Blazing New Neural Pathways
New clients often shake their heads after they receive their video analysis, “wow, you want me to change THAT? I have been doing it that way forever. I don’t know if I can….” I am here to tell you YES YOU CAN. But you need to commit to changing habits that don't serve you. And once you have begun to accept the new way as better, it is important to stay consistent as often as possible so that new neural pathways are generated and old ones die away. Also, don’t expect immediate perfection but accept gradual improvements as part of a successful long-term trajectory. What if our goal was to perform everything just 1% better today in the water?
I first met Sandy in January 2016 at SheJams, an all-women’s triathlon group in Portland, Maine. It was my first real coaching gig and apparently Sandy hadn’t been at it long, either. She was about 2:00 pace for 100 free (and slower for longer distance, although at that time 100s were probably the longest distance we did for the beginner "technique" group). I may not have videotaped during that first 10-week session (about 20-30 women met each Sunday for an hour) but here is a video from October of 2016:
By this time she had seen a drop to 1:47-1:50 for 100 yard free (slower for longer swims). She is pulling with straight arms and pushing down instead of pushing back. The bubbles on her hands are indicative of the trapping of air bubbles at entry, showing that she is not extending enough out front or making a successful catch. This may have been the first time we viewed video and were surprised by how wide her pull was and how much more bend in the arm she needed. It's not always easy for coach to see from deck what needs to change -- and having this underwater video is a game-changer for communicating well with my swimmers.
One year later, though, she is driving forward much more powerfully from the core:
Two years later: She extends, catches, pulls with a good angle. She is much more in control and not as fatigued:
Sandy not only participates in SheJams masters workouts but also my KGR Coaching small group workouts (PRC) and has taken several 1:1 lessons with me as well. Her times were 2:00 for 100 when she began and now, in 2018, she can break 1:25 for 100, in the low 1:30s for several 100 repeats with short rest, and in the 1:40s for longer repeats (e.g. 500).
What She Has to Say
I thought that Sandy's own thoughts on her progress might be the most helpful to those wondering how to go about their journey so I asked her a few questions.
KR: What age group are you in
I’m in the 50-59 age group. I learned to swim (the basics of freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke) when I was very young and spent hours playing in the pool but was never a particularly serious or accomplished swimmer (we didn’t even wear goggles back then!). I never learned flip turns or butterfly – but I did learn basic survival skills like treading water so I am very comfortable in open water. I hadn’t swum in 40 years or so when I started swimming with SheJams maybe 4 years ago. In SheJams, I started in the slowest lane of the beginner group, which was definitely where I belonged!
KR: What do you think have been the most helpful things to your progress?
(1) Videotaping – this is incredibly helpful and top of my list. I’m a visual learner and I need to see what I am doing wrong (and right). I also find it really useful to see videos of other swimmers showing good technique as well as poor technique. I watch the videos you send as well as technique videos from Effortless Swimming. Some videos are really memorable, such as the one with the blocks on the bottom of the pool.
The visual that Sandy is referring to is one of Kona swim course record holder and this year's runner-up, Lucy Charles, swimming from block to block at Swim Smooth, Australia. It's a helpful one for swimmers to understand how to achieve more leverage in their pulls.
(2) Small group workouts (PRC) – because there can be more attention to technique, more videotaping, and sometimes you push us just a bit beyond what I think I am capable of doing. I like the small group workouts best when I am with swimmers of comparable speed, otherwise I feel as if I am just frantically trying to keep up and not learning anything.
(3) Larger group workouts (SheJams) – another chance to work, with guidance, on technique in a social, supportive atmosphere
(4) Cross-training – I think running has worked wonders for my endurance
(5) Solo-practicing – this would be higher on the list but pool time is hard to find with my schedule!
(6)HIIT-high intensity interval training – very challenging!
KR: Do you remember having an a-ha moment in your swimming?
One of many ah-ha moments: figuring out how to engage the proper muscles for the catch and pull and engage my core (I’m not sure how that happened – but it feels very different). Even though my times haven’t dropped lately, I feel much stronger swimming (as if I am swimming more from the upper body and core instead of relying on my kick and exhausting myself). I also think I look less “wobbly!”
KR: How often do you practice?
I try to swim at least 3x per week (which could include PRC and SheJams, depending on the week) and run at least twice a week.
KR: You have improved significantly -- to what do you attribute this?
I’m not sure how to answer this. I really like swimming in general, the coached training and the challenge of trying to get better. So maybe (1) enjoying swimming, (2) enjoying the challenge (persistence), (3) enjoying the mental piece (“what should I be doing differently?”), and (4) obstinately refusing to think I’m too old to get better.
KR: Fitness vs. Technique: Some say that technique cannot be learned by "adult onset" swimmers and that "fitness" (more yards, more intensity) is the best way to spend limited time that masters swimmers and triathletes have. If you have an opinion on this I would welcome any thoughts.
I want to work on technique, no question.