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Sprint Swimming: The Five-Finger Approach
by Mike Bottom

Imagine a large marble balancing in your open, upturned hand. Your fingers are extended and the palm of your hand forms a shallow bowl. With every slight movement of your hand, the marble rolls over the lines and ripples of your palm. The marble represents your sprinting goal. To "grasp" the marble or your goal, you must act with the five digits of the hand, each corresponding to a component of sprint swimming.

Aerobic or Endurance Training:
The Little Finger

According to Dr. Ernest W. Maglis-cho's book, Swimming Even Faster, only two percent of the energy used to sprint 50 meters comes from aerobic metabolism, while 10 percent of the energy used in a 100-meter race is endurance-related. So why do sprinters train so many endurance yards?

Back to the analogy of the hand: The little finger does not appear to add much to the strength of the grip around the marble. However, of the eleven muscles that move the fingers, five act on the little finger. The muscles in the palm of the hand below the little finger are all connected in some way to the movement of the small finger. Without this muscular base, the marble would roll off before the hand could be closed. Endurance training increases the volume of blood the heart pumps and improves the central circulatory and respiratory systems. These systems, in turn, affect every energy system in the body.

Anaerobic or Lactate Training:
The Ring Finger

Does the term "tying up" mean anything to you? The last five to 10 meters of a sprinter's 100 usually makes or breaks the race. According to Dr. Maglis-cho, 48 percent of the energy spent in a 50-meter sprint and 65 percent of the energy used in a 100-meter race originate from anaerobic metabolism. To train this energy system, one must swim with 95 to 100 percent of one's energy for 30 to 60 seconds. In other words, you should reach the "pain barrier" and then keep going.

Anybody who has been in a lasting relationship knows what makes or breaks a relationship is the ability to push through the times of painful confusion. When all seems to break down, the "winners" find a way to make it through the challenging moments.

Sample set: 3 x (100 blast, 200 swim), starting every six to eight minutes. Immediately after the fast 100, move into the 200 swim, which is 50 on your back, 150 working on your stroke. On the 100 blast, try to keep the heart rate between 160 and 180, depending on age. Three or four lactate sets per week should be maximum. (Note: Those with a history of heart problems should consult with a doctor before attempting lactate work.)

Power or Speed Training:
The Middle Finger

Power and speed are the trademarks of the sprinter. Fifty percent of the 50-meter sprint and 25 percent of the 100-meter race are attributed to energy sources in the muscles that are stored and ready to use. However, to swim fast in competition, it is necessary to train at fast speeds. When training at race pace, the body will ride high and the swimmer must learn to hold or feel the water at high speeds.

Interestingly, in our culture the display of the middle finger often communicates a power stance.
Sample set: 10 x 100, swimming 25 blast through turns, 75 stroke work. Play with speed every workout.

Body Position and Stroke Mechanics:
The Index Finger

Many of the world's strongest people swim like a rock, displaying poor form. I believe the most important ("number one" with the index finger) component of sprinting is body position and mechanics. Golf and tennis enthusiasts will hire experts on stroke mechanics and invest as much time and money as needed to "get it right." For some reason after many people have passed the learn-to-swim class, they feel they have arrived.

Water is a thousand times more dense than air. Doubling your speed in the water results in quadrupling your body's drag force or resistance in the water. The easiest way to get faster is to reduce your body resistance in the water, accomplished by spending time with an expert and a video camera.

Strength of Will (Commitment and Concentration):
The Thumb

The limiting factor in grip strength is the ability of the thumb to oppose the force of the fingers. The factor limiting how fast you can swim is not your aerobic fitness, your ability to push through pain, your speed or power in the water, or your ability to overcome the resistance of the water. Simply stated, it is your WILL. To swim fast as you are able, you have to want to swim fast more than you want to watch TV, more than you want to feel comfortable or more than you want to eat lunch with a friend.

Go for it! Swimming fast is fun.
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Mike Bottom, sprint coach at the University of Southern California, has coached many of the United States' top sprinters, including Gary Hall, Jr.

Taken from SwimInfo
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