Stroke Correction: Mind those Arms and Legs

Monday, August 19, 2013

Among the three legs of triathlon, swimming is the one I enjoy most. Quite naturally, it is also my relative strength. The thing is I am more of an endurance swimmer rather than a fast one. Two decades of meditative swimming allowed me to go to a dream-like state, floating through and in water for hours with very minimal exertion - but very slowly. Now I must learn competitive swimming. I thought I was an efficient swimmer because I can propel myself for hours with minimal effort. It turns out I have developed two "bad" habits from competitive swimming perspective. I rarely use my legs and I avoid catching the water. I last in the water because I exert very little.

Why did it take me so long to realize this, and how did I discover this?

There was no impetus for me to go faster. I have never come last in a swim leg and typically there are a couple of athletes behind me in the swim. I still make it to cut-off times in big races. But through the years I noticed that athletes who just learned how to swim were now overtaking me. More importantly, I need to make it to bike or run cut-off times so I must swim faster. There you have it. The specter of being cut off pushes one to swim faster.

I consulted teammate Hanna Sanchez, former varsity swimmer of La Salle. On our first session (mid-2012) she gave me her verdict:  You are not catching water nor kicking enough.  Ah ok, it was like being told you do not know how to swim. We'll it's partly true. I was self-taught for most part. She quickly told me to change my swim catch and do kicking drills - lots of them. Coach Ani De Leon-Brown also observed my weak swim catch in one of the triathlon camps held last year in Pico de Loro. Thanks to these coaches, I became conscious and somehow my half-ironman swim time dropped from an hour to 49 minutes in 2012 Cebu (although I think the swim course was short).

Last Saturday's drills were a revelation. While I can do 50m in 1:03-1:06 with a pull-buoy, I was struggling at 1:08-1:12 without the buoy. I was slower kicking than with leg steady. Clearly, my legs were a drag instead of pushing me further. I asked a teammate to record my swim in video. He correctly pointed out that while I was generally in horizontal position, I tend to stop kicking at times and then my legs drop. Old habits die hard!

In six months to Challenge Half, I shall form better habits. Propel from the core and position those arms like dragonboat oars. Maybe if I get to do this I will finally have a swimmer's well-defined back. Progressively extend and intensify those kick drills to 2k. My coach Hanna says 500m to 1K of drills may be enough, but my gut feels I need to progress to 2K to erase almost two decades of very little kicking. Let us see. May all these kick-start in a powerful way my personal crusade to wellness and life balance.


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