One of the toughest things to find out is what do you do instinctively when you swim. It’s not until you see a video tape of yourself, or hear a coach tell you, or catch yourself doing something you didn’t know you did… that you begin to realize just what you do without thinking.
You may never realize what you do in the water until someone asks you HOW you do something. Take breathing, for instance. Do you breathe out through your nose, or through your mouth? Do you breathe out slowly, allowing air to trickle out, or do you hold on to your breath till the last possible second, blowing it all out in one purge to get your lungs ready for the infusion of fresh air? Do you wait SO long to release your air that you’re giving a quick out-in burst while your head is turned (which could explain why you get out of breath so quickly when you swim)? Remember, this is just the natural and necessary action of breathing.
If you look at how you GET to air, there’s even more to consider. Do you lift your head slightly to begin the trip your mouth has to take to make that exchange? Do you look forward, then turn, or do you simply swivel your head? Does your head turn with the body, or does the head move independently? How far do you turn your head? Are both eyes out or the water, or just one? When does the head go back in — is it BEFORE the recovering arm enters the water, or at the same time? What do you see when you inhale… and when you exhale?
Speaking of seeing… what do you look at when you swim? When you push off the wall, what do you look at? Is it the bottom, the side, the swimmers next to you? When you begin your swim on each length, what are you looking at? Are you checking for the feet of the swimmer in front of you, making sure they’re going to move far enough to the left prior to their turn so you don’t bang heads? Do you see the flags as you approach the wall… or the change in the lane-line color indicating the wall is coming? Do you look for the "T" on the bottom prior to your turn, or maybe a ledge where people can stand? Do you look at the end, do you see the cross? What do your eyes do DURING the turn? Do you keep them open during a flip, watching the world spin uncontrollably around, or do you quickly close your eyes to block out the confusion? Do you open them during the exit of the flip to make sure there’s no one coming at you? Do you keep them closed until your feet hit the wall, or do you actually WATCH your feet plant prior to pushing off? Then the cycle begins again… lap after lap, set after set, hour after hour, day after day, year after year.
Why think about this stuff if, in reality, we don’t think about this stuff? It really came to light with me a few weeks ago during a set using the Finis Swimmer’s Snorkel. I’ve taken abuse from swimmers for quite some time for the need to use a nose-plug when I use the snorkel. For some reason, I could never use the snorkel without water going up my nose, and I really never knew why… I just couldn’t. During a set, I reached to adjust my nose-plug, and it cracked in half. It was rendered totally useless unless I decided to shove the two halves up each nostril. I remember looking at it, and being disappointed because I was really getting into the set. I decided it was my day to tackle how to use the snorkel without my training wheels. I mean, I’m a decent swimmer, how come so many people can use this thing without it, and I can’t? It took me about 1/2 lap to realize I wasn’t going to make it to the end. Each time I exhaled, water RUSHED up my nose and I began to choke.
Now, I can’t say it’s too impressive to see a past Olympian in the lane, crying because water is going up his nose, but I tried my best to look tough while I choked, coughed, and struggled to purge the stinging invader from my nose. I just couldn’t figure out what was going on until I started to study what it was that I do instinctively. When I breathe out in the water, I breathe out through my mouth. I never knew it, honestly. As it turns out, when I breathe out through my mouth, water rushes up my nose, and the quick fix with the snorkel was to breathe out through my nose, and BOOM…. I WAS AN AQUATIC ANIMAL AGAIN! I could swim length after length without trouble, and without my nose-plug. I HAD IT LICKED, by finally figuring out what it was that I did naturally. (Just as quickly as my chest pumped with pride, however, I did a flip and realized that I breathe out through my nose during the flip, leaving me with too little air to purge the snorkel after the push… water up the nose again… I’ll keep trying.)
I have since started to try to catch myself doing instinctive things, and I’ve found things that I never knew I did. When I’m going fast breaststroke, and approach the wall, just before my hands touch the wall, I close my eyes. Don’t ask me why, and don’t ask me to explain the benefits, cause I really don’t know. Logic tells me that I should be looking to make sure I hit it just right, but competitive instinct tells me NOT to associate with the wall, and get off it as quickly as possible. It must be instinct that tells me if I can’t get through the turn during the blink, or if I can’t FEEL what’s happening, it’s just taking too long. In fact, I realized that I swim a LOT with my eyes closed, and when I do look, I see mostly shadows or blurred images of swimmers around me. Mostly because everything is in my peripheral vision, and almost nothing of substance, other than the lines on the bottom, or the bottom of the lane next to me, is clear. I’ve also realized that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the cross at the end. I mean, I’ve seen it, just never when I’m swimming. I’ve realized why I love Swedish goggles so much as well. With no gaskets, rubber, or additional opaque edges, they allow my peripheral vision to work. They allow me to see those blurred images through the top of the goggles without actually focusing, or even thinking about them. They’re just there.
We’ve covered only two topics in this article… air and eyes. Can you IMAGINE how much more there is to discover about yourself?
The next person who says swim practice is boring, is going to get in BIG trouble. If you can’t find something to discover, you’re just not paying attention. Now find out what YOU do instinctively.