New Book: The Grownup's Guide to Swimming Faster - Chapter 1
As promised, I will post most excerpts of my next book (to be released as an ebook fairly soon) here. Partly to reward the loyalty and enthusiasm of Forum members. But also, selfishly, to seek feedback from the most thoughtful group of swimmers -- the prototypical surrogates for the audience I hope to find with this book. Here's Chapter 1.
I'm anxious to receive feedback and constructive criticism which I am certain will result in a far better end product.
The Grownup’s Guide to Swimming Faster
Age has its perks. Swimming smarter ought to be one of them. Stop training like a kid. Instead of relying on capabilities that peak in your teens and 20s, work with the stuff that gets better with age.
Why We Need Speed
Not everyone cares about swimming faster. Actually I have little idea what percentage of those who do swim worry at all about how fast they’re going. Or even have much idea how long it takes them to complete, say, a mile. The typical beginner is too concerned with just making it across the pool to worry about how fast. And it’s likely that many lap or fitness swimmers give little thought to lap speed, being focused mainly on completing their appointed 30 or more minutes.
What percentage of runners and walkers time themselves? I’m not sure but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it’s relatively few. So it may be with fitness swimmers.
Still, those ubiquitous pace clocks hang on pool walls for a reason and it’s not just competitive swimmers using them. The motivation to swim faster comes from two experiences or desires – Racing the Clock, and Racing Another Swimmer. I don’t mean racing literally, but the effect is similar.
Racing the Clock: For many swimmers, once they have the basic skill to swim without stopping at each wall to catch their breath, it becomes natural to measure progress by (a) how far they can swim in certain period -- often 30 minutes to an hour; or (b) how fast they can complete a given distance -- usually between 200 meters and a mile. Aiming to improve is unquestionably a healthy instinct. And few can think of ways to measure improvement beyond time-for-distance.
Racing Another Swimmer: This often occurs semi-innocently -- possibly while trying to squeeze another 50 yards into your 30-minute lap session. You take a breath and there’s someone right there one lane over. They’re passing you, but not so fast that you can’t entertain thoughts of staying with them. Race on! Or, as happens to thousands each year, you do your first triathlon and have the disconcerting--and often harrowing—experience of being left behind by nearly everyone around in the swim leg.
We seldom think of these as related, but we face a common problem when racing the clock or another swimmer. We can’t control our ‘opponent,’ but we focus on the opponent, not ourselves. And one of the most common causes of frustration and anxiety is focusing on things we can’t control. When we feel frustration or anxiety, our response is nearly always emotional or instinctive rather than rational. And as we’ll repeatedly see, human instinct is a poor guide to better swimming.
Swimming Faster: First Attempts
Whether it’s one swimmer passing by in the next lane, or dozens in a triathlon, our natural response is never coolly analytic. Rather, we do what comes naturally: Pull and kick faster and harder. Instinctive responses work on land – because humans are terrestrial mammals. They don’t work in the water. Terrestrial mammals have poor instincts in an aquatic environment.
Case in point -- what happens when we want to run faster. What do race horses, greyhounds, lions on the savanna, Usain Bolt, Paula Radcliffe and most of the 1.1 million who ran a half or full marathon last year have in common? According to video analysis, all members of the animal kingdom that have evolved with a natural running ability maintain relatively constant stride rates (how fast the legs move) at a variety of speeds. When they want to run faster, all lengthen their strides.
Human swimmers–the aquatic equivalent of fish out of water--do just the opposite. Arms and legs go faster. Strokes get shorter. I.E. They cancel each other out. We work much harder but gain little speed, and before long, we’re hanging on the wall panting. That’s when we go in search of coaching.
New Book: the Grownup's guide to Swimming Faster
Hi Terry, Pat from Australia
I think your opening remarks could include a little more.
Age has its perks. Swimming faster through swimming smarter ought to be one of them. Instead of relying on capabilities that peak in your teens and 20s, work with stuff that gets better with age. Age better with stuff that works.
I haven't had time to think through the rest but will be back in touch later.
The age better with stuff that works is intrieging and will lead into the aging well factors associated with mindful swimming.
Perhaps another motivation could be that swimming faster is more fun.
You need a certain speed to establish a rhythm that leads to that exhilarating feeling of flow state, to me at least.
(I'm sure you can articulate this much better than me)
I'm sure this will come up in your writing later but, a few examples of elite swimmers who swim fast but exert to much wasted effort would help me. What I mean is, you have already shown examples of Usain Bolt and Paula Radcliffe striding down the road in track shoes, please give an example of someone in the pool who is fast but extends to much wasted energy. I'm excited about tis idea keep it up!
I'll probably avoid calling out examples of bad technique by name. No need to raise hackles unnecessarily. On the other hand I will give credit where due.
Pat - Those two opening sentences weren't meant to be exhaustive on the question of what it means to age better. There will be at least a chapter on that topic, and countless allusions all through.
Aerogramma I'll be giving many benefits and motivations for swimming faster in a later chapter, which addresses a higher purpose - beyond having a best time of say, 25 rather than 26 minutes for 1.5k - for seeking to swim faster.
Lou - I will.
All - Thanks for your interest and feedback. Keep it coming and so will I. Hoping to add to it at the rate of a chapter a day. Most chapters will be similarly succinct - i.e. 800 or so words.
A friend at the pool had a term for trying to beat someone in a lane near you. He called it "secret racing," referring, of course, to the fact that they are not aware that you are racing them. I'm quite certain it is common.
In sailing we say 'two boats and it's a race'.
I remember being very amused by reading that Dara Torres had realized she needed to get back into competitive swimming when she was swimming while pregnant ( for health reasons) and found she couldn't resist racing the swimmers in the next lane.
In the pool that I swim at there are two relatively fast swimmers, who both swim non-stop for about an hour and cover about 2,500 meters. One of them claims to have no competitive instinct at all, but the other says that if he swims faster than him for a length the other chap just speeds up. It must be deeply ingrained in the human psyche.
I swam next to Dara Torres, in adjacent lanes, at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex many mornings between Dec 6 and 17. The Masters finished at 0730 and the "National Team" started at 0800. I would get in the end lane about 0740 and swim until about 0850. Dara got in next to me most mornings when the national team started. She's very fit, but I'm not sure how fast at the moment. She spent an awful lot of time doing what I refer to in my current blog series, reviewing the usual lot of training tools as the 'cake recipe' approach to workout planning.
First she'd swim with fins.
Then she'd swim with paddles.
Then she'd swim with a snorkel.
Then she'd swim against the resistance of a rubber tube.
The recipe seemed to be displayed on a piece of paper plastered to the pool wall in her lane.
Same unimaginative routine, day after day after day. The Masters group did much the same thing.
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