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
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
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…
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
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
The packed neck in
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.
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.
breaststroke flaw is lifting the head to look forward. Packing the
neck stabilizes the whole body for a strong pull and
NOT a packed
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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.
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
Now that all that
is out-of-the-way, lets discuss the different start
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 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 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
The 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
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.
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).
After 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!
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
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.
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
from the Sports Medicine Clinic
4 Key Components to
Why is hydration so
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.
Have a water bottle present and all workouts and throughout most of
“Fuel up” 1 to 4 hours before workout (when
Be awake at least 1 hour prior to EVERY workout… including
Refuel within 30 minutes of EVERY workout!
Why refueling is
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
If you are interested
in learning some more about nutrition then check out the
information posted at the pool on the age group
with former Auburn and Stanford Coach Richard
Check out some of the
great feedback that Coach Quick likes to give his swimmers during
Never, Never Give Up!" - Winston
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
I think there is a
better answer: ALL OF THESE ATHLETES EXPERIENCED ADVERSITY AND
OFTEN TIMES FAILURE.
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
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!
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
"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
"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
Do you believe in
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
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
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
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
6. Never stop learning.
You must dedicate yourself to constant and never ending
improvement. You must always strive to better yourself each and
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
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.
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
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
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
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.