpendicular to the water. A separate instruction was that the speed of the arms when under the water should be slower than the speed of arms out of the water. But I'm not sure yet how to reconcile these instructions. My coach thought I was making progress here, but it never felt right to me. I will practice it tomorrow.
  3. My coach reminded me how to do turns when doing backstroke. Basically, when I get to the backstroke warning flag extended over the pool, I am supposed to take another couple strokes, then rotate over and do a freestyle stroke to propel me to the wall. Then I do a flip-turn that ends with me on my back rather than on my belly. I did these turns fairly well, though I did have trouble judging when I should do the various steps.

Overall, I'm actually amazed at how many laps of backstroke I did during my hour-long lesson. I am usually tired out after doing two 50-yard laps, but today I did seven 50-yard laps. My quadriceps were killing me!

  1. I did a 50-yard lap and then my coach stopped me and tried to teach me how Olympic swimmers push off from the wall. First, I pushed off in a hands-extended streamlined position rather deep under the water. When I lost the momentum of the push-off then I pulled my hands backwards "similar to the pull of the butterfly stroke." Then I was supposed to bring my hands up in front of my chest and start the breastroke kick to get me across the pool. I was able to do the initial push-off really well, as well as the butterfly-like pull, but then I simply couldn't initiate the breastroke after that. I continued with a butterfly stoke instead. I don't know whether it was because my coach mentioned butterfly, or whether my body just felt like doing the butterfly, but my coach and I laughed about how funny the human brain is and how hard it is to change its behavior once it latches on to something it thinks is right. As the hour lesson came to an end, my coach made an observation that may lead to a rapid improvement in this skill. He said that my butterfly pull was pulling me upward to the surface of the water. If I pull myself forward instead of up, I might get the breastroke kick started more easily. We'll see.

Now I've got to wrap this up so I can go lift weights. I've got upright rows on the schedule for tonight!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pull-ups and Butterfly are a pain in the neck

Contrary to the title of this post, I don't mind pull-ups and I like swimming the butterfly stroke. However, the combination of these this week caused me some significant whiplash-like neck pain. On Tuesday evening I was doing a fairly standard workout at home. My workout started with the bench press (2 sets of 15 reps @ 95 pounds), then I strengthened my rotator cuff with elastic band stretches, I did 15 reps each of three different types of dumbbell flys, I followed that with three sets of 15 biceps curls @17.5 pounds, and ended with two sets of 20 lateral raises @10 pounds. Together, these weightlifting exercises were working the muscles of my shoulders, arms, and chest (deltoid, supraspinatus, pectoralis, biceps), but not the back muscles to any large degree. Only the lateral raises work the trapezius, and the amount of weight I was lifting was small, as suggested by Delavier (2006). I followed the weight-lifting with 47 abdominal crunches and 12 leg lifts to strengthen the core. Lastly, I did two pull-ups on my door-frame pull-up bar.

I have hurt myself on the pull-up bar before, so I try to be careful. The problem with the door-frame model is that it is too low and my feet touch the floor. As a consequence, I must bend my knees as I do the pull-ups. This causes my body to sway forward and backward as I do each pull-up, and this extra motion apparently has the potential to do me harm. I find that doing pull-ups on a bar mounted to the wall at the side of my workplace pool is much easier for me to do (in fact, I can do 6 in a row instead of 3 at home), and I maintain good posture. But Tuesday night I was using the door frame bar at home. As I swung forward gripping the bar, much of my biceps motion was propelling me forward rather than up over the bar, so to reach the bar I had to bend my head backward, and that is when I felt the mild pain of a muscle pull. No big deal; I was finished anyway, but I did pop some ibuprofen and throw on an ice pack to prevent the extra swelling in that region that in the past has caused significant disability (wryneck). I have injured that spot in my neck before. I am fairly sure there is a weakened tendon deep at the back of my neck that attaches some muscle to my cervical vertebrae. I injure it about once a year by doing mundane and normal activities like doing laundry or showering.

I went to bed and woke up almost as good as new. I could still feel a tightness in the area but it did not impact my range of motion. Wednesday is my swim lesson day, so I went to the lesson with a little concern that swimming would cause me pain, but it didn't. At least my freestyle warm-up was fine. Then it came time for my coach and I to work on butterfly. I've been working on this stroke for the last couple months, and I find it great fun...and great work, too.

The butterfly stroke requires the spine and body to generate wave-like undulations that start with a dolphin kick and end with the head thrusting out of the water before surging down under the surface, only to reappear with the next kick. My coach wants me to imagine myself a dolphin, but I tend to think of myself as a small bird bounding through the air. Certainly the name butterfly is NOT the best name for this stroke!

At any rate, after 500 yards of freestyle and 175 yards of butterfly, my neck tendon finally gave out and I had to tell my coach that I was injured and couldn't do any more butterfly. I probably should have left the pool at that point to take more ibuprofen and apply ice, but well, I love swimming so much, and I had only swam for 30 minutes at that point, so we moved on to more freestyle drills totalling another 500 yards.

Needless to say, on Thursday my neck was stiff and I was distracted by the pain all day. Now Friday, I am on the mend and my neck should be fully healed by tomorrow. Until I hurt it again doing something stupid!