Soreness versus Injury
Let me preface this by reminding you that Coach Matt is a professional swim coach, not a professional medical practitioner. I encourage you to seek professional medical care for your swimmer if you need any diagnosis or specific care. The advice I give is purely based on my coaching experience and NOT to be confused with medical advice!!!
We all want our kids to have fun and be safe in this sport. But sometimes hard work can lead to aching bodies. If your swimmer has been swimming long enough, it’s likely that he/she has come home from at least one practice claiming to be sore. And that’s not a bad thing! Anyone in athletics can agree that you have to push yourself in order to make yourself better.
But how much is too much? When does soreness become injury? At what point do you need to intervene? These are questions you should have as a swim parent, and the answers are not always easy.
For starters, what is “soreness?” When we workout we are putting muscles all throughout the body through strenuous work. This causes tiny tears in our muscles. Don’t worry, healthy kids and adults have amazing bodies that can repair those tears and even make them better than ever! But in the interim, those little tears hurt. But you don’t build strength and endurance without those little tears, so soreness is a natural part of the process.
Next, how should we define “injury?” This is a very generic term. For the purposes of our discussion, I’ll say that “injury” is damage to the body that won’t heal naturally in a short time. Injuries can frequently (but not always) be painful, which is why identifying the difference between soreness and injury is critical.
The most common injuries in swimming are the result of repetitive AND ineffective use. While it’s definitely true that doing ANY motion long enough will eventually cause problems, there are ways to make those motions more effective so they are efficient AND avoid injury. Shoulders are the most common source of injuries in swimming. There are small muscles in the rotator cuff that often get over-engaged when technique is poor. Other common injuries include knees, low back and elbows.
But it’s tough to identify a potential shoulder injury because what begins as soreness can become injury rather fast. The general soreness your swimmer feels could be tears in their muscles that are getting bigger or are not healing back up.
There really isn’t a perfect “rule” to follow to identify the difference between soreness and injury. General soreness is usually very broad and dull, and often feels better after some rest. Injuries often are sharp and specific pains, and can be isolated to very specific motions.
What do you do if you suspect an injury? First, coaches want to know! Please either have your swimmer talk to us or talk to us yourself. Especially in the case of shoulder injuries, poor technique can lead to injury. Sometimes just modifying stroke mechanics will solve the problem. If that doesn't seem to help, seek medical advice. Physical therapists are often good resources because they are specifically trained to diagnose and treat sports injuries. Your child's pediatrician may be helpful as well if it's a more complex problem.
Please note, infrequent or sporadic practice can be a risk factor for injury. Coaches write workouts with the assumption that participants are healthy and have been training appropriately all season. While it would be nice to have the lane space to give those swimmers who haven’t been at practice in a while a separate workout, it’s just not our reality. If a swimmer isn’t training as much as his/her peers in practice, they may not fully understand their limits and can risk an injury.
How do you keep soreness from becoming injury?
- Routine practice attendance
- Proper stretching
- Keep drinking fluids! Keeping swimmers hydrated truly can make a difference. If you want to go the extra mile, give them 8 ounces of low-fat chocolate milk immediately after practice (or right when they get home). Studies have shown that low-fat chocolate milk has many of the same exercise recovery benefits as expensive workout recovery drinks.
- Proper nutrition also makes a difference. Swimmers need to eat a good amount, plus what they eat makes a big difference. Everyone is busy, so not every meal will be super-healthy. But when you CAN eat right, do so!
Most of our younger kids should not have to worry about injury. It takes MANY hours each week in the pool before we’re risking swimming injuries. Even our older kids should be fine with the basic precautions. But have them talk to their coaches when something’s just not right. And, as always, seek a medical professional when you have your concerns. Doctors and/or physical therapists are good to consult when soreness becomes more than just an occasional thing. Let’s all do our best to stay happy and healthy this season!
Next article: “What to say to your kids…”
“The Great Swimsuit Debate (What’s a tech-suit?)”
For the most part, swimming isn’t an expensive sport. Swimsuit, cap, goggles, and towel are the basics for everyone and can usually last for a while (if your kids don’t lose them). However, one (potentially) large expense could be your swimmer’s “tech suit.”
But before we launch into tech-suits, let’s start out with the basic vocabulary for swim suits. To make it simple, I’ll say there are three different types of swimsuits.
- Recreation suits. For boys these are typically “trunks” that are loose-fitting and go to the knees. For girls they are pretty varied, but can have extra pieces or frills on them or are two pieces. These are fine for a fun day at the beach, but typically are not good for competitive swimming since they add extra drag and/or do not stay on very well when a swimmer dives in.
- Training/competition suits. This is what you see 95% of swimmers wearing at a regular meet. They are tight-fitting while still allowing good range-of-motion. They come in all shapes and colors. Most swimmers will have a separate suit for practice and for meets (like our team suit).
- Tech-suits. These VERY tight fitting suits are made from rather expensive materials. These are meant to wick away water as fast as possible and have low-profile seams to make as little drag as possible. The tightness in spots is supposed to help reduce unnecessary muscle vibration, which may reduce fatigue.
The main issues with tech-suits are the cost and durability. Most of them cost well over $100, with some reaching over $300. These suits also lose the majority of their unique properties (water-wicking, vibration-limiting, etc.) after a few uses. You likely will only get one or two meets out of a tech-suit, and then it’s no better than a standard suit.
Because they are so expensive and don’t last very long, it’s created a controversy in age-group swimming around some swimmers essentially “buying” their way into success at meets. Imagine a parent buying their son/daughter a new tech-suit every meet. That swimmer definitely has an advantage over the other swimmers who can’t afford to do this. There have been a lot of governing bodies in USA Swimming that have instituted various bans on tech-suits at certain meets or for certain age groups. Right now, USA Swimming appears poised to outright ban “tech-suits” for 12 and unders at virtually every meet beginning in September 2020. See Article.
Want my take on this? I’ll break it down three ways:
TEAM POLICY: AMFY does not have a policy for or against the use of tech-suits or any other suit at meets/practices. As long as I’m coach, I will never require swimmers to compete in a tech-suit. They are just too expensive to make mandatory.
RECOMMENDATION: My suggestion is to wait until A’s, AA’s, Zones and Nationals to use a tech-suit. You can also consider using one for a big December/January meet (Makos for USA Swimming or PCY meet for Y). I would not recommend them for any other meets. These suits will be most effective when paired with the peak of training at the end of the season.
EFFECTIVENESS: Do tech-suits actually work? Absolutely! Olympians wouldn’t be using them if they didn’t. A typical swimmer will get a decent bump in their times just by wearing one. However, they don’t work miracles! Poor technique and/or lack of training will still prohibit a swimmer from significant achievements regardless of the suit he/she is wearing.
If you’re considering getting a tech-suit for your swimmer to use, I suggest having a discussion with your swimmer about how much it costs. Consider having them pay for part of it or only committing to purchase one a year. In many cases, I feel that beginner/intermediate swimmers would be better off to spend that $200-300 on a summer swim camp than to purchase a tech-suit, so consider making that part of the discussion if you’re serious about the “investment.”
When buying these suits, remember they fit different than regular suits. Do not buy your first tech-suit online! I strongly recommend getting professionally fit for a tech suit each time you buy one. Even though you may find a good deal online, it means nothing if the suit doesn’t fit. Do not buy a bigger suit and hope your swimmer “grows” into it. You will make him/her work harder because of the extra drag. Also, the material will actually wear out sooner if it fits loose and you’ll end up needing a new suit when they actually can fit it.
One major perk to us being a Speedo sponsored team is access to the best tech-suit prices on the most effective tech-suits via our team vendor, PocoLoco. If you’re considering a tech-suit, bring your swimmer to our tech-suit fitting day or visit PocoLoco’s store to get the rundown on the options and get professionally fit. You’ll pay the best price, get the best fit and have the most peace-of-mind that your money isn’t wasted.
Make certain your swimmers follow appropriate care instructions with these suits. They MUST be rinsed out in fresh water after every use and laid flat to dry (not hung), and NEVER wring out the suit. It’s best to put them on after warm-ups and take them off when finished with the session, and not a good idea to wear them any longer than necessary. Be VERY careful when putting them on and taking them off. Long fingernails and excessive tugging have ruined many suits. A little bit of powder can help don a tight suit.
Bottom line, a swimsuit only helps you so much. These fancy suits certainly make a difference, but NOTHING compares to showing up to every practice and giving it 100% every day. Start with THAT in mind when considering how best to achieve those end-of-season goals. TRUE success comes from within someone, not outside them.
Next article: “Soreness versus injury”
What’s the point of warm-ups???
I know I tick a lot of you off when I insist that kids are present at all warm-up sessions before the meets. We have to drive a long way for these meets, and it would be easier to just bring our kids a little before they compete. Trust me, I wouldn't mind sleeping in that extra hour or so, myself! But my father used to tell me “if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right the first time.” We need to consider our kids’ safety and performance. Below, I outline three main reasons we need kids present at warm-ups.
FIRST: INJURY PREVENTION
Swimming doesn’t have a lot of acute (sudden) injuries. Most of them occur by accident (kids bump heads in the lane, someone slips on pool deck). However, muscle pulls and strains can occur due to inadequate warm-up. Think of the football players who spend a lot of time warming up so they don’t pull a hamstring on their first sprint off the line. While you don’t typically have that amount of force in our sport, it’s still possible.
I’ll give you a true story about my wife. When Alisha was on her college training trip, there was one morning where she didn’t get in enough warm-up before the main set. The air was a tad chilly and the pool wasn’t super-warm. The first set after warm-ups was sprints. On the first rep she felt a “pop” in her shoulder and a pain that didn’t go away. Sure enough, she tore a ligament in her rotator cuff and needed surgery to fix it. Could a longer/better warm-up have prevented that? We’ll never know for sure, but maybe 10 extra minutes of warm-up would have prevented that surgery.
SECOND: PEAK PERFORMANCE
Every time our kids step on the blocks for a race, I want their 100% performance. I fully understand that it may not be a “personal best” time every race, but that’s the mind-set I want them to have. When you only give 100% at the big meets, you rely solely on your big meet experiences to get you through. Since we don’t have a lot of big meets during the year, that’s not a lot of experience. But when you train in practice at 100% and you treat every meet like it’s 100%, it’s a lot easier to TRULY give 100% when a race matters the most.
Most kids can swim okay in meets without adequate warm-ups. But that’s about all we can expect, an average swim where all you really achieved is participation. Alternatively, getting to the meets early so your kids have a chance to warm-up and prepare for their events gives them the chance to have that 100% performance. If you’re going to give up your weekend to drive an hour (or more) and pay the money to have your kids swim at a meet, you might as well do everything you can to make it worth it.
THIRD: THE LITTLE THINGS
Think of a basketball team traveling to another school’s gym for a game. There’s no way the coach of the visiting team would only have his kids run laps and do stretches in the parking lot. While this new gym may have the same dimensions as their practice gym (10 foot rim height, 15 foot foul line, etc.), there’s so much more than that. How hard are the rims for rebounds? What’s the background like for foul shots? Does the floor have any odd spots where a dribble could be affected? These aren’t huge, but could make the difference between a win and a loss.
Swimming is no different. Dimensions should be identical, but what else could be different? Can you use the ceiling rafters to guide you in backstroke? Are their backstroke flags a little close/far to the wall? What pool markings can you visually use for flip turns? What do the starting blocks feel like? Are the blocks higher/lower than what we use? Stainless steel walls require a little different approach to open turns than tile walls. The width of the lanes can determine drafting options in distance races. Even something as basic as not losing focus when you dive in and realize the water is a lot colder than you expected can help with a few tenths of a second.
Let’s do everything we can to give our kids the best chances to perform well!
Next article: “The Great Swimsuit Debate (What’s a tech-suit?)”
Why do we start so early?
It seems like EVERYTHING starts in September, right? School, Fall sports, after-school activities, who knows what else? So why does AMFY have to start so early? Our championship meets don’t happen until March, what’s the need for a September start?
To answer this question, you need to understand how difficult swimming IS as a sport. Possibly more than any other sport, swimming requires BOTH a skill and endurance component to excel. There are other sports that require both, but few do so to the extent of swimming.
Let’s start with the skill-side of swimming. If you were to watch an Olympian swimming his/her race, it will look effortless (or at least like it’s not that hard). But anyone who’s tried to swim laps before knows that there’s a lot more to a race than moving one’s arms and legs. I’ll use freestyle as an example, and I’ll try to give a high-level summary of ONE arm-stroke (bear with me, I’m gonna get technical):
- Arm entry in the water must be at high enough angle to minimize drag upon entry but shallow enough to stay balanced
- Palm should be down on entry, fingertips “lightly” spread apart
- Core rotation should begin on entry and continue until fully on side and hand/arm is in balance-point
- The initial “catch” phase should begin with the elbow staying in place and the forearm and hand moving together while pressing down and back
- Core rotation should occur during the front-quadrant catch-phase and continue until the forearm reaches the hip
- Arm/hand exit from water should be quick and clean while elbow remains above both
- Hand should stay no wider than shoulder-width from the body on recovery with the elbow always above the hand
- Repeat on the other side
And that’s JUST the arms (oh, and this all happens in 0.5-1 second). We haven’t even discussed how the kick relates, head position, breathing, turns and starts. That’s also just ONE of the four strokes.
Now let’s talk about the endurance side of swimming. This isn’t as hard to comprehend. Let’s use someone training for a marathon run as an example. Suzie has 6 months to get ready for her race. She obviously won’t wait until the week before to get off the couch and start training. She will start with basic, short runs early on and then build up to the longer ones. Suzie knows the more she trains, the faster her time will be because her body is able to keep up her pace even as it gets VERY tired. That level of training can take several months to achieve.
Still not convinced? How about a scientific approach. The mathematical formula for fast swimming looks something like this:
STROKE LENGTH X STROKE REPETITION X STROKE EFFICIENCY = SWIMMING SPEED
Stroke length and efficiency are mostly based on skill/technique. Picture a body-builder who tries to swim freestyle. He/she could easily hop in and spin his/her arms as fast as possible with incredible speed and strength. But likely he/she won’t get anywhere because of poor mechanics.
Stroke repetition and (again) stroke efficiency are endurance factors. Think of a 100 meter dash in track. A sprinter can’t just use a slow jog to win the race. He/she must turn over his/her legs VERY fast and with good form to finish first. While most ANYONE can stand on a track, run as fast as we can and FINISH 100 meters, we won’t be as fast as those who train.
Bottom line, swimming is a HIGHLY technical sport. There are so many subtle things involved in technique that can take years to perfect. Now, combine that with the fatigue factor of the human body and you’ve got one of the toughest sports on earth. To have great results at the end of the season, we must start that season early. So as difficult as the balancing act can be with school, other sports, other activities, and whatever else our kids do, we can’t get around the fact that big goals require big commitments. I hope you can find a way to make everything work, and also raise some happy and wonderful children!
Next article: “What’s the point of warm-ups???”
Thanks to the Volunteers (Thanks, Mom)
Anyone who has been a part of any swim team probably dreads it when they are “asked to volunteer” at a swim meet. Even better, most teams “require” that you volunteer! Feels like you’re in the army, right? You pay all this money for your kids to be on a team, and you get to spend your weekends on a hot and wet pool deck while your shoes get drenched so you can click a stopwatch when a 9 year old sloshes in to the wall. What fun, right?
Don’t get me wrong, I get all that. There really aren’t many other sports or activities that “require” so much “volunteer” help to function. But let me give you a little insight to my history just so you can put it in perspective.
When I was a little seven year-old starting swimming for the Beavercreek YMCA in Dayton, I was pretty nervous at meets because it was all so new to me. But one thing my mom did back then was volunteer for the jobs that put her on pool deck so I could see her and have at least one familiar face. That really helped me as a kid to know that mom was there and watching.
My mom quickly became an official. Let’s face it, EVERY meet needs officials. Plus, they have front-row seats to every race. It made me feel a little better knowing that she was there with me, also “doing” something at my meets.
It didn’t take long for her to become meet director for our yearly invitational. I don’t know why, but I thought it was really cool to have my mom doing all that. I basically knew ahead of time how our meets were going to run. She slowly began to “recruit” my brother and I to work the meet during the sessions when we weren’t swimming. Little did I know this would be my start in Swimming Administration!
If THAT wasn’t enough, she next became Team President. I was still young, but I did realize that her doing this kind of volunteer work meant that she really liked the fact that I was on the team. I noticed that she did a lot more stuff than the average parent. That seemed to impress on me that what I did was important to her. And, once again, little did I realize that this was grooming me with front-row experience on Swim Administration!
My mom did all this up until I was in high school, when she stepped down as Team President to begin to groom another (unsuspecting) parent to fill her job. She wanted to have time to go to all my high school meets (of course, to officiate those). By this time, I had basically learned how to run a three-day swim meet, how to administrate a swim team, and I knew the swimming rulebooks (both YMCA and High School) better than most of the Officials did! I sure didn’t know it when I was 15, but I just received more training for my coaching career than most get over a lifetime.
Bottom line, I say thank you to my mom who helped get me to where I am now. Her volunteer efforts not only helped my team when I was young, but they’ve helped every team I’ve coached in my career. Her dedication showed me that she was invested in me, in my team, and in the sport. Volunteering probably never seemed like all that much to her, but it’s meant a lot to a lot of people.
So to you parents, who volunteer at all the meets, I say thank you as well. You not only help us facilitate the meets and give the kids a good experience, but you show how invested you are to your kids. Maybe your kids don’t know it right now, but they’ll look back at it one day and realize what it did for them. The next time you’re standing on a hot pool deck with soggy shoes while clicking a stopwatch, just think that it’s a lot more than just a spot to fill. It’s an investment in your kids future.
Next article: “Why do we start so early???”