Saturday, September 13, 2008

Third Time’s the Charm

The most pleasant surprise I’ve had returning to ‘competitive’ swimming has been discovering how much the overall quality of coaching has improved the three plus decades I’ve been away. Swimming with a masters team that's affiliated with a major swim club allows access to underwater cameras and stroke analysis reserved only for the elite back when I was a child. So now instead of merely swimming up and down the pool in mind-numbing monotony I can consciously work on correcting any one of my strokes’ many known flaws. There are enough to keep me busy for a long, long time.

When I started back in the pool a couple of years ago I limited myself to trying only a couple of changes at a time. I felt attempting any more would overwhelm my efforts and I’d end up with little real progress or, even worse, create new problems which would need correction. After several months and a couple of clinics, however, it became clear trying to compartmentalize my stroke deficiencies wasn’t working. There was simply too much else going wrong elsewhere for me to isolate and target specific problems.

Realizing this I took the plunge late August last year and adopted a radically new approach to my training. I would try to tackle all my flaws in one cohesive whole. The idea was to bring my overall technique up to a point where I could start addressing individual problems without being overly distracted by the other niggling deficiencies. In effect I threw out the idea that I could swim competitively with my existing strokes and decided to start fresh, really fresh – dropping myself to the level of someone new to age group competition where the general rule of thumb is that any time spent on specific problems is a waste of time. For me training became oriented around the same basic stroke instruction and overall conditioning given to every eight year old. My practices reverted to drills, kicking, and distance work. To become more at ease in the water I had to swim more, but to handle the heavier workload and still maintain proper technique I required much better conditioning. It was, is, a slow and tiring process which I estimate will take at least three more years to build up to my maximum potential. A year of this, however, has been enough I think to start correcting some of my major stroke deficiencies.

Consequently by the end of the short course season I was looking forward to a review of my various strokes which eventually led to a clinic with Brad one sunny Saturday this past June. I am pleased to report it was a very productive hour and a quarter for me. Boiled down to its essence for the next several months I’m going to tackle two primary themes – my catch (early vertical forearm) and maintaining proper rotation around my body’s core. A couple of following posts will look at each stroke analyzing my individual flaws and how I intend to improve. So once again, for the third time in two short years, I’m making serious changes to my strokes. Some are more refinement than wholesale change, such as the changes required for my backstroke. Others are at the point where I’m able to retain some major components but still need to introduce completely new concepts, such as revamping my breaststroke and fly pulls. And then there is freestyle, where I’m just starting over and completely rebuilding my stroke from scratch. I feel like a school boy on his first day back at school looking forward to another year of learning and some good grades. I’m hoping by the time I go back for my next stroke review around December I’ll get mostly A’s for progress made.


Isis said...

Hi Scott,

Just last week in practice we did a drill focused on that early vertical forearm in the freestyle catch. To do the drill, you use hand paddles, but without the rubber straps: instead you hold hte paddles horizontally in your hand. Then, you focus on that vertical catch and high elbow: the paddle helps put your arm in the right position. Ideally, the set was to alternate a 50 with the paddles with a 100 in which you count your strokes. Because of my shoulder weakness, I did not do very many lengths of the drill, but I can already feel a difference.

Good luck with your goals and I look forward to reading about your efforts and progress.

Scott said...

Hello Isis. Nice to see you've returned to the pool and working on rehabilitating your shoulder. While I'm not technically rehabbing myself the amount of work to get through before I can seriously start racing makes me feel we're in somewhat similar circumstances (I'm always so impressed by your kick sets - my big weakness).

P.S. I almost left a comment on your Matt Damon post, but Matt so closely described my own feelings about McCain's VP choice I really didn't have anything to add. Right down to his stammer.

Cedric said...

You talked about a swim clinic in your last post. I am extremely new at swimming and what I've gathered about how to perform any type of stroke has been from watching Michael Phelps videos. Would you recommend I try a clinic and if so how do you find a high calibre instructor?

Scott said...

Your local masters swim club will hold at least a couple of swim clinics during the year. There are also non-affiliated clinics which travel around such as Total Immersion or those given out by noted swimmers like the legendary Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen and her Aquatic Edge clinics and camps. But whatever you do if you want to swim really fast (and can't afford to keep a personal coach like Bob Bowman on hand) then you'll have to know exactly how your strokes vary from the ideal and what to do to get there. You might also be interested in reading more about my views on swim clinics given in one of my earlier posts here