People have a love/hate relationship with swimming because it is so technical, but it’s not really. The biggest block that most athletes have is that they think in body parts. They think if I move this arm this way, then that will automatically happen. They think that if they rotate their core then they will automatically have more power. Athletes do all sorts of things to feel better in the water, but the one thing they really miss is the mind-body connection
To feel the water you need to play with the water. Which means you have to slow down and feel what your body is doing, and how it moves in this medium. If you don’t know what your hands are doing in the water during the stroke, or the recovery, how do you expect anything to change?
I know it’s hard to do this when you have a schedule in front of you, a workout planned with so many yards to cover that your coach has given you. But that’s not to say you don’t have it within your control to take the time to go really slow, to really connect from the fingertips to the tippy-toes each session you get wet.
Your body runs off of its nervous system. Think of this system as the electricity to the body. Next you have your bones, connective tissue, and fascia that is like your light fixtures in your house. You need electricity to get to the light fixture. Next you have your muscular system, and this is your light bulb.
If your body isn’t firing in a correct pattern, then no amount of strength work or stability work is going to help you make the connection be 100%. There will always be leakages of power in the system. Let’s get the nervous system on board.
Your body is in great position in the water – you can float like this forever. Head is lined up with the spine (great posture).
You start to kick with the arms out in front of you (superman style) nice and relaxed. You feel the gentle manipulation of the water by using your legs as if they were a big fin easily/lazily kicking with steady, but effortless propulsion.
Now you bring your arms to your side and practice moving your body 360 degrees slowly and in control. Hips and head working as a unit. Feels easy. You’re not breathing hard at all.
The key? You are not breathing hard!
Unfortunately troubles begine when we add the arms in the mix. Athletes start to pick up the speed. They increase the tension in the body. They lose that loving feeling of the water as it flows across their body.
Tension is the cause of most swimming issues
I can say your range of motion is key to better swimming, and I wouldn’t be wrong. Tension though will restrict range of motion more than anything else you can imagine. Do an experiment for me.
- Hold your breath. Now try to lift your arms as high as you can away from your body (like you’re getting ready to fly). Notice where your arms stop.
- Now try it while your relaxed and inhaling. What has changed?
“But Coach…..I have to hold my breath when my face is in the water!”
No you don’t. If you go slow, you will find that you can imagine that you are walking outside where you have no place to go, you’re just enjoying the day, and you’re breathing calmly in and out with no work.
Now imagine this while swimming. Calmly breathing in when you turn your head/body a bit, and then when your face goes back in the water you exhale in a controlled easy manner.
Now imagine that I’ve dumped you off the coast of Miami Beach, and you have 6 miles to swim, and you know you have to conserve energy. You would naturally slow down, and keep a steady pace. You would feel more, you would move faster, and you probably would have fun doing it (if you weren’t so worried about sharks or other mysterious things in the water…but this is another post).
Once you find that comfortable breathing position (one you could do all day if you had to remember) now you can start to focus on what your extremities are doing (or not doing). You have time to notice that your shoulder is pinching you, so you spend time playing around with your hand entry until the pain goes away.
You feel like your left leg is dragging in the water, so you play around with the timing of your stroke. Maybe have your downbeat of the kick match the same arm while you’re breathing, or maybe make it do a smaller kick.
Play around with how wide your arms swing on recovery. Make it narrow and notice how it changes how your body feels. Make it wider and notice what it feels like. Find that sweet spot where it feels easy.
Look at your hands in the water. Maybe grab a snorkel and just watch your hands as they find the path in the water. Do you feel the pressure on your forearm or just in your shoulder (the correct answer is the entire length of the arm). Are you fingertips facing the bottom of the pool, or the opposite wall as you pull? What is the first thing you feel when your arm exits the water?
I like to call this a form of meditation, only you’re doing it i the water. Being mindful of what is happening around you, being present and feeling what is happening will create bigger changes in your swimming, and maybe even in your life.
If you can slow down enough when you swim, then maybe you’ll do the same thing with the rest of your life and find your flow!