May 132012

Happy Mother’s Day to all of our Mom’s out there! In thinking about what an incredible job that Mom’s do, and knowing how hectic life is these days, I thought a post on something soothing and smooth might be in order. I’m combining our Drill of the Week and Tip of the Week as one post. As you read through, you’ll see why.

Sometimes we have those days in our swimming where it all seems so easy and smooth. You sail through your workout and even contemplate that you just might be Olympic calibre.  Visions of Jessica Hardy and Ryan Lochte dance through your head.

Then there are those days that are quite a bit more challenging. You know what I’m talking about! You thrash, you splash and somehow, most unelegantly, you make your way to the other end. No matter what happens, you just can’t “get your groove on”. What’s up with that?

Ah mate…you just lost your rhythm. Thoughts of the Olympics are dashed and you think you just might need remedial lessons. The good news is that the loss is temporary, and you can work to get it back.

In an earlier write up, I posted about cylinder swimming. It isn’t something that just happens, you have to concentrate and be vigilant about your position, line and balance in the water. There is another component to your swimming, your rhythm, and it requires the same level of attention. You need to pay attention to your rhythm and cadence – in your breathing, in your stroking, in your kicking.

For me, backstroke and freestyle provide optimal opportunity to feel rhythm. Both are very symmetrical strokes. I often find myself counting some form of cadence as I stroke along – 1-2-3-4 or 1-2-3. It can be so mesmerizing and relaxing! Definitely my “Zen moment”. This is possible, also, with butterfly and breaststroke, just takes a bit more work to relax and get into the stroke.  Those two strokes can suck away the oxygen rather quickly, so establishing proper breathing is critical.

Alright then, so how do you find this magical feeling? Allow yourself to experience a practice session without a clock or timing device. Let go of that for the purposes of this goal to find and maintain rhythm in your swimming. Start out by focusing on your breathing. Do some very easy laps kicking on your back while you gently breathe in and out. Don’t kick hard (and fins are fine).  Keeping that breathing relaxed, focus on your streamline, and then your kick. Keep the knee bend to a minimum, kick from the hips, point the toes slightly. Is your kick even? Smooth?

Now try gentle and easy freestyle strokes, continuing to focus on keeping that breathing relaxed. If kicking isn’t your strong suit, for now, put on a pull buoy.

Breathe when you want – don’t worry about whether that is every stroke, every third, or some other cadence. Each time your face hits the water, be sure and exhale – gently and smoothly. Don’t hold your breath for even a second! Just let it flow back and forth. Continue focusing on finding a rhythm in your breathing – whatever your cycle of breathing may be.

When you have your breathing relaxed, swim a lap where you focus on noticing the timing of your strokes with your breathing. Can you find a pattern? Do you have a “hitch” in your stroke that you can smooth out so that it feels like it can match up to a metronome?

As you begin to feel that you’ve got rhythm at slow speeds, take it up a notch. Don’t work harder at your stroking or kicking, just simply increase the rhythm ever so slightly. If you falter, back up a step (or steps) until you begin to find the rhythm. Keep at it! Once you find that incredible feeling, it is addictive and you will want to find it again and again.

For you competitors out there, this is a great way to ramp up for meets or open water swims. Do sets where you first find the smooth rhythm, and then increase the tempo of that rhythm. Focus on those increases in rhythm more than effort in your stroke. You just might like those results. 🙂

Once you can do a few laps “with rhythm”, up the ante. Can you do a 200? Can you hold this for a 500? If you cannot, a few things could be going on. One, your breathing may not be executed properly. Remember, no holding your breath when your face is in the water! Two, you may not have your aerobic conditioning down. Work to increase yardage and decrease rest. Three, other elements may be working against you. If you don’t have proper position, line and balance in the water, finding rhythm will be difficult. Return to some basics on stroke improvement. Use your core, work your catch, align your body.

Be patient with yourself and know that this magical transformation doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve been working on this for over 5 years. I don’t find that sweet spot in every lap of my practice. But, I am now able to find it in almost every practice. Try it in backstroke. This is my most favorite stroke right now. Backstroke used to be my absolute worst stroke. My former coach, Sharlene, used to chuckle a lot when I tried backstroke. I flailed and was all over the place. I very much appreciate all the time she spent with me, because eventually things began to gel as  I worked on it, over and over. And when my best stroke, breaststroke, neeeded a rest due to injuries, I set my sights on dramatically improving my backstroke. Sometime over the last two years, I began to find the rhythm in the stroke and have fallen completely head over heels in love with it. Whether it is 50 back, 200 back or even 500 back (in practice), I just feel strong, confident and smooth, and oh so rhythmical.

Give it a go. Be patient and just keep at it. Once you “find it” you won’t be disappointed. So go swim smooth people!

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