I took a different approach to my swimming yesterday. It was Monday and as I think I have written here before, Monday for some reason seems to be really busy during the summer. For me, busy also means stressful because I can’t keep track of where everyone is. It can also mean that the water gets really churned up which can lead to gulps of water rather than air. I thought about not going but having missed Sunday because of the birthday event I felt it was important to do something, even if that something was swimming up and down using front-crawl.
I must have been a bit earlier yesterday because the pool was nearly empty when I arrived. I think I had the lane to myself for a length or so before more people piled in. Soon it got to the point where everybody was cruising at roughly the same pace quite closely packed. I found the continuous swimming too stressful and so I decided to do blocks of 4 lengths at a faster pace and then have a break. I did a number of 100 metres in this fashion but I wasn’t sure I was going much faster after a while. I switched to two lengths of sprinting. Then I switched to doing arms only and using a pull buoy. Basically I didn’t feel my pace was up to scratch and felt I need to get my arms moving a bit quicker.
Isolating parts of the body, usually arms and legs allows the swimmer to apply more effort into that area but also allows a better sense of technique. What tends to happen with everybody is that we find a certain pace that allows us to swim for a long time. It is a comfortable, natural pace and one the brain tunes into subconsciously. To improve ones speed we have to get the brain used to a faster pace. Forcing oneself to do lots of sprints is one way of trying to do this re-education but mentally I find the motivation challenging and I’m pretty sure I wait too long between sprints.
Another technique to do a standard front-crawl but instead of the hands being cupped into a blade, one swims with closed fists. The lack of water resistance on the hand allows the arms to turn over much quicker and if you can get used to that, opening the hands up again tends to mean a slightly quicker normal swimming pace. Whilst easy to do, I find this technique isn’t necessary great if the lane is busy . Also, I find I can too easily revert back to my previous pace.
The technique I deployed on Monday was to swim using just one arm and no kicking. I used a pull buoy to keep my legs near the surface. By using one arm I find that my turn-over increases but also the technique improves, as does the stroke strength. I think this works because the motivation is to keep breathing and not drown. By switching arms after each length, I was able to judge whether I was in anybody’s way but I think the numbers must have thinned out by this point because my stroke practise seems to fit in fine. Using one arm lowers the demands on the body for oxygen but puts a strain on the muscle that work that arm so I expected for the muscles to eventually get too painful. For some reason this wasn’t the case, and I was able to keep going. Occasionally I would put a 50 metre sprint in before continuing with the one-arm drill. The sprints felt good and powerful so I finished that session feeling rather good about myself.
What surprised me was the affect the one-arm drill had on my other strokes. Today, once I was warmed up, my front-crawl, breast-stroke and back-crawl all seemed to be smooth, powerful and more to the point fast. Wow, that felt good. My butterfly was all over the place though and not going well. I did the isolation thing again but this time concentrated on my leg action. I alternated two lengths of dolphin kick with two lengths of full stroke. By concentrating on letting my legs set the pace, I found that my butterfly stroke also became smooth and powerful. This gives me something to be set my goals on for the competition next week. And you know, I might actually be ready for this competition thing.