Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Pending Polar Bear Swim or Hypotheria Hijinks?

January 1st is right around the corner and I've been thinking about making last year's "Polar Bear Swim" an annual thing. I don't get too much support from the home team so I'm a bit ambivalent this year. Also, I use the quotes around the title because here in Nashville, TN the chance of swimming with ice on the water is near nil. It's more like a hypothermia test. Last year's water temperature was 42 degrees. The air temp was much higher which made the water seem a lot colder. I had hoped that the air would be colder than the water but alas, no. Meanwhile I'm wondering the best approach for body core comfort - last year I was cold in my core for hours after the swim. Perhaps this year I'll drink a lot of hot beverage before going in? Or after? Or both? I read somewhere that ship wreck survivors pulled from cold water and given hot coffee can die (from the shock?). Can't say such a result will happen with me (see above temps). I just want to be comfy after my foolish endeavor. Got a few holiday invites to attend to. More later ...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lava Loving Fish? Surely You Jest

OK, if you've read even some of my posts of late, you know I don't like hot (even warm) swimming pools. Well today I found reason to never complain again. Here's a fish that swims (ok, skips) across molten lava. Don't believe me? Check this story out.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Climate, climate, climate

I've reflected on pool water temperature before. I'm a bit obsessed about it. These cold days, I'm spending lots of time indoors. The pool I swim in is installed above an open air parking garage. As you might imagine, this creates all kinds of havoc on pool temperature control. If it gets cold out, as it did today (14 degrees F.), the pool guys set the water temp high. I'm guessing this keeps the water from getting too cold, too fast? (Usually it just breaks the heater). Anyway, the water gets hot - uhg! Then I get lethargic and can't push at all. I shouldn't complain. It's still cooler than any other pool in town. I've heard some of the other pools like to keep their air temp within two degrees of the water temp. Some new climate control thing. Imagine 84 degree water - that equates to 82 to 86 degree room temp - double uhg! On the plus side, a small relative difference makes it easy to jump in I guess. No shivering.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dolphins Sing Batman - Really!

When you are swimming laps and you are bored out of your goard, do you ever hum a tune? It never sounds quite right, but it's a great way to drive other people in the pool nuts. Apparently someone has figured out that dolphins can sing in the water. Check out this link.

The Ultimate Diving Pool

I found this site on Digg. It's an awesome diving pool (you'll never imagine how deep it is until you check this out. Makes me want to go to Belgium - now! Strange - I've never had that urge before. Good for them.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Distance Swimming - Like Marathon Training

I've been thinking a long time about how I got into swimming distances. It didn't just happen. I sort of eased into it - doing a little bit more every couple of months. I stumbled across an article about running, which in some ways covers the approach I took to swimming. It's an interesting read (especially for runners). If anyone has a good one on swimming, send me the link.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hot Pools - Where'd my Sweat Go?

Cold? That was the description I got today from the guard as I dipped my toe into the water in the indoor pool I’ve been using since late September when they finally closed my little bit of heaven. Can’t blame them - oh, yes I can and I do - it got down to about 65 degrees and they were worried we’d develop hypothermia - yeah, right. Anyhoo, I’ve been inside since then - uhg! Today was 82 - a bit warmer than 65 you might say. I really enjoyed the cold. My body seemed to thrive in that temperature. No overheating to worry about and the top layer was just perfect with the morning sun heating it up. Now that I’m indoors I have to do the serious scrub thing in the shower to get the sweat scum off - it builds up in the water and then solidifies on the skin. You don’t even see it until you start scrubbing with an abrasive sponge, then it starts coming off in little nodules. Gross! At least it’s been purified by all the chlorine!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Is Swimming Practice Necessary?

This story seems to confirm anyone can learn anything if they try hard enough. So I say, let's apply this to swimming. The crux of the story is deliberate practice. Understand what you are doing, watch others and learn from yourself and others, then apply, apply, apply.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Navy Seals Rule

Come up. Come up. OK, really now! Come up! That's what I'm thinking as I saw a video of a group of guys trying to qualify for Navy Seals. They were doing what I've never really considered possible - swimming 50 meters underwater. Ever since I saw that show, I've wondered what their qualifications were. Well Splash Dog stumbled across this a few weeks ago and now that I'm back I thought I'd share what I've found. They do some amazing stuff. Some of it quite doable, the rest well - this 50 meter thing is one of them.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Found Heaven - Now its Hell

Recent posts mentioned the change in season and the cold snap. I stuck it out though and have gotten comfortable with the chilly water to the point of really enjoying it. A bunch of us have. Water temp as of yesterday was 66 F. I wouldn't have thought I would have liked it since I've had ear drum pain below about 75, but somehow I've avoided it. Wearing the swim cap is keeping my head warm. The cool water had a clean, almost electric snap to it. The warm sun on my back makes it like heaven. Problems though. Too much of a good thing. Today the lifeguard admin (Darth Vader would be a good name) decided without asking those of us who swam that it was too cold - they don't even get wet - and they closed the pool! They said hypothermia sets in at 65 after one-half hour. I don't buy it. It's certainly better than the 90+ degree water at the end of July. We were ready to stroke out (no pun intended) in those conditions. Anyhow, we had to swim indoors where the water was at least 84 F. That was a shock to my system. I about fell out 1000 meteres into my routine. Ugh!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Human Gills - the Holy Grail of Swimming

Gills? Is this the holy grail of swimming? I think we may have something here. I put this in my wanted category along with the heads up display swim goggles.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Vote for Reasonable Global Warming

Got back from a Labor Day trip out of town and the pool temp was 72! Where did the perfect days I longed for all summer (dropped from the hot higher 80’s to this in three days)? Am I missing something? Did someone drop ice in the pool over the weekend? I had to stoop to wearing a cap this AM just to keep my eardrums from going numb. Well, here’s one vote for some immediate global warming. Rev up those SUV’s people!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

This Guy Teaches Cats to Swim

See this video to learn how to teach your cat to swim. You think I'm kidding?

Its a Drag

It’s a drag to wear a drag suit.  I’ve been swapping between my streamlined suit and my drag suit each day.  Today I found my time slipped by 45 seconds on the mile (comes to only a little less than two seconds per 25 meters, but still, that adds up).  You might have guessed it.  I was wearing the drag suit.  When I bought it, I thought it was a nice change - not so small a cut.  Little did I realize that it would inhibit my performance so much.  Yeah, I know.  It’s supposed to do that.  Well, I’m not buying another.  

Friday, August 25, 2006

Swimming Pool on Wheels

Here's a swimming pool you might like. Have these beauties bring it by your place for a dip. Don't understand? Watch the video (warning: smaller than recommended bathing suits).

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Cooling Down Again

It’s been hot but we’re into the latter half of the summer and are now having some cooler days (days below 95 degrees).  Water temp is lower and am enjoying the cooler temps.  Unfortunately, the body has been achy - age? Hope not.  Have I gotten used to the high temps?  Hope not or the cold months will be miserable.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Syncronized Swimming Goldfish

Enjoyed this version of syncronized swimming. Shows goldfish doing the sport as well as any Olympic team. Really! Wish I understood Japanese. Anyone want to translate for me?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dolphin On-Line Game

Here's a game where you can pretend you're a dolphin. Don't complain. Face it, how many swimming games are there on-line?

Best Video of a Swimmer I've Seen

This is a terrific inspirational video of a triathelete team. Swimmers see the beginning, bikers and runners hang in with it.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Cool Swimming Article

Took my kids to the dentist earlier this week and stumbled across a great swimming article - can't read too much about swimming can we? Check out Outside Magazine's August 2006 issue cover story (yes, a swimming article made the cover of a major magazine - so cool!). It's about two guys who decided swim between a number of islands in the Bahamas with all their possessions in tow on a surf board. Now that's a vacation - and if I had to guess, they probably had all their expenses paid too! Best part, they outdid the guys in the support boat - it sank! (The link above has some info on this story).

Hot Water

It's been hot for the past few weeks and the water temperature in the outdoor pool where I swim has climbed from a comfortable 80 - 82 degrees F. range to as high as 91 (yesterday was 88 and holding - forgot to check this AM). We daily lap swimmers have been having a running battle with the pool admin lady who doesn't seem to appreciate the value of the aerator (pumps out and sprays water into the air so it gets cooled off before returning to the pool). She's come up with an unbelievable number of implausible excuses for not using the unit "Plug doesn't wor" - try the next plug down, it does; "Kids don't like it" - use it when the kids aren't there (5am - 10am), besides they play under the spraying crayons, what's the difference?; "It's broken" - no it's not. What gives? I think it just weighs a ton and her small framed, afraid to raise a finger, first-job teenage lifeguards can't lift it easily (remember, these are the same people hired to save overweight, flailing people who have heart attackes - after all, they are "certified"). Anyhow, I'm just whining here. It happens whenever my workout routine gets compromised. The hot water has put my time off by a whole minute on the mile! Lethargy is the name of my new stroke. Here's hoping for an early Fall.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Autopilot - The Zombie Zone

Over the past two days, I’ve swum pretty hard during my workouts.  Not wanting to set any precedents, I broke the pattern today and took it fairly easy.  Still I think I got a pretty good workout, all things considered.  So if I took it easy, what good did it do?  Well I kept my long muscles primed and I found a zone.  Not the peak zone, but what one might call the zombie zone - the place where you can be working out and find peace.  It was great!  Like meditation.  Typically when I’m really pushing myself, I am focused on the task at hand.  In the “zombie zone,” all focus is elsewhere.  The lap count is forgotten, the task is forgotten, you go into autopilot, yet you are still accomplishing a necessary body exercise and resting your mind.  Like I said before - it’s great!  

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Your Swimming Transmission

This past summer, I’ve had the chance to spend a lot of time swimming longer distances between turns.  I’ve learned to appreciate a dynamic I haven’t thought much about.  Today I was marveling at the amount of work it was taking to get moving out of a flip turn, but once moving, how little effort it took to keep it going once accelerated.  I decided there must be a transmission quality to swimming.  I came to this conclusion after thinking about a radio program on NPR I heard on my drive home, about, of all things, hybrid vehicles.  These vehicles use most of their energy starting.  Once moving they use little.  Swimming is like that.  Drawing on my favorite analogy - the torpedo - once you apply the energy to get started, the momentum keeps you moving forward.  You just have to make sure as little as possible gets in the way of slowing you down once accelerated.  So do this next time you swim laps.  Kick off the wall, put a strong effort into coming up to speed - remember to keep your body torpedo shaped - and then relax and let your pulls and kick keep you at speed.   You can actually relax at this point.  

Monday, July 17, 2006

Open Water vs. Pool Swimming

I've just returned from an annual sojurn to the north country where a favorite past time is - you guessed it sports fans - lake swimming. No change in the hours - wouldn't want to break the routine - so it was up at 6am and hitting the clear waters of a steaming, glassy lake. It's far different than the pool. Positives: Gone were the 85 plus degree morning swims. Hello 75 - 80, perfect; unlimited distance swimming with no walls to break the rhythm - making for excellent opportunity to work on stroke timing; ability to creep up on nature - I enjoyed getting twenty feet from a large blue heron and her now-crow sized hatchlings. Negatives: a little seaweed between my fingers a time or two; opening my eyes under water and seeing large fish pass beneath me; no straight line in the bottom to follow - I lined up the rising sun in my goggles and kept it in the same 1:00 spot (this really works).

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Thoughts on Swimmers Pic

I was amazed when I first saw this picture (see previous post).  This shot was taken sometime in what I believe to be the nineteen thirties.  I believe, we found it in among some old heirlooms that had been stored away (I’ve had it a while, so I can’t be certain).  My first impression was the animation of the people.  They’re not staring blankly into the camera like so many old timey pictures do.  Must be having too much fun swimming.  Check out the swim suit designs.  The two-piece (left most) was a complete surprise - ahead of its time?  And the one-side moon shaped cut out on the woman’s suit is pretty radical.  Also those white swim goggles.  They are so cool!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Swim Suit Analytics

OK, this AM I wore the skimpy speed suit. I wanted to get a comparison to yesterday's horrible performance when I wore the drag suit. Today I dropped my time for the same distance by 104 seconds or 5.78 percent just by using a suit that slips through the water easier. Now I know why those swimmers shave their heads before a race! Sorry, I'm not planning an analysis of those low belly cut suits in this blog :0

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Swim Suit Choice Revisited

I want to revisit a topic which I am finding more important than I ever could have imagined - swim suit choice.  It really is one of the most important factors you can make for any swimmer, beginner to expert.  I’ll start with my main premise.  You want a suit that is hydrodynamic (like an airplane is aerodynamic), meaning it flows through the water with little encumbrance.  If you must fight through the water to get anywhere, you are going to where yourself out - unless that’s your goal (for fitness purposes).  My aha moment came this morning during my workout.  Generally I can complete the first part of my workout in less than 30 minutes.  Today, it took a full minute more to go the same distance.  Now that doesn’t sound like a lot, but let me add - I was pulling harder than ever (my lane was parallel to the swim team lane and I was “trying” to keep up - they were future Olympians I imagine. Ha ha).  To add to that, my foot which I hurt about a week ago was finally healed, so I could kick well for the first time since the injury. If anything, I should have shaved time off this part of my workout. So what’s with the extra time?  A loose fitting, hip length drag suit was the culprit.  I didn’t buy it for its intended purpose - I was just trying to find something that didn’t make me look like a model for some skin magazine.  It held the water and prevented me from getting any results from my efforts to glide.  Perhaps the drag suit helps me build strength, but it did nothing for my pride.  My suggestions?  If you want speed and distance, go for the streamlined thigh huggers or the tight briefs (if your ego can stand it).  Dump them in the waste basket as soon as they start poofing out from age and get a new pair.  You’ll get better swimming results, I promise.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Anyone Can Swim

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Pointing Elbows

I must apologize for my artwork (see previous post).  Also, please note this post is about freestyle arm movement - not kicking.  I realize the pictures have the legs in the same position throughout.  OK, I’m accused of not kicking much, so I suppose it’s accurate.  Anyhoo, the drawing isn’t of me either - yet it sort of looks like it might be.  Too weird.  
Well, I wanted to talk about pointing your elbows.  If you look at the top drawing and then at the picture (closely, maybe with a magnifying glass), you’ll see two demonstrations of pointing your elbow at the sky as you come out of your pull and go into your stretch.  Try to scratch the sky with your elbow, i.e. make your arm come out of the water in a vertical position (or rather perpendicular to the water’s surface) - sort of like a shark fin.

Elbows To Sky + Straight Arm Pull

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

My Favorite 50 Meters

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Arm Entry

How you put your arms in the water when you do the freestyle can be a big deal. Do it wrong and you impede your progress. Do it right and you can actually make yourself go faster. Watch different people do freestyle. Watch how some will put their arms in the water with their elbows sticking out to the side and their hands coming across the front of their heads. These people are in effect putting up a barrier in front of them each time each arm enters the water. Of course, this slows down waterever benefit they may have gotten from their previous pull and from their kick. Look for the people who are doing the stroke correctly. They put their hands in the water straight in front of them. Doing so creates no resistance to water flow and they get into position to pull the water just as fast. They even set themselves up for a longer pull - and a longer pull means you go futher with each stroke. Try it!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Be Happy - Swim

I've noticed when I'm getting to the pool in the morning - about 6:30am - there is a bunch of people leaving who are happier than any other group I meet all day. It's the Masters swim group. They get there at the crack of dawn. Why are they happy? I've had my theories - including it's because their work-out is over. But even the stray person I see when I'm done with my workout - we late risers don't finish as a group - are also pretty content. I came across this article today which talks about the psychological benefits of exercise. Nice read. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Wasted Motion Means Wasted Energy

When I watch a novice adult swimmer, I am often amazed at all the effort that is being used -with no positive effect. Often the splash is huge, the waves large and the forward momentum near zero. What's wrong? Well I've already mentioned the torpedo profile at least a dozen times in this blog. Maintaining that profile is half the battle. It allows you to cut through the water and let it slide past with ease. So what's up with the thrashing arms and legs you see so many people using? It's total waste of motion and energy. The motion is not being applied appropriately. Swimming in a nutshell is a case of levers and fulcrums along with thrusts, pulls and pushes - each applied properly. The problem isn't just with novice swimmers. Even good swimmers could use a little "skinny swimming" - this is a term I picked up from a woman who was happy to share a lane with me one day when all the other lanes were full. She said she would practice her "skinny swimming." In essense, skinny swimming is deliberate swimming whereby you keep your arms straight ahead and along side your body while your legs stretch out behind. You do this, maintaining a profile as close to an arrow as possible. No wasted motion. Don't swing your arms out (like an eagle), or even straight up (like a windmill). What's the point? You aren't pulling anything but air if your arms are far out of the water. It may look cool, but you are only fooling yourself. Arms that stretch out of the water more than an inch or two are just using energy to fight gravity - that's all. Use that effort and apply it once you've reached the topmost point of your stretch, then apply it to a stronger, longer pull through the water.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Proper Breathing - Crank It Up

Keeping with the theme of streamlining your body position during freestyle stroke, it is imperitive that you don't destroy all your hard work when you go to breathe. Too many people - even people who believe themselves to swim well - lift themselves up to breathe, impeding the flow of water past their bodies. Their chests form a wall - creating virtual dams - against the water trying to flow past. Breathing when done properly is part of the stroke - not a separate step. It involves turning the body to the side. Vertically profiled fish are this shape naturally. You must do it deliberately. I have developed a routine which works for me. I'll share it with you here. Imagine two lever-armed cranks that go round and round on a single axel. Your arms are the two cranks - the axel is your collar bone. As you turn the crank, you can turn your body to the side on which you wish to breathe. I usually start turning my body to the side when my arm is near my hip. As I begin the recovery - bringing it forward, I slowly "crank" body to the fish-profile mode. It is here that I am in a natural - not forced - position to grab a mouthful of air. As my arm progresses past the top of the motion, I crank my head and body back to the normal flat - horizontal - position. Notice, I the breathing motion is part of the stroke. I'm finding that doing anything else is self-defeating and very tiring - no wonder people who swim poorly get worn out swimming just half-way across the pool!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Another Way to Visualize a Straight Pull

I promised in my last post that I'd provide another helpful analogy for the freestyle pull. In past posts I talked about keeping a straight line - for streamlining purposes. Swimming pools have lanes painted along the bottom of each lane. When I'm doing my laps, I follow that line and often imagine it is a vertical ladder, along which I am suspended, parallel. To get from one end of the pool to the other, I imagine I must reach out and grab a rung of the ladder. To propel myself up the ladder, I imagine I must fight gravity, so I must pull the rung as hard as possible. When I get to my waist, I then must push the rung away, back behind me. When I've reach the maximum stretch behind me, I reach out and grab another rung with my other hand and repeat. This works to keep me straight and forces me to apply equal effort to both sides of my body. Perhaps you have an analogy that works for you - ideas are welcome!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Freestyle - My Secret to the Pull

I've drawn several analogies in my tips. Today and next time I'm going to include two more to give you an idea of how I approach the free-style pull. On dry-ground with your left hand touching your hip, stand on your tip toes and reach with your right hand as high as you possibly can. Imagine you are reaching for an apple hanging from a high tree branch. You can reach the bottom of the apple, but just barely. The way you get to your hand around the apple is to thrust your body up expanding your reach by the length of your lunge. The is where you start your freestyle pull. You've snagged the apple. You pull in down. Bring it to your waist and at that point, throw it back as far as you possibly can. Now repeat this with the other hand. Sounds silly right? Well, that's literally what you must do in the water. You must lunge as far forward as you possibly can, maintaing the torpedo profile. Cup your hand to hold as much water as possible. Maintaining that water in your hand pull it through to your waist (open your hand and you drop the apple - i.e. lose the water - where you throw it away behind you as hard as you possibly can. Your hand should end up touching your hip. Try it. You should get two distinct propulsion results out of this arc. First is the pull between picking the apple and your waist. Second is the push, where you throw the apple away. If you already know how to swim, you may find you can increase your speed proportionally to how much you increase the force of either (the pull and push) parts of the arc. Next post I'll tell you about the next analogy - climbing the ladder.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Picking a Pair of Swim Goggles

Off topic, but relevant, today we discuss goggles. Read bottom of post for my choice - you won't believe it it's so cool! First off, don't worry about what they look like. All goggles make the most attractive person look like an alien. Go for utility and lifespan. Obviously, you want them to fit snuggly so they don't leak. Avoid anything cheap - almost by definition, they'll leak. I prefer the single piece molded variety and avoid the three piece units (those with the snap on nose piece). Larger varieties are catching on - Navy Seals use these. But take note, Olympic swimmers seem to prefer the smallest types. I also look for a strap that I can adjust easily. Some are nearly impossible to adjust, while others have a poor rubber quality that breaks soon after purchase. Choose a name brand you are familiar with. You pay a little more, but you usually are ensured some level of quality. OK, here's an awesome pair of goggles. I want a pair - NOW! Attention vendors - I'll volunteer to be the first customer and guarantee you a mention in this blog.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Exaggerated Follow Through

Exaggerated Follow-Through.  If you are an experienced swimmer or tried yesterday’s suggestion about brushing your ear as you pull your arm back in your follow-through you know I was exaggerating when I told you to tap your ear with your finger.  Tried it this AM myself - doesn’t work.   Here’s what does … As you pull up, you really do want to try to keep your arm and hand as close to your body as possible.  Instead of your ear, try tapping just under your arm pit as you pull your arm up from your hip. After you reach your arm pit, shoot your hand forward.  End with your fingers pointing forward and your arm parallel to the side of your head - touching your head if possible.  Remember the main goal - you want to force yourself to maintain a consistent torpedo shape for slip-streaming purposes.

A Clarification about Follow-Through

If you are an experienced swimmer or tried my suggestion about brushing your ear as you pull your arm back in your follow-through you know I was exaggerating when I told you to tap your ear with your finger tips to your ear as you follow-through.  I do exaggerate from time to time to make my point - please excuse me.  You really do want to try to keep your arm and hand close to your body as possible as you pull up.  Try tapping just under your arm pit as you pull your arm up. End with your fingers pointing forward and your arm parallel to the side of your head.  Touching if possible.  Remember the goal is a consistent torpedo shape for slip-streaming purposes.

About Prior Described Follow-Through

Follow Through Post was Exaggerated - If you are an experienced swimmer or tried my suggestion about brushing your ear as you pull your arm back in your follow-through you know I was exaggerating when I told you to tap your ear with your finger tips to your ear as you follow-through.  I do exaggerate from time to time to make my point - please excuse me.  You really do want to try to keep your arm and hand close to your body as possible as you pull up.  Try tapping just under your arm pit as you pull your arm up. End with your fingers pointing forward and your arm parallel to the side of your head.  Touching if possible.  Remember the goal is a consistent torpedo shape for slip-streaming purposes.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Rubbing Ears Proper Freestyle Follow Through

Rubbing Ears - Proper Freestyle Follow Through

OK, so we’ve covered the minimum on freestyle pull.  Now you want to get your arm back to the point of the torpedo.  Again, we want to keep the streamline shape so we can keep the body flowing through the water.  To do that, your recovery must be streamlined too.  Lot’s of people screw this part up.  They just swing their arms out, slowing themselves down and sometimes even whacking the poor people sharing the same lane.  Both are pitiful.  Here’s what’s wrong.  Like the pull, you want your arms to come along side your body.  Only you must bend your elbow.  Do this - again, in front of your mirror.  With left hand extended and right hand by your hip, draw your right hand up to your ear -then straight up and adjacent to the hand pointing up.  Try to keep your elbows as close to your body as possible.  Yes, it’s awkward.  Now try it reversing the hand positions.  When I taught my daughter this technique, I told her to bump her ears with each stroke.  She became the fastest swimmer on the team from the get-go.  

Skip the Dog

Confident kids generally learn dog paddle before they learn free-style. We're going to skip all that and go right into stroke technique. We're back home in front of the mirror for this lesson. Face the mirror with about three feet between you and any incumbrances - e.g., a sink, perhaps. Now raise your hands and put them above your head in the torpedo pose - straight arms, locked elbows, thumbnails together, fingers flush together and gently palms cupped (as if holding water). Keeping it straight, swing your right arm down, parallel to your body, until it touches your leg. Keep the other arm up - don't move it. You've done half a proper stroke and if you were in a pool you would now be gliding. Now try this with the left arm, keeping your right arm extended over your head (don't worry about swinging it back yet - that's a whole topic to itself). Now let's look at what you've done. You've swung your arms parallel to your body and kept your non-stroking arms straight over your head. Why? You want to maintain the torpedo profile for the water to slipstream past you. Next, you've kept your pulling arms straight. Why? You want to maximize the pulling lever. A long arm, provides a more powerful stroke than a bent arm. As easy as it is here in front of the mirror, this is tricky in the water and where nearly everyone does it wrong in the pool. Practice this motion and repeat it until you understand what is described above fully. Recovery next time.

Friday, May 05, 2006

How to Float

I got ahead of myself. I suppose I should have covered floating sooner. You need to master the basics of floating if you wish to swim proficiently. Notice, I didn't say you had to actually float. Some folks think they just can't. Others can actually float vertically - don't laugh, I've seen it. What I will demonstrate here is what is involved in floating. Why this topic? Any marginal ability to float may make you a better swimmer. People with an average to high level of body fat generally can usually float well with little problem. Where does that leave the rest? The secret is lung capacity. If you aren't the athletic type, you'll need to work on building that lung capacity. You want to figuratively create a stable balloon of air inside your chest. On dry land - how about that pool side chaise lounge or your favorite easy chair? Take the largest breath you can and hold it for about ten seconds. Then keep your chest inflated by letting only a little air out, replacing that marginal amount with fresh. By doing this, you make your center into a large air tank. The laws of physics say you will become more boyant. I learned this to a point I never thought possible. When I was a teen, I couldn't float at all. Then I learned this and practiced it. You can too. Do it until you are comfortable with this new form of breathing. Now get in the pool. Try lying back in the water with your back arched as far as you can. This forces your new air tank (your chest) to the top of the water. Let a little air out and as you feel yourself starting to sink, take in a quick sip of air to replace that which you've lost. Practice, practice, practice. Oh, by the way, the people on the pool deck think you're just sunning yourself. You look cool!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Best Swim Kicking Technique

Before you get excited, I'll cut to the chase and provide the answer to this question. For the most part, proper kicking is based on your personal comfort/fatigue level, but one technique surpasses the other in distance. Here's what I've found (all measurements are based on the number of times my left foot strikes the water). To travel 25 meters, with minimal wall-push-off, I can cover the pool in 40 whip kicks. Fast flutter takes 74 kicks, while slow flutter takes 65 kicks. I found this disparity surprising. The slow flutter is the easiest, and great for a novice. Kicking faster makes you work harder and more! If you are just learning to swim, don't think you'll do better if you flutter real fast. You'll just tire yourself out. Use the slow flutter until you've mastered basic free-style then try the whip kick. The whip kick is just as easy as the slow flutter - if you know how to do it - and you'll go much faster and farther. Here's the way I think of it. It follows the same motion as the flutter kick only it has a longer sweep. Imagine a buggy whip. You pull it back, then send it forward long and gently, but before you get to the end of the forward throw, you give it a quick snap. That's how a proper whip kick works too. That added snap. Try it. See if you can lessen the number of kicks you need to cover an equal distance. Let me know what you find.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Beginner Kickboard Concepts

In recent posts, I've suggested water familiarity, breathing technique, and body positioning. Moving on to kicking will give you a chance to practice all those skills and a couple more. If you've ever seen someone who is skilled using a kickboard, you'll get my drift. These folks can move in a dead straight line and place their face in and out of the water for breathing as needed. Sounds simple enough, but kickboarding is harder than it looks and some people make it harder than it needs to be. First off, let's talk about why we want to use a kickboard in the first place. Using a kickboard repeatedly while you learn, and even after, will help your body develop muscle memory. Kids develop that muscle memory by playing. You've got to do it deliberately. You need to kick when you swim, but it's not something you want to spend a lot of time thinking about. There are too many other things to concentrate on. So learn to use a kickboard and you will develop some critical swimming skills that will come in very handy later on. To start, get a kickboard and get in waist deep water near a pool wall. Before you kick, you should learn to balance. Hold the kickboard flat on the water with your hands on either side. Put it out ahead of you at arm's length. DO NOT lie on it. It's a guide, not a float. Holding your board out in front of you, push off the wall with one or two feet and see if you can maintain a straight line. Choose a target ahead of you and aim for it. As you slow down, put a foot down onto the floor of the pools and push off again. Repeat this over and over until you can go dead-straight with no tips to the left or right. When you are comfotable, try flutter kicking gently. Again, keep things straight. Your body should be torpedo straight. In my next post I'll discuss different kicking techniques and how some are more efficient than others.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Kick It - An Ah Ha Moment

Last summer I was lap swimming and another guy was in the lane next to mine. We were both doing freestyle and I was trying to keep up. He's a much better swimmer than I and occassionally watches my technique and offers tips. That day when we were done, he said I wasn't kicking - at all. This surprised me since I'm a pretty good kicker with a kickboard. I do 1/4 mile or more (400 meters +) with the board each session but apparently just drop it when I've got arms pulling me along. Nonetheless, I caught myself the next day dragging my feet behind me just as he said. I guess it's a good thing that I can swim with only 1/2 of my body. This certainly will come in handy if I'm ever paralyzed from the waist down, but for the moment I've still got four limbs working. Anyhoo, I've focused on the lower half lately during freestyle and found I can improve my speed substantially - duh! The best technique for me seems to be a whip kick. I'll focus on that in my next post. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

About those Olympic Swimmers Swim Suits

Today, we're back shopping again. This time we are going to buy a swim suit. Even if you are a non-swimmer, or novice, I can bet fairly confidently that you own some kind of swim suit. There is a problem though. It something you probably never thought about. Is your suit suitable for swimming (bad pun, I know)? I discovered the serious nature of this issue when I bought a casual (non-lap-swimming) suit and wore it to the pool one weekend. It was attractive enough. Bright yellow, with handy pockets. The color made my pasty white skin look tan even in the early part of the summer! But there were problems too, which I quickly discovered after I took my first two strokes in the pool. The pockets opened up under water, and caught the flow at my waist like a parachute catches air. I bet this single "feature" slowed me down twenty-percent easily. The legs billowed out too, adding even more drag. Now remember in yesterday's post how we want to be sleek and streamlined in our position? We want that in the suit you pick out. You don't have to buy one of those crotch huggers like the Olympians wear (but now you know why they wear them). Just find something that is sleek and avoids any tendency toward billowing. For men I suggest a suit that looks like bicycle shorts. They come down near the knee but are tight fitting (the thigh cut designs are just as good ... and unless you are confident type - or a bit strange - you don't want the tighty briefs). Whatever your choice, you still want to fit in, so just wear them under a regular (billowing) suit and strip off the billowing suit before (or just after) jumping in the water. I do this and just laugh it off when anyone questions me tossing a wet suit up onto the pool deck. I may feign pulling myself out of the water, stop and tell them they'd better just close their eyes (when unbeknownst to them, I've got the second suit on all along). For women, find a suit that is tight fitting, yet allows you to move your arms unrestricted. I've heard some complaints about the models with straps that come up high around the neck. Avoid those to prevent rubbing rash. Still, you want it high enough on the chest to cover any cleavage which can cause significant drag - think about it. The suit should fit snugly under the collar bones with no cleavage exposure (I can't believe I wrote that!). Also avoid any suits that feature dangly trim (e.g., skirts). Once you have your new suit, for fun you might want to try the kick off the wall torpedo drill before and after you've put on the sleek suit. Notice the difference. You'll go a lot farther with the same effort using the sleek suit. See, a good suit matters after all and now you have a perfectly good excuse to go bathing suit shopping - again.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Go How Far? No, Go Farther!

Like the rubber torpedo toy described in the last post, you should make like a torpedo when you swim. Now I haven't described stroke technique at all, so I'm not jumping ahead - of course go right ahead if you are already there. But try this first. It's something I used to do with friends when I was a kid for fun and if you've been keeping up with this blog, you're about ready for this. No, it's not juvenile. If you still can't put your head under without trouble and keep it there (holding your breath), go back and practice the tips I've provided in prior posts. Like my friends and I, you can do this and still look "cool." We sure were (ha ha). OK, hold onto the pool ledge in waste deep water as usual. Put your face in, lie out flat and hold the torpedo position. Practice this until you feel totally comfortable in this position. Come up and put your feet back on the bottom when you need air. When you feel comfortable with this routine see if you can hold the position after pushing off the wall. Go ahead and kick off the wall and go immediately into the torpedo. Experiment. See how far you can go. You may surprise yourself. See what happens when you turn a little bit left or right, even just a little bit - you won't go as far. Choose a goal - a lane in the pool or boey and see if you can kick off, go into the torpedo position and with no subsequent motion of your own, glide to that point. Repeat until you go can unbelievably far. Boy you look cool!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

First Get a Kid's Toy Torpedo

As promised, today we are going to the toy store. When you get there, go to the pool toys area and buy one of those small solid rubber pool torpedos. They are generally available in four-inch and an eight-inch lengths (the one you find may be different from this link). You'll only need one. Buy one or the other (by the way, when we're done, you're giving the thing away - unless you have some other nasty ideas which we don't want to think about). The smaller ones are probably cheaper, but will still get our point across. Now, we're going to the pool, and since we are still trying to learn this stuff without embarassing ourselves, you might want to bring a kid along with you - makes playing with the torpedo a little less unusual, don't you think? OK, take the torpedo out of the packaging and with the toy in your hand, stand in water that comes up to your waist - no higher. Toss the torpedo to your partner (the kid) and see if you can make it go straight. If you can't do it at first, try slapping it down on the water before releasing it. This may take some trial and error. Before long you will get it and it will race through the water like a powered rocket, much faster than you might have imagined. If you've tossed it incorrectly, you'll find that the torpedo goes only a few feet through the water and curls around and falls to the bottom of the pool. What's the lesson here? The torpedo goes fast and sure only when it is going in a straight line. Any opposing forces and it goes wacky. The lesson for applied swimming is the same. Going in a straight path will aid in your swimming. Remember the line you lay down upon in the most recent post? That's the position to take in the pool as you apply your stroke technique. Your energy and effort will not get wasted if you approach your swimming with that straight line position. No varying it, or you'll end up like the mis-thrown torpedo at the bottom of the pool. OK, we're done with the toy. You may now give the kid the torpedo. Come on, give it. Now!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Going Straight At It

If you are still reading these posts, you know that I'm including some pretty strange, albeit straightforward advice. This post focuses on both. I am going to show you the first and most basic thing about swimming straight and forward. I know that's an awful pun. OK, look the space around you. You can be anywhere - but you'll probably want to be somewhere private. Find a place that is at least nine feet long and has a straight line. A carpet break or hardwood floor space works well. Look at that line closely. Imagine you are swimming along that line - not an inch to the right or left of that line - along the line and only along that line. Got it? I'm going to now show you the most basic position in swimming that most every swimming teacher skips. Take off your shoes and lie down on your stomach on top of that line (this is why you want to be alone - yes, I'm trying to help you here). Put your hands out in front of you so each thumb touches one side of the line. Now position your big toes along the same places on the line behind. Is your belly button on top of the line? Your nose? If not, you aren't doing this right. Yes, you should feel ridiculous - you can laugh if you like. OK, you can get up, but remember where you've been. The point of this line thing is that to swim efficiently, one must follow a completely straight line. As you move forward, you cut a line through the water. Any divergence from the straight line presents an unwelcome force that will fight against you as you swim. This arrow you've made with your body cuts through the water most efficiently. This is true for the best swimmers and the worst. In my next post, I'm going to demonstrate this to you. Get excited, we're going to go to the toy store and laugh some more!

Friday, April 07, 2006

How to Breathe Underwater

OK, the title is sort of a ploy to get you to read this blog. But wait! There's always a lesson, kids! Here's one absolutely knockout, cool link that really shows you how to breathe underwater . And here's another that asks why we even bother. I personally think both rule!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Something Like This

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Bend and Snap

Let's be even more cool. If you've got long, straight hair (enough to give you bangs or better) and you're doing the deep breath, dip thing - described in my last post, you might try the ol' move from the Pretty in Pink movie - "bend and snap" - only do it in the pool. Repeat the steps from the post above, but use the face-forward method. Wto hen you are ready pull your head out, do so quickly and let your hair fly back. Very cool. Might even catch someone's eye on the pool deck. Heck, they might even want to jump in the pool with you!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Be Cool, Look Cool, Be Cool Again

If you've kept up, you may recall one of my main premises is that many adults don't bother to learn to swim because the effort required can look very uncool - a real problem given that one of the unwritten protocols of going to any pool is to look like you were born to live in a swim suit. Continuing on from the last post, here's how to look cool and work on your technique. I mentioned hanging on the edge of the pool. Be sure you are in a depth you can stand with your shoulders extending out of the water about three - five inches. Now from a position with your back against the wall, in this order - remember, we're being cool here - take a breath and hold it, close your eyes, remove your sunglasses, step forward one-half step and lean your head back until the water behind you comes up over and covers your face. Stay under about five seconds and come back smoothly on the same track you dipped in. Wait another five seconds and if you are so endowed, push your hair straight back, put your sunglasses back on, and lean back against the wall again. If you've done this all this without inhaling any water up your nose or wiping your face, you are making great progress. Repeat this about a minute later until you have mastered it. If you have trouble with water going up your nose - it happens to the best of us - start out doing this dip face first and work your way up to dipping in backwards as suggested above. Congrats - and by the way, you did look cool!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Take a Shower - Repeat

By now you are probably wondering if this blog is worth your time. If you already are comfortable in the water, this post will most definately underline that concern. Are you ready? This post deals with getting your face wet. Don't laugh - I'm serious. I first discovered the problem of new swimmers getting their faces wet when I was working as a camp swim instructor for the Boy Scouts. One week, I had a bunch of kids from the inner city - kids who didn't swim too often, if at all. I started them off, having them wade into the water and allowed them to get wet. My boss had told me to watch them closely since many had no swimming experience. He was right and they were easy to spot. Almost to a boy, those who had no experience would get their faces wet and then immediately wipe the water off their faces like they had just been splashed in the eyes with paint. They'd blink and keep wiping until they were comfortable again. I was stunned. To me, water on my face was as natural as air. It looked like I had a problem I hadn't ever imagined. I'd have to get them to cease wiping their faces if any of them were going to learn to put two consecutive swimming strokes together. To break them of this, I made up a competitive game of face-dunking. Boys that successfully put their faces in the water and came out without wiping, got to go a little deeper. The power of peer pressure was a thing of beauty. If you are an adult, we have other methods. This only works for wiggly 11-year-olds. Since that time I've seen countless novice swimmers do the face wipe thing. It has nothing to do with demographics. OK, now for the laughable advice - I recommend you beginner adult swimmers take a shower. Put your face in the stream. Get it soaking wet, but keep your hands to your sides or behind your back. Now take remove your face from the stream and open your eyes. Resist any spontaneous urge to wipe your face off. When you are comfortable, put it back in the stream and repeat. If you have some pool lounging time, hang out by the wall and drop your head (or just your face) under water from just a moment and repeat the steps above. You goal is to get comfortable with water on your face whenever it is there. Now practice.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sit Back, Breathe Deep and Repeat

In my last post, I talked about the importance of breathing awareness - how one should learn to understand how one breathes. This awareness will let you logically know when you must breathe and when you can hold on for a while. Panic attacks may become a thing of the past. I practice my breathing each time I do lap swimming, and my wife tells me I even do it when I sleep. As good swimmers prepare for lap swimming it is common to see them rolling their shoulders - to loosen them up. I use that time to take some seriously deep breaths - then, when I finally enter the pool and start my first lap, I see how far I can go without taking my first breath. I've been surprised to see that I get further almost every week. I'm learning to breathe! If you are new to swimming, you can do this too. Get back in that easy chair I spoke of in my last post, and take a deep breath, hold it for about 10 seconds, and exhale. Repeat this for a minute or two. You may find yourself starting to relax. This is normal and part of your "exercise." If you practice this over time, you may find yourself holding on a little longer. Don't push it. That's not the point, and can lead to trouble. Now breathe and relax. That's how we are going to approach stroke technique when we get to that point.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hold your Breath - Here's Something to Think About

One strategy I want to focus on first is breathing technique. If you can breathe regularly (in and out without a respirator) you should be able to breathe easily once you've learned some basics about water fun. If you've ever seen someone who is uncomfortable in the water, the first thing they do when they put their head under for just a second or two is to lift up their head quickly and take a huge breath. Why? These folks certainly aren't out of breath after just a second or two. Something else is at work. Probably some sort of survival instinct. In future posts, we're going to work on that and then learn some simple timing rules so that one can breathe regularly in the water. In the mean time, if you are here to learn something about swimming technique, I suggest you sit down in your favorite easy chair and think about your breathing. Don't laugh - that will screw this all up. Really! OK, are you in your chair? Relax and close your eyes. Notice your breathing cadence, your effort, how much air you are bringing in and letting out. Tonight, tomorrow or whenever you are in the shower, think about these same things. Focus on the ease. Think of something peaceful. If you can build a memory of how breathing feels, when we finally get in the pool, you are going to be much better able to build good breathing technique quickly than if you have not. Now breathe!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Breathing Should Be Easy - Anywhere?

Why is it true, that most people on dry land can hold their breath for 30 seconds or more, but put their heads under water in a pool for the first time and they get out of breath within a matter seconds? The quick answer, I believe, is comfort and habit. I aim to show you that there really is little difference between dry land and the depths of the pool. It's just a matter of psychology. Just think about that for a while and I'll get into it more in my next post.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Why Flounder?

In my last post, I wrote about how learning to swim for adults is entirely different than it is for kids. Some will argue that this is not the case. After all, many adults have learned to swim using the same age-old techniques used for everyone for countless years. That's true. What I posit is that there are easier ways. Ways that use the intellect and reason adults have, that children do not. These techniques I believe, will start the adult-swimming novice off on the right track immediately. There will be the step-arrangement, as in any learning process, but we will skip past some of the more useless embarassing steps that the old-school uses. Think about learning to swim. Chances are, you might have avoided lessons because of embarassment. The steps that will be provided in this blog can be practiced in a pool with dignity. I don 't want you to learn like a flounder. I want you to learn like a dolphin! Hold tight. We'll be starting soon.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Learn Like an Adult, Not Like a Kid

If you've ever watched a kid taking a swimming lesson, you see some pretty common things. They get the kids wet, make sure they aren't afraid of the water, show them how to kick using some sort of floatation device, and eventually break them of the float. What isn't so obvious is what is going on inside the kids' heads - all the brain wiring that is taking place. It's automatic for them. For adults, that automatic processing just doesn't happen. The work around means we must incorporate some very deliberate, very adult steps, to learn. Forthcoming entries will focus on some very odd, albeit important steps in learning to swim as an adult. Like the kids, we will learn to get wet, breathe, float, glide, stroke. The difference is, during the lessons we will learn why we must do certain things. Swimming seems so obvious - because kids can do it - but putting all the pieces together just doesn't happen for adults - the wiring isn't as fast. We will teach ourselves through physical understanding what is going on and why. This way, the student (you, perhaps), won't just jump ahead and learn to swim the wrong way. The worst thing you can do as an adult is learn the wrong way. If you do, you'll end up like all those adults you see in the pools who say they know how to swim, but quite frankly, look like they are almost drowning.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Barrel that Swims Like a Dolphin

Now the title of this blog is "Swimming is Easy" and so far my examples seem to indicate that the only those who can swim easy, are thin people. Fear not my friend. Today I'm going to the other extreme with another fine example witnessed during my morning ritual. Back some years ago, when I was just catching the daily swim bug and still lacking the knowhow to pull any distance without hanging on the wall for a while, I witnessed a fellow lap-swimmer who was not as wall-challenged as I. He was what I would call a machine. He could swim for an hour without so much as lifting both ears out of the water at the same time - a goal I wished for but had no idea how to achieve. Anyhow, this isn't about time in pool - I'll save that for another day. This is about size. I concluded after watching his stamina that there were any number of lessons I could take away. The first was body type didn't matter. This guy was what some might call the short, fat variety of man-dom. He was shaped like a barrel - thick at the top of his chest as he was at the base of his torso, with legs like short logs, yet he moved through the water with grace and style. There was a clear sense of timing and flow. He was in control. I plan to address all these in future posts. So I leave you with this. Anyone can learn to swim. We just need to learn what works for us. This blog will focus on those skills as we go forward. Until next time - being all wet isn't bad at all! - Splashdog

Friday, February 03, 2006

Fluid Dynamics and Body Shape

Last post I mentioned a small, dark skinned girl that I saw swimming several years ago. She was as fast and effortless a swimmer as I have ever seen. As luck would have it, today I saw her when I was coming in to the pool for my workout. She was on "dry land" as some of us call the pool deck - not swimming as she was last time I saw her. She was polite and said hello. I noted she seemed to be of Indian (Asian) descent, was small boned and lanky - not tall, but not short either. She was very thin, had almost no chest in the feminine sense and little in the way of hips. Her shoulders were small as well. In fact, the distance from neck to the tip of her shoulders was much smaller than your average woman. I don't mention this out of derision. No, I believe it may be part of her swimming secret. Despite her lack of muscle and fat (for floating), she made up for it with something else - minimal fluid friction. She was almost shaped like a spear or a dart. Throw a spear into water straight on and watch what happens. Initially it speeds through the water like a rocket, going further than you might expect with minimal applied force. It slows most apparently, only when side forces start influencing the trajectory. In future posts I am going to discuss further about this facet - what I am discovering about fluid dynamics and swimming - with other examples. This is but one real-life example of how shape can influence outcomes. It is but one exciting discovery I have found.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Swims Like a Fish

"Swim like a fish." Those words sound clear enough. "Do what a fish does and you'll move through the water just fine." OK, fine. What kind of fish? Shark? Whale? Blowfish? Jellyfish? My point is deeper than you might think. Each of these moves through the water their own way. Some of them are more efficient than others. Each breathes differently than the next (I think). Each propels itself differently (I'm certain). Now when I watch swimmers in lanes next to me, I see the same thing. Everyone seems to have his or her own style. There's the attorney who swims a couple times a week for an hour at a time - no stops. In my 45 minutes, I usually pass him about twelve times, yet I bet he's getting more exercise than me. He's certainly expending more energy, pulling his head out of the water and bending his body at oblique angles with each stroke. Then there is the small dark-skinned woman I saw one morning - only once, my ego thanks God - who was like a flash of lightening. We'd kick off the wall at the same time and by my third breath (about 2/3rds of the length of the pool), she was already coming back past me going the other way. What is going on here? What was she doing that I had no clue about?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The NBA Pool

Back when I was a freshman in college, I swam laps in a pool in the basement of an old college building used for social events. Few people even knew there was a pool there so new faces were usually a novelty in the lap lanes. One day, one of the varsity basketball players, a near seven foot tall guy who was built like an oak, got in the pool (he later went on to play for the NBA, so you know he was no wus). To this day - 25 years later - I have never seen such a strong man swim. Just moving his huge, football sized hands made waves splash over the pool edge. His kick was powerful too - like one of those boats that push barges up the Mississippi. But despite having the equipment and the power, the man could not propel his body forward much faster than I could crawl along the pool deck. To this day, I've wondered about that. Why couldn't he swim? What skill (or knowledge) did I have that he did not? I didn't know. This blog journal is my life-long attempt to discover that secret. Some have found it, yet it aludes so many others. Hope I can help.