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Swimming Fast in Practice

Looking back in the history of swimming, one piece of the picture is remarkably clear. Over time, the percentage of time that serious athletes have trained at close to race pace, has dramatically increased. Accurate reports from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s will show that only rarely in practice, did athletes come close to race pace swimming in training. During the 60’s and early 70’s distance was king and coaches compared notes about how much yardage they put in each day (and probably told a few whoppers along the way….) which resulted in an escalating distance war…..but the fact is, in the USA, training two hours before school and about 3 hours after school is about all anyone can do….if there is homework to done, meals to be eaten; etc. Now 5 hours a day, divided by a very fast 12 minutes per 1000 yards average, and you are going to top out quickly at 25,000 per day. (Reports tell us that 20K per day was not uncommon…but 25K might be the absolute tops.)

Now once that practical limit of 20K a day is reached, how do you “improve” by changing the stress? Naturally, you swim faster.

What are the consequences of 20K a day? A few that coaches and athletes experienced were mental fatigue with the sport (is that burnout?) physical fatigue and an inability to get to race speed very often for events shorter than a 1500, and of course at some point, the body (usually the shoulder….) goes into rebellion and bio-mechanics of even slightly flawed strokes taken over 20K a day takes its toll.

Meanwhile, our international rivals in the old Eastern Bloc countries, especially East Germany, were kicking our butt during the 70’s and 80’s. Coaches in the USA beat up on each other about “what are we doing wrong.” Over time, we heard the East Germans say, “we train harder than anyone.” And a few Eastern Bloc coaches and scientists came to our ASCA Clinics and talked to us of “accelerated methods of recovery” and related topics. Still, we didn’t get the full picture. Then we watched many of their best athletes do a meet warm up at major international competitions that consisted of 30 minutes of stretching, a 100 stretch out in the pool and a couple of very fast 25’s or 121/2s and get out! What did that mean?

Eventually, we came to the realization that our rivals were beating us by training far more INTENSELY (more yardage at race pace or faster) and far less VOLUME, than we were doing in the USA.

The “scratch your head” part of this was that every American Coach knew that more intense work fatigued swimmers faster than long, steady, smooth distance training. And when you did train intensely, it took longer to recover than it did from those 20K a day sessions of low intensity.

So how were they doing it.

By the late 80’s our suspicions were confirmed definitively. The entire eastern bloc, led by a magnificently efficient system in the old East Germany, were using drugs to recover more quickly beyond the ability of the human body without drugs to do so. So they could do “more intense work, more frequently, than their rivals in the west.”

Then the eastern bloc shattered at the end of the 1980’s. And only China emerged in the 90’s as progeny of the old East Germany, though they were much less perfect in their doping execution than the East Germans. (that is another long story of its own….) Scattered others used drugs but the day of an entire section of the world using something that others were not using was over.

Meanwhile, an interesting development and experiment was taking place…..in various clubs, universities and training situations around the USA, in reaction to the “limits” imposed by American society on the 20K a day training methodology, various coaches began experimenting with the idea of increasing the amount of race pace training in their training plans.

The same experimentation was going on in the land down under, our rivals in Australia.

Surprisingly, over time, we can deduce that today, many world-class programs do MORE intense work than the old East Germans did in the 70’s and 80’s or the Chinese in the 90’s. (more in terms of percentage of training at race pace and above.)

How can that be? Is the entire world on drugs now? I think not. But coaches have learned that we can expect MORE in terms of high performance in practice, than we thought we could, and recover in time to do it more frequently during the course of the week.

ALL of the old doped records are gone…..beaten by (we hope) clean swimmers of today. (OK, so some of today’s records might be compromised also…but no where near as many as in the past.)

With few in the world doing the 20K a day training efforts, we have swum faster. We are stronger, faster, and we train HARDER than ever before.

We hear of the “magic number” of 14K a day now, for swimmers ranging from sprinters (100/200) up through the milers. And a large percentage of that 14K is now done at velocities much closer to race pace. And a significant percentage of that 14K is done at FASTER than race pace.

Athletes eat better, rest more and have learned to recover faster.

And maybe, we have learned that some of the limitations we assumed from the past in terms of what athletes are capable of, were self-imposed limitations.

What are the “magic percentages” of race pace work? They perhaps vary from coach to coach, program to program, time in the season to time in the season, but they are significant. Much more work is done at the edge of aerobic/anaerobic interactions than ever before. And more is being done at velocities that are beyond that which will happen during the race.

Why this last? Why faster than race pace? One of the key bio-mechanical and physiological interactions that we now recognize is that as body velocity increases, the ability to streamline the body and get it out of the way of the water in front of it, is critical to continuing to increase speed.

When we train at race speed “plus,” we teach the body to get out of the way of the water. Many coaches use fins, paddles, assisted towing; etc. to stimulate the body to “learn” by feel, how to retain its least resistant shapes.

Now what does this mean if you are an age group coach today and you are preparing an athlete for the next stage in their development?

Some things DO NOT CHANGE….first, bio-mechanics (good stroke technique) comes first. We have to learn to swim slowly WELL, first, then swim faster with good technique. Then FAST with good technique and then, “race pace PLUS” with good technique. But the first job of an age group coach is teaching good technique.

Second, laying down a good endurance base between the ages of 10-14 for girls, and 12-16 for boys, is critical. And again, this is not about long, slow swimming. Its about developing the ability to swim faster on less rest. Slow 1000s won’t do this. The ability to “cruise” (to use an old term) on less rest is critical. If your cruise speed is 100’s on 1:09 (on a 1:20 base) today, six months from now, you’re trying to be 1:07 or 08 on a 1:15 base, etc.

Timeout: remember, the world record pace in the 1500 for men now is 57 seconds plus per 100 meters. Is that slow swimming? No, there is no “slow swimming” in races anymore.

Finally, whether you are training 8 and unders, or training senior swimmers, fast swimming in practice is how today’s elite athletes are improving their racing skills.

The major issue with young swimmers is that they are typically in “horrible” physical condition when you get them. They may NEVER have moved fast in their lives….you will have to teach them to be BETTER athletes, which means better limb speeds on land and especially, in the water. The ability to move LEGS in kicking and arms in pulling, and the ability to maintain body “integrity” (good body position) are all muscular and endurance components for young swimmers. Each day, they need some work at race effective speed and pace. For most of these young swimmers, that means some time per stroke cycle work in the 1.0 to 1.6 seconds per stroke range. Slower than that, and they won’t race well, faster than that and they won’t hold the water well.

Of course, no matter what age the athlete, no radical or sudden changes will work out well.

First, understand how much actual yardage per day/week/month, you are doing at race pace, or above race pace (or both).

Next, very gradually increase those percentages. How much is gradual? Probably 5% per week is acceptable.

Next you will want to know, increase until what percentage of practice is at or above race pace. Good question.

Enjoy the challenge of deciding that for yourself. Consult with those you admire in terms of how their teams swim. Decide where today’s “box” of accepted practices is…and then decide if you want to stay “within the box” or go outside the box.

Remember, nothing GREAT was ever achieved by staying inside someone else’s box of expectations. Do you want GREAT, or will you settle for Good?

All the Best for Great Coaching.

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How High Throughput Methods Could Revolutionize Drug Testing in Sport

By Laura A. Cox, Ph.D., Department of Genetics, Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, Alamo Area Aquatics Association, San Antonio, TX

Did you see the new television show “Life on Mars”? The main character is a police detective who is transported back in time from 2008 to 1973. During an investigation the main character asks his 1973 fellow-police detectives how long it will take to find out if fingerprints from a crime scene match any records in the database. One 1973 detective replies that it will take about 2 weeks. While the 2008 detective is thinking that two weeks is an incredibly long time and in 2008 it would only take a few hours, the second 1973 detective interjects that it’s amazing what technology can do to get the results back so quickly. As with crime detection, quick accurate results in sports drug testing can dramatically improve the odds of catching the bad guys.

This fictional story reminds us that technologies we take for granted today were beyond the realm of science fiction only 30 years ago. What does this have to do with drug testing in sport? Methods that are currently available for testing biological samples to identify genes, proteins, and many other substances were beyond imagination 30 years ago.

The classical approach in biology and medicine has been to test for one substance in one sample at a time. Tweaking the testing protocols might allow for increased throughput, i.e. faster sample processing, for testing for one substance in as many as 20 or 30 samples at one time. These methods were standard in the 1950’s through the early 1990’s. The convergence of increased computing power, implementation of stringent quality controls on reagents for testing, development of specialized software tools and machines in the late 1990’s has led to the development of methodologies that allow for testing of hundreds and even thousands of substances in a single sample.

In addition, these new technologies allow for analysis of hundreds of samples at once and require very small amounts of sample material. That is, using today’s technologies it is feasible to analyze samples from a few hundred individuals quantifying hundreds or thousands of substances at one time. And even though the current methods require much less sample material from each individual, the results are far more precise than previous methods. Because samples can be run in parallel, using less sample material and less time, these new technologies have dramatically reduced the cost of sample analysis for each substance from dollars to pennies and reduced the time to analyze samples from weeks to days.

In addition to more rapid testing and analysis, these new capabilities provide a “profile” on the thousands of genes or proteins in a sample and this profile is extremely sensitive to substances such as cigarette smoke and prescription drugs to name a few. This profile, which has been referred to as a physiological profile or a “physiological passport,” provides a detailed physiological fingerprint for each individual. Consequently, these new technologies allow us to not only ask: Do we find evidence of “Banned Substance X” in the sample from this athlete? But also allow us to ask: Do we see changes in a person’s physiological profile that suggests use of a banned substance?

In an era when some cheaters are collaborating with chemists for access to the latest designer steroid or growth hormone rather than using “Banned Substance X,” the availability of testing methods that identify abnormal profiles without prior knowledge of all substances currently in use by cheaters is a powerful tool. Biomedical scientists and clinicians transitioned to high throughput methods more than 7 years ago; maybe it’s time to increase the odds of catching the cheaters and leave behind the decades’ old approaches for drug testing in sport. If not, it’s just “Life on Mars” for clean athletes.

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Let’s Keep the Tech Suits With The Senior Swimmers: An Opinion by John Leonard

The last two weeks I have been at our LSC Junior Olympic Meet and our LSC “Division II” meet, which is a nice way of saying, “the last B meet where you can qualify for Junior Olympics,” without making any of our supposedly delicate children swoon upon hearing that they are in a “B” meet. (but that’s another story.)

One of the most disturbing trends that I have seen is age group swimmers, particularly 12 and unders and 10 and unders, in the new hi-tech suits made by all the swimsuit companies, in prelims and finals of these local meets.

First of all, congratulations to Speedo, and all the other swimsuit companies. Some have done real and very expensive research and come up with fabulous suits that clearly assist the swimmers in swimming faster…much faster. Others have simply done the “Burger King Thing.” (Burger King does little to no demographic or other studies when it locates its restaurants…..it lets McDonalds spend its money on those expensive studies and then Burger King just opens across the street from every new McDonalds….saves them a lot of money and they get there 3 months later….so what? Good bottom line approach. Trust your best competitor to do the heavy lifting.)

Now, the old man coach in me sighs at the sight of the new suits on anyone, but lets face it, they are here, they are good and they work. When it comes to setting World Records, American Records, Ugandan Records, Finlandian records, and making Senior/International Cuts, you’d better have one of these suits on, because the people swimming the fast times and setting those standards for the meets, are wearing them. If you don’t wear them, you are out of it. Unfair for you if you’re NOT wearing one.

Case in point, over 440 College Women have qualified for the NCAA Division I meet this year with the “A” cut..phenomenally fast. The biggest number in any prior year to make the NCAA Meet with BOTH “A” and “B” cuts has been 259. Every college conference meet in the country was incredibly fast….why???? …..The Suits. Again. Good for the companies, Good for the Senior/International Swimmers.

Now, we get to the Division II Age Group Meet where the goal is to swim fast enough and well enough to qualify for the Junior Olympics.

And low and behold, here are the high tech $150-$450.00 suits on 10 and unders and 11 and 12 year olds.

“B” Level 10 and unders and 11 and 12 year olds.

With some terrible stroke technique.

And going to practice 2-4 times a week, for an hour.

And not working all that well yet, in many cases.

And not paying attention to the coach all that well yet, in many cases.

And coming late to practice in many cases, because Mom and Dad don’t understand yet, the importance of being on time for practice.

And coming late to warmup for the meet, because Mom and Dad don’t understand the importance of warmup yet.

But Mom and Dad want to “support” their child, and they are told that those $150-$450 suits “work” and will make their child faster. And good parents help their child swim faster, right?

Right?

Right?

SO……..”honey, get the American Express card out and lets get Clarence one of those fancy new suits, so he can beat ________.”

Meanwhile, some of those same parents are objecting when the club wants to raise dues from $50 a month to $70 a month, because the club wants to pay their coach some more, so he can get rid of that 15 year old car, and actually drive to practice in something safe. He does the teaching of the swimmers.

Some of those same parents don’t respond when the coach says “Clarence really would improve a lot faster if he came to practice 3 times a week instead of twice.”

Or, “Gee, if you could get Clarence to look up from his cell-phone and text messaging when I am trying to talk to him, I’m pretty sure he’d listen and learn better.”

Or, “Please help me get Clarence to understand that hard work in practice is what will help him swim better and faster in the meets.”

Or, “You said that you’d like Clarence to turn better and can I fix that? Yes, I can, but I need Clarence to pay attention to his turns when he’s practicing if he’s to improve, and not just slop his way through practice without attention to details like turns. I’m here to teach and I need him to be here to learn.”

By buying the Tech Suit for Clarence, his parents are teaching him that you can buy the things you want in life. You don’t have to work for them.

You can simply buy speed. You can fix anything that you lack with enough money. No need to work hard. No need to Pay Attention. No need to Learn.

And, of course, reassuring themselves that they fully support their child in swimming….”you know what we did at the meet this weekend? We bought Clarence a $400 swimsuit? Can you imagine that? When I was a kid, I swam in my underwear and now my kid has a $400 suit! But boy, did it work! In his old suit, he hadn’t beaten “_______” in the 200 free all season, but with this new suit, he dusted that boy!”

So Clarence, who all season has gone 2:25 in the 200 yard freestyle, puts on the suit, goes 2:18 and qualifies for the JO’s where he puts it on again and low and behold, drops ANOTHER 2 seconds and gets to 2:16.

Hooray for Clarence! Mom is happy. Dad is happy. Clarence thinks its pretty cool…for about 10 minutes, until he gets out his $200 cell phone and goes back to texting his friends. Since he’s really more into that than the swim meet, or swim team, or practice.

Now what happens? Well, there are a couple of scenarios.

Lets say Clarence goes to a meet, (a regular, ordinary, one session age group meet) about two weeks later. Mom says, “oh honey, you did so well in your new suit, put that on again and lets see you GO!.”

So Clarence does. and surprisingly, he just goes about the same time…and actually, it maybe took some more work to get there. And his next swim is worse. And the one after that is worse still…. Clarence is disappointed. Mom and Dad are disappointed.

Coach walks over and says “let me see that suit. How many swims have you worn it for? Twelve? Well, these things wear out you know…they’re only good for just so many swims before they no longer do what they did do.”

Now Dad is just a tad suspicious……… “what did you say?”

“I said, these tech suits are not intended to be worn all the time. The material fatigues, wears out and you need a new suit if you wear it very often”

At this point it dawns on Mom and Dad that another $400 suit is going to make this a pretty expensive swimming month. And they haven’t even paid their club dues yet. Or their entry fee escrow account. And they are $800 in the hole.

Mom puts her foot down. “No more tech suit. Back to the jammer. We’ll buy you the tech suit for Championships only.”

Good. Firm decision, reasonable for the family finances. Very fair.

So two weeks later, Clarence goes back to his next age group meet, in his old jammer. And his 200 free slips back to 2:23. Long face on Clarence. Long face on Dad. Mom says, “maybe you’re just not cut out for this sport”

“or maybe your coach just didn’t prepare you properly for this meet.” Or, “he’s not really a very good freestyle coach anyway, did you see Clarence’s stroke fall apart in that 2nd 100, honey?”

NOOOOBODY IS HAPPY!

Clarence says to himself (or maybe even out-loud) “I can’t swim fast without the suit.”

What is lost in all this, of course, is that the reason his parents got Clarence into swimming was to make him more “fit” and “healthy” and give him a chance to “compete” and “learn to work for things” and be part of a good group of hard-working, dedicated kids.

What Clarence and his parents should have been doing is working to improve his practice attendence, his love of the sport itself, his ability to focus and learn, and his technical swimming skills…his strokes, his starts, his turns. His improvement should have been coming from “real stuff” and not a $400 swimsuit.

Then when he dropped to 2:23 from 2:25, it would have been a real improvement and everyone could have been happy and he would have been ENCOURAGED to work harder, pay more attention, and focus on the tasks he needed to improve.

Instead of relying on the “magic pill”of the suit.

The solution to all this? Very simple.

Ban the suit for age group competition. Nothing below the knee nor over the shoulder in any competition except Senior/International Swimming events.

Keep age group athletes focused on improvement coming from hard work, more practice, more attention in practice and quality coaching of good strokes, starts and turns. The real stuff. The right stuff. The only stuff that matters.

And make a rule to do this. Not just “an agreement among coaches.” We know there are always renegades who will do whatever a parent wants to get their kid to swim fast…whether a $400 suit or a hypodermic needle full of HGH.

It’s like the arms race….if Johnny has a $200 suit, then Clarence has to have a $400 suit.

The problem is not with the suit manufacturers. They’re in business to make money. And by getting senior swimmers to do marvelous times, they do that.

But lets not allow commercial considerations to DESTROY the purposes of age group swimming.

Again, Applause to Speedo and the others for a job well done. Let the suits do their magic at the Senior/International Level of swimming. At the age group end, the magic is in the process of working and learning.

Let’s keep it there.
John Leonard

Postscript: Southern California swimming has had this rule in place since 2000. The Rule reads……”swimwear in age group competion…The swimsuits worn for all age group competition, shall conform to USA Swimming Rule 102.9 and shall not extend past the top of the shoulder (the acromial process of the scapula) nor further down the leg than the top of the kneecap (Patella).”


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Developing Young Distance Swimmers

Presented by ASCA Hall of Fame Coach, Jack Simon.

From the ASCA 2003 World Clinic in San Diego, California.

I should probably name this talk "where are you at now"? That seems to be the first comment out of most people's mouth every time I come back to an ASCA convention. I would like to take a couple of minutes here to introduce two of my current assistant coaches who don't speak English and are probably out with Roberto Strauss at the pool where there is translation, but I don't see them in here. David Harbach who is coaching is down here; David was one of my first swimmers back in Florida. John Hayman who is the current coach at the University of Delaware, swam for me at Westchester. Eric Landen swam for me at Cincinnati and is now the Head Age Group Coach at Cincinnati. Tim Murphy worked with me at Westchester, and was probably the best assistant coach I had in my entire career. I knew from the onset that he was going to be a great coach and I think he has proven that to you all because now he is the Head Coach at Harvard University. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank Bill Rose for the opportunity to work with him at Mission Viejo. During that time I had the opportunity to work with some great athletes and also learn a lot from Bill. I had the opportunity one year to work with Paul Bergen. It was a tremendous experience to learn different coaching techniques and philosophies.

A young coach came up to me at the very beginning of this clinic and he asked me a few questions. The first question that he asked me was, "what is the best learning tool you have been able to use in your career?" and it really took me back. It took me about 30 seconds to even think about it, and I then said, "well I think it is my ability to listen and to watch the great coaches – Not only of the United States, but of the world, and that is how I started my career."

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Planning of Dryland Training for 12 & Under Age Group Swimmers

By Len Sterlin, BA ASCA Level 4 coach

ASCA Newsletter Volume #2001-8

Analysis of age group swimming- related publications and my own coaching experience shows that land-based training of young swimmers is not considered as important as at the later stages of their development.

However, according to recommendations of sport scientists and coaches of the most successful swimming centers of Russia (and former USSR) and Eastern Europe extensive dryland training should be introduced at the earliest stages of a competitive swimmer's development. They believe that strength training in the beginning of a swimming career is crucially important as it encourages mastering of swimming technique.

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Swimmer’s Shoulder

By James N. Johnson, MD

Swimmer’s shoulder is the term most commonly used to refer to the triad of over-use injuries which affect the anterior capsule (front) of the shoulder. The three conditions which all cause similar pain are biceps tendonitis, subacromial bursitis, and rotator cuff (usually supraspinatus) tendonitis. These entities all overlap and are related. The problem develops one of three ways or a combination of the three – improper technique related to a strength/laxity imbalance, too rapidly increasing volume, or too rapidly increasing intensity.

Improper technique, most often in freestyle swimming which makes up the largest percentage of training volume, develops because the athlete that chooses swimming usually has lax (loose) joints. A loose shoulder joint causes what is commonly called dropping the elbow but is actually the front part of the shoulder joint moving anterior (forward) to the plane connecting the body to the arm, more technically called anterior subluxation. The simplest way to correct this is teaching the swimmer to roll his or her body as a unit – hips, core, and shoulders at the same time. The idea is to keep the head and spine in line and for the body to rotate on the long axis of the spine like a barbecue skewer. Bilateral breathing may help some swimmers who have asymmetric body roll. Pulling with a buoy may help in the learning process by floating the legs thus decreasing the load on the shoulders and emphasizing the importance of generating the roll from the hips and core.

Too rapidly increasing the volume or intensity of training especially in the context of improper technique exacerbates the problem. Volume in itself is not bad. Some swimmers respond physiologically to high volume training based on their cardiovascular characteristics and muscle fiber type. Also, there is a place for high intensity training for a different type of athlete. And combinations of volume and intensity in different percentages benefit different athletes. But generally a progressive training program in terms of volume and intensity will protect the athlete with improper technique from swimmer’s shoulder. So, it is important to know each athlete’s training and racing history before beginning a season. Important aspects to consider are: maximum training volume per week in career, average training volume per week over the last season, number of years training and number of practices per week over that career, and, of course, history of race times and when they occurred during each season.

If an injury does occur despite proper technique and progression, prompt and considerate treatment is required. First, athletes must be allowed to communicate that they are injured. Once an injury is identified, the first thing a coach should recommend is to get a physician with an interest in sports involved. The athlete needs to have a proper evaluation and appropriate diagnostic work-up to diagnose swimmer’s shoulder because there are less common more serious problems, which must be ruled out. After a diagnosis of swimmer’s shoulder is made, the initial treatment includes relative rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication. Relative rest is generally returning to the level of training at which the shoulder did not hurt. If the pain persists at this level, further reduction in training load should be considered. Ice should be applied for 20 minutes at a time at least three times daily or more often if possible(as much as 20 minutes per hour in the evening after practice and prior to sleep). And, under a physician’s supervision, a 10-14 day course of anti-inflammatory medication (being aware that stomach pain could indicate a side effect, which would require discontinuation of medication). If initial treatment is unsuccessful after a two-week trial, reevaluation by a physician and subsequent physical therapy may be indicated. Cortisone injections are recommended by some physicians, and there is a place for them; but make sure the physician knows if the athlete has had any previous injections and where the athlete is in the progression of their swimming career (someone approaching their last ever meet may be a better candidate for an injection than someone early in their career). Surgery is a late stage treatment in rare cases.

In addition to monitoring technique and progression of training, prevention should also focus on strength development of the primary scapular stabilizers in addition to the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff muscles should function only as the secondary stabilizers of the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff is designed to move the shoulder through its full range and should not bear a heavy load. Strength training should focus on the trapezius, rhomboids, serratus anterior, and latissimus dorsi muscles of the back in addition to band exercises for the rotator cuff DONE PROPERLY, (emphasizing the inner range of motion which is well described in the literature).

Swimmer’s shoulder is a common entity which all coaches should be familiar with. There are accepted modes of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment that should be followed, which can help the athlete return to competition. If the physician, coach and athlete communicate and work closely together, fast and fun and injury-free swimming will be the end result.

References

  1. “Swimmer’s Shoulder.” Lecture by Craig Ferrell, MD ACSM Annual Meeting. 3 June 2000
  2. “Swimmer’s Shoulder: Targeting Treatment.” Scott Koehler MD and David Thorson MD The Physician and Sports Medicine. Vol. 24, No 11, 39-50, Nov 96.
  3. “Swimming Injuries.” William C. McMaster MD Sports Medicine. Vol. 22, No 5, 332-36, Nov 96.
  4. “Rehabilitation of Injuries in Competitive Swimmers.” Katherine Kenal and Laura Knapp. Sports Medicine. Vol. 22, No 5, 337-47, Nov 96.
Mayo Clinic, Department of Family Medicine, Jacksonville, FL, USA Swimming Sports Medicine Society, Assistant Coach of Gustavo Borges and Beaches Aquatics Club Olympic/Olympic Trials Group.
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Winning the Right Way

By John Maher, American-Statesman Staff

Glen Luepnitz remembers the moment when, out of the blue, he received a call from Richard Quick, coach of the US women’s swim team. Quick, a former coach of the University of Texas women’s swim team, had heard about Luepnitz’s work with athletes while visiting a daughter in Austin. He asked Luepnitz if he would consider working with some of Quick’s swimmers and provide advice on nutrition and supplements.

“I had just finished firing a couple of my patients,” Luepnitz recalled. “I had great suspicion they were cheating. So I kind of read him the riot act. I told him if I found athletes who were cheating, I would turn them in. And I said if he knew they were cheating, I’d turn him in.”

When the response was silence, Luepnitz figured the conversation, and the opportunity, were over.

Quick finally said, “Twenty-five years I have been trying to find someone who would say that.”

Thus began an unlikely partnership that has been extremely productive, even as it has become somewhat controversial. A week ago, the Houston Chronicle ran a story charging that Luepnitz had obtained his doctorate at a diploma mill. Quick and star swimmer Jenny Thompson came to his defense when later questioned by reporters in Australia.

“He’s a brilliant man, and I trust his judgment,” Thompson said.

“I have no doubt about his qualifications or his advice to our team,” Quick added.

After enjoying stunning success with two of Quick’s swimmers, Thompson and Dara Torres, Luepnitz now is serving as an adviser to the US swim team. It’s not a paid position, far from it.

“My out-of-pocket expenses will be $68,000,” Luepnitz said, pointing out that employees at Lone Star Oncology would still have to be paid while he was in Australia footing his own bills. “But once I said yes, there was no backing out.”

While no pay comes with the position, there are perils, some of which still lie ahead. Luepnitz runs a risk that a U.S. swimmer might break his rules and end up testing positive at the Olympics for a banned substance.

“That petrifies me, to get a black eye,” Luepnitz said. “It could really hurt me. Whatever control I have, I try to utilize.”

Improvement Without Cheating

Luepnitz, 41, specializes in nutrition and the use of supplements and how they can relate to the prevention of and recovery from cancer. But he’s also been pulled into a tangential field.

“Sports-performance enhancement is new and legal. There are a lot of people out there who don’t want to cheat,” Luepnitz said. “My interest in athletes and nutrition started with the moms and dads in the Austin area who had children participating in the semi-elite level. They were referred from local physicians. Some of these athletes went on to distinguished athletic careers in college. My name spread by word of mouth. Before I knew it, I was having elite athletes come and see me.”

Quick, a longtime and outspoken opponent of illegal drug use, was looking for ways to enhance performance without cheating or doing anything unhealthy for the athletes. In May, Luepnitz began providing advice on nutrition and supplements for Thompson and Torres, both of whom trained with Quick at Stanford.

“He started doing some counseling by phone, and then I sent him some blood samples to work with,” a pleased Quick said after the US swimming trials.

Thompson and Torres are about as different as swimmers can be.

“The have different body types and hormone profiles,” Luepnitz said. The powerfully built Thompson, 27, was trying to stay at the top of her game, while the taller, thinner Torres, 33, was attempting the near impossible, trying to make the Olympic team after seven years away from the water.

When Thompson went on to swim some of her best times, that was impressive. When Torres swam faster than she had in in her prime, making the Olympic team in three individual events, it was downright incredible. After the tour de force at the trials, other coaches were eager to have Luepnitz work with their athletes.

After the trials, Quick explained, “One of the reasons I have Dr. Glen Luepnitz working with our athletes is that I want those supplements that the athletes are taking to be No. 1, safe, No. 2, healthy and No. 3, legal. In today’s society where one of the heroes of the world of sport, a fellow who hit quite a few home runs, was using a performance-enhancing drug that was banned by the USOC, you could see athletes flocking into your local health food store or supplement store and just buying stuff randomly without supervision, without understanding if it’s safe, if it’s completely legal or not, then, going by the salesman’s idea of how much they ought to take and when they ought to take it.

“So, I’ve been on a search for somebody who had experience working with elite-level athletes in a safe, healthy manner.”

Not long after Quick named Luepnitz to work with the US team, however, Luepnitz’s credentials were questioned in a story in the Houston Chronicle. Luepnitz received his doctorate at LaSalle University in Mandeville, La., which grants degrees by mail. Luepnitz defended his degree to the Chronicle and said that in addition to course work, he’d written a thesis that exceeded 300 typewritten pages with another 150 pages worth of charts.

In Australia, Quick defended Luepnitz, saying it was difficult to get a degree in that kind of field and that Luepnitz had taken courses from schools all over the world.

They Almost Can’t Eat Enough

In athletics, however, courses and degrees don’t guarantee results. Athletes are interested in results, even if they don’t always grasp the process.

“The average athlete has no idea of how the body utilizes food,” Luepnitz said. Luepnitz and his elite athletes are a little secretive about his methods, lest the competition catch on. But he talked about the basics, which begin with the never-ending fight to keep the body from storing fuel as fat rather than burning it.

“Your body believes every meal is the last thing you’re going to eat. Survival rules,” Luepnitz said.

Under Luepnitz’s regimen, Thompson and Torres were taking almost two dozen supplements a day, including amino acids, minerals, protein powders and some controversial, but legal, creatine. But Luepnitz said such measures are only the top of a pyramid.

“The base of the pyramid is extremely good nutrition,” Luepnitz said. “You have to eliminate the toxic junk that even athletes eat. When you’re processing the chemicals from your own food, you’re not processing energy.”

Cokes, tea and coffee predictably are on his hit list. But so is too much juice, even if it’s fresh squeezed orange juice.

“Juice is sugar water,” Luepnitz said. Another surprise is the athletic power drinks, which Luepnitz said are OK during competition but a lot of empty calories afterward.

“The most common fallacy is the carbohydrates,” Luepnitz said. “Athletes eat too many carbohydrates. That creates spikes in the blood sugar and insulin. The other fallacy is that they believe they can’t eat meat. Beef can be very lean. The average athlete is protein-malnourished. An athlete might need 17 ounces of meat a day. And I’m asking them to eat six times a day. Fueling the elite athlete is a huge problem. They almost can’t eat enough.”

He continued, “The next step in the pyramid is proper rest. Most Americans are sleep-deprived.”

He said aspiring young athletes “need eight to 10 hours of sleep. I tell them they should be in bed around nine. They have to get into the concept that athletics is a lifestyle, a 100 percent lifestyle commitment.

“Next above sleep is the type of exercise. I don’t step into that area. Above that are supplements. I consider them to be an edge.”

He’s big on glutamine – an amino acid – and protein supplements, and also uses antioxidants and minerals.

Quick said, “He doesn’t represent any company. He’s not trying to sell any product. He’s interested in helping athletes achieve a great performance again in a healthy, safe, legal way.”

You may contact John Maher at jmaher@statesman.com or 445-3956.

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It’s Taper Time

Compiled by Coach Bob Steele

Editor's Note: The following short article compiled by Coach Bob Steele first appeared in USA Swimming's COACHES QUARTERLY in March of 1995. It's a great summary of a complex topic.

Tapering Research

The following ideas are provided for coaches to utilize as situations and philosophies permit. Results may vary depending on the individual athlete. The ICAR Annuals (1989-1991) provide these research concepts for coaches to apply:

Diet and Taper Training

  1. It is important to maintain caloric intake that matches caloric cost in order to avoid rapid weight loss.
  2. During taper periods, an adjustment in caloric intake should be made that matches the reduced caloric cost as a result of decreased training volume.
  3. Calories are important in the provision of proper nutrient intake and maintenance of energy storage. If disrupted, training response may be compromised.
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What’s New & What’s Not

By Dick Hannula

What's new and what has been around for a long time but now has a new package? I've been in the process of cleaning out my files, and boxes of newspaper clippings that were never filed. I keep running across the old that is now considered new, and some very interesting articles that keep me from making the timely progress that I'm trying to attain. Currently I'm reading a 1975 newspaper interview with Olympic women's coach, Jack Nelson. He was asked about the new training methods and their contribution to lowering swimming times. Jack responded, "Practically everything "new" is 10 to 40 years old, if not 80. I'd say about 80% of those articles that we read about new training methods have been around for years. They give it a new name and they write about it."

I heartily agree with Jack. This extends to technique as well. I don't want to give the impression that nothing is new. However, most of what is new is the fine tuning of what has already been done. One example of a "new" concept is the trunk rotation, or swimming on the side, in the long axis strokes – free and backstroke. Much of what has been written recently indicates that this is a new concept in swimming. Where have these people been? Murray Rose and his generation of Australian Olympians swam on their side, rotating the trunk. This was in 1956, and they weren't the first swimmers to use this technique. Howard Firby was lecturing in the early 1960s that free and backstroke were swum best using the trunk rotation, or swimming on the side. He illustrated this in his lectures through the use of a molded, from clay, swimmer. He also illustrated this in his drawings that he later used in his excellent book. Howard was a commercial artist, and had an exceptional "eye" in analyzing why some swimmers swam faster than others.

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Phases of Athlete Development in an Age Group Program

By Pat Hogan, Mecklenburg Aquatic Club, North Carolina

The Mecklenburg Aquatic Club program has been structured on the premise that there are four basic phases of athlete development in age group swimming. At each level of the program, we continually try to evaluate and adapt to the multitude of factors, both scientific and sociological, that impact the growth and development of young athletes. Experience has taught us that the perfect age group program is a moving target that changes as the population we serve changes and as we learn more and more about the development of young people.

The following is an outline description of the four phases of development and the basic premises that currently guide our thinking at each of these levels. The final page of this packet is a chart, which provides an overview of the entire MAC program.

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