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Fixing my swim form

Got a swim lesson from my coach. It was quite informative–maybe there is hope for me yet.

Few key points he brought up that made quite a bit of difference right away:

  • Keeping the kick range small (think of the body as a torpedo) and just below the surface. Getting a sense for the right kicking by the feel of the water.
  • Timing of the arm entry. Keep the other arm stationary as long as possible. The catch-up drill drove the point home.
  • Powering the pull. Using some paddles, he asked me to swim one lap with one and then the next lap without. After explaining the dynamic of the pulling motion (maximizing efficiency in the 3 feet distance), I steadily got faster.

I think everyone should get a swimming lesson. I’m looking forward to enjoying my swims a lot more.

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Almost forgot–I took these photos on one of our Elfin Forest Rides. Don’t do what I did–taking photos or talking on a cell phone while riding is dangerous. But since I got these, I thought you should see it too! Ths is a hilly 62 mile ride. The grades are 10-14% in at least 10 sections, and over 18 in 2 sections.

Elfin Forest is a small community in northeast San Diego county. Yeah, it’s a tiny forested area, as the name suggests, just east of Lake Hodges. The air is very fresh when you pass by there, and really is one of the pleasures on the ride. The roads are very nice, but very narrow at spots. It’s not all hills, so intermediate riders (not beginners) do okay.

The two girls (they insist I call them that) in this set did CA 70.3 easily using this training ride exclusively. In fact, they blew away one of our strong riders who had nutritional issues–not supposed to happen even if one is having a bad day right?

Here is the photo slideshow

And the profile of the ride:

Elfin Forest Ride

Elfin Forest Ride

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I needed to re-certify before my card expired. So I showed up early, with no breakfast or coffee.

Plenty of people showed up for recertification. The main difference this time versus the previous class, was that many of the sections were abbreviated. It’s basically a refresher course. We covered the following:

  • Rescue breathing — Adult / Child / Infant
  • CPR — Adult / Child / Infant
  • Choking victim — Adult / Child / Infant
  • AED — Adult / Child / Infant

It’s basically an on-scene responder training class. The goal is to stabilize the victim, until the emergency first-responders come in. The point that was made was: do not go beyond what you’ve been trained to do.

I enjoyed working with the CPR dummies (adult and baby). Just good to get feedback about the right way of doing CPR because who wants to do it for real? Anyway, it was a really good refresher course. I might look into other Red Cross courses just because.

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Some background:

I was a bit frustrated about my lack of forward propulsion in the water. My tri coach couldn’t say anymore than “make your strokes longer” when it came to evaluating my times in the water. What does that mean exactly?

So out of this frustration, I have skipped scheduled workouts in the fishbowl where I just go through thousands of meters. My thought was, if I had a garbage stroke, I’ll just be multiplying garbage!

My endurance in water wasn’t in question (after finishing an IM), but getting out of the water quickly was. I got laughs in class when I explained that my goal was simply “not to be last out of the water”.

This workshop marks the start of my serious swim training for the long course triathlons I’ve signed up for starting in July.

TI workshop:

The Total Immersion freestyle workshop was held in Coronado, CA over two days. The class instructor was Fiona Laughlin, Terry Laughlin’s daughter. Two capable assistant coaches were present–Kim Dinell from Florida, and Devonna Eubanks from Illinois. Fiona lives and coaches in Los Angeles; Devonna was very funny and was very fishlike in the water; and Kim was excellent at getting the point across underwater and above.

The pool had heated, mildly-chlorinated salt water; I didn’t get the usual chlorine-induced sinusitis, so I was happy about that. The class was composed mostly of new triathletes, 1 masters swimmer, 1 competitive swimmer. and maybe 2 new swimmers.

I’ve tried the TI concepts on my own, and I found these to be very logical. No problems at all with the drills. So when it finally came to the workshop, I continued to have no issues with the drills and what they were trying to put across. I was looking forward to “sweet spot” and “fish” drills, but was a little disappointed when the coaches skipped these. These drills are so trademark TI that it seemed almost blasphemous to go without. A few students did seem to be disappointed as well.

The before instruction video was quite telling. Except for the windmill I seemed to be doing with my arms, the rest of my body was fine. Balance was fine, head position was fine, breathing position was okay. The after instruction video showed some improvement, but you know–stroke timing is difficult because it is based on muscle memory.

What the TI coaches identified is that because of my upper body muscle structure, I seem to be very inflexible. This affects my strokes because of the required arm position of the trailing arm relative to the leading arm. My muscles get in the way!

So I learned that I need to work on stroke timing and being patient with the lead hand. I learned that I need to work on my flexibility. I also learned the value of recording progress through video. I had this concern about looking like a whale underwater, but I turned out to look like any other triathlete on video. Ha ha. Just not very fast, that’s all.

We had one very fast triathlete in class who said his performance has plateaued. He actually seemed to get faster, because his form was already very good. He was just needing to be more patient with his lead hand.

We had a girl in class who was part of her school’s swim team. She was used to swimming fast and her kick was phenomenal (even if she said her kick was slow compared to her teammates). The coaches made suggestions as to her form relative to what she was involved in. Fiona, I think, was a collegiate swimmer like her dad.

Regarding TI’s reliance on stroke count to measure efficiency–it does help. Unfortunately for me, their pre-swim instructions for the after TI instruction video was vague. I swam pretty much the same way as before, whereas the other students were doing the steps almost in slow motion. No improvement for me. The coaches did tell me that I was doing great in the drills, and not to be concerned about stroke count until after a few more weeks of drills.

So in closing, I got what I came for in this workshop. I was able to verify that my swim form is okay relative to the norms. I was also able to find out why I don’t have propulsive power in the water. And best of all, I now have solutions in how to make it all work. It’s going to take time.


Recommendations:


If you are just starting out in triathlons, this workshop helps a lot in laying out a foundation for drills and eventual repeats. It starts you slow, to really look at your swim form before you ramp up the meters in the fishbowl.

The difference between the DVD/books versus the workshop is the “knowing for sure” what they are talking about. There are few certified TI coaches in the U.S., and probably few masters swimmers who have attended the workshops or trained with TI coaches. The feedback that the coaches give you in person regarding drills and form is invaluable.

But the DVD/books do work, even without the personal feedback. The nice thing about TI is that it makes you look at your swim form and efficiency in the water. If you work at it, you’ll be surprised at what improvements you can get on your own.

For triathletes who have done tris for a long time
, you’ll get feedback on how efficient your stroke is and how well your form holds with speed. This workshop also helps if you are unsure about your swim.

For competitive swimmers
, best to stick with what you are already doing unless you want to do longer swims. Terry Laughlin did start TI by looking at the forms of the best competitive swimmers, so lots of similarities there. But the focus is swimming efficiency and possibly swimming long.

The main lesson I got is — there is no silver bullet. You got to do the work if you are not blessed with talent!

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So we started out the day in the pool. That’s right, into the water! I wasn’t even awake yet.

We went through all the concepts introduced in Day 1. Somehow, I experienced a major disconnect after just one day. I could hardly do anything right.

A few more concepts were introduced: 1) the streamlined glide, 2) the zen switch, 3) pulling the trailing arm with your breath, 4) patient leading arm, 5) flutter kick, 6) slow-to-dynamic skate, 7) timing arm entry, and 8 ) riding on track, and others. These do not have labels, and I’m describing it as best as I can.

After a late breakfast break, we were in the pool again. We were to convert the steps to the dynamics of the swim. It wasn’t easy, because to lose the structure meant that it went back to being totally devoid of limits again. In a way, this is where things got better and got worse.

We did get the video post-training. Many got distinct improvements. I got one–specifically, no more bubbles showing that I am no longer pouncing on the water. I felt much better at being able to do strokes without the windmill effect. I was much more effective at piercing the water with my trailing arm. But somehow, I’m withdrawing my leading arm too quickly so that there is not much glide again. Got to work on my balance more–my lower back sits lower below the water line. This has the effect of making drag that much more pronounced.

No improvement on number of strokes. Disappointing, but not too shocking. Afterall, I know that I don’t rely on kick and it takes a while for things to really start working.

So my task going forward is to: a) practice TI concepts twice a week, making sure that each length has a particular focus; b) don’t move forward until I get the timing of the strokes and the power of propulsive force figured out; and c) maybe two months down the line, start doing pool lengths again.

We did discuss how to structure training sessions late in the day. And the coaches were careful to tell the class to be patient while muscle memory is being reprogrammed. I know I got a long way to go–which is good. Got to find me someone who can continue to teach me TI in the next few months!

In summary, this seminar was useful to me in determining what was wrong with my freestyle form. Granted, there are codified practices towards solving these problems; unfortunately, none of these offer you instant results. The only thing I didn’t like much is the possible error of telling students of major improvements in their stroke rate in only two days of training. It probably could wait until the students have had some time to work on things. Plus, the calculation for stroke rate is too lo0se. I did notice one student do an unusually long streamlined glide before picking up the first stroke during the video; as a result, he easily saved himself 8 strokes overall. If someone had explained that I could do streamlined glide as well, I might have matched his stroke rate too. I scratch my head about that. Another student did a slow-motion swim, getting easily half the stroke rate as before. I scratch my head about that too.

Let’s get to work!

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Finding the Bryan Brent Center in Coronado, CA was pretty easy. Found the facility to be very accommodating. They have the classroom next to the pool, so coming from class to the swim portion was convenient. And the pool is a salt-water pool, making my chlorine-induced sinusitis concerns moot.

As I write this short entry, I’m surprised how many new concepts were introduced today. Two of the coaches came from masters programs (late TI converts), and one coach came from collegiate swimming. So we had a great mix of experiences coming from all angles. Plenty of pros and cons from the variety of swimming methods out there today.

In the class, we have a number of marathoners who are dabbling in triathlons (they got the sequence right). We also have a few seasoned triathletes who were turning to TI for a way to get better at swimming. The rest were new to swimming.

What’s surprising to me is how attending the seminar is quite different from just reading the books and watching the video. First of all, there is no interaction with books and DVDs. Plus, you don’t get the right feedback. You almost have to have a TI coach to know for sure that you are doing the right thing.

We did do the video for our pre-instruction swim forms. I looked fine as to my body on the horizontal plane. Even my kicks looked fine. The TI coach did show how I was making plenty of bubbles with my arms, which is an evidence of the windmill effect. I do have a strong upper body, and I guess I can power through any swim if I wanted to. (Which is the reason why I don’t power through, am not slugging through more of the same thousand meter sessions, and am at the TI seminar instead.) My swim form definitely shows signs of good coaching (Thanks to my first swim coach who emphasized good form over endurance). What I need now is to make my hips and arms learn the TI way to propel myself forward.

We studied each other’s swim forms. The swim form from a guy coming from a masters program was solid. His stroke rate was around 14 for 25 meters. Two long-time triathletes came in at 18 for 25 meters; the one thing that was common to both was the lack of glide and the urgency of getting to the catch. I’m not really saying the masters guy got this right or is better. He seemed to struggle through the TI concepts like everyone else. I think the videos helped me visualize what good swimming looks like and is like.

My stroke rate was 24 for 25 meters. Yeah, windmill. It also means I’m totally relying on my arms to propel me forward. Knowing I don’t rely on my legs is actually good; I don’t know how losing the propulsive force of their kicks will burden those who are already being asked to let go of it in favor of longer arm strokes.

We mainly worked on TI concepts like: a) the skate, b) the underswitch, c) and Zen skate. We worked on the superman position to find balance. We then proceeded to the skate to get the relationship between the body plane and how to reduce drag. I learned how to breathe through the nose to make getting up to air easier; it prevents the blow-hole experience (gasping for air, and needing to swallow air), and makes the transition much smoother. I learned the relationship between the hanging/marionnette arm, the leading hip, piercing the water, and inserting the hand into the slot.

Another surprise was we didn’t start with “sweet spot“, “the fish“, or any of the other concepts related to being comfortable in the water. These are what defines TI the most. One coach said that “the fish” is actually very hard to teach; and so in the interest of moving things along, at least this concept was no longer part of the schedule.

We did touch on concepts like: lengthening the vessel, hands on pocket (front, not side), the laser beam from your chest cavity through the neck and out of the top of the head, and piercing the water like a fish (don’t swim flat, and have a more pronounced hip switch).

I found the concepts taught to be quite logical. Not the easiest things to learn, but I did okay. My coach-related feedback were mainly to correct tendencies (head position, arm position, extending the arm forward for recovery, and blowing bubbles). A few guys were having a fun time all day trying to find their balance; not me!

Wow–I guess I got more out of Day 1 than I thought I did. Can’t wait for Day 2!

I thought I would do a run today, but was content with taking a power nap after. I feel great! Schedule the run after Day 2 then. Check!

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I went on a self-imposed slowdown in the past two months. Great for my running, which is my default activity. It couldn’t last. I now have big triathlons to train for in 2009. Beyond the run training, I also have to keep myself in shape for cycling and swimming.

I’m on day 2 of a base-building phase for cycling. I figure I got to get some spinning in to shake off the cobwebs so to speak. Before the holidays, I’ve been attending turbo class on Tuesdays. So my bike fitness after the IM hasn’t really gone down. What’s at issue I think is my ability to sustain a high rate of pedaling after hours on the bike.

So my bum is sore. Nice thing to report huh? I laugh. Part of bike endurance is really to get used to that narrow seat. I’m thinking if I really work on my trainer, I’ll arrive really strong when my Half-Ironman comes around in July. I had signed up for Vineman 70.3 up in Napa Valley, CA. It is an Ironman event. I heard the swim in the river is quite nice!

I got a long run scheduled tomorrow (a 21-miler). I’ll have to squish all my training days next week because of the long Disneyworld Marathon weekend starting Friday. I can’t wait!

I’m just starting to discover how to train properly for triathlons. For that matter, in marathoning as well. It’s amazing how being strong in marathoning makes you strong in triathlons, and it’s like a feedback loop. I’ll report every now and then how my training is going. I hope that will keep me honest!

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