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From Adult Non-Swimmer To Swimmer - One Mans Journey Vol.2 Pt.4

Last time we read about Peter's swimming adventure at Lady Elliot Island and learned about his fear of treading water Today we learn about Peter's venture into adult Squad.

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When I Returned To Melbourne

When I returned to Melbourne I was back in the pool and was now just trying to build up my distances in the pool. I could easily do 500 Mtrs (20 laps) in a session, and was working towards reaching 800 Mtrs.

During these weeks I started to regularly meet swimmers who were members of the “Alligators” adult swim squad. These guys were all pretty good swimmers and were carving up the pool everytime I saw them. They kept telling me about the “Alligators” and that I should come down one night, and try it.

One day I met by chance Geoff, who was President, and he persuaded me to come even though I felt was I not going to be up to it. He said I would not feel intimidated and that they would make me feel at home and that I was competent enough and I would improve more quickly if I joined their sessions.

I turned up the following Thursday and met about 12 swimmers. I immediately felt welcome and at home even, though I knew I was the weakest swimmer in the group by far. We also had a very experienced swim coach Jan, who would call out sessions and instructions, and also give us individual coaching, walking up and down the side of the pool.

I Was In The Slow Lane

I was in the slow lane with about four other swimmers. There was also a medium lane and a fast lane. At first we had to use the kickboard, which I have always struggled with. We had to do four laps face down and four laps on our back, then there were various medleys of backstroke and breaststroke, which I managed to do OK. We could take a 30 second break between laps and I took this opportunity every time. I also skipped a few laps from time to time to fully recover. No-one minded me doing this and they were all aware I was a beginner. I was really enjoying this and found swimming with a large group of more experienced swimmers was a good incentive for me to try to keep up and improve. Jan was also invaluable with her tips and was very encouraging, so too were the other swimmers.

We were then instructed to swim freestyle laps and immediately I told Jan this was my weakest stroke. She asked me to show her my freestyle, and after she saw what I could do (not), we had a chat, and further explained to her what my issues were with breathing, raising my head when turning it to breathe, and my straight arms etc. etc. She gave me some advice, namely to stay relaxed and to really get that opposite arm out straight when I was turning my head to breathe and just stay longer in that position. Virtually, leaning my head on my extended arm. She also wanted me to glide for a while every time my hands entered the water and reach out further with my hands at 30 degrees before taking a stroke.

From Adult Non-Swimmer To Swimmer: An image of a male swimmer, doing freestyle, viewed from under the water
Peter's Swimming Adventures
All this was quite a bit to take in, however, I concentrated on what she said, and to my surprise I managed to get half way down the pool and got a number of good breaths in, and was less stressed than normal. “Keep going, don’t stop” Jan said, and I managed to get up and back using this method. The main comment Jan made at the end was to always remember to “slow down, slow down, stay relaxed and stay long”. She thought I was going really well, and by the end of the one hour session, I felt I had achieved a lot and had decided that I wanted to join up and become an alligator.

My Second Session With The Alligators

The following week I went to my second session with the alligators quite fired up. It turned out to be a really tough night. It seemed that the various laps and circuits Jan had planned were more difficult than the previous week and I was exhausted and struggling to keep up with everyone else in the slow lane. We then had to do butterfly which I could do OK with flippers but Jan wanted me to try it without. While the others were doing butterfly she gave some instruction on the dolphin kick, which I then practiced. She stressed that the action was all from the hips, not just the legs, and she got me to practice kicking only under water, which I managed to do OK. I kept practicing this for the next few weeks, before starting to incorporate a stroke.

We practiced a drill where we only used one arm for butterfly down the pool and the other arm back. This was very hard, a killer drill. I managed to do it, but I felt I had nearly swallowed half the pools water along the way. As I said I really struggled with this second Alligators session but I was still committed to keep going, and come back the following week. The other members noticed how exhausted I was at the end and all gave me words of encouragement, which really helped me mentally.

The following week, I kept practicing my dolphin kicks without flippers and on Saturday’s lesson with Zoltan I decided that I wanted to learn the full butterfly stroke, but I knew that without flippers on I could not do it with two kicks per stroke. Zoltan made me do the old drill of two to three dolphin kicks then breaststroke, for a lengthy time in that session. He then instructed me to do two dolphin kicks and change the breaststroke to a butterfly stroke. This seemed to work, but I was going nowhere, just going up and down in the same place. My kick was not strong enough, and my arms were not coming fully out of the water at the end of the stroke. Zoltan said “flex your legs from your hips not your knees, and have a more stronger hip movement, and a whippy kick”.

Dolphin Kick Action Was Like “Making Love”

Some weeks earlier, someone (who will remain nameless), told me that the dolphin kick action was like “making love”. I told him, that I assumed this terminology must have been used strictly for adult lessons only and could not be part of children’s swimming lessons curriculum. He smiled and agreed. By the end of the lesson, I was gradually starting to move forward with my butterfly and my coordination between the two kicks and stroke was coming together. I could do half a pool length and my next challenge was to make a full length. I was really pleased after this lesson, and I had a lot of fun with Zoltan.

At the next Alligators session, I completed all the circuits that were set until we got to the freestyle part and I told Jan I felt I was still struggling. “Here try the pool buoy” she said, “it will help you concentrate on your stroke”. Little did she know that I had used it in my early days and hated it. I felt when I used it, it lifted my legs too high and that was making me nose dive into the water, but this was in the early days when I still had a fear of the water. So I tried the pool buoy straight away without thinking of my earlier issues, and I successfully made it all the way. I really enjoyed using it. I used it also for backstroke. I continue to use the pool buoy in my swimming sessions as it is building up and strengthening my stroke.

I really wanted to work on improving my freestyle again, so I worked hard on this during Nov and Dec 09, in both my lessons and my swim squad. Jan was getting me to focus on being more relaxed and slowing down my stroke, as well as bending the arms more at the end of the stroke, with the arm entry at a 30 Deg angle and extending the arm and gliding before taking the next stroke. Also to focus on keeping my head down and keep it straight and still. To get my arm entry right, Richard said I should think that I am “spearing the fish”. In other words push my arm into the water and through in a straight line. That really helped. I was also told about the zipper (bending my arm). Maintaining a streamline position was important, as well as rolling the shoulders and rotating the body. I needed to work on incorporating all of this more into my natural stroke. Gradually, I could feel all of this was starting to come together naturally and I was managing to get more consistent distance with my freestyle and with less stress. I think I will be able to focus on doing far greater distances in the next 12 months.

During one of the Alligator sessions, Jan was instructing us on the proper arm action for backstroke, and after she did this, I realized my arm action was wrong. I effectively had a “windmill action” in other words, my arms were perfectly straight above the water, and straight below the water. (It was never picked up in my earlier lessons as it is hard to see this from above the water). Whilst this worked for me and it was comfortable it was not as effective or efficient as it should be. The correct action is for my arm to be just below the water, then bend to a horizontal position and push back the water as hard as possible, back to the side of the body, then straighten up to come out of the water and over again. This combined with good shoulder rotation producers far more power out the stroke as you get more of your shoulder leveraging and into the stroke. With the arm extended straight down under, the shoulder has little or no leverage, and therefore the stroke produces less power. I was finding it hard to break my “windmill action” as it was comfortable and now very well programmed into my head, and it worked quite OK for me, but I wanted to correct my action and get to next level with my backstroke.

Description About Correct Backstroke

After Jan’s description about correct backstroke, I told her what I was doing wrong, and she quickly knew what to do and with a smile said “OK Peter, try this !”. With her many years of experience Jan was quick with good advice. She got me floating on my back up against the lane rope, and asked me to put my opposite arm just down by the side of my body, as the arm next to the lane rope was going to do all the work. With a normal backstroke kick, she asked me to bring my arm out of the water as I normally would, straight over and when I reached in front of my head as the arm entered the water again I grabbed the lane rope with my hand and pulled and then pushed it back strongly all the way until my arm was level with the lower part of my body. I continued the drill for the length of the pool and swapped arms coming back. This drill was effectively getting my arm into the right stroke position under water and I found it very helpful and quite easy to do. I noticed an immediate improvement in my stroke action and extra effortless power I was able to generate from each stroke.

I am now continuing to focus on slowing down my backstroke arm action. It has always been too fast. Jan also keeps getting me to concentrate and accentuate good shoulder rotation and together with this ensuring that all kicks are sideways as the shoulders rotate into the stroke and not straight up and down. I really like doing backstroke. It is the most relaxing stroke and I feel this is my most competent stroke for now.
That covers everything I have done in last 14 months and for calendar year 2009. What a great year. Next on my list for 2010 will be learning to dive into the pool and tumble turns, extending my distances for all strokes, swimming more in the sea, as well as trying and engaging in more fun water activities.

For now I am remaining focused on thinking about my swimming in the following way :-
“Stay long & streamlined, remain strong & relaxed, arms loose.
Go slow & steady, glide & breathe well, & keep going !”

Next time Peter reviews his thoughts and mental analogy towards swimming.


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