Am I a Better Swimmer After a Swimming Lesson?

Having spent a Sunday morning having myself filmed (see previous post) and my stroke deconstructed, I have since been trying to put into practice some of the advice I was given during and after that lesson.

It has not been easy trying to remember them all at once, but I am getting there slowly.

I thought it would be worthwhile giving myself a progress check the other day, so I decided to reproduce the 10 km session I did before work a few weeks ago, a little while before I had the lesson.

Basically, this means turning up at the pool at 6 AM, and swimming 10 km, split over 5 sets of 1 mile (64 lengths), and one set of 2 km (80 lengths), adding up to 10 km in total.  No more than a minute between sets to have a nice cool drink.  Similar to what you might try and do over the first three hours of a channel swim.

Let’s look at total swim time first:

Before lesson: 2h 50 m 49 s

After lesson: 2 h 52 m 50 s

Oh.  That’s a bit disappointing.  But hey ho, 2 minutes over 6 and a bit miles isn’t a complete disaster is it?  This corresponds to an average 100 m time over the whole thing of 1:39 increasing to 1:40.

Now let’s look at strokes.  My Poolmate Pro counts strokes as 1 per revolution of my left arm, so roughly double it and you get the actual strokes per length:

Before lesson: 9,10,9,9,9,9

After lesson: 8,8,8,8,8,8

Wow.  So what I have done is lose slightly on the speed (roughly a quarter second per length), but knocked a couple of (real world) strokes off every length.  So I guess I must be stroking slower then, for the maths to make sense?

Before lesson stroke rate: 22,24,22,22,22,22.

After lesson stroke rate: 20,19,19,19,18,19

Yep – all makes sense.  I am sure I am not really going at 38 spm.  In the open water this would be higher, without turning at the wall and pushing and gliding.  Probably in the low 50s.

Finally, the software on Poolmate Pro calculates something called efficiency = strokes taken to swim the length + time taken to swim the length:

Before lesson efficiency: 33,35,34,34,34,34 – Average = 34

After lesson efficiency: 32,33,33,33,34,33 – Average = 33

So I am slightly more efficient over the 10 km. Well that’s nice.

Hopefully the improvements I am trying to make to my stroke will bed in a bit more over time.  In particular I want to improve my relaxation on the recovery part of my stroke, and get every pull under the water giving me the maximal propulsion.  I am conscious that on both occasions I felt quite fatigued after 10 km.  I could have kept going for a while longer, maybe another hour, maybe another couple.  But that’s only 16 km, less than halfway over the channel, and in ideal pool conditions with no waves, warm (maybe too warm) water.  I have along way to go, but am starting to feel much more confident about Windermere next July.


Swimming Lesson

The last time I had a swimming lesson was probably in the early 80’s.  I can’t remember much of what they told me if I am honest.  I think the S-shaped pull under the body might have been in vogue at the time.

A few weeks ago I went and had a grown-up lesson in Cambridge.  I turned up as one of 10 students.  I was the only channel aspirant there; the other 9 were all triathletes looking to improve their freestyle technique.

There was an hour or so of land based stuff talking about various aspects of the stroke to get right, best ways to stretch for maximum flexibility etc etc.  Off we then went to the pool.

First off we were all filmed doing a couple of lengths, using above water and under water filming.  Then Ed the coach took us through all of the areas he had talked about earlier, asking us to concentrate on each individual part, one at a time, over 100 m of swimming.  After an hour or so of experimenting with various areas of stroke improvement, we all then did another 2 lengths filmed.  It was surprisingly good fun!

We then went back to the classroom where we were talked through our first films one by one, to the whole group.  It really was fascinating.  My stroke didn’t look half as bad as I had feared it would.  I have pretty big shoulders so my arms are a bit swingy, which might get a bit tiring after a dozen hours.  I need to work on an easier and more relaxed recovery, with slightly more roll than I now have.  My head is still too far forward so I need to work on that some more.  The biggest thing was the pulling of the arms though.  My arms are far too straight rather than early vertical and bent.  My right arm also described a lovely S-shape, which might have been de rigeur in the 80’s, but is less in favour now!

I got sent a report and the DVD of the before and after swims after the event, and I am now spending some time working on the individual things that I was asked to look at, and gradually trying to bring them all together.

I would highly recommend this sort of analytical course.  There were people on the course who were pretty shocked with what they saw on the tape.  In particular one guy who had a huge crossover in his stroke, and never knew.  On the whole for me, there were no horrible surprises, but lots of work to do to make my stroke more efficient, durable, and less likely to cause injury.