I think I've mentioned I've had a bad year swimming. If not, I have. It's been discouraging, and I haven't been in the pool as much as I should have. I didn't realize until the past few weeks what my problem was.
It started a few weeks ago swimming in Lake Wingra with Matt. He's a good swimmer so I have a tough time keeping up with him on a good day...and this was a bad day. He noticed I tend to cross my arms over in front of my head creating drag so he told me to keep my arms shoulder width apart. It felt like I was swimming wide (if that makes sense), but I was much faster. Most of all, I was much more motivated. I dug deep and we salvaged the workout and finished strong.
Hmmmm...has my problem been form all along? I knew I needed to improve my form; we could all use some work. But I started wondering if I had lost motivation because I was working harder in the water than last year, and going slower.
Let's back up a bit. A few years ago, I could barely swim. So I took a 3 hour clinic held by Lauren Jensen for about $75. She did some video analysis of the whole group and gave a lot of tips and showed us a ton of drills to do. I went back home and got to work and improved a lot. It took a while, but I was swimming about a 1:35 per 100 yard pace in the pool pretty consistently last spring.
I wanted more speed last year, so over the summer I paid a lot of money for one-on-one lessons. I learned some bad habits, and my form changed for the worse. This year, I've been swimming about a 1:40-1:45/100 pace. And working really hard for that.
Last week I got an e-mail from Jessica at SBR Coaching. Jim Vance from Training Bible Coaching was coming to town and giving a free 2 hour lecture on swimming. He was also doing underwater video analysis. $75 for one person - one hour. $100 for two people. I e-mailed a few people hoping I could get someone to split a session with me. Stephen was interested, and we were able to get one of the very last openings (it filled up very fast).
We met Jim at Pinnacle during our lunch break. He had us swim the length of the pool and he took video of each of us from the side. Then we swam again, and he got some video from the front. That's it. That's all the swimming we did. The rest of the hour was spent analyzing the video. The best $50 I've spent on swimming. I highly recommend video analysis if you really want to improve. It's one thing to have someone tell you what you're doing wrong; it's another to see it.
Here's the side view...
I have a lot to improve upon, but the main things are:
- My arms are way too deep. You can see how much drag they create, especially when you watch the front view and see how my left arm starts the pull when I breathe. It's just hanging out there slowing me down.
- No gliding. My stroke is way too fast. I don't glide at all so I never really take advantage of the speed I create with the pull.
- I don't extend my arms enough. Some of this comes from digging so deep into the water. Length in the water is a key point Jim talks about, and when you pause the video you can see I'm not "long" in the water. I'm not using my height to my advantage.
- I do an "S" curve with my arms and rotate my shoulder in the process, thus losing all of the water I was "holding" when I began the catch/pull phase.
- I strain when I breathe (visible on the front view mostly). You should leave one goggle lens in the water, and I clearly do not do that.
Those are the main points I need to work on. There are other little things, but for now that's where I'm going to find speed.
I did my analysis Thursday afternoon and went to Jim's lecture Thursday evening. Great stuff. Everything he said really clicked and made sense. I only hoped that it actually resulted in faster swim times because I've been getting tired of busting my butt in the pool and going nowhere.
Jim focused on 3 points - length, pressure, direction.
Length - meaning you need to be long in the water. Reach. He talks a lot about active reach, which has helped me a lot. He doesn't just say extend your arm. He's saying reach (forcefully). Throw your arm out there with some purpose, and the result is forward momentum and body roll (seriously, it works).
Pressure - This is the catch phase. Most people tell you to "hold water" whatever that means. Jim tells you to feel the pressure against your hand and arm. Pressure - I understand what pressure means. The movement begins with bending your wrist slightly so your fingers are pointing toward the bottom of the pool, then your elbow (so it's high - 90 degree angle) and lastly your shoulder comes into play. He compares it to rock climbing, which is an analogy that helps me a ton in the water. I think about rock climbing now when I swim. You "anchor" your arm (hold water "pressure") and then extend your other arm with force (also using your core) as though you're reaching for the next place on the rock to anchor your arm. This creates body roll and momentum, and then you glide and do it again.
Direction - Every action has an opposite and equal reaction. If you put your arm in the water and do the "S" motion you may have been taught, you're creating a lot of opposing forces. If the first thing you do with your hand when it enters the water is move it to the side - toward the side wall - where do you think you're going to go? Toward the other wall. But that's not where you want to go. You want to go forward. Therefore, all of your movements need to be forward or backward. You put your arm in the water (by the way, you enter the water way in front of you - not by your goggles like Total Immersion teaches - he was big on this and if you watch video of Phelps and other world class swimmers they don't enter by their goggles) with your fingers pointed the direction you want to go - forward. All fingers enter at the same time. Then you pull straight back with as much pressure against your arm as possible.
So here are the things I'm focusing on to improve...
- Length. Keep arms high, and extend. Really extend.
- Arms enter the water shoulder width apart. I've been noticing lately how many people cross their arms over in front of their head. Check it out the next time you're lap swimming. Notice how much drag it creates and how it slows them down.
- Arms enter with force. No more passive reach. Active reach. Create body roll with reach. Be aggressive. This helps create length.
- High elbow on catch. Feel the pressure. Pull arm straight back. Wrist, elbow, shoulder. Like paddling a canoe. No one turns the oar or does a silly "S" curve with it.
- Glide. Create momentum and "don't lose speed." That's what I think when I glide. I try my best to not lose any of the speed I created. Keep the momentum.
- One goggle lens in the water when I breathe. This one is tough for me and will take a lot of time. I'm also working on keeping my head down. You should look down. This raises your hips and minimizes drag. Raise your head and your hips drop.
For right now, those are the main points I'm working on. I've had a week now to make changes to my stroke. I have to admit, reaching aggressively and putting more pressure on my arms is tiring. I'm using my lats more, which is good, but they're a little sore right now.
But the end result is that I'm back to my old stroke, the one I learned at the Lauren Jensen clinic, with improvements. I get into a really good rhythm sometimes (especially when I think about the rock climbing analogy) and can actually feel the speed in the water, which I haven't felt in a long time. I'm motivated, and enjoying swimming a lot more lately. And swimming more. Since the video analysis one week ago, I've swam 7 miles.
Oh yeah, I'm 10-12 seconds per 100 faster in the pool than I was one week ago. I'm consistently swimming 1:28-1:32 per 100 right now. I can't hold that pace for 2.4 miles right now, but if I could that would be a 62 minute Ironman swim. My goal for IMWI 2010 is to swim in about an hour. I'd love to break an hour, but I'd be super happy with 62 minutes. A week ago, it felt impossible.
Now it's time to add flip turns and see if I can drop my speed even more.
The best part...I haven't even started doing the drills Jim Vance gave me to do. I've taken his suggestions, but haven't started on the drills. I'll go into details on those in another post since this one is already way too long.