Why is swimming the most difficult sport of the three in a triathlon? It certainly is different from cycling and running in terms of technique, muscles required, and environment. When you swim, you are pushing against liquid in four dimensions, which is completely different than fighting gravity on the ground in two dimensions. It also takes a different kind of training to master.
My approach to swimming was more of shear strength. While my swim coach was able to teach me side stroke fairly quickly, freestyle (frontal crawl) presented many challenges. My form was so bad that I required lots of oxygen, which I couldn’t get, to feed muscles as I forced my way through the water. I was tense, lacked balance, and was unable to get oxygen to keep moving. So, for the 2009 triathlon season, my swim was all about brute force with a scissor kick and the side stroke (I finished three triathlons this way). I found out the major disadvantage of this stroke was that it tired out my legs before I even got on the bike, effecting my bike and run times in a major way.
There must be a better way?
YES, there is a better way. Ever wonder why Michael Phelps is so fast, yet is pretty scrawny? (You could probably fit three of his quads in one of mine.) I certainly have more strength than he does, yet he can run circles around me all day long.
What is the difference between Aric and Phelps? The key to swimming speed is moving through water efficiently, with as little drag as possible. When a boat builder starts designing a boat, he/she does not start with the engine, he/she starts with designing a hull that moves over the water with minimal drag and then puts a motor on the back. Swimming is the same thing… you don’t need strength to be an excellent, efficient, fast swimmer.
Enter Total Immersion, a method of learning how to swim based on kaizen. I heard about it through my local triathlon club and signed up for their two day workshop figuring I had nothing to lose.
The two day workshop explained the fundamentals of how to start swimming; designed so that someone who has never been in the water before can easily grasp the basic positions needed to develop the right, efficient form from the beginning. Little did I know that this would spark a new passion for swimming within me.
The key to successful Total Immersion swimming is finding balance in the water so that you move through the liquid efficiently. The more drag you create, the more you have to work to maintain speed with every stroke.
I won’t go into too much detail, because I don’t want to infringe on their sales. I will say this though, what is did for me in two days, was far beyond my expectations.
Upon reviewing video of me swimming on saturday morning, our coach described my technique along the lines of unbalanced and uncoordinated as I struggled for breathe, dragging my legs, furiously kicking, and swinging my arms in desparation to get to the other side. Not a pretty picture.
By the end of the second day, I had very good balance and my body was more coordinated to the point that I was relaxed. Breathing was much less of an issue because I was using less energy to move through the water. The power was coming from the hip, not the kick. Just by finding balance, I was able to drastically reduce the energy I used to swim.
While Total Immersion didn’t make me into Michael Phelps in two days, the improvements I saw were amazing. I know that with more practice and refinement of the Total Immersion drills, I can be a fast and efficient swimmer.
All of the sudden, I am looking forward to the pool. My 2010 triathlon training plan is now full of exciting workouts, both on land and in the water. You know, swimming isn’t so difficult anymore, it is almost easy.
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For more on Total Immersion, Check out the following YouTube Channels:
TI Swim Japan
Total Immersion Israel