Panel Q & A: Research and Training (2003)


What we will do at this time is, if you have specific questions for any of the panelists, I will repeat the question into the mike so that we can make sure we get it on the recording and then we will ask our panelists to do their best to answer them for you.


Question:  Power racks and parachutes – how early in the season do you want to start that, on a 30 weeks season. 


Answer:  We started to do the evaluations the first week and the first half of the season and this is compliments to Jim Stein. We really focus on increasing the number of reps while keeping track of the decay in power throughout the reps.  So, this is one of those cases where a little knowledge is dangerous and it is not one of those things which you want to do lightly.  So, the answer to the question is, we start right off the first week, basically doing the assessments.


Question:  What do you do with an athlete who maxes out the power rack in less than five seconds? 


Answer:  Well again, we made multiple modifications to increase, let’s say, the capacity of that rack.  One of the things we did was we built a set of weights that actually went on top of the weights that exist there which doubled the capacity and with twice the capacity we never run into anybody that could max it out.  They can do it on a 1 RM but they can’t do it repeatedly.


Question:  Are the workbooks available?


Answer:  I can make them available.  I have some of them printed up already.  If someone is interested in them, if they contact me, I will be more than happy to make sure they get it.  However, there is a slight cost involved for the printing and binding and all that kind of stuff.


Question:  You say the workbooks are for about the age of 10?


Answer:  It ages of the subjects ranged from; I believe the sample was 10 year olds up to 18.  The mean age is about 14 or 15.  I just targeted youth swimmers because that was one of the focuses for the grant.


QuestionSo would the workbook would be just as applicable to a group of older athletes or a group of masters?


Answer:  Yes, although adults may find the workbook a little simple.  I wanted to write it so a youth could use it.  But absolutely, there is whole literature that talks about what would apply to adults.


Question:  In the bodysuits, did the buoyancy factor have an effect on body alignment? 


Answer:  I don’t believe so.  The question is, if you had an increased buoyant force, but no change in the center of buoyancy location, would it then cause you to be out of alignment more?  On a strictly mechanical standpoint, if you increase force you increase torque, given the same stroking arm.  Interestingly though, about the actual application of that, I think the benefit of riding higher in the water outweighs probably the small increase that you get, if any, in the changing of the angle of your body. I think part of the reason swimmers find the benefit for buoyant devices is that more of the body is above the surface. Because once the body rises above the surface, the center of buoyancy changes is          due to less of that body being underwater.


Question:  My question is then, would a parachute which was not improving the buoyancy but not hurting anything, would it raise or lower the body to affect the center of buoyancy and cause the feet to sink?


Answer:  Well, we don’t know exactly, remember, we simply measured the distance.  We didn’t automatically say that the distance is going to cause a change in angle.  It’s just that if all things are equal, a larger distance will tend to cause the feet to sink.  So, the question is, if there is no overall buoyant force but you can shrink that distance, maybe you can ride more horizontally in the water even if you may not ride higher in the water.


Comment from Audience:  Just a comment on the suit, that if increases your buoyancy in the first minute is significant, there is a difference there, I think there is a mechanical difference about how you wear the suit and you should practice in them.  So, unless you change suits, to go for a minute, change suits, go for another minute, I have seen that and yet it is subtle on the elite, very elite level, but I think when you get to the very elite level those significant differences are, you are going to have to make technical changes to get what you want in improvement. The other thing is that the suit, I have another question about the suit, okay?  About the buoyancy of the suit, you are not taking into consideration the fabric of the suit or how it is made.  I mean, this is only buoyancy. Can’t you be buoyant with that heavier suit that might have some sort of detrimental affect on drag and other factors?


Answer:  I think, well first of all, we are taking the fabric into account.  Part of the reason for that is the fact that suits lost their buoyant affect over time is that whatever air was captured in the fabric when you first got in the water is clearly visible as coming up as bubbles over time. As the material absorbed water and air was released, you saw the curves getting less and the buoyant forces dropped.  So it clearly it is a matter of fabric.  Now, there is something about the fabric that captures air when you first get in the water.  That is why, at least my thought coming into the study was, and I have seen people swim at masters’ meets with these body suits on.  They are warming up in them and they are swimming their whole day in them. You know, the one time that I have worn one in a meet, it was THE first time it was on.  I wore it right when I got onto the starting blocks and went in.  I figured if there is a buoyant effect right at the very beginning, why should I warm up with them on?  I thought I should race in with a dry suit to get the full effect of buoyancy.  Okay, so these results partly support that.  The question is how can you train with a bodysuit on in order to adapt?  If your stroke is going to change based on the buoyant effect your question is how do you really train?  I think the answer, is you don’t.  Unless you can find a suit that doesn’t have a loss in buoyant force over time, you don’t.  We have found two suits that had some extended time, the Adidas and the Arena.  We also found one of those suits seemed to not lose its buoyant effect at all, the Arena suit.  I suppose the answer to your question is if you tried it in an Arena suit, you might be able to train while getting some feeling about that buoyant effect and if it might affect your ability to swim faster.  Because of training in suits, there is a whole new future study which needs to be done, I think.  Right now, I think most of these performance things are gained training in regular conventional suits or you can simply swim with it dry in a meet.


Question:  So, does a false start affect the results at the finish?


Answer:  It depends on how quickly you get back out of the water and dry off.  If you go in the water with a false start, it would seem to me that you would want to get right out of the water if you were in a suit that is expected to perform best when dry, you’d want to get right out of the water.


Question:  How about backstrokers?


Answer:  Backstrokers are using them; hopefully they are not spending a lot of time in the water prior to their race.


Additional Comment:  Terry’s question reminded me of another statement I had about the body suits.  It might be something people may want to think about.  About the swimmers I have worked with, when do they wear the bodysuit?  They think it is best for 50 and 100 meter swims.  When it gets to be a 200 or more, it seems as though their legs fatigue faster and it is more difficult for them to recover.  This is an important consideration when you have a number of swims during the day.  This is especially so in a championship scenario where you have to swim several days in a row.  So, I don’t know if that has anything to do with your study, but as far as talking about training with the suits, I would probably look into that. 


Question:  Inaudible


Answer:  It is a future study.  We did collect some data of which we have analyzed only partially and I have no results to give you.  After each of the swimmers was done with the suit, after doing all the different 4 minutes of testing in a given suit, we would unhook them and then we had an underwater camera that videotaped three maximum effort push offs in a streamline position from the wall.  So what if we have underwater video on push offs?  The plan was is to see if there was any change in the deceleration profile off the wall in these suits.  So, we do have more data to analyze, it was just an extra thing we wanted to get.  It was not part of this study but related to it, but we don’t have any results as of this time.


Question:  Can you make a correlation or assumption based on previous data about the buoyancy effect or the center of buoyancy affecting water, increasing buoyancy and thus increasing velocity.


Answer:  Oh, there is definitely data on wet suits that show increased buoyancy effects. yes.  Now, how it might work, for example, the data in push offs where it is just completely under the water anyway.  It would be a measure, not of the buoyant effects from these suits, but more simply the passive drag associated with the friction on the material itself.  That’s a whole separate question, related, but separate to the effect of raising the body higher out of the water with a buoyant device like a wetsuit.  Part of the reason you get less drag is that there is less of you underwater.  That is a different issue.


Question:  Would the fabric’s ability to retain the bubbles or retain the air have a definite advantage in a race?  And, does the law permit it?


Answer:  I suppose we could all go out with whatever suit we have and Scotchguard it before we swim.  I have heard of people doing that. They are also taking body suits that they have worn for something like a year or so in lots of different masters’ meets and Scotchguarding it again.  They hope to retain some of the original water repellent properties of the suit.  Now, your other question was if you could do that, should it be allowed? Is it unfair to be able to keep the buoyant affect over time?  I am not the person who would be best to argue about whether it is going to be allowed or not.  I do have some feelings on that, but it is up to some rule maker(s) somewhere.


Question:  On methodology, were the tests repeated by measuring each person in a suit and were the tests randomized?  How about the effect of exhalation upon that buoyancy result?


Answer:  Yes, there were repeated measures and it was randomized.


Question:  Were they fasted?


Answer:  No, we just took them as we saw them, but they were fully exhaled every time so at least we tried to standardize that portion of the test.  We made the assumption that the amount that they exhaled was constant across all suits, none the less.  You are correct in saying that the randomized presentation is important because there is a potential that a person would become more comfortable being underwater fully exhaled for a period of time after you have done the test awhile.  So maybe the suits that were tested later in the sequence would have a greater amount of exhaling then that of the very first suit that you tested.  The test subject might be more uncomfortable and unwilling to exhale properly at that point.  That person wouldn’t be quite willing to blow it all out and hold underwater for a while.  Now, because of that possibility, we always tested the conventional suit first. After that, the bodysuits were randomized.  If there was some fear of going underwater, exhaling, being strapped in and weighted down, and blowing out all your air that, granted, we wouldn’t want to do that with just everybody off the street, but these were swimmers; they knew how to be underwater. However, they may not have practiced being underwater for extended periods of time fully exhaled.  If anything, that would cause the conventional suit to have an artificially high buoyant force.  In other words, if anything, are we underestimating the buoyant effects from the body suits by having this first condition of the conventional suit be the one that was presented first?  Yes, the answer would probably be how much water actually gets absorbed by the suits.  All I have are anecdotes to give you.  But, I know from people that have worn the Speedo suit, they are the ones that I am most familiar with, they do say similar things about the suit as one of the questioners earlier mentioned.  And, that is that they feel like they are heavier after a period of time in the water because most of these suits do absorb water over time and have the potential to be negatively buoyant, if there is more and more water absorbed on the additional material.


Question:  Do you believe that the amount of body hair that a swimmer has, affects the amount of buoyancy?  I ask the question because the hair between the suit and skin could trap more air and affect the amount of buoyancy. 


Answer:  I don’t know the answer to that.  Are you asking what I believe?  I don’t know.  It comes through as a difference between men and women.  However, remember the men are less buoyant than women, right?


Question:  On training year round and interval training, how beneficial would it be for swimmers to do continuous swim training in open water as your runners do?  For example, you mentioned that they should rest at every wall which would result in having a 3-5 sec. rest every 35-40 sec. of swimming and, would we need to add those long, continuous training to the programs?


Answer:  I guess that is a pretty interesting question.  There is probably a positive and a negative to that.  The negative being that you would be forced to train slower in open water.  Even if it was a calm lake, you would be doing all of your swimming at a slower rate because you wouldn’t get those little rests.  One of the big benefits of the interval training is resting.  I took my cross country team one year to run across the United States.  They said they wanted to run and break the record. They heard of a team that had averaged 7 minutes a mile for 32 hundred miles and they were all men.  I took 5 women and 10 men.  I said, “Yeah, we will beat that easy if you will do it right.  We averaged 6:14 a mile with our people.  Some of them couldn’t even run a 40 minute 10K, but I had two guys that averaged a 5 minute pace for 235 miles.  I had them run one minute at a time, which is over 1,000 one minute runs.  They did it and they all had a good cross country season that fall.  They made 34 hundred miles in 13 days and 18 hours.  But, you know if you tried to do repeated mile runs it would kill you. Or, three mile runs or whatever typical, the worst thing was getting in and out of the van that many times.  But, I don’t know.  I don’t know.  You know, you could look at it the other way.  Maybe you should be training in a 20 yard pool so you would get to turn more often along with practicing to move faster all the time.  But, you would sure get tired of turning.  There has probably got to be a balance somewhere because long course gives you a real good chance to concentrate on stroke and technique without having to break it up periodically by turns.  I don’t know the answer to whether open water swimming would benefit them or not, I kind of doubt it.


Question:  Is there a difference in how you train boys and girls?  What would you recommend to train them optimally?


Answer:  In terms of how we trained them?  No, there wasn’t really a whole lot of difference between the sets that we used.  The caution that I would make is this, this is not one of those cases where you want to let the athletes do this on their own.  I mean, I was there collecting data. So, the team that I was working with obviously had an advantage.  That was kind of my job for four years.  But, the upside of it is, you can catch fatigue or over-training very quickly.  I had a girl come in who had, between Tuesday and Thursday, dropped in terms of her ability to hold a time by a second.  No matter what I did or how much rest I gave her, she just couldn’t do the repeat.  She added strokes to that 10 meter set.  We basically had to take her and let her rest for ten days before she could recover.  So, that is the upside. The downside of it is that you are just telling somebody to go down and do 10 reps on 45 seconds on some random weight.  I find this to be very fatiguing to the central nervous system.  I don’t know that I would say it is muscular fatigue.  It is more like a central nervous system fatigue. In a couple of cases where I have seen people try to do this.  They don’t pay much attention to what else they are doing to the kids.  In other words, if they are doing a lot of sprinting and high quality stuff on one side and then come down on the rack and pound them, they have quickly run into trouble.  So, it all has to be balanced out.  It is not something that you can do randomly.  The good side of it is that every set is set according to what the progression happens to be.  You assess each kid.  If you had 30 kids on the team, it is entirely possible that you would have 30 different workouts. They each progress at their own rate. What we also did was we never added resistance until the kids could at least maintain that time or improve the power output during 10 reps.


Question:  Are the results of these studies published?


Answer:  These are brand new data.  US Swimming funded the study, excuse me, USA Swimming funded the study.  It was the first organization to receive these data.  This is the very first time that these have been, that we have announced the results.  It is a very controversial study, as you would guess.  Also, it was politically explosive that USA Swimming has asked me to sort of keep a lid on it for about a month.  After that time, I can probably distribute them around.  The paper will be submitted to a referee journal.  After that, we hope to be able to also put a summary version of it in a more popular coaching forum.  It will probably be available at some point in a summary form on the web as well.


Question:  This will prove that the suit does affect buoyancy and thus the race.


Answer:  This is, well I assume so.  I hope that you are correct that people will respect this as being proof that these suits are buoyant, at least some of these suits are buoyant, not all of them.


Question:  What does a rep consist of, in a set?


Answer:  In terms of the progressive test the way Hopper described it, basically what you are looking for is an increase in time and an increase in stroke count so I think his cut off was three additional seconds over that 10 meters and/or 5 additional strokes over that time as you are increasing the weight so, we go 10 meters and then they stop so we put like a cone underneath the floor so they know where they have to swim to.


Question:  Okay, so it was basically just the 10 meters and that constituted one repetition? 


Answer:  Yes, that is one repetition and again what you do is you just keep increasing the resistance until they, well until they see that increase in three seconds or five strokes and when you calculate it out backwards you know, you can plot where they came over the top and then in terms of the reps. The reps are the actual workouts that they were doing so in the first part of the season we were not so concerned about increasing the resistance as we were kind of working on that fatigue index.  You know, we were trying to see if we could do more repetitions with fewer declines, let’s say in time over those reps.  And the second half of the season, again, these are six or seven weeks out is when we start worrying less about endurance or that sprint specific endurance and more about actual power output and getting them started to try to decrease that time to peak power.  That is what the reps are all about.


Question:  If you don’t have a power rack, what would be your recommendation for the next most effective piece of equipment?


Answer:  I’ll tell you what; I have seen all sorts of things.  I think the pinnacle was at Notre Dame.  They had what I call a spider web going there with pulleys from the ceiling and tool boxes with weights, but they made their own.  The only problem is that I would say this, the sensitivity is questionable. Meaning you know, are you increasing the load appropriately or are you using the appropriate load?  The problems we had with you know, we looked at all sorts of different combinations but like bungee cords, are the same problem is that there is nothing linear about it.  There is no way to set a load with that, so I don’t know.  You can be creative about it.  It is just a set of pulleys.


Question:  If you go into fins and paddles and then a drag suit.  After that, you put on a tee shirt and then….?


Answer:  Like I said Notre Dame had tool boxes on ropes going to the ceiling.  Yeah, the problem is that it’s kind of random.  That is the problem with it – it is random.  You don’t know what is that load?  I’ve seen systems where they have like parachutes of different sizes, but again I don’t know what that is relative to their peak power or what affect that is having on their velocity and I guess that is one of the key things here is that the velocities at which we are training them are virtually the velocities at which we record these peak powers occurring.  So, we are not letting them slow down.  If they are slowing down, then we are doing something wrong.  They are changing their stroke mechanics.  My one success, I will tell you this, I took a kid that had been in swimming one year.  That kid came into the season at 59 for a 100 freestyle.  In a year, well actually in 7 months, he went 48 flat so that is one example, right?  There are 35 that didn’t work.


Question: do you have any recommendations for the number of seconds for each repeat to be?


Answer:  Well again, this is sort of coaching, even more than what I do. The key is all your information is there.  In other words, you know whether or not they did that rep in a certain number of strokes and you know what their time is.  In fact, I can even tell you what one plate is equal to in terms of slowing them down or adding those strokes and once I start working with a kid I know exactly where they are and in some cases you know, again, Jack mentioned the motivation factor.  I basically just show them the data and say, “look, don’t waste my time.”  You know, don’t waste my time and that sort of corrects the motivation.  But every kid has a log book that you can look at and you just go back to the last day and you say look, you know, instead of being 6.4 you were at 7.3.  I am not going to put up with that.  I am going home!  And then, you are going to get a 6.4 out of them the next time around.


Question:  When you use the power rack, the amount of time that they’re in the entire bout is under 10 sec?


Answer:   In other words, the best of the guys are in the upper 5s right?  Five seconds or so, most of them hold around 6 or 6 ½ seconds for those 10 meters.  But remember, we are trying to be in the ballpark for some of these guys of 2 meters a second, right?  Because we don’t want to slow them down while they are doing this and so the entire bout is 6 seconds X 10 and actually a lot of the sprinters get faster throughout the 10.  They don’t get slower.


Question:   In the effect upon the center of buoyancy of the suit, would the difference in gender be entirely related to the difference between the center of buoyancy or center of mass or is it something specific to the gender?  If it was a man who floated on his back without kicking, would he be better in this suit than a woman, or if there was a woman who didn’t float and sink, would she benefit from the tear suit?


Answer:  I don’t know the answer to that question because we didn’t break it out that way, but it makes sense.  The argument makes sense that it’s probably your body type that responds to certain kinds of suits. It’s not necessarily your gender, but I think the largest prediction for your center of buoyancy location is your gender.  So most likely you would have to have a very special circumstance in which you would want to deviate from the recommendations, I would guess.


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