Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How to Watch a Good Swimmer and Learn

I've mentioned before in this blog that I particularly enjoy watching other people swim. Analyzing strokes has become an obsessive hobby of mine. One might feel watching from the pool deck is sufficient, but I find it completely insufficient. I once heard a coach say, (paraphrasing here) "You don't get any where with your arms out of the water. It's what's happening in the water that wins the race." He's 100 percent correct. You can stand on the pool deck and watch a good swimmer. From there you can see the body positioning, the arm recovery and the first part of the reach, but you won't see what is really making things move. The best place to be is in the water yourself, with your face under the surface. Above the surface, you miss the full extent and angles of the reach, the pull - particularly angles as the arm levers its way through. You'll miss how the face is positioned and how its placement creates a slip-stream to the on-coming water, and you won't get the nuances of the kick. While there is surely plenty I've skipped here, you can't go wrong watching a fast swimmer fly past you in the next lane. You learn quick that way - I know.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Swim Suit Changes Everything

I've begun wearing my drag suit once again. I had stopped for a while since I had noticed a huge drop in my time/lap when I wore it (minimum +2 seconds/lap, often more). Am wearing it again now, twice a week, and am finding it is making a significant improvement on my overall performance. On days I wear it there is that "drag" effect I have to deal with (I hate feeling like I'm being held back). But on alternate days when I wear some other suit (above the knee or above hip), I not only feel like I'm going faster, I am going faster than I had before I ever started wearing the drag suit. I set a personal record for my indoor mile a couple weeks ago and I attribute it almost entirely to the extra effort the drag suit requires. Because it frustrates me so, to go slow, I'm focusing more on my pull and kick. My reach is farther out, my stroke more full and I'm keeping my arms straighter during the pull. This combined with a deeper kick is building muscle I didn't know was even available. Maybe I'll be able to keep up with the former-college swimmers this summer (my never ending quest).

Friday, January 26, 2007

Polar Swim Wear

From time to time I like to post what I'm seeing in fashionable swim wear. Here's what's hot in Antarctica (if necessary, scroll down to the Jan 25, 2007 entry). Thanks Sandwich Girl!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Value of a Symmetrical Stroke

It's not unusual to see people doing freestyle and breathing on only one side. A story I heard about Natalie Caughlin was that she was such a swimmer. Natalie, as you probably know was one of the USA's top female swimmers in 2006 Summer Olympics. While it didn't keep her from setting records, swimming on one side built up the muscles on one side to the detriment of the other. When the coaches suggested breathing on both sides, her stroke improved and so did her muscle symmetry. I'm no competitive swimmer, but I note a distinct speed difference to the better when I breathe on both sides. I had to force myself to learn - with a lot of water swallowing before I got the skill down. In addition, I feel stronger overall after having learned this skill. Finally, I find my stroke is smoother, and I slide through the water faster. I'm swimming symmetrically! Try it yourself. Be sure to give yourself time to gain the muscle memory. You'll be amazed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How to Get into Pool After a Big Meal

A woman who occasionally swims laps at the same time as I once said that the reason she swims is so she can eat. I concur. Usually its after a good swim, but sometimes I eat too much before. When I do, this is what I use to get me into the pool.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gadgets for Swimming I'd Like to See

This past December, the YMCA where I do most of my lap swimming got a slew of new equipment for the workout room. The pool area got some "Hydroriders" which as I understand them are basically stationary bicycles one operates off the floor of the pool much as you might any other stationary bicycle (except with these you get wet before your workout). They have a resistance paddle that spins through the water. Needless to say for us lap swimmers, this isn't much to be excited about. They just take up valuable lane space when they're not spread out on the pool deck. It occurs to me that there are few innovations non-competitive lap swimmers can appreciate. Outside of the non-drag suit, there are only a few others. Some I've seen are the wrist worn underwater stop watch (they are almost ubiquitous among serious lap swimmers), the heart monitor (I've only seen one guy using one of these), the mp3 player (here, I've only heard of one - though I've seen them in ads). I'd like to have a pair of those goggles with the heads-up lap count/pace/distance display I referenced in 2006. I'd like to see every pool add lap counters as standard equipment (why they don't is a mystery to me). For grins, it might be nice to have a couple large screen, flat panel television monitors installed in the floor of my favorite lane (ESPN highlights would work fine without sound). Maybe the people who like attention grabbing, large capital outlays can appreciate that crazy idea. Here's looking to the future!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Breathing - Pushing Past the Wall

From time to time in this blog I've discussed breathing. One time I focused on the need to be comfortable in the water so you can take the time to breathe appropriate to proper stroke technique. Today I was witness to its importance. For point of discussion - and to pat myself on the back - today I set a personal speed record for me for the 25 meter indoor pool mile (sorry but I'm not posting my time, the figure is "personal"). I mention this only because it proves a point I want to make. Today, in the course of all this, I was really moving along and from time to time swimming parallel to other guys who were in lanes next to me. What struck me was how these guys could keep up for a length, and then would have to stop to catch their breath. I just kept on going (fast). Why could I, and they not? Besides the fact that I've trained my muscles to deal with it, I've trained my lungs. I am finding that on distances, when I am really pulling hard, I generally do not feel winded (only when I'm finished do I notice some deep catch-up breathing). So what have I done to permit this? Can't say for sure, but I know for a fact, when I was getting started with distance swimming, I literally forced myself to not stop, even when I felt the urge to do so. I found that I still recovered my breath maybe halfway through the next length - all this, despite still moving. So if you want to swim distances and not be a wall hanger, my suggestion is to try pushing through the urge to stop. See if you really can keep going. It might burn for a second or two, but it evened out for me. Maybe you too? As those TV yoga film stars say, "feel the burn!" PS Only try this if you are in decent physical shape and generally have a quick recovery period (on the wall); otherwise, it could be dangerous. I don't recommend this if you are not a "quick recovery" person.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Day 8 and Going

I've now completed eight days of my "Swim to Hawaii" goal (see profile) and I must say, this is fun. I've set up a spreadsheet to make the calculations and tracking simple. Not shown on the blog are things like my total meters-to-date, number of circular laps, number of lengths, etc. It's fun to see the numbers building. At present, I'm averaging 2,200 meters per day (I usually don't swim on weekends - reserving it for some other physical activity). Looks like, at this pace, the swim will take about 7.5 years. Stay with me now!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

My Plan to Swim from LA to Hawaii

If you've been watching this blog, you may have noted that I've recently added to my profile my swimming goals for the next seven years. Seven years you ask? Yes, I plan to swim to Hawaii! That's right campers. I found that I was occasionally getting seriously bored with the lap after lap thing. Not that I was going anywhere, but I needed a goal and I didn't want to abandon all I had accomplished. So I've set a seven year goal, with intermittent goals along the way. First I'll swim the distance of Lake Michigan's width (88 miles out of Milwaukee). At my pace, I can do that in about 66 days or less. Next is the length of the same. Then there are the more formidable goals - the length of the Mississippi (we can pretend it's upstream), and the width of the Gulf of Mexico. Then to really make this work - swim across America from NYC to LA, and on out across the Pacific to Hawaii. By the way, this is all concurrent (and unofficially, I may already be most of the way there, but for fun, I'm starting at zero). So keep watching this blog. I'll keep you posted on my progress. If you want to join me - this isn't a race - I'll link to your blog. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

No Excuse Other than a Poor Fan Base

My support team was less than enthusiastic to go out to the lake Monday (Jan 1st) morning for Nashville's rendition of a polar bear plunge and I didn't press the issue. Apparently it went off with out me. Everything was perfect as far as I can tell. The water temperature was about 43° and the air temperature was also about 43°. This means that there would've been little difference between standing in the chilly air and getting in the chilly water, although the chilly water would of gotten into my system at some point lowering my body temperature and making me feel colder. I hope I can get the enthusiasm up to do it again sometime in the future. Send me links to your Polar Bear plunges and I'll put them in my blogroll.