Now and again I put some thoughts out there on the sport of Swimming, mostly related to Openwater and Triathlon Training. I observe, get involved, read about and chart all aspects of training and racing with great interest. Swimming and especially Triathlon/Openwater has many, many experts, fast swimmers wanting you to mimic them and swim fast like them. Sadly within such a new sport it does not take much to seem worldly when the general knowledge base is still building. What I find interesting is when swimmers who come in for lessons tell me what they were advised when they travelled and participated in a training camp or had prior lessons. Of late, someone has even claimed to have invented a new style of FC <Front Crawl but also known as freestyle.> Think about that for a moment. Your left arm alternates with your right arm to rotate from the shoulder while horizontal in the water with your legs travelling up and down almost vertically behind the body. Millions have done it, been taught it and travelled millions of metres with it. In 2019 you are unlikely to have invented anything new. Within this loose outline of the mechanics is a unique movement to you in terms of your strength, flexibility, fitness and proprioception skills. Don’t mould yourself to a style. Work on improving propulsion, lowering drag and then you can fine tune and decide the stroke rate, the kick to arm ratio, the breathing pattern and head position that suits you.
If a swim guru recommends ‘catch up’ as a stroke to you then keep in mind that is alternating single arm FC. Not fast. If this is your full stroke you will not swim fast. There will be no flow, no coupling of the body from the legs, your kick, through your rotation to your arm pull. It looks pretty and bubble free. But it cannot be fast. There is no anchoring of the lead arm as it moves to a vertical forearm position with fingertips pointing down enabling you to launch the recovering arm forwards as the hip rotates.
If, while on training camp your coach did not tell you about swimming with 3mm of daylight between your fingers, they should have. This has been well documented, scientifically proven and if your tri coach is not up to date then your swimming is suffering.
If you read that Bilateral breathing was best, then yes it is something to aim for in training but not always the case on race day. As you demand more air as your pace increases or the stress of an openwater start kicks in you will probably feel better breathing to one side every 2nd stroke. Wonderful if you can dictate which side that is and that will be made easier if you breathe to both sides in training.
If a swim guru suggests you mimic their technique, check that you are also similar height, have a similar range of motion, as long arm span, similar flexibility, strength & fitness etc better still ask them to improve ‘your’ current technique. What suited them, what they managed to get away with or make use of due to factors particular to them are unlikely to work for you.
Bubble free swimming is pretty and looks great as I demonstrate it during lessons. It is also slow, not practical and hard to sustain. Keep separate the notion of perfect FC and an optimum, useful speed to move at. While excessive bubbles, from technical inaccuracies and splashing create the illusion of speed but rarely deliver. Fast swimming is never bubble free. Keep in mind you are not aiming to swim bubble free.
I once read that an unbalanced FC lacking symmetry is to be strived for in Openwater due to the chaos that OW comprises. Yes there are subtle changes to your technique as conditions outside change. (Stroke tempo, the side you breath to, rate of leg kick, straighter arm recovery might be advisable.) But if one arm pulls wide, pushes down or moves across the centre line while the other performs a nice ‘catch position’ you are unlikely to swim straight. The less you swim straight the more often you need to sight which has drag and energy cost.
SFT does not have a style or method we teach, or even a steps 1-10 we recommend our coaches follow. We work to improve what suits you best and ideally make what you have better. This can, but rarely happens in a one day workshop, it needs time and patience. At best in a lesson we can identify what is holding you back, film the faults and introduce some drills to help you breakthrough. It will take months for this to bed in, feel natural, to have new muscle groups recruited and start to work efficiently. Think of this process more akin to learning a musical instrument or language. I will never forget when a swimmer yelled at me ‘ I learned to swim quicker than this!!’