Tim Edmonds Blog

Swimming Thoughts from Coach Tim Edmonds

Course Adjustment – Spring 2014
bandWith the opening of the wonderful new Avery Recreation Pool on the West side of campus there are more and more opportunities to enjoy the water at Stanford. Swimming is incredibly popular on campus and we are most fortunate to have truly amazing facilities to accommodate our community.

It used to be that you had to head over to the Avery Aquatic Center in the evening or during the summer months to do much short course yards swimming (SCY / 25 yards). With the new Avery Rec. Pool regularly being set up 25 yards our SCY availability has increased multifold. With that in mind I thought this a good time to point out some of the specific benefits of swimming and training SCY as opposed to long course meters (LCM / 50 meters).

Let me start by saying that pool length need not be a limiting factor to your success no matter what that length might be. Record setting swimmers at every level and at every distance have found ways to succeed regardless of their training environments. Many of us can remember the days of training and racing in 20 yard pools, in 33 1/3 yard pools, and a few of us have even swum in that rarest of birds, the 50 yard pool. The point is, with the right plan swimmers can succeed in any pool.

Is there a best course to train? That’s a tough question to answer, and perhaps the best answer is to say that every course has its merits and that a mix of training is probably the best recipe for success. For now though let’s look at some reasons that you might want to get yourself to the pool for some 25y training.

Average Velocity – Simply put, when you train SCY your average velocity is faster. Yes, much of this is due to speed that comes from pushing off the walls. Wall speed is a valuable teacher. Inefficiencies are more pronounced at a higher velocity and learning the feel of speed makes maintaining or recreating that speed a bit easier. Once you’ve felt what it’s like to be faster it’s hard to give it up!

Lower Heartrate / Less Lactate – It’s been true forever…SCY training (even intense training) comes with lower heart rates and less lactate production than similar LCM training and racing. This is true in part because of the period of “rest” associated with each turn, and also with the metabolic shifts associated with swimming LCM. Of course it’s also true that yards are a bit shorter than meters! The important thing to remember though is that you can train harder in a SCY environment without it costing your body quite as much (though it might not always feel that way!).

Breath Control – This is not a debate about the value of hypoxic training in swimming, we can save that for another time. An easier argument in favor of breath control in freestyle and butterfly is this: the period immediately before, during, and immediately following a breath is the time when it’s most likely that a swimmer will compromise good body position as they bring their head out of line for the breath. This makes learning to breathe less often (or breathe more efficiently) quite important. The extended period of submersion involved in the turn and the underwater streamline off the wall forces a break between breaths in a way that breathing every 3, 5, 7… strokes cannot. While swimming at the surface you can always cheat and sneak in a breath (you know you do this!). It’s much harder to sneak in that breath during an underwater streamline!

Technique 1 (Frequent Re-Creation) – Swimming short course forces you to create and recreate your best technique more often. It can be very difficult to correct a flaw while you are swimming (let alone late in a 50m length). When swimming SCY there are more fresh starts and more opportunities to tweak your stroke off of each wall.

Technique 2 (Distance Per Stroke)– Again, due to the “rest” associated with turns, swimmers tend to swim with a longer stroke and maintain a higher distance per stroke (DPS) while swimming SCY. The opposite is also true…while swimming LCM swimmers tend to see a gradual drop in DPS over the course of each length. Learning to maximize DPS is easier in a SCY environment.

Technique 3 (Control & Learning) – Similar to above, the SCY environment lends itself to better practice of new technique, drills, and development of your less refined strokes. It’s much easier to carry your newly minted breaststroke over 25y than it is to cover 50m with the same sense of control. Maintaining great technique over a single length can be a milestone. Training SCY allows those milestones to happen at more reasonable intervals and that helps maintain the all-important growth mindset.

Core Work – The increase in turns can bring a better core workout to your SCY swim. Both flip turns and open turns require core strength, core awareness, and core rotation. Additionally, off of each wall your underwater streamlines must be done with a tightly contracted core for greatest efficiency. Additionally, the first stroke or two of each length require heightened core strength and core awareness than strokes later in the length.

Speed Development & Strength – For each SCY length your wall push-offs, breakout and first strokes are an opportunity to really define your power and acceleration. From the plyometric effort of each push-off to the whole body explosiveness of each breakout you are developing both speed and strength at more regular intervals than when you train LCM.

You now have lots of new reasons to head to the pool for some SCY swimming. Of course you can work on many of the same things over a 50m course, but you’ll only be able to do them half as often! Does that mean you’ll only be half as good? Unlikely, but these benefits of swimming SCY should lead you to make it a regular part of your training. If all of this sounds too short for you and you’re looking for some REAL long course pool swimming you should check out the Kitsilano pool in Vancouver, the Garden City “Big Pool” in my home state of Kansas, or the REALLY big pool in San Alfonso del mar in Chile…Now THAT’S some long course swimming!

Hope you find yourself at the pool sometime soon…Remember to keep your eyes on the bottom and swim like you mean it!

Join the Band – Winter 2014
bandHave you invited the band to join your swim workout? While thoughts of the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band surrounding you in the lane might not seem like a great enhancement to your training, there’s an easier way.

Adult swimmers love to “enhance” their workouts with gear. While some might call excess use of gear “cheating,” I’m of a different mind. You’ve heard me say this before…any gear that helps a swimmer get through a workout and leave happy having done a bit of cardio work is a great thing.

Favorite “extra” swim gear falls pretty much into two categories: fins and pulling gear. While both types of gear have their evangelists and detractors, for the purpose of this article we’ll focus only on the pulling gear.

Pulling is amazing. If you have a back end that tends to sink a bit while you swim, there is nothing like a pull buoy to bring that caboose right up to the surface eliminating a fair bit of resistance and allowing you to drop 5-10 seconds from each 100m of your workout. It’s a dream.

But, is putting on a pull buoy, or even adding hand paddles really pulling?

What are your feet doing while you are pulling?

The likely answer is…they’re kicking!

No matter how much someone professes that they NEVER kick while wearing a buoy, they do. For swimmers who have spent just about any amount of time in the water, the natural instinct is to use the control surfaces of the top and bottom of the feet to assist in helping the body find some efficiency in the water. It might not be perfect, but even beginners are using their feet to position the body for balance, and even (gasp) provide a bit of forward propulsion.

Try this. Next time your pulling, pull a few lengths of the pool with a buoy between your thighs and with your legs crossed at the ankles. Switch from right-over-left to left-over-right at every turn. It won’t take long for you to notice that you are engaging your core a lot more, that your legs want to fishtail a bit, and that your quickly tiring upper body is now responsible for doing ALL the work. Prior to the crossover, your legs were doing a fair bit of that work. Note, if your legs sink while doing this drill try adjusting the buoy down to the knees, or even down to the ankles (without the crossover). The goal is to eliminate foot movement without losing the core lift gained from the buoy.

Does using your feet while pulling really matter? I had a coach who used to say, “If you’re not wearing a band, you’re not pulling!” To him it was that simple, pulling means that the feet should be fixed. There are many swimmers who have perfected the art of swimming with a buoy. With a healthy kick behind their buoy, what they’re doing can hardly be called pulling.

Whether you think pulling requires isolation of the feet or not, this is a great opportunity to add something new to your training mix, AND add a tiny new piece of gear to your swim bag. More toys…oh goody!

The new piece of gear is “The Band”. No, there are no trumpets or bass drums here…Pulling bands, or ankle straps, or pull tubes come in many varieties. The most common is simply a circle of rubber inner tube, either the cross section of a larger truck inner tube or a segment of a thin road bike tube (no slime please!). A more formidable type is actually made of a partially inflated wheelbarrow inner tube. This is called a pulling tube. This kind of band adds some buoyancy at the ankles, and also creates drag that can become a wonderful, painful, adversary during your pull sets.

Safety First!! The ankle band is a somewhat advanced piece of training equipment. IF YOU ARE JUST LEARNING TO SWIM DO NOT TRY THIS. The entire purpose of the band is to isolate or eliminate the movement of the feet. First attempts at using an ankle band should ONLY BE DONE UNDER DIRSCT SUPERVISION OF A COACH, TRAINING PARTNER, AND/OR LIFEGUARD.

The band is placed at the ankles and should connect the two legs together allowing little or no movement of the feet. Once the band is over the first foot it may be twisted once or twice to keep it snug before squeezing in the second foot. The buoy is placed, as usual, at the thighs (or lower if your legs are sinking). You may add hand paddles if you choose. With the ankle strap in place it’s time to start doing some REAL pull sets.

Start with the leg crossover pulling drill with just a buoy and no band. Progress to swimming with a buoy at your ankles (a very tough drill), and when you’re ready add in a band. Your swim times and your core will be better for the addition.

Get to the pool. Get wet. Get fit. And keep trying new things!

Your Aquatic Convocation – Fall 2013
coachingAt last month’s convocation President Hennessy challenged the entire academic body to Explore, Transform, and Reinvent our worlds. He and the other speakers followed a common theme that was nicely summed up with Vice Provost Elam’s call for the Stanford experience to be a “transformative adventure.”

At the pool one of our hopes is that you might choose to transform and reinvent yourself as someone who loves swimming and who finds a lifetime of fitness and enjoyment around the water. That said, even if you might have “formerly” been a swimmer, getting started (or restarted) can be a chore, a bit intimidating, and to some it can be downright terrifying.

I’d like to pass on some simple advice that I’ve shared with what now must be thousands of swimmers (and future swimmers) over the years. Whether at the pool or in any new fitness routine I hope it will help you get started with a new transformative endeavor. If you’re already dedicated (perhaps addicted) to a life of swimming this is great advice to share with a friend whom might be a little too “at one” with their sofa.

- BE BRAVE (just a little bit)

It’s not jumping out of a plane or going into space, but for some, coming to the pool might seem just as scary or improbable. First things first, if you don’t know how to swim you can enroll in one of Stanford Aquatics’ great learn-to-swim classes. If you do know how to swim and are still a bit leery I beg you to embrace your fear and turn it into motivation to do it anyway! Don’t let the fear control you…you control it!

Many concerns about getting started at the pool center around body image and the mortifying thought of the “attire” of swimming. In my experience, and ESPECIALLY at Stanford, this concern is unfounded. First, at the pool (especially with the Masters team) we’re all there to swim…there’s no judgment and the water accepts everyone! PLUS, while you’re in the water everyone is roughly the same size. Huh?? Try this…Put your right hand at the base of your neck and your left hand on top of your head. That’s the size of nearly every swimmer in the water! If you’re regularly getting out of the water much past your shoulders you should talk to Coach Vargas or Coach Tanner, they need people with those skills in goal for Stanford’s water polo teams!

Still stressed? I’m reminded of something my mom used to say when it came to issues of image and what others might think, “The people who care don’t matter and the people who matter don’t care.” If you want to swim, do it! The hell with what anyone else thinks!

– START SMALL (really small!)

Your first few swims should be short. The shower that you take after the swim might last longer. These workouts are about little more than finding the pool and getting in the water. If you swim for less than 10 minutes it’s just fine! In fact I’d say that anything over 20 minutes is too long. Just get to the pool and get in the water. Your first 2-3 swims can follow this same pattern. What you want to do is leave the pool knowing that you could have done more.

With new swimmers I often use the analogy of a favorite place to eat. If you visit your favorite restaurant and eat a bit more than you should have you are unlikely to want to return the following day. But, if you have just a taste and leave the table hungry for more, you’re likely to return for a full meal soon. Your first swims are about finding the pool, having a taste, and leaving the pool hungry for more. These first few sessions are the tasting carts at Costco. It’s a good idea to sample some freestyle before you try to down that 96oz jar!

After you’ve swum two of three starter workouts you can begin to ramp it up. Ramp up slowly. Add perhaps 5 minutes every other time. Your comfort and fitness will already be growing and you’ll begin to welcome a bit of fatigue at the end of your swim. One critical thing to remember is, NO PAIN as you’re getting started. The phrase “no pain, no gain” must have been invented by people who wanted beginners to hate exercise. Keep it short, keep it enjoyable, and keep it CONSISTENT…

- BE CONSISTENT (fill the bucket one drop at a time)

While your first several workouts should be short, they can’t be infrequent.

Knowing that it takes just a few weeks to form a new habit (good or bad), my request is always that new swimmers shoot for 10 swims in 3 weeks. That’s essentially every other day for 20 days. You are always welcome to swim more than one day in a row. However, the caveat is, as you’re getting started, you should never skip swimming for more than one day in a row. As you start it’s always OK to double up on workout days, but it’s not OK to double up on no-swim days. It all goes back to forming a new healthy habit.

As you progress with your swimming you can easily take 2 days away from the water without risk of breaking your habit, but consistency should still remain an important part of your first several months of swimming.

I regularly see swimmers who would like to get in shape and improve by swimming just 2-3 times a week. While not impossible it’s unlikely that they will succeed. They usually grow frustrated and walk away from the sport and their fitness routine.

Reminds me of the young lady who asks a man on the street in New York City and says, “Excuse me, but how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” to which he responds, “Practice, practice, practice!” How do you develop a swimming routine? The same way!

That’s it…If you’ll be brave enough to try, start small, stay hungry, and stay consistent. You’ll be well on your way to yet another transformative adventure here at Stanford and a lifetime of fitness and fun in the water.

As always, I’ll hope to see you at the pool!


Damn Backstroke Flags! Why do I need them? – Summer 2013
backstroke flags
To some of you this is going to seem like a basic, even simple, topic. I’m OK with that. The basics can be pretty important. The legendary John Wooden spent hours over the course of his career simply teaching his athletes how to put on their socks. The day-to-day stuff that we regularly ignore or take for granted can really matter.

Backstroke flags! These triangular shaped pennants are strung above the pool to offer backstrokers a visual indication that they are approaching the wall. How important are they? Ask any swimmer who has tried to swim quickly into a backstroke turn or finish without them. Sprained wrists, broken bones, stitches, concussions…having flags and knowing how to use them effectively is important to both speed and safety.

So, how do I use the flags? Well…first you have to know where the flags are. Flag placement changes between the courses (yards v. meters). Different facilities can suspend their flags in different ways (I’ve been to pools where the “flags” are just a line painted on the ceiling). Each time you swim ALWAYS look to see if the flags are in place, and make a mental note of where they are relative to the wall AND the surface of the water.

In a 25 yard pool the backstroke flags are set 5 yards from the wall. In 25 and 50 meter pools the flags are set 5 meters from the wall. While this is only a difference of 17 inches, it regularly happens that swimmers (even the best swimmers) misjudge turns and finishes due to course changes. A missed turn or finish, when short, is just slow. A missed turn or finish, if long, can end in the Emergency Room.

While the flags’ distance from the wall isn’t supposed to change, the height of the flags off the surface of the pool (and from your eyes) can change dramatically. The acceptable range of height is 1.8m to 2.5m from the surface of the water (a range of 28 inches!). Depending on the angle of your head and line of sight as you pass under the flags, these changes in height can make a real difference in your stroke count.

Additionally, in an outdoor pool, weather can play a factor in flag position. In our Baker pool, when swimming SCY, the flags strung the length of the pool can easily move by 1-2 feet on a windy day. Along those same lines the flags can sag substantially when wet from the rain.

Once you’ve sized up the flags it’s time to start using them for their intended purpose.

Remembering that the flags are there to provide a consistent indicator of your distance from the wall, you want to figure out exactly how many strokes/hand hits are required in order to reach the wall with your hand (to the touch). The best way to do this involves a partner.