Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Learning to Love Lap Swimming

When I was a child I went out for swim team, after about four laps the coach stopped me. “I don’t think you are going to be able to do this,” He said. (No cushy sensitive coaching techniques back then.)

Looking back I can understand why the coach had concern—after those four laps I was completely winded. Most of the other kids around me were calmly swimming length after length, back and forth, over and over again like a giant multiple player pong game. No heavy panting, no choking on water. I was nearly hyperventilating.

It hit me hard what my coach had said. I was always a stubborn child and I had two weeks before the season started, to prove him wrong. I showed up everyday to practice and boy did I practice. I practiced slowing down, and learning how to breathe, I asked for advice from some of the older swimmers and even a lifeguard. I built up my ability slowly and conditioned myself through proper breathing.

The trick was to slow down and begin with one-lap victories. Even as a kid I knew I would not be the fastest or strongest swimmer right away. First I just wanted to be able to swim laps with the team. Swimming laps well isn’t about fast kicks and strong arms and getting to the side as fast as you can. Swimming laps well is first about coordinating your breathing. (Try with kickboard if you need to) While your face is in slowly breathe out all your air (bubbles). Then lift your head or turn to side, whichever you are comfortable with and take a breath in. Put your face back in the water, hold your breath for a second and then repeat. Do your best to not stand up or stop kicking until you reach the next wall. It helps to remember to stay calm. When a runner goes for a jog he/she does things to regulate breathing. As a swimmer, remember to do the same thing.

Once you can coordinate your breathing, you will be able to build distance stamina. Speed and ability comes later. Be sure to pace yourself because your goal is to get to the end of the lap and not be winded. Not being winded has everything to do with how you are breathing and blowing—do both calmly and you will get enough air. Then your next goal will be to do two laps and not be winded. And then three laps and not be winded. Getting good at swimming laps is a slow building process. Now I am a swim coach and I tell others what they need to do to be able to swim. You have to start somewhere.

Written by Shawndelle Jones
Swimming Instructor, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

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