Learning to Swim Again as an Adult and Beginner Triathlete

When I decided to start training for a triathlon, I knew I could handle the run and the bike portions.  The swim scared the daylights out of me, and that’s the first part of the race.  If I don’t make it out of the water, I don’t even get a chance at the bike or the run.

Let me back up and tell you.  I know how to swim (or at least I did when I was a kid).  I am not afraid of the water by any means.  It’s just that growing up we didn’t have a pool at the house, our school didn’t have a swim team, and we didn’t belong to a gym with a pool.  So opportunities to put my swim skills to practice were limited to when we went on vacations at the beach or stayed at a hotel with a pool.  Needless to say, I never really mastered swimming.

Back to present day.  I want to complete a triathlon, probably Olympic distance, then move on to longer distances such as Half Ironman with a lifetime goal of completing an Ironman.  (Wow, writing that down makes me realize I have some pretty lofty goals!)

So where do I start?  How do I learn how to swim again as an adult and triathlete?

I began by soliciting the advice of two friends whom I know are great swimmers.  I spent time with each of them in the pool and they tried to teach me about form and breathing.   They showed me a few techniques, but I just wasn’t catching on to what they were saying.  It’s hard to explain how you do something to a novice when you’ve done it all of your life.

Next, I looked into adult swim classes.  I was not impressed.  Most classes are geared toward adults that have never been in the water, have absolutely zero swimming experience, or are afraid of the water.  I do not fit into any of those categories.  I know the basics of swimming.  I can hold my breath under water, I’m decent at treading water, and I can swim if necessary.  It might not be the best means, but I can definitely get myself from point A to point B.  I needed someone to teach me proper form and build on the basics.  I also know there is a difference in learning to swim and learning to swim long distances.  I just didn’t think a class that taught basic swimming skills would be able to fulfill my need for distant swimming.

I finally began an internet search, which again proved to be a bit difficult.  Perusing the Ironman website, I found an article entitled “The Best Swim Technique for Open Water“.  I clicked on it, thinking this should provide at least a few tips for me to work on.  The article was informative, but I wanted needed more.  At the bottom of the article were the words, “Terry Laughlin is the founder of Total Immersion coaching: ‘Swimming that Changes Your Life.'”  JACKPOT!

I headed over to Terry Laughlin’s website curious to see if there were resources to help me become a better swimmer.  His website provides free videos and a newsletter; I signed up for both.  There are also self-coach books as well as dvds for sale.  I wanted to know what others had to say about this technique.  So, I picked a few books that interested me and checked out the reviews on Amazon – they were great.  I was finally making progress!

I didn’t want to wait for shipping; I wanted to start swimming right away.  My library had Freestyle: Made Easy DVD, the Total Immersion Pool Primer for Freestyle and Backstroke, and one of Laughlin’s older books Swimming Made Easy in stock.  Although Laughlin has more recently published work, I chose to use what my library had on the shelf because the underlying information and techniques are the same.  Also, I’m aware there are other books and tools available from different companies that may result in the same outcome, but I trust information posted on the Ironman website and I decided to use the Total Immersion resources that were available to me.

          

Nick and I watched the Freestyle: Made Easy DVD immediately.  It has several lessons to teach you how to relax in the water as well as breaking down every part of the stroke to achieve balance and glide efficiently through the water.  To be honest, the Pool Primer is essentially the same thing, just in a laminated book that you can bring with you poolside.  These two complemented one another.  It was nice to watch the video and hear the explanation of each lesson, then go to the pool with the primer and remind me pictorially what I am supposed to do in the water.

Swimming Made Easy builds on the dvd.  The book breaks down the steps even further for you to learn all four strokes (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly), and explains the how and why.  This allows you to develop skills to swim more efficiently and economically in the water.  The book also describes drills for each of the strokes (and strongly suggests you to use in conjunction with the videos).  It states, “Use the videos to learn the drills, and use the book to learn the principles behind the drills”.

On learning to reduce drag Laughlin says, “How much noise do you make swimming?  Sound is energy, and the less of your mechanical energy you convert into noise, the more remains to move you forward.”  This makes so much sense.  Have you ever watched elite athletes swim?  They glide through the water with such grace and in almost complete silence.  On the other hand, have you ever heard a swimmer before you actually saw them?  Splashing through the water, they are wasting effort on the noise rather than using that energy to propel themselves forward.

Has this made me a better swimmer?  In short, YES.  A longer explanation:  This is exactly what I was searching for – someone to not only breakdown each portion of the stroke, but to also describe in detail why it is important to swim this way.  I feel the book, in conjunction with the dvd, did exactly that.  Now, I’m not winning any trophies for my swimming, but I am becoming a better swimmer.  In the few weeks that I’ve been implementing this new way of swimming, I have become faster and more aware of what I am supposed to do.  I’m no longer flailing about in the water.  I still have plenty of work ahead of me to even consider myself a strong and efficient swimmer.  I am okay with that, because I know that every time I get in the pool I am improving, reducing drag, and am becoming a much more confident swimmer.

This is part of a series of posts of the Total Immersion DVDs:
If you have little experience in the water or maybe you’re uncomfortable in the pool, please read my Learning to Swim – The Prequel post.

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