Human bodies and bodies of water go together perfectly. But only if the body of water is
a Jacuzzi. In all other cases, the
two are wholly incompatible.
I learned this first-hand.
I had been running quite contentedly for years until I started dating
(and ultimately married) Anne, an IronMan triathlete. I quickly became intrigued by this sport of hers—triathlon. By all accounts, triathlon seemed a perfect
way to up the ante on my running passion. And Anne was happy to facilitate my
So in January 2011, she plopped me into the LifeTime Fitness lap pool
and told me to swim fifty meters so that she could assess my stroke. And I was happy to facilitate Anne’s
Or, at least, I would’ve been…had I been able to swim fifty
But alas, I splashed, churned, chugged and sputtered—my hips scraping
along the pool bottom—for perhaps twelve meters before I had to stop and
stand-up because my heart and lungs had taken residence in my throat. The rest of our swim session only got
Yes…Swimming was clearly going to be an obstacle in my quest to
humiliate Craig Alexander. And in
fact, swimming proved to be one of the most difficult and frustrating
challenges I’ve ever undertaken.
Ask Anne or any of my Facebook friends. I’ve been quite vocal in my misery.
A year and a half have passed since Anne first tried to kill me in the
pool, and things have gotten better.
I’m still not a great swimmer, but I did improve enough to complete
Ironman Kansas 70.3 in June 2012.
And funnily enough, the swim in Kansas seemed the easiest part of my
So, I’d like to pass on some thoughts, tips, observations and musings that
I’ve amassed while swimming a very steep and difficult learning curve.
I may not be an expert swimmer.
But I *am* an expert on being a beginning swimmer.
a Swim Coach! Really, this is
priority one. The swimming that we
learned as kids at the YMCA bears no resemblance to the swimming that is
required for triathlon success. You
will likely need to break a lifetime of bad habits and *completely* re-learn
how to swim. A swim coach will get
you there in the quickest and least frustrating way possible. And here’s the good news. A couple hours of pool time with a swim
coach need not be a large investment—especially when compared to a Kestrel Airfoil.
Never Underestimate the Value of YouTube.
It’s more than just water skiing squirrels. Every conceivable swimming question,
problem, drill or lesson is addressed many times over on YouTube. Want to generate more power from your
pull? A swim coach from Tokyo has
an instructional video on YouTube.
Having trouble mastering front-quadrant swimming? A swim coach from Uzbekistan has an
instructional video on YouTube.
Can’t get the hang of a two-beat kick? Seriously…go to YouTube. It’s an amazingly deep resource.
Keep Your Eye *OFF* the Big Picture. Learning to swim is the anatomical
equivalent of herding cats. Far
too many body parts need to engage in far too many coordinated movements that
feel far too unnatural. Chin
down…neck straight…eyes looking down…blow bubbles…press chest…turn head…one
goggle in the water…bilateral breathing…lead with elbow…relax hand…don’t cross
center line…rotate core…don’t bend pelvis…kick from hips…relax those ankles…CALGON,
TAKE ME AWAY! Until you’ve
achieved “muscle memory”—which, by the way, takes a bloody long time and a lot
of practice—you can’t possibly keep it all straight in your head. So do yourself a favor. Don’t. When swimming a pool length, focus your attention on *just
one* element of your swim stroke.
Do it right, do it well, then focus on a different element. Sooner or later, it will all feel like
Drill, Baby, Drill!
This goes hand-in-hand with the tip #3.
Any swim coach, book,
magazine or YouTube video can
provide you with countless different swim drills. Pick a good one that focuses on a weakness in your stroke
(in my case, it was balance), drill the hell out of it, then move on to
another. Drilling is dreadfully dull,
but you’ll thank yourself in the end.
Consider Splurging on a Total Immersion
No, I’m not on the Total Immersion
(TI) payroll…but I am a believer. The two-day
TI seminar that I attended last Winter completely turned my swimming around. TI is not everyone’s cup of tea, so do your
due diligence on YouTube…then decide for yourself.
Get an Underwater Video Camera.
The swordfish-like swimmer in your
mind’s eye likely bears scant resemblance to reality. Have a friend record your swim stroke underwater, then sit
back and enjoy the show. You’ll be
amazed at all the blatant mistakes you didn’t realize you were making—which you
can *now* start to correct.
Knowledge is power, my friends.
Catch Your Breath. I spent months stubbornly breathing on every
third stroke…and consistently gassing-out within fifty meters. It wasn’t until I swallowed my pride
and started breathing on every second stroke that I started seeing significant
distance gains. Bottom line: I
simply needed more oxygen. You may, too.
So breathe when you need to breathe (just be sure to do so
bilaterally). And don’t worry
about building lung capacity. It
will come with time and experience.
Rejoice The Small, Incremental Gains!
They come in dribs, they come in
drabs. Oftentimes, they seem few
and far between. But every now and
then, you’ll have an “Ah ha!” moment in the pool. Perhaps you’ll discover, quite by accident, that tucking your
chin this way or lifting your elbow that way feels kinda right. It’s usually something
small. But these things add
up. When you stumble upon a small,
incremental gain, write it down and do
it again next
Solicit, Solicit, Solicit!
Swim with many different people. Encourage each one to critique your
stroke. Keep the useful advice;
discard the rest. Even average swimmers can offer
above average observations.
Is On My Side. Yes, it
is! It takes a long time to become
a good swimmer. It could take
years. So, be patient. Your goal should not be, “I want to be
a good swimmer.” It should be, “I
want to be a better swimmer.” Go
back and re-read tip #8.
We are, after all,