I’ve been in California (specifically Tiburon, north of San Francisco) since Wednesday night. I’m staying with Loren Pokorny and his three women, Greta (the actual head of the house), Sada and Piper (who, despite being born into a post 9/11 world, still find a way to terrorize Loren daily).
For the last month Loren has written about a muffin recipe he got from Desiree Ficker so many times I’ve nearly stopped reading his blog (actually when the sun came out in Seattle I fell behind reading friend’s blogs and haven’t caught up – I’m not sorry about this, Sun in Seattle is as rare as a LMAO blog entry, and I believe Seattlites should get an extra three sick days a year for each of those days.)
I’ve digressed. The "memorial muffins" were great, pumpkiny, and moist, and chewy on the top. Good enough to mention in one blog post, maybe two – once the 24 muffins are gone and I can give a final score for who ate the most muffins. Right now the score is Loren 7.5, Ben 5. It’s been about 36 hours since he made them.
I was able to swim in the Belvedere-Tiburon Lagoon on Friday morning. It’s this shallow little lake that gets filled from ocean water and stays 15-20 degrees warmer than the Bay. We swim a little over a mile at 5:45, which is way too early. Loren asked me to watch his stroke while he flailed after the rest of the group, and I realized he swims entirely with his arms, and uses no core strength at all. It’s as though his underdeveloped arms (if Piper told one of her classmates her daddy could beat up their daddy, she would be flat out lying) are trying to drag a flimsy bag through the water. To make matters worse, all he thinks about are his arms, so they follow no natural plane of motion. His hand exits the water, bends in a way that reminds me of the robot scene in Eurotrip, then enters directly in front of his face and pushes water forward. There is no grace or balance. The improvements he made after our last lesson have been lost to hours of solitary swimming.
It seems like I’m really ripping on Loren (to some extent I am), but this is merely a cruel way of introducing a broader epidemic and a look into some possible solutions to subpar swimming abilities among 99% of triathletes.
There seems to be a lack of knowledge with regards to swim technique. People who try learning to swim at age 30 have no good resource for becoming fast. The American Red Cross has a well planned out schedule of classes to teach young children to swim, but many of the classes don’t apply to adults, and aren’t designed to make people into competitive swimmers. Masters Swimming programs around the country are coached in apathy. Masters coaches, even those few that know how to coach good technique, generally believe that masters swimmers are a bunch of complainers that are there for a workout and don’t care about anything else – so we give them the hardest set they can handle in the time allowed, some do it, others sit on the all or do their own version, and everyone seems content.
Let’s compare this to Tennis. Adults that want to play tennis, even recreationally, will get weekly tennis lesson. There are people at every tennis club in the nation that are highly trained tennis instructors, and their specialty is teaching adults. Why is there not the same demand in swimming? I can understand that recreational swimmers may not care about being fast, but much like tennis, swimming well is a lot more fun that dragging yourself through the water. (I would also argue that swimming takes more technique)
I haven’t yet developed the "Ben Collins’ method to swim instruction", or a good solution (yet), but for everyone reading I have some advice.
First, go find a competent swim instructor, pay for lessons (these are usually less than a massage, but more than a bottle of decent wine -$40-$70 for an hour, depending on where you live). Try to get some drills you can work on on your own. Not every drill is right for every swimmer, so having a coach / instructor that knows why you do a drill is important (ask why, they should be able to answer).
Second, when you go to a masters workout, ask the coach to look at your stroke. If it’s a good / competent coach, they should be excited that somebody there actually cares. I almost always ask my coach to watch me swim ("are my hips staying in line?" "am I crossing over?" "does something look wrong?" – something almost always does).
Third, technique alone will not make you fast. There are a lot of muscles that go into swimming (after cross-country skiing, swimming is the most full body sport) and they need to be trained. Use stretch cords on land to build the proper muscles. It’s much easier to follow the right path with your arms on land than in the water where you’re trying to balance.
Fourth, SHUT UP & SWIM. There’s no use in paying for a swim instructor, a pool membership, and the time to gain strength if you never get around to putting in the yards. Coaches have always told me it takes 10,000 strokes for a change to feel natural. At 15 strokes per length that’s 750 lengths of the pool, or 18750 yards, or nearly eleven miles. For college swimmers that’s a day and a half they have to think about entering farther out or pressing with their chest. For most triathletes that could be half a month. If you want to improve, keep your head wet.
Meanwhile, there is hope for Loren, and the rest of the late bloomers in the swimming world – I’m going to find a better way to make you faster.