Friday, January 20, 2012

Swimming Basics- The S-curve

I usually figure things out while doing something else- my homework suddenly clicks as I walk to the bathroom, or I realize on my way home from a date that I should have kissed her.  This time it was swimming technique during quantum mechanics class.  As I was listening to the lecture, I figured out the reason for the S-curve.

Earlier that day my swimming teacher had gone over the S-curve, which is the way you pull your hand through the water in the freestyle stroke.  It felt smooth as I practiced and it definitely made me swim faster.  But it wasn't until later that I figured out why it works so well.  First I'll show you S-curve, then I'll explain my realization.

You reach forward and as you put your hand into the water, you (1) rotate your wrist so your hand points slightly outward and pull out and down (down being toward your feet, because your body is parallel to the bottom of the pool.)  As your hand gets lower you (2) rotate your wrist again the other way and pull toward you and down.  And when your hand gets to about your waist you (3) rotate the wrist again and push straight down.  Here is a diagram:

Most beginners pull straight down so your hand moves in a half-circle with the elbow mostly straight, however the S-curve has been found to be much more effective.  But why?

It has to do with the muscles in the upper body.  When the arm is fully extended, the muscles that would engage the most to pull your arm down are your lats.  But your lats are the strongest when they pull not just down, but out.  So you play to your strengths and pull down and out.  Then when the arms get further down and the elbow is flexed, the strongest muscles are your pecs and biceps.  And these muscles do their best when they are pulling inward; therefore, you pull your arms down and in.  And finally when the hand is low at your waist, the muscles you use to extend your arm are your triceps.  And these work best pushing straight down, so you do just that and push your hand toward your toes.

Do you see the pattern?  In each case you are using each muscle group in the ways that they are the strongest, thus giving you the most power possible at every stage.  I definitely noticed that my arms were sore in different places because I had been recruiting more muscle groups.  So after only one swim and a little time to think it over, I am definitely a believer.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Classes To Help The Blog?

A new semester of class started last week, and two of them should directly influence "Rebuilt Runner."  The first is an advanced writing class which has surprised me out of the gate as my most fun course.  Two professors teach the class tag-team style and there is a lot of interaction between the other students, so altogether it has a fluid, energetic feel.  Another reason I think I enjoy it so much is because after working on this blog for the past few months, I've found that I really love writing and I'm always trying to find ways to improve the way I express myself.  Hopefully some of what I learn in the class will transfer into my writing here.

My second class that relates to "Rebuilt Runner" is Beginning Swimming.  Ever since I did a relay triathlon with some of my friends in 2010 (see pics below) I've been swimming really consistently (so consistently that when the BYU pool closed in August I starting swimming in Utah Lake.)  I've gotten pretty good at it, so a beginning swimming class seemed like it might be too easy.  But the truth of the matter is that I don't have any formal training on technique, and swimming is by far the most form intensive of all of the endurance sports.  So I figured I should start with the basics and try to pick up the things I was never able to figure out on my own.

In conjunction with the class I'm going to start a "Swimming Basics" series of articles in which I reteach and elaborate on what I'm learning in the class.  This way you can get some of what I'm getting at BYU, but without having to pay tuition! (This may be plagiarism or something like it, so if anyone out there is a lawyer, mums the word.)  If you have thought about starting to swim or already do but need some help on technique then stay posted.

As promised, triathlon pictures:

1. The Team: Brent, me, and Alec

2. Alec killing it on the run:

3. Brent pushing it on the bike:

4. Me hanging out with John before my leg of the race:

5. Yours truly bringing it home in the pool:

 6. Turning around:

7. And finish line:


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Changing up your workout routine

No one wants to eat the same food every day, or wear the same clothes.  So why would you always do the same workout?  Variety is important in everything, including exercise.  The two things you need to vary are...

1. Type: Every sport works specific muscle groups more than others, so if you only do one thing, you will develop muscle imbalances.  There is the principle of specificity which says that the best way to get good at something is to do that thing as much as possible, but that has it's limits.  Even professional runners who spend most of their workout time running will also work weight lifting into their schedule to keep everything strong.

And those of us who aren't trying to become world-class at one specific thing should probably have even more variety; if your main thing is a hard game of basketball with your friends, try swimming one or two days a week.  If you always jog first thing in the morning, replace some of those with some weight-lifting.  The key is trying to pick something as different as possible from what you normally do, so that you can recruit different muscle groups.  Biking and riding an elliptical are pretty similar, so those wouldn't be the best contrast.

2. Difficulty: Most people know you need some hard days and some easy days.  But I think the need goes more than that: you should do workouts that cover the complete spectrum of difficulty.  And difficulty has two parts, duration and intensity, so make sure to experiment with both of those.  When I was 18 and training for a marathon, every run was 45 minutes as hard as I could possibly go.  And it was disastrous: I burned out hard after two months and needed some serious rest to recover.  What I should have done is some 45 minute tempo runs at high intensity, but also some easy days with a light 20 minute jog.  And I should have done some 60-70 minute runs at low intensity, and some hard, short sprint workouts.

One reason variance is so important is that your body is forced to adapt when it experiences something new; so if you always do the same thing, you wont grow.  So change things as much as possible, and see what happens!  Another purpose of variance is psychological: new things are more fun.  Instead of a one trick pony, wouldn't you rather be someone who runs and bikes and swims and kayaks and spelunks?  That sounds way more exciting.  And guess what, the more excited you are to work out, the more of it you will do.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


"Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
 driven time and again off course..."  

I want to put in a plug for my favorite book, "The Odyssey."  Most of you probably read it in your western civ class as a freshman, and based on the chatter that I recall, you probably don't count it as one of your favorite experiences.  But if you really love reading and you are a little older, I'd check it out again.  Because I did, and I found so much more this time around.

I remember liking the story when I first read it, but as an 18 year old kid a lot of the themes went over my head.  But I picked it up again a few months ago, and this time through was so different.  Now that I have had more challenging experiences in life and I think about things a little differently, I can see and appreciate the depth of the story.  Odysseus spends ten years fighting the Trojan War, and on his way home he inadvertently angers Poseidon.  But this is the god of the sea, the one person who holds the key to Odysseus' return.  This is where the story begins, and we follow him for the next ten years as he tries desperately to make it back to his family.

The story is astoundingly simple; a man trying to go home.  But at the same time it is about war, love, revenge, loyalty, and faith.  It is about man's relationship to God, the duty one has to family, and the importance of never giving up when facing impossible challenges.  It is every story, it is the story.  It is lengthy (290 pages of verse) but the Robert Fagles translation is amazingly lucid for a 2800 year old text.  And it does get pretty slow at parts, but at it's worst it is gorgeous, soaring poetry; and at it's best it's a gripping and suspenseful narrative.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with sports or exercise.  The answer is inspiration.  Anything that is hard in life requires something deep down inside to move you forward; call it faith, call it hope, call it desire.  It may be tricky to put a word to it, but we all know how it feels when it swells up inside.  Suddenly the banality of life melts away, and we feel something, something that seems more real and substantive then any of the ten dozen little chores that took up the day to that point.  "The Odyssey" inspires me, the way few things have.  And we need inspiration to live a full, active life, including exercise and sports.  Athletics is all about pushing oneself, the challenge, the accomplishment.  An endurance athlete especially can appreciate the story of a man who fights for 20 years for a goal like being reunited with one's family.

I haven't seen epic poems on many reading lists, but this one should be.  If you are looking for something new, something to change the way you view yourself, your life, the world and it's myriad obstacles, try the tale of the man from Ithaca.