Unique Neural Pathways to be Blazed
One of the extraordinary things about coaching is that it allows me to always be learning (and relearning). In thinking about this second client profile, I was struck by the differences and similarities between the last client profile I did and this one. The previous swimmer, Sandy, approached her swimming with more of a high energy and rigidity and the goal has been to, in part, learn to relax more and swim more efficiently. This swimmer started out much more what I like to call "dainty," and we needed to add some tension and pressure. In short, we had both people swimming at one intensity, one at high all the time and one at low. However, above all else two things that they have in common: an eagerness to learn and a fantastic attitude!
We met last at the end of 2017 at She Jams triathlon training in Cumberland. She was new to swimming. I would like to begin with her answers to my questions, as (just like Sandy's) they are more illuminating than anything I could say.
KR: What age group are you in?
DA: I am in the 35-44 year age range. (I am happy to share that I am 39 years old.) I have always spent a great deal of time at the beach and in the water, but aside from very basic childhood swim lessons at the lake, I had my first real lesson less than a year and a half ago (June 2017).
KR: What do you think have been the most helpful things to your progress?)
This is difficult to answer because it is the combination of these things, but in this order, each item is more effective because of the items above it. I scheduled my very first private lesson with you after multiple anxiety-filled attempts at open water swimming. That lesson was a significant turning point in my swimming. In less than 30 minutes, I gained comfort in open water, began bilateral breathing, and found more balance and power in my stroke by swinging from my shoulders and keeping my arms wide. After that experience, I was very interested in your small group lessons. Receiving individual coaching, while doing drills and quality interval workouts in a small group, has improved my technique significantly. Reviewing video afterwards helps to solidify what I’ve learned and identify what I need to work on next. I value solo practicing in between sessions to integrate what I am learning in lessons and to maintain endurance.
KR: Do you remember having an a-ha moment in your swimming? Can you describe it briefly and how it might have come about?
DA: Many! The first things I needed to work on were swinging from my shoulders, entering wider, and keeping my elbows high in order to use my whole forearms, not just my hands, as my oars. I remember the first time that all worked together and I experienced that “armfuls of water” feeling. It was amazing. Another thing I struggled with was my hand entry. I used to (and sometimes still do) place my hands on the surface of the water. One day, we did closed-fist drills in a small group lesson. While I was thinking about punching my fists into the water, that quicker, more powerful hand entry finally made sense. Whenever I notice that I am gently placing my hands I think about that feeling.
KR: How often do you practice?
DA: I am always striving to swim three times per week, but I probably average two.
KR: You have improved significantly -- to what do you attribute this?
I think it begins with a strong desire to always be learning and improving, followed by persistence and hard work, and finally a strong mind-body connection. My experiences in dance and aerial arts have given me a great deal of practice in receiving coaching and instruction, making adjustments to what I am doing, practicing, and seeing results. I am grateful for each of these experiences, and find few things more satisfying.
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.
DA: For me, technique is key! Of course, fitness and building endurance is important, but muscling through with the technique I began with could only get me so far. Seeing my times improve immediately, within a single training session, is evidence that improving technique yields significant results.
This grainy video from She Jams in late 2017 shows Dori learning to place and shape her "paddles." She has actually made progress by now but is still dropping the elbows, breaking the wrists, and thus is unable to attain any real feeling of forward propulsion.
Until she can learn to put some tension in the shoulder and pop that elbow up, most of the contact with the water will be unfortunately in a "pressing down" motion.
By 9/22/18 she has been swimming with my small group only three times in total and has already dropped from probably over 2:00/100 yards to a personal best of 1:35 for a 100 in practice. As a dancer, she is very body-aware and responds well to coaching.
She has made remarkable progress with arm shape and tension as she has learned to push back and not down on the water to propel forward.
She still needs work when turning back from the breath, as she has pushed the lead arm down early instead of waiting until the head turns back and then pushing back.
This very recent video shows even more progress, with better pull timing with the breath.
Before & After
Here are a few early shots compared to later, with commentary.
Just a bit of tension in the shoulder and wrist make a world of difference in the elbow angle and amount of surface area of her "paddle" (roughly fingertips to elbow). The upper arm stays altogether higher.
She was crossing the middle line on the left -- she now keeps the elbow bent and hand pulls below shoulder, even when turning back from a breath.
I tell my swimmers to watch for the hand pulling between the elbow and the nose as it comes through.
In the recent video screenshot, notice how much cleaner the catch and resulting pull are. No bubbles and better elbow.
I want to thank Dori for allowing me to feature her and for her thoughtful answers to my questions. I look forward to witnessing much more improvement in her future!
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