Monday, May 4, 2009

First things first

Ask any swim guru about swimming and they will tell you that it is all about "technique." Read any book on swimming and you will find the same recommendations. No wonder then that everyone thinks they need a swim coach to teach them the subtleties of swimming. No wonder everyone is spending so much time trying to perfect their stroke. Stroke drills, you don't see any runners or cyclists doing these types of drills, now do you?

The focus on technique has always bothered me. Surely technique is not what stands between me and swim glory.

And then there is this piece of wisdom. You need to lift weights. Why, is anyone's guess. My guess is that gyms like to get customers and gyms are all about weight lifting. Most coaches and trainers work out of gyms so it is not surprising they think (or are made to think) that all those weights must be useful for something. But there is one thing here that does matter. One thing that makes sense. Weight lifting, as some have pointed out, mostly benefits swimmers.

Now take a look at those swimmers and what do you see? Tons of shoulder, back, and upper body muscle. When I first saw Alain Bernard I thought he was a weight lifter. If you saw him out of the pool and did not know who he was, you would think the same.

Here is another tidbit. Scientists recently measured the power of the dolphin tail stroke. The results were surprising to everyone. It had always bothered people that dolphins could jump so high or swim so fast. For years everyone had been looking at drag (drag is related to technique), and that led to strange postulates about special skin properties. Remember the shark skin craze?

What scientists found recently however, was that dolphins produce a lot of power. At least an order of magnitude more than earlier assumptions. These dolphins are very strong. Earlier data and estimates on dolphin power output were way off the mark. These puny estimates were the main reason everyone went looking elsewhere for an explanation. Technique? Drag?

And that brings me to my key point: swimming is all about muscle. Muscle is key. Without a lot of muscle you will not swim fast. And poor me, a late comer to sports, who always focused on cycling when I finally did work out, I have no upper body muscle to speak off. So, it is no surprise that I am a poor swimmer. Building muscle where there was none before has not been easy.

First and foremost, swimming is about muscle. I am slowly learning this truth. So, unless you are a good swimmer -a natural so to speak- forget about stroke and stroke drills and focus on power. You will need to build muscle. All the rest will follow later, your speed, your position in the water -once you get some upper body muscle, aka pounds, you will no longer be out of balance with your legs hanging down-, etc.

So does form matter? Sure it does. Once you are a good swimmer you need to focus on your stroke. Because that is the only place where you can make additional gains. Once you have built all the muscle you can support and perfuse, your only options are to focus on drag and stroke mechanics.

Unfortunately for us mortals, that is where swim coaches spend their time. They work with individuals who are excellent swimmers to begin with. Those guys do not need any more muscle. They need form. They need that little bit of an edge that will make all the difference in competition.

But us mortals, what we need most is power. So forget about your stroke and focus on your power output. Focus on building muscle. That is where the big gains are. That is what will get you to where the competition really is.

3,000 m in the pool today 5/4
a gym brick 50/30 yesterday, 5/3
1 hr stationary bike on Saturday, 5/2
1:10 on rollers on Friday, 5/1

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