3/1/12 - 4/1/12

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Mar 26, 2012

Swimsuit Tips for Leisure Swimming

Swimming is a great sport in terms of the equipment you need to use. One only needs a swimsuit, perhaps a pair of goggles and a swimming cap. Great simplicity, isn't it? Apart from that, you do not need a thing. When I was very young, I tried out for an ice hockey team and made it as a goalie, however, our financial situation in the deep communist times was not that great (let's just say we didn't sit well with the system:)), so I was put into swimming instead. One dollar swimsuit, no goggles and that was it. Easy decision as one, two, three :). However, in today's consumer driven world, the decision is not as simple. Top competitive swimsuits cost hundreds of dollars, though probably still cheaper than buying all the ice hockey padding, but nevertheless not cheap. Furthermore, there are so many choices of swimsuits to choose from, let me just say I am so glad I am not a fashionable lady or a guy from Sweden :). If you are into fashion as well as into practicality and are contemplating buying a new swimsuit for your workout routines or just for leisurely swims, you are in luck. Susan from In Style Swimwear will share with you some important tips which you should keep in mind when choosing your next swimsuit.
Fashionable, yet practical swim suit

Enter Susan:
Attention ladies! Are you considering taking up swimming? Not only is swimming a great full body workout, but it’s fun too! Whether you’re planning to join a masters swim team or simply looking to spice up your workout routine, the first thing you’ll need is a new swimsuit.

When you’re shopping around, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the wide variety of styles on the market. As a swimwear industry insider, I’ll be the first to admit that many swimsuit styles are not very practical when it comes to active or competitive swimming; a number of swimsuit styles are considered to be "for show" and are more about being fashion-forward than functional. However, there is a way to combine the functionality and also look fashionable. After reading this post, we hope you’ll know what to look for when shopping for your new hobby.

Always look for swimsuits with high Lycra Spandex counts

As a rule of thumb, the higher the Lycra Spandex count, the more the swimsuit will stretch and suck you in, helping to streamline your swimming. You want to find a swimsuit that hugs close to your body so nothing interferes with your swimming, thus keeping your strokes fluid, efficient and graceful.
Great for the swim as well as for the beach

Straps are your best friend

Always look for a swimsuit in a one-piece silhouette. Classic one-piece swimsuits tend to have two shoulder straps and will help give you the support you need. Avoid bandeau or strapless swimsuit styles, as these are more likely to fall down during mid-stroke! While you’re swimming, a blooper is the last thing you want to worry about :).

Support the girls

Finally, if you’re a bit bigger up top, you may need some extra support while swimming. Swimsuit styles that have underwire support, molded cups and/or shelf bras provide the best bust support. Think of these styles as your underwire sports bra. If you’re looking for speed and to beat the competition, skip the molded cups and look for a swimsuit with just an underwire shelf bra.

We’ll leave you with one final tip: Always wash your swimsuit after every wear. Extended chlorine exposure can actually break down the Lycra Spandex and ruin the overall durability of your swimsuits. Happy swimming!

This is a guest post by Susan Bodack who is a blogger for Beauty and the Beach, a swimsuit and fashion blog by InStyleSwimwear.com.

Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

Mar 21, 2012

What hand paddles should I use?

Let me stop you right there, let's ask a better question: what do I need paddles for? If your answer to this question is "I don't know, everyone else is using them" or "I feel more powerful with paddles" or "I swim faster with paddles" or something along those lines, then chances are you should keep wondering what paddles you should use for a bit longer. If you do not, chances are that the current paddles you are using or the paddles you will purchase will do more damage to your stroke and your body than they will do good. You will not have any benefit from them, except maybe thinking you are swimming faster or that you were clever to spice up your swim workouts to be less boring.
The confusing world of swimming hand paddles

Paddles are actually an advanced piece of swimming gear which should only be used by swimmers either with correct technique or by swimmers working on improving specific part of their stroke. So if you find yourself asking a question like "what paddles should I use?", then just save yourself the hassle of going down the cul de sac and of wasting your money. You are better of focusing on improving your stroke through some other means such as body positioning drills, proper kicking etc. However, if you are still wondering what paddles are for and whether you need them, let's explore the idea of what swim paddles to use and for what.

There are literally hundreds of different types of paddles including plain square pieces of plastic with holes in them, more sophisticated palm molded paddles, paddles with vertical protrusions, finger paddles, humongous sprint paddles, backstroke forearm paddles, or antipaddles. There are also many sizes, ranging from small teeny weeny paddles which barely fit into the palm of your hand to crazy looking ores many times bigger than your hand. So no wonder many people out there just blindly follow the trends of what equipment they see the top athletes using, not realizing that the top athletes have mostly different needs in terms of hand paddles as someone that is just starting out with a triathlon or pool swimming.

Majority of the paddles are just simply pieces of plastic which have no other purpose, except to make your palm larger, therefore making you exert more strength throughout your pull. Note: this does not mean that the stronger you pull, the faster you will go. Nowadays, these plastic molds have some sort of holes in them to allow water properly stimulate your palm during the usage, so at least some feeling for water is retained after the swimmer takes the paddles off. In the old days, this was not so, the paddles hand no holes, so the difference between swimming with paddles and without was a bit more radical which was more than likely also causing more shoulder injuries. Personally, I don't recommend extended use of these paddles to anyone unless their stroke is up to par with being efficient and effective, otherwise it is just painful to watch :). A swimmer who has no control over the way arms/hands move under the water should stay away. On the other hand, using these paddles once in a while as a sort of a checkpoint how you are doing might not be a bad idea. Especially, if you follow the competitive swimmer landscape and only use the middle finger strap on the paddles. Usually, these paddles come with a wrist and finger strap. The finger strap is the important part, the wrist strap, just get rid off it ;). By getting rid off the wrist band, you have to make sure that your hand enters the water correctly and that your hand also travels through the water correctly not deviating from almost straight line going backwards. If you have trouble with the stroke technique, chances are the paddles will slip off at the hand entry or during the pull, so this is a good indication whether you are improving or not. If you do for some reason want to power through the water with these types of paddles, be sensible and buy the smaller pairs or your shoulders will regret it later. Furthermore, do not swim with hand paddles your entire workout. Add a set here and there and don't swim with them every day.
What a mess :)

Smaller subset of the paddle family are paddles specifically design to improve your technique. These are the paddles that anybody could benefit from and unfortunately are not considered cool to buy as the simple pieces of plastic. Smart swimmers utilize these types of hand paddles the most. I've already mentioned couple of these technique oriented paddles in my previous posts. The TechPaddle for improving your early vertical forearm motion, in other words, for grabbing more water during your pull. And the Antipaddles to help you with better water perception. I'd definitely recommend the use of these paddles on almost daily basis until your stroke feels right. There is also another set of paddles which I just found online which will do wonders for your underwater pull, but I'll leave that for a next post ;).

In addition to using the regular plastic paddles for all the strokes, there are also paddles specific to individual stroke. Breaststroke paddles are usually tiny triangle like pieces which attach and support only your fingers. They allow you to utilize your hands early, so you can start your catch sooner. Because of their small size, they also put less pressure on your shoulders. Backstroke paddles which span from your fingers to your elbow, covering your forearm, allowing you to focus on better catch. Sprint freestyle paddles with the front part of the paddle bent in an angle down, allowing you to get into the catch much sooner than with regular flat paddles. Freestyle paddles with a vertical piece of plastic for helping you get rid off the thumb first entry into the water. etc. etc.

Finally, there are hand paddles which look more like gloves than paddles with membranes between fingers, so they are not really called paddles. However, they serve very similar purpose in terms of increasing the surface area of your palm. If you are struggling with the proper finger/palm relaxation in the water, in other words, if your hand is too tight or fingers are spread too far apart, the glove paddles actually do wonders for this problem. There are a few kinds, ranging from neoprene to rubber material and from finger tips cut off to full-blown gloves. I am not a big fan of the gloves where the fingertips are cut off as it does not feel natural having the water enter the glove every time you push off the wall or put hand into the water. If you are going to choose this type of glove, use the full-blown glove with no openings at the fingers and as thin of a material as you can find. I got my hands on a set of interesting gloves which are mainly used for ocean water sports, however, they can be totally utilized for swimming as well, so a review of these will come to your computer screen near you very soon.

So as you can see, the paddle family is a very complicated beast and there is no wonder a lot of swimmers are confused. It is much easier to follow a faulty trend than to spend the time and research what is good for me. This of course does not only pertain to paddles, swim suits are in the same boat. The bottom line is, if you really really want to get you some paddles and you have no other thing you'd rather buy with your money, then go for it, but choose wisely. Because swimming with the wrong paddles with the wrong stroke is like lifting heavy things from the ground using your back instead of using your legs and we all know how that can cause some serious back pains. If on the other hand, I managed to convince you that you do not need to invest into hand paddles, but you would still like to buy something, get the front mounted snorkel instead.

TIP: there are more exercises you can do with paddles than what they were originally made for, check out the 8 ways to use hand paddles post to learn more.

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

Mar 12, 2012

Water Revival: How to Swim Your Way To Recovery

We tend to view swimming as another way to exercise, so we often forget that water and swimming have also health benefits outside of the regular workout routines. Sarah, a certified yoga instructor, is here to tell us about how the water can revive your body and how to swim your way to recover from an injury.
Recover from injury in water

Enter Sarah:
I have been an avid exerciser since the age of 16. I have been able to stay healthy and fit because of my active lifestyle. So you can imagine my dismay when I was told I had a tear in my ACL. When my doctor told me that I needed to take an 8-10 week break from yoga, hiking, biking and dancing I thought I would die. Exercise is my hobby, my spiritual connection, my anti-depressant and my anti-anxiety defense. Trust me when I tell you that you don't want to hang out with me on a day that I don't get my 2 hours of exercise in. Quitting was not an option so I learned to glean the benefits of swimming. Like yoga, swimming is a full body experience. It improves your cardiovascular system, strengthens your muscles, promotes flexibility, and improves your posture. Fear not injured friends; the couch is not your only option while recovering.

A lot of the damage done to my knee was due to the excessive high impact exercises I did every day. So walking, running and dancing above water are not an option during the recovery process. A sudden twist or turn can shoot insurmountable pain up your leg. But avoiding all movement weakens the muscles that surround the joints. Water is almost 800x denser than air so it protects the knee from quick movements that could further damage the knee, no other exercise gives you this protection.

In my recovery treatment I have notice my physical therapist gradually increasing the weight and reps in the exercises I do. When recovering from your injury it's important that you are moving at a steady pace so that you can work toward strengthening the support of the joint while avoiding re-injury to the vulnerable area. Swim exercises function to stabilize the knee and build strength around it. You start easy and work your way up.

The exercises I've mentioned below pertain to knee rehab, although many of them would work for other lower body injuries, such as ankle or hip. But no matter what's going on in your body, remember that you should run whatever program you decide to do past your physical therapist. You are seeing a PT, right?

Seated Exercise: If this is a new injury you're going to want to take it easy at first. The best place for you is on the steps of the pool, where you can be sure you are secure and you can perform very controlled, focused movements. Leg lifts are great from this position. Sitting at the edge of the step lift the leg straight up until it is fully extended. Moving from a seated position to a standing position is also perfect for the steps. Separate your feet hip distance apart and slowly oscillate from seated position to standing position. Do each of these exercises 10x on each leg and then gradually increasing until you reach 20 or 30 without pain.

Marching: Once you have mastered your seated poses you are ready to move to standing. Marching is your next step. Move away from the stairs to where you're shoulder deep. Lift each knee one at a time to hip level. Repeating 10x on each knee and gradually increase until you reach 20 or 30 reps without pain.

Running: Once you have mastered your stationary marching you are ready to move around the pool. A great way to strengthen the knee is to run in water. You must make a deliberate effort to move against the resistance of water in order to gain the benefits of it. This allows you to work harder than running above water but keeps your joints safe from harm. You might want to invest in an aquajogger - floating devices for your waist, arms and feet that can simulate the above water experience of jogging in a low-impact way. With the aquajogger you can make your way around the pool like your running laps. You will find that you wear out much quicker than on land.

To give you even more incentive to get into swimming, the University of Western Australia conducted a study on nine well-trained triathletes (as published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine). Participants were asked to perform an interval running task at 90 % capacity. Half the subjects were told to lie down and rest after the run, while the other half were given instructions to swim. They found that those who swam immediately after had better recovery than those who had rested. They were able to run for almost 14 minutes as opposed to those that rested who could only run 12 minutes. These findings suggest that swimming for recovery enhances performance. Water is ~800 times more dense than air. So you are actually getting a better workout than a run or bike ride. It is a form of resistance exercise which is known as the best way to increase muscle strength and mass. The great thing about swimming is that you are using the whole body to accomplish the task of making your way across the pool or ocean.
Swimming will speed up your recovery

You are going to need to keep your cardio up if you want to stay in shape while recovering from your injury and swimming is high on the list of exercises to help burn calories. Every time you swim for at least 10 minutes you burn a nice amount of calories: the breast stroke will burn 60 calories; the backstroke burns 80 calories; the freestyle burns up to 100 calories; and the butterfly stroke burns a whopping 150 calories. A great way to increase the amount of calories you burn is to swim in ever increasing intervals with breaks in between.

Studies show that mood directly affects your health and ability to recover. When you are sedentary during your recovery process you are more susceptible to depression which can lead to a number of problems that will only slow your recovery process:
  • Weakened immune system
  • Compromise brain functioning
  • Lack of appetite needed to nourish the body
  • Serotonin production decreases which is necessary for mood, blood flow and cardiovascular health
  • An increase in Cortisol making it difficult for bones to absorb calcium

Of course, there are a host of other benefits to swimming. Like other exercises, it offers a nice steady release of endorphins, the feel good chemicals that give us a sense of joy when released into our blood stream. Just like yoga, swimming is both relaxing because of all the stretching of the muscles and meditative form of exercise because it's aspect of repetitive movements and breath.

William Wilson wrote "The experienced swimmer, when in the water, may be classed among the happiest of mortals in the happiest of moods, and in the most complete enjoyment of the happiest of exercise." Swimming gives the athlete the ability to exercise regardless of injury or weight. It is the only form of exercise that doesn't create intense impact on your internal body because you are only holding up 10 percent of your weight. So if you are looking for an alternative to sitting on the couch during your recovery process, swimming is for you. Put on that swimsuit and hit the pool.

This guest post is contributed by Sarah Stevenson, a.k.a., The Tini Yogini, who is a Certified Yoga Instructor in Southern California. She has a degree in Behavioral Psychology and teaches not only yoga classes but also life affirming workshops. She also writes for Beachbody, which provides effective and popular workout videos, including the Insanity Workout, a high intensity interval training program for total body conditioning.

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

Mar 6, 2012

Swimming, Bilingualism and Perfect Stroke

Globalization of our world is increasingly becoming the standard, so there is no wonder that efforts to raise bilingual children are nowadays close to being a norm (or they should be). Did you know though that learning a second language as a child gives you an unprecedented advantage over the rest of the unilingual world? You might say, "duh, I know one more language than everybody else", but this is not what I am talking about. According to Princeton Neuroscientist Sam Wang, if you are bilingual from very early age, your mind is more flexible and is able to quickly unlearn previously learned rules (resolve conflict cues). Fascinating. Too bad, my bilingualism is not from very early age :(.
Bilingual swimming sign

So how does this relate to swimming? Well, quite a bit in my opinion. While bilingualism focuses solely on your mind, swimming targets your body. However, as you have heard me say many times, swimming blindly up and down the pool rarely gets you the results you desire, so proper swimming stroke is only achieved by employing your mind in conjunction with your body. Unless you have learned to swim with the correct swimming technique at a very early age and let's face it majority of us have not, so you need to utilize your mind as well as your physical agility to re-learn or unlearn previously learned concepts. As bilingual children can be flexible in adapting previously learned concepts to reshape their way of thinking, you will need to unlearn the flaws in your swimming stroke which make you gasp for air at the end of the lap or which give you shoulder or neck pains. There is no room for having an inflexible mind in efficient swimming as you need to relate different body movements to different stroke analogies and constantly update your understanding of how your body behaves in the water. Of course, this is just one side of the story. The ability to actually perform the body movements highly depends on your physical ability which has nothing to do with the mind. However, assuming you have no physical restrictions, without the mind involvement in the process, you might spend years learning to swim and never be satisfied with the result as you are unable to cope with and understand the "conflicting" rules in swimming. By conflicting rules, I refer to the many aspects of proper swimming you need to coordinate and think about at the same time when learning to swim, some of them being even counter intuitive (such as breathing, head position, arm movement, kick, hip rotation, front arm position while breathing etc. etc. etc.).

Your swimming styles should become shaped and re-shaped again and again with every swimming instructor or swimming resource you follow and if your swimming program does a good job, you will break down the stroke into individual parts/drills and focus on mastering one of the parts first before moving onto the next.
As in learning a new language, first starting with the alphabet, numbers, simple words, short phrases, grammatical rules, sentences etc. etc. Without mastering the numbers, you cannot articulate the date or the time. Without mastering the proper head/body position and hip rotation, you cannot learn how to breathe easily and efficiently.

We all know that the mind is a powerful thing and our brains allow us to do quite amazing feats. Apparently, if you are bilingual from early childhood, more power to you and congratulations, you are supercharged for success:). I will leave you with this after thought: please use your mind to help yourself succeed in swimming whatever your goals may be, watch swimming videos, read swimming tips articles, visualize, adapt, try different things, know how it feels to do it the wrong way, have fun and most of all never stop shaping and re-shaping your stroke. Every stroke you take should have a meaning, be it relaxation or stroke improvement, otherwise you are just wasting your time in your path to a perfect swimming stroke.

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