Swimming. It’s splashy, hard work and the lesson that most school kids tried to avoid, usually with forged sick letters. However, these are memories from childhood. Surely swimming’s different now? Dan Millington discusses.
For the vast majority of people, the very smell of a swimming pool conjures memories of either having to wear embarrassingly revealing swimming trunks as a teenager or the hellishly torturous swimming lessons. If your memories are anything like mine then it is probably both of them. Forced to endlessly swim up and down, arm strength rapidly failing and that strange feeling where you get incredibly hot and sweaty even though you are surrounded by cold water. It just doesn’t make sense. It is because of these memories that most people view swimming as something that you should be able to do – but only put into practice for short 20m expeditions into the shallows of a holiday beach. But what if swimming became an enjoyable fitness hobby? On par with a good weights session or a nice sunny park run? I hear metaphorical grumbles…but you’ll have to bear with me here. I speak from experience. Read on and you’ll soon learn that swimming is fun.
Swimming coaches often ruin the sport for the majority of kids that have to endure their outdated method of lengths, lengths and more lengths. Of course if you want to get better there will be an element of lengths but too many people discount technique. Talk to any good swimmer and they will tell you that technique is the MOST important factor. If I could offer you two pieces of advice (one more than Baz Lurhmann), a more relaxed recovery phase and a more pronounced ‘reach’ at the full extension of your stroke may well transform your view on swimming.
What’s more is that a smoother, more relaxed stroke doesn’t leave you wandering whether you are going to be able to get that oxygen your lungs so badly need. Nor does it produce the shoulders filled with lactic acid. In fact, it actually becomes quite relaxing. Your heart rate stays at a manageable level.
Let’s start with a relaxed recovery. To be clear, this is when your arm has finished its ‘pull’ phase and is now hopefully swinging through the air ready to repeat.
- RELAX. It all starts from relaxed hands…at least it did for me. I was in what Swim Smooth (a great resource for swimming technique – http://www.swimsmooth.com/) would describe as the Arnie category, trying to muscle my way through sessions. However, I eventually realised that tense hands and arms during the recovery phase was simply energy wasted. Try to relax your arm so that there is a nice bend in the elbow and let it just flop into the water. Not only does this conserve energy but also reduces the panicky mind set of increasing fatigue and lack of oxygen.
- STRETCH. No, I’m not trying to copy Baz Lurhmann! You need to make the most of every stroke, and starting your pull 6 inches in front of your head is not doing that. Reach out in front of you in the water and extend. Keep your elbow high in the water, using your whole forearm as a paddle and pull all the way to your hips. For a lot of people this will greatly increase the distance for which they pull themselves through the water with every stroke.
Finally, and yes I know I said two tips but I am in a gracious mood:
SORT OUT YOUR BREATHING. I breathe every other stroke and exhale through my nose underwater – in this way you avoid not only having to hold your breath beyond what is comfortable but also avoid getting into oxygen debt. It might not be as pretty, but it is certainly more enjoyable. After all, I don’t hold my breath when I’m doing any other sport…
I hope this is useful. These three tips are definitely the ones that have helped me become a better swimmer and banish the demons from my past. A year ago the idea of swimming 20 lengths in a row would have given me nightmares – it is now just a warm up. Remember that although we do sport to challenge ourselves, the overriding factor is that sport is enjoyable. So find a way to have fun. If you live in London, swimming breast stroke underwater is one of the only times when your senses are dulled and you can have a little time to yourselfJ.
The rant and musings of Dan Millington, Ironman distance triathlete, wannabe pro surfer and personal trainer at Be A Better You