1/1/11 - 2/1/11

Be a Safer Swimmer - 360swim SaferSwimmer

Jan 31, 2011

History of Swimming (How swimming became a sport?)

Human beings are not build to live in water like the many species of fish in our deep blue oceans, however, despite of that, taking the journey to learn to swim has become a necessary skill for many people in today's world. Since you are reading this post, you should applaud yourself, as you are the small part of our population that is trying or has already conquered the world of the water. Great job.

Learning to swim, does not have to be difficult though or out of reach of many, if the right approach is taken, however, as it is with anything we learn, one can never truly understand what one is learning until one understands its history. True, one can learn to swim without knowing the history of swimming, but it nevertheless is interesting to know that our ancestors from 7000 years ago were already eager to take on the water world. And it might give you some cool story to share with your fellow swim class or swim practice participants next time you are stroking your favorite style up and down the pool .

So, without further ado, History of Swimming as told in 21st century:

Update: the below service no longer works, but you can read more about history here.

As you can see, the sport of swimming has evolved quite a lot with new swimming techniques, understanding of physics of motion in the water or by providing swimmers with super swim suits. What does future holds for swimming? Who knows, maybe in a few hundred years we'll evolve to be more aerodynamic and grow webbed feet to make our swimming life much easier. :)
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

Jan 27, 2011

Legs of Steel (My legs sink like a rock during freestyle or while floating)

This is an additional post on proper head position while swimming freestyle. I know you might be tired of hearing the words "put your head down" while you swim, however, believe me if I tell you, this is the building block of your swimming. Without the proper head position, your stroke will not be as efficient as it could be and you will always work a bit harder and get more tired easier. One other reason I decided to write up one more post about the proper head position in freestyle is the simple fact of repetition and word association. Imagine I was standing on a pool deck and watch you swim and once in a while I'd tell you to put your head down into the water, so you are more streamlined and your legs rise up. After a little while, every time you swim and you just catch the glimpse of me strolling around the pool deck and perhaps watching you swim, a switch in your head will say "ahh, is my head too high? put my head down", because you associated the trigger words with me. In our case, here on the blog, you do not have me walking around the pool deck to repetitively remind you about the proper head position in freestyle, but if you are following my advice from the previous post you are well on your way and this post can only benefit you.

If you have done all the previous exercises pretending to be a tree log and extended tree log and your legs are still sinking, don't despair. First, check if your head is in the right position. Don't be afraid to bury your head down in the water, even let some water go over your head, so you are floating with your head underwater. This should help a little. Second, slightly increase your kicking and this will help to keep your legs up. Also, remember, we are not breathing yet. The exercises are meant to be done only for short period of time to get you used to the correct head position. If you continue struggling with the sinking legs problem, you should check out the shinfin™ leg fins. This simple piece of equipment does wonders with sinking legs.

When we are on the topic of breathing, before you start floating, take a deep breath, so your lungs are full of air and keep you at the surface without problems, then when you start floating, keep exhaling your air at a very steady slow rate (DO NOT hold your breath in). You will see that it relaxes you more during the floating exercises to slowly let the air out. You will also notice, that you will not be as tight and will very slowly start loosing your buoyancy. When you run out of breath or you think you are starting to sink too much, just stand up and repeat the exercise.

Next step is to learn to take a breath without stopping. So, you are floating on your stomach in the half extended tree log position. This is the same as a regular extended tree log position, except that only one arm is pointing forwards and one arm is at your side pointing backward. Your head is still buried in the water (with the back of your head barely dry or just slightly under water). You are slowly exhaling your air out of your lungs and when is time and you need to take a breath, slowly rotate your body to your side where your arm is extended forward and continue rotating until you are on your back and can take a nice breath. How do you rotate to your back? By using your kick and hips to rotate. So, when you lay on your stomach with your right hand extended, start rotating your left hip up and right hip down, so you can roll to the right side on the extended arm. At the same time adjust your kick slightly to help you with the rotation (very teeny weeny scissor like kick).

So, that is it. Add this breathing drill to your daily routine and we'll continue to build up our body position further in a next lesson about body balance.
Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

Jan 18, 2011

Your Body as a Tree Log (Correct Head Position During Swimming)

If you have gotten this far, you have seen the light and are serious about improving your swimming, so let's get started.

There are many schools of thought regarding teaching swimming, some rely on repetitive swimming a lot of kilometers or miles to improve, some swear against it and focus only on certain aspects of technique and others combine both approaches in one way or another. However, none of them are perfect and never will be. The reason being, every person wanting to learn how to swim is different and respond to different stimuli, so one approach to teach all does not work. That said, some basic themes and principles do or should be present in all swim schools and that is to streamline your body as much as possible, in a way that you swim through the water in the path of the least resistance with the least effort.

In my opinion, swimming many laps with wrong technique will not give you much improvement in the long run and might cause you injuries to your
by merfam
shoulders. So, improving your stroke technique comes first and as a matter of fact, it also provides the fastest visible improvement in terms of your speed (if you are to compete) or in terms of the distance you are able to swim without getting exhausted.

Enough blabber jabber though, let's get to business. We'll first focus on shaping your body to have the least resistance in the water and as simple as this sounds, it will take a lot of repetition and patience on your part until you get it right and it becomes second nature (especially if you have imprinted some bad habits into your swim stroke already). So let's get to the basics:

Head and Body Position:

Contrary to an old-school belief, the waterline should NOT be on the line where your hair meets your forehead and your eyes should NOT be watching what is in front of you (assuming you are on your belly). Your head should be suspended in the water where only the back of your head is barely dry, your neck is wrinkle free and your eyes are looking straight down to the bottom. You need to strain your head much more to keep it in the wrong position, so just relax it. There are many swimming drills and exercises you can do to practice this and below you will find a few to get your body in the right place.

1) Floating Tree Log
As a tree floats nicely straight in the water, so should you. Note, I said, IN the water, not ON the water. What I mean by this is that you should NOT strive to get as much of your body out of the water as possible. Instead, your goal should be to lay streamlined in the water, more than likely with a very small part of your body above the water, but this is fully individual. You might find yourself very slightly submerged
than others and this is perfectly fine as long as you can keep your body in straight line. This is what you do: Gently push off the side or the bottom of the pool and get yourself in the position where your arms are resting relaxed at your side, your eyes are looking straight down to the bottom of the pool, your neck is nicely straight and has on wrinkles. You might even feel that you are suspended more in the water than above the water, but this is perfectly fine. Lay like this for a few seconds and then do it again and again. Suggested repetition is 10x at the beginning of each of your swim sessions. You can add a slight travel kick to keep you going forward very slowly. The important part is to get comfortable being one with the water and not trying to fight it. Let your self-float in peace.

2) Extended Tree Log or Superman or both arm lead position
I do not like to call this exercise Superman as that is not what it is. Superman flies with his head looking where he is going and with arms at his side or one arm forward, but as you read above, this is NOT the way to do it. So, let's call it the extended tree log. Same as above, you can gently push off the wall or bottom of the swimming pool, but instead of your arms being at your side, you will extend them shoulder-width apart in front of your head. So you extend your tree log further. However, the important part is that your arms stay submerged in the water and a very slight angle towards the bottom of the pool. If the water surface is 0 degrees, then you can put them in -15 degree angle.  Again, your eyes are looking straight down into the water, your neck is extended with no wrinkles and relaxed. You can perform this exercise in two sets. First 10 repetitions, extend your arms and leave them relaxed, add a slight travel kick if need to be. By travel kick I mean, kick very slowly, just to help with keeping some forward motion. The second set of 10, instead of your arms being just loosely in front of you, try to extend your arms out of your shoulders, so you get them 5-10 cm further. Remember, keep them at your shoulder width to simulate the position your arm is in when you swim (so you do not learn to cross over). If done properly, you will find that it is much easier to stay afloat in the Extended tree log floating position than in the regular Tree log drill and if you extend your arms out of your shoulders even further, floating has become even easier. The reason here is that you are adding more weight to the front of your body (muscles and bones weigh more), thus moving your center of gravity and center of buoyancy closer together and that is what you want to achieve to swim in a streamlined position.

by Brother's Keeper Comic
NOTE: Dead man's float is actually performed on your stomach :)
3) Dead Man's Float
As morbid as it sounds, this swimming drill is very good at learning to feel the positions of your body in the water and learn to streamline it. I have already described the logistics in tips for beginners post, but let me try it again. Start in a deep end of the pool, take a deep breath, put your face in the water and totally relax your arm and legs. The air in your lungs will keep your chest afloat, but your arms and legs will sink towards the bottom of the pool. When your body stopped moving and you are totally relaxed, start SLOWLY moving your straight arms to the same position as in the Extended Tree Log swimming drill described above. Remember, make sure the hands/arms do not break the surface of the water. Keep them under at about -15 degree angle (even -30 if that is easier for you). When your arms are in the Extended Tree Log swim position, then extend your arms out of your shoulders again, so you reach further. Note: your head is still relaxed looking at the bottom of the pool with no wrinkles in your neck. What you will notice here is that your legs will start slowly rising towards the surface of the water. How far will your legs raise? Well, this is fully dependent on your body composition. If you are all muscle, they will not rise to the surface, but if you have a bit fat which you should, the will rise up. You can then help to keep them there with a bit of a back muscle strength, but this takes a while to practice. If your legs are not rising, try to burrow your head and arms a bit deeper into the water and your legs should move up. Try this about 5x at the beginning of your swim workouts and when you think you got it, do it 1-3 times each time you swim, so it becomes a second nature to you.

Happy floating and remember, slower is better than faster until your streamline is perfect and you will be very satisfied with the results. After you have mastered these exercises, come back for the next swim lesson.

Safer Swimmer - the must have swim safety device for all open water swimmers

Jan 4, 2011

How to swim faster easier? (Learning to streamline your body)

The simple answer is "by learn to swim slow with correct technique". This in turn reduces your body's drag and increases your propulsion force. Swimming slower rather than faster is a bit against the common sense, however, it is the way to go trust me. It is actually the hardest thing you will have to learn on your journey to effortless swimming. Convincing swimmers to slow down and forget about how many laps they do and how fast they swim is also the hardest thing for coaches to be able to do. Most swimmers usually say "yeah right, you are crazy. Why would I swim slower?", but when they make the switch and start seeing the progress, they usually buy into this concept and are better for it.

Before you go on, I have a small exercise for you. Next time you are in the pool try the following exercise for yourself and see that I am not just pulling your leg. While swimming your normal laps, slow down in your normal body position and stroke technique to a slow motion like movement and see what happens to your body. More than likely it will be very difficult for you to swim at that speed and stay afloat in the same way you are when you swim faster. This is actually one of the reasons why people do swim faster as they are compensating for lack of correct body position with speed. Do you remember the young thugs in the lane next to you that jump in and suddenly start to thrash at the water as fast as they can and stop all out of breath when they get into the other side? Well, this is exactly what I am talking about. Besides being very annoying nuisance in the swim lanes, they cannot keep afloat unless they thrash around like that with their muscular body :).

There are a few reasons why we want to slow down initially. Let's say you are learning how to tie your shoes and someone shows you at their regular speed. You will not grasp the movements. However, if someone takes the time and shows you the movement one by one in a slow motion and even tell you the loop it and swoop it or bunny ears poem, you are more likely to have a better start and will remember how to do it. Then you practice it very slowly until the movements become natural. When the movement is imprinted into your motor skills you can tie your shoe in stealth speed without even thinking about it. With swimming, it is very similar. When you do not learn the proper streamlined body position, arm movement, head position, catch and relaxation while swimming slow, your body will produce too much drag and turbulence while you swim, thus making swimming a much harder activity then it actually is. Which in turn will make you slower as you cannot sustain speed over long period of time. Remember, water is much denser than air, so moving through it requires a much more streamlined and thought out movement then when you move through the air. What I want to teach you is to save energy while swimming by streamlining your swimming, so you swim effortlessly and are the flower among the thorns in the pool.

Now, are you with me here or are you still thinking I am nuts. I am not going to lie to you, slowing down and learning the proper technique and body position at a lower speed takes a lot of patience as your mind will always tempt you to go faster. You might feel you are not exercising enough and wasting your valuable time, however, if you are serious about learning how to swim properly, more efficiently and faster, I challenge you to bare with me and slow down. In the next articles, I will take you through a set of exercises (phases) which will help you build up your stroke and save valuable energy during your swims. Whether you are doing laps in the pool or stroking away in the open water, the slow down approach is a must.

Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start