Rather than post the insanely boring personal vomit that I’ve been spewing up for days, I remembered that blogs are supposed to be a combination of impulsive, reactive missives along with the more rounded, well-thought essays. Working on the long form has meant I haven’t posted in days, which means I haven’t been clearing out my head. My head gets overloaded with random thoughts and if I don’t dump them to page they pile up like the bills and paperwork on my desk. It eventually reaches a point where I don’t even know what’s important anymore, it’s just one large pile of Urgent Stuff. As I said to Coach Brian the other day, sometimes having complete freedom means you get nothing done. I have two hours of being trapped in the house before my swim workout, a perfect time to do some internal housekeeping.
My stroke sucks. I can swim well enough to finish, but that style was soooo last season. This season I need to swim well enough to beat people, shaving considerable time off my PR. That can only happen by working on form. The first thing Brian noticed watching me swim is that I’m working way too hard and expending too much energy to get the job done. That’s going to blow up my heart rate and leave me depleted for the rest of the race. Our work together focused on slowing down my actions in order to go faster. It’s the same counterintuitive reasoning that applies to diet – eat more fat to burn more fat. In the water the less you fight the water the faster you will go. For those of us who did not grow up on swim teams, there is no muscle memory of perfect form. Which means I work really hard just to propel myself across the pool. My shoulders are tight so I have to work hard to extend my reach. Just the shape of my body (rounded shoulders, poor back flexibility) creates excess drag. Also, I kick too much. I thought that a strong flutter kick was the secret to solid propulsion, but that’s not true. A strong flutter kick is good, but mimicking an Osterizer blender isn’t helping me achieve good times if my legs aren’t actually on the surface of the water. Good form beats raw power in the water every time.
Brian laid out a series of drills, and then started taking measurements of my stroke and breath counts. I used to make fun of my wife and her father for counting everything – steps, beats, sounds, objects – but now I’m becoming that person by necessity. Swimming is all about counting – counting how many strokes it takes to get across the pool, counting how many breaths I take between strokes, and counting how many laps I’ve done inside a set. It’s enough to make me feel like Rainman. The workout culminated in Golf Drills, where the objective was to consistently reduce the number of strokes I used to get across the pool while also increasing the speed with which I did it. “Make every stroke count” was Brian’s urging, and somewhere in the drill I found out what that meant.
Here is the full set:
100 meter Catch Up Drill
100m (Alternating side drill)
150m Fingertip Drill
100m Modified Side Drill
50m Breath Count (16)
50m Stroke (49)
50m Breath (21)
50m Stroke (53)
50m Stroke (44)
Golf Drill (100m – 58 seconds/42 strokes)
Golf Drill (98 – 57/41)
Golf Drill (99 – 59/40)
Golf Drill (94 – 56/38)
400m (200m @ 4:18, 200 @ 4:00)
4 x 100m (2:05, 1:57, 1:50, 1:48)
100m Cool Down
A Catch Up Drill is a very slow version of freestyle, keeping one arm extended while the other goes through its full rotation. The other arm doesn’t begin its rotation until the fingertips line up ahead. My uncle holds a short length of PVC pipe to ensure he’s always extending fully.
An Alternating Side Drill is an exaggerated freestyle, swimming with one arm extended and the other flat against the side body until it’s time to breathe, at which point the arms and body flip and a breath is taken.
Fingertip Drills are a more natural freestyle stroke, skimming the surface of the water with the fingertips as each hand is brought forward. This forces an elevation of the elbow and ensures the arm is pulling out of the water for the exchange.
A Modified Side Drill simply meant swimming laps with one arm extended and the other flat against the body. This is buoyancy practice.
50 Breath Count means 50 meters counting number of breaths. (Doing bilateral breathing, for me every third stroke.)
50 Stroke is 50 meters counting number of strokes.
Which leads to Golf Drills, which is scored here as 50 meters (seconds/strokes). The lower the total, the lower and better the score. The faster you can go with less strokes the more efficient the stroke quality.
There’s nothing like having an experienced set of eyes watching form and making adjustments on the fly. In a gym there’s at least a mirror you can use to calibrate your errors in proprioception. Not in a pool. I’m swimming today and then Brian and I are going out again Thursday for another coached session. These sessions benefit both of us – I’m learning something new every time, and he’s using me as a guinea pig for the things he’s learning in his coached swim masters sessions. At some point I’d like to learn the butterfly, since it seems that most of the master’s swim classes go through a series of standard styles in an hour workout: free, breast, back, and butterfly. I can fake my way through the first three, but my butterfly is going to look like the gross Aunt at a Bat Mitzvah, repeatedly throwing my arms wide open only to crush the water in a bear hug while sputtering and spewing liquid from my mouth.
I’ll get Brian to take pictures for the sheer humiliation of it all.