8/1/11 - 9/1/11

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Aug 29, 2011

Michael Phelps Diet Explained: Should We Eat as an Olympic Swimmer?

What should I eat before a competition? How much of protein should I consume? Is too much pasta bad for me? There are many questions about the right eating habits for athletes floating out there on internet among the athletic community. Brett from Force Factor feels that Michael Phelps might just have the answers to your athletic dietary needs.
An Olympic Swimmer - Michael Phelps
by feastoffun.com


Enter Brett Warren
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, flattery is nice but some people take imitation to the next level. When it comes to following in the footsteps of those we admire, creative mimicry knows no bounds. Aspiring actors are always imitating the mannerisms of their movie star heroes. Little Leaguers constantly imitate the batting stances of their favorite ballplayers. And those of us who try to work out regularly and continually struggle to keep ourselves in good shape are always looking at those who are already in great shape while asking ourselves "How in the world do they manage to do it?"

If you are an amateur swimmer, one of your heroes is probably Michael Phelps. Heck, you don't need to be a swimmer at all---if you are an aspiring athlete of any type, or just a regular Joe who works out a few days a week and tries to stay in shape, then Phelps is very likely on your role model radar screen too. After all, very few of us are in his kind of shape, right? So if you want to be fit and are looking for someone to imitate, you can't make a much better choice.

OK, we want to look like Michael Phelps so where do we start? Well not too many of us can imitate Michael's swimming, but we all know how to eat. Maybe we can imitate him by following his eating habits. Many of you are already familiar with the gargantuan Phelps appetite, but for those who aren't, let's take a peek at his typical daily intake regimen (as reported in the New York Post):

Breakfast:
  • Three fried-egg sandwiches with lots of cheese, fried onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise;
  • A 5-egg omelet;
  • 3 pieces of French toast topped with powdered sugar;
  • 3 chocolate-chip pancakes;
  • A bowl of grits;
  • Two cups of coffee.
Lunch:
  • A pound of enriched pasta;
  • 2 large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo;
  • Energy drinks.
Dinner:
  • Another pound of pasta;
  • A large pizza;
  • More energy drinks.
Yikes! Try selling that to your cardiologist. When you total it up, Phelps actually consumes upwards of 12,000 calories a day! If most of us did that, we would look more like an Olympic stadium than an Olympic athlete. Does this mean the Phelps diet doesn't work? No, of course not; it obviously works very well---for him. But he can get away with a lot more than you or I can. He is able to absorb all those calories because he burns up so many as a result of his almost super-human daily training regimen.

So rather than mimicking his diet, maybe what we should do instead is take what works for him and adapt it to our own lifestyles---in other words, learn from his diet! Here are some aspects of the Michael Phelps diet that we can all put into practice:

1) Replenish the calories you burn. It all comes down to basic math. The math is the same for Michael Phelps as it is for us. The only difference is in the size of the numbers. Calories consumed replace calories lost. An athlete like Phelps, who exercises like a mad demon, has to eat enough to replenish the enormous amount of calories he burns daily. So do we, but we need to know what that number is. We also need to factor in our size. Phelps is a relatively large guy, which is another reason he needs a larger caloric intake. Here is a helpful calculator from the Calorie Control Council that will help you adapt the Phelps dietary strategy to your own lifestyle.

2) Muscle gain needs special attention. To be an Olympic-caliber swimmer or just an effective athlete, one thing you need almost more than anything else is muscle. Swimming works just about every muscle a human has in his body. The Phelps diet is rich in the two ingredients most important to muscle gain: protein and carbohydrates. This is not a coincidence. The pizza and pasta supply plenty of the carbs and the rest of the diet is very rich in protein.

3) Be careful not to over-consume. This almost sounds like a contradiction when you look at the amount of food Phelps eats. But look more closely. Knowing that he needs a large number of calories, he is packing it in densely---in other words, he is not filling his stomach with a lot of lower-calorie items that take up a much larger volume. If Phelps tried to consume the same number of calories in a more low-fat way, he would have to eat a whole lot more food, which would be uncomfortable to his stomach. This does not mean that you and I should not opt for a low-fat diet---in fact, just the opposite. For a normal person's caloric requirements, low fat is most often the optimal way to go. Either way, don't eat more than you need to.

We can't all be Michael Phelps, but we can all aspire to reach his heights or to become better swimmers. Those of us who take swimming seriously can get better by watching what he does in the water. And all of us can learn from what he does outside of the water. Eating smartly does not mean that we should copy his diet. But when we realize why his diet works for him, we can use the same principles to help construct a diet that works for us.

From Swimator Blog: Well, there you have it. In order to perform better, your diet should also consist of the right ingredients. So, next time you are at your local grocery store, give a bit of thought to what you are going to eat. Having a healthy varied food supply will not just make you perform better in your sport, but it will also make you more energetic and enthusiastic about your life.

This is a guest post by Brett Warren, a biochemical research scientist based in Boston, Massachusetts. He puts his expertise to work on a daily basis by developing sports supplements for Force Factor. Brett loves weightlifting and working out at the gym almost as much as he loves his job. In addition to his work, Brett also spends lots of time with his family hiking, biking, and enjoying the outdoors.
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

Aug 22, 2011

Learn the Flutter Kick by Doing it Wrong (Freestyle Swim Kick Explained)

A proper flutter kick is one of the most important keys to an efficient, fast and enjoyable freestyle swimming experience; however, it is also one of the hardest parts of the freestyle stroke to learn. I’ve taught countless individuals with varied skill levels and everyone is different in the way they understand how the kick should be performed. Some get it right away and they move on in their swimming skill learning program, others struggle with the right leg motion which hinders their progress during the other stroke part exercises. Unfortunately, everyone learns in a different way so there is no single technique or sequence of drills which will work for everyone (the same as when learning to swim). If you struggle with learning to properly kick during freestyle, here are some pointers that might help you get over the flutter kicking plateau.

Feet, the pepper of swimming
Before you start, it is important you understand what it is that propels you forward. Many beginner swimmers start by using the so called "bicycle kick" which causes the swimmer to kick water backwards in the opposite direction to where they want to go. As much as this kind of a kick will get you going very slowly, it is very bad in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and, most importantly, it does a horrible thing to your proper swimming body position. Imagine running in the water, but instead of being vertical, doing it horizontally. Not a pretty sight, is it :)? So, where else can you kick the water if not behind you? Well, how about down and up. So, pointer number one is to make sure you kick down and up and not only behind you. You can visualize a dolphin swimming with the caudal fin moving up and down to propel the dolphin forward. A word of caution here though, do not get into the habit of kicking to the sides instead of up and down as you will end up with a so-called scissor kick which is ugly and inefficient.

Now you know a part of the very basic principle of how you go forward during flutter kick, but it is not that simple. What part of the leg and foot do you move and when etc. etc.? These are the questions that need to be answered in order for you to understand how the proper freestyle kick is done. So, let's break it down a little bit more.

Swim kick - keep it in the bucket
Freestyle kick actually utilizes the entire leg from hip to toe. Each part of the leg plays a specific part in a swimmer's kick movement. As you might have guessed, the kick starts from the hip and continues to the knee and then finishes with an ankle (a relaxed ankle). Imagine a garden hose with both ends loose laying in your favorite garden area. Grab one end of the garden hose with one hand and start moving your arm up and down. This up and down movement will produce series of snapping waves which travel down the garden hose to the other end. Each of the waves is basically one kick in terms of freestyle. It starts at your hip (the hand that holds the garden hose) then the wave continues through your knee and finishes at the ankle. Obviously the garden hose waves are much larger than the actual kick. Another analogy could be taken from football (soccer) where hip, knee and ankle are used to kick the football (soccer ball). The footballer (soccer player) starts the kick with his hip motion, then knee, then ankle and then the foot touches the ball. Now, you hopefully have a better understanding of how the flutter kick is performed. However, obviously, it is much easier said than done, so practice practice practice.

To practice the freestyle kick motion as described above, you should first try the wrong approach, so that you can feel how it should not be done. You have already tried the bicycle kick as I mentioned above and probably the scissor kick, so you know how they feel. Bad. Now, try kicking only from your knees. Pretend as if you are laying on the floor face down and you bend your knee with your heel to your butt and then kick down with your foot to the ground and continue doing so. You will feel certain propulsion forward, but you also find that you are forced to lift your feet out of the water which forces your lower body further down into the water which is not an ideal body position. Then you can try the other extreme, where you try kicking with straight knees and only with your hips. You will find that with this kick you will not go anywhere and your legs will more than likely quickly kick themselves all the way to the bottom of the pool. If you combine these two wrong kick types (hip only and knee only) and meet somewhere in the middle, you should be very close to having the right kick. Try starting out with straight legs and only using your hips to kick and then slowly loosen up your knee joint, so your leg from knee down gives in a little when you kick down.

Did I mention that during the flutter kick, your ankle should be relaxed and your toes always pointing toward the opposite direction of where you are going? No? Well, now I have. Keeping your ankle relaxed throughout the kick is important as it increases the flexibility of the ankle and it also maximizes the surface of your foot, so you can kick more water. Try it out. Do a freestyle kick with a very tight ankle as if you were a ballerina. Then perform a kick with a loose ankle and see the difference. To better understand how big a role ankle flexibility and relaxation plays in the freestyle kick, perform a kick where you point your toes to the bottom of the pool so you have a 90 degree angle in your ankle. This definitely does not work, does it?

Last, but not least, you might be wondering how wide the kick should be. Easy as 1, 2, 3; just imagine that your feet are in a bucket and you cannot kick past the outer perimeter. So we are talking about 30 cm or 12 inches apart at most. So stay away for spreading your legs like wings of a bald eagle.

There are a couple of great tools which you can use to improve your kicking. First, forget about a kickboard and do all the kicking in a tree log position. Second, you can use special fins which help you with balance and with lifting your hips to the surface. These leg fins are called shinfins. Finally, if you have mastered the basics, why not try out zoomers. Zoomers will add more power into your kick.

I've covered only the basics here, so rest assured there is a bit more to freestyle kicking than just what is written in this post, however, if you master the kicking basics, the rest is much, much easier to learn.

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Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Aug 15, 2011

Aquaspotter Review: Swimming Safety in Open Water

Swimator Blog August 15, 2011 Final rating: 5/5

Roaring speed boats, slowly churning fishing barges, crazy youngster on jetskis, tourists in canoes and kayaks, all of these have one thing in common and it is called "danger to swimmers".When you do not have the luxury of swimming in open water without any boat traffic, you need to be extra careful in order to stay out of harms' way. Wearing a brightly colored swimming cap helps and is better than nothing, but your head gets easily lost under the water (assuming you have a good horizontal swimming position) or behind a wave. Swimming in open water can be safe once again though. I just got my hands on a brand new product called the "Aquaspotter made by Goat Gear" which is attempting to solve the swimmer safety problem.

Aquaspotter with a Goat Gear sticker

What is the Aquaspotter and what does it do for you?

Swimmer's safety has become a very hot topic in the swimming community as more and more swimmers leave the boundaries of their local swimming pool and venture out to open water. There are no lanes, no walls and usually not even people to worry about in the open water which makes the swimming experience very attractive, however, as I pointed out above, some waters are quite heavily trafficked by miscellaneous surface watercraft which bring a whole new challenge and dimension to the open water experience. The Aquaspotter was built for swimmers, triathletes and snorkelers to keep the focus on swimming and not on how dangerous it could be.

The Aquaspotter strives to protect the swimmer or triathlete by making him or her more visible. It allows anybody to see you from far away as you stroke uninterrupted through the open waters by waving a brightly colored orange flag extending from your back. Intrigued? Yes? You should be.

Specifications of the Aquaspotter

The Aquaspotter is a good old fanny pack (bum or belt pack in the UK) which was so popular in the 80-90's era and is still widely used in many Eastern European countries. However, the Aquaspotter is no ordinary 1990s fanny pack: it is a modern 21st century pimped up product. It is built from a durable neoprene material which floats at the surface, so you don't need to worry about losing it if it comes unattached by chance. It attaches to your body with a regular strong plastic snap buckle and has adjustable straps for a wide variety of body shapes. On the top of the pack, there is a small plastic holder which serves as the mounting piece for the brightly colored orange flag. The flag itself has a very light pole and a stiffer orange cloth to keep it from drooping when it gets wet. This is not all, however. What would a fanny pack be without a proper pocket? The Aquaspotter pocket has a protected zipper so sand and other debris cannot get in. In the pocket you will find a stretchy rubber hook which attaches to a plastic waterproof bag. The waterproof bag employs 3 consecutive ziplock mechanisms and also the fold over technique, so you can be sure the water will stay out of your precious cargo. Finally, as a bonus, there is a small holder for the flag pole when you are out of the water so you can actually wear the entire Aquaspotter set as a fanny pack even on dryland during your bike or cross training run exercise.

Waterproof bag and Aquaspotter

How do you use the Aquaspotter?

I've tested Goat Gear's Aquaspotter in one of our local Finnish lakes and have to say that it performed very well. I was quite impressed with the lightness of the flag and the flag pole. My first thought when I saw the Aquaspotter was that, the flag will get in the way and the drag will be just too much, but I was totally proved wrong. Yeah sure, you probably would not want to take the Aquaspotter to an open water competition if you are after your best time but, if you are after finishing the race, going for a practice swim, or are worried about any potential boat traffic dangers, this is a perfect solution. The Aquaspotter pack withstands the test of all four swimming strokes, so you can take a break once in a while from freestyle without compromising your water safety and visibility. If you turn on your back, just flip the Aquaspotter on your belly and voila, you are waiving a different (less perverted) flag pole around :).

The waterproof bag inside the Aquaspotter pack is perfect for storing your smartphone, your keys or a wallet. If you have some items you don't mind getting wet that you'd also like to bring along, just stick them into the pack along with the waterproof bag. I, for example, used it for some energy gels and my ring.

Aquaspotter improves your swimming technique!

But wait, there is more. There are a few hidden benefits of the Aquaspotter. If you worry about distorting your swimming technique while using this water safety equipment, stop right there. The Aquaspotter also serves as a swimming technique improvement tool. If you are a frequent reader of the Swimator Blog, you have experienced my obsession with hip rotation. Hip rotation is one of the essential ingredients for a proper and efficient freestyle stroke. Since with the Aquaspotter you have the fanny pack strapped around your waist and are also waiving a flag on your back, you will actually feel your hips move more, thus causing you to focus on rotating your hips from side to side. So, with the Aquaspotter, you can forget about flat stomach swimming and start being more efficient on your sides.

Earlier I also mentioned you can swim on your back with the Aquaspotter. The technique help provided by the Aquaspotter during backstroke is from a bit of a different bag. Remember, I talked about having a strong core to keep your body straight in the water. Your core muscles are not only used to keep you from snaking side to side, but also for keeping you in a good position when it comes to up and down movement. In backstroke many swimmers have a so called sinking butt, which causes them to plow through the water with a lot of drag and inefficiency. With the Aquaspotter, you can work on pushing your hips up to the surface which in turn will push the flag further out of the water. At the same time, you can push your upper back and head deeper into the water, so you end up in a nice straight horizontal position right below the surface of the water.

Bonus: Extra benefit

If you suffer from lower back ache (who does not in today's sedentary world), getting into cold water to swim might not be the best cure but, since you love swimming so much :), it is hard to resist. The good news is that, with the Aquaspotter, you can protect your lower back from the cold. Since the pack is made out of neoprene material, it serves as a very mild insulation on your lower back, thus keeping your muscles a bit warmer which in turn helps with preventing lower back injury.

Also, many of us go swimming in groups, whether it is for practice or for fun during exciting swim trekking holidays. The swimming groups are usually composed of swimmers with different strengths and swimming abilities, so it is very easy for the group to become spread all over the area. Everyone had better have very good spotting and orienteering skills to find their way to the goal destination. However, what if every group leader or a few of the group members were to wear the Aquaspotter flag on their backs? Everyone would see which direction to swim in and where the leader is and the problem is solved.


Summary: Pros and Cons

After swimming with the Aquaspotter for a few kilometers it became apparent that it does its job really well. The fact that you are reading this review already proves that I survived all the boat attacks that the open water threw at me:). It is actually quite a simple concept to begin with, however, it is apparent a lot of intuitive thought and testing went into the design as it does exactly what it is built for and it does it well without much hindrance to swimming performance. Since the flag and the flag pole are so light, they do not cause too much noticeable resistance. The waterproof bag is very useful and, as a bonus, you can use the Aquaspotter pack outside of the water on your trip to and from your favorite open water spot. Finally, as a very nice marketing touch from the Goat Gear guys, you'll also receive a very cool Goat Gear sticker along with the Aquaspotter.

Finally, as an afterthought, if you are after a fool proof method of swimming safely in open water, you will never be satisfied and had better stay confined to your shower. However, if you just want to be safer and have a convenient way of taking some of your belongings along with you, the combination of the Goat Gear's Aquaspotter and the ISHOF SafeSwimmer Float might just be the answer to your prayers.

Pros:
  • good light material
  • waterproof bag
  • great cost only $39.95
  • can be used on dryland as well
Cons:
  • if placed on the wrong place of the back, it lifts up a little when you swim
  • the belt is not suitable for obese individuals - max ~100cm around the waist
Final rating: 5/5
  • usability/effectiveness - 5/5
  • material - 5/5
  • look and feel - 5/5
  • price/value - 5/5

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Safer Swimmer - the must have swim safety device for all open water swimmers

Aug 8, 2011

Kickboards (swimming boards) are evil. Having a great kick is priceless.

I try not to live by too many rules as they tend to constrict one’s ability to think creatively, however I do have a rule when it comes to kickboards (also referred to as swimming boards). Do not use them when you are learning to swim! Ok, it is not entirely true that kickboards do not have a place around swimming pools, but let me explain why I suggest not using swimming boards.

Leave your kickboard at home
If you remember from one of my previous articles, body and head position is one of the key elements to a successful swimming stroke. The problem with using a kickboard for kicking is that your body defies the proper positioning. With your head above the water, your legs sink deeper into the water and instead of swimming in a horizontal position, you suddenly find yourself swimming up a hill with your feet angling down towards the pool floor. This is totally not the position you want to be imprinting into your brain:).

If you learn to rely on a kickboard while you are learning to swim or learning a proper body position, it will take you that much longer to actually achieve your goal. If you resist the temptation to use a kickboard and practice your kicking without it, it might be a bit more difficult at the beginning, however, you will not only gain great body position, but also better balance and strength in your core body.

Not convinced to leave your kickboard at home yet? Well, just think about what is the reason that you started to use your swimming board in the first place. Chances are that you just do as others do and kick with a kickboard, because everybody else kicks with it (we are after all a society with monkey ancestry). Or you find it easier to kick that way, because you can breathe as much as you'd like or you use kickboard as a flotation device. Whatever your reason for using a kickboard is, trust me when I say you don't need it and here are more reasons why:

1) I already mentioned the improper positioning of your body with your hips down and your legs sinking, but this is so important I mention it again. This is definitely a no no. Instead you should work on keeping your head under the water and your butt at the surface while you kick, so your body is in a nice streamline.

2) Yes, it is easier to breathe while kicking with a kickboard as you can take in as many breaths as often as you'd like. However, if you practice kicking on your sides with your face down, or in a streamline with your face down, you can at the same time practice your side breathing and a proper breathing rhythm.

Wrong vertical position by Joe Shlabotnik
3) After you drop the kickboard, you can concentrate better on the kick itself and not on what your swimming board is doing or how you hold it. It is important that you focus only one thing at a time, so keep it simple.

4) You can eliminate the neck ache from kicking with your head above the water and any shoulder tightness due to extended periods of kickboard holding. Remember, keeping a flat, wrinkle free neck during the time your head is underwater is important to keep a nice streamline.

So, now you might be wondering. What do I use a kickboard for then? Did I throw my money away? Well, you did not throw your money away completely. Firstly, you supported your local swim shop :) but, more importantly, you could use your kickboard in more advanced swimming situations. For example if you want to kick fast for a time. Getting a lot of oxygen is very important during a timed swim. You could also use your kickboard as a resistance tool by holding it in front of you in the water in a vertical position as if you'd kick against a wall. Or if you kick on a side with your bottom arm forward, you could press on the kickboard to get it under the water (if the kickboard is small enough) and thus raise your hips and legs to the surface to improve your core body strength for better body position or to stretch your lat muscle. So, enough about kickboards, now it is time to improve your kicking skills.

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Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Aug 1, 2011

Core Workout At Home (Top Vacuuming Tip To Keep You Fit)

If you are anything like majority of our population, you do not necessarily love doing housework. What I am talking about are the mundane tasks that we need to do on regular basis such as vacuuming, wiping floors, washing dishes, dusting etc. etc. Unfortunately, we do have to take part in our household chores otherwise it wouldn't be very fair to the other occupants of our home, would it. What if I were to tell you though that you can improve your swimming, and even your overall health, whilst doing the household chores? Would you change your attitude towards them or would you at least not find them so damn boring?
Use balance board to strengthen your core


In most of my posts, I keep repeating that a strong core body is a necessity for good swimming technique. Now, I am not talking about having a six pack. That is just a silly goal and usually requires some dietary and muscle supplements to achieve or superior genetics :). (Nothing I really condone myself, but everyone is the master of their own body, so I won't lecture about that here.) Furthermore, the mysterious term core body workout is not only about your ab muscles, it is much more than that. In laymen’s terms, a core workout includes muscles which span between your sternum and your hips, so they include the abs, hip flexors, obliques, diaphragm and many more. In other words, having a strong core could be loosely compared to having a nice straight body and good balance when you stand on one foot.

The core body plays an important role in keeping your swimmer body nicely aligned while you swim and thus decreases the drag your body has in the water. Whether you swim on your back, side or front, the small and large muscles in your core keep you straight. So, the stronger the core, the better swimmer you will be. This is also one of the reasons it is quite difficult to learn to swim for some people as they do not know how to engage the right core body muscles to keep them horizontally and vertically aligned. This is especially true when a person is learning how to float on their back and cannot get their hips to the surface. Also, due to weak core muscles, many people swim in a snake like pattern with their hips going side to side.

Cleaning the floor swimmer style
Let's get back, however, to the house cleaning chores and how to make them more interesting and at the same time improve your swimming ability. There are many exercises in the gym which are performed to strengthen the core body and one of the exercise types utilizes a foot balance board. A person stands on one or two legs on the balance board and performs certain exercise routines such as throwing a medicine ball, pulling on stretch cords or using dumbbells. This extra balance difficulty adds the needed strengthening of the core to the particular exercise. Similar to the gym, during our boring house cleaning chores, you could utilize the same balance board concept. Obviously, you are not going to stand on a balance board while you are cleaning as you probably need to move around the house to do that. However, you could vacuum while you stand and jump around on one foot. You could have an exercise routine which includes left foot, left hand vacuuming in one room, left foot, right hand in another room etc etc. The same goes with washing dishes. Here you could actually use a balance board, but standing on one foot works very well as well.

The instability in your body you generate by taking one foot off the ground forces you to work a lot of different muscles that you wouldn't normally engage in everyday life. These muscles are crucial to the stability of your joints and to the strength of your core. As with any exercise you perform, having good posture while strengthening your core is a must, so next time you are cleaning the floor, vacuuming, doing dishes or performing some other mundane task at home, just think "core body workout" to spice up your housework. Perhaps it won't be as boring as before since you now have a more noble goal of health instead of just getting the dirt out :)
Safer Swimmer - the must have swim safety device for all open water swimmers