Bringing Awareness to your Swim Workout
by Coach Karli
Almost everyone I’ve met over the years has said something like this upon learning about my swimming background: “Oh, you’re a swimmer? You know swimming is such great exercise!” and then they’ll add, “I wish I could do it myself but, you know…it’s just so difficult or I’m terrified of the water or I’ve never been a strong swimmer.” Here is the real story. You can swim too!
Swimming is a sport that tends to be viewed as elitist by the majority of people. You either love swimming or you hate it. You either find it incredibly easy or extremely difficult, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you take the time to learn how your body reacts and moves in the water. Think about it. Where do you spend most of your time? You spend it on land, walking, sitting and breathing. By now you’ve pretty much got the gravity thing down. Now what happens when you go into the water? Now you’ve gone from a vertical position to a horizontal one, hopefully; you might have to fight to get into that horizontal position depending on your body’s natural buoyancy. If you put your face in, you have to learn to hold your breath and breathe through your mouth instead of your nose—something that should have happened naturally has now become something you have to control. No wonder some people have problems with it! That is where having a coach can help you understand what you are doing and what you need to do in the water to let it work for you.
Buoyancy and Body Balance: The first step in learning to swim is to learn how your body floats in the water. Imagine your body as a teeter-totter. Would your balance point be directly in the middle like the ones on the playground? Probably not. Everyone has a different balance point because of several different factors including where they carry more weight and the length of their legs and torso. Depending on these factors, people will have to learn what they need to do in order to float better or remain level in the water while swimming. Do you have long, lean legs that tend to sink no matter what? Maybe you should kick more frequently. Maybe you could get away with less kicking.
The more time you spend in the water, the more you will start to feel how your body reacts to it. Before practice or just after a warm up, if the water is a bit cold, spend some time trying to float on your back and bringing awareness to your body. Start at the toes and ankles. Are your feet near the surface of the water? If you kick, are you able to make small splashes on the surface of the water with your feet? Relax your ankles. Now bring that awareness up to your knees. Your knees should be straight with only a slight bend in them, just as if you were standing up normally. They should not be bent like you are sitting down in a chair. If they are bent, straighten them and bring your feet to the surface. Move up to your quads. Your legs should be almost touching and making a narrow stance. Your hips should be at the surface of the water; if they aren’t, engage the muscles in the small of your back and think about pushing your belly button up to the surface of the water. Keep your core engaged and your shoulders relaxed. Next bring that awareness to your neck and head. Your head should be tilted slightly backward as if you are looking a few feet behind you on the ceiling. There should be a small arch in your neck with your chin pointed upwards. Some people may find that they have to kick slightly to keep their legs from sinking. That is perfectly fine, most people do. Stay in a flotation state for a couple minutes. Breathe normally. Afterwards, you may try a few drills where you can float on your back while kicking down the length of the pool. This will help you to focus before starting your workout.
New triathletes and swimmers will greatly benefit by bringing focus to how your body is feeling during technique work. How often do you go through the motions without really thinking about it? Your workout focus should be quality over quantity. Quality work in swimming is swimming the pace your workout requires without compromising technique. [The pace of a workout depends on the distance you are training for and your current level of fitness].
Should you always have to swim as fast as you can go? No. Should you always have to swim with good technique? Absolutely. Swimming with good technique helps your body to conserve energy, recover more quickly and prevent injury. A swim coach can assist athletes in recognizing good body position and re-enforce proper technique. By pointing out areas for improvement as well as things that swimmers are doing well, the coach can assist the athlete in bringing awareness to their technique.
Karli Wilkinson is a USA Certified Swim Coach with Experience Triathlon Coaching Services. As leaders in the endurance coaching industry, Coach Karli and the Experience Triathlon coaching team help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in training, racing and life. Learn more about Coach Karli and Experience Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com and www.ET-Youth.com.