Total Immersion: Swim Breakthrough Friday!

Friday I had a breakthrough of tremendous proportions in my swimming. Since my last post, I’ve been focusing on my stroke, specifically my arm recovery, as it has been something that hasn’t felt right.
So my typical workout, once I embarked on this focus to fix the problems in my stroke, looks like:
200-300y W/U w/ drills:
200y if I get the shallow end of my pool where I can stand:
2×25 Superman glide
2×25 Alternating R/L arm skate
2×25 Alternating R/L arm underswitch skate
2×25 Underswitch swim continuous
300y if I get the deep end where I can’t stand:
100y swim easy
200y underswitch swim
4×50 Zen switch, arm submerged to elbow, continuous swim
4×50 Zen switch, arm submerged to middle forearm, continuous swim
4×50 Zen switch, arm submerged to wrist, continuous swim
4×50 Zen switch, dragging fingertips along surface
4×50 Swim w/ focus on various arm recovery drill points
The points I had focused on were:
1. Elbow led recovery, via circling the elbow, per Easy Freestyle DVD Chapter 5.
2. Elbow led recovery, by having a straight elbow path, from back to front entry, also per Easy Freestyle DVD Chapter 5. On my left, my elbow is tracing some sort of arc and ends up too close to the centerline. It even causes my body to arc sometimes. In feeling, I attempted to actually trace path that is straight, but angled towards the outside. This probably meant in actuality that my left arm was moving straight forward even though my brain thought it was going forward straight before.
The secondary points I kept a mental check on were:
1. Releasing at the end of the pull back. Tension builds on the stroke back, but then I release it all and relax for the elbow led recovery.
2. Stroking towards the outside, almost at 45 degree angle away from body as Coach Shinji puts it, although I think it just ends up being less than that. I think the important thing is to not end up alongside or close to the body.
3. Wide tracks to swim on, versus being too narrow.
4. Setting up the entry around where the opposite arm’s elbow is, and then letting gravity take the arm into the water and then spearing forward.
5. Upon entering with my left arm, keep it spearing slightly to the outside. Previously I believe I’ve been spearing my left arm too straight forward.
6. Quiet arm entry, and thus quiet swimming and as bubble-less as possible.
Other very important points that I kept an awareness of:
1. For this exercise, I chose to not stroke back strongly, but see if I could impart more forward momentum via the spearing arm rather than depending on the stroking arm back. Coach Shinji and I did some drills to illustrate how much momentum you can generate simply by spearing forward.
2. Stroking back straight and not up or down. My right arm stroking tends to make my body hop up and down slightly, indicating that my stroke back is not exactly straight back and is directing propulsive force in other directions besides fully moving my body forward.
3. At the end of spear forward, let my wrist relax and my hand just hangs down so that it is ready for the catch. This also releases tension in the arm; tension in the arm is bad.
4. Slight attention on bending at the elbow to catch at the front, but not too much at this juncture, as it requires a bit more flexibility than I have at this point.
5. Hanging the head in a relaxed manner.
6. Keeping the body straight, and also when I roll back and forth during swimming to roll on my axis and not swipe back and forth.
As one can imagine, keeping track of all this can be overwhelming; swimming is such a complex activity! Luckily, our bodies have imprinted all this such that all that text is really easy and burned into our natural movements. The problem of course is when we imprint bad habits and have to change them.
Running through my workout, I became a bit more unstable as I have been when my arm starts to get higher out of the water for each drill. But yesterday, I had about a lap of instability and then something changed. My swimming became amazingly relaxed and I was moving forward with ease, and by not stroking back strongly at all.
The sensations I felt were:
1. My head was very relaxed hanging down. But I remember feeling no water swirling at the top which meant that my head was pretty submerged, probably more than it has been.
2. My left arm entry felt really good. I just let it drop into the water and spear forward.
3. As I kept my stroking arm moving with firm but not extra force, I felt the first inklings of what anchoring in the water meant. My stroking arm became an anchor for my spearing arm to push forward against, as well as with a lot of help from my two beat kick putting some authority into my hip turning. With this action, I started to really understand what Coach Shinji meant by saying that you could really move forward fast without using a whole lot of energy.
4. My body was totally straight, and for the first time I felt that I was turning nicely on my axis and keeping like a needle through the water.
5. With all this working, I felt at ease from stroke to stroke, very relaxed, but yet I felt like I was moving smoothly and continuously through the water, with each stroke being very rhythmic and with no stops or starts.
I felt so good that I didn’t want it to end and swam another 4×50 in hopes of it burning into my nervous system just a bit more. It was a banner moment for me in my swimming and I hope to imprint this further in future sessions.