Last week I speculated on what a swim lesson on Saturday would produce in terms of guidance and advice. Knowing how ineffectual my freestyle swim kick could be, I expected to be told to kick harder.
Well, it turned out I was wrong about that. One of the first things the swim instructor told me, illustrated by the video he shot on his phone, is that my swim kick was actually far worse than even I imagined. In fact, it was so badly executed that one of the first pieces of advice he doled out was dry and to the point.
“Stop kicking,” he advised. “It’s throwing off your whole stroke.”
Then he added another challenge to my rapidly withering self-concept. “You’re basically swimming with one arm,” he pointed out. “That left arm is not doing much for you.”
Even without an underwater camera, I could see from the video that he was right. My right arm was pulling straight and true. My left arm was like a bass caught on a fishing line, jerking around like it had a hook in its mouth.
I wasn’t depressed by all this. I welcomed the advice even if it was…a bit depressing. The swim coach gave me some instructions and it all began with this: “Breathe every fourth stroke, not every stroke.”
Suddenly I was like a gorilla with a singular mission. But you’ll see what I mean in a minute.
See, I’ve actually been experimenting with breathing every few strokes. My form feels better when I do that. But here was the real revelation. With fewer head turns my stroke count dropped from 25 to 23. I was swimming ever so slightly more efficiently that way.
It makes total sense. It turns out you don’t need to breathe every stroke. My longheld impression was entirely the opposite. I was afraid to breathe less often because when I started out swimming a few years ago, I’d run out of breath even to the point of panicking in the middle of the pool.
Those sensations are gone now. I can swim half a mile and more continuously despite the flaws in my form. But I’m also working against myself in many respects. The swim coach was pointing out the key problems. I surely welcome that.
He stuck a band around my ankles and a pool float between my legs. That forced me into engaging some upper body efficiency.
I tried keeping my left arm in better alignment rather than crossing it under my body like a broken stick. Then he had me ‘finger drag’ the tips of my digits across the water to keep me from swimming, and these were his very words, “like a gorilla.”
Oh man, that’s harsh. But I knew what he meant. I’d been studying world-class swimmers on TV and noticed how they swam with sort of a double-timed hitch their strokes. “That’s a gallop stroke,” he explained to me. “You are so far from that you should not even think about it.”
That’s some gorilla logic right there.
Getting the visuals
But my point was not that I was going to try to gallop stroke. My sharing that observation was to point out that I got the ‘visual’ on what he was trying to help me do. Swim more ‘up front’ than leaving it all behind. Like a gorilla.
The problem with all the kicking on my part was also something more than physical. Swimming requires that you do a number of things all at one time. Like that gorilla trying to hold all those carrots in the photo above, overloading the mind leads to confusion. Eliminating one of those “things” allows you to simplify and concentrate on the rest of the stroke. That’s something I have been doing with a pool float to focus on the “front end” of my stroke. Truth be told, there are a few things that I’ve been doing better in the pool than I likely demonstrated in the swim lesson. So I feel like genuine progress is within reach.
That means the work ahead will be fruitful I’m sure. There’s nothing like a lesson to fix some flaws. There will be more to come, I’m sure. But until then I’m going to make sure I eat alternation hands while eating my bananas. To avoid the gorilla thing, you know.