Swimming Progress

Okay, it’s been a few weeks since I first talked about swimming and my abilities (or lack of). So let’s discuss progress. At the very start of this journey just a few months ago, I swam with my head above water the entire time too afraid to have it be in the water. Now, half the time I’m too afraid to lift it out of the water because my stroke is going so well and I don’t want to break my rhythm! Trust me, this is a much better problem to have. My kicking is also, according to my coach, looking really good. I’m kicking from the hip and not from the knee, which is exactly what you want as a swimmer. Then we have the dreaded (at least in my case) stroke. I’ve thought about what my arms are doing once they enter the water and if they are doing the correct movement, but I have yet to really focus on that. I have bigger problems. Like the fact that my left shoulder does the perfect shoulder shrug movement that it should be doing. My right shoulder, has a mind of it’s own and is causing too much, what I like to call “shoulder action.” I’d also like to interject here that I was told my swimming is too graceful. I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but I did gymnastics all of my life until I graduated high school. My swim coach made a point of telling me “swimming is not graceful.” My toes, hands, and fingers, however, have a mind of their own and think otherwise. They have been hardwired to do graceful movements. So now I’m focused on my shoulders and trying to shrug them as often as possible (in the car, at home, working, anywhere I don’t look too ridiculous, although I seem to have the urge to do it at the grocery store too…) to train my brain to override what my right shoulder insists on doing.

I’ve also noticed other improvements in my swimming in regards to my stamina. In the very beginning we (my husband and I) lasted only 30 minutes in the pool. Keep in mind our 30 minutes involved resting about 1-2 minutes after every pool length. Now, I can go for an hour and not feel completely exhausted by the end. I still need a 30-second to 1-minute break after my down and back lap and often need to take about 3 breathes at the far end of the pool before I swim back to the start. Is this psychological? Do I know that I’m at the end of the pool so I stop? Does my mind think I’ve accomplished a victory and now I can rest before trying it again? Or maybe I just don’t know how to do the under-water-fancy-turn-around-and-kick-off-the-wall move yet. I’ve got things like shoulder shrugging and not kicking anyone in the near vicinity to worry about before I conquer that feat.

Overall, I’m really pleased with how things are progressing in my swimming. Do I wish I was a swimming goddess already? Of course! But, that will come in time. I’ve also starting dreaming about triathlons, which I think is great. The more I can visualize myself competing in the race the better. Let’s just hope in real life I don’t have to crawl through someone’s attic as one of the race stages…

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The Swim

Whew! What a busy week! I started the week feeling like I was in a funk. My swimming felt down right awful—at least swimming as a whole did. I’ve got the whole kicking thing down, but add in the arms and breathing and I look like a fish with one fin swimming awkwardly having to gasp for air every once in a while. Who would have thought that swimming would involve so many elements! Many triathletes dread the swim. Some even fear it. For now I’m neutral, not really dreading it or fearing it, just frustrated with my abilities at this point. I’m very much a perfectionist when it comes to sports and form. (This stems from my many years as a gymnast and honestly if you aren’t a perfectionist as a gymnast you won’t be all that good). I also tend to sometimes over think things; this is never good. I am the type of person that just needs to do, not think.

Today though, when I was feeling exhausted and not at all feeling like going to the gym, I had a much better workout. I’m still over thinking and my swimming is still pretty labored and awkward, but my endurance is becoming stronger by the week as I continue to consistently make the effort to be at the gym swimming (or attempt to swim…).

So what are some tools that can help you become a better swimmer? My dad bought and used the DVD Swim Smooth. His swimming is looking pretty darn good! (I should mention that we will be racing against each other this July in a sprint triathlon. No way can I let my dad, love you dad!, beat me). Since this last weekend when we compared swimming notes and watched each other’s technique, I have also taken instruction from this video and had some success. Sometimes it takes seeing it multiple times and hearing the same techniques explained differently (my lovely swim coach versus the video instruction) for something to click.

Things I like about the Swim Smooth DVD system:

  1. The students are actually learning! These aren’t pros acting as the student and pretending to learn the skills, these are real students learning these skills for the first time. They aren’t perfect at every skill; they often drink half the pool and cough/hack (or mask the fact that they desperately want to cough) when they reach the end. This ultimately makes me feel better about my experience in the pool, that this is relatable, and that I’m not the only one gasping, coughing, and awkward when first learning to swim.
  2. The steps are simple and cohesive. The 10 steps progressively build upon the last without being overly complicated. One of the steps, and the one I’ve been focusing on this week, involves holding a pen out in front of you and swapping which hand is holding as you focus on your stroke. Another technique that I found helpful was the land instruction. This helped me to visualize what the movements of my stroke should look like by really being able to break it down while relating it to the ground underneath you (I know this sounds strange, but it honestly works!).
  3. Another great aspect of this system is that it comes with a handy waterproof booklet to take with you to the pool. Any variation of visualization you can get, in my mind, is extremely helpful and will guarantee you that “ah-hah” moment. The book is great too because you can take what you watched on the video with you to the pool. The Swim Smooth system can be found here: http://www.swimsmooth.com/learn2swim.html

Another tool I suggest you check out is this website: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2008/08/13/total-immersion-how-i-learned-to-swim-effortlessly-in-10-days-and-you-can-too/ It also has a break down of steps, but overall this site is for those that are slightly more advanced in their swimming. Tim Ferriss does a great job in his descriptions of the techniques and skills to practice. The videos, however, showcase Olympic athletes that move way to fast and are focusing on way more than just the freestyle stroke. So use this site for the descriptions and skip the videos (if you’re a newbie like me).

Good luck at the pool the next time you go. I’m sure I’ll be getting strange looks as a swim with my pencil… You can also be sure that the whole time I’ll be praying that I don’t drop it in the deep end!