How I Learned to Swim

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I always knew how to “swim”.  But my version of knowing how to “swim” wasn’t quite the same as actually knowing how to swim. I could float for hours in any body of water, but my version of a freestyle stroke was closer to drowning than it was to the smooth long strokes you see from a seasoned swimmer. I had never had a lesson, or been taught any form. But after a minor injury about ten years ago, I had to take a reprieve from lifting and most sports (those with a lot of cutting and/or contact). I debated biking vs. swimming, but I decided swimming was the way to go since winter was approaching.

The first day I went in the pool, it was ugly. Every 50 meters required significant rest time to catch my breath and let my arms and shoulders rest. Up until this point, I still thought I knew how to swim. Enter the internet….That night I was googling-away looking for information about how to become a better swimmer. This google-fest consisted of phrases like “how to swim”, “become a better swimmer”, “freestyle swimming”. There was one result that popped up off and on throughout my research, “Total Immersion”. I watched some of the videos and read some online reviews and decided to try it out.

As I watched, I realized how wrong I was in regards with how to learn the skill. (As a side-note, learning to swim was really the time that changed how I acquired new skills and/or new knowledge forever. More on that in a future post). Total Immersion starts you off with VERY basic drills teaching you things like, body positioning, how to properly kick, how to float on your back, how to float on your side, how to roll over to breath. I’m not going to lie, I felt a little like a jackass doing some of these drills. I was taking up a whole lane floating up and down on my back or my side. Often times I would be running into the lane dividers or the wall of the pool! At the time, I felt like these were drills for a 3 year old! Despite the less-than-manly feeling, I stuck with it, even though it felt like I was only making baby steps.

It turns out one of the most important skills in swimming is to stay relaxed. This hit home hard. I had been fighting the water, trying to out out-muscle it, but I really just had to relax and glide. I think a lot of men have the same issue with this.

Don’t get me wrong, an Olympic swimmer I am not. BUT, I am now good enough that people mistake me for someone who knows that they are doing! It was tough to be patient at times, but it paid off. I went from gasping for breath after 50M to doing 800M swims with ease. I would recommend this DVD to anyone who is looking to add something new to their workouts, or even someone who is playing around with the idea of a triathlon. (I think the TI style is perfect for triathlons because it is primarily arm driven swimming with a minimal kicking.)

My beginner keys to swimming

  • Positioning is key, you want your body to be long, and balanced in the water. The head stays down, looking only forward.
  • Get long, as mentioned above you want to make your body as long and straight as possible with your strokes. The hand reaches far ahead and the body is lengthened behind.
  • Arms should be relaxed on forward stroke, with the hand entering quietly and softly just after passing the head.
  • The back arm should be almost back to your ear before pulling with the forward arm.
  • Kick should be consistent and calm, just breaking the surface of the water.
  • Cup your hands softly, and almost turn your body over the hand after they enter the water Sideways? Get sideways as you glide, you are more aerodynamic!

Other keys:

Do the drills, repetition, don’t worry about your times early on. It’s okay to look a little stupid.
You don’t have to get a speedo, but get a “jammer”. A jammer is kind of like spandex shorts. It makes a huge difference when swimming
Get some good goggles and goggle case. It is probably only a $30 investment, but well worth it.

Product links:

These are the actual products that I use. I tried a few different pairs of goggles and different swim trunks / jammers… these are the products that I settled on. I hope they work for you as well!
Goggles – Speedo Vanquisher
Speedo Goggle Case
Speedo Jammer
Total Immersion

photo credit:
Tony Baldasaro

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