Tiburon Girls, Muffins, Robot Fish, and a Long Wet Ramble.

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.

image 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.

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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  1. Hey ben just wanted to thank you for the transition tips you taught a while back at greenlake. i got the fastest t1 time at issaquah this weekend.

  2. Thanks for the swimming tips. If you know of any good swim coaches on the eastside…please do tell.



  3. I take offense to your statement that a “decent” bottle of wine costs 40-70 dollars. I just partook of a delicious night train 2007 vintage (retailing at 2.79) which had a wonderful bouquet, just enough oak, notes of peat and citrus, and a wonderful chocolate finish. take that napa wine snobs! I think you have been spending too much time talking to you know who. …

  4. I said a decent bottle of whine was less than a swim lesson (which runs between 40 and 70 bucks and actually I think the Pro Club in Seattle charges $75, but that’s because the facility takes a big chunk). Therefore a decent bottle of whine, according to my statement, could cost any amount under $40, including $2.75, though I hope that’s a small bottle because a bottle of generic brand grape juice costs more than $2.75.

    Eng, I would check out Issaquah Masters if you’re not too far away. There’s also a masters workout at Bellevue aquatic center, but I’m not sure who coaches it. If you go to issaquah, find out if you can get private lessons, and make sure you ask for them to keep an eye on your stroke.

  5. so i thought i commented on this, but maybe it disappeared, i don’t know, but i really want a ben collins swim lesson and maybe you know good coaches/etc around here?

  6. You can also email me directly by going to the ‘contact’ page on this site. No ‘keeper’ involved. (You do have to be good at math though).

  7. he’s busy. you really don’t want a ben collins swim lesson, after all, he’s my swim coach and look where I am: the subject of a bitter blog post – swimming only 4 mins faster year over year. First it’s your swim attire and then it’s your stroke. Next, he’s posting pictures of your groceries turned into lunch on your daughter’s favorite princess plate.

  8. So I’m just catching up…been in Tahoe all weekend. I just wanted to say I LOVED what you had to say about all of this and I think it’s right on. I never swam on a team as a kid but I was in swimming lessons from age 5 until oh, age 12 or so. I think adults don’t do it as much as tennis because swimming is hard. It takes a lot of practice. I suppose you can also say that tennis involves a lot of hard work and missed shots as well, but…people also have a hard time with the whole breathing aspect of swimming as well. You have to think about all of these things AND remember to breathe…it seems so innate to me, but if I think about doing it for the first time ever…it might be tough.

    And I completely agree about masters swimming. It’s sad. Luckily I found a team with an AMAZINGLY INCREDIBLE coach. If people come to Santa Rosa, tell them to go to Santa Rosa masters. I’m swimming better already. And having lots of fun at the same time.

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