Triathletes: A special breed of swimmer

As the cold winter months recede behind us, many folks are now in full training for upcoming athletic challenges. Whilst some are content to stick to just one discipline others prefer to spread their wings into the world of the triathlete. My own ventures are somewhat modest but, when I have tried triathlons I have discovered, to my delight, that I perform as if I am a mixture of Sir Mo Farah, Sir Chris Hoy and Adam Peaty. 

That’s the good news. The bad news is that I swim like Sir Mo, run like Adam Peaty and had all the grace and speed on a bike of Sir Chris. On a unicycle. My mediocrity it seems knows no bounds.

Photo by Tony Pham on Unsplash

Obviously, though, many compete at a far higher level than me and have mastered all three disciplines. But not always. It is not unusual for a strong runner and cyclist to be a relatively poor swimmer. Often they are looking for a “quick fix” to their problems. These athletes are sometimes some of the trickiest of the clients seen by SwimMastery coaches. 

It needn’t be so. Here are eight “P”s to bear in mind before a race

Pick the event carefully

 Perhaps the most important one but sometimes overlooked. Plan ahead and make a schedule. A realistic one. Don’t be too ambitious with the length of the race. Analyse your current ability with brutal honesty and find out how long it is likely to take to improve on weaknesses BEFORE you book your place.

 It’s not uncommon for a SwimMastery coach to have this sort of conversation with a new client:

Client. “I need you to help me learn how to swim better. I’ve got a triathlon coming up but I get out of breath if I swim 25 metres”.

SM Coach. “OK, when is your event?”

Client. ”It’s in three weeks”

SM Coach. “ “

Oh, if SM coaches had a penny for every time they’ve had a conversation like that, they’d have…erm….well not a great deal I suppose. About 37p on average, I expect. Nevertheless, that still represents an awful lot of delusional triathletes. 

So don’t get carried away. Give yourself plenty of time to master new skills. Don’t leave it until the last minute and expect everything to magically fall into place.

Practice

 Practice is obviously vital if you are going to master new skills. But it must be the right kind of practice. Not too little to enable you to make a difference but neither should I be too much so that it overloads the brain and body and you don’t get a chance to assimilate the new information. Listen to your coach and don’t be tempted to step outside their advice. Which leads us to….

 Patience and perseverance.

Success may not come overnight. 

Certainly, it won’t obligingly be driven by your event deadline. So be patient. As long as you are following a logical progression then the mastery of new skills is just a matter of time. How much time though will vary by the individual. So follow your own pathway to whatever goal you have set yourself and don’t be swayed by the speed at which you feel you should be travelling or the speed at which others may be travelling.

 Place. 

Where you practice is just as important as how you practice. If your event is taking place in open water then it is only sensible to ensure that as much of your practice as possible takes place in that environment. If you’ve only ever swum in your local pool then jumping into a cold lake is going to come as a bit of a shock! As part of this, you will also need to think about elements such as the goggles you will wear and whether you will use a wet suit or not.  

Partner 

Some folk will find that training with someone else provides invaluable motivation, encouragement and support. Others may prefer the lone wolf approach. If you are part of the former group then choose a partner carefully. Someone of approximately the same ability is probably advisable. 

Someone who exudes good vibes is vital. 

If your partner is discouraging or disinterested in you don’t be afraid to ditch them

Prepare

Knowing factors like the amount and type of nutrition you will require during the event is knowledge that can be acquired in the preceding months by trial and error. In addition, swimming in a wetsuit (if you don’t plan to wear one) or without one (if you do) is also prudent in case the rules about wearing them change suddenly in the hours before the start.

However, some elements of an event are virtually impossible to replicate in training. In particular the feeling of being surrounded by a large number of others swimmers. 

Photo by Ashley de Lotz on Unsplash

For those unused to it, it can feel claustrophobic and even intimidating. There is little chivalry being observed at a mass start and it is not uncommon to be battered and bruised by faster swimmers who will simply swim over you if you are in the way. Likewise, the water will probably be churned up more than you are used to in training, if not by the number of extra bodies then maybe by the weather conditions. It is advisable to at least be aware of how the event may unfold and how you may react to changed circumstances. Talk to other competitors who have been through it already and, where possible, glean coping strategies.  

Pace

Part of your pre-race plan should concern pacing. At the start of the race, you are likely to be a little keyed up and excited. However, you will also be at your freshest with the greatest reserves of energy available to you. But it is important not to get carried away and burn all of your fuel reserves too early. 

Remember, it is very difficult to win the race during the swim element of a triathlon but it’s very easy to lose it. 

Make sure that the majority of your energy has been left for the longer cycling and running elements of the triathlon

Positivity

Finally, make sure that you approach the event with a positive mindset. 

Rely on your training. If you have prepared properly and planned carefully your success is assured! Good luck.

Summoning The Genie of Fluidity

It’s funny how you collect random bits of information through your life and remember them despite being of no relevance at all isn’t it? Back in the seventies, they used to print quotes and jokes on the back of matchboxes. Although I have never had any interest in golf really, one I recall was along the lines that, it wasn’t the hundreds of bad shots that you hit which were so frustrating but the one where everything went right.

A similar sentiment was expressed by John Cleese in the film Clockwise after yet another setback in his attempt to get to his destination on time.  He said, “It’s not the despair. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand”.

Those who swim regularly will have sympathy with these sentiments. For many, the stroke can be a bit of a struggle. Regardless of our level of experience, or what our focus for the session is, we are acutely aware that, overall, things could be going better. Even if we can’t quite put our finger on it, something is amiss; something needs to be improved.
And then, like an unexpected ray of sunshine on a cloudy day, everything just “clicks”. We become aware that suddenly it feels like we’re flying through the water with barely any effort at all; the timing is right, the breathing is natural, the catch, the press, the rotation – it’s all just perfect. Finally, we seem to have cracked this swimming lark. This is how it’s supposed to be and this is clearly how it’s going to be from now on.

And then, just as quickly as it came, it all falls apart again. Swimming isn’t a disaster; you know you are still a fine and competent sportsperson. But that Nirvana had disappeared, perhaps never to return. You try. Of course, you try, but it’s like trying to recapture a particularly pleasant dream from which you’ve just awoken. It can’t be done. The ephemeral Genie of Fluidity has simply melted away.

And the worst bit of all is that now we know he exists. The sensation was real. Surely it must be possible to recapture it? Yet, try as we do, we may as well go out onto the moorland at daybreak and capture the mist in a butterfly net. What is quickly apparent is that this Genie cannot be easily tamed. His presence is not ours to demand or command. His image appears in the periphery of our vision. Look at him directly and he has gone. Determined, dogged concentration rarely proves to be successful. It may improve one particular aspect of our stroke but can’t quite recreate that feeling of effortless flow.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Yet herein would seem to lie a contradiction. SwimMastery pupils are constantly advised to use specific cues to improve their technique. Why then doesn’t this lead automatically to that state of complete ease of movement?

I believe that the answer may lie back in the golfing world. On the website Kidadl.com we are told “Golf..is more of a mind game than a physical game…Many people fail to win at golf and the reason is mainly about their mind being agitated with…thoughts. That wonderful author Douglas Adams in one of the later books in his Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy series had a similar take on events and expressed them even more eloquently. His hero, Arthur Dent is taught the power of unaided human flight. He is told “There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss”.

In other words, if you concentrate too hard on achieving the seemingly impossible, it will remain just that; impossible. What needs to be done is, not to target the appearance of the Genie directly, but to focus our attention on creating the circumstances in which he can appear.

This is not a simple or speedy process. It requires almost perfect muscle memory of the movements and sensations of all parts of the stroke. And the ability to rely on them functioning to the highest standard at all times. For this reason alone many hours, perhaps years, of practice and training are required before the Genie can be relied upon to grace us with his presence.

Photo by Andrew Bui on Unsplash

There is, perhaps, one other factor at play here as well which is implicit in the very first quote I used; that of expectation. If you believe that every stroke you take, whether in golf or in swimming is likely to be slightly awry, then the chances are, that it will be. But in the words of Winston Churchill “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”

When it comes to trying to achieve that wonderful but elusive sensation of perfection, the Hope may be almost unbearable but don’t let the Despair drag you down!

Meanwhile, I guess we just need to keep on hurling ourselves at the ground.

Are you having a Dry January? Not likely!

Well, Christmas and New Year are over and folks everywhere are sitting back wondering, as always, what the fuss was all about and probably breathing a sigh of relief. Great Aunty Mildred has gone, the Christmas cake has gone (almost) and some semblance of normality is beginning to descend. Routines are being re-established and traditionally it’s a time to reflect, take stock and look to the future.

Photo by Matheus Frade on Unsplash

Magazines and the Internet bulge with articles like “Top Ten Ways To Be Happy In 2022” or “Ten Things Which Will Change Your Life In The Coming Year”, They always seem a little contrived and artificial to me and are often padded out to be far too long. Many make no sense at all in parts. (It’s all a bit like New Year’s celebrations in general really – but maybe that’s me just being very grumpy. Sorry about that). However, my theory is that, if you want to achieve something or improve something, you don’t need to wait until a particular day to start working towards it. Just go for it!

So if, like me, you know there are things you need to improve in your swimming but the date for making NewYear’s Resolutions has passed you by, I offer you my Ten Step Guide to Making A New Resolution Which May Or May Not Have Something To Do With New Year. (I may need to do a bit of work on that title).

1) Be Specific about the improvement you want to make.

Know what you want to do, why you want to do it and by when (it doesn’t have to be by the start of 2023). Write it down, especially the bit about why you want to make this change. Keep that bit of paper where you will see it (it’s why fridge doors are magnetic), and look back at it regularly to keep motivated.

2) Believe That It’s Achievable

I would quite like to swim the English Channel. The only things stopping me are time, money, talent and motivation. I’ve seen what is required to prepare for that swim and I have nothing but admiration for those that take it on. However, I know that, given the choice between a six-hour training swim in the cold Dover waters at 5 am and sitting on a sofa with a nice hot cup of tea then personally I’m off to put the kettle on. It doesn’t make me a bad person, it just makes the rest of you awesome. But it does mean that there’s no point in me putting a Channel swim on my wish list. For me, and maybe you too, I need to find something more realistic. That might be a shorter or slightly easier “Big Swim” or simply mastery of some aspect of your stroke which you know needs improving.

3) Don’t Believe That It’s Achievable

Sometimes the best, indeed the only way forward, is to push ourselves out of our comfort zone; to take on the ridiculous challenge and see where it takes us. With the right motivation and support we are all capable of the most amazing things and who knows what other milestones may be met upon the way? Think big. What do you have to lose?!

4) Decide How You Are Going To Meet Your Goal…Or, If You Don’t, Find Out

The SwimMastery community is packed with friendly, knowledgable and experienced folks who are more than willing to share their expertise. Never be afraid to ask questions either in person or via the online forums no matter how silly you think they may sound. If you need it, you will receive a wealth of valuable advice about the best way to tackle your target from folks who have often been there and done it themselves. If you’re taking on a race or event they will know exactly how to prepare. If you are trying to improve an aspect of your stroke, remember the body is all one connected unit; the solution to the problem you perceive might lie in a different part of the stroke completely. They may well point you in a completely unexpected direction with remarkable results

5) Make A Plan

Break down the path to your success into smaller steps. This can make the overall journey seem far more manageable and will provide built-in mini boosts along the way. Thus, if, say, you want to take four strokes off your time for a given distance, set dates for when you aim to have reduced the count by just one. Or by two etc. Be flexible, life has an inconvenient habit of popping up with competing demands on your time and resources, but nevertheless know what you would like to have ticked off and by when, all things being equal. And, rather like the initial target you set yourself, write your plan down and refer to it often.

6) Be Kind To Yourself

You’re far more likely to achieve your goal if you’re enjoying yourself. That’s self-evident really but make sure you build that enjoyment into your swimming. Mix up your training to provide variety and don’t be afraid to incorporate aspects that may appear to be completely unrelated to where you want to end up. It can be very demoralising to slog away constantly session after session without appearing to make progress so, for example, make sure you also do things that you know you do well already. Remind yourself that you already have the basic skills to become an incredible swimmer. The next advancement is just around the corner. Stay positive!

7) Find A Friend.

One of the joys of swimming is that, for most of us, it is a social and non-competitive activity. Even when entering races, the aim is usually to beat a specific time or PB rather than to worry about our fellow competitors. It should not, therefore, be too tricky to find a companion with whom to share your progress, to provide support and guidance and to take joy and even inspiration from your successes. If you’ve ever seen the support crew on a boat jumping about with genuine delight as a swimmer crosses a finish line or touches a foreign shore, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And that sense of taking pleasure in the success of others can be replicated on a much smaller scale too. Take advantage of it and find a buddy who can give you that extra boost when you need it. You’ll probably find yourself doing the same for them.

8) Have a reward

We all like to have nice things or do nice things, so set yourself a reward for when you get to your target. Be that going on a swimming holiday or just buying a snazzy new costume, big or small, make sure you have your own little pot of gold to open at the end of your rainbow.

9) Set the next target

I don’t know a swimmer alive – there probably isn’t one – who is completely satisfied with the way they swim. Our River of Progress meanders and winds its way through the countryside but never actually reaches the sea. Just around the corner, there is always another challenge to be set and met. So, know where you’re going and be excited about what comes next!

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

10). Spurious Final Step

Something else about swimming to make it up to ten.

 

Happy New Year all!

Oi you! Why don’t you push off? I mean, properly push off?

Imagine you were at the Olympics watching someone like Usain Bolt competing in the 100m back in his prime. The gun goes off. What happened next? Did Usain stand up from the blocks and, in the words of Dolly Parton, yawn and stretch and try to come to life? Or was he more like Meatloaf and, in one fluid movement, like a bat out of hell he was gone, gone, gone?

For folks like Usain, and indeed any serious racer, the start of the race was just as important as the rest of it. More so, in fact, as it sets up the body in the correct manner for the main part of the event. And even if you don’t race and have no intention of ever racing, the principle still applies.

So let me ask you a question. When was the last time you spent a pool session solely practising how you start to swim? 

Note, I am not talking here about leaping salmon-like from starting blocks, nor really anything that could be described as a “racing start”. I merely want to focus on the process you use to go from being stationary to being in full stroke.

My guess is that for many of us we rarely, if ever, practice. After all, why bother, our current push off takes us more or less to the first row of flags above the lane, isn’t that pretty good? Well, it’s OK. But the flags are set at five metres from the end of a 25metre pool. So, if you’re not practising your push-offs your training is only ever targeted on 80% of the length. For one-fifth of the time you’re mentally and often physically, just drifting.

Photo by Jonah Brown from Unsplash

This lack of attention to how swimmers start can be seen at any pool where all manner of techniques are employed to begin. Some give a small jump into the air before disappearing below the surface, headed straight for the bottom, some tip forward like felled timber whilst others push off with such force it’s like watching the launch of an ocean liner. Far more common, however, is the feeble lacklustre push off which has all the explosive power of a fart in a hurricane.

Which is a shame, because the point at which you leave the wall should be when you are travelling at your fastest, and that momentum should be taking you as far up the pool as you can possibly manage.  

And it’s not a difficult process to master. (I am ignoring, for the moment, all the complications of flip turns or tumble turns, where the body is already in motion and needs to suddenly transfer all that energy 180 degrees in the opposite direction).  

For a standard push-off there are only a few basic fundamental points to follow.

  1. Start below the surface
  2. Create and maintain a streamlined position
  3. Generate maximum power off the wall
  4. Maximise the benefits of the momentum

It’s an easy trap to fall into, if you’re standing at the wall, to push off on the surface of the water. 

It’s almost a default for most folk (and if they’re swimming backstroke it seems even more common). Yet at the surface the swimmer will encounter far more water resistance, creating splash and a bow wave which both equate to lost energy. Below the surface, there is less drag and water displacement. Many top swimmers can swim faster underwater than on top of it. 

This is the reason that Olympic swimmers are only allowed to swim a maximum of 15m underwater for each 50m length. Previously competitors were completing 30m and more underwater. Great for breaking world records, not so great for spectators.  

Nevertheless, you should aim to travel as far as possible completely submerged as, with practice, this can become the fastest point in your length. How far under the water you should be will be dependent on how far you can travel and how naturally buoyant you are. The aim is to break the surface just at the point at which you are ready to take your first stroke. Thus, as you improve you may want to start a little deeper to delay this happening. 

At first, however, a depth of around 18 inches is probably a good start point.

But being underwater alone will not be good enough. A perfect Streamline position is crucial. The hands should be placed one on top of the other and extended above the head with a straight elbow. The head should be hidden between the arms in a neutral position. In the early stages you should be facing the bottom of the pool. The legs should be together following the line of the torso. Some swimmers employ a flutter kick during the push-off although the benefits gained from this over the additional resistance created are debatable. To begin with it might be best not to move the legs at all.  

Photo by Richard R Schunemann from Unsplash

However, once the basic body position is achieved then a dolphin kick or two can be added to keep the momentum going. The inexperienced swimmer will tend to attempt the dolphin kick starting only at the knees. But this will only result in drag and may, in fact, slow the swimmer down. The true dolphin kick is an undulation starting at the torso, travelling through the hips and moves down the legs in a smooth wave-like motion. For those who are less flexible it may take some time to perfect but time spent practising is never wasted. (It’s the sort of thing that can easily be practised on land in a vertical position).

The optimum size of the dolphin kick will differ for each swimmer. A large kick will produce more power but create more drag whilst a smaller kick will not generate the same thrust but will be more efficient. Experimentation is the key here to find out what works best for you.

But there’s little point in being streamlined and having an efficient kick if you’re pointing in the wrong direction! Ensure that, when you thrust off the wall, the direction of travel is horizontal up the lane rather than towards the bottom or the surface. At the point of contact, your knees should be bent at 90 degrees to achieve maximum power. Both feet should be planted firmly on the wall to balance the push. This is relatively simple if you are pushing off facing downwards. 

However, in time you may want to start employing a position with rotation of around 45 degrees. This position will become more natural if you progress to employing flip turns and may help to set you up in the right position for your first stroke. However, it can also result in disproportionate thrust from one leg or the other so is probably best left for more advanced practice.

You also need to pay close attention to your speed through the water. You should be breaking the surface and taking the first stroke just before the point where you begin to slow down. The best way to observe your speed is to notice how quickly you are passing the tiles on the bottom of the pool. The trick is to transition seamlessly from the push off into the full stroke with no loss of momentum. Subtle adjustments may be necessary to your push-off position and technique as you improve to keep this transition as smooth as possible.

The final consideration to be taken into account is breathing. It is easy to take a deep (diaphragmatic) breath before you begin and this can be a useful trigger for your brain to switch on and start to think about the various elements of the push-off you are about to employ.  

But when should you exhale, and when should you take the first breath? The exhale will affect your buoyancy and rhythm so should be closely allied to your natural swimming pattern. i.e. a constant stream of bubbles should be coming from the nose as you push off. This controlled exhale can sometimes feel at odds with the explosive power being generated by the legs but over time will become easier. As for when you should take your first breath, this will be a matter of individual choice and experience. The breathing stroke tends to be slightly more disruptive than the non-breathing stroke and therefore some swimmers prefer to get in a few non-breathers as soon as they hit the surface so as not to disrupt the general flow of the stroke. 

Others prefer to get a quick sneaky breath in immediately so that they don’t run out of air. The guide you should follow when deciding what is right for you is for you to do whatever enables you to maintain the speed and momentum generated from the push-off.

All this might sound overly complex but in reality, a good push off can become second nature very quickly and will almost certainly result in fewer strokes being taken to complete the length and a reduction in time as well. However, because it isn’t viewed as traditional swimming it can often be overlooked despite the enormous beneficial effect it can have on the stroke overall.

Time to get in line

If you hang around talking with SwimMastery coaches for any length of time you’ll hear an awful lot about the importance of the Streamline position. It is, they will tell you, the most important position in Freestyle swimming and, if one is to have any success with the stroke, it is vital to master this phase.

To anyone coming to the stroke for the first time, the emphasis placed on the Streamline may seem a little misplaced. If the point in swimming is to create forward momentum, why concentrate on an aspect of the stroke where, apparently, there is relatively little going on? Would it not be better to concentrate on the period where the body is being propelled forwards?

This though is to misunderstand the fundamental point of efficient swimming which is to displace as little of the water as possible as you move through it and past it. And the position in which you are doing that at the maximum is during Streamline.

Photo courtesy of Tracey Baumann

It’s also a great phase at which the brain can perform a rapid mental checklist and, if necessary, “reset”. If performed correctly the Streamline will be the point at which the body is at its maximum length and the connection from the fingernails, through the scapula, hips thighs, knees, to the feet will be at its most apparent. Once the swimmer can tune into this feeling of connection all the way down the body they are in the perfect position to initiate the weight shift which leads to the rotation allowing the body to power past the anchoring arm performing the catch.

Without that all-important whole-body connection the timing, breath management and coordination of the stroke are all lost and with it the speed and efficiency too.
Remember too that the Streamline is hit twice in each cycle of the stroke, once on the left and once on the right. Most swimmers will have a favoured side – usually the one where they are leading with their dominant hand – so make sure that both sides are equally perfect. Spend time during practice to imprint the muscle memory clearly, spending more time on the weaker side if necessary.

But remember Streamline is only a fleeting moment in a fluid whole movement. Although it presents a perfect opportunity for a quick “stock-check” of body parts it is not an opportunity to have a little rest and let momentum glide you forwards! This can only lead to a slowing of the overall speed with increased work required to regain it. It is vital to develop the ability to instantly recognise if the body is not conforming to the perfect Streamlining position and to correct and re-connect immediately.

As one of the fundamental building blocks for the freestyle stroke, time spent practising and perfecting the Streamline will never be wasted.

How Are You Feeling?

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin. 

If you grew up in the UK back when childrens’ stories tended to concern pixies and elves rather than wizards and witches you’ll almost certainly recognise this phrase from the BBC’s “Listen With Mother” programme.

So, assuming you are not sitting cross-legged on some hard wooden floor let me ask you; are you? Are you sitting comfortably? I hope so, but how did you come to your conclusion? What factors did you take into account? Did you do a thorough analysis of your body or was your decision merely a knee-jerk reaction based on the absence of discomfort? Because that’s not the same thing.

Photo by Mohamadreza Azhdari on Unsplash

When taking swimming lessons, your swim coach may well get you to perform a drill and then ask you how it felt. And although that sounds like a simple question it’s one that many of us are simply not used to answering with any level of detail. The tendency is to give short, superficial answers such as it felt “fine” (or “good” or “nice”).

From a coaching perspective, there’s not a lot that can be done with that. Imagine someone going to the doctor and telling her they felt “a bit poorly”. That’s not terribly helpful is it? Now imagine them telling her that their knee feels like it’s on fire. Now we’re getting somewhere. Now the doctor has something she can work on. But with pain it’s easy. The brain has fewer problems identifying and focussing on pain as it is anxious to get rid of it as quickly as possible. It’s in its own interests to be able to convey this feeling in as much detail as possible and as graphically as possible,

How, though, does that work when everything is feeling…. well, …“fine” (or “good” or “nice”)? How can those feelings be expressed verbally? Well, rest assured it can be done, but it might take more concentration than you are used to and a little practice too. The fact is that right now your brain is receiving loads of information from your body that it’s simply ignoring.

Let’s try a little experiment. Let’s take your shoulders. What are you feeling right now? Not much? No problems? I hope so. But let’s go a little deeper. How tense are they? Could you relax them more? Are they cold or warm? Do they feel stiff? Imagine them as being connected to the rest of your body. Do they feel part of the whole or independent? Now concentrate on the feel of the fabric of your shirt or blouse. Does it feel soft or scratchy? Is it heavy or floaty? Is the material smooth or taut? Take some time and concentrate on each of those areas in turn and really focus on what you feel. Is the feedback the same for both shoulders? If not, how do they differ? At the end of this, you may find you now have a plethora of sensations and images you could use to describe your shoulders. All the information is there, you just need to learn how to tune into it.

But, as I say, it can require a little practice and it becomes more difficult when there’s more going on. . Let’s take your breathing now. Just as you sit there take a few moments to focus on your breathing; the air coming into your body and being released out of it. Notice how it affects your chest and diaphragm. Observe how quickly or slowly you are doing it and how much air you need on each breath. Now get up and go for a little walk around the room. Just 20 or 30 steps or so and keep concentrating on your breathing. For most of you, I’m guessing that the task of analysing exactly what is happening becomes more difficult once the body is in motion as the brain now needs to focus on avoiding objects, the heightened sensations of other parts of the body and even keeping count of the steps taken. But despite all that, it is possible to maintain some level of focus on the breath and even notice the differences that being in motion as opposed to being stationary make to the overall rhythm of the process. Even with everything else going on I’m sure you were able to hone in on your breathing and provide at least some meaningful feedback on how it felt. And if you can do that walking around your room, you can do it in the swimming pool too.

Perhaps though. you don’t think that’s the case. Perhaps you found it very difficult to notice your breathing pattern once you were walking. Don’t worry. Remember, the information is all there, you just may not be used to identifying it all just yet. Try it again, see if you can notice more. The more you do it the more you’ll notice. Maybe a little check list will help. Did you breathe in through your mouth or through your nose? How did the breathing relate to your stride pattern? If you increase your pace, or take shallower breaths, what changes? And most crucially of all, for what we’re talking about here, how would you describe it?

Photo by Quinton Coetzee on Unsplash

The skill of being able to isolate parts of your body and analyse exactly what they are doing and feeling can often take a while to develop but it’s one that can be practised at any time, not just when in the water. Get used to standing in the supermarket queue and feeling the weight of your body on the soles of your feet or the hunch of your shoulders as you drive your car and think how you might convey that feeling to someone else. This doesn’t have to be terribly poetic. If you want to describe the movement of your hips when swimming as being like those of a drunken sailor on deck in a high storm then that’s terrific but if simply to say “I feel as if I’m over-rotating” is more your style then that’s also providing far more useful feedback to your coach than, say, “it feels wrong”.

Everyone will feel their bodies differently but it’s important to remember that there is a deep well of information that is waiting to be exploited which can make the process much easier. The more you can tell your coach the better the learning experience will be. What your coach is often looking for is for you to describe a sensation which they can tell you to aim to replicate in your swimming away from the lesson (or perhaps one to avoid !). It will be far easier for you to go away and swim with your head as relaxed as a melon floating in the sea as opposed to being told to go away and swim until it feels “nice”.!

If you can develop the habit of firstly noticing how your body is feeling and reacting and then developing a way of expressing that to your coach they will find it much easier to help you improve your performance.

And then everyone can live happily ever after

The end 

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