Beginning swimming lessons three years ago was genuinely one of the best decisions I’ve made. Being confident in the water has lead me onto so many things I never would have previously considered, including finishing a half-ironman triathlon and planning to swim the Solent next year.
Now that I swim with a masters group and a triathlon club, it’s easy to forget how far I’ve come in three years. When I took those first tentative steps onto the poolside at an adult swim school, I was nervous about putting my face in the water and self-conscious of wearing a swimsuit in public. Supportive and patient instructors helped me to develop my swim skills, technique and confidence. According to the ASA, over nine million adults in England are unable to swim. I actually often consider taking qualifications to become a swim coach myself and helping other non-swimmers discover a love of the water.
Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics and learn to swim as a complete beginner. Last week, I had the chance to take a swimming lesson with Richard Stannard and Jas Thorpe at Fitness First Hammersmith. Richard was a professional triathlete for 20 years and has won 7 world titles during his career. I’m always keen to get as much advice and input on improving my stroke, so I jumped at the chance to attend the session. The pool at Fitness First is short and shallow making it perfect for beginner lessons as the water is not too deep that you cannot touch the floor at any point. The ambient glow from the pool lighting creates a relaxed atmosphere.
Before we even got into the water, I learned something new- I’ve been wearing my goggle strap too low all this time. It should be placed higher around the head at the broadest part. Turning up to work in the morning with goggle marks around my eyes has become the norm for me, so hopefully making this adjustment it will reduce this problem!
The front crawl technique was broken down into bitesize chunks with Richard providing demonstrations. It’s always inspiring to watch a pro athlete in action gliding effortlessly through the water. We began swimming a few lengths focusing on body position, aiming to keep our head, hips and heels in a straight line. Richard complimented me on my body position which was nice to hear!
Triathletes are notorious for neglecting to use their legs whilst swimming, but I actually find that kick drills are my favourite part of a swim set. I could quite happily use my kick board all day long! Richard emphasised that an effective kick starts at the hips with straight legs and pointed toes. We swam a few lengths concentrating on engaging our glutes and creating small, quick kicks without bending our knees. A tip I’ve heard before is to imagine your big toes rubbing together as your feet move up and down side-by-side.
Finally we moved onto our catch and pull technique. This is the area which I struggle with the most- I’m always told that I drop my elbows and therefore don’t create enough leverage to pull my body through the water. We floated in the pool moving our hands in a figure of eight motion to get a feel for the water then Richard explained how rolling your shoulder inwards activates your lat muscles. He suggested visualising a large barrel under your arm as you reach and pull through the water. It still didn’t quite click with me but Richard assured us that this part of the stroke can take years to get right. It’s something that I will continue to work on!
The group of bloggers was a real mix of abilities and everyone made noticeable improvements during the hour session under Richard’s guidance. I really hope everyone is inspired to keep swimming as it has so many health benefits. For more information on swim coaching, check out The Triathlon Training Centre.
Thanks to Abbi at Upraised Living for the images.
Can you swim or have you ever taken lessons?