Jan 212011

I am very excited to announce that I will be starring in a DVD, Personal Best Stretch: Move Better Than Ever, to be filmed next week at SaddleBrooke Ranch. Whether you are an athlete, gym rat, or someone who wants to reach items on high cupboard shelves, you will benefit from this enjoyable and easy-to-follow format.

This program includes stretches you can incorporate into your routine pre- and post-exercise. Included in this comprehensive dynamic and static stretching program are moves and postures from Qigong and Yoga, postural improvement stretches, sports-specific activities, and Olympic swimming warm-ups for the shoulder girdle.

The expected release date for this DVD is mid-February, 2011. The product will retain for $19.95 plus applicable tax and shipping charges. A 15% discount will be offered on all pre-orders placed and paid for before release date. For more information, please contact Susan at 520-572-0388 or via email (susan@corazondeloro.com). Thank you for your interest!

Aug 222010

Susan Dawson-Cook at 2010 USMS Summer Nationals

2010 USMS Summer Nationals

Before competing in the U.S. Masters Swimming Summer Long Course Championship in Puerto Rico, I tapered or greatly reduced my training for two full weeks. The first week, I reduced my yardage by about 25%, emphasizing high quality, fast swimming. The second week, I cut yardage by nearly 50%, again emphasizing fast swimming. The two days before competition, I did only easy swimming. Does the idea that reducing training improves performance seem paradoxical? I’ll admit that even though I’ve tapered dozens of times, that little voice in my head persists in nagging me and telling me maybe I should do just a few hundred yards more just in case I get too out of shape. In reality, rest is an important component not in order to maximize performance at a major athletic competition, but for planning weekly and even annual training schedules. Even fitness enthusiasts who never compete but train hard can glean a lot from what I’m about to say.

Too much training can have a negative impact on even the most talented athlete. Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts tend to feel that if they aren’t constantly giving their all and hurting, they aren’t getting better. Muscles that are constantly in a broken down state are unable to get stronger. In some cases, muscles are actually consumed in cases where there is too much training, too little calories consumed and too little recovery time.

Overtraining can have psychological as well as physiological consequences, leading to decreased sports performance, lethargy, increased risk of injury, and depression. Too much training also can lead to burnout, turning a passion into something you hate.

When building rest into your program, look at how you will rest in day to day training and the peaks and valleys that will happen in your training during your year-round schedule. Every workout and every week should include some recovery. It could come in the form of low intensity exercise or cool-down done at the end of a workout, recovery bouts (active recovery) between high intensity sets (Interval training) or cross training or gentler activity done on days between tougher workouts. How does this help? The cool-down releases toxins from the blood and muscles and keeps blood flowing properly from the extremities to other areas where it is needed. Cross training or gentler exercise on alternate days allows muscles used on one day to recover while different ones are utilized, enabling you to perform better during subsequent workouts. Weight training should never be done on consecutive days, unless the upper and lower body are worked separately (M – W – F – upper, T – Th- Sa – lower, for example).

Another important part of recovery is food and drink. Always drink plenty of fluids (until your weight matches what it was pre-exercise) and consume some carbohydrate/protein food source within 60 minutes of a training session. That way you can fend off the breakdown of valuable muscle tissue. Chocolate milk and yogurt and fruit smoothies are recovery favorites of mine.

Athletes typically have different phases to their competitive seasons. The intensity, duration and even the type of activity varies, depending on what part of the season the athlete is in. Many athletes take several weeks off every year (not usually at the same time) where they do no activity in their sport to refresh body and mind. Whether you are an athlete or not, you should consider setting up an annual plan that includes harder and easier phases and works in different modes of exercise. In your “pre-season,” do light activity in your preferred mode of exercise and also some other exercise in different areas. For example if you are a swimmer, you might set up a combination of swimming and Zumba (Latin dance) classes for cardio and then mix in some Pilates and yoga classes to get in some strengthening. In your early season, you might do longer workouts with an emphasis on quantity over quality. Then as you approach your important meets, there should be more rest between sets and swims should become faster and more precise. Then yardage is generally decreased 2 or 3 weeks before the major competitive event to ensure muscles are completely healed before racing. After the competition, some time off from the sport works best for most competitors to allow physical and mental recovery (and maybe some opportunities to enjoy other activities you don’t usually have time for) so you feel ready to work hard again the next season. After a major competition is a good time to take an extended vacation where walks on tours or a short hike or other “fun” activity is the only exercise on the agenda.

Don’t be afraid to make some adjustments to the training plan along the way. Listen to your body. Oftentimes it will give you signals if you need more rest. Overexercising can compromise the immune system, so if you become ill, make sure to reduce your training while you recover. Doctors recommend not exercising when a cold gets into the chest. If its just upper respiratory, take it a little easier until you feel better.

Massage and contrast water therapy (alternating hot and cold water) help to alleviate muscle soreness when you have overdone it. But your sore muscles may need a day of rest more than anything else. Don’t be afraid to accomodate them. Many athletes and fitness buffs find when they are more attentive to their bodies’ needs, their bodies respond by increasing performance level. They also find that their bodies aren’t constantly hurting anymore.

Mar 082010

The shriek of your alarm clock jolts your brain. You groan. You don’t want to get up. Not now, possibly not ever. You want to go back to sleep because not only are you exhausted and your muscles achy, but because you want to forget about everything that isn’t going right with your life. Then all at once you remember today’s triathlon. You shrug. It will be a disaster, you know, but so is everything else lately so you might as well go ahead and get up. You stagger out of bed and go through the motions…

Most of us have had these kinds of days at some point during our lives. I certainly have. One of the reasons it took so long for me to post on this topic is that I fell into a sinkhole of misery about a month ago when our dear dog Sammy died suddenly. The last thing I wanted to do then was post. For almost two weeks, I ran through the scenario in my head, repeatedly, telling myself that if only I had gotten him in the car more quickly or driven faster to the emergency clinic, he might have lived. Maybe he didn’t really have cancer. Maybe he got stung by a bee or a scorpion or someone poisoned him or…This chatter in my head never ceased. I cried for hours, had trouble sleeping, didn’t write well, missed workouts, and just generally didn’t want to get up in the morning.

When my father died of cancer in 2008, I didn’t feel depressed at first, just shocked. I didn’t live with him all the time like I did with my dog, so somehow his passing didn’t seem real. I cried myself to sleep at night and when I awoke, I buried myself in work and tried not to think about it. Depression moved in like a sudden fog when I kept calling home and never spoke to my dad. Snippets of my childhood streamed through my head. Then it really hit me that I’d never see him again. Although I drew closer to my family, I grew distanced from my desire to achieve goals set for myself and started making excuses for my lack of motivation. I trained less, slept much more, and started feeling sick often. My performance quickly went down the tubes.

I share my tales of woe so that you won’t imagine me to be some high-and-mighty person saying “don’t worry be happy” as if its so easy to run around every day with a big smile on my face. I’m not chronically depressed, either. I have a wonderful life. Like many people, I have highs and my lows and when I am overwhelmed by depression and pessimism, not only am I not happy, but I DO NOT PERFORM WELL. I think its safe to say most of us don’t. It is endeavor enough to swim a mile or run a half marathon well and if you have to try to do it carrying a burden of sadness along for the ride, the journey will be much harder than it would be if you dropped that load!

I have also found that if I work at it, I can change my negative outlook. It takes effort, time and patience. Start by forgiving yourself for less-than-stellar performances. It happens to everyone and better days lie ahead. Then, arm yourself with some tools that will lift you out of that trough and land you back on solid ground again. Below are some suggestions, many of which have helped me greatly on my darkest days:

1 – Get sufficient sleep (but not too much, which can leave you feeling sluggish).
2 – Improve the quality of your diet (avoid processed foods, skipping meals, excessive caffeine and alcohol). Try mood enhancing foods such as spinach and salmon.
3 – Increase or reduce exercise (if you stopped, start; if you are overtraining, back off for a few days)
4- Talk to an understanding friend or family member (if they don’t get it, end the call quickly, though)
5 – Shut down the negative chatter in your head that says “I’m so depressed, lazy, I suck, etc.(if it hits you when you are driving to work, put on relaxing music or an upbeat book on CD).
6 – Watch a really funny movie.
7 – Read a favorite book again.
8 – (Ladies) Take a long soaky bath and put in your favorite aromatherapy oil or bath crystals.
9 – Write down 5 things that you are really grateful for in your life.
10- Write your feelings down in a journal to get the weight off of your chest.
11 – Enjoy the great outdoors. A walk or picnic in the park where you hear birds and wind in the trees instead of horns honking and phones ringing can help you relax. Enjoy the company of nature…and yourself!
12 – Take mindful classes like meditation or yoga to help you relax and feel more in synch with yourself. Just breathe!
11 – Seek counseling or consult with your doctor about depression medication if your condition doesn’t improve.

Feb 122010

Ron Johnson Meet 2009Performing poorly when injured is something very easy for me to write about today since I’m in the midst of it. In November, I swam four butterfly events at a swim meet in Phoenix and at times, it was so cold (for me, at least), that I avoided cooling down after my races.

After swimming 8 individual events and 6 relays, I won the high point award for my age group and took home that as well as shooting pain in my rotator cuff and my neck. I hoped a few days of ice and rest would be enough to make it go away, but the pain was relentless. The only time I didn’t hurt is when I took ibuprofen every few hours and did absolutely nothing in the way of arm movements. It hurt if I tried to swim, it hurt to put on a shirt, it hurt when I typed. Heck, it even hurt to do something as normal as reaching and picking something up!

After a month of doing mostly kicking in practice and grimacing when I did everything else, I sought help from a physical therapist. He believes that a slight postural anomaly is restricting normal movement in my shoulder, so I am doing exercises to improve my alignment and being careful of how I train. Just this week, I have resumed normal swimming practices three days a week, although I’m going to wait another month or so before I go back to swimming four days a week.

You simply can’t perform your best when injured. I know, because I tried a meet last month and with disastrous results. There was a lesson to be learned from the experience, though. I knew how much I would have to do once my shoulder is back to normal to regain my old swimming speed. And I found that a little discouraging at first. But then I remembered why I am in the pool anyway. First and foremost, I swim for health and fitness and because my whole day goes much smoother after a good workout. Those of us who are highly competitive are better off not to try to compete when injured because, quite frankly, our egos don’t take losing very well. It can also make you want to work at a highter intensity than your injured body is ready to.

Be sure that you allow the rehabilitation process to work, which it won’t if you push too hard before your injury has had time to mend. Shoulder injuries can be especially stubborn because don’t get as much blood flow to the shoulder girdle as to other muscles in the body. For this reason, healing takes longer. Not being a very patient person, this has been a really hard pill for me to swallow.

Here are some suggestions to help you endure the rehabilitation experience so that you have a better chance of eventually getting back to peak performance:

1) lower your expectations temporarily – that way you won’t push too hard, too soon. Think about staying in shape and maintaining health instead of pushing to the limit. Listen to your body. If it starts to hurt in training, you need to back off.
2) enlist the help of a physical therapist who can assess your condition and give you exercises to rehabilitate the injury or realign your posture for less restricted movement.
3) extend your warm-up and cool down. Warm muscles perform better and with less injury and a cool down will reduce tightness in the muscles and connective tissue that may cause pain. It will also induce a relaxation response to make you feel less tense during the day (think about how all that tension can end up in your neck and shoulders).
4) Do active stretches before your workouts. Some of my favorites for swimming are shown in the article on the USA Swimming web site listed below. A similar version of this article also appeared in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of USMS Swimmer. Some of my favorite active stretches for running are shown in Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running book. http://www.usaswimming.org/USASWeb/_Rainbow/Documents/cac67f9f-4bae-4d19-bfeb-8e3f25e73dab/Active%20Warm%20Up%20040809.pdf
5) Find strategies to trasport you into a positive frame of reference – meditation, breathing, reading, etc. This has been a reall struggle for me, since I use exercise as an antidepressant and cutting back my training sometimes leaves me feeling a bit downhearted. I can’t believe all the negative chatter rattling around in my head – Omigod, I feel so old…I’ll never be able to swim fast again…I can’t even do this right, I might as well go home…Why am I swimming in the dark? Have I lost my mind?

Do your best to shut down the chatter before it gets you down! Then you can insert some positive dialogue. My shoulder (fill in part of the body) doesn’t hurt as bad as it did last week, maybe I’m getting better…At least I’m trying to do something instead of doing nothing at all….Even if I’m not too fast today, at least I’m doing something good for my mind and body at the start of the day…

If you struggle with depression, you’re not alone. I struggle with it sometimes, too and it is yet another thief trying to steal away our peak performances. I’ll discuss depression in the next article in this series.

Feb 042010

Susan Dawson-Cook before the La Jolla Roughwater Swim 2009This series of articles will discuss factors (such as warm-up, injuries, depression, boredom, training plateau, diet, and sleep), which may be a detriment to your athletic performance. In most articles, I will speak from a personal experience platform. Your job is to read what I’ve written and decide if any of these issues apply to you. The first article in the series discusses the affect of cold and improper (too short) of warm-up on performance. Happy reading…

We’ve all had our bad days when it comes to athletic performance. I personally have had more than I care to remember. Often I perform poorly when its very cold. If the pool water is too cold, I knot up and swim poorly. If the air is cold and I’ve been shivering, I can’t swim, bike or run well. I also don’t do so well when I do a quick warm-up before a swim race or triathlon. The race seems to hurt more than usual and I find myself performing poorly. This has become even more of an issue in my “over 40″ years. This body needs at least 30 minutes to get up and running!

Here’s one of my poor-performance-due-to-cold (and my own poor judgement) stories. Last spring, I did a sprint triathlon here in Tucson. The swim was in the pool and I did just great, got out, the sun was shining, so I hopped on my bike with no sweatshirt and during the ride, the wind picked up, the clouds moved in and the temperature dropped 10 degrees (it must have been about 40, which is quite cold to someone who has lived in Tucson for 22 years). I started shivering during the ride and pretty soon my legs constricted and by the time I finished the ride, I was almost hypothermic. It took me almost five minutes to get my bike shoes off and running shoes on, I was shivering so much! I then donned a sweatshirt and started the run, but my muscles were so tight by then, I actually collapsed once on the course and had to walk until the cramp went away. I was almost 6 minutes off my best time! Yikes! If only I’d grabbed that sweatshirt before getting on my bike, the whole disaster might have been averted.

Here’s what I normally do to combat the cold. On a cold day, I spend more time warming up before a race. Sometimes it takes me almost 40 minutes to get to where both joints and muscles are feeling their best. I also wear plenty of warm clothes and try to find a place I can stay inside before the race (my car, a nearby building, etc). If I am doing a swimming race, I keep my clothes on until the last possible minute (if you someday see me dive off the blocks with a jacket on, you’ll know I got really nervous) and then I do limbering activities (rubbing the muscles, circling my arms, twists) to keep the muscles warm. Sometimes I take hot showers between races.

If you are especially lean or over 40, cold might be a detriment to your performance, too. Make sure you stay warm not only before the race, but during. And always do enough warm-up pre-race that muscles feel loose and limber and ready for action. It will take longer to warm-up a cold body than a warm one, so keep that in mind when you plan your pre-race warm-up.