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THE ADULT LEARNER


Coach? Book? Imitation?

Each has its advantages and its pitfalls. If the coach is experienced teaching excellent swimmers whose bones have been shaped into their sockets by instruction since childhood, she might not be your first choice. You may as well go by the book if you're going to be told how the stroke should be swum perfectly rather than what you can do to make progress while avoiding injury. You need to know how you can improve or ease your particular movements, not what's best for the 20 year old Olympic hopeful. For the same reason, the book may have no practical application for you because it may give you one-size-fits-all information.

But imitation has a couple big drawbacks as well. It is necessary to distinguish between cause and effect when observing a stroke. Example: the butterflyer's undulation is obvious and new swimmers will try to imitate this with some quite funny results. Actually, that undulation is the result of timing and should not be forced, but will come naturally when the head and kick are coordinated. In freestyle, a too wide kick is almost always the result of excessive head movement and any attempt to cure the kick alone will be frustrating. Snaking is the result of not enough rolling, rather than too much, as it would seem.

There is another problem we have all seen when watching ourselves on tape or disc, a strange disconnect between our kinesthetic sense and our actual movements. Everyone eventually achieves a sense of relative smoothness and even elegance in the water. The film comes as a shock. We don't look how we feel. Examples: tell a backstroker to enter his hand 6 inches wider and he'll do one inch and feel he's done it. Suggest the freestyler lower her head and you might not see the difference although it feels radically changed to the swimmer.

Knowing what to look for in ourselves, carefully observing swimmers who seem very comfortable as well as reasonably fast, asking a friend to watch you, all will work very well if you have some basic information about each stroke. Keep in mind that bodies do not multi-task well. That's why kids find patting their heads while making circles on their bellies a giggly challenge. Don't make more than one change at a time and not more than one change every couple weeks.

Before Starting. If you're afraid of the water, deal with it first. Look at: Fear of Water. If you're gasping before you get to the end of the pool, spend six weeks building your endurance before you even think of technique or speed. See: Zero to One Mile in Six Weeks.

The Basic Idea
of all swimming is to maintain a horizontal position using as little energy as possible to displace the most water rearwards. The narrowest boat with the widest paddle is the most efficient. If your feet are dangling, you are effectively trying to shove a body twice the thickness of yours through the water. If your stroke or kick is very wide and deep you are doing the same thing. You want to push the least surface of yourself forward by occupying the smallest amount of space. Horizontal body, shallow pull, narrow kick. At the same time, the widest *paddle* can be achieved with your elbow high at the start so you can pull with your whole arm and not just your upper arm. Fingers closed, but not tightly, will serve you better than swimming with a fork, flat making a larger surface than spooned.
Take your time. With a few famous exceptions, the best swimmers tend to take fewer strokes. A fast stroke turnover is only effective if each stroke efficiently presses back the maximum amount of water. *Press back* is how it feels, but is only partly accurate; it is somewhat like climbing a rope, holding your place with one hand while going forward with the other. It is a subject of dispute these days among theorists which I should think could be easily measured. Nevertheless, your concentration should be on maintaining a steady pull without losing your attention and letting the water just slip by.
Relax. If you don't need it, don't use it. You don't need neck muscles to swim, so let them go. Momentum will get your arm out of the water, then let your arm go quite limp until it re-enters the water. If you're not swimming very fast and don't need the extra ten percent your kick can give you, just make a little flip of your ankles to maintain body position. The energy you save can be put into a vigorous pull.
Think. Whatever brings you to the pool is best achieved with your attention in the moment. Swimming is only boring if you don't think about it and don't structure your workouts or have any goals. With one exception! If you're at the pool for some necessary blank time or just to burn enough calories to enjoy a guilt free lunch, that's just fine, but you shouldn't be reading this in that case. Instead, go to: Swimming for Exercise.

                                   How To Do It

Freestyle aka crawl
Push off the wall, straight and narrow. Be patient. When you slow down in a few seconds, kick narrowly, using your hips to flop your feet, letting the water bend your knees slightly.

Arms straight in front of you and hands flat. Leave shoulder to elbow on the surface while your hand drops down until it's below your elbow. Now start pulling not very hard with your whole arm. Sense what you're doing, trying to feel the pressure of the water along your whole arm, not just your hand. Your arm now looks like a boomerang as you switch from pull to push and increase the pressure. When you think you've completed the push, go another six inches forcefully.

Let the momentum take your elbow out of the water, hand dangling behind. Your shoulder swings your arm effortlessly all the way straight in front of you. Don't rush, but let the other arm begin its cycle when you're at least halfway through the recovery of the first arm. There is much acceptable variation in this timing.

Breathe in the trough your head makes, so you won't need to lift your head at all. Even keel is precisely what you want to maintain from your head to toe, keeping your spine quite rigid as your torso rotates with each stroke, but your head holding steady. Rotation is subtle, but it might help you to think that your hand, when passing by your hip is pushing it out of the way. Not really of course, but that's the timing. All the movements from your head and arms travel down your body and, if not allowed to continue into a rotation, will instead cause your hips and legs to wave and snake. Have someone watch you. If you're not snaking, you're okay; otherwise you need to rotate your hips more.

Breaststroke
Seemingly so easy, the stroke of choice for relaxation is the most technically demanding of all. Timing is everything. The arms and legs are in a streamlined position, same as freestyle, and they return to that position momentarily on every stroke.

Again, as in freestyle, the elbows stay up as the forearms sweep out and around as if inside a big salad bowl, the upper arms snapping together when the hands are coming in at the bottom of the imagined salad bowl.

As the hands, close together, extend forward to their beginning position, the knees bend to bring your feet very close to your butt and pointed out. While still extending your arms, your legs imitate your armstroke, circling out, around and snapping back and together. Hold it for a second in the glide position. Breathing takes place when your arms, snapping together under your chin, push water up, raising your chin. Head goes back down as arms go forward.

More than any other stroke, the breaststroke must be watched and imitated.

Backstroke
The stroke of choice for beginners because you can breathe whenever and however you want although you'll doubtless form a pattern and stick to it without thinking about it.

Again, push off the wall streamlined and underwater. When you surface for your first breath and armstroke, look for your hip and keep the left one in sight while you stroke with your right arm, the right hip with the left arm. This means your head will not be thrown back, but will stay in the same up position as your body turns on its axis. Even the kick will turn left and right. This body roll is much more pronounced than with freestyle. As in freestyle, your hand passing the hip is the time to begin the rotation.

With your body on its side (but nose up!) your arm can much more easily sink, bend at the elbow, pull and push, and exit thumb first. With this roll, you don't have to reach behind your back to get your arm and hand in the water; your body will be on its side, so you are stroking more comfortably because your side is well down in the water and your arm is naturally in the correct position.

Butterfly

Sure. Why not. It's not that big a deal. The only thing that makes it so strenuous is the awkwardness of breathing when both arms are out of the water and you have to kick very hard to get your whole upper body in a position that allows your mouth to do you the favor of taking in air instead of water. Simple solution: don't breathe. That's not as totally impractical as it seems. In a race, the flyer may take 0 to 1 breath in the first 25 yards and 1 or 2 coming back. As a learner, you can practice 4 or 5 strokes without breathing and then just stand up if it's shallow or continue with another stroke until the end of pool. Rest and start again.

But first, we'll not only do without air, we won't bother with arms either. Arms at side, feet together, dive your head down, stand up, over and over and over. Now arms at side, dive head down and when you feel your legs surface kick them forcefully down and raise your head. Now stand up and repeat many times. Next do it, but after your head comes up, kick and dive again without standing. You can take a little gasp when your head rises. Gradually make the dive more shallow until you are just undulating without need to stand. When that becomes almost easy, try going across the pool kicking your head down and kicking your head up, breathing whenever you like. When you can do that, you've got the hard part down pat.

One would think that swimming butterfly with only one arm is a special kind of aquatic torture, but it's actually easy for the same reason two arms is hard: breathing. Add only one arm to the kicking, recovering when your head is up and entering immediately after your head enters. When you progress to two arms, it will be easier if the recovery is straight out to the sides, but the stroke itself follows the same pattern as freestyle.

There's a nice sense of accomplshment in being able to swim all four strokes. Put them together in the order of Fly, Back, Breast, Free and you have the Individual Medley, raced at distances from 100 to 400 yards or meters.

You can add Flip turns to your swim.
Make up your own Workouts.
Fifty Workouts I made for a masters class.
I did this Ironman Swim Training Schedule getting ready for that 2.4 mile swim
I'm helping my friends get ready for The Chesapeake Bay 4.4 mile swim.
If you haven't gotten wet yet and you're feeling antsy, go to Fear of Water.
Swimming a Mile in 6 weeks will get you started.
If you plan to just Swim for Fitness and not worry about technique.
Or maybe do a triathlon? Triathlon Bare Bone Basics
Very Basic Swimming for triathletes.
Glossary of Swim Terms.
Absolutely minimal training for a triathlon

For everything else: http://swimming.about.com/

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