I get a lot of questions about swimming from people I meet or people I swim with. A little bird (think someone who regularly makes me want to vomit from exertion) who taught himself to swim is particularly persistent with his questions to me about swimming. He has studied all the technical aspects of swimming, and when I see him explaining stroke technique to other people, I find myself fascinated. I push off the wall and try to assess whether I am “doing it right”.
Despite swimming most of my life, I can explain surprisingly little about the technical aspects of swimming. Maybe I am being a little hard on myself (and I know I have coached some of your kids in swimming, so try not to be shocked!), but I have actually learned a lot more about the sport since I started swimming regularly again about 3 years ago. Brook, my first adult swim team coach, had excellent explanations about stroke technique. But Brook, like me, is a lifelong swimmer. I learned a lot from her, but it was easy to assume that she had compiled all that knowledge from swimming for a REALLY long time.
On the other hand, Little Bird hasn’t been swimming that long, and while he can practice every drill perfectly and has studied swimming like a science, it’s driving him crazy that he hasn’t quite made a breakthrough with swimming yet. So he asked me the other day, while I am dying (again) on the treadmill (again), “What does swimming feel like?” He was looking for a magic bullet. And I think I know what it is. He’s not gonna like it, but maybe you will…
You need to embrace your inner mermaid.
That’s it. Understand we are talking about hypothetical mermaids (I am a mother of preschool girls, not a weirdo) Mermaids have a flow that makes it possible to swim with both grace and power. Too many new swimmers (including many powerful athletes) try to muscle or fight their way through the water. You have to work with the water. Mermaids are relaxed in the water. Many new swimmers are not. A mermaid’s face is always serene and beautiful. Think about your face when you swim–is it relaxed? If not, then it’s not gonna work. I always made sure my tongue was super loose and hanging out (not very mermaid-like, but…) And just like in every other exercise, if your shoulders are up at your ears, something’s wrong.
Swimming has a rhythm, but I wouldn’t call it a cadence, like biking or running. When it’s easy and you have a real feel for it, you no longer have to think about it. The only exercise I can compare it to is when you are in an intense, sweaty yoga flow, and you just start moving and breathing without thinking. If that’s ever happened to you, perhaps you remember that moment when you let go and stopped thinking and just did it. Feel for the water is the same- just stop fighting the flow and go with it.
When I have the opportunity to put on fins, I actually do swim like a mermaid, even for a half a length or so. I just let go and swim like I did when I was a kid. Because if I’m not having fun, then why in the hell would I get up at 5:30 in the morning to get wet and cold?
If you feel inclined, send along your swim questions, and if I can’t answer them, I will find someone who can!