The Great Misunderstood and Complicated World of Water
Water is and forever will be my element and freedom. Every time I jump or dive into the water to swim it gives me chills and a great sense of thrill. Not just because of the temperature of the water, but because of the amazing quietness and calm feeling I have in that liquid submerged world. I feel empowered as the weight of the world feels lifted from my body and my shoulders and it’s the best feeling ever. The weightlessness is just amazing and I have never felt a sensation equally liberating anywhere else. When I was a young swimmer growing up, one of my favorite things to do was just dive down under the water and swim around looking from one end of the pool to the other. I think that is how it would feel if I could actually fly. The fluid feeling of being able to move any part of my body in any direction and have it impact the rest of my body is unmatched in any other form of motion on earth. It’s fascinating how things can move through the water. Ever since my first experiences submerged in my world of water I have always calculated movement through my eyes under the water. Our body reacts so differently in water. This is why it is such a complicated world for most people. They don’t know how to look at it, understand it, feel it or use it to their advantage.
Swimming and being in water has been a part of my life since I was about three years old. I was unable to go under water until I was five because of having tubes in my ears. But boy, when I got my tubes out and could go under water that was the beginning of the end for me. My mom tells me that the first thing I did when I jumped into the water was the butterfly stoke, which is one of the hardest strokes to learn. I had spent so much time just watching my siblings and other swimmers that I had inadvertently studied the way their bodies moved in the water. How they placed their hands in the water, how their hips moved, how their legs thrusted up and down for propulsion. My brain and body just understood it. I wish other things in my life came as easy as swimming did for me. I just took to swimming like I was made to do it, and I guess I was.
I was always very competitive and fast for my young age. From the very beginning, skipping over swim lessons all together, I went right into racing older kids because there wasn’t an age group to race in. I competed with the high school kids for fun because my mom was the coach and though it would motivate them by trying to swim down the littlest kid on the starting blocks. All through high school I competed for state championship titles and even contemplated a college team but I was so burned out of competing and being in the pool about 4-6 hours a day most of my life, I needed a break. This is were triathlons came into my life. As I started to compete and come out of the water almost always in the lead people wanted to know how I did it. They would ask, “How can you travel through the water so fast and so effortlessly?” So that’s what got me into coaching and trying to take what my body and mind did naturally so I could help others learn to do it as well. So others could be indulged with having there own amazing world and experience water like I have grown so accustomed to and love.
People always talk about having a runner’s high but most will never talk about having a swimmer’s high. Perhaps there isn’t one, but if you ever experience what I describe and what I feel, it can trump and surpass the best of a runner’s high. When you have it and feel it, it is the greatest feeling in the world. It’s not just a sensation or a happy feeling in your head like a runner’s high can be, it’s a high that encompasses your whole body and mind. In the water you only have two main senses that are at work, eyesight and touch. Your body has to heighten those senses for better control. You feel one hundred-fold the power of drag on your body than you do just running through air. Because you are “weightless”, in the sport of swimming all you really have to rely on is how well you float and create momentum. You don’t need to be super ripped or super lean because it doesn’t matter. If you can run a sub 5 minute mile or bike a 40k TT in under an hour it has very little relevance to how one can move effortlessly through the water. Most of the best swimmers around do not appear physically like the best runners or cyclists at all. Swimming is simple, it’s all about floating. In all the swim lessons I do the first thing I do for people is teach them how to float, I mean truly float. Most people think they know how to float but they really don’t. To truly float you need to let yourself go, don’t think about staying right on top of the water. Let your arms sink or float where they may and let your legs do what they do which is sink –come on they’re pure muscle– that’s what they will do! Feel your body in the water and then let your senses be heightened, it’s quiet, it’s peaceful and you are floating, you won’t drown. As long as you let yourself relax and float you will not sink to the bottom. You will not drown!
Once you get floating down, then all you need to do at this point is add some propulsion with a kick then bring the arms into the mix. Kicking is a huge part of better swimming even though your kick is only about 15% of your propulsion through the water. Your kick has to be efficient; otherwise it works against your momentum. Most of the people I work with tend to have a kick that does not work in sync with their arms. Look at it this way, when you run or walk on land your legs do all the work while your arms follow them but they do it naturally. In water it is the exact opposite. Your arms are the primary source of movement and generate the most propulsion. Your legs are there to follow the arms. But if you don’t have a good shallow efficient kick this working together cannot happen.
This is why there are people whose legs sink or who kick too much and it causes their arms to have inefficient power in the pull. The body can only put the power emphasis into one major body group and if the legs take over then the arms become the secondary, not the primary. So get in the pool and learn how to float first then start to do lots and lots of kicking. I don’t mean kicking with fins either. Fins just delay the learning curve of proper kicking efficiency. Get a good long kickboard and kick length after length in the pool. Soon your kick will become better and better. When your kick becomes better and more efficient then your swimming form will gain leaps and bounds. Your speed and endurance will triple. I could spend hours and hours going over proper technique and how to do this and how to do that, but honestly I hate typing and I don’t think Triathlon Edge wants this to be a super long and boring article. The most important thing I want to get across today, in this article, is how great and wonderful swimming can be. Make it your own world. Take the quietness to heart and listen to your body and your breath underwater. If you truly listen and feel yourself in the water you to will be able to feel yourself getting faster with less effort than ever before. Think about your stroke and how your body feels as it travels through the resistant water. Soon you too will feel that swimmer’s high. I don’t ever understand why people say that swimming is so boring. To me it will never be boring because I am in my own underwater world and the only thing I am thinking about is my stroke and my body moving through this great world of my OWN!!