Swimming for runners #2

Before taking on my first ‘swim check’ to essentially assess the damage and how much I had to learn, I spoke to Nick, Immerse founder. I asked why swimming can prove a good tool for runners. He told me: “Swimming is good for runners as it is an aerobic activity predominately using the upper body in an essentially weightless environment taking much of the strain on the legs and back.” 

Ok that sounds useful but will it help me stay fit and strong for my return to running? I ask this because the reason I love running so much (and I’m sure many will agree) is that I haven’t been able to find anything ‘as hard’ as running. That feeling that you are giving everything and reaping reward in the form of pride, kudos and fitness (sickness) from those mile repeats, isn’t something I’ve been able to emulate elsewhere. Especially from swimming but I have since learnt that this probably comes from my ‘chatty breaststroke’ mode of swimming. But frankly at my worst injury lows, I’d take anything so let’s go.

Swimming is actually an excellent choice for injured runners, Nick tells us why, “when you are running your legs take the strain, in the water that strain is removed.” Another benefit is that, “you also have the gentle hydrostatic pressure of the water and in a pool, generally warm water both of which can aid recovery.”

So into the pool with Nick and Pete (the coaches) for a swim check. I was initially horrified when they brought out the video camera. I cant even look in the mirror with my swim cap on, I don’t really want a record of it, plus all that the camera adding 10 pounds business. But, I sucked it up for the greater good to show them how I swim. Despite breaststroke being my most familiar stroke, it was frankly a bit of a horror show, but I wasn’t too worried as I was there to master front crawl. To this point id been self-taught over a couple of months so I wasn’t confident but it wasn’t as problematic as I’d feared.

The key pointers they picked out were: my hand entry point, which needed to be a little earlier than it was so I had what they call ‘the reach’ in the water to essentially improve my efficiency and lengthen my stroke. The other one, was the push downwards and what my arms were doing in the water. Upon my initial practice drills at the new technique I basically felt like a spluttering confused mess. It is enough just to concentrate on not drowning and moving forwards but I had some homework. I also felt the extra pressure of two sets of eyes on me so left determined to master it on my own.

I’m a bit keen in general so left the teaching pool to go to mine for a swim to practice. Which I did relentlessly for about two weeks until I felt ready to show my progress. And it was well received, step one, learning to swim front crawl correctly was ticked off. And it felt amazing. Now, I needed a training plan.

First steps for beginners getting into swimming, from Nick at Immerse.

- Find a good teacher or coach.

- Get some good comfortable goggles

- Get comfortable and relaxed in the water. The water isn't an obstacle to overcome. Don't fight against it. The properties you are fighting against are the very things you need to be using to swim well.

- Get your technique right. The key is long smooth strokes, minimally resistant, maximising propelling efficiency (the long, thin, sleek boat with the biggest paddles, pushing directly back for the greatest distance). To minimise splash, bubbles, sounds, waves. Avoid short, sharp, fast, splashy, noisy strokes. Don't be the moving haystack of water.

- Breathe out. You’ll be more relaxed and you'll have room for your next in breath.

- Build up distance slowly, build up speed slowly. If your technique starts to fall away you have probably gone too fast or too far too soon. Swimming at the same speed all the time isn't very effective training regime. Intervals, of varying distances, intensity and rest periods, will be more beneficial more quickly. 

Read the first blog here.