Swimmer/Parent Links

Workout of the Week - Metabolic MB Training


By Dan McCarthy//National Team High Performance Consultant

Serum Ferritin is considered to be the best indicator of an athlete’s iron status and essential in the creation of new red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for delivering oxygen throughout the body and helping to remove carbon dioxide, both crucial functions during training. An iron deficiency could inhibit the body’s ability to create new red blood cells, remove muscle waste products and obviously have a negative effect on an athlete’s general health, let alone their ability to practice.

The RDA for Iron varies by age and gender. It is recommended males and females 9-13 years old include 8 mg of iron per day in their diet; males 14-18 years old 11 mg/day; females 14-18 years old 15 mg/day; males over 18 8 mg/day; and females over 18 18 mg/day. The World Health Organization believes iron deficiency is the No. 1 nutritional disorder in the world. Additionally, females and those with diets including excessive intake of low nutrient dense foods (snack foods, soda and desserts) can have an increased risk of suffering from an iron deficiency.

Dietary iron is available in animal, plant and iron-fortified foods. Most healthy diets contain a variety of sources of iron like lean beef (3.2 mg per 3 oz. serving), boiled spinach (3.2 mg per ½ cup serving), and fortified instant oatmeal (10 mg per 1 cup serving). For more information on dietary sources of iron and iron deficiency please visit the National Institute of Health’s Fact Sheet on iron.

Packed Neck for Swimmers Part I

Many are familiar with packing the shoulder for scapular stability and packing the low back for lumbar stability. Packing the neck, though less familiar to most coaches and athletes, carries a high return on investment is one of the first places to look for repairing postural flaws and plugging power leaks.

Why is a packed neck important for swimmers?

1. Decreased frontal exposure. A head position too high or too low will increase drag by expanding the swimmer’s frontal profile.

2. Balance. Extending the neck and raising the head can cause the legs to sink, which also leads to poor hydrodynamics via increased drag.

3. Protect the cervical spine. The cervical spine is a commonly injured area among swimmers. In my observation, neck injuries are underreported because they frequently present as low grade aches that athletes try to ignore, or as problems elsewhere in the body such as jaw pain, chronic headaches, shoulder injuries, or referring nerve pain into the arms.

4. Muscle length, strength, and timing. Reciprocal inhibition/Janda’s upper and lower crossed syndromes. Dr. Vladimir Janda is credited with first observing the phenomenon of reciprocal inhibition and the related postural syndromes of the upper cross and lower cross. In reciprocal inhibition, the glutes, abs, serratus anerior, lower traps, and deep neck flexors are prone to inhibition or weakness. These are known as the phasic muscles. The tonic muscles such as hip flexors, low back extensors, pectorals, upper traps, and levator scapulae are prone to tightness or hyperactivity.

Point number 4 is our focus in this series. Considering the deep neck flexors within the phenomenon of reciprocal inhibition brings us full circle from previous weeks. The lower trapezius supports the shoulder girdle and allows for the ranges of motion achieved by elite swimmers. Abdominals help maintain a tight streamline, drive rotation in long axis strokes, create undulation in short axis, and allow for expression of power in starts and turns. Serratus anterior is essential for optimal breathing patterns and overall stability. The glutes drive posterior chain activation and are vital muscle group in Dr. Mullen’s ongoing quest to find a cure for "No Booty" Swimmer Syndrome (Is poor posture slowing you down?)!

Inhibition of the deep neck flexors usually occurs not in isolation, but instead as part of an overall pattern. If the deep neck flexors are inhibited, the body must find stability in the neighboring muscles such as the upper traps, pecs, and levator scapulae. When these muscles are tight, the swimmer is at risk for a variety of shoulder injuries and stroke flaws. 

Human growth from infancy through adult bipedalism is contingent on sequential maturation and co-activation of the phasic muscles listed above. Inhibition in any of these muscles leads to compensations, which manifest as tightness or shortness in other muscle groups. Look again at that list above and the tight areas should look familiar as common problems in the swimming world…

  • Hip flexors (psoas) –> kicking flaws

  • Low back –> weak core, limited body undulation

  • Pectorals, upper traps, and levator scapulae –> shoulder mechanical flaws, thoracic spine mobility limitations

Deep neck flexors operate as a feed-forward mechanism to encourage optimal muscle timing (Falla 2004). A feed-forward mechanism is a neurological activation pattern resulting in activation or inhibition elsewhere without conscious thought. Another example of a feed-forward mechanism is taking a firm grip on an object to activate scapular stabilizers (See Dr. Mullen’s Dryland Mistake: Bench Press Part I and Part II for more on role of grip strength). It behooves us to exploit feed forward mechanisms to accelerate learning and promote automaticity of quality movement habits and stroke mechanics. 

Teaching an athlete proper neck mechanics who has never had neck stability can be a beautiful sight, much like Clark Griswold getting to experience the magic of his Christmas lights finally working! Many things fall into place elsewhere in the body independent of conscious thought.

The packed neck in swimming

Fly Neck stability supports body undulation, although the neck does not remain packed during the entire stroke (we need to breathe at some point). The best butterflyers return the neck to a packed position and maintain cervical spine alignment when pressing the chest down. Weaker butterflyers extend the neck toward the bottom of the pool, which is an inefficient way to create undulation.

Back A packed neck keeps the body in proper alignment. During starts, many swimmers throw their entire head back and extend the neck. While some neck extension is permissible, too much can lead to poor timing and loss of power. Below, Natalie Coughlin shows that you can maintain a packed neck during the entire start cycle.

Breast  A common breaststroke flaw is lifting the head to look forward. Packing the neck stabilizes the whole body for a strong pull and kick.

Packed neck VS.
NOT a packed neck


Free Head position in freestyle can be a controversial topic. Some coaches want swimmers to stare directly at the bottom of the pool, which is more consistent with a packed neck. Others permit a higher head position and allow mild neck extension. While I’d be cautious to overhaul an idiosynchratic yet effective stroke grooved by millions of yards, improvements in neck stability can transfer to other areas of the body based on the feed-forward mechanisms of deep neck flexor stimulation. Even if a neck is not packed to the maximal extent, neck stability is important to keep the neck movements within a certain range. A higher head carriage is acceptable…head bobbing is not. 

Block starts Watch track and field athletes setting up and exploding out of the blocks: Head is down. Neck is packed. Remember that activation of the deep neck flexors is tied to activation of the glutes and relaxation of the hip flexors. As such, neck posture is critical to pre-load energy for release via triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips when the gun goes off.

Conclusion The packed neck for swimmers is not an absolute in the water, but is an underutilized power source. Stroke aficionados can undoubtedly find examples in each stroke of swimmers winning Olympic medals without packed necks. However, if you sample the averages of the fastest swimmers in the world, you’ll likely find high levels of neck stability specific to stroke demands. In the next installment, we’ll explore how to assess neck stability, how look to coach the packed neck on dryland, and how to transfer these concepts into the water.

Whether you go to a locl meet or US Nationals you will see many different starting styles. At first glance the disparity is immense, luckily these starts have similarities and are broken into four main starting styles described by Vantorre et al from France.

1. Pike: a long flight time enabling a delay when the body has water resistance to overcome, allowing it to “slice” through the water, resulting in a ‘‘pike’’ aerial trajectory; leads to minimal splash, longer underwater phase, but a longer block phase. This is the "ideal" starting style and is best for swimmers with good underwater kicking.
2. Flat: a short block phase, higher water resistance, resulting in a ‘‘flat’’ aerial trajectory; typically have a larger splash and a shorter underwater phase. This form of starting will get a swimmer off the block fast and up and swimming quickly. This is best for a swimmer with poor underwater kicking.
3. Flight: optimizes a short block phase and long flight phase, high force generated by leg extensors (hamstrings and gluteal muscles) in relation to an arm swing, resulting in a ‘‘flight’’ style. The flight start will result in a deep start, most commonly used in breaststrokers.
4. Lift: initiates with the shoulder instead of an arm swing at take off which lifts the shoulders during the flight time; the least common type of the four mentioned start styles. Not recommended, but used by novice swimmers with strong upper bodies.

This is one method to catergorize starts, Russell Mark of USA Swimming biomechanics likes to classify different starts into:

1. Grab Start: old-style start that uses both feet at the edge of the block. This is hardly used anyone as it impairs the swimmer's ability to weight shift. Also, with the Omega Track Starts it is obvious this start is obsolete.

2. Front Weighted Track Start: track start where the swimmer keeps their eyes over the water and weight on their front foot. This is commonly used by athletes with mobility deficits and poor motor control.

3. Rear Weighted Track Start: track start where swimmer will shift their weight into their back foot. This motion will move the front shin (tibia) to a more horizontal position and likely bring the eyes behind the edge of the block. Most commonly performed by elite swimmers.

To maximize the distance of entry from the starting block, it is essential to push from both legs and pull with both arms. To optimize these limbs, the following set-up is essential:

Hands - The athlete's hands should grip the front of the block with all fingers and thumbs. This gives the swimmer a larger surface area on the block, enabling them to generate more force. Thumbs wrapped in the front of the block, not resting on top of the block for maximal propulsion. If the athlete wraps their thumbs on top of the block, the tendency is to squeeze the block, not pull. When the block is squeezed, less force will be directed into the block and the athlete will likely jump up instead of out.

Arms - Arms should remain completely straight and slightly tensed. Not flexed, but tensed and ready to react. Having the arms slightly tensed will allow the swimmer to react quicker to the starting gun. Anatomically flexing the joints puts the muscles in a suboptimal position by shortening the muscle, decreasing the potential for muscle activation. The elbows should face backwards, and the athlete should pull backwards on the block with these straight arms to move forward. Anyone who has taken physics has heard the law (thank you Isaac) “every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction.” If the elbows are facing backwards, the reaction is backwards making the equal and opposite reaction forward with the same force applied.

Legs - The legs are the most variable body parts during a start. Comfort and steadiness are essential on the block; no swimmers with great starts look like the big bad wolf could blow them over, and neither should you! Evenly distribute the weight among both legs with feet facing forward. The back foot should be high on the back ramp, trying to orient your shin 45 degrees from horizontal. Make sure your knees and hips face forward. If your legs sideways, you will go sideways, remember equal and opposite reactions!

Now that all that is out-of-the-way, lets discuss the different start phases.

Set-up This is the most important phase. It is essential to have the arms and legs positioned shoulder width apart. Curl your toes over the edge and have your shins, knees and feet facing forward. The hips should also be higher than the shoulders. If the athlete has their shoulders and hips in the same plane, they are likely bending their front knee excessively, likely resulting in a "flight" starting style. Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart and you are stable as a rock on the block. This is automatic with proper practice, make it happen.
The GrabThe grab requires the swimmer to grab the block (duh!). The shin is approximately 45 degrees from horizontal and with the weight shifted back. The swimmer in the picture should have their chin tucked or in the packed position (more on this next week, stay tuned). The Omega starting blocks allow the athlete to put their foot higher, improving their trajectory.

The Push The push results in the back shin completely horizontal. This will optimize force production and forward propulsion. In this phase, the head will lift and increase the projection with the front shin heading vertical.

Shins ParallelThe next phase orients both shins parallel to one another. The chest will raise a bit higher following the head looking forward. This position results in maximal propulsion from the from front leg. Once again, the shin position is 45 degrees, moving the body out and up.

Head Down The next phase the athlete rapidly put their head down. This will pop the hips high and cause a slight pike. This is important since piking will allow the hands, shoulders, hips and ankles to enter through the same hole. At this time, the swimmers needs to maintain a tight streamline. I commonly recommend the biceps against ears streamline, opposed to the arms behind head streamline, but it depends on the athlete's strengths. I always start with biceps against ears, but if the athlete has a hypomobile thoracic spine (specifically in extension) then hands behnd the ears will increase thoracic extension and theoretically improve their dolphin kick range of motion.

Hand Entry As the hands enter the water, the head and arms must be steady (in my opinion, this swimmer may benefit from a biceps against ears streamilne to decrease drag of his head).  

Shoulder EntryAfter the head, the shoulders enter...anatomy 101 ladies and gentlemen. The shoulders must enter in the same hole as the hands to decrease drag. Many swimmers have mobile shoulders and squeezing their head like a pea can stabilize the head and shoulders, do it right!  

Hip Entry The hips slide in the water next. Often times, swimmers will lose their rigidity of the core causing their legs to slap the water. This s often secondary to poor trunk stability. Make sure the core is stable!

Foot Entry  The last area to enter the water is the feet. At this time the toes must be forcefully pointed down to minimize splash. This athlete could point his toes a little better to minimize drag. 

Vertical Splash Every athlete of every size will create a splash as they slice in the water. Often times, the splash will be directed backwards. Unfortunately, water moving backwards suggest the body slapped or pushed the water backwards, increasing drag. Ideally, the body will enter through the same hole and create a vertical splash towards the ceiling.

Notes from the Sports Medicine Clinic

4 Key Components to Athlete Nutrition

1.      Hydration

2.      Carbohydrates

3.      Iron

4.      Glycogen

Why is hydration so important?

First we must start by defining dehydration. Dehydration is the excessive loss of bodily fluids. Literally, it means the loss of water, but within humans it means a deficiency of water in the body. Athletes who avoid dehydration insure that their body maintains adequate levels of water in the muscular tissue and electrolytes throughout the body. Normal body functions, not to mention performance, are severely compromised if adequate levels of electrolytes are not present, especially in the heat and/or when exercise goes beyond the two-hour mark. A dehydrated athlete can suffer up to a 30% performance loss, and experience bouts of low endurance, rapid heart rates, elevated blood pressures and body temperatures, and a rapid onset of the sensation of fatigue. Hydration can help prevent these events from taking place.

Athletes should….

·        Have a water bottle present and all workouts and throughout most of the day

·        “Fuel up” 1 to 4 hours before workout (when applicable)

·        Be awake at least 1 hour prior to EVERY workout… including mornings!

·        Refuel within 30 minutes of EVERY workout!

Why refueling is necessary?

The need for replenishment is critical immediately following racing and training. Replenishment also happens at a greater rate following physical stress, as the body tries to recuperate. If you cannot get home within 30 minutes of a workout then prepare snacks.

If you are interested in learning some more about nutrition then check out the information posted at the pool on the age group board.

Technique with former Auburn and Stanford Coach Richard Quick

Check out some of the great feedback that Coach Quick likes to give his swimmers during their practices.

"Never, Never, Never Give Up!" - Winston Churchill

What would you say if I asked you," what is the most common trait among the greatest athletes this planet has ever seen" (examples: Jim Thorpe, Michael Jordan, Muhammed Ali, Babe Ruth, etc)?

Answers may range from: They are all extremely talented, have God given abilities, unparalleled work ethic, the best coaching, etc, etc etc. And all of these may be true for the majority but not for everyone one of them. 


Jim Thorpe is considered by many to be the best all-around athlete of all time: playing football, and baseball professionally; while winning 2 Olympic Gold Medals in the Pentathlon (5 Olympic Events combined to award one champion) and Decathlon (10 Olympic events combined to award one champion). In baseball, Thorpe was considered an outstanding player with more athletic talent than any of his peers. He amassed a career .252 batting average (hits divided by at bats), which means he failed to achieve his goal of getting a hit about 75% of the time. Can you imagine the mental toughness it takes to persevere through something you fail at 3 out of every 4 times you attempt it?

Let's look at the other athletes briefly: Michael Jordan career field goal percentage: .497 (that's a 50% failure rate), Muhammed Ali did not win every fight, he actually lost 5 fights in his career, and Babe Ruth had over 1,300 strikeouts (he failed to even make contact with the pitched ball). It takes a special mindset to accept that this is the reality of sports. We will face adversity! Things will not always go our way, but we must persevere, we must continue to work through these times and face adversity with confidence that we have prepared ourselves for the up-hill battle ahead. The athlete in the video below has that mindset...... WATCH!

Success.... How Bad Do You Want It?

Here are two great videos from Eric Thomas "The Hip Hop Preacher" as he "keeps it real" with some college students at MSU. Eric is a nationally recognized motivational speaker who provides great messages to youth about how success can be achieved by anyone who is willing to commit to the journey required. Check out these two videos and his quotes.

  • "The most important thing is this... to be able at any moment to sacrifice what you are for what you will become!"

  • "When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you'll be successful."

  • "Pain is temporary, it may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day, or even a year, but eventually it will subside. And something else will take it's place. If I quit, however, it will last forever..... Go through it, you are not going to die, at the end of pain is success."

Do you believe in yourself?

Most athletes believe in their ability to succeed, and the very best athletes know they have the ability to succeed on a regular basis. This attitude often gets written off as "cocky" or "egotistical," but confidence is one key to being highly successful in anything you do. An individual's self-efficacy, the belief that one is capable of performing in a certain manner to attain certain goals, affects their likeliness to take on new task and their motivation to accomplish high levels of achievement.

Basically, the individual who believes, achieves!

I believe in you, do you believe in you? Check out these Nike commercials, think these athletes are confident...?


11 Keys to Accomplishing Greatness

  1. You have to have big dreams, really big dreams. Decide what you want and go after it. No one who has achieved greatness had little expectations. You must expect more than anyone else expects from you.

  2. You must have total control over your thoughts and actions. You have to believe in your abilities to achieve. You can achieve anything you desire with empowering thoughts. All experiences in your life will be a direct result of your dominant mental thoughts. Power and control over your thoughts and actions will have you achieving the greatest outcomes of your life. No one achieved greatness without being mentally tougher than their competition.

  3. You have to have an awesome action plan to achieve your desired goals. If you don't have an awesome action plan, you will never achieve the goals that you desire. You have to be aware of what is working and what is not working. Don't hesitate to change your approach if you are not getting the results that you desire.

  4. You have to look at failure as just an outcome. If you don't get the outcome that you desire, you must change your approach until you achieve the success you desire. Failure is just a chance to begin again with a more intelligent approach. You must learn from your failures. Failure must be a stepping stone to success and not a stumbling block. It doesn't matter how many times you fail, what matters is your dedication to your success. You must keep on chasing your dream until you make it happen. Failure should never be an option for you. You will win or learn, but you never should believe in failure as one of your options.

5. Success leaves clues. Model people who have achieved the results that you desire. Learn from the best of the best. Don't hang around the buzzards of the world. Soar with the eagles that fly high. You should network with achievers so that you are constantly pushing yourself to match their success.

6. Never stop learning. You must dedicate yourself to constant and never ending improvement. You must always strive to better yourself each and everyday.

7. You must strive to be a master of communication. The quality of your life will depend on the quality of your communication with yourself and with others. You must learn how to view each situation from your point of view and from other people's point of view. Most people who have achieved greatness have been master communicators.

8. Be a person who is constantly stretching their abilities. Always try to achieve outcomes that are currently beyond your abilities. You must dare to achieve outside of your comfort zone. Stretching your abilities will make you great. You must strive to be greater than your competition. Roosevelt said, "The only thing that we have to fear, is fear itself. Don't be afraid of anything because the greatest risk is the one you don't take.

9. You must never give up until you succeed. Thomas A. Edison failed close to 1,000 times before he succeed in giving us electricity. He was asked why he didn't quit and his reply was that he had ran out of options to try. He said, "I had no option but to succeed."

10. Ask yourself empowering questions everyday. When you wake up in the morning ask yourself, "What can I do to achieve greatness today?" "What can I do to get me closer to the success that I desire?" "What can I do to make me a better person?"

11. Visualize yourself as if you are already experiencing the success that you desire. You have to believe it before you see it. Visualize daily of the success that you desire until you are living the life that you have dreamed of.

Follow these steps and greatness will be in your future. The sky is no longer the limit, space is. Richard Branson is taking tourist to outer space for their vacations. If he didn't have vision and goals, he would never have become the success that he is today. You are the master of your destiny. You are the creator of your future. You can make your life as extraordinary as you desire. Dare to be great and manifest that greatness now.

"Will to WIN"

Ryan Lochte. He is the man, he has speed, endurance, technique, and a great work ethic. His personality allows him to be a perfect ambassador for swimming and a great example of the way things should be done correctly.

Here is a great video of Ryan showing us how he has taken his swimming to the next level.

Momentum, Momentum, Momentum

Maintaining a proper streamline and being able to time your breakout into your swimming is key to fast swimming. If you ever do anything underwater and feel yourself slow down then you have lost momentum. Momentum will be different for each athlete based on body type, flexibility and skill level. What and how you do your underwater mechanics and how you breakout into your swimming all effects momentum.

As often as possible you must try to keep the 4 H’s in line (Hands, Head, Hips and Heels).

The biggest momentum killer for all strokes is the transition from the underwater swimming to the actual swimming on top of the water. Swimmers and coaches do not spend enough time on this aspect of swimming. This is major especially when a swimmer comes off a wall in an un-streamlined position, not kicking, then deciding to breakout of the water too deep and deciding to breath first thing.

Use each wall in practice to break your bad habits. The fastest part of swimming is underwater when done correctly. Why do you think the 15 meter rule, and original rules of breaststroke were made? Are you a good swimmer? What's your best stroke? Free? Fly? Back? Breast? Well, there is a 5th stroke that could lead to incredible gains in your swimming results. Underwater kicking! The greastest swimmers in the world will all tell you that their underwater kicking is huge reason for their success, and that nearly 100% of them wish they had worked on the more at a younger age.

Fact: The initial speed you create from: 1) diving into the water, 2) in a tight streamline and 3) with powerful dolphin kicks, is the fastest speed you can reach in swimming.

No matter the distance or discipline being swum, underwater kicking can result in new levels of achievement when performed regularly and correctly. Reminder: swimmers can only kick underwater for 15m off any wall, start or turn, without being disqualified. However, we always want to work on improving the distance and level of underwater kicking in practice.

Check out this video of Texas swimmer and Alabama native Hill Taylor competing in a 50m Backstroke event against National Level swimmers. Watch what his underwaters are able to due for him.

Check out this great backstroke video with former US Olympian and World Record Holder Lenny Krayzelburg. He has some wonderful tips on how to immediately improve your stroke.

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