Many of us are vacationing in beautiful places this weekend with pools, lakes, and oceans nearby. Swimming is amazing exercise, not only for toning all aspects of the body but also for burning calories, mastering the breath, and quieting the mind. I am in Kiawah Island at The Sanctuary Hotel, which is right on the beach. The ocean temperature is around 85-degrees, and despite windy white caps and a tiny swell, the water is calm. In my efforts to build towards doing an Olympic triathlon, I always use this water as my training grounds because I cannot stand the cold temperatures of the waters near where I live!
After not having swum in a year but having stayed in pretty great shape with yoga, running, cycling (I also had well-taught swimming lessons as a child), I was able to get into the water yesterday to test my one-mile swimming capabilities (yoga, running, and cycling are a fabulous trio of cross-training exercises, which if done regularly and well, can prepare you for many other physical endeavors you won’t or don’t believe you can do). Though a bit clunky at first, by the halfway point, I was cruising. I felt my stroke become streamlined and powerful. At the start, my arms were lagging and bent. Then as my breath began to soften and my mind went into meditation mode, I turned my attention to fix my technique.
I was not swimming for speed but I did want to finish and as well as I could. Once I got into the groove with my physical body, breath, and mind in tune with each other and my arms warmed up, I was able to hone in on arm and shoulder technique to make sure that they were getting maximum extension and rotation so that my stroke would be strong and efficient. I also checked in with my kick to eliminate signs of lazy legs!
As I went for the full extension of my arms and a straight underwater pull, I realized that each gave my stroke power. I was overcome by a newfound sense of confidence. I knew I would make it to the finish and in fact, I felt so good that once I had reached my one-mile marker I was ready to swim even farther. My endorphins had skyrocketed, my esteem had peaked, and I felt calm.
This morning I came across an article in The New York Times “Delineating the Perfect Swim Stroke,” by Grethcen Reyolds.
In it she discusses the difference between the deep-catch stroke and the scull stroke. Over the years, there has been a lot of controversy over which stroke makes for a faster more efficient swim. Currently, many studies are being done to hone in on the correct answer to the question: Is the deep-catch or scull stroke the better way to swim? Before the Olympics, in 2008 a study was performed that shed some new light on this conflict:
“The result was ‘a bit of a surprise,’ Dr. Mittal says. It turned out that lift was, as Doc Counsilman had maintained, important for efficient, and therefore fast, stroking. In all of the scientists’ simulations, lift provided a majority of the propulsive force.
But sculling did not supply much lift. In fact, it impeded both lift and drag. ‘Our shoulders won’t twist all the way around,’ Dr. Mittal says, meaning our arms won’t lever about as ship propellers do, and the amount of lift we can create by sculling is small.
The better choice for human propulsion, he says, was the paddle-like deep-catch stroke, which actually produced more lift than sculling, along with a hefty dose of drag.”
Though I am no expert when it comes to swimming, I certainly can apply my overall fitness knowledge to many different physical endeavors. I definitely felt the drag yesterday (need more work on the lift), which I know made my swim better.
My six-year-old daughter has an amazing swim coach and is an incredible swimmer. As I swam my mile, I envisioned her stroke. Even with her tiny arms she has incredible arm reach and rotation in her shoulder joints. She glides atop the water like she was born to be a fish. She is fast. Even though our arms “won’t lever about as ship propellers do,” hers appear to come close!