Aug 022010

I recently started doing some water training in my home pool. Its so nice to get up, throw on a suit (or not) and walk out the door. Because my home pool isn’t as long as the pool where I normally train, I do some vertical kicking and stationary swimming so I’m not constantly touching the sides. Here’s how you can do some stationary swimming in your home pool…

Buy a medium strength Versa Tube and a 6 foot Thera-Band. Loop one handled end of the Versa Tube to a diving board or ladder at one end of the pool. Attach it as close as possible to water level. Then tie one end of the Thera-band around the other Versa Tube handle. Then tie the other end of the Thera-Band around one ankle. Slide into the pool and get started. Try with or without a pullbouy, depending on if it improves your body position, since you will mostly be pulling anyway (the band around the ankle will restrict your ability to kick).

I have successfully done free, fly and breast stroke pull this way, but found it very awkward on my back. Have fun!

Jul 132010

Our New House

Our New House in Oro Valley

When stress strikes, its tempting to back down from your normal training routine. After all, you’ve got the best of excuses to dump the workout for a nap or a strong drink. Or so it seems. In reality, maintaining your exercise routine could actually help you cope better with whatever you are up against. Instead of letting your stress get the best of you the next time around, try some creative ways to keep yourself up and moving?

Speaking of moving, my latest stressful event was a relocation from one Tucson house to another (that’s why my posts have been so sparse lately)! When our offer was accepted and the closing loomed within 30 days, my first instinct was to forget about going to U.S. Masters Swimming nationals later in the summer. After all, I wasn’t going to have time to put in the training, right?

After further consideration, I decided that keeping the championship on the calendar would keep me focused so I would put in the miles I needed not only to do well in my events, but to stay more calm and upbeat as we underwent the stress of the move. And sure enough, its been working. I have maintained consistent training habits and have managed to deal with all of the box packing and carrying as well as repairing and installing various things at our new house without bursting into tears. OK, well I did kind of lose it once when I looked at my old closet floor after I had loaded several boxes and there was still a ton more and I wondered how I had accumulated so much stuff and where I would possible put it all! I do know that had I not been swimming almost daily it would have been a whole lot worse.

Below are some tried and true strategies to help you succeed when stress strikes:

1 – Plan your workouts in advance. Put these scheduled times in your handheld device like every other appointment and stick to the schedule without fail. Pack your gym bag the night before so you are ready to go.

2 – Set a goal. What do you want to accomplish shortly after this difficult time to keep you from missing a workout? It could be an athletic competition, a charity walk or run, or a vacation that requires being physically fit.

3 – Enlist the support of a friend or family member. In the case of our move, I encouraged my husband to go to the gym while I did something around the house so he didn’t feel he needed to miss workouts to do something for me. He always encouraged me to attend all my morning swimming workouts as well. I even trained the day the movers came to pick up our furniture! Be sure to offer encouragement to those close to you when they are under stress so they won’t fall off the exercise wagon.

4 – Release your frustration in the water or as your feet hit the road instead of out on other people. Notice how well it works. When your workout has helped you to cope with stress and deal better with frustrating situations, take note. When your day goes well, you will want to do it again. And people won’t want to hide from you whenever you are under duress.

The next time your work or personal life becomes crazy, don’t let go of your exercise routine. Keeping consistent will have a way of grounding you so the difficult time doesn’t seem as rough. If you have to relocate like I just did, being fit can come in handy. If I didn’t have great muscle tone, how would I have ever handled the packing, carrying, painting, hammering, drilling, backwashing, and trimming that needed to be done? Now if you will excuse me, I have to install another towel bar.

Jun 172010

While vacationing in Ohio, it seemed perfect to stop what I was doing (drinking tea) and write about staying active while traveling. Its almost 9 a.m. here and I am happy to say I have already walked 20 minutes and been swimming for an hour. The Worthington High School Pool is just minutes from the house, so I slipped on my tennis shoes before dawn and walked there to join the high school swim team for practice. Afterwards, I walked back home, had a bowl of oatmeal and now here I am writing this article.

Clients often tell me its difficult to stay active on vacation. I say its a piece of cake. When you maintain your exercise routine, you adjust quicker to time changes, feel happier and more energetic, and good about yourself for staying on track. I make it a habit to always plan what I will do to stay in shape before the trip even happens.

Before travelling to Ohio, I emailed the Worthington Swim Club coach and asked him if he would mind if a Masters swimmer joined his group for practices. When he gave me an affirmative answer and the schedule, I was all set. All I had to do was have the gumption to get up at 6 a.m. every morning, the equivalent of 3 a.m. in Tucson. So far so good.

I also get a lot of residual exercise spending time with my family. One morning I took a 15 minute jog with my daughter. Yesterday, we played Marco Polo in the pool and took an hour-long evening walk along the Olentangy River. I even spent an hour or so pulling thistles out of my mom’s garden. Ouch! My days have been activity-filled. It is a great feeling to know that when I go home to Arizona, I will be in even better shape than when I left.

Another strategy I use for staying active on trips is to plan the trip around a competitive event. I recently wrote an article on this topic (featuring other people like myself who thrive off of this type of travel), which will appear later this year in American Fitness.

I often compete in the La Jolla Roughwater swim and the La Jolla Shores 5K so I can enjoy La Jolla and also get out there and race people. Later this summer I will compete in the U.S. Masters Swimming Long Course National Championships in Puerto Rico. After a few days of pool swimming races in Puerto Rico, I will top off the week with a one mile open water swim and then fly to Granada where from our hotel’s beach, you can swim for miles and still stand on the bottom! I know already I will be swimming every single day of vacation.

If you’re a fitness instructor like me, you can take a trip and teach classes at the same time (check out Last summer I took my family to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun and paid very little because of the two hours I spent teaching classes daily. There are places all over the Caribbean where you can have a fabulous time on an active vacation.

So if you’re making a list of excuses of why you can’t keep moving, why don’t you pitch that in the trash and write up an activity agenda. Here in Ohio, swimming will continue to be on the daily agenda as well as walking and the occasional jog. And who knows. Maybe the kids will be able to talk me into getting on the trampoline again for seat wars. I’m not 18 anymore. But I can pretend.

Apr 032010

Many people tell me they can’t stand to workout an hour a day because its “too boring.” Mindless exercise is boring. Bringing your brain into the picture is a quick way to make training engaging instead of dull.

If I’ve planned a 3000-yard swim, I can either get in the pool and plod out 120 mind-numbing lengths of the pool or I can pre-establish a workout with specific intervals and objectives to keep my mind engaged throughout.

Occasionally, I’ll do a long swim so I can contemplate something going on with my life and try to come up with a solution, but I woud be bored to death if I just got in and used my brain for nothing more than counting lengths of the pool (kind of like singing 101 bottles of beer on the wall).

Every time I get in the water, it is with some specific purpose. Maybe I want to achieve a certain time on a set of 100s. Or to negative split a set of 200s (swimming the second half faster than the first half). Or to step down a set of 3 500s (first one slow, second one a little faster, last one really hard). When I attend a Masters swimming workout, our coach sets up the workout for us and then I just mentally plan goal times for different parts of the workout.

I also often think about one specific element of my swimming while swimming a set. Perhaps it might be getting a good pushoff on every turn, keeping my head lower when I do breaststroke or avoiding that crossover I sometimes get with my right arm on freestyle. The entire workout, my mind is engaged and there is a mind-body connection going on. When you just try to force the body do an activity in which the brain is in no way involved, you get boredom.

I bet you’re wondering what I think about watching T.V., listening to iPods, and reading or listening to books on tape while exercising. My answer? That depends. If you want to do some long steady state exercise and aren’t concerned with “correct form,” it won’t hurt anything to do it some of the time. But I think its worthwhile to spend at least some time each week tuning into what is happening with your body.

I advocate not “tuning out” while doing a sport such as swimming that requires a lot of skill. I also think its JUST PLAIN CRAZY to go out road biking with a headset on. While road biking, you should watch for objects and obstructions on the road in front of you and be alert to other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. You can also track your speed, heart rate, and distance to make your ride more stimulating.

Below are a few before/after workout makeovers
1 – instead of that same old 3 mile run (treadmill or outside)…. Put on a heart rate monitor and run 5 minutes to warm up and then finish the run with 2 minute easy intervals and 2 minute hard intervals. Make sure your heart rate doesn’t go higher than is safe for your age and cardiovascular health.
2 – instead of that same old X distance run outside….Put on a heart rate monitor and do random intervals. Warm up five minutes and then sprint until you get to the fire hydrant, the next corner or some other land-mark determined distance and then do a recovery jog in between each hard interval. This way you will get more engaged with your surroundings.
3 – instead of that same old boring 45 minute walk (treadmill or outside)…Go ahead and put the iPod on, but put songs of different tempos in sequence so you can walk to the beat of the music. Some songs will have you walking faster, others at a slower interval.
4 – instead of that same old boring 45 minute walk…Recruit a friend (or family members) to join you, walk your dog (or someone else’s), or go to a state or national park for a change of scenery.
5 – instead of a mile swim….400 yards (8 lengths) warm-up, including different strokes and drills you like and some kicking with a kick board. 12 x 25s (1 distance per stroke, 1 fast turnover, 1 combine distance with speed x 4) 3 x 200s (negative split – second half faster than first) 6 x 50s (any stroke – step down 1-3, 4-6). 50-100 easy.
6 – instead of 45 minutes on a stationary bicycle….Buy or use a spin bike instead. Put songs on iPod that are good for hill climbs, sprints, and out-of-the seat jumps and jogs. Miix up the workout with a combination of these. Monitor heart rate and make sure to insert active recovery intervals.

I’ve spoken to open water swimmers who say they rarely get bored while swimming for hours in the ocean. Why? Because there is too much to think about, they say. Keeping your mind engaged in every aspect of your activity can make workouts much more interesting. Have a fun and productive workout week. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I look forward to hearing about YOUR favorite ways to beat boredom in workouts!

Jan 222010
Susan Dawson-Cook swimming butterfly

Photo by Chris Mooney

Did you know you can turn back the biological clock by 10 years or more doing interval training? It’s true. Recent research says so. I know you want to try it right away, but hold on for a moment! First, let me explain what interval training is and how it keeps the body young.

Interval training consists of short bursts of hard work followed by short periods of active recovery. Active recovery is what it sounds like—you slow down, but keep moving. You can do interval training on the treadmill, stationary bicycle, elliptical, outside walking or bicycling, or swimming. Some group exercise formats are also interval workouts.

Here’s an example of a treadmill interval workout. You warm up for 5 minutes and then alternate between a minute of fast walking with a steep incline and a minute of slow walking without an incline, repeat that 10 times and follow that with a 5 minute cool down for a total of 30 minutes. On other days, you could change it up by adding some intervals of jogging to the high-intensity segments or changing the length of the intervals. Fit people should aim for a 1 to 1 ratio of work to recovery, with intervals ranging from 30 seconds to 4 minutes.

I recommend using a heart rate monitor to ensure heart rate stays within recommended ranges (60 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate for a healthy individual). People taking medications reducing blood pressure and heart rate should refer to the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) to estimate how hard they are working.

People new to interval training often need attenuated recovery periods. A healthy, fit individual can safely work at a higher intensity than a sedentary individual with health issues. Many athletes train or compete at levels higher than 90 percent of their maximum heart rate, whereas individuals with cardiac risk may be told not to exceed 50 percent of their maximum heart rate or an estimated RPE of 11 (light) on the 6 to 20 scale.*

Now on to the why…The lungs and heart work together as an oxygen delivery system, taking in oxygen and pumping and delivering it to the muscles. As we age, heart beats slower and lung capacity decreases, which means that oxygen gets delivered more slowly to muscles.  This is why we fatigue quicker and are unable to move as fast.

Training at a high intensity forces the body to make adaptations to cope with this stress by building more muscle, stronger bones, and a better oxygen delivery system in preparation for the next episode. We can delay age-related degradations in stamina and strength by doing regular interval training. In addition to keeping you younger, interval training burns beaucoup calories, not only during the workout, but for hours afterward.

*Interval training is not safe for everyone. Consult with a doctor before beginning a new exercise program.