I have been coaching beginners in Learn to Swim classes for sometime before developing my skills to coach advanced triathletes and open water swimmers. It has always been exciting coaching beginners and seeing them progress to swimming long. There is a lot of effort and courage involved going from swimming 10 meters to the first 50 meters. So here are 5 key things that would make a massive difference in your transition from a beginner to an intermediate swimmer.
Good continuos exhalation
It is very common that you will find yourself breathless when taking your first 25m/50m. There are a few things that impact this.
First, you need to make sure that as soon as you start putting your head in the water, exhalation must happen. If you find there are no bubbles coming out through your mouth or nose, you need to work on body relaxation exercise by practising the Sink Down Drill. When performing this drill, clear your lungs as soon as you enter the water and this should get you naturally to sink to the bottom of the pool. Once you are comfortable with it, get back to your freestyle and swim with this mantra: Breathe - Bubble - Breathe (if you are breathing every 2 strokes) and Breathe - Bubble - Bubble - Breathe (if you are breathing every 3 strokes). This means after taking a breath, once your face enters the water, you have to let the bubbles come out. Now, you should be able to exhale and breathe in much more comfortably than before. The reason why you shouldn’t hold your breath in the water is that holding your breath develops CO2, which makes you tense and triggers anxiety and comfortability in the water.
Second, if you have just finished your Learn to Swim course, your coach might not have introduced you to the bilateral breathing pattern (myswim coaching does). So now is the time for you to learn breathing on two sides. Bilateral breathing helps you have a balanced stroke and a good swimming posture. However, quite a number of beginners find bilateral breathing hard and this is especially so when your cadence is low. Low cadence means your face is in the water for too long before taking the next breath thus giving you the feeling of gasping for air when you come up to take your next breath. So how do you solve this and still swim bilaterally? Instead of breathing every 3 strokes (B3), try to switch to a 2-3-2 pattern. This pattern means you will take 2 times breath on right and then switch to the left with 3 strokes in between and another 2 times breath on the left. You will find this pattern much easier as you get frequent supplies of oxygen while at the same time you are keeping your stroke symmetrical.
Poor Knee Driven Kick (Left) Vs Good Hips Driven Kick (Right)
It’s worth investing time and practice on your leg kick. A common poor kicking technique, such as the knee driven kick, will cause your body to sit low in the water and you will feel out of breath. This action makes you feel exhausted after a few laps of swimming as it burns a lot of oxygen and creates drag. To improve the efficiency of your kick, you need to drive the kick from the hips and not the knees. Work on the ballet leg kick in the deep water by kicking vertically. This will force you to initiate the kick from the hips. Once you are good, put on your fins and perform a torpedo kick with fins. Start with torpedo position with leg kick (fins on) and when you need to take breath do a short breastroke arm. By performing this drill, you should feel your gluteal muscles being engaged and your body is leaning to the left and right as the legs perform the action. Finally, when you are sure you are kicking from the hips, perform the torpedo kick and swim back. To perform this drill, push off the wall in a streamlined position; kick as fast as possible with only one breath and stop; swim back freestyle with a much steadier leg kick and you should now be able to feel the difference; the body position is much higher which causes less drag.
Ballet Leg Kick
3. FEEL FOR THE WATER
Pressing down at the front will brings upper body high and low legs at the back
Pressing the water with a very straight arm will cause your upper body to be high in the water due to physics in the water. The higher your body is, the lower your legs will sit in the water, creating drag at the back. Not only that, by doing such action, you are sending yourself ‘upward’ instead of ‘forward’. If you have been doing research online, you would probably have heard of the “high elbow catch”. High elbow catch means you don't drop your elbow during the entire “catch & pull” phase. When your elbow is in a fixed position, the forearm initiates the catch and does the whole process until you finish the stroke at the back. This action will generate a lot of propulsion forward and is often seen in great freestyle swimmers. How can you too develop a good stroke? Sculling actions are one of the key elements in developing your feel for the water. Work on the front scull as this will improve your “catch setup” and then work on the doggy paddle for a high elbow catch. The doggy paddle drill will force your arms to bend and push the water backwards. It is almost impossible to perform this drill with a straight arm catch!
Front sculling will help to develop the feel for the water and improve the initial catch
4. ARM RECOVERY
High Elbow Recovery (Smooth Style - Download it for free! at http://www.swimsmooth.com/console.php)
Straight Arm Recovery (Swinger Style)
If you learnt to swim as an adult, flexibility might be an issue. Very common, your swimming instructor would introduce you to a high elbow for the recovery, which requires some amount of good flexibility. The reason it is taught is because this recovery action looks beautiful, elegant and relaxed above the water. However, this is not always true for those who are becoming a swimmer at this age. The high elbow recovery might work well for them but it might not work for you. If you find it hard to perform this action and find you often drop the elbow and slap the water before the fingertips enter the water, you could experiment with another less popular style of recovery, a straighter arm recovery that is often used by ‘swinger’ swim type and open water swimmers. This style doesn’t require a huge amount of flexibility and it works well for both conditions; pool and open water.
5. SWIM MORE! UNDERSTANDING LACTATE THRESHOLD FOR BEGINNERS
“I can’t swim long distances. Why do others swim so easily?” This is a very common question asked by swimmers who have just completed their learn to swim course. Often the reply you would get from your coach is “swim more”. That’s the straightforward answer and yes it’s correct! The science behind this is, you haven’t developed your lactate threshold yet. You lactate blood kick up too fast resulting a reduction in the efficiency of muscle endurance. In addition, if the timing of your breathing at this stage is still poor, the build up of CO2 and lack of oxygen supply will speed up the deficiency. To improve on that, bear in mind the mantra Breathe - Bubble - Bubble - Breathe. Say it – “bubble” – loud in the water and worry less you won’t get choked!. Once you are comfortable, try to swim 25M in repetitions such as 10x25M, and after a period of training, you should be able to swim 50M at one go! Once your blood lactate level has reached a levelled state, you should be able to swim continuously over a long distance at steady pace.
And finally remember, a good swimmer was once a beginner! So keep swimming!
Stroke Correction Expert,