It’s been four years since I started to learn to swim again for triathlons. Early on, I took swim lessons with a great coach named Whitney whose first priority was to simplify what I was doing. Along the way there have been many “A-Ha!” moments as other swim instructors (including my wife) have encouraged me to improve technique in every phase.
For most swimmers, success comes down to the correct use of the “catch,” the phase when the front hand enters the water and begins the pull phase of the stroke. The arm is bent in an L shape and “hugged” to the body as it stays shallow and is pulled near the hip for the next lift out of the water.
I’ve learned to “drag the fingertips” in order to get ready for the catch. I’ve practiced keep my wrist angled properly to dig into the water. And through all these measures of form and analysis, my swimming has improved.
Yet I’m still a 1:50 per 100 yard swimmer. Not that fast. And that’s pretty much top end.
The Dick Fosbury of Swimming?
But recently I stumbled on the Instagram account of a guy named Adam Walker who developed an alternate freestyle method he calls the Oceanwalker. Watching him swim is fascinating. The guy has a long career of crossing ocean channels and setting records using more conventional freestroke methods. But then his bicep tore and doctors said he’d never swim again.
Rather than quit, Walker experimented with new techniques that took pressure of his shoulders. The new stroke involves a mesmerizing rotation of the body and a tremendously smooth pull driven by a new arm angle that is supported by the core.
Walker clearly has developed a great swim technique for open water in particular. It may be so revolutionary that it catches on like the high jump technique originated by Dick Fosbury, the Olympic high jumper who turned the event on its ear by turning backwards to leap over the bar headfirst. Before that, all high jumpers used the Western Straddle, a leg-first method that required the jumper to roll over the bar.
Fosbury changed the entire world of high jumping. The world record now stands at more than eight feet using the Fosbury Flop. I high jumped 6’1/2″ using both methods, and the Flop was much easier to employ. Is there an equivalent in swimming?
The thing that fascinates me about the Oceanwalker method is the reduction of necessary strokes to travel the same distance. That saves energy, a key aspect of successful triathlon swimming. The whole goal of covering the swim is to emerge ready to ride at full capacity. Last year during my first open water swim of 800 meters I came out of the water and hopped on the bike only to find my legs weak from the kicking I’d done. It was shocking.
Given that I did not come from a traditional swimming background, having only swum as a kid, not through my 20s, 30s and 40s, I have no compunction about adopting an alternate freestyle method if it helps my shoulders stay healthy through my senior years. If it also helps me be more efficient in the water you’re damn right I’m going to look into it.
I’ve already experimented with what I understand of the method. It resembles the “Catchup” drills we’ve done in swim practice. But I love the rolling rhythm I feel when swimming in the Oceanwalker way. I love the feel and flow of it.
Are you curious too?