The art of swimmingSeptember 27, 2012
You are driving down the road. It’s warm enough to drive with the window rolled down, your elbow resting on the car windowsill. You “dolphin” your hand up and down like it’s surfing the wind. Sometimes … depending on where your hand is or the tilt of it…. the wind feels very resistive. Like it’s pushing from the bottom up. Other times it feels like it’s coming over the top and driving your hand down.
And there is that sweet spot. That one little place where your hand just glides through the air, cutting through it seamlessly.
That is what swimming is. It’s finding that sweet spot in the water with your hands. It’s feeling the water push up, press down against your body…… allowing yourself to move around and feel it out. until you hit that spot.
Maybe you were a runner growing up, or you started swimming in your 20′s or 30′s. You grew up rotating differently than a swimmer did. You are accustomed to stepping forward with your right foot and your left arm or shoulder moving forward. Opposite arm to foot.
Then we put you in the water and told you to rotate with the same shoulder and same hip. Connect them! We tell you!!
That’s why most runners turned swimmers wiggle when they swim.
Trust me…. the same thing happens to swimmers turned runners. Their whole life their right hip and right shoulder have been connected. Then we put them on land and have them twist. It’s why many swimmers run so boxy with their elbows out to the side.
I consider cycling and running to be more of a science … while I consider swimming to be more of an art. The biomechanics of cycling and running are more straightforward. In the water we take away gravity, put you in water…. where your body awareness is challenged.
Back to our first example. The hand out the window. Everyone who comes for a swim analysis wants to know exactly where to put their hand, the angle in which to do it and how to stay there. It’s like we tell you to shoot for this target…. yet the target is in a different place for everyone and you’ve got a blindfold on.
Then we give you drills and times and T times and make you chase the clock. We band your feet and say swim faster! We throw huge paddles on your hands and say don’t hurt your shoulders!!!!
At best for many runners swimming can be maddening.
I tell my swimmers to relax. Play with hand entry. Just like in the example above. Sometimes the water pushed up, down and if you quiet yourself and relax just enough you are going to find that sweet spot. Where it just glides right on through. You have to feel it.
The sweet spot for me….. someone who who has very flexible shoulders and has swam her whole life …. will appear different from another athlete, who might have had rotator cuff problems in the past. They are going to be tighter, their range of motion different from mine. Therefore…. our strokes will look different.
More than anywhere else….. in swimming we can’t ask swimmers to all be the same.
We have to teach and encourage them to relax, feel the water, and turn off the head. Forget the underwater radio. Underwater is the only place the world shuts off for me. The only place where I can get lost in the sound of the water.
Let that turn off your mind and turn on your senses. Feel the water around you. Feel it. Don’t fight it. I can promise you that fighting it won’t get you anywhere.
When accepting stroke advice, get it on video rather than from someone who swims in the lane next to you. Many athletes I have worked with, when I show them what a dropped elbow looks like…. they say “So THAT is what that means. Sally in my lane at the Y always tells me that but I don’t know what it looks like.” Never take stroke advice from someone who either doesn’t watch you swim regularly, or who can’t show you on a video.
Pounding out 100′s isn’t always the answer either. You have to read the athlete. With Jennie we’ve been focusing on long repeats at certain paces by perception. This 600 should feel zone X. In a race we don’t look at our watch in the water or a HRM. And swims are very very variable. On the road a certified 5K is a set distance. In the water there are more elements that come into play. Current, other people, etc.
So learn to FEEL the effort.
More often than not when you give that instruction….. the athlete matches it. They feel successful and instead of always chasing a time on a clock that ultimately becomes a moving target, they then build on success.
100′s in the pool versus a 1.2 mile swim in a pond versus a 2.4 mile swim in an ocean are three different entities. Yet we get stuck on them being the same. Instead I want to know …. what was the effort? How did it feel? If they wear a Garmin 910XT I get a HR and a map out of it which tells me their effort…. and their sighting.
Instead of swimming faster per se we need to work on swimming smarter. Straighter. Keeping the effort at this perception. Keeping our head in the game. Accepting a slightly off course turn and using it to our advantage instead of allowing ut to cause us to swim upstream.
Think of the hand out the window. You can be told where it is. You can have it described to you. But until you understand what that is exactly….. until you find it for yourself…… no amount of swim analysis, instruction or coaching is going to find that for you.
And that’s where the art of swimming begins.