Tuesday, May 29, 2012


By Dan McCarthy//National Team High Performance Consultant

The burpee can be performed just about anywhere, and requires no equipment. Of course it can be more difficult by incorporating weighted-vests, pull-up bars or gymnastic rings, but the basic motion is very athletic and incorporates muscle groups from head to toe. (For a demonstration of the exercise, visit the CrossFit Burpee Demo).

Joan Jett music aside, the linked demonstration is excellent. The traditional burpee is demonstrated, as well as an easier modified version, a higher-rep version, and an advanced burpee incorporating gymnastic rings.

Done with proper instruction and adequate supervision the burpee is a safe, body-weight exercise. It incorporates a wide-range of muscle groups, requires some coordination and entails the working muscles performing synergistically to complete the exercise correctly. After learning the proper technique, complete 3 x 10 burpees on :30 rest. Add repetitions or increase the speed as long as the proper form is maintained.

For more tips from the National Team High Performance staff, visit the National Team High Performance Tips archive.


By Dan McCarthy//National Team High Performance Consultant

The last training cycle before taper is the most important one to take care of yourself. It represents either one of the hardest training cycles of the year, or the culmination of months and months of hard training and competing without a break. The physical stress of such training raises the cortisol levels in the body and suppresses the immune system. In addition, the human body does not differentiate between one type of stress or another; so the combination of the physical, mental and emotional toll of day-to-day living can all really pound the immune system into the ground. Illnesses and infections seem more prominent during taper because the immune system is at its weakest, not because of the taper. If the athlete is worrying about the upcoming competition during taper, then not only is their immune system vulnerable, but they are continuing to suppress it as well.

Luckily there are some measures that can be taken during the last training cycle and taper cycle to help the immune system stay strong and effectively combat illness.
  1. Eat fruits and vegetables: Add fruits and vegetables to your diet if they aren’t already there, or eat more of them; and eat them with every meal. The vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables have antioxidants which combat the by-products of training. Additionally, they are absorbed much better from food sources than multivitamins.
  2. Avoid alcohol! Alcohol reduces the white blood cell count in your body, which are the cells which combat disease in your body. Alcohol prevents nutrients from feeding the immune system, weakening it instead, and alcohol calories are worthless to an athlete. Excessive drinking will create a nutritional deficiency.
  3. Sleep! Try to find some time during the day for a nap, and go to bed earlier than normal (or wake up later).
  4. Use some common sense. Wash your hands often, don’t share water bottles and keep your hands away from your face when they are not clean.


During hard training cycles, like Christmas training, it is imperative for athletes not only to eat promptly (within a half-hour) following a hard training session, but eat the right amount of carbohydrates and protein as well. A sound recovery plan will be based on an athlete’s body weight.
  • Athletes should eat .5 grams of carbohydrates for every pound of body weight
  • Athletes should eat 15-20 grams of protein
  • Athletes should drink 24 ounces of water for every pound lost
  • Athletes should include electrolytes (sodium, potassium) from food with salt or a sports drink
The dieticians at the USOC have compiled some suggested recovery meals based on body weight:

110-132 Pound Athlete
  • 16 ounces of chocolate milk and water, or
  • 6 ounces of non-fat Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and water, or
  • A natural ingredient sport bar (fruit/nut), a glass of skim milk, and water
154-176 Pound Athlete
  • 24 ounces of chocolate milk and water, or
  • Sport bar (45-50 grams of carbs/15-20 grams of protein) and 16 ounces of sport drink, or
  • 12 ounces of non-fat Greek yogurt, one cup of fruit juice, and water
198-220 Pound Athlete
  • 24 ounces of chocolate milk, water and a banana, or
  • Sport bar (50 grams of carbs/15-20 grams of protein) and 24 ounces of sport drink
Not only must an athlete eat their recovery snack within a half hour of completing practice, but they must also have a meal within an hour of eating their recovery snack, and add another snack an hour after the meal. Obviously this is not a recovery plan for every day of the year, but it will certainly make a difference when the coach pulls out their special New Year’s 10,000-yard set to cap off an intense week of holiday training.



Anyone who has never used or heard the excuse, “I’m a swimmer, so I’m awkward on land,” has never been part of competitive swimming. This idea that swimmers are only athletic in the water has been around for as long as I can remember.

For a long time, swimmers and coaches perpetuated this stereotype by avoiding a lot of dryland activities that were viewed as “too risky.” However, in recent years, many of these same coaches and athletes have started to incorporate more dryland aimed at improving overall fitness and athleticism.

The best athletes (and coaches) understand that a high level of fitness is the foundation upon which optimal performance is built.

As part of the High Performance staff, I am often asked about dryland programs for our National Team athletes. What are they doing? What should they be doing? What should they avoid?

Because every athlete is different, there are a large number of options to consider when designing a training plan.

Programs like CrossFit, Insanity and P90X are great for improving overall fitness and increasing speed, power and agility. With some combination of cardio, weights, plyometrics and stretching, elements from any of these programs can be used as part of a swimmer’s training routine. These programs are also easily adapted to meet the unique needs of individual athletes.

One thing to keep in mind when implementing any of the above programs is to limit the amount of overhead stress placed on an athlete. Because swimming focuses so heavily on repetitive overhead movements, it is important to monitor this stress level to avoid overuse injuries.

Monday, May 21, 2012


What do you pack to eat on race day? What’s your nutrition prescription?

Everybody has a different approach when it comes to eating on race day. Having a strategy and an execution plan can remove doubt and worry about hunger, energy levels, digestive problems, and keep you focused on the race at hand.

Here are a few guidelines for smart eating and packing up the cooler:
  • Don’t DQ your day. Breakfast at home or on the road is the metabolism boost every swimmer needs. Instant oatmeal made with skim or low fat milk, toast with nut butter, dry cereal, yogurt and fruit are all light options that rev up the body. If you are competing in the morning, be sure to keep it light. Opt for a heavier breakfast if competition is in the afternoon.
  • Pack variety. A few options of fruit, vegetables, grain and high quality protein sources should cover the variable appetite and tummy tolerance you may experience on race day. It’s better to have more food options than a large quantity of only two or three foods. Don’t make the mistake of relying on a single food or energy bars to get you through the day. While they can do the job of fueling your body, they may not rate in appetite satisfaction. Having a variety of food sources increases the odds of proper fueling and healthy eating.
  • Pack enough. You don’t want to run out of food, and you may want to share with other swimmers (well-fueled swimmers help the whole team, right?).
  • Pay attention to temperature. If you are packing perishables, be sure to add an ice pack. It’s no fun to get tummy cramps before a race because something has spoiled.
  • Pack in the protein. Protein will be an ally in keeping your blood sugar stable, thus keeping hunger, energy and mood in check. Nibble on cheese sticks or slices, nuts, peanut or nut butters, deli meat slices, yogurt or yogurt drinks, boxes of low fat milk, hummus, hard-boiled eggs or edamame.
  • Don’t forget the Carbohydrate. Your muscles rely on carbs for fuel. Pack easily digestible sources such as 100% juice, fruit leather, applesauce, fresh or dried fruit, or veggie sticks. Don’t forget the more complex carbohydrate foods too, such as crackers, unsweetened dry cereal, pita or other breads, pretzels and graham crackers. Stay away from refined sugars such as soda, candy and desserts on race day.
  • Nosh or Nibble? Save “meals” or large quantities of food for big breaks between events. Nibble small amounts of food before and after events that are closely scheduled. At a minimum, you should be nibbling to stay energized and keep your muscles fueled on race day.
  • Think your drink. Water, 100% fruit juice and sports drinks are appropriate at a swim meet. Plain and flavored milk are great recovery drink choices after the meet; they provide protein for muscle repair and carbohydrate to re-fuel muscles.
  • Know your eating style on race day. If it is counter-productive to racing, follow these guidelines as a strategy for optimal eating. Don’t tempt yourself by packing foods or making concession purchases that you (really) don’t want to be eating.
  • Fiber Facts. Fiber can be a problem on race day, or not. Fiber is a food component to which each swimmer has an individual tolerance. Don’t experiment with high fiber foods on race day; sort this out during training season and avoid tummy trouble when it matters most.


V is for Visualization

You’ve all been told to imagine yourself swimming your best race. You’ve undoubtedly sat up before a big meet and thought about how you were going to do and tried to “see” yourself winning. This article will discuss how to make the most of your imagination and how to visualize correctly so that you’ll reap the performance benefits.

It Really Works
Without going into the science or citing a bunch of research, there is a lot of evidence on the power of visualization in sport as well as many other domains. Basically, there are various theories as to why it works, some claim it strengthens neuropathways while others think it is effective because it bolsters psychological skills. Regardless of WHY it works, the majority of the research does show performance is enhanced through visualization, provided the athlete does it correctly.

The Keys
I should really stop calling it visualization because technically the correct term is “imagery.” The reason it’s not “visualization” is because when doing it correctly, you are using more than just your visual sense. The first key to proper imagery is to incorporate all of your senses. Not only should you see yourself swimming well, but you should feel your hands pulling through the water, smell the chlorine, hear the crowd, and maybe even taste the Gatorade you drank as you were preparing for your race. Vivid details are essential for imagery to be effective.

Another important aspect is to try to imagine your race in real time. I know a few coaches who give out stopwatches to their swimmers and have them imagine their race as close to their goal time as possible. Along with this is the need for controllability and positivity-you must dictate where your imagination takes you and you should ensure you are always imagining a desired outcome and correct technique.

For added benefit, include mental cues and positive self-talk. You can create a CD/Mp3 that you listen to that will guide you through the race. Such guided imagery should include positive statements to program your race-day thoughts (ex: “As I pull through the water I feel how strong and powerful I am” or “As you stand on the blocks you focus on only your lane and feel confident in your preparation and are ready to race your best”).

Do it often, don’t wait until right before your meet to imagine the race you want. When you wake up every morning you can imagine performing well in your upcoming events. Before practice you can visualize your goals for the day. Before each set you can quickly imagine how this will help you in a race. It can even be helpful to picture something not going as planned (ex: goggles snap, a bad race, etc.), but imaging an appropriate and effective reaction (though I suggest keeping everything positive the night before/day of a race).

Déjà Vu
The purpose of imagery is to mentally prepare you for various situations. You want to have vividly imagined every aspect of race day so that when you arrive at the pool, your mind thinks it has already been there, done that. Your mind can’t always tell the difference between what’s real and what it’s created, so by convincing it that you’ve already successfully swam this race you’ll be calmer, more confident, and appropriately focused—a state of mind that in and of itself will help you to perform your best. Also, the more you feel yourself swimming (rather than imagining your race like you’re watching a video of yourself), the easier it will be to create this Déjà vu experience. So go start mentally rehearsing your future success now!

Make it Great!
Dr. Aimee


Keys to Success

Keys to Success with National Teamer Haley Anderson

1. Have fun. Don’t take things too seriously. Swimming is too stressful if you do. If you aren’t having fun with it, you won’t be successful. Having fun makes practices a lot easier to get through, especially with open water workouts.

2. Consider all your options. At first I didn’t have an open mind about open water swimming. I was like, “Why would I do that?” Once I thought about it, I decided, “I might as well.” Though there are a lot of differences, in the end it was really just like adding another event.

3. Make the most of each experience. When you go on trips for meets, you can meet a lot of people. In the open-water community, everyone knows each other. One of the big differences between pool and open water is that in open water we all talk about the race afterward. There’s a lot more dialogue among the athletes than when we go to pool events. And with the courses, water temperature, and crowded fields, there is a lot to talk about. So it’s a lot more exciting after each race sitting down with a big group and catching up on it all.

4. Always take care of your body. I am not always the healthiest eater, but as an athlete I have to constantly be aware of taking care of my body as much as I can. This includes knowing that during the season I have to get a lot of sleep, especially if I have hard classes that carry a huge workload. Actually, when you are at your busiest, that’s when it’s most important to pay attention to what your body needs, because the shape you are in can easily unravel.

5. Swimming is awesome, but so is the rest of your life. Keep some balance in your life. Going to college and getting an education is important to me. Being part of a college team has helped me develop skills as a teammate that will help me long after I am done competing. Stay close to the people who you care about, especially your family and friends, because when you see them again, knowing them so well you will be able to see how you have changed. Keeping that balance in your life, and realizing that swimming, school and friendships all work hand-in-hand is important so you don’t lose perspective.

Monday, May 7, 2012

INSIDE THE WORKOUT - Learn to Build Your Races

There are countless ways strategize the perfect race. Each athlete is a bit different, so there are varying theories depending upon how you race. Some swimmers go out really fast and try to hold on, others try to negative split, and some just try to stay the same pace throughout.

Here at the University of Texas, coach Eddie Reese teaches us to build our races. Although we still believe in the concept of going out fast, it is critical to be controlled and increase the intensity along the way.

One of the ways we take this theory and put it into practical application is by creating sets around the concept. Here’s a set we recently swam in order to help us build the back end of our races.
25-meter pool:

4x100 on 1:40
  • The first 100 you go fast on the last 25.
  • The second 100 you go fast on the last 50.
  • The third 100 you go fast on the last 75.
  • The fourth 100 you go fast on the entire 100.

We did this entire set two rounds swim, one round pull, and two rounds kick. Between each round we took a 2-minute break.

Exploding on parts of the 100 that started from the end allowed us to build up the entire swim so that at the finish we were really firing, as if we were really in a race. Just like in a race we realized that it was important to build up each ‘fast’ part so that we had gas at the end. For instance, really only the last 15 to 25 meters of a race is completely ‘all out’.

I swam in the group that did 100s, however, we did have some athletes who did the set going 200s. The group that did 4x200 started with the last 50 being fast, and added a 50 on each repeat. This is a much different set physically and will be much harder to get the same type of top-end speed from. If you’re not as much of a speed demon, the 200’s set might be better for you.

Work with your coach to figure out what part of this set will benefit you most. Remember, in order to execute the perfect race strategy in the race, we must practice it in workout. Keep working hard and having fun.


Popeye the Sailor Man got it right. By focusing on iron (spinach), he transformed himself into a strongman, ready to save the day. He knew that iron was an important nutrient to health. While the swimmer won’t experience Popeye’s immediate transformation into a muscle wielding superhuman, he will strengthen his immune system and energy level.

Where iron is and what it does
There are two sources of iron in our food supply: heme iron (from meats and fish) and non-heme iron (from plant foods). While both are absorbed and utilized by the body, heme iron sources are better absorbed than non-heme iron foods.

Iron helps the body transport oxygen to cells. This is important for the swimmer, as a deficiency in iron will limit oxygen delivery to all cells, including the all-important muscles.

How iron needs change and what they are
As swimmers grow, iron needs increase because blood volume expands naturally. Iron requirements are as follows:

Male Female
9-13 years: 8 mg per day
14-18 years 11 mg per day

9-13 years: 8 mg per day
14-18 years: 15 mg per day
The female swimmer almost doubles her iron needs when puberty hits, this is due to blood volume increases, and blood losses (menstruation).

Signs of not getting enough
Fatigue or lack of energy, paleness, low body temperature, chronic infections/colds, and reduced academic performance are indicators of a potential problem. Iron deficiency is caused by too little iron in the diet and can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Swimmers who are lacking iron in their diet will need to focus on getting more. Swimmers who have anemia may be prescribed an iron supplement to rejuvenate their iron stores, in addition to an iron-rich diet.

At-risk populations
Swimmers and other endurance athletes are at higher risk for iron deficiency anemia. This is due to blood cell breakdown during exercise, making iron more of a concern. Children and teens who are picky eaters, dieters, meal skippers or who have a poor quality diet (heavy on junk, light on nutritious options) are at risk for iron deficiency. Lastly, female swimmers have a double-whammy—greater iron needs with growth and blood loss due to menstruation.

Iron-Rich foods
Popeye was strong because he ate his spinach, but other foods offer the swimmer a punch of iron too. Organ meats (liver), red meats, poultry and fish are the richest sources of heme iron and best absorbed by the body. Non-heme iron sources such as beans, tofu, dark leafy vegetables (spinach, kale), fruits (raisins), iron-fortified cereals, quinoa, iron-fortified breads, bagels and muffins, edamame (soy), almonds and cashews require a little help from Vitamin C to boost the iron absorption.

Tips for getting more

• Plan to include iron-rich foods at each meal.

• Vitamin C promotes iron absorption of non-heme sources. Pair citrus juices, fruits such as strawberries and mango, and other sources of vitamin C with plant-based iron-rich foods.

Example: iron-fortified cereal with raisins and a glass of orange juice

• Protein helps iron absorption. When meat is combined with iron sources (the “meat factor,”), absorption of iron increases 2-3 times!

Example: Enchiladas with lean ground beef and beans; steak and spinach

• Worried your swimmer is not getting enough? Try this!

Iron-Rich Smoothie:
4-6 ounces of orange juice
½ - 1 cup of baby spinach leaves (or kale)
1 cup of frozen berries (raspberries, blueberries, or other)
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt or iron-fortified tofu

Positively Contagious

The Swine Flu is not the only thing you catch at work. Turns out you are just as likely to catch someone’s bad mood and negative attitude. Yes, the latest research demonstrates what we’ve all known to be true, emotions are contagious. Researchers call them emotional contagions and they impact our work environments, productivity, teamwork, service and performance in significant and profound ways.

As we know all too well, one negative employee can pollute an entire team and create a toxic work environment. One negative leader can make work miserable for his/her team. An employee in a bad mood can scare away countless customers. Complaining can act like a cancer and spread throughout the entire organization and eventually destroy your vision and goals. And pervasive negative attitudes can sabotage the morale and performance of teams with great talent and potential.

That’s the bad news… but there’s also good news.

Positive emotions are just as contagious as negative emotions. One positive leader can rally a group of willing people to accomplish amazing things. One Chief Energy Officer who sits at the welcome desk can positively infect every person who walks in your business/school/workplace. One positive team member can slowly but surely improve the mood and moral of her team. And pervasive positive attitudes and emotions at work can fuel the morale and performance of your organization.

Emotional contagions are the reason why when I speak to businesses, schools and sports teams I say that everyone in the organization contributes to the culture of it. You are not just a creation of your culture but rather you are creating it every day through your thoughts, beliefs and actions. What you think matters. How you feel matters. And the energy you share with others, whether it’s positive or negative, really matters.

You can be a germ and attack your organization’s immune system or you can act like a dose of Vitamin C and strengthen it.

So the next time you head into work with a bad mood you might want to stop before you walk in the door and consider what your boss would say if you had the Swine Flu. She would tell you to stay home until you are healthy and not contagious. And in that moment, as you stand at the door you have choice: You can go home so you don’t infect anyone with your bad mood, or you can choose to get healthy right there, change your attitude, and decide to be positively contagious.