Category: technique


After operation return to swimming got me back into the pool, and back to 4SEASons, part 3 consisted of a couple of Tuesday night regular 4SEASons session in the pool.

I continued to swim with the pull-buoy and band and with a bit of an assist to get in and out of the pool. Stock standard.

Then finally, after 7 weeks a follow-up x-ray and yet another visit to the fracture clinic…the good news was in: I could take the bloody orthopaedic boot off!

Unfortunately, there was still much work to be done to get enough strength, flexibility and stability back. The idea of walking on soft sand was pretty unthinkable for a while yet. I would have to be patient.

Then finally 2 weeks ago, after lots and lots of physio and exercise, it was time!

Part 4 of my return to swimming has involved getting back to my beloved Bondi beach and swimming in the ocean!

I have to admit I’ve chickened out and worn my wetsuit – the extra buoyancy (in my mind, at least) reduces the chance of coming down hard on the ankle. I’m still not up to running, let alone running on soft sand, and I lean on my lovely swimming friends as we head down the beach, just in case….

I’m not quite there yet, and I’ve obviously lost a bit of condition and fitness, but I’m back at the beach, baby, and loving it!

Yesterday I wrote about what it took to get back into the pool.the next step was to get back to actual training. Like many things, it’s far more productive to have someone telling you what to do, to push you further that you will on your own, and to pick up things that you might not notice yourself.

Lately the 4SEASons coaches had devised a plan for something different – a Sunday long session solely dedicated to specific technique training.

I emailed in advance to check on whether they thought it would be possible for me to do the session, and to make sure that I wouldn’t be disruptive to other people doing the session. Luckily, I have some of the most awesome coaches in the world and they assured me it would all work and encouraged me to come along.

The session was on a sunny but chilly Sunday morning. The session was held at the brand-spanking-new Prince Alfred Park pool, which I have to say is a pretty nice pool with great facilities…and has free entry until the 12th of November.

I had to switch out a couple of the drills, but it did give me the opportunity to play with one of my favourite pieces of kit – hand paddles.

I love training with hand paddles, and they are the perfect piece of kit for winter. There are two benefits to training with paddles. The first is that they increase the surface area of your hands, and therefore increase the resistance against the water. This is good for building extra strength in your arms…and feeling like you’re swimming really fast!

The second use of paddles is what I was focussing on during the technique day. They really exaggerate any technical flaws in your stroke. For example, if your hand entry isn’t fingers first, if it’s out by a little bit (think like making a “stop” signal with your hand” you’ll know about it…from the bottom edge of the paddles catching and kicking up water. The idea of the paddles is to help identify these little flaws, and to practice and embed the correct behaviours for a bit before taking them off. I certainly found myself with a couple of things to focus on about my hand entry.

Another thing that was great about the longer session, and running it on a Sunday (rather than racing against the clock of when the pool is closing on a weeknight) was that once we had finished the technique session, we took the time to do a 1km swim, no pressure around speed or times, just focussing on excellent technique and embedding the things we had learned at the session.

Then we had lunch and coffee at the cute little cafe there at the pool in the sun! It really was so nice to be back training, to be back hanging out with swimming friends, and to be able to enjoy a post swim coffee!

Ah Wednesday night technique sets. Nothing gives me more insight into what I’m doing to make things more difficult for myself. Luckily there’s also nothing wrong with the idea of getting faster, or better, or being able to swim further with no extra input of energy.

This Wednesday we were focussing on kicking.

I don’t know if I’ve done much on here about kicking. As a general rule, in endurance swimming, kicking isn’t a major component of our swim technique. If you watch shorter distance sprinters swim, you’ll see some crazy 6- and 8-beat kick rhythms that really are part of propelling the swimmer through the water. With endurance event, though, we tend to aim for a 2-beat kick. The reason for this, as I understand it, is that the muscles we use in our legs to kick are large, and therefore use a lot of energy compared to the amount of propulsion you get in return. Your arms, in contrast, have a much better return on investment of energy. In a sprint this is OK, but for endurance events, it just means you wear out quicker.

That being said, bad kicking technique can have implications for other parts of your stroke. And I stand up and am the first to admit that I have bad kick technique.

In fact, I use the photo below as my Facebook cover photo. It’s a great photo, which is why I use it, but I have to confess that every time I look at it I cringe a little at my bent knee…I’ve added lines in to show what I’m talking about….

knee bend

Ideally, that knee should be pretty much straight. More like the lovely example below…

Much Better

The good news is, that there are some really good drills you can do to work on your kick. We did one before we even got in the water. There was a set of stairs leading up from the pool to the grassed sitting area, and we did some practice of good kicking technique with one leg standing on the step sideways, and the other swinging clear. This was great for the coaches to be able to check technique and for us to feel what good kicking feels like (engaging the glutes!).

We did various other drills in the pool using fins, and focussing on pointing our toes and not bending our knees. I did feel like it really helped improve my kicking technique (although it will take some time to embed that as a good habit), and as an added bonus, I found that the improved kick helped with my biggest technical challenge -my body position in the water. I tend to have to fight very hard to keep my legs and lower body from sinking down below the surface, and therefore creating unnecessary drag. Working on my kick noticeably improved that, so it’s doubly useful!

Tuesday’s pacing session was a good one. I hadn’t dropped as much as I’d thought (I’ve been focussing on distance, rather than speed lately, for obvious reasons) and it was good to get into that rhythm and focus on pacing. Less than two weeks out to the goal swim, it was nice to stretch out and remind myself what pace feels like,   what going hard feels like, and what tired feels like. I’m pretty damn sure those things are all going to be very important next Sunday.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I had attended a Tuesday session, and it was a pretty busy session, with quite a lot of swimmers. It really highlighted to me the importance of good lane etiquette. Lane etiquette makes things run much more smoothly and everyone can get on and do their thing and get a good workout. With many swimmers in a lane, even if they’re supposedly keeping to a particular pace each, you do get differences in speed and in pace. Some people swim faster or more variably or more consistently, and it really brought home that the etiquette is there for a reason, and that the reason is that it works.

My personal favourite guide to lap swimming etiquette in general is via this link that I’m reasonably certain i’ve put up before. If I haven’t, I should have. It’s an excellent general set of guidelines for if you’re new to pool swimming, particularly lap swimming.

What it does say is spot on. However these were written with straight up lap swimming involved, and I suspect they were based on random strangers making the best of self-regulating in public lap swimming.

 

Pacing sessions, on the other hand, are similar but different. Pretty much all of the general rules apply but there is the added complexity of the “rest” (in inverted commas because most of the time those seconds are the shortest 10-15 seconds of your life)periods at various points in the set.

My additional tips (my personal option only as usual) for these sets are based on the things that I know really work, because the squad I swim with are pretty good at these things, and our coaches believe in enforcing the same principles as they really make things easier and better for everyone.

So Jacki’s extra rules for pacing sessions are….

  1. Start with the basics. All the general etiquette for lap swimming still applies.
  2. Keep to the plan. The coaches devise a set and if everyone sticks to it, the faster swimmers head off first, if there’s a spread they may end up passing hte back of hte pack, but it shouldn’t happen more than needed.
  3. That includes the rest periods. In my experience, pretty much everyone gets the hang of the swimming part quite easily. the first big challenge is in the rest periods of 10 or 15 seconds. I understand it…you’ve been swimming hard, and if it’s near the end of the set you’ve been doing that for quite some time. It’s really tempting to take a few seconds extra to recover. And a few more, and a few more again. Problem is, if everyone starts doing their own thing here, the order gets all out of whack. Nobody wants to get to the end of their lap, have the person in front still resting when you’re due to take off again, and have them pass you…every. freaking. lap.
  4. On that note, either get a watch you can wear in the water and read, or learn how to read the clock. I get why this is hard. The more tired I get the less capable I am of even counting, let alone calculating lap times. It’s not really that complicated, though, and generally you have somewhere in the vicinity of 50-100m metres to think about it. Even I, at my most stuffed, can work out my start time plus 2 minutes….
  5. Listen to the coach. It’s kind of related to point 4…in that if I have enough of a hard time counting as I get tired, I don’t need to be worrying about trying to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to be doing next. Let alone disrupting the swimmers around me by stopping them to ask them. OK – I admit I’m not always 100% good at this…but I’m trying!
  6. Other than that…common sense is always a good idea. In life, the universe and everything. But especially in swimming.

 

Finally. Finally!  Made it back to a weekday pool training session. It kind of feels like it’s been forever.

Funnily enough I did the same thing about the same time last year, for different reasons (tore an intercostal muscle….very difficult to swim with that. Or you know, breathe!) , but I kind of think for me it’s that same end-of-season thing where I’ve been pushing my body and getting up earlier on weekends than I do during the week for work for just long enough that I’m a bit worn out. Sometimes I need to be a bit kind to myself and stop putting quite so much pressure on (even though I still have the big goal swim to worry about) and take a bit of time to restore my energy.

The good news is, it worked! I’m feeling great and loving swimming and feeling like I want to do more again, instead of less.

It did get me thinking, though, about how much I need  to train.

It’s an interesting question. How much do I need to train for what exactly? To keep improving? To prepare for a big event? To maintain my current form? To keep from getting slower? To keep from forgetting how to swim altogether? To keep my love of the sport? To keep from going completely insane?*

The answer is as complicated as the question.

I have a couple (or quite a lot) of general rules that work for me….

  1. Three times a week is pretty much a bare minimum.
  2. Twice a week…I’ll be going backwards in terms of form and times, but pretty slowly.
  3. Once a week is better than nothing, but I will be going backwards nonetheless.
  4. 4-6 times a week and I’ll be making good progress and improving. More sessions=more progress.
  5. Sometimes other things happen. Guilt trips don’t do me any good. I like to aim for a certain number of training sessions per week, and (provided it’s more than 3) I give myself a “cheat” day I can use if I need for any session.
  6. Training has a seasonal aspect to it. I work on different things during the winter than the race season. I probably don’t need to train 6 times a week in winter…and should probably be focussing on different stuff.
  7. If I’m hurt or sick…forcing myself to go to training isn’t helping me get better. Appropriate treatment, and recognising the right time to get back to it is key.
  8. I’m allowed to forgive myself and move on if I’ve gotten a bit more sidetracked than I’d like. The important thing isn’t worrying about what I’ve missed, but getting on with it, and not feeling too daunted to get back to it.
  9. This is supposed to be FUN! I try to remember that.
  10. I’m not, nor will I ever be, an elite athlete in this (or any other) sport. My only competition is with myself. My only goals are my own. I need to figure out a good balance so that I can do this, and maintain the love and passion that will keep me doing this til a) I kick the bucket, b) they stop letting me enter (unlikely given the 85-year-old who swam at Cronulla on the weekend), or c)
  11. I try to remember, particularly on the tough days, that I pretty much never regret going to training. Being tired is not an excuse…I have more energy after training on a Saturday morning than I ever did the morning after Friday night drinks! All other dodgy excuses go pretty much down that same line of thinking if it really comes down to it.
  12. MOST IMPORTANT…training should be a habit not a choice. If there’s no good reason not to go, I go. And I mean a good reason. My mind plays tricks on me and tries to give me crappy excuses all the time. This rule, above all else, gets me there.

So ir you’re looking for an upshot, or a pithy conclusion…I’m not sure I have one. Except maybe…”find something you love, and do it as much as makes you happy”.

Actually, that’s not bad. I’m going into edit mode an gonna put that in the title.

*Swimming helps, but there are definitely no guarantees for my sanity. Not now, not ever.

Tuesday training – endurance set as usual. Or not.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the endurance sets. They’re hard, but really rewarding and deliver results like nothing else I’ve ever done. It’s great that I now have the hang of the, and that I trust them so much that I push myself, knowing that they work.

Seems it’s possible I’ve become complacent, though.

Coaches Kingy and Zoe had something new in store for us…and it wasn’t pretty. particularly for me. Since they chose the one thing I am absolutely the WORST at! I really, really, really suck at this. After 2 and a half years of training, and managing to get my technique a little better and my time trials up to medium, I still do so more strokes per lap than anyone I know. that means I’m outputting way too much effort to get where i’m going…probably due to some still-outstanding issue with my technique that means I’m likely causing more drag than I need to. I have a few theories, but I’ll trust in the Wednesday technique sets to work on things piece by piece and keep chipping away at things like my front-quadrant swimming, my high elbow, my too-high breathing, my bottom-heavy position in the water…the list never ends! Lucky that means I’m unlikely to get bored with this any time soon.

When I’m feeling like this, immediately after I spend some time with my inner monologue getting angry for a bit, I start to calm down and actually think about what’s going on with me at that moment.

So, here are the conclusions I came to:

  1. This was outside of my comfort zone. I’ve been doing these endurance sets for a while, and whilst they’re bloody hard work, I know they work. they really work. So why mess with it? (answer: if you always do what you’ve always done….guess what you get?)
  2. See point one. It’s worth mentioning twice.
  3. It’s ok for things to be hard, and challenging. sometimes they will be emotionally challenging, too. And I have to let that be OK. Everything really tough for me in this sport has been the result of hard work and effort. This is no different
  4. Some day’s, no matter how much you love the sport, you’re just not gonna feel the love. Check the archives, it’s not the first time this has happened. Nobody loves everything all the time. Nobody, nothing.
  5. the last thought is one I come back to time and again, particularly when I hit a hurdle with technique stuff. Even elite athletes do technique training. People are people and nobody does it exactly right all the time. It takes work and practice and you need to make each and every little millimetres of your body and mind about muscle memory and good habits. I may feel like it’s a job that’s never done, but in reality that’s because it’s a job that’s never done.

Comfort-Zone

Last Wednesday was technique training again. As we did the drills I was concentrating on each part of the drill and making sure I was focussed on the individual skills and movements involved.

Then coach Kingy picked up that I was not following my catch all the way through to my leg. Remember that resolution from a short 3 weeks ago? About operation thumbs up? I was totally not doing that.

It’s pretty tough, getting your stroke right. When you really break it down there so many different ways you can do every part of your stroke and it’s just not possible to focus on all of them at the same time, let alone while you’re trying to keep your swimming relaxed!

So how do you improve then? I personally feel it’s a a case of embedding. You do something over and over again, in this case using the drills to focus on one little thing at a time. Eventually you’re doing things more the correct way than the incorrect way, and then that becomes the habit or the muscle memory.

I’ve been pretty happy with my times improving recently, and I know that this embedding is a big part of why consistent training works…that, and increased fitness. You need to keep doing things the right way in training until they just become the way you naturally do them all the time!

Sounds simple, right? well I guess I have to keep up the practice on operation thumbs up because it’s clearly not yet part of my natural stroke. More embedding on the horizon for me!

images

I’ve mentioned the 3-5-7 breathing drill in a couple of posts. It’s actually a bit of a favourite of mine…one I can do, but that you can keep pushing yourself on if you’re feeling motivated.

It’s one of the simplest drills to do. You start swimming. Do 3 strokes and then breathe. Next do 5 strokes and then breathe. Next do 7 strokes and then breathe. Then start again with 3 strokes…5 strokes…7 strokes. You get the picture. If you’re really feeling like challenging yourself you can add a 9 on the end of each cycle…and I suppose theoretically you could go higher.

I personally find the drill gets harder the longer you do it for. The first couple of cycles and you’re going fine, but as your body fatigues it starts wanting more oxygen and you start going for great gasps on each breathe.

There is a trick to this drill, as with all of them. The thing to remember with all questions of breathing, is that it’s generally better to exhale, than to hold your breath. If you hold your breath you get a build up of carbon-dioxide in your system. When that happens you start to get that uncomfortable kind of panicky feeling. Instead, it’s far better to smoothly exhale as you swim.

When most people do this drill for the first time, they tend to try to swim really fast on the 7-stroke part of the drill, to try to get to that breathe sooner. In fact, it’s an awful lot easier of you focus on slowing down your stroke and swimmingly smoothly and efficiently. If you’re thrashing in the water all you do is use up your oxygen faster!

So why do we do this drill? Well, there are a couple of different reasons.

  • It’s good for developing lung capacity.
  • It’s good for learning not to hold your breath.
  • It’s good to know what running out of air feels like and how to not panic when that happens (useful in big surf).

This is an easy one to do on your own as it’s pretty self-explanatory, doesn’t take any special kit and doesn’t involve any special technique, so by all means give it a go!

Wow, I haven’t been to a 4SEASons Wednesday session since 24th October.

It’s not like I’ve done it on purpose, but my Can Too Mentor group was the ABC pool on Wednesdays, and they’ve been kind of the most awesome thing ever.

That being said, it was kind of nice to get back to a proper technique session. Even though i’m totally out of practice with these things and completely forgot my pullbuoy and fins.

Regardless of my forgetfulness, I managed to get a really lot out of this session.

As I mentioned about last week’s endurance set, I seem to have suddenly gotten a little faster. Somehow, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that that seems to have happened pretty much while I’ve been focussed on a change to the timing of my stroke. In fact, in my experience, a change to technique is the only thing that will give you a step change in times. Anything else, like general fitness, will give gradual improvements, but they won’t be as marked or as sudden.

Not to undervalue that other stuff…technique improvements tend to be less frequent, and after a while those sudden things are harder and harder to find as you get better at everything and learn more.

But for this season, the tick of holding just a fraction longer seems to have made a huge difference….I think something to do with making me rotate more (always a challenge for me).

The thing is, though, you can never get too comfortable with your swimming. You might improve (note I don’t say “master”) one thing, but that’s just as likely to highlight something else you can improve. To keep it in perspective I try to remember that even the top swimmers have coaches and work on this stuff down to the tiniest degrees forever. And ever amen.

Interestingly, I have been letting myself fall into this trap, and been a bit chuffed with myself and my decreasing times. Seems a technique session was just what I needed to jolt myself out of it and remember that this is a game of continuous improvement.

One thing we can use to measure our improvement in the pool, is a stroke count. The number of strokes it takes for you to swim 50m is a pretty good indication of how efficiently you are swimming. My count is pretty atrocious and a very good indicator of just how much I rely on strength, stubbornness and good old-fashioned moxie to get me through. Bad enough I don’t want to admit it and quote numbers on here.

Thing is, though, we did a few different drills. And then switched to one in particular that gave me what we call in my (corporate) job and “ah-ha!” moment. (I think they used to be called “light bulb” moments before we all switched to compact flouros).

The drill was a very simple one that involved swimming as normal, but ticking your thumbs out and making sure they brushed each hip at the end of each catch. Lo and behold, something finally clicked in my head and I realised I’ve been focussing so much on the front quadrant of my stroke, that I’ve been completely neglecting to make sure I follow all the way through with my catch. All that energy to get there and I’m wasting all that energy that’s just stored up and ready to go.

Well, not only did I manage to drop a substantial number of strokes per 50m….I now know what my next real technique focus is going to be.

Wish me luck as I embark on Operation “thumbs”!

images

There was bad news and good news on Saturday. the bad news was that there’s no more Can Too training for the season. The good news was that lots of Can Too swimmers showed up to do the 4SEASons swim on Saturday morning. I’m certain the 9am start, and the title sleep-in it allow for helped! As did the looming goal event for those doing the 1km and/or 2km the next day at the North Bondi Classic.

Above all, the good weather stuck around, giving us a glorious day for getting in the water. The sun was shining and there were even pods of dolphins swimming in the bay! I was hoping they might come over for a bit of a closer look at the crazy humans thinking they could swim (it’s happened once before), but for today we had to be satisfied with watching them from a distance.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We swam a medium distance, with a slightly shorter session. This was for the benefit of those really wanting to save their best for tomorrow’s race. There is benefit to a bit of a taper in training if you have a big event you want to do your best at. It means you’re going into the event at your peak, not tired or sore from training. As a general rule, you don’t gain any extra fitness in your last two weeks of training, and hopefully by then any tweaks to technique are well and truly embedded, so it’s a matter of eating well, not drinking too much, and doing any last emotional and psychological preparation you need to. Keeping up your presence in the water is part of that, and I have to say, it was a pretty easy task on a day as lovely as Saturday. Especially with the return to beach training of the truly-inspiring Fiona!

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 11.58.35 PM

%d bloggers like this: