Monday, January 7, 2013

Breaking it Down

Last Friday we did not have an officially official Masters class. Christine was going to be there and there were a few lanes reserved for us but the official classes were not scheduled to resume until today.

I showed up because I was going to swim anyway so I might as well get a good workout out of it - preferably one I didn't have to make up on my own.

It quickly became apparent that it was going to be a very small group. Very very small. As in me.

So I took advantage of having my own personal coach and asked Christine if we could work on my stroke rather than do a regular workout. She agreed.

She had me swim back and forth a few times and pointed out a few things that I needed to work on. When I turn my head to breathe, I do more of a lift and turn rather than just turn and it is not very efficient. I also have, as she described it, a very precise and efficient stroke that she sees a lot in endurance athletes (who knew?). The problem is that my precise and efficient stroke is compact rather than looonnnng so we were going to work on that too.

We also discovered, during the workout, that I don't roll when I swim. Not roll as in roll over but roll as in rolling your shoulders up and down with each stroke instead of keeping them parallel to the bottom of the pool.

We started by doing a drill where I had to stretch one arm out in front of me, lie on my side and kick my way across the pool. Switch sides, switch arms and kick back. This drill helps reinforce the elongated reach I am supposed to be working on and also helps reinforce the roll that we had not yet realized I didn't actually do.

That went well so we moved on to four-pause (whenever I hear that I always picture it written four-paws and imagine little puppies with oversized paws trying to do the drill). The idea with four-pause is to break down the arm movement in freestyle into four distinct parts so that you can focus on each part separately. The four parts are:

1. one arm extended at the front and one arm behind.
2. the arm behind bends at the elbow and pauses near your ear while the arm in front pauses halfway through the underwater pull.
3. the bent arm stretches out in front and the arm pulling extends behind you (you now look like you did in the first step but with the front arm now in back and the back arm now in front)
4. repeat step 2 with the opposite arms.

This drill forces the swimmer to really pay attention to each part of their stroke.

I was still pretty precise in my stroke (read rigid and stiff) so Christine had me do four-pause again and again but this time, when my arm came up out of the water, I had to wave it to keep it loose. I felt ridiculous. This feeling was reinforced when Doug was leaving after his workout and he waved goodbye with a limp, waving arms.


Finally, with a wicked grin, Christine said she wanted me to swim one-armed front crawl.


"One arm stretches out behind you and stays there. The other arms does freestyle. You're going to hate it so just prepare for that. It's really hard and really really frustrating."


I flipped a mental coin and decided to start with the right arm. I pushed off the side, pinned my left arm to my body and started...and it was FUN! I really liked the feeling of only moving one arm and had no trouble at all figuring it out.

I popped up with a grin and said "I love it - it's really fun!" and the response was "oh, you're one of those crazy swimmers."

Perhaps but it was only fun until I tried with my left arm. After months and months of swimming, I was shocked to find out that my left arm is significantly weaker than my right. So much so that I could hardly propel myself forward and had to lift my head up to breathe for fear of chocking. Good lord.

That's about the time we discovered that I don't actually roll my body when I swim - I just thought I did.

So the workout ended with my swimming 500m of freestyle, broken into 100m repeats which were further broken down into 25m. The first 25m, I had to focus solely on my head position while swimming and breathing, the second 25m, I had to focus on my arm entry into the water. The third 25m I had to focus on my roll and the last 25m I had to swim fast and pull it all together. Repeat five times.

It was not a particular difficult workout compared to the stuff that we normally do but it was really really hard. So many things to think about and so many things to remember all at once. Focus too much on breathing and I forget to roll. Focus too much on rolling and I forget to breathe.

Now let's see if I can remember everything after a weekend off and pull it all together when we resume our regular workouts.


  1. Sounds complicated, yo. :-)

    But very cool to have some 1 on 1 time with your awesome coach!

  2. I swear to g-d that you and I are swimming twinsies. I did drills this morning, working on my extension and my body roll and head position and... Well, you get the point.

    The crazy thing is that--even though I know I need to do them to get better--I hate doing drills. It doesn't feel like "real swimming" to me, even though it's just as tiring. And, without a doubt, there's nothing like doing a drill to bring the flaws in parts of your stroke into sharp relief as you don't move anywhere or breathe in lots of water.

    Let's keep at it, and we'll both be kicking ass and taking names this season.