9/1/11 - 10/1/11

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Sep 27, 2011

Prescription Swimming Goggles No More (Unexpected Advantage of Laser Eye Surgery)

Squinting my eyes to see the pace clock's red hand to tell me when to start my next swim set. Worse yet, having to take off my darkly tinted goggles all the time to be able to see the clock is just plain annoying. All I want is to enjoy my swim workout without having to come out of the water with a headache from constant squinting. Don't even get me started on my open water and triathlon races. Without proper vision, it is plain impossible to have a good and efficient open water swim as I end up swimming in a zig zag since I can't see the landmark I am aiming for and I end up spending too much time lurking around and squinting to find the turning buoy. I am sure that those of you who wear prescription glasses or contact lenses on the dryland can relate to some of the experiences I have had. There is, however, one solution to the swimmer eye sight problem which is, in this time of modern technology, accessible to almost everyone: "laser eye surgery". Jason is here to tell us more about how the swimming community can benefit from laser eye surgery and how it is actually not that expensive an investment as one might think.
Bad eyesight keeping you from swimming well?


This is a guest post from Jason Sanderson, an extremely keen swimmer who uses the sport as a great way to keep fit and healthy. He often seeks to compete in local events around him and enjoys the social aspects that have appeared with his local sporting club.

Enter Jason Sanderson
One of the unexpected advantages of laser eye surgery is the freedom it can give to dedicated swimmers. More than 10 million people enjoy swimming in the UK, and many, many millions more around the world, but having poor vision can often spoil your enjoyment of the sport. If you can’t see to the end of your lane, the landmark or buoy during your open water swim, your pulling away competitors during triathlon swims, your coach, the pace clock or even the scoreboard, it’s very difficult to be ahead of the game, particularly if you swim competitively or plan to join the ever popular triathlete crowd.

Swimming in contact lenses is not generally recommended due to the high chlorine concentration in the pool water and open water bacteria which can cause eye infections in soft lenses. Furthermore, it is quite easy to lose a contact lens in a swimming pool and pretty much impossible to find it again. Many swimmers with poor eye sight wear prescription swimming goggles. However, these can be uncomfortable if worn for long periods of time and in the long-term can prove more expensive than laser eye surgery. Furthermore, if prescription swimming goggles are for some reason lost or stolen, unless there is a spare, your swimming race is over.

The price of prescription swimming goggles range from approximately £25 ($40) for standard prescription goggles up to £250 ($400) for custom-made bifocal goggles. You may also have to pay extra for anti-fog treatment. Optometrists generally recommend an eye test every two years which could potentially mean replacing your goggles every two years. You may want to do this anyway for hygiene reasons. So, a 30 year old swimmer changing his/her averagely-priced £150 ($230) swimming goggles every two years will have spent a whopping £3,000 ($4600) on prescription swimming goggles alone by the time he/she reaches 70. This is in addition to his/her regular eye tests and prescription glasses. For around the same cost he/she could benefit from laser eye surgery, which ranges from around £850 ($1300) to £1,900 ($3000) per eye. This not only benefits his/her sight during swimming endeavors but also throughout every other activity and task during his/her lifetime.

laser eye surgery joke
Laser Eye Surgery is painless :)
Laser eye surgery is usually effective, painless and over in just a few seconds. Recovery time is quick and you will be able to return to swimming in just four weeks. Most people achieve 20:20 vision after having the surgery and enjoy the rest of their lives without needing prescription glasses again. The process is simple and painless. Anaesthetic drops are placed in the eye and your eye lid is held open with a small speculum. Depending on whether you choose LASIK or LASEK surgery the surface of your eye is either cut to create a flap or softened to allow the laser to perform. The laser treatment takes less than one minute and your vision will return in just a few hours with complete recovery over a few days. Millions of people around the world have had laser eye surgery and the risks are very low. The majority of any complications arising from surgery are not serious and are easily treated. The risks include: discomfort following surgery, including dry eyes; eye lid droop which is rare and usually resolves itself within two weeks of surgery; corneal infection which is easily treated with antibiotics and eye drops; and over/under correction which is easily treated with a laser enhancement once your eyes have fully healed. There have been no reported incidents of blindness following laser eye surgery and any serious or long-lasting damage to vision is extremely rare.

From Swimatog Blog: This definitely sounds like a career saver for a competitive swimmer. One of my friends who is a top level open water swimmer praises the laser eye surgery very much. When he first started open water swimming (a long time ago), he too wore glasses and struggled to see during his swims but, after he made the difficult decision to undergo the laser eye surgery, he never looked back. His career as an open water swimmer has taken off: he even represented his country (Czech Republic) in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and is currently preparing for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. So, if you do have a less than normal level of eye sight and it causes you problems in and out of the pool or open water, why not find out more about what modern science can do for you. Laser eye surgery technology has been here for many years now, is undergoing constant improvements and, most important of all, getting affordable for us swimmers who would like to finally see :).
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

Sep 19, 2011

Swimming with Little Britain (David Walliams vs. Thames swim marathon)

I love the Little Britain comedy show and the humor the main comedians, David Walliams and Matt Lucas, bring us in their other sketch comedy endeavors. You don't see very many celebrities joining the swimming crowd and therefore, I was quite excited when I saw that David Walliams is putting on a charity event to swim 140 miles (225 km) in 8 days through the river Thames in England. I mean, can you imagine swimming that far in 8 days? He is definitely not a lady :). Not even Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps do such insane amounts of swimming in such a short period of time. Sure, there are the occasional training camps with massive amounts of swimming and, also, let's not forget the open water swimmers who do their share of long distances in free flowing waters. However, they probably very rarely average 28 km (18 miles) per day over 8 consecutive days and in such a dirty water conditions such as the Thames. Open water swimming was added to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as an official event for the first time in the history of the games and it has become much more popular amongst the general public since then. It could be that David is riding the open water popularity wave as well; however, swimming 140 mi(225km) in 8 days for a non-competitive lap swimmer is a sports feat to be applauded. Very impressive, David Walliams, and keep up the good work in the water and out. I take my hat off to you.
David Walliams vs. Thames
by sportrelief.com


That said, I am not sure that swimming so far in 8 days is a very smart thing to do if you have a bad swimming technique. This is not a Little Britain sketch and it could definitely lead to injuries, which I am sure David would like to minimize if he wants to keep swimming to raise more money for charity in years to come. The Walliams vs. Thames marathon swim raised over 1 million British pounds which is a whopping figure and I am sure it will do a lot of good somewhere in the world. Again, very well done David.

After watching a few of the videos on David Walliams' Walliams vs. Thames charity site, I decided to give David some swimming technique advice, since it appears his personal trainer, Prof Greg Whyte, more than likely lacks the needed knowledge to improve David's technique from his 2008 English Channel crossing to this year's Thames challenge. I do not know Mr. Whyte personally, so cannot judge his expertise as a personal trainer, however, as a trainer for swimming he still has a lot of room for improvement. Obviously, Mr. Whyte must have done a great job preparing David's stamina to withstand such a long energy draining swimming event. However, if I was David's swimming coach, I'd be ashamed to see him swim with such a lack of correct technique and it would make me quite reckless to support his decision to do the 140 mile swim with his current swimming stroke. (Sorry, I am not going to use Mr. Whyte's plethora of professor titles as I find it ridiculous when people still use these. I find that people who hold titles such as PhD or Prof, or whatever, utilize the titles to hide some of their inadequacies assuming people are in awe of a name with 3 titles. Call me crazy, but that is the way I feel). Anyhow, enough of my rambling :), back to the marathon swim and my swimming technique analysis.

The footage of David swimming is not the greatest, but it is enough to give us a high level picture of his stroke and how he is doing. The first mistake that hits me in the face is the position of David's body in the water. David, you need to swim more on the sides of your body and not just on your stomach. Think of it as slicing the water with your left and then your right side and using your flat stomach position only as a transition between the side switch. What you will achieve with modification of your stroke is less drag while swimming and also a longer stretch with your arm, so you can pull more water. A great way to enhance your side balance and hip rotation would be to perform a series of side kicking drills where you are on your side with your eyes looking to the bottom of the pool and arms at your side or bottom arm extended forward. You should incorporate these swimming drills into every workout and you will see what a big difference this makes.

Walliams swimming in Thames by sportrelief.com
My next issue with David's stroke comprises two parts. One is the fact that David crosses the middle of his body with his hands when entering them into the water in front of his head (cross-over). The other mistake is that David's hand enters the water with thumb first. So, David, entering thumb first into the water causes inner rotation in your shoulder which could cause serious shoulder problems. Your fingers should go in first with your palm flat, without extra twisting. With regard to this cross-over problem, perhaps the following technique tips will help you out.

David, with his height and build, has a great swimming advantage as he can utilize his long arms to catch more water. But with 2 miles (3.2km) / hr average speed, it is apparent he is not as effective a swimmer as he could be. David, you should work on utilizing your forearm to pull yourself forward through the water, instead of dropping your elbow early in your catch. The early vertical forearm technique would work very well for you since you are so tall. You can start improving by doing a lot of one arm freestyle drills and also catch up swimming. Also, there is a great tool called the Antipaddle which can help you get more out of your pull.

Finally, David's head position and breathing are way too far out of the water. However, this is a bit tough to assess from the footage as David spends half the time waving at his supporters cheering him on from the river bank. Also, since the river is so dirty, it is probably not a good idea to utilize the one goggle in, one goggle out rule to prevent accidental breath of the water. So, I'll let this one slide David :), but just in case you find yourself in cleaner waters, getting your head deeper in the water and breathing to the sides instead of the diagonal front will give you a better body position and let you take advantage of the water's buoyant properties instead of trying to stay on top of the water. It should feel like you are pressing the top of your head into the water as if you are swimming downhill.

These were just some quick tips for you, David Walliams. I hope you take them to heart and work on your swimming technique so your next gruelling challenge is a feast for swimmers to watch. If this is too much negative feedback at once, please believe that I am a huge fan of yours and Matt Lucas' comedy and that your sports challenges are inspiring for us all. Great job, however, be smart about your swimming and keep it up!

If you like the charity swim David Walliams performed in Thames and you are wondering how you as a swimmer could contribute to our ever growing society and the environment in which we live, why not checkout the Blue Mile 2011 initiative. Blue Mile's aim is to raise funds and awareness for the protection of our rivers and oceans, by getting resourceful swimmers to organise their own swimming events. The Blue Mile staff will guide you through the process and help you with event organization as much as they can. You can be very creative with your event - swim in fancy dress, swim in shoes, design your own swim suit etc. So go out there and help the world to be a better place!

Update: As I predicted, David Walliams has suffered some serious damage to his back or at least the media say it was serious:). So, this is actually a good learning experience for us all. Let's be smart about sports and select your coaches wisely.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Sep 12, 2011

Why Swimming The English Channel Should Stay (Keeping the La Manche monster alive)

Swimming is not a much talked about sport on TV unless Michael Phelps, Ian Thorpe, Mark Spitz or one of your local swimmer superstars create some unusual hype such as for example the expected clash of the titans (Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe) at the next 2012 Olympic Games in London. Once in a while, however, there is some news regarding more extraordinary swimming events which take place around the globe. One of those swimming attractions is the English Channel crossing. The Channel has taunted hundreds of swimmers since the late 1800s and still remains a very popular achievement to have under a belt for many many swimmers and even ordinary people such as newsreporters. There, however, could be a gloomy future for the English Channel and Dee Mason is here to tell us more.
Matthew Webb's Memorial


This is a guest post from Dee Mason, a fitness and sports addict who looks forward to the Olympics in her home city next year. She can frequently be found punishing herself in the gym, with cycling and swimming being particular areas of interest.

Enter Dee Mason
If the French coastguard have their way, swimming across the English Channel will be banned forever. That means nobody else will get the chance to follow in the footsteps (swim strokes?) of Matthew Webb, Gertrude Ederle and the hundreds of hardy swimmers who have successfully crossed the Channel.

There's no denying that crossing La Manche, as the French call it, isn't for everyone. It takes a particular blend of strength, stamina and sheer guts to even attempt the crossing - and not everyone makes it the first time. Matthew Webb certainly didn't. His historic crossing on 24 August 1876 was his second attempt that year. Those who have made the crossing are an elite group. We humans always like to have something to strive for, so is it right that we should prevent others from trying the crossing of the English Channel?

Safety is one of the key reasons for the proposed ban. The French banned crossing the 21 mile route from Calais to Dover some 18 years ago. Part of the reason was the fear of accidents. The English Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world, with more than 500 vessels crossing it daily. That means, in theory, that there's a lot of potential for collisions between swimmers and boats or ferries. Only in theory because there hasn't been such an accident yet. In fact, serious Channel swimmers take all the right precautions to ensure their safety and that of others, because the rules of drowning prevention do not really apply here.

Final stretch of the English Channel swim

Channel Swimming - Who Rules?

A classic endurance test pitting man against nature, the English Channel swimming is regulated by a number of bodies who make it their business to keep things safe. These include the Channel Swimming Association (CSA), which 'observes and authenticates' cross-Channel swims and the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation which provides guidance on Channel crossings and maintains a register of recognized pilots.

Extreme Conditions

So why does Channel swimming remain such a draw? Perhaps it's because of the extreme conditions. Temperatures which range from 15-18 degrees Celsius. Swimmers who are used to swimming in temperatures of 21 degrees Celsius and above have to train specially to endure the cool water. Swimmers are not allowed to wear wetsuits and must wear a regulation swimsuit that does not offer thermal protection or buoyancy. The same rule applies to swim hats. Since swimmers lose body heat from exposed areas, colder air means a colder swimmer. Swimmers are advised to be comfortable in low temperature water for up to 15 hours before making an attempt.

It's also about the external air temperature. The daytime temperature over the water is 10.6 to 13.9 degrees Celsius during the day and only 6.7 degrees at night. Swimmers are at risk of hypothermia because body temperature is apt to drop well below the norm of 37 degrees Celsius. And as well as the water and air temperature, they have to cope with tides and choppy conditions.

Cheering action on the La Manche boat

The Role of the Escort Pilot

One of the keys to safety when swimming the English channel is your escort pilot. These professionals are in such great demand that they are often booked up two years ahead. The pilot has ultimate charge of the swim and can decide if conditions are too dangerous or the swimmer is too fatigued to continue. The pilot boat stores all the items swimmers will need, such as food (usually supplied in the form of a drink thrown into the sea to the swimmer and then reeled back in). The pilot boat also stays in contact with the coastguard and has safety equipment. Swimmers tend to keep feeding time to a minimum so they can keep moving and not lose too much swimming time, but they do need to nourish themselves at intervals over a 10-15 hour swim where they are burning calories at a rate of 600-900 an hour.

Safety Record

All the safety measures mean that there have been only four deaths since Channel swims went official in 1875 - and none of those were due to collisions with shipping. It's all very well for the French authorities to get upset, but so far there are no signs that the British are thinking of putting an end to this ultimate swimming challenge. Yes, swimming in the sea in low temperatures can be dangerous, but every precaution is taken and those who have completed the challenge remain among the world's elite in endurance swimming. It would be a shame to end an 80 year tradition now, wouldn't it?

From Swimator Blog: And there you have it, the English Channel (La Manche) story is a fascinating one and it would definitely be a shame to stop swimmers from dreaming of one day making the unforgettable journey across the continental gap. What do you think about the English Channel swims? Should they be banned or left alone? The La Manche crossing is of course not for everyone, but we all can take some pre-cautions when we swim in open water. Always use some type of a safety equipment like the SafeSwimmer Float or the Aquaspotter and bring some nutritious bar with you. Try to swim in a group and not go out there by yourself. If you happen to go swimming alone, tell someone where you are going and when you will approximately be back, so a rescue can be send out if you happen to deviate from your plan. Know your swimming limits and do not push passed them if you are in an open water environment, leave that to the pool. More safety tips for open water swimming in a later post.
Safer Swimmer - the must have swim safety device for all open water swimmers

Sep 6, 2011

How to relax in the water? (Sink to float and float to sink)

If you are just starting out learning how to swim, or if you struggle to improve your swimming, you have probably heard someone along your swimming journey say: "You just need to relax more". At that moment you also probably thought to yourself: "Yeah right. How am I supposed to relax if I am using every muscle in my body to stay afloat and to go forward?" Believe it or not, being tense while swimming is probably one of the biggest issues many swimmers face. No matter what level swimmer you are, relaxation and trust in your body's buoyancy in water are the foundations of your learning to swim progress and thus make your swimming more enjoyable.

If even Frankie says "relax", it must be true.
To help you relax in the water it is pertinent to learn and understand how your body behaves while submerged and how your body and water interact with each other during different swimming motions. Without this closely knit water-body relationship, it is very tough to progress any further in your swimming career. However, if you spend time playing in the water, feeling the water, and listening to the water, you will soon notice that your body is less tense and you feel more comfortable.

So, indulge me for a moment and stop worrying about how far or fast you swim; go back to the basics and you will not be sorry. By basics, I refer to floating and sinking exercises which will get you more attuned to the water and yourself in it. Before I show you a great floating and sinking exercise, let me break a myth about how you should move in the water. Above I noted that many swimmers think the following: "How am I supposed to relax if I am using every muscle in my body to stay afloat and to go forward?" This is actually a bogus question and an excuse because the majority of us float in water just by taking a breath into our lungs. So it is not really about using all your muscles to stay afloat, it is more about using the right muscles to keep your body in a correct horizontal swimming position. If you think of swimming in terms of the swimmer's body going through the water as opposed to swimming on top of the water, you will realize that your body suddenly behaves in a totally different way, you can relax more and focus all your energy on going forward instead of floating.

Now to the actual floating and sinking exercise. I already explained that to increase efficiency and effectiveness in the water, a swimmer needs to maintain a proper body positioning while swimming, so I will not go into details here. However, in order for you to maintain such positioning and balance you need to relax and control your movements. You can reap the the benefits of the wonderful feeling of relaxation in the water if you work on getting aware of your water environment while moving through the water. The best way to start on your way to total relaxation is to perform a series of sinking and floating exercises where you work on consciously relaxing most of the major muscle groups in your body and only engaging the muscles that matter.

The sinking and floating exercise that I like to teach maintain the body in a prone position at all times, so you will need to engage your core body muscles to keep yourself straight and learn to trust the buoyancy of your body in the water. Let's begin.

1) Stand up in a pool where the water reaches at least to the middle of your chest (the higher towards the neck the better though).

2) Put your arms alongside your body like a soldier and straighten your neck, so there are no wrinkles. Eyes look straight in front of you.

3) Now, take a breath and slowly start shifting your body weight forward keeping your feet planted on the bottom of the pool. The toes and heels of your feet (depending on what direction you are sinking in) do not leave the bottom of the pool at any stage of this sinking/floating exercise).

4) When you are slowly falling forward, start exhaling bubbles out of your mouth. After you hit the water, you will float for a while as there is too much air in your lungs. However, after a few seconds of bubbles you'll notice your upper body sinking towards the bottom. When you reach this negative buoyancy, stop blowing bubbles to preserve the air in your lungs and just enjoy the free fall down.

5) When you sink all the way to the bottom, just lay there for a moment, relaxed and take in all the noises and water disturbance around you. When you have had enough or you run out of breath, just slowly stand up (no jerky movements - think relaxation)

Repeat the exercise and each time work on relaxing one more muscle in your body. You can repeat this sinking/floating exercise until there is no fear of falling into the unknown and you feel like you can relax while sinking. When you are comfortable with the forward sinking exercise, try shifting your weight backwards, so you go back first into the water. In this exercise you might want to either hold your nose with your hand (don't forget to relax the arm though) or employ the natural nose clip technique to keep water from going up into your nose.

You can create your own variations of this exercise, sinking sideways (not dropping your hip first) etc. After you are a relaxation master and can sink without a muscle twitch or fear of being under water, then you are ready to go on to the next stage and learn to balance yourself in the water.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start