To get your five free online triathlon swim lessons, go to triswimlessons.com. That’s triswimlessons.com and we’ll send you your first lesson right away.
Welcome to the triswimcoach podcast. This is episode number 30 and this is Kevin and I am super stoked to bring you the interview that I have coming up after this little intro with Sheila Tormino. I met her a few weeks back and I did a blog post and kind of let people know what’s going on. I’m adapting some of her technique, some of her methodology into the tri-swim coach teaching and I think it is really good stuff and as I said in the interview, this is kind of the next level to swimming and the next step and I think we are kind of progressing past what we’ve learned already about swim technique and adding to it and learning how to go even faster or just going faster. I am able to succeed in preparing for a tri-athlon swim and getting through it, finishing middle of the pack, finishing with a lot of energy left over for the rest of their race but some people are getting faster has been a bit of a challenge, but I think this, what Sheila is talking about has definitely, is definitely going to help a lot of people, so stay tuned for that.
One other thing, I’ve been swimming in a lake here locally in Austin and they actually have buoys set up so you can track how far you’ve gone. A full lap around the buoys is 800 yards and the cool thing is I discovered an exercise, a dry land exercise during the swim. They have platforms on each of the buoys, they’re just kind of this wooden platform, so every time I go by a buoy I do a few of those deck ups so you basically pull yourself out of the water all the way and you extend your arms and what that does is it actually kind of gets you used to using the right kind of pull. The way you pull yourself out of the water is similar to how you pull in freestyle so you’re going to pull back. I like doing that exercise and I know most people don’t have a set up like this that is so good for learning or perfecting your stroke technique, but even just doing them in the pool, you do a few lengths and then you do a few deck ups, sets like that, are really good, but don’t do too many at first because you can get really sore and possibly hurt your shoulders if you are not used to them so just start out with a few and then go from there. But if you do have access to something like I do here, I would recommend just going around the circle and doing three, four, five when you stop and then you can get in your yardage and then do another lap without doing anything else, but I think this is a good way to hone in on your stroke technique.
I think that’s about it. If you are not a subscriber to the newsletter, you can get on that newsletter by going on to triswimlessons.com and we’re offering five free swim lessons online with a newsletter subscription. It’s a good way to get started in stroke technique improvement and also get all the announcements from tri-swim coach swim clinics that we are going to have coming up here starting up in probably, probably in January we are going to have our first one, so I’m really excited about that. I have not done any national level swim clinics to this point. I have done some local ones in San Diego but we are bringing it out and offering it to everyone now and I’ll have more on that later, kind of look to January as the first one and we’ll have more details out to you soon if you sign up for the newsletter.
So, without further ado, here is the interview with Sheila. Enjoy and have a great week of training.
Kevin: Okay, I am really excited to have Sheila Toremino on the show and at just over five feet two inches tall, and not having made her first Olympic team until the age of 27, Sheila Toremino seems like an unlikely candidate to have competed at four consecutive summer Olympiads in three different sports. With her eyes set on the possibilities of 1996, she trained before and after work with her small home town swim team in Nevonia, Michigan. Sheila grew to be an Olympic champion in one sport, world champion in a second sport, and the world-cup standing leader in a third sport. Sheila has experienced six completely different disciplines on the Olympic stage: swimming, cycling, running, skeet shooting, fencing, and equestrian show jumping. Her perception on the Olympics human potential and performance is unparalleled. At present, Sheila travels as a motivational speaker for schools, businesses, and community organizations. She volunteers extensively throughout her community and is partnered with two national non-profit organizations to support their mission. She also conducts swimming clinics worldwide and is the author of Called to Suits a book on free styling which came out this summer. It is available on her website Sheilat.com. Sheila welcome to the show.
Sheila: Thanks Kevin.
Kevin: Sure. Did I get that right? The book is available on your site?
Sheila: Yep. That’s actually the only place that it’s available unless I’m at an event and have it there in person.
Kevin: Okay. Great. Yeah, We’ll have to get that distribution up.
Sheila: Yeah, I’m working on that. There are so many things to learn when you get your first book out there and just trying to find out what the best avenues are; what people are looking for and it’s been one big learning experience. So far I’m just keeping it simple so I can manage it well and with good quality and not get too overwhelmed having it in all different places, so that’s why it’s just on my website right now.
Kevin: Yeah, well I have the book now. It’s great. I can recommend it to anyone I know. I’m reading it right now and I’m like three quarters of the way done. It really has some great info in it and I love that it has tons of pictures because I’m not a huge fan of just sitting there reading.
Sheila: Yeah, well that was the inspiration for the book. I as a swimmer had really been inspired by photos that Doc Tonselman took. Doc was the swim coach for Mark Spitz out there at Indiana University and they were black and white’s though that he took back in the late 60s early 70s, and I just tried to squint with my eyes as best I could to see what was happening and boy with technology being better today, we could grab some great pictures and really show people what is going on. So those photos, I’m glad you enjoy them because that is what inspired me to even write the book.
Kevin: Oh good. I mean we need it out there because I mean swimming theory could only go so far. I’ve read some other swimming books out there, and I actually, I have been a swimming geek for a lot of my life and I get bored with some of the stuff that is out there, but this book is actually really entertaining and you know the pictures help quite a bit.
Sheila: Yeah, I think one of the more recent books to be out was 800 pages long and I thought oh dear goodness, there are a few people who will really get into that because there is so much meat and potatoes to it but you are right, when we start talking about things like the Bernuli principles, and boardesses and lift and drag forces, we are going to lose 98 percent of our readership and the swimmers out there and so you are hitting on all the points of what was important to me in writing that book and that was the take, that scientific type of the theories and make it more enjoyable and understandable for the majority of the population to be able to read and say Oh now I get this stuff I’ve kind of heard of here and there so it was very perceptive of you to catch on to all of that.
Kevin: Okay. Good. Good. I’m glad. I hope I represent the average user out there then. Can you describe, and just reading your book, and talking to you and everything, I’m really curious. How did you first learn how to swim?
Sheila: You know my dad, bless his heart, my dad is 87 years old now and my mom is 83 years old, but I’m actually the youngest of 8 children and we live in Michigan and my dad has always said that he wanted his, all eight of his children, learn how to swim because it’s a great lake state and we have so many lakes and open water that it was a fear that they had because they wanted to take us to vacation and so he taught us from the time we were little babies. I think I was about two years old and he was just one of those dads who was always playing with his kids at the summer league pool and you know when I was about six years old, about five or six years old, I have a twin brother, and our next oldest sister, Sharon, was on the YMCA swim team and of course we wanted to copy everything she did because she was totally cool to us and so we begged our mom and dad if we could be on the swim team too. So that’s kind of how it really started and I just feel really blessed to have family that engaged in activities and our parents were really active in our lives.
Kevin: Now did you learn how to swim the way that you do now or the way that you did in the Olympics or was it more just a flailing using tons of kicking and pulling and stuff?
Sheila: You know what, I learned more and more and more every year that I competed and I would meet coaches from different countries and Olympic coaches in the United States jus meeting them at swim meets and getting a chance to pick their brain and so when I first started swimming, in fact the way they coached way back then in the ‘70s was way different then they do now but I’ve always had coaches. Even when I joined that YMCA team, I remember it was technique, technique, technique. Even if the techniques they were teaching back then were the kind of stuff we would sort of laugh at now. The pike dive you know.
Kevin: I love when that dive makes that popping sound. I remember we used to try and make that happen. If you did that you knew you had it right.
Sheila: You got it. I mean I thought it was so cool to watch the older boys do that dive you know. I was like 7 years old and the high school boys were doing it, but yeah, the way I swam back then obviously was focused on technique but it wasn’t anywhere near what I’ve learned through these last years.
Kevin: What was your transition like from swimming the short distances like the 200 meter races to triathlons in the Olympics?
Sheila: Well you know in swimming I made the Olympic team by qualifying in the 200 freestyle, the 4 by 200 relay, but I was more of a distance swimmer. I was a 400 IMer and I competed at the 1650 at the NCAA championships my senior year so going into the Olympics triathlon, the swim wasn’t any much of a change for me but getting my cycling legs and then 10K running legs, that most certainly was a difficult transition. I went to Tucson, Arizona for my first winter to try and learn how to ride with people and hang in there. I just remember getting dropped by the pack every day just about and wanting to cry, I didn’t want to cry I did cry. I’d be all alone on the streets of Tucson and not knowing where I was and the running on the track and trying to get my speed on the 10K and got injured quite often. I was a swimmer trying to run which you know wasn’t so easy for a lot of swimmers and pounding on legs after being used to being in the water which is really soft. I was dealing with shin splints and IT band injury so it was a rough transition but it ended up going okay. I just had this attitude of okay we’ll deal with this and figure out how to fix this injury and train the best you can and so I was exhausted but really in an exciting transition to make.
Kevin: Early on were you mostly just training, for the triathlons, were you mostly training bike and run because your swim is just so solid that you really didn’t have to worry about it or were you still putting in some good pool time as well?
Sheila: Well I learned, really early on in my triathlon career that it didn’t behoove me to have a 45 second swim lead if I was going to have a pack of 15 women hunting me down on the bike, so what you said is a really perspective thing that you caught on to there was I spent most of my time trying to get my cycling legs strong and my running legs strong because I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to maintain my lead necessarily off the swim so I didn’t really train to much in the swim. Just enough to maintain my hold and feel of the water so maybe ended up being 1500 meters a week I would say.
Kevin: Okay. That’s a lot still.
Sheila: Is it? Well coming from swimming and you’re doing 65,000 as a swimmer, to drop down to 15 was like wow. It was kind of like warm-up.
Kevin: Exactly. That’s true. What should a brand new triathlete has little to no swimming background focus on at first in the water?
Sheila: Well if we assume that they are horizontal in the water and they understand the timing of the breath and they got that going, and I mean actually even if they don’t have that, you know if you are brand, brand, new you obviously have to get comfortable in the water. You have to be comfortable putting your face in the water and that should happen relatively quickly if you have a compassionate coach you know or a friend helping you. Really early on, even the first day, I like to teach people and this is what my book really talks about, we’ve got to understand how we feel in fluid.
You know water is this really interesting medium in which we can test our sport and we can apply a resistive friction to that and hold our bodies up so we don’t drown. Even if I’m teaching a person who says I’ll drown if I get in deep water, but the first thing I teach them is how do you hold a fluid and so even the basic survival skills for swimming are actually the same skills that the top competitive swimmers are using but now the top swimmers are learning how to apply that feel and hold it in the water in a manner that will move them forward. I tell people to learn what it means to and from day one learn how to hold the water and that’s what I love teaching more then anything because it’s what makes the sport so beautiful. And it what, calms people down so if you have a new swimmer and they are afraid of the water, once they hold it, it’s I’m not so panicked and fighting the water now. That’s my top advice and then the other thing my book talks about is the strong position. Once you know how to hold the water, we’ve also got the other vital aspect which is being in the position that does move us forward as competitive swimmers and that’s a very difficult position as far as strength and flexibility is concerned but very, very doable with a concentrated effort.
Kevin: Yes, no doubt. Now part of your book that I was reading and had a question about it, how does the new third law of motion contradict what we thought we knew about swimming faster?
Sheila: Well actually now it’s not even necessarily contradicting you know. In that book I try and explain that we’re going back a little bit to explaining the swim propulsion based on Newton’s third law. Back in the 60s they believed, and Newton’s third law by the way for people who maybe are scratching their heads saying I can’t remember that one, it’s for every action theirs an equal and opposite reaction and so what they believe is if you pulled backward on the water you will move forward so what they ended up realizing was that if you pressed on the water and pulled straight back the fluid would move behind you and once that fluid moved behind your hand you were no longer able to apply this resistant friction so what people ended up having to do was find still water so it kind of went to those big giant s pool patterns and in the s pull pattern people were taking way to long under the water, so now we’re coming back to Newton’s third law. It’s a lot to explain actually but they are realizing you do need to prominently press back in order to move forward.
Kevin: Do you think that s pull is worth thinking about at all while you’re swimming?
Sheila: No I don’t. It’s pretty much out now. There’s still some credence to what they mean down there but people are taking it to the extremes. They are doing this press to the sides, press to the other side and press out to the side again so we realize it’s more about a diagonal down there then it is thinking s pull. Now we pitch our hand way to far out to the side versus keeping our hand in a predominantly in a pitched position that will hold on to the fluid to move us forward. It’s kind of hard to say over the phone or in an interview here without being able to show what I mean of the pitch of the hand.
Kevin: People are going to have to just sign up for one of your clinics to find out.
Sheila: Yeah, definitely. It helps to be able to show all this.
Kevin: Now what do you think most people are doing wrong in terms of the pull today. How do you think they can improve their pull in their overall swim?
Sheila: Well, what I think they are doing wrong number one is they’re not thinking about it enough or you know they are just thinking my arm is down there. It’s moving back so what’s the big deal and I say you really need to understand the position you have to hold down there and it’s incredibly important. It’s 80 percent of swimming. That’s the claim I make and I’m pretty sure in my book it’s proven that if you work on all these other things but ignore the pull you just are totally limited in your swim time. You get to a certain level that’s an okay level that you’ll be fine surviving out there in the water but you’re never going to be fast. What most people are doing wrong is they are not putting the focus on it and developing it in the water and out of the water. That was my big claim. Put your focus down there in the third dimension and stop thinking about the surface elements so much and head position and this and that but it’s just a small part of it. I mean it does you no good to focus on those things if you’re not propelling forward.
Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. I look at this like it’s sort of, the swimming technique, is sort of like nutrition in that you know for so long people believed that the low fat diet is the way to go and that’s everything. You have to cut down the fat, you have to cut down your calories and everything and then it turns out that there’s so many paths that are good for us and the carbohydrates are the thing that are not so good. But it takes so long, the paths it takes to get into the main stream and have the mind to actually change, in swimming it was kind of like we went down this path that everything has to be body position, roll, and head position and that kind of thing but we ignored the pull and I think it’s, well you’ve been doing this for a long time and kind of talking about it for a long time but it hasn’t quite got out there in the main stream yet. I kind of think this is the early stages of that and really taking swimming to the next level.
Sheila: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve just known swimming technique. I haven’t, I don’t really know marketing so I’m trying to figure out how to get the word out there and I appreciate this interview because anyone who listens, I hope they pick up the book. One thing I have 100 percent confidence in is the swim technique here and being so little, just over 5 feet 2 inches tall, I try and convince people that hey I had to know technique to reach these girls that were over six feet tall. I didn’t have a prayer unless I understood how to hold the water and so it’s my real passion to get the word out there.
Kevin: Your book, you talk about the idea of resistive friction. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Sheila: Well you know when we have to propel through water, we’ve got a hold on to the water and there’s so many different ways of explaining how a swimmer feels and holds the water. A lot of people claim that it’s just a gift that talented swimmers have. They just know how to apply this hold on the water. Why would you limit everybody else? Why are we saying it’s only for gifted swimmers? I’m like no it’s not. It’s something anyone can understand so resistive friction just means how can we make this water as solid as possible so our hands lock on to it and then our body is what moves forward over the surface of the water. I envisioned a brick wall underneath me and I would just hold onto that wall and pull my body over that wall. And then there are some swimming theorists that are very, very well-known and one gentleman in particular says hey you have to be careful in describing something like a wall underneath you because water is not a rigid substance it’s fluid so you know I agree with him. Semantics are really important here, but one thing might register for one swimmer and then another way of describing that same thing may register for another person so in my book I tried to kind of throw out a few different things that all say the same thing and it all really comes down to resistive friction. How do we apply a hold on the water so our body can move forward and that’s all it means. I challenge people to stop thinking about reducing resistance and you’ve got it, you’re doing it, good job. You’re doing it as great as I did at the Olympics; now learn how to apply resistance underneath you for the sake of traction. Let’s start getting some good propulsion going here. And we do it by the way not just with our hand and arm on the pull but for those people who like to kick, your feet and lower leg also hold the water. We don’t just want our legs to be two stiff boards that just go up and down in the water; we’ve got to understand how we hold the water with our foot to provide propulsion.
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. I like what you said about having different, kind of explaining things differently because there are a few people who learn things and it might make sense for one person and the other thing might make sense for the other person. I think there are certain concepts that coaches get stuck on or the way they explain something that clients don’t really understand. I remember a pretty good one and some people may not get this but one of my coach friends when he would always talk about the pull he would say pulling over a barrel and when you get it it makes sense but sometimes I would be like a barrel, how do you pull over a barrel. There are things like that that I think you are right that you have to use different terminology to get the point across.
Sheila: Yep. Yep. They’ll be five or 10 different ways to explain the same thing and I sometimes try all different ways and then someone you can see the light bulb go off in the head and that’s the one that works with this person and then boom you see them, and I know the person gets it because I see their body surging over the water and I’m like Bingo you’re holding the water below you because now your body is moving and I love to see it.
Kevin: Yeah. Yeah that’s awesome. How can doing dry land exercises with lots of tubing help someone swim?
Sheila: The tubing halo has an amazing tool out there, it’s a halo bench and then tubing that you pull on and it’s really the only thing I’ve found that truly simulates, gets you in the perfect position for the high elbow position which is, first let me clarify there’s two places in our swim stroke where we have a high elbow. One is over the water when our arm is recovering and that’s a lot of, that’s a text book photo of a cover with the high elbow, but under the water where the arm is pulling when we want to be in the high elbow position that is so vital to be able to hold the water. It’s a very, very demanding position in terms of flexibility and strength and so the dry land tubing, the halo, the bench and tubing it ends up just where it develops that strength and flexibility and the beautiful part about it is that you can see when you are out of the water whether you have the position correct, because if you get people in the water and tell them to start with a high elbow you know water often times just throws people into a tizzy. They are like they know what you’re doing but they are so discombobulated they’re not even close to doing it. If you can get them out of the water with this tubing you can develop their strength and muscle memory and they can see okay I really need to concentrate on getting this position and they can stop before each pull check their position, make sure it’s correct and then they pull back. Once they have it in muscle memory and this is a more natural position the tubing and the bench you work your tempo of your stroke with it so I knew exactly what tempo I wanted to be at for the Olympic trials and the Olympic games and I just trained with that tubing my race tempo out of the water. When I finished my swim practice I would spend an hour on the pull deck doing my stretching. I loved yoga stretches and then I would do the tubing strength training. You don’t need a weight room necessarily although I am a believer in weight lifting and general strength but the only way you get this high elbow training is doing the tubing exercises.
Kevin: Yeah it’s good stuff. I’ve done some of it in the past but you can actually do a lot and not have to do as much in the gym when you’re adding in tubing and like you said the swim bench.
Sheila: Yup and you get an amazing core workout with it too, such great strength in your core.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s awesome. I always talk about core strength. People like to increase the strength in their triceps and shoulders and things but it’s really the core that’s the most important part. Now what’s you take on, I get this question all the time from people, I get emails from people saying how much drill should I do versus swimming and usually this is coming from beginners. People that are just starting out to do triathlon but they don’t know how to devote their time. There are so many things to do, what do you recommend in terms of drills versus actual swimming toward the beginning when they are getting their stroke down.
Sheila: Drills are great for beginners but the thing is every single length that they do or any of us do in the pull, we should know exactly why we’re doing it and what benefit we are getting from it and what I tend to see from not just beginners but even high level swimmers they just go through the motions because someone told them to do that drill right there. Drills are find but you should know okay what am I getting out of this and how much of it should I do to get the benefit because what we are trying to do is isolate a certain part of the stroke technique that maybe we need to reinforce the muscle memory for that. So there are a lot of great drills for high elbow and also a lot of great drills you can do to develop a feel in the water. But in the book I say, well I try and answer the exact question you just asked, so here you might be wondering through these drills to develop this but no if you just do drills you’re going to become one of those uncoordinated people on the planet. So we have to take the work we are doing in the water to develop that technique and then begin to apply it to a nice rhythmic stroke eventually. Each athlete will know their own, their limitations with time and focus and whether they have a coach watching them. How much energy they have after working all day and what not and they’ll know. Use drills sometimes to recover between sets but when your recovering the drills shouldn’t be to demanding. You know really make it a time to lodge in that muscle memory for the good technique and then when you go to the next set which is going to give her a training effect physically. Really try and say okay, I just worked that one drill for my high elbow now when I go to swim I’m going to really focus on the high elbow here, so definitively a combination of the two. My main thing is just know why you do everything that you’re doing. Walk away saying you just became better because of this, this, and this.
Kevin: Yeah that’s so important and that’s one thing that’s lacking in master’s for me is I noticed is all the master’s teams I’ve been on, a lot of times the workout they’ll write it on the board and it will just say four one hundreds and the odd ones are drill and it’s like most people don’t know or can’t think of a drill off the top of their head, but even people that know all kinds of drills it’s like you are just kind of randomly doing a finger trip drag or something not really thinking about it and that really helps.
Sheila: Absolutely. It’s really great that you say that because so many parents have come up to me over the last 15 years and they say what is the secret? And I’m like there is no secret. It’s whether or not your mind is engaged and your focused and you understand the impact that one thing that you do may have or the lack of impact it may have. So many of us just kind of go brain dead when we are out there and just going through the motions for the sake of and I know what my secret was. I just knew why I was doing everything I was doing and I didn’t waste my time with just trying to get in mileage or yardage just for the sake of getting it in and filling out my work out log and say look at me I did 15000 today. You’re right, it’s just going through the motions for a lot of people out there. It’s one thing that could really change and it just will make it so much more enjoyable for people.
Kevin: No more junk yards would be a good start. So speaking of drills, I recommend one of my big things is doing free golf. A lot of people are in Spokane County and I think it’s good to learn how to stroke out and get used to that ultimately I think free golf works pretty well and what that is for people who don’t know is when somebody does a set of 50s lets say and they count their strokes for each 50 and then each time they get their time and so you have their time and the number of strokes, add these two together and that’s your score and you keep trying to beat it each 50. What do you think about this? Do you think that’s an effective way in the water?
Sheila: Absolutely. It is as long as it is applied in the correct way you know in a way that is applied to your race. So what’s neat about if you understand how the high elbow hold under the water and you understand that, once you have that high elbow hold, then you can see you’re feeling a resistive friction down there now you can apply 50 percent effort into that pull or you can apply a real powerful 90, 95, or 100 percent effort to that. I think golf, or free style golf is a great drill as long as people are saying okay cool I’m going to just hold this water in a nice moderate effort and the next one I’m going to drop it because I’m holding it more powerfully and I’m going to use a little more distance for every stroke so once again when people do that game or that set in practice, they are trying to achieve it by gliding like by doing a longer push off, gliding, gliding, gliding, so I just say just know that the way you have success in that game is with the high elbow pull hold and a feel for that water and then boom I think people will be getting great training effects and understanding of the application of force that they can apply down there in the third dimension.
Kevin: That’s great. I’m used to people cheating. The kicking is the real part before stroking.
Sheila: I was going to say it’s not their fault doing that. It’s the only way they can figure out how to possibly reduce their core because they don’t know how to do the high elbow hold so their doing the most logical thing that they have at their disposal which is the kicking hard or that kind of thing, so if we can just get that word out there and get people to understand that high elbow feel and then they’ll be able to play that game a different way, the right way.
Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. Well I think that pretty much wraps up all the questions I had. What are you up to these days? What are your future plans and your clinics and all that?
Sheila: Yeah, just 100 percent trying to get around to as many teams who are interested in learning this as possible so I am traveling the country with my books in tow, tubing, and training tools, and putting on seminars. It’s been really enjoyable to see people go oh my goodness I get it now. I see where I’ve been missing because so many triathletes have given up on the swim. They’re saying well geese I’m swimming once a week or once a month I swim the same at the same time so why put any effort into it and other ones are putting in all this effort and are just incredibly frustrated that they don’t see improvement and that they guy in the lane next to you who doesn’t look nearly as fit is crushing them in the water and so I am just enjoying thoroughly getting around and telling people I have an answer for you. I can tell you why you’re in that position and it’s just my passion to get out there and do it. I wanted to do this for ten years but I was competing and training and just couldn’t obviously get on the road. Now that’s what I’m doing. I want to go anywhere in this country and in this world to start spreading this good word about how to really swim fast.
Kevin: Awesome. Well hopefully we can help you do that here coming up. Sheila Tormina at sheilat.com and I highly recommend picking up her book. I’m actually going to be hopefully helping sell that book on triswimcoach at some point and I think it’s a great addition to what we’re talking about here as well.
Thanks Sheila so much for coming on and I really enjoyed this talk. People are really getting a lot out of it and have to follow up with one of your clinics or at least reading the book.
Sheila: Absolutely. Thank you so much Kevin. It’s been great talking to you.
Kevin: Sure and good luck with everything you are doing. I hope you are able to reach as many people as possible.
Sheila: Appreciate it.