Finding Fiddy: Slow Down and Remember to Breathe
Over the last couple of months, I've literally immersed myself in swimming. I hit the pool once or twice a week to practice between lessons (which has helped with my farmer's tan!), and when I have some free time, I'll hop on YouTube to watch videos on swim technique. With all that practice and studying, you'd think I'd be farther along by now, but nope, I still feel like I'm floundering. Learning to swim, it turns out, is a lot more difficult than I expected.
I like to be challenged, so as frustrating as learning to swim has been, I looked forward to my fourth lesson with Kathleen at ClubSport San Jose — even if it happened to be at 7:00am on a Saturday. (I'm not a morning person, so you know I want something real bad when I'm willing to get out of bed that early.) I think I was still groggy when I stepped into the warm water of the lesson pool.
"Did you go snorkeling on your honeymoon?" Kathleen asked after we exchanged good mornings. I nodded no. There's no way I would snorkel, even if the equipment is designed to keep me alive. She pulled out a pair of fins from a mesh bag. "We're using these today. Put them on," she said.
Kathleen uses fins with swimmers who take her Be Vacay Ready swim lessons. For me, the fins were to help correct my technique, build strength in my legs, and develop ankle flexibility. It was my first time using them, so I was initially thrown off by the resistance. I was kicking so hard I ended up doing what Kathleen called a baby crawl, which meant that I was bending the knees too much. Once I got the hang of it and learned to kick from my hips as opposed to with my legs, the propulsion I got from the fins was amazing! We did a few different drills with them on, including learning how to modify my body position to go a specific direction in the water. I had so much fun that I was a little bummed when she asked me to take them off for the final 10 minutes of the lesson. Kathleen explained that using the fins is a great tool to improve as a swimmer, but you don't want to use them so much that you depend on them all the time.
Left: The buoys and kickboards I used to practice between lessons. Right: The pool at ClubSport Pleasanton worked out in to rehab my torn quad.
It took me a few weeks to get back into the pool for my fifth lesson. I play soccer on the weekends and I tore my left quad during a game. While that in and of itself sucked, I hated that I had to lay off any physical activity. As soon as I regained enough range of motion in my leg, I used the outdoor pool at ClubSport Pleasanton to help with rehab, something I'd never done with prior injuries because of my fear of the water. Pool workouts were low-impact and low-stress, and the water provided enough resistance for an efficient yet gentle workout.
When I finally felt my quad had healed enough, Kathleen and I set up a date and time for my fifth swim lesson. I was a bit worried that I'd completely lost everything I'd learned. Fortunately, I picked up right where I left off, so Kathleen thought it was about time to introduce the next step in the swim process.
"Do you want to learn to side breathe?" she asked. This was, no lie, the moment I'd been waiting for. I had kicking down and my arms were coming along. Side breathing was the final step in my goal of being able to swim one full lap. I excitedly said yes.
Before actually trying to side breathe while swimming, Kathleen had me repeat the breathing exercises from my first lesson. She empasized to exhale nice and smooth, as if I were blowing out birthday candles. By "blowing out birthday candles," I'm pretty sure she didn't mean this, which is what I looked like:
It didn't take long for her to propose that I just try to do it while swimming. Exhaling while swimming comes a lot more natural to me because I equate it to exhaling while running. I knew that breathing, however, would be tough to grasp.
I pushed off the wall. One stroke, two strokes, three strokes, four strokes and turn and breathe. I tilted my head to the side and managed to get some air, but I got mostly water and stopped swimming at the next stroke.
Kathleen said I probably wasn't getting rid of all the air in my lungs before I tried to breathe and that it seemed that I'm rushing every motion. She suggested I slow down a little, relax, stay in control, focus on form, and begin the process of turning my head to take a breath sooner. We worked on side breathing the rest of the lesson, mostly on making sure I'm exhaling underwater to make room for oxygen.
I feel like there's still quite a bit of work to be done if I'm to reach my goal by the end of the eight lesson, but I'm determined to accomplish it.