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!