Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back to the Drawing Board

This week, for the first time since I started swimming, I did not add ten lengths to my morning workout.  Last week I hit sixty lengths (1500m) and I figure that's a pretty good distance to work with.  Now my goal is to get better at swimming 60 lengths.  I want to complete the distance in less time and I want to work on pushing my body to work harder rather than pushing it to work longer.

I tried pushing harder this past Monday and discovered (yet another) unexpected challenge.

Panting + swimming = a lot of stopping.

After a few years of running, I have learned how to listen to my breathing and judge how hard (or not hard) I was working.  I would speed up or slow down as needed and it all worked fairly well.  I didn't have to stop running if I was panting, I could just slow down.  Because no matter how laboured my breathing was, I never had to worry about when to inhale.  That's one of the benefits of exercising on land.

The problem in the pool is that you can't breathe whenever the hell you want to breathe.  You breathe when your mouth is not under water - or pay the consequences.

So, I began to experiment.  Here are the things to keep in mind:

- I want to get comfortable breathing every third stroke so that I can alternate between my right and left side.

- I want to get faster and be able to push harder in the pool.

Here are the problems:

- the faster I swim and the harder I push, the more oxygen I need.  Instead of exhaling nice and slow, tilting my head and taking a deep breath, and then exhaling again - I was now exhaling quickly, then holding my breath until I hit the third stroke and then gasping in as much air as I could.

With each length of the pool it got harder and harder to breathe so every fourth length I had to stop to catch my breath before I could start over again.

Correct me if I'm wrong Jeff but I'm under the impression that, during an open water triathlon swim, one cannot stand up every 100m to catch their breath.  

I then tried a completely different approach.  I decided to stop trying to swim faster by kicking faster and moving my arms more quickly.  Instead, I would focus on making every move more deliberate.  Pulling the water with my arms.  Kicking efficiently with my legs.

Keeping in mind of course that I really have no idea what efficient kicking and effective arm movements are...

...if anyone is agonizing over a Christmas gift for me, a few sessions with a personal swim coach might not be a bad idea...

So I focused on good arms and good legs. I moved better through the water (I think anyway) but it dragged out (by mere nanoseconds I'm sure) the amount of time it took to complete three strokes.  So, even though I wasn't panting as much from exertion, I was still struggling with the amount of time between breaths.  I didn't have enough air in my lungs to exhale for as long as I needed to exhale and, once the air's gone, I need to inhale ASAP.  I'd gasp as soon as my mouth broke the water surface and felt constantly out of breath.  I ended up stopping every 100m again to calm my breathing down so I could resume.

Swimming 1500m in 100m stretches with 30 second standing breaks between each stretch is not my idea of a really good workout.  Yes, I'm panting but not so much from exertion as from the fact that my breathing is all screwed up.

I learned how to run and then, once I figured that out, I had to relearn everything so I could learn to run better, faster, stronger.

I learned how to cycle and, after an enlightening chat with Scully last night, discovered that I'm going to have to relearn how to cycle so I can be better, faster, stronger.

Now I've learned how to swim but feel like I need to hire a swim coach to help me unlearn it all so I can do it better, faster, stronger.

Good lord, it's amazing that I learned how to walk as a child isn't it?

1 comment:

  1. It's true that there's no pool wall in most triathlons. You can certainly switch to a different stroke or roll onto your back and rest if you need, though you might have people swimming over you.

    Mon amie, I have a few thoughts. One can help you reduce your overall time right away but only to a certain point and only in the pool, while the rest should help you in the long run. (Bear in mind that I'm not a super-awesome swimmer and that I'm still working on a lot of these myself.)

    First, if you want to get from one end of the pool to the other faster, consider working on your turn. You don't have to be all cool and do a flip-turn; they will probably leave you feeling more breathless, and even I don't do them now. But you might work on making your open-turn more efficient. Get close to the wall before turning, square up before planting your feet, push hard with your legs, keep your hands out in front of your head, glide as far as you can underwater, and don't start your next stroke until you break the surface with your head. I find that the turn is often the fastest part of my journey from one end of the pool to the other.

    But like I said, that's not a good way to keep reducing your time or to help with breathing.

    If you don't already, breathe out underwater. If you can, try exhaling through your nose. This way when you're ready to take your next breath, you'll be ready and can get more air, which should help.

    Also, you haven't been swimming for a super-duper long time. As your arms and core get stronger, they'll use oxygen more efficiently and you won't feel so tired during your swim. Hard work and patience, grasshopper.

    Finally, efficiency. As you suspect, that's where it's at. This is the hardest part. I'm working on it, and it's going agonizingly slowly. Ultimately you don't want to swim harder; you want to swim easier: gliding longer, having better hand entry, starting your stroke from your core, staying slippery and straight, getting a better push from your stroke, etc. I can recommend some drills, and there's a lot of videos showing what to try on YouTube.

    Oh, and relax! A relaxed head and body means that you aren't using as much oxygen to keep core (and other) muscles doing their thing. That means more for your swimming muscles.

    Good luck, and keep swimming!

    BTW, for the most part, you don't really need to use your legs except to help maintain your body position with a little flutter kick. As "proof" of this, many people I know are faster when using a pull buoy than when swimming with their whole body. I'm not sure why you see so many people with kickboards churning up their lane.