Saturday, June 09, 2007

Continual Improvement

“Believing in progress does not mean that any progress has yet been made.”
- Kafka

So much to do. When I started back swimming seriously there was only the singular intention of taking advantage of some professional coaching while my local pool was closed and improve my fly and my backstroke turn. Nine months later I’m still swimming Masters and to be honest the major reason is because I discovered I couldn't swim well anymore. My stroke deficient, technique outdated, pathetic turns, a devastating lack of strength, and non-existent endurance; it was all bad, and somewhere deep down I found it offensive I could have thrown away my gift. After suffering through a few simple, short Masters practices I had to question whether I had ever possessed the swimming talent I’d always taken for granted. To find the real answer to this question I will have to first tackle and surmount the mountain of swimming deficiencies I’ve identified over the past few months and progress in this has been slow. But unlike Kafka who was more concerned with much broader philosophical issues my narrow and well defined aim does allow a ray of light every once in awhile to lance through the gloom. Today’s practice was one of those rare times when I gained some assurance I’m on the right road.

Right now Saturday morning practice has a special place in my training, as it’s presently the only time I train short course. The twenty five meters provides an opportunity to concentrate on improving technique in both turns and stroke (I find long course too fatiguing to properly deal with the various nuances of my strokes’ deficiencies) so Saturday has become my personal weekly stroke clinic where strokes per lap and cycle rates are tracked and I make a real effort to address those problems identified in the past week’s practices, things not emphasized in a typical workout. Better yet I went into the water on a positive note, as Friday night’s practice had seen me for the first time complete a fly routine and maintain the proper double kick dolphin despite being exhausted. The kick was weak, the second almost non-existent, but they were there and I didn’t revert to my schoolboy single dolphin kick. A note worthy achievement and this Saturday the progress continued unabated as my fly undulation and stroke started integrating better with my kick, resulting in a noticeable reduction in effort whenever it occurred. With breast I kept with the program and continued working on that stroke’s body undulation and kick integration albeit with little success, but had better results with my experiment in using a deeper exit from my turns. It was in crawl, however, where the first real sign of progress was seen as I discovered my short course lap count had dropped by a full stroke. It’s taken a full month of consciously working on stroke extension to accomplish and is most gratifying. Improving my catch is next on the list, and then I’ll tackle my stroke’s finish (which is primarily a strength problem anyways) and with those two problems dealt with I should see another two full strokes off my lap count. This at least means my crawl technique has caught up somewhat with my backstroke as there reach has never been a problem (rather the contrary). Instead in backstroke one of my higher priorities has been to improve my catch, one which I’ve been working on for sometime. Hopefully this will mean when it does finally click I’ll see an even quicker adoption in free. Looking at my turns I still have a host of problems all begging for immediate attention but I did succeed in identifying yet another problem in my back rollover turn, a discovery which allows for its eventual correction. It seems when tired I don’t make my underwater pull to recommence my stroke after the turn (I also don’t dolphin kick but that’s something I’ve known about from right from day one) whereas I always take that important stroke on my start. Including the pull in my turns adds nearly half a body length to the point where I surface – almost to the flags. Just wait until kicking becomes part of my turn! A long backstroke set made sure I’d remember about this tendency in the future plus the set’s leisurely pace meant really I could really home in on coordinating kick, hips and stroke into a cohesive whole. The effects of this set and the other strokes' integration efforts made my abs feel like they’d done about a hundred crunches by the time I finished the practice. I must be doing something right.

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