Coaching a swim across the English Channel

Captain Matthew Web 1875

Captain Matthew Web 1875

In 1875, Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim across the English Channel from Dover, England to Calais, France. Since then, fewer than 1500 people have accomplished the same feat. With a success rate of 50%, equal to Mt Everest summit attempts, just over 100 people successfully swam from point to point last year. This September, my uncle, Tom Bell, hopes to become one of them. A 19 nautical mile swim at its narrowest point, approximately 36km, in an unpredictable, frigid tide, that changes every 6hrs, could take upwards of 12hrs to complete in good conditions. Official sanctioning bodies limit swimmers to don nothing more than a speedo, cap and googles, as they brave the elements timed during seasonable high water temperatures in the 50s. 800 boats cross the channel daily, the world's busiest shipping channel. . With the help of an officially sanctioned boat captain, myself, and a crew of 3, Tom will wade into the water on an early morning the week of September 13, putting his faith in his team and his training.

Hudson 10k 

Hudson 10k 

VO2 Max Testing

VO2 Max Testing

For the past two years I have coached Tom remotely, sometimes joining him in open water training swims, races, and channel pacing. At 44yrs, he swims 6 days per week for 2hrs hours or more, covering an average of 35km weekly. Outside of the pool hes improved his strength and power with twice weekly strength and conditioning workouts. He's assessed and improved his VO2 Max - a powerful indicator of aerobic performance, has worked on his anaerobic threshold - critical for racing rapidly changing tides, has refined his mechanics and efficiency with countless hours of swimming drills, tailored by the help of the Functional Movement Screen, and honed and refined a specific nutrition strategy essential for fueling an exhausting and time sensitive 12 hour swim. In preparation, he s competed in the Little Red Lighthouse Hudson 10k in New York City - a 2+ hr swim up the Hudson River under the George Washington Bridge, participated in the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim twice - a temperamental 24 mile race in the deceptively beautiful Tampa Bay, and his biggest accomplishment to date, the 22 mile swim across the Catalina Channel in California. His completion of the English Channel will bring him one swim away from completing the Triple Crown of open water swimming - The English Channel, Catalina Channel, and Manhattan Island. A feat fewer than 100 people in the world have accomplished!

Tampa Bay Marathon Swim

Tampa Bay Marathon Swim

Tom is dedicating, and raising money with this swim, for the I AM ABLE Foundation. An organization supporting disabled individuals through fundraising, fitness opportunities, and motivation. Consider supporting him and the organization through this link: I AM ABLE

Your Metabolism on Cardio

Finding my email exchanges with clients, family and friends to be great sources for postings. Below I share my thoughts on weight loss plateaus on a high volume steady state running program, and low caloric intake.
Has your weight loss stalled despite a disciplined low calorie eating, and frequent training?  When attempting to lose weight, it helps to have a goal in mind with a deadline. Just like training, fat loss nutrition should be planned and structured. Cutting calories systematically can be an effective fat loss tool to a point. Scheduling refeeds, cheat days, and a return to baseline intake is important for sustaining muscle mass, and preventing your metabolism from crashing.
If you are not taking a multivitamin and fish oil supplement, you should. Its the first thing I recommend anyone change with nutrition. Getting more nutrients from vitamins, and consuming fish oil, naturally elevates your metabolism, and improves the way you use carbs for fuel, instead of fat storage.
In terms of your training, running is not a great way to lose fat. If you run for the love of running, keep it up, but if you have chosen it as a way to fat loss, you could be training more efficiently. The best fat loss plans involve 3-4 days of progressively heavy strength training, combined with 2-3 days of high intensity interval sprint  cardio. Steady state aerobic training would only be used on a 6 or 7th day of recovery training. If you are passionate about running, I suggest less steady state long runs, and more speed work, with a focus on strength training. The stronger you are, the faster you ll run. Longer runs are only building tolerance and aerobic capacity for the distance you are trying to complete. You probably have a base for this already.
Remember, as you become more efficient at running your desired distance, you burn fewer calories to complete it. Running only burns calories while you are doing it , versus intervals and strength training which we are finding have a measurable after burn, and metabolism boosting effect for hours after. Below is a great video interview with John Berardi, Sports Nutritionists, from Precision Nutrition. John discusses the best methods for fat loss, and myths associated with age and metabolism. My favorite fact in the video is the need for runners to run an additional 100 miles every year to burn the same amount of calories they did the previous year of training. Its an unsustainable approach to fat loss. Check it out!

Reader Question - What should I do about posterior leg pain during/after running?

Hard to say without doing an assessment. Could be a muscle strain or a nerve impingement. If pain or discomfort persists at rest for more than a week or two, Id suggest going to see a PT or Orthopedic Specialist. Better to address it immediately, than have it persist for weeks into your training schedule.
Your Sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body, running from the lower vertebrae to the feet,  and prone to compression at several spots. Signs and symptoms vary, ranging from sharp to dull pain in the lower back to burning, numbness, or tingling down the legs and into the foot.  If the compression originates in your lumbar vertebrae, you ll just have to wait for the irritation to cool off. Treatment involves rest, followed by glute, hamstring, and core strengthening exercises. I suggest trying some glute bridges, front and side planks if pain free. Begin with 3 sets of 15 for the bridges, and 3 sets of :20-:60 for the planks, until symptom free and then progress back into your lower body strength training exercises.
Sometimes, the Piriformis, a little muscle underneath the glute, becomes tight and or overactive, and can compress the nerve. Foam rolling your lower body, and adding these stretches may also help alleviate symptoms.  Running in the absence of strength training, can create instability and weakness  in the core, hips, and legs. Its a repetitive, quad dominant activity that can lead to muscular imbalances, if not balanced out with strength training, especially the posterior chain, and soft tissue work with a foam roller, and stretching. Give it a rest and then try the following foam rolling and strength training exercises several times per week, especially before runs, and the stretches several days a week, especially after runs.
 Foam Roll each area for :30-:60 seconds, focusing on tender spots. Follow immediately with glute and core activation work. Stop if symptoms persist.


Glute Activation - 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions

Glute Bridge Finish
Lateral Band Walk - Glute Med

Core Activation - Hold for 3 sets of :20-:60 seconds

Side Plank

Pirifomis stretch - Lying supine on the floor, grab your right knee with left hand, and gently pull across your midline and towards your opposite shoulder, until a mild stretch is outer hip/glute. Breathe and hold for :30-:60 seconds, 2-4 sets on both sides. Stop if symptoms are present.

Glute/external rotator stretch - Bend your left knee and place your left foot on the floor, cross your right foot over your left knee. Reach through and grab the back on your left thigh, and gently pull your leg into your chest until you feel a light stretch. Relax your head and shoulders while you take a few deep breaths for a count of :30-:60 seconds, 2-4 sets on both sides. Stop if symptoms are present.


For more information please see my pages on foam rolling, glute and core activation

Is sleep getting in the way of your body composition goals??


This past week the east coast was hit by one of the worst storms in over a century, Hurricane Sandy. New York City, the city that never sleeps, suddenly came to a standstill. While the region began its recovery Tuesday morning, many of us were unable to work this week. This lull in work gave me an opportunity to recover from a full work and training schedule, catch up on some sleep, and brainstorm on some blogging, which I have not kept up with in months.

Many of you know Im a big fan of Dr. John Berardi, and Precision Nutrition. This week as I was catching up on sleep, going from an average of 7 hours per week to 8, John posed several questions and research articles on sleep and how it affects the way we metabolize food, and its consequences on body composition and performance.

Many of us are very good at maintaining a consistent training schedule, yet sleep and sleep quality, our tools for recovering from a workout, and metabolizing food, take a back seat. According to Precision Nutrition's "All about Sleep," the average adults gets 7 hours of sleep per night. 33% of adults get 6.5 hours or less. A century ago, adults averaged 9 hours a night. This is attributed to many of the modern day distractions we have, and what sleep researchers are calling voluntary sleep curtailment.

Consequently, research is finding a correlation between sleep, insulin resistance, and subsequent obesity. While I do not work with a largely obese clientele, I do work with many people who have body composition goals. The challenge is motivating my athletes to place a greater focus on the recovery process of fitness, and less so on the stimulus. At the end of the body composition continuum, managing several smaller areas of your recovery can add up to big results. Inadequate sleep, and diets high in refined carbohydrates and artificial sweeteners, chronically elevate insulin levels. This begins to dull the bodies sensitivity to insulin, inhibiting not only the transport of sugars into muscle for growth, but the ability to burn fat as well. Excess blood sugar is then stored as body fat, while the rest continues to circulate throughout the body, wreaking havoc on other systems.

In addition to insulin shutting down our fat burning capacity, many anabolic hormones are inhibited, compounding an already retarded muscle building process. Studies in young healthy men have shown that in just 2 days of 4 hours of sleep per night, our hormone balance is disrupted. After just 2 days of low rest, the participants had the insulin sensitivity of a pre diabetic 70 year old man! Failure to get several full cycles of sleep each night resulted in lowered growth hormone secretion which not only inhibits muscles development but can also tapers exercise performance, though the exerciser may feel like their working hard.

Decreased Human Growth Hormone (HGH) = decreased muscle building and recovery Decreased Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) = decreased metabolism Increased Cortisol = decreased insulin sensitivity, increased stress levels

We know that consistent strength training boosts both insulin sensitivity, and anabolic hormone activity. Perhaps you have been following a consistent strength program, but are negating it with poor macronutrient choices and timing, and poor sleep. If your routine has not been yielding the results you see others getting, maybe its times to improve on some these other areas of heath and fitness.

For more info on ways to improve your fat burning capacity with both sleep, nutrition and training see these link below. Alywn Cosgrove's Hierarchy of Fat Loss

Post Workout Nutrition

Unless the first thing you do in the morning is workout, breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day, your post workout meal is. Insulin and many other hormones responsible for recovery and optimal results are most sensitive within 30-120 minutes post workout. Its within this critical window, that you fuel all the hard work you just put in at the gym. Choosing a quick digesting protein and carbohydrate will shuttle nutrients into your muscles fast, maximizing lean tissue development and minimizing fat storage. Quick digesting proteins, like a whey protein supplement, eggs, or very lean meats, will help repair the muscle tissue that was broken down during training. Post workout is also the ideal time to consume starchy carbohydrates, as your body will most readily use these long chains of sugars to build lean tissue, and replenish glycogen stores for your next workout. Avoid fats within this post workout window as they slow down absorption, which would be a good thing at all of times of the day, allowing a steady stream of nutrients into the body, but would delay nutrients to your tissues post exercise. A 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein is a good balance during this time. Guys should shoot for 2 fist portions of protein, 2 cups,or 30-50g; women 1 serving, fist size, or cup. Above is a Super Shake version I often enjoy after training. Its nutrient dense and appropriately balanced. At approximately 500 calories, its a good appetizer to an additional whole foods meal I ll have within 2 hours of training.

2 Scoops Optimum Nutrition All Natural Vanilla Whey
1 Pint Blueberries
1 Banana
2 Cups Spinach
2 Tbsp Cinnamon
20oz Water
Calories 550, Protein 50g, Carbohydrates 80g - Sugars 50g, Fiber 15g, Fats 3