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.
Head Coach & Chief Executive Optimist
May your laps be as happy as mine.
My TI Story