The Evolving Swimmer: Beautiful Bubbles
Welcome to “The Evolving Swimmer” 6 part series!
Designed for any swimmer who isn’t totally comfortable in the water absent the security of a flotation device, a wall within arm’s reach, or a floor touching their tippy toes. Or maybe you want to add swimming to your fitness repertoire but have reservations.
In this series, you’ll learn how to be comfortable in the water, basic technique for fitness swimming (including a critique of a popular swim method), my favorite drills, my favorite swim workouts that will challenge your cardiovascular system, and land training to improve your swim strength.
I will share the number one on-line most awesome swim instructional site! A swim coach at your fingertips with endless resources to help you become a great swimmer!
I’ll touch on open water swimming and techniques I’ve used in triathlons as a mid-pack swimmer (the most challenging place to be!). If a triathlon is on your bucket list OR if you’ve panicked in open water, this series is for you.
Mention swimming and people have strong reactions. Prompting sudden unpleasant memories.
Did you have a childhood friend who forced your head under water and wouldn’t let you up? At least not until his arms got tired and then you surfaced gasping for air with a look of terror on your face.
My brother, 8 years older, preferred a game called “Twist-a-grip.” I never wanted to play, mind you, but before I could say “No!” my ankles were already in the death grip. Much like a basketball thrown at your face in a pick up game. Better react fast or get pummeled by the dudes who actually want to play.
Once my ankles were gripped by the power of my brother’s ankles, my panic mode engaged. Experience taught me to inhale ASAP as if it was my last breath. “Twist-a-grip” is like quicksand except in water. The instigator wraps his bony ankles around both of your ankles, goes underwater forcefully, and twists like a tornado. Been to a rodeo? Ever seen a calf roping? I was the calf and my brother was the cowboy. (Give me a sec- I’m having trouble breathing right now!)
I fully understand why swimming intimidates many folks. If you’re one of those people, you are not alone. There are superstar athletes who suffer severe emotional distress in the water. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
On the flip side, swimming is a beloved sport. No matter your age, physical condition, or fitness level, anyone can swim. The weightlessness of the water protects your joints and cushions force.
Don’t think you can get a challenging cardio workout in a pool? Think again. Precisely because the water protects your body from pounding hard surfaces, it opens the door to more rigorous cardiovascular challenges. When I trained for my first full Ironman triathlon, my hardest cardio workouts were in the pool. And that’s comparing to 115 mile bike rides and 23 mile runs! I cried plenty of tears from exhaustion inside my goggles.
The first step to becoming a happy swimmer is to replace fear with tranquility.
Start worrying about speed or technique before you’re at ease in water and you’ll end up frustrated, panicked or worse, in danger.
5 Pathways to Tranquility in the Water
Master them in order without the aid of any flotation device before moving on.
The sole purpose is to relax and allow the water to hold you. Learn to trust the water for support. Form isn’t important. Only even breathing and allowing your arms and legs to do whatever they please.
If necessary, start on a flotation mat. Work toward turning the mat sideways so only your upper body remains on the mat.
The only way to avoid sinking is to keep your shoulders and head back and relaxed. A tense neck and upper body will immediately drop your legs to vertical.
Dead Man’s Float
Float on your stomach allowing your arms and legs to dangle toward the bottom of the pool. Hold your breath and allow your inflated chest to keep you on surface. The goal is to relax with the water surrounding your entire face.
If needed, place a flotation noodle under your arms and lean over that initially.
Not only is treading water a good workout for anyone, it’s a safety skill and will increase confidence in the water. Work up to 3-5 minutes constant. Use gentle but large leg and arm movements. Tension will make this exercise harder. Large, relaxed, flowing movements will increase your endurance without increasing effort.
Practice in shallow end first by blowing bubbles out your nose as you squat under water. Practice bobbing up and down without getting any water up your nose. If you can do that, then go to deeper water and bob more forcefully by using your legs to jump. Work up to 25 in a row with explosive action.
At shallow end, take a deep breath and submerge underwater with your eyes closed. Let your body go limp. Count to 10 and slowly exhale out your nose just a little and hold for another 10 seconds. Keep doing that until you’ve exhaled enough that your body has sunk to the bottom. Try and perfect this skill until you’re sitting at the bottom and still able to hold your breath another 10 seconds. Again, tension is your enemy.
The purpose of this pathway is less breath control and more about relaxing enough to successfully do it. Total immersion in water can provoke panic. Even though swim strokes do not require total immersion, being comfortable with this skill will make you a more confident swimmer as you move forward.
I taught swimming through high school and was a water safety instructor in college. I’ve been a certified scuba diver since I was 14. I’m not the fastest swimmer and never swam competitively until adulthood. I’m an endurance swimmer who can swim for hours at a slow pace without fatigue. How? Because I am as comfortable in the water as a mermaid:-).
I have attended camps with experienced triathletes, men and women, who panic when entering frigid water. The colder the water on your face, the more your body will seize up by reflex. My ability to control my heart rate and reflexes, no matter what the circumstances, all began with mastering these skills I’m sharing with you.
One last note of advice. Never wear a nose clip! (Unless you plan on synchronized swimming!). Like a child sucking his thumb, this habit is extremely hard to break.
Until next time, take the plunge!