I should love swimming but I virtually hate it (at the moment).
I really, really want to look forward to going to the pool but I don’t. I made the decision to stop running due to aching knees and so decided to replace running with swimming! It seemed like a good idea at the time but boy am I suffering.
Throughout this post I am referring to front-crawl (aka freestyle). I’m ok at breast-stroke and it is mildly enjoyable, however breast-stroke is like a second-class citizen in the world of swimming, it’s the stroke that would get the equivalent of the “achievement” or “effort” award when people really want the “winners” award!
Trying to swim freestyle for me is all about effort and pain with absolutely no gain. I’ve watched countless videos, watched tons of youtube videos. I know all the theory, I can accuratley critique other swimmers in the pool-elbows not bent enough, not enough rotation, hips too low, head too high, stroke rate too high, hands not facing backward, head twisting too far when breathing! I think (although I haven’t done it yet) that I could actually offer them tips on how to correct and modify their stroke.
I am acutely aware of the inefficiency of my freestyle stroke.
I know that my hand should “grip the water” and that I should miraculously feel my body being propelled efficiently and proportionally forward.
I know that my hips should be higher to reduce drag.
I know that the kick should be powered mainly from my glutes, that my leg should be straight, yet supple, that my foot should be naturally pointed without any undue effort.
I know that bi-lateral (breathing alternatively to the left and then to the right) on every third stroke is the best way to breathe.
To my complete and utter frustration I now also know that knowing there is something wrong does not equate to me knowing how to fix it.
This is an unusual feeling for me.
I am by nature a “fixer”, a problem solver, I can usually apply logic and break down problems into their constituent parts. Alas, however, the freestyle swimming stroke has completely and utterly beaten me”!
The Total Immersion swimming philosophy maybe, just maybe, my saviour! However, I have yet to learn this style of swimming but at least I’ve made a start by getting the book “Total Immersion-The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, and Easier” by Terry Laughlin with John Delves from my local library.
I’m a great fan of using the library as a screening process to see whether a book is purchasing at a later date and I must say that in this case I will be investing in the book.
Anyway Total Immersion is a style of swimming pioneered by Terry Laughlin who has been coaching swimming for over 30 years. During this time he repeatedly noticed that effort and aggression does not lead to effective or fast swimming. He also observed that the traditonal coaching mindset for improving swimming was the number of lengths, more lengths and even more lengths.
He realised, however that if the technique is incorrect then adding reptition via length after length was negatively reinforcing the stroke and muscle memory of the swimmer.
With Total Immersion swimming Terry gently tries to break swimming habits by focusing on balance, streamlining and little or no effort. This is achived by a number of gentle drills with each building on the next.
Do not be worried though as these drills focus on gentle effort, inner peace and body position and balance, they are not the pulse-quickening, Cardio Vascular blow up that you may have experienced in other swimming drills.
In fact, I found the most difficult aspect of the drills to be actually slowing everything down and working towards working efficiently and trying to feel the effectiveness of the drills rather than just pounding up and down the pool.
The first drills are the polar opposite of what my swimming experiences normally are which is usually 100% effort and 10% results.
I was tempted to try and fast-track through the drills but it is emphasised that each drill should be mastered before progressing onto the next and I kept this thought in my head, repeating it like a mantra.
During these first drills I’m actually missing the Cardio-Vascular side of swimming, however I need to remind myself of the ultimate aim which is to enjoy swimming so I become more engaged and change my mindset to wanting to go swimming rather than feeling I have to go swimming. So I persevere with the drills.
Drills 1-3 focus on balance and feeling supported by the water. I have a very weak kick, in fact I think it would be more accurate to say that I have a very ineffective kick. I have tried countless drills with the kickboard under the guidance of a swimming instructor and regardless of how hard I kick or how quickly I kick I still can’t get any power or even lift my legs.
I can feel that my hips are too low.
I have tried straight leg kicking, I have tried kicking from the hip, I’ve tried keeping my knees and ankles soft and yet I can’t get my kick to be effective.
Yoga and stretching are meant to help so I have incorporated these into part of my exercise routines.
Years of running can lead to inflexible ankles (not good for swimming).
I do have very inflexible ankles together with a narrow range of movement which is very common in runners.
Refreshingly, the Total Immersion swimming drills actually acknowledges that some swimmers will have an ineffective/inefficient kick and actually encourage the use of swimming fins to help set the correct body position.
Additionally, in Total Immersion swimming a 2 beat kick is encouraged and this is to assist with hip/body rotation rather than to lift the legs or provide propulsion. I have not yet experienced this yet, however the lure of effective leg use is helping me to focus on continuing, patiently with the drills.
As I have progressed through the drills (I am now up to Drill 6) I have noticed a subtle shift of perspective on how I experience my sessions in the water insofar as I was enjoying the act of moving in the water actually it was not just the act but a state of being and awareness of my interaction with water which I had not experienced before. I’m not currently sure whether this will be a permanent shift, however I’m hoping it will be.
My Whole Swimming Experience Has Now Shifted
I have now completed all of the drills and I am excited to report that my whole experience and relationship with the pool has shifted. I no longer see it as the “enemy” I see it more as another way to move and literally and figuratively an immersive experience. I frequently found that an hour or so had passed as I focused on relaxing, the feel of the water and the experience of feeling more balanced in the water.
The drills culminate in a full-stroke swim, however the focus moves away from the hard pull and exertion that I was using prior to reading the book and more into a focus on relaxed muscle use.
I can now swim with a lot less effort, however I must admit that my speed is also very low but at this stage I am happy with expending a lot less energy and I feel that with time and training using the Total Immersion technique as my starting point.