04 July 2014

Psychology and the Athlete

It’s not uncommon for a physiologically gifted, elite, athlete to have poor performance on race-day.  Any number of factors can be the cause for this unfortunate occurrence.  However, when a repeated trend is seen, where race performance is far off the mark compared to training performance, the coach should include some additional mental skills and training for their athlete to help address any psychological challenges they may be facing.

If this is a chronic issue, it would be prudent to enlist the assistance of a skilled sports psychologist to provide assessment information on the athlete based on interviews, observations, and potentially some psychological testing. This will provide great insight into the type of personality traits the athlete exhibits, as well as determining if they have a fixed, or growth, mindset.  If they are a perfectionist athlete.  And, if they have the overall characteristics required to become a world class athlete (i.e. Work ethic, solid process-based goals, the ability to suffer, confidence, competitiveness, mental toughness, etc).

But overall it's important for a coach to have a solid approach to solving the challenges of psychological impact in our sport.  Designing a mental skills strategy can be crucial to the success of the athlete.  What are some steps and tools that can be employed?
  • Work with the athlete to understand what sort of internal dialog is occurring during hard training sessions, as well as during a race.  Is it negative in nature?  Help the athlete recognize negative self-talk, and work to change the focus of their internal dialog to be more positive in nature.  Changing for example, in simple terms, the phrasing of “I can’t” to “I will”.  Show the athlete that they have the ability to work through the pain – as they have done in previous training.  The brain really wants to tell the athlete that “this hurts”.  So what?  Push past it and see what happens.
  • Race-day focus.  Where is it within the athlete?  Can the coach provide some verbal cues to keep the athlete in the here and now versus perhaps wondering if they’re going to disappoint their family or coach?  Help the athlete develop a mental checklist that they can go through pre-race to keep them focused.
  • Work on proactive thinking.  Ask the athlete what they are thinking prior to challenging parts of races and workouts.  Is there a different thought process between the two?  If they become anxious during the bike portion of a race, but perform wonderfully on the bike during training, then develop some internal dialog the athlete can use to remind themselves of their abilities and to ease their anxiety.
  • Self awareness / Trust in their training.  Have the athlete compare how they felt during and after a very hard race-specific training session.  When negative self-talk creeps in during a race, they can immediately compare their training to what they are doing in the race.  They've suffered in training, they can suffer and perform on race day.
  • Realize that anxiety can be a performance enhancer.  Help them realize that feeling anxious before a race is normal – and that they have the ability to turn that anxiety into a positive instead of a negative.  Racing is exciting.  It’s the payoff for all the hard training that they’ve done.  Feelings and emotions can’t really impact the race that much if you mentally control those feelings, keep them at an optimum level, and keep the mental focus (back to point #2 – having a checklist to focus on).
  • Ensure that the athlete can exert a controlling behavior over nervousness.  What is the athlete nervous about?  Is it typical pre-race jitters?  It’s essential to be nervous.  This helps prime top-level performance.  Go back to your pre-race checklist, focus – but remember that nervousness is normal and healthy.  It shouldn’t be looked upon as a negative.
There are numerous other tools and methods that can be introduced to calm pre-race mental anxiety.  Having an athlete that is process driven as opposed to outcome driven helps loads here.  But the role of the coach, in addition to all the other aspects of successful training, is to assist the athlete in overcoming the psychological challenges associated with competitive sport.

14 June 2014

Improving Running Economy

Improving the running economy of your athlete is a goal of every coach.  There are numerous methods that we can employ to ensure that we are striving to maximize the economy of our athletes to its highest level.  To that point, running economy can be gained through both mechanical, as well as physiological, gains.

How does one begin to improve the economy of their athlete?  Video analysis is the first step.  Using your video analysis program and tools of choice, you can look to ensure a number of things:

·      Foot strike is below the center mass of the body.
·      Good foot contact
·      Good shin angle and knee flexion
·      No over-stride.  Stride length is key – a solid foot-plan without over-stride is paramount.
·      Running cadence of around 180-200
·      Minimal bounce and hip drop
·      Ensuring the “Three C’s”:
o   Body is compact and linear.
o   All appendages are connected.
o   An effective cadence in stride is in place.

Once the limiters of your athletes run mechanics have been determined, you would begin to incorporate drills to remediate the flaws in running form.  Work on the bio-energetics & functional range of motion of your athlete – using tire tubes and harness / tire pull work.  The end goal here is to allow the athlete to be able to run, all out, with perfect form.

Once you have the run mechanics of your athlete dialed, and mechanical economy is gained, you can then focus on additional areas, the physiological side, of economy improvement:

Firstly, begin to employ fractionalization in speed training.  By this I mean a break up of the overall training distance to shorter efforts with enough recovery to maintain race pace during those efforts.  This will provide the athlete the ability to improve their ability to maintain their VO2 pace.   As economy improves we would begin to increase distance and decrease recovery.

You can also employ VO2max training to work on overall, top-end, speed and efficiency.  For instance, 10 x 200m at Z5 or Z6 at the track, with a 100m recovery.  Or 8 x 400m, at Z5 or Z6 effort, with a 200m recovery.

My personal favorite is Potassium (K) pump training theory.  Essentially, repeated speed endurance efforts with maximal recovery to improve efficiency, power, range of motion, and performance.  An example of a good K-pump set is 10 x 30 second hill efforts at 95% effort. The purpose of the K-pump session is to decrease the time that it takes to go from anaerobic to aerobic energy systems.

Longer lactate threshold sets (high Z4 efforts) can also be employed to increase aerobic conditioning – ensuring that it takes longer to become anaerobic and thus providing added economy.

Of course, you could simply move your athlete to altitude to train!  Oxygen efficiency will increase as more red blood cells are generated by the cardiovascular system.  Join me here in Colorado Springs and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

06 June 2014

Does Being a Successful Athlete Make One A Good Coach?

Not long ago, a couple individuals I know were commenting on recent training sessions they had done.  I was surprised to hear that they were doing workouts with the philosophy and prescription that was common 10 years ago.  In one instance they did a 5+ hour ride followed by a 2 hour run.

Were their coaches building a plan that takes into consideration how much volume the athlete can do, instead of what they can recover from? Sure, you might be able to do the above-mentioned workout.  But if it takes you three days to recover from it, and you’re unable to properly train in the following days, then the prescription was wrong.

I thought I’d see what the triathlon club and coaches that these athletes were engaged with were all about.  "Elite level triathlete", “Professional triathlete”, “Kona Qualifier”.  Impressive credentials to be sure.  However, those descriptions are for the coaches – not their athletes.

Because an individual has "done the distance" or "used to be a pro"….this is, sometimes, how people do choose a coach unfortunately.

By that same logic, since I’ve had my ankle repaired – I had a plate and screws inserted - you should be perfectly comfortable with me operating on your ankle.

It’s an exaggeration, of course.  But you get my point.  Just because someone was a pro or elite athlete doesn’t mean they can turn that around and apply sound training philosophies to someone else.

I’m not saying it can’t happen. There are great coaches out there that used to perform at the top level that I completely respect.  But that shouldn’t be your single determining factor.

It's not hard to throw volume at someone and build the endurance to finish an Ironman. Really, it's not. But, creating a plan that builds endurance while incorporating quality and intensity to reduce the effects of the physiological limiters of the athlete.  A plan that provides improvements in economy – all while ensuring that periodization is dialed in.  This is what you need to see.

So how do you choose a coach?

Interview them.  Ask them to describe how they work with current athletes doing similar distances to what you’re looking to do.  Talk about volume – yes, you do need endurance for longer distance events.  But ensure they work on speed, speed endurance, and race specifics as well.  Perhaps ask them to describe how they would incorporate recovery and adaptation weeks.  Are they going to do benchmark testing to determine your aerobic or anaerobic limiters?  How, and how frequently?  What kind of improvements have they provided their current athletes?  The list goes on.  But you need to be sure that what you’re getting is tailored to you.

Understanding physiology, periodization, the limiters and strengths of the athlete, and how to remediate those limiters without diminishing their strengths, is what makes a good coach. 

02 May 2014

Made The Big Time - I'm In Trouble With The USOC

I received a phone call the other morning.  I didn't recognize the phone number, but it was here in Colorado Springs.  Upon answering I was told I was speaking to an individual at the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and they were concerned over a picture, and some verbiage, on my coaching web site, and Facebook page.

I had used a picture of the Olympic Training Center pool to promote my swim club on Facebook. It was taken well over a year ago while taking my nephew and Mother-in-law on a tour of the OTC, (where I am a coach of record for a swim club).  Nobody was in the pool at the time. But, apparently, using that photo could lead someone to think that I was offering services at the OTC.  More importantly, I did not have permission from the USOC to use the photo.  Fair enough - I should have known better (really, I should have) and told the individual that I'd take the photo down immediately.

But then things got interesting.  There was also concern over my use of the phrase "Olympic distance training plan" on my coaching website.  I was told that the use of the word "Olympic" was not permitted, and I needed to remove or change that word on my web site immediately.


The person on the phone didn't do the best job at explaining it at the time, but it was clear that I needed to make the requested changes.  I stated that I would do as they asked and that I'd email them when complete (at their request - so they can "sign off").

I did a quick Google search (wait, is it okay for me to use the term "Google"?) for "Olympic distance training plans".  All these sites below (and many more) offer or reference an "Olympic" distance plan or race:

Womens Health Magazine
Tri Radar
Beginner Triathlete
Tri Fuel
DC Rainmaker
Training Peaks
Mark Allen Online
Rev 3

And the list goes on......But let me say that I'm in no way trying to get anyone in trouble.  I'm not saying "...well, if you're going to go after me, why not everyone else?" My point is that most everyone uses this term.  It's used in common language.

And trust me when I tell you, I'm a small fish compared to the above listed groups. Combined, between Facebook and Twitter, I have maybe 400 followers. I have a small swim club that I'm trying to grow. The goal of my above-mentioned post was to draw a few more athletes.  So what's the deal here?

Someone at the USOC saw the picture I posted and decided to see what else I had on my Facebook page and website.  Fair enough.  I completely admit I was wrong in using the picture as I did.  But using the word "Olympic" isn't allowed?  It's interesting that most race directors use the term "Olympic Distance" when they list a race.  Athletes say they race "Olympic Distance" triathlons.  But I can't offer an "Olympic Distance" training plan?

Apparently, in 1978 Congress empowered the USOC to enforce its exclusive use of everything "Olympic".  Not only images (the Olympic Rings) but the word itself.  This Act was revised again in 1998 (Look up the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act)

And the USOC isn't joking around here.  A little digging on the inter-webs shows that the USOC takes its intellectual property very seriously. Below are some articles discussing individuals and groups that have come under fire from the USOC legal team.  I only list four examples - and only one of them is from a significantly large company.  (If you don't want to read the entire article, a brief synopsis is below each link).

Olympic National Park Ranger creates a 64-page, $10, pamphlet for tourists exploring the Olympic Peninsula titled "Best of the Olympic Peninsula". The use of the word "Olympic" was challenged by the USOC.  Lawsuit threatened.

Knitting and sewing community and social network Ravelry created the "Ravelympics" to encourage knitters to create and work on projects while watching the actual Olympic Games.  Cease and Desist letter sent by the USOC.

American Girl Place stores in Chicago and New York have an Olympic themed window display with dolls in "USA" uniforms - gymnasts and soccer players with medals around their necks. Trademark law violations cited by the USOC.  In this case Mattel should have known better - they used to be an Olympic Committee sponsor.

Olympic Cellars Winery, in Port Angeles WA, has sales of Olympic Cellars branded wines restricted to the Olympic Peninsula and cannot grow that brand (if I'm reading the settlement details correctly). Wines branded under different names are exempt of the restriction.

I'm sure there are some groups or individuals that indeed do exploit Olympic imagery. But in a lot of the instances that I found online, it seems like an awful lot of money is being spent by a non profit organization to go after people for relatively innocuous infractions.

Yes, the USOC is indeed a non profit.  If I were to donate money to the USOC, how do I ensure that I'm funding athletes on their journey to the Olympic Games, and not operational and legal expenses?  Yes, I'm exaggerating a bit here, but I think that my point is valid.

In closing: I have training plans for athletes who want to swim 1.5 kilometers, bike 40 kilometers, and run 10 kilometers.  Also known as the race distance athletes race in the Olympic Games.  I won't call it that here.....otherwise I might be breaking the law.

09 April 2014

Workout Wednesday - 09 April 2014

Yesterday - Tuesday - my swim club focused on threshold - but with a twist.  Maximum effort 25's with a work-rest ratio that kept things tough and in high Z4.

I can't take all the credit on this one.  I attended a lecture at the USA Swimming headquarters here in Colorado Springs a couple weeks ago.  There were a few national team athletes there, as well as coaches.  Great Q&A after the lecture, and the description of this set sounded awesome.

They called them "aerobic sprints".  You'll see what I mean........

This set is SCY, yields 3,350 yards, and takes about 1:15 to complete.

Warm up:
250 swim
200 kick
250 pull

8 x 75 on 1:15 

8 x 100 on 1:35  800
Descend 1-4, 5-8 

Main set:  Aerobic sprints 
2 x (15 x 25)
On :30
Max effort.
Easy 100 between each round.

300 pull

Cool down

200 Easy    

The goal of the main set is to get :15+ seconds rest - almost allowing you to stay aerobic (almost).  So it is more of a threshold set, but the athletes need to work for their rest.  Change the send-off, of course, to accommodate your athletes.  Again, you're targeting :15-:20 rest (max) here.  So if they can hold :15 25's then give a send-off of :35.  If you want to make them really work, make the second round send-off :30.

Truth be told, I had to really shave down the send-off for a few of my elite triathletes.  :30 was too easy as they're anaerobic in nature.  Cutting that to :25 helped.

02 April 2014

Workout Wednesday - 01 April 2014

This week I thought we would focus on threshold in the main set.  It's structured a little differently that I normally would.  I wanted to break up the main set to provide some different distances and sendoffs and efforts to make the set manageable for the athletes.

It's hard, but they'll get through it thinking it "wasn't so bad".

This workout is on the schedule for my swim club tomorrow (Thursday).  As always, adjust the send-offs based on the athletes.  You want them to start out maintaining :15 - :20 seconds rest pretty easily, but towards the end they'll need to work for that rest.  There's enough active recovery cooked in to make things manageable.

This is SCY, and will take roughly 1:15 - 1:30.  If time is short, you can cut one of the warm up / pre-sets (each pre-set is 600 yards).

Warm up: 
250 swim
250 pull

8 x 75 on :30 rest
1st length drill, 2nd length kick, 3rd swim

4 x (50 - 100)
On :55 - 1:35

Main set:
12 x 50 HARD on :55
Descend 1-4
150 easy on :20 rest  
6 x 75 on 1:05-1:10
Descend 1-3
100 easy on :20 rest
5 x 50 HARD  on :50
Descend 1-5 (End MAX)
50 easy on 1:30
6 x 25 max effort on :45

300 pull with buoy and paddles.  
Easy effort. Focus on stroke.

Cool down:

150 easy.

This is a big set - 3900 yards if my math is correct.  Tired athletes are a guarantee.  

26 March 2014

Workout Wednesday - 26 March 2014

As I've mentioned before, I usually prescribe speed sets early in the week with my swim club here in Colorado Springs. I do this, again, so that my athletes are still fresh from a recovery day on Monday and they're not fatigued by the cumulative effects of a week of training.  While you can do aerobic work when fatigued, doing speed and threshold work becomes quite challenging.

I changed up my usual speed prescription for the workout my athletes did yesterday.  I included some active recovery into the mix.  The high-quality portion of the workout still had a 1 : 3 work-rest ratio. But the addition of some active recovery allowed everyone to keep moving (and not tighten up) while still getting the recovery necessary to sustain high quality efforts.

This is a SCY set, and will take about 1:15 to complete.  Of course, you might need to adjust the send-offs on the warm-up set and the pull set (depending on base-100 times).  But the times for the primary main set should remain the same.

Warm up: 
250 swim
200 kick
250 pull

4 x (75 - 50)
75’s easy on 1:10
50’s on :55 - 1st length build up, 2nd length mod/hard effort

Main set:
8 x ( 4 x 25 - 50 )
25’s Max effort on 1:00.
50's Recovery on 1:30

4 x 100 pull on 1:35
Cool down:
200 easy.

Yes, this set only yields 2800 yards.  But it's a nice quality high intensity speed set that, if done properly at max effort, will yield some tired swimmers at the end.  And over time, some faster swimmers as well.

What is your best / favorite speed set?   Reach out to me and let me know.

19 March 2014

Workout Wednesday - 19 March 2014

Well, I sure took a hiatus didn't I?  More athletes coming out of hibernation, the ITU racing season getting started - having an athlete racing at ITU Sarasota .....excuses, excuses.

So, back to the grind.  I've been throwing in a little more endurance work for my athletes as of late.  As you might recall, I was pretty heavy on speed and speed endurance / threshold work early on.  I found that most of the athletes at my swim club did a lot of solid aerobic endurance work during the off-season, so it seemed fitting.

A little trip back to the aerobic energy system is in order:

Warm up:
200 swim
200 pull
200 kick (board - no fins)

4 x (75 - 125) on 1:10 - 2:00
Main set:
All on base 100 time + :20 - :30
Cool down
200 easy

This set is SCY and yields 4,000 yards.  The send-offs in the main set are, as stated, are on base 100 time + :30.  So, for example, if your athlete holds 1:10 pace pretty easily under aerobic levels, then his/her 400 send-off is 5:10.  The 300 send-off is 4:00, etc.

You'll notice the 2 x 200's in the middle and end of the round.  I like breaking up a longer set with slightly shorter distances.  Athletes will tend to go a little harder on the 200's - getting a little more rest - but upping the quality of the set that much more.

Drop me a line with any questions - I'm always up for talking about swimming.

26 February 2014

Workout Wednesday - 26 February 2014

This is the workout that my swim club did yesterday morning.  I usually start the week out with speed, or speed endurance work, and move towards aerobic work come the end of the week or weekend.  I do this as, usually, triathletes have rest days early in the week.  Speed and speed endurance is best done when your athlete is as rested as possible.  High intensity, threshold, training is really tough for athletes to do when fatigued after a hard week of training.  Where aerobic work can be done whilst slightly fatigued.

Hence, todays workout.  More quality efforts.  The set is built around shorter, higher quality, efforts. It's built so that the athlete doesn't get too fatigued during the main set, and there's enough lower intensity efforts to allow for solid recovery.

This is SCY, and will take about 1:15.

Warm up:  
300 swim
200 kick
200 pull

24 x 25 on :10 rest 
Every 4th Dog Paddle
Moderate / Hard effort.

Main set: 
3 x (3 x 50 - 150), 
50's maximum effort on :20 rest.
150's at 200 practice pace on :30 rest.

4 x (3 x 25 - 125) 
25’s maximum effort on :15 rest
125's at 200 practice pace on :30 rest.

1:00 between sets.

200 cool down.

3200 yards

You can see that the 150's and 125's allow for the athletes to recover, where the 50's and 25's don't quite provide enough time for full lactic acid clearance.  The time goes quickly for the athlete in this workout.

As I always say:  Questions?  Contact me!

19 February 2014

Workout Wednesday - 19 February 2014

Since I threw a little endurance your way last week, we're going back to some threshold work this week.

This is a set that I gave my swim club just yesterday.  Short distances with high quality and intensity in the main set.  You'll most certainly want to take advantage of a white board for this session, as the main set is a little lengthy and is much easier to understand when written out.

This is SCY, and will push close to 90 minutes.  As always, adjust the send-off times depending on the base 100 times of your athletes.

Warm up:
200 swim
200 kick
200 pull

4 x (75 - 50)  
75’s easy on 1:15 
50’s hard on 1:00 

Main set:
2 x (100-75-3x25, 100-75-4x25, 100-75-5x25) 
100's descending on 1:40
75's easy on 1:10
25's MAX on :45

2 x (50-50-25, 50-50-2x25, 50-50-3x25)
1st 50's descending on :50
2nd 50 easy on 1:00
25's MAX on :45

Cool down:
200 easy

Total yards: 3850

As you can see, we push some threshold in the main set, but add in a 1 : 2 work-rest ratio for the 25's - focusing on speed.  It's a nice mix, in my opinion, that really provides a good quality session.

I'm a big fan of speed endurance / threshold sets.  Athletes tend to focus more on aerobic endurance and "LSD" sets.  (Long. Slow. Distance).  Not that aerobic endurance isn't important, but most often threshold and speed tends to be the limiter for a lot of athletes.  

Want to discuss this topic more?  Reach out to me!

12 February 2014

Workout Wednesday - 12 February 14

I'm throwing a little endurance work back into the mix today.  But, as usual, there's a little speed endurance work thrown in for good measure.

This is a great set to really get some serious yardage in. And I really like it for the fact that it switches gears in the middle of the main effort and utilizes a different energy system.  The main set efforts, for the longer distances, are aerobic in nature. Targeting a 1:20-1:25 base 100 effort, the rest intervals will provide about :20-:30 rest. But the 25's switch things up with a 1 : 2 work/rest ratio and we start to get a little anaerobic.

This set is SCY and will take about 1:15-1:30........

Warm up:
200 yards easy
200 kick
200 pull

Pre-set / Warm up:
10 x 50
1st length stroke (choice) 2nd length free.

12 x 75 on 1:15.  Cruise efforts 

Main set: 
Speed endurance (Sp/E)  and Endurance. 

2 x (400, 300, 10 x 25, 200)
400 on 6:00, 300 on 4:30, 25's on :45 - max effort., 200 on 3:00

Cool down:
200 easy

4500 yards

Change the send-offs to accommodate your athletes base 100 times, ensuring to keep things aerobic. That means you need to target a send-off that provides :20-:30 rest.  As the main set lasts between 20-30 minutes (depending on the athlete) it's long enough to get the aerobic work in, but short enough to not be boring.  The usual reaction I get from athletes after this set is that they got more yards in the main set than they thought. The 25's keep things fresh and nobody gets bored.

Questions?  Give me a shout!

05 February 2014

Workout Wednesday - 05 February 2014

This is a set that I have planned for my swim club tomorrow morning.  Well, that's assuming the weather behaves here in Colorado Springs.

I normally front load the week with speed and threshold work - doing the higher intensity training early in the week with aerobic efforts coming on the weekend.  The reason for this is that aerobic efforts can be done when the athlete is a little fatigued, but threshold and speed work loses a lot of it's benefit when attempted in a fatigued state.

This is a big set.   Lots of threshold work.  Lots of yardage.  It's SCY and takes about 1:30.

Warm up
200 Easy
200 kick
200 pull

4 x (75-100)  
On 1:15-1:45

Main set
4 x 100 @ 1:35  1st 25 sprint   
6 x 100 @ 1:30  Best pace
12 x 50 @ :50  Descend 1-6 
4 x 100 @ 1:35  1st 50 sprint 
6 x 100 @ 1:30   Best pace
12 x 50 @ :50  Descend 1-6 

Cool down
200 Easy    

4500 yards

Again, this is a big set.  You'll have to adjust the send-offs for yourself or your athletes as necessary, of course.  If you need to add time on the send-offs, then adjust the pre-set (the 75-100 sets) to be 50's and 75's to allow for the extra time.

This set is going to work on speed endurance big time.  All efforts here are going to be at threshold effort (or better!)  If you're feeling generous, give your athletes an extra minute rest after the first set of 50's.