Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Case Study: Charisa Wernick

I thought I would close out 2010 with a story to inspire y'all for the upcoming race season. Charisa just completed her debut season as a pro, and she is itching to start her second year racing with the big girls. A major goal Charisa had all season long was to break the one hour barrier for the ironman swim. She was hovering between 1:03-1:06 all season long. How am I qualified to tell Charisa's story? As a swim coach, every now and then I get triathletes who ask me for swim advice. In early October, Charisa came a knockin'. If you look at Charisa's swim stroke, she looks pretty damn good for someone without a swimming background. She rides really high in the water, she has good rotation, great posture, good head position, and her pull is adequately sufficient. Mind you, I'm looking at Charisa's stroke in the context of open water swimming and specifically triathlon swimming. If she wants to be a swimmer only and race in the pool, then yes, we would have to get picky and work on the little things about her stroke, because pool races are won in seconds or less. But because Charisa is a triathlete and most of her swimming is done wearing a wetsuit, we don't have to get picky. Time is better served working on other things.

As triathletes, there is so much out there in the way of training. Between TRX, yoga, dynamic stretching, Pilates, weights, swimming, biking, and running, and so on, we just don't have the time to do everything that is "supposedly" good for us. We need to be critical and choose what we as individual athletes need most to get fast. In the case of Charisa, I advised the following:

• Her stroke is more than adequate for triathlon swimming, don't do stroke work other than during warm-up or warm-down.

• Hit the weight room to gain more swim-specific muscles in the shoulders, back, and hips. Her stroke looks fine, it just isn't strong. She lacks functional swim strength.

• Kick! Real swimmers kick, even when they are not trying to, it's just ingrained in them from all those years of swimming. And if you are female, even more important. If you don't believe me, swim behind Bree Wee or Teresa Nelson, two very strong swimmers. Standing only 5'6", I guess you could say I have the frame of a woman. I learned the value of kicking during my age-group swimming years. All of my guy friends would grow to like six feet tall, big hands and big feet, and then there was me, stuck at 5'5". The cool thing about swimming is that boys and girls can train together. I noticed that the girls always kept up because their kicks were always so much faster than the boys. Thus, I too relied on my kick to keep up with my six feet competition. That and doing events that nobody wanted to do like the 200 fly and the 400 IM (watch a pool meet and notice how short the guys are in these two events). Sorry, tangent, where were we? Oh yea, I told Charisa that the philosophy is not to make her swim all about kicking, but about making her legs strong enough that after 2.4 miles of swimming, her legs and hips are not fatigued and feel fresh.

• Do ironman swim-specific workouts. Such workouts focus on efficiency and maintaining a fast stroke rate, which is very important in open water swimming. I gave Charisa my bread and butter ironman workout and two other workouts meant to improve her efficiency/stroke rate in open water swimming. These sets are not masters swimming friendly, and are usually done solo. The sets average more than 6000 yards/meters and are painfully boring to most...but not to Charisa.

So how does the story end? Charisa cracked the one-hour barrier in her last ironman of the season, in a non-wetsuit swim! As much as I would like to take credit and say it was due to my advice and workouts, it just ain't so. And here is my point: any coach who would take credit, or say do this one thing and I'll make you fast, is not a good coach. Charisa cracked the barrier as a result of years of swimming with her masters team, years of pushing her limits, years of HARD HARD WORK, and combined with the advice I gave her, and a tiny tiny bit of luck, the sum of the all the parts led to success. Thus for 2011, remember, it is the sum of all the the little things you do that lead to success. Happy training!


Michelle Simmons said...

Nice. I like long swim sets too. But that one is a monster! When I'm IM training I like to do a 4000 straight descend the 1000's like once a month. I don't know if I am hardcore enough to do that every week though? Nutso! ;)

Jill Costantino said...

Woohoo! Great post Kiet, I like your advice and so STOKED for Charisa - what a great swim that was for her.
happy training Mr and Happy New Year:))))

Beth said...

LOVE it! Very inspiring indeed. Stories of non-swimmers becoming real swimmers just melts my heart. :) Thanks Kiet!

martin briars said...

Great post !
i've followed Charisa's blog this year and been impressed by all her exploits !

I love swimming and have upped my pool distance to a min 3,5k work out doing various exercises, using float and plaquettes (i don't know the English for this word (and i'm English and teach English - but that's living abroad for so long for you !!)..... and try to increase my stroke strength whilst minimising the kicking (save legs for later, i tell myself).

I'm not sure if this is the right way, but your plan and tips have helped me focus on swimming specific exercises (i used to just get in the pool and swim !).

all the best

Kathleen @ ForgingAhead said...

Wonderful insight and super informative and well written post. You're a natural writer and coach. I love that about you.

Charisa said...

I know I did all the work, but you still get a lot of credit. :) Thanks for all the help - can't wait to see what we can do in 2011!

Libby said...

awesome! love your stroke reviews and good point about the functionality of drills and being picky for triathletes.
I started off my season with the bread and butter workout already this week. can't wait to conquer it :) this week it was more just getting through it though!! happy new year!

Teresa said...

Love this post! Her stroke does look great and you gave great advice.

Ha! I stuck with the butterfly events....only way to win! Great minds think alike ;)

Can't wait to swim with you again soon!


Kim said...

Awesome, just awesome. I LOVE posts like this and I am going to get you added to the blog reel today so I can check up on you and your posts all the time!! She did it.. she's certainly and inspiration to me with my swimming in 2011 and I know to many others as well. Thanks so much for the tips Kiet!!