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jmfisch409 12-03-2008 02:45 AM

Striving for mediocrity
 
I am a 56 year old runner and Ironman triathlete in excellent aerobic shape, very comfortable in the water, but a horribly slow swimmer, consistently placing in the last quartile in long-distance races since I started Triathlon in 2006: 45 minutes for 1.2 mile swims and about 90 minutes for 2.4 miles - breathing heavily the entire way. If I could just be a mid-pack swimmer and do the 2.4 mile swim in about 70 minutes, I'd be a threat to qualify for the Ironman Championship in Kona.

I have taken 15 months of masters swim workout/classes and several private classes, a one-day private class at your studio in New Paltz, and I have just about every one of your DVDs and Books (FME, O2 in H2O, Triathlon swimming made easy) . Throughout 2006-7, I practiced the drills regularly - but no improvement.

Being a horrible swimmer with lots of room for improvement, I thought that improvement should come within a few months by eliminating obvious major flaws in balance and stroke mechanics. Is this unrealistic? Are there some people whose body-types (e.g. a "sinker" in your parlance in one of your DVDs) make it almost impossible to improve significantly? While swimming is the sport where I have the most opportunity for improvement, I can't afford to keep throwing money and time into what seems like a hopeless cause. I'd greatly appreciate your perspective based on years of helping swimmers improve.

shuumai 12-03-2008 04:26 AM

Do the rules specify a certain stroke? Is it possible to use, at least at some points, the breaststroke or backstroke?

I'm sure you've heard it before; if you're a sinker, as long as you sink evenly, you won't create more drag. Lack of air, though, can be quite a drag. I heard that wetsuits can add a bit of buoyancy. But maybe adjusting your body role or timing could help.

I'll leave the details to the experts.

gobbles 12-03-2008 07:29 AM

"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt."-(Patrick White, 1912-1990)

Good swimming takes 'TIME" to brew. Patient and Perseverance is the key. Never give in the born talent, only blood & sweat is what that counts at the end. Leave "Anxiety" out of the equation and you will be on track to success. AHA....

madvet 12-03-2008 02:07 PM

"breathing heavily the entire way"

I am not sure what your original problems were, but I bet this is holding you back a lot. Your excellent aerobic capacity is allowing you to do this, but it points out that something is wrong. I am mildly asthmatic and in mediocre aerobic shape so I can't get away with poor breathing. The great thing about breathing, is that most of the time if you fix your breathing, your breathing will be fixed.

Relax especially in your chest. Don't force the breath in or out excessively. Still breathing hard? Relax even more. Etc. Strive to breathe as if you were going on a moderate walk. Sure, your time might temporarily suffer. But you can't move forward without fixing this.

Actually, your times aren't really that bad. I bet you would enjoy the whole experience more if your breathing were well controlled. And you might find yourself able to concentrate on the other things that are holding you back. (For example, increased breathing effort usually causes you to drop your hips or your shoulders and wreck your streamlining) Remember, as Terry has said, 90% (or more) of the issue is streamlining.

mjm 12-03-2008 02:47 PM

Two questions Jm:
--what is your stroke rate for 25 meters? Above 20? See paragraph 1. below, from the article "Swim like a Fish". High stroke rate equals high energy output equals "breathing heavily the entire way".

--do you swim schlumpy? In other words, is your torso rigid when you swim or more like a partially deflated condom? See paragraph 2. below.

http://www.svl.ch/svl_swim_like_a_fish.html

1.To propel yourself through the water faster you might, for example, increase your stroke rate. But there's a problem here, Touretski says. You'd soon run out of steam. He cites a passage from his favourite book, Fish Swimming by zoologist John Videler of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, which states that energy consumption in water increases at the cube of the stroking rate. In other words, doubling the speed at which you move your arms through the water takes eight times as much energy.

2. He is known for using unusual props to get his ideas across: he once brought inflated condoms to the pool to show his fellow coaches the importance of maintaining a rigid torso while kicking forward. When deflated, the condoms flopped in the water; inflated, they skimmed across the surface with just a light push.

That being said it's hard to determine what you need to improve without seeing your stroke. Post a video.

Also, as you know, swimming is technique intensive. You want to improve from an average 2:19/100 meters to 1:48/100 meters. That would be huge. I would suggest small, doable, incremental goals at shorter distances, 250 meters/500 meters/1000 meters/1500 meters, etc. --mjm

naj 12-03-2008 02:54 PM

I was also going to suggest being more streamlined. Breathing was always (and at times can be for me) a frustrating thing about freestyle, but the more you roll to breathe as Terry shows in the DVD the more relaxed you'll be and more streamlined as well when you go back to head down position. Also remember to keep that lead hand out there for longer than you think it should be when you roll to breathe. Remember, "lead with your hips and let your head go along for the ride." Hmmm...there's a song in there somewhere :)

CoachBobM 12-03-2008 08:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mjm (Post 510)
Two questions Jm:
--what is your stroke rate for 25 meters? Above 20? See paragraph 1. below, from the article "Swim like a Fish". High stroke rate equals high energy output equals "breathing heavily the entire way".

An equally relevant question is:
--what is your time for 25 meters?

Is the problem that you can't move fast enough in the water to attain the times you want to attain, or is it that you can move that fast but can't maintain that speed for the distances you need to swim in a triathlon?

Also, if you swim continuous laps in a pool, how far do you have to go before you start to feel out of breath?


Bob

shuumai 12-03-2008 09:15 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by madvet (Post 509)
"breathing heavily the entire way"

Relax especially in your chest. Don't force the breath in or out excessively. Still breathing hard? Relax even more. Etc. Strive to breathe as if you were going on a moderate walk. Sure, your time might temporarily suffer. But you can't move forward without fixing this.

I was going to mention this before. The breathe LESS theory. One thing that is helping my breaststroke, for example, is not inhaling more than I really need to. Inhaling too much causes more tension which tires me out. Getting the fuel/air mixture right helps. I don't move fast or go far, so I know I don't need to blow up like a puffer fish.

Was thoroughly exhaling covered?

jmfisch409 12-04-2008 03:44 AM

Striving for Mediocrity
 
Thanks for all of the great ideas folks!

In answer to the questions, my stroke rate is high at 22 per 25 meters. I have gotten it down as low as 18 at times, by exagerating the glide portion of the stroke and hesitating in that position. In an effort to relax and save energy, my torso, elbows ankles and shoulders may be a bit schlumpy since it seems to take a lot of energy to straighten my entire body - I can feel the muscles burning.

Many comments were about breathing. I definitely do not exhale fully because I feel myself sinking when I do that. When breathing heavily, I'm afraid to miss a breath. When I first started trying to learn to swim efficiently, I would breathe only on the right every 2nd stroke, but recently a coach told me to breathe every third, forcing me to breathe on both sides, since my stroke was lopsided. I find that after 100 yards or so, that I'm not getting enough air breathing every third, so now I switch back and forth from left to right, breathing every second stroke, occasionally going every third.

From all this I conclude that I'm grossly inefficient, which leads to my frustration. The Law of Diminishing Returns would predict that fixing a few major flaws would lead to fairly big improvement at first, at least enough to make me a mid-pack swimmer.
jmfisch

CoachBobM 12-04-2008 06:54 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jmfisch409 (Post 524)
I find that after 100 yards or so, that I'm not getting enough air breathing every third, so now I switch back and forth from left to right, breathing every second stroke, occasionally going every third.

I'd suggest that you not wait until 100 yards before you start breathing more frequently. You should try to balance left side and right side breathing, but breathing every 3rd stroke isn't the only way to do this. You can breathe for awhile on only one side (every 2nd stroke), then take 3 strokes and start breathing on the other side (every 2nd stroke).

If you run up an oxygen deficit before you switch to more frequent breathing, it's likely to make you feel out of breath and disrupt your stroke the rest of the way.

mjm 12-04-2008 01:25 PM

What Floats Your Boat?
 
"In an effort to relax and save energy, my torso, elbows ankles and shoulders may be a bit schlumpy since it seems to take a lot of energy to straighten my entire body - I can feel the muscles burning".

Jm: Let me suggest that a schlumpy torso cost you more energy plowing through the water than the energy required to stiffen your torso. And keeping a stiff torso gets easier over time as your core gets stronger. But keep your arms relaxed!

For a great explanation and drills check out Mr. E. Hines' article "What Floats your Boat" at this web site:
http://www.h2oustonswims.org/

I think you will be amazed at what mastery of the superman drill will do for your stroke count and breathing. It may take some time but eventually your shoulder blades, butt, and bottoms of your feet will all float on or very near the surface while swimming--just like Shinji.

Also, maybe you should simply breathe every stroke until you get your balance and rigid torso right--one lap breathe every stroke to the right, one lap breathe every stroke to the left. --mjm

splashingpat 12-04-2008 01:47 PM

Breathin' and Not Breathin' and disrupting your stroke
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by CoachBobM (Post 525)
I'd suggest that you not wait until 100 yards
before you start breathing more frequently.
You should try to balance left side and right side breathing,
but breathing every 3rd stroke isn't the only way to do this

You can breathe for awhile on only one side (every 2nd stroke),
then take 3 strokes and start breathing on the other side (every 2nd stroke).

If you run up an oxygen deficit before you switch to more frequent breathing,
it's likely to make you feel out of breath
and disrupt your stroke the rest of the way.

Hi "Master" McAdams... After I teach my water aerobics class
A high school swim team comes in and their coaches ask 'em to go up to 3, 5 to 7 strokes in getting their breath...

sad
isn't
it?

CoachBrian 12-04-2008 02:19 PM

If you're using FME and TSME, you may be over-rotating, causing you to sink as you try to breathe. This becomes a frustrating cycle - as you sink, you likely rotate more as you lift your head to the air, and then sink more.

As has already been suggested, the Superman Glide might come to your rescue. And, if you're schlumpy, play with finding the minimal muscle recruitment required to lengthen your body line, and align your spine.

shuumai 12-04-2008 05:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mjm (Post 527)
Also, maybe you should simply breathe every stroke until you get your balance and rigid torso right

One thing that I've been more conscious of is not having an overly tense abdomen. That seems to ease my breathing a bit. The abdomen is like a water-filled balloon. If it's compressed in one area, it will bulge out in another area. I think tension in the abdomen might cause a reduction in the ability of the diaphragm to move and the lungs to expand.

How are the ankles, by the way? Floppy feet?

dp1727 12-04-2008 09:59 PM

same problem
 
ive been doing TI drills now for about a combined period of about 6 months. i started but then had 2 rotator cuff/bicep tendon surgeries in 7 months. just now back in the pool using the new tape and revised drills for about 2 months. ive become very proficient doing the drills, use fist gloves every practice. in the drills, i achieve exactly what i believe is taught. when i try to put it all together in whole stroke, everything falls apart. i have difficulty breathing while on my left side and also cannot maintain the desired form beyond 50 meters. very frustrating. i dont think its an endurance problem, but for a technique thats supposed to make happy laps seemingly go on forever, im being disconnected somewhere along the line. ive drilled now doing under and zen switches to do better breathing on the left, but still cant achieve the same results whole-stroke.

Rhoda 12-05-2008 12:46 PM

It does take time to rebuild your stroke. I was frustrated for about 4 months after an 8 week T.I. class because it felt like my stroke had fallen apart, but then one day it suddenly fell into place. Remember, you are traveling through a medium that the human body mainly wasn't designed for, apart from a few odd features like salt tears. Short repeats are best until you cement the feel of it into place.

CoachBobM 12-05-2008 05:04 PM

If you can drill okay, but everything seems to fall apart when you try to progress to whole stroke swimming, this generally means that old muscle memories are kicking in and interfering with your new habits. Don't be afraid to continue doing nothing but drills for awhile. As you do this, your new muscle memories will become more and more deeply engrained, and at some point things will seem to "click" (as they did for Rhoda) because your mind will start using those new muscle memories in whole stroke swimming.

terry 12-06-2008 03:33 AM

I have several thoughts on the question of speed and how to get more of it. But first, the question of whether one should hold a bit of air in the lungs to try to overcome sinking tendencies. I believe that any breath holding will only increase discomfort and difficulty. Both because it will likely lead to increased accumulation of CO2 in the lungs and because it often leads to an increase in muscle tension -- and tense muscles tend to sink more.

John's goal is to improve his pace time for a 2.4 mile swim from 90 to 70 minutes. This translates to improving his pace per 100m from 2 min 22 sec to 1 min 50 sec. Even without seeing John swim, my experience-based inclination is that the first 20 to 24 seconds of improvement in his pace per 100 will come from reducing energy cost -- giving him the ability to maintain a pace he might currently hold only for a shorter swim -- i.e. swimming, say, 8:00 for 400m -- and extend that to a half-mile, mile, 2 miles then 2.4 miles.

Energy savings will come primarily from: (1) active streamlining (i.e. reducing water resistance) and (2) more relaxation -- finding areas of tension and releasing them and finding muscles that are turned on that don't need to be.

The remaining 8 to 10 seconds could come from developing the ability to complete strokes of constant efficiency slightly faster. Let's say that John -- as a result of active streamlining -- can improve his stroke efficiency for 25m to 20 fully rhythmic strokes (no exaggerated glides). A pace of 2:00 per 100m would translate into a stroke rate of approx 1.3 sec per stroke. If he were to begin using a Tempo Trainer and incrementally (i.e. .01 sec at a time) work toward being able to complete those 20-stroke 25m laps in a rate of 1.2 sec per stroke, he would then have picked up 8 seconds per 100 meters (I.E. 80 strokes x .1 sec)

So, how about some suggestions from the Forum community for specific ways John can improve his streamlining and relaxation.

Here are some suggestions I have for improving balance, which is always helpful - These activities are taken from Easy Freestyle.
Superman Glide (SG)
Repeat 3-4 x or until you can't squeeze out another few inches of glide.
Remember the feeling of relaxation, support and effortless travel.

SG to Skate (Sk)
Alternate transition to Right Sk with transition to Left Sk. Work through 2 to 4 or more repeats at each of these focal points:
- Arc your extending hand forward and down. Find the depth at which your feet feel light, but is not causing your shoulders/hips to stack.
- If you feel over-rotation, focus on extending hand slightly outside shoulder line.
- When your hand-targets are accurate and consistent, spear the front of your wrist -- instead of your fingers -- through the targets.
- Test your balance and stability by squeezing your legs together for a moment after you arrive in Skating position. Can you maintain "non-kicking balance and stability) slightly longer via control through "conscious tone" in your core body.
- Use your extending hand to separate water molecules then slide that side of your body -- torso, hips, knees, feet -- through that hole.

Alternate Drill and Swim (Sw)
Do the drill above going one way. Swim on the way back - will only be 3 to 4 strokes. Choose focal points from the list above and use for both drill and swim. Repeat for 5 to 8 minutes until you can consistently bring the strongest sensations of support, stability and effortless travel from SG to Sk to Sw

Swim a "Pyramid" Repeat Series
Swim a series of repeats, increasing the distance by one length on subsequent repeats as long as you continue to feel those sensations, as follows:
Swim 25. If you feel balanced, stable and effortless, Swim 50. If you feel balanced, stable and effortless, Swim 75. Continue the sequence until the sensations break down. Then reverse the sequence back to 25. Repeat the pyramid series as many times as you wish trying to raise the top of the Pyramid on subsequent series. E.G:
25-50-25
25-50-75-50-25
25-50-75-100-75-50-25
Etc.

You could also choose one focal point (or a new lower SPL) and do this with one focal point, up to a certain distance, then start an entirely new sequence with a different focal point. When working on a new focal point I've often done this kind of sequence up to 200 - but not necessarily in reverse.
25-50-75-100-125-150-175-200 (900 yds total)
If I do reverse, going from 175 back down to 25 after completing the "ladder" series above, then my series totals 1600.
This has proven a very effective way to develop both my "mental endurance" and my "muscle endurance" at the same time. By "muscular endurance" I mean the resistance of a new motor skill or movement pattern to fatigue or breakdown. As we discussed I think that both forms of endurance are actually more important to completing a very long swim than aerobic endurance. For the last 8 or 10 years I've prioritized the development of mental and muscle endurance, while letting aerobic endurance just "happen" as a consequence of the hours each week I work on mental and muscle endurance.

jmfisch409 12-10-2008 06:43 AM

Mediocrity
 
Thanks to Terry and again to all for the great suggestions which I will now take to the pool.
JmFisch409

Lexi 12-10-2008 08:22 AM

Another Slow learner
 
I though I would reply, since you inspired me to actually register after years of reading these posts as a guest.

It was such a relief to read your original post - there's someone else who suffers from the same slow progress! It's not the slow speed...it's seeing other people start as even slower swimmers than I am, get some coaching, some TI, some practice, and soon go zooming past.

I, too have spent more than two years conscientiously practicing TI drills, and while I haven't had a TI clinic (there's only been one up here in Alaska, and it's expensive to fly out for one) I have had considerable private and group instruction; my coach is familiar with TI and has encouraged me to use the drills, DVDs, etc as well as her coaching. And yet. Still slow. (slower than you by a lot - 53 min for 1.2 miles) I live for the day that I can swim 500 yards of crawl faster than I can swim 500 yards of side stroke.

So there were three points I wanted to make to you, about "continuing to throw time and money at a hopeless cause".

1) Give yourself credit right now for what you can do. You are not a bad swimmer, you are a really accomplished swimmer. Imaging having a conversation outside your triathlon friends, swimming friends, or this forum. Just with a regular person who never goes to the pool or runs a race. Tell them you are horrible, that it takes you so-o-o-o long to swim 2.4 miles. Before you bike 112. and then run 26.2. They will either laugh at you or just look bewildered. You are an accomplished swimmer, just not as accomplished as the folks you hang out with.

2) Try to really examine your swimming and drilling, especially for balance issues. Fistgloves really help me with this. Yes, they help me develop feel for the water, but mostly they expose my otherwise unconscious shoving around of the water with my hands to maintain balance. For me, this doesn't show up on any of the kicking-only balance drills, only when I start putting the stroke together. But if you're practicing the drills, drilling and swimming mindfully, and not getting more efficient (and thus faster) it's likely that you're not in an efficient position moving through the water.

3) examine your various goals. When I'm frustrated about my (lack of) progress, I have to keep reminding myself that I love swimming, I love the water, and I love learning to be more efficient, to have a more elegant (in math or science terms) stroke. My goal isn't competitive, it's to swim really smoothly and efficiently. I have a long long way to go, but I still enjoy every swim. I'm in my mid-fifties too, and if we don't enjoy our training as well as our racing (although some pain and tedium are unavoidable to get the most joy) then we should find something where we do, because life is too short. If competitive success is really important to you, and swimming is standing in your way, and you have no other reason to swim than that it's the first event in a triathlon, well, then, go race some duathlons. Or maybe you, too, love to swim but you're just frustrated. Then find ways to remind yourself that you love to swim (for me that's open water or scuba, but for you...you decide). But if you have a goal of being a better, faster swimmer, and that's important to you, the you're not throwing away time and money, you're investing it.

Good Luck!!

(and thanks, Terry, I'll go practice Superman Glide and flutter)

samenic2 12-10-2008 12:20 PM

What a wonderful post.Well done..

don h 01-06-2009 04:50 PM

jmfisch409 original post
 
you mentioned you had just about every dvd and book (fme...). if you don't yet have the new dvd "easy freestyle," you may want to get it. terry's post above is referencing the drills and concepts in the new dvd. i used the old dvd for 2 yr, and had leveled off in improvement. the new dvd has led to huge improvement in my swimming over last few months. as a 60 yr old sprint triathlete, and judging from your statement about your biking and running, i think you can accomplish your goals. good luck.

don h


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