Let's step inside a time capsule and take us back to 2005 ,when a young 45-odd kg Juan decided it was about time he knew how to swim. While it began as a simple case of how do I put on my goggles, what the hell is this latex cap and my nether regions feel mighty exposed in these teeny tights - it soon grew to swimming with the 'sharks', the top swimming class in my little hometown pool! Needless to say, by the time swimming carnivals rolled around in high school they were always a blast, highly contested between myself and other top swimmers and we revelled in having days off school by going to regionals and state swim meets. Ahhh youth.
On the other hand, I never grew to be a fan of the countless hours, looking down at the black line, swimming lap upon lap before the sun had even decided to peek over the horizon. Sure, there where times right at the beginning of my swimming days where the punishment imposed by my family was to *shock* NOT go to a swimming practice for being a naughty little Juan, but that was short lived love. By the tail end of my swimming days, it was seen as a nice break to not have to get up and do one more damn tumble turn.
So why the hello?
Well wouldn't you know it, I've come back for more punishment enjoyment in the form of staring down at the black line on the pool floor and turning my head side to side until my ears get blocked up with water. In all truth, I've been swimming on and off (key focus on off) all these years but as part of my latest yearly goals the idea of getting back to swimming a proper distance reared its head. Could I get back to swimming 1km before I turned 30?
So hello swimming, my old friend. Here I am going to throw in what tips and tricks I've managed to gather, from personal experience and research done this month to help me achieve this 1km swim.
But we always need some sort of baseline, so how does my 86kg (nearly double my 2005 size) pierce the water? Well let's think of it less piercing like a sharp boat but rather like pushing the water out of the way like a thick tug boat. Here are some numbers on my first swim this year where I totalled an appalling 250m of swimming, NOT in a row. Yikes. We got some work to do.
Tips and Tricks
Keep the toes pointing backwards and your ankles flexible
Sounds sensible, for one this increases the amount of surface area available to actually provide propulsion forward. On the other, it reduces the amount of drag through the water if you had toes pointed directly downwards, try it sometime you'll see what I mean. The biggest one here was ensuring that the ankle joint was mobile enough, to allow a natural flipper like motion through the water. A few ankle stretches as part of my normal workout routine helped out tons here.
This isn't a kicking contest
Let's keep it simple here, because we could easily loose ourselves in the weeds of timing our kicks correctly and the differences between a 6 beat and 2 beat kicking pattern. In essence, SLOW DOWN YOUR KICKING, counter to what many would believe, it really is your arms and upper body that carry you forward while you swim. Try putting a little buoy between your legs and swim freestyle, the speed doesn't drop as much as you would imagine. In medium to longer distances, its fine to let those feet slow down and help you shape up correctly in the water than be a main source of propulsion. I struggle with this because I am a "balls to the wall" type of individual with any sport, so conscious effort was certainly needed here. If you want to look into it more, specifically it was forcing myself to swim at a two beat kicking pattern.
What the Swolf?
Swolf: The combination of your stroke count and time taken in the water over a specified distance - measures your swimming efficiency.
Now let's look at another critical equation in swimmng:
Swimming speed = Stroke Length x Stroke Rate
Bring these together, and what you want to see in longer swims is greater swimming efficiency, that is a lower strike rate at a reasonable speed. To accomplish that, we would need our Stroke Length to be higher to help us achieve said speed/time. A focus for me in swimming 1km or more was to focus on a slower stroke rate but a longer stroke, and equally more propulsion per stroke. This helped to keep a good efficiency in swimming speed and energy conservation.
First time, the best time
Likely a more personal one, so take this as you will for yourself, but I found that swimming the longer distances right off the cab was better than attempting to do any sort of warm up swims. This likely had a lot to do with being warm already (either walking to the swimming pool or working out beforehand). Overwhelmingly for myself, my shoulders gassed out quick during any swim so having them as fresh as possible for the longest swim achievable was critical.
There are very good reasons why swimmers don everything they can to keep themselves as slippery as possible when in the water. The more slippery, or less friction, while swimming the easier it is to pass through the medium. Duh. What I will say is when you are looking to do longer swims, unless you are here for setting new local or global records, and if you are and are reading this let me tell you are in the wrong place, then stick to something that's comfortable and let it rip. What I would suggest is some goggles. Why? Well in part when it comes to swimming you want to have your head in a nice, central and downward facing position for a large majority of the swim, aside from breathing. Why put yourself through the misery of a) eyes that sting or b) some uncomfortable upward facing head position that takes away from your efficiency.
Swim like a loner
When you are going to get out there and attempt a longer swim, whether that is in the pool or open water, try and find a space that isn't going to be polluted with other humans in your lane. Eww. But in reality, if you are having to undertake a longer swim and have to stop every so often to let others pass, you pass others, stop for a boat or play tag mid swim then your energy is surely going to go to waste when it could be better placed in getting you through the swim. Get a space of your own, unless you are racing.
Learn how to blow
What would you think is the most important part of the breath in swimming. The inhale? How very wrong of you - who needs oxygen. More specifically, the most important part is actually the exhale. While you are head down in the water, cutting shapes, you should be in a continuous game of blowing out that air from your lungs, cycling through a few arm strokes before taking a breath. The better you can fall into a steady rhythm of blowing air out and making time for an efficient inhale of air, the better and more monotonous your swim will become. And that's a good thing.
Longer swims take more time. Shock and awe. And what are you to do during that time? Remember 1km might take me 20 minutes, or take you 15 minutes, or maybe even way more than that. One thing I do tend to find myself doing during the early laps is a good focus on the stroke length, on the right kick rhythm, the proper exhaling of the breath and deep inhales. After a while though, you want that to become the norm, and for you to sink into an almost meditative state. One where the laps can pass on by while your mind drifts in and out of focus, settling in for the long swim. Think of it as a gentle meditative session, well... Maybe not gentle.
As we saw earlier, I began with barely getting a quarter of the way to my goal - with stops! The following is a sequence of progressions of my swim attempts. Bare in mind there was probably an additional 15 minutes of swimming each session that I didn't properly record (small 25m sprints here and there).
Until finally, with 8 hours left for the month to tick over into February, encouraged by the appearance of a warm evening sun, the following swim popped out of the box.
So is it goodbye again?
Not quiet. Swimming this month has brought back a renewed joy I had long since forgotten. The joy of being in a cool liquid during the hot summer days. The joy of improving dramatically swim after swim. The joy of zoning in the back end of the swims, specially in the 1km swim where the second half was spent day dreaming about life, breathing and the little black line at the bottom of the pool.