Again, as I mentioned in Part I, I’m not a certified swim coach. Nor do I hold any swimming records or medals. I just love swimming and want to share some tips I’ve learned along the way as a triathlete.
Drill: Practice kicking without a kick board. Just put your arms out in front of you and breathe to the side to simulate freestyle. You can also use fins. They will help strengthen your legs. Make sure to point your toes and keep your legs straight. The kick comes from the hips. Imagine your legs like a whip, the foot is the end of that whip and your hips are the handle.
The other thing that really helps new swimmers is learning to rotate your body with every stroke. The best analogy I saw was in The Complete Guide to Triathlon Swimming and Training: Discover How to Quickly And Easily Swim Faster And More Efficiently, Overcome Your Fears, And Have Your Best Triathlon Yet by Kevin Koskella. It uses the analogy of fish and boats. They don’t have arms and legs, so to speak, so they use their core. Watch a fish. They twist from side to side.
Drill: (I got this drill from Koskella’s book mentioned above.) Practice swimming with one arm at your side and one arm in front of you with your body on it’s side. When your right arm is straight out, breathe to you left, when your left arm is straight out breathe to the right. This will help you learn to swim with that rotation from side to side.
One of my own personal “coaching” tips is to imagine yourself as being a pretty swimmer. I know that sounds super goofy but I think swimming is a beautiful and graceful sport. No amount of beating the hell out of the water will get you through it. Take your time and imagine you are a lovely, fluid, pretty something. You wanna be a pretty seahorse? Fine. You wanna be a graceful shark? Cool. Just think fluid and gliding thoughts.
Now, if you have read all the way to here and are saying, but B.o.B., I can’t breathe. I feel like I’m killing myself before the end of one lap. Well, yes. It’s tough. You are tougher. Just keep swimming little Nemo. You’ll get stronger I promise.
Open Water and Race Swimming
First things first, if you do any open water swim training, have someone or someones with you. Or at least have someone walk the shore while you swim. And wear the brightest swim cap you own. Safety first.
If you can measure the swim with your Garmin or other GPS device have at it. If not, simply walk the distance you want to swim and hop in and head back to where you started. If you swim in an ocean expect a current, if you swim in lakes it’s a little tougher to measure but you can always do out and backs.
One of the best race preps is to go out to the body of water you are going to race in and take a dip. Even if it’s just the day before the race, it’ll calm your nerves a bit. I was just happy to see the river when I did the Augusta Half Ironman.
Race starts are always nerve-wracking, throw in a fear of swimming with lots of other athletes and a big, dark body of water and you get a whole new level of anxiety. It’s really hard to overcome this anxiety and I speak from experience with my whole cycling anxiety. For me, the best way to work with my anxiety (because it’s never one hundred percent gone) was to just cycle as much as I could and with people I trust. I had some low points but I also learned a lot and come race day I was ready. Again, you have to do what makes you most afraid repeatedly.
All that being said, if you have a mass beach start and you are really nervous, let everyone go ahead and start without all of the craziness. If you feel a little more confident and want to get out there, start to the outside of the first turn buoy so that you avoid some of the turn chaos. It gets clumped up around those turns.
Start swimming when you feel ready and don’t worry about others doing the dolphin dive start. You can learn that later. Try to slow your breathing if you start to panic. And if you need to do take a few breaststrokes to calm yourself down, that’s fine. Especially when you are just starting. However, one thing I was told after doing more breaststroking that I should during a race, is that the second you stop moving your arms forward in that freestyle stroke, you lose ground. Keep that in mind.
I think I’ve written enough for a lifetime with this post. If you haven’t fallen asleep or clicked over to facebook, then my job here is done. You’re ready for the Olympics!
Any tips to add? Any thing you before races to calm you down? Let me know in the comments.