Monday, January 14, 2013


When it comes to swimming, I liken myself to a crusty old gold miner.  I show up with my hardhat, lunch pail, and dirty pickaxe every day (ok every 2-3 days) and I chip away at the stone.  I may go weeks or even months without finding a single speck of gold.  And yet I continue to chip… in search of the elusive golden nugget. 

the precious

I continue to chip because I know that golden nuggets exist.  I’ve found them in the past.  In the beginning, they were easy to find, the “low hanging fruit” if you will.  If you need help, a swimmer friend or masters swim coach can help you find them.  Here are some nuggets I found relatively early on:

  • How to inhale air as opposed to water
  • The basic pulling motion with your arms
  • Body position/getting at least somewhat flat on the water
  • Hip rotation
  • An attempt at kicking

Over time, the low hanging fruit is gone, and it takes a little effort to find more, often with the guidance of a coach.  Here’s a sample of some that I discovered for myself after putting in some work:

  • It’s better to swim loose than like a robot
  • Keep your arms wide, stop crossing them over the middle
  • A “2-beat” kick works better for me
  • Keep your fingers relaxed, not tight together
  • Hip-driven vs. shoulder-driven technique (shoulder more effective for me)

Lately I’ve wondered to myself, “is the mine barren?”  It seems as though I’ve been on a plateau for a while, and had stopped even hoping for huge golden nuggets… I've been more like the guys below, panning for tiny specks.

you see any specks?

Then, last week I received a glimmer of hope.  I started swimming with a new group closer to my home, which happens to be led by an expert gold digger (in the swimming sense, not the Kanye West sense).  She spotted a beautiful golden nugget that I never would have found on my own. My apologies if I stumble through this, but I will attempt to explain it:

To get more out of each pull (specifically the initial, “front quadrant” of the pull) focus on the motion of driving your elbow up as you pull down.  This upward motion drives your hand and forearm down with a lot more force.  This also engages your bigger lat muscles as opposed to just your shoulders.  I’d often heard to “keep a high elbow,” but there’s a big difference between just hanging it up high in the water as you pull down and driving it up.  

It might take a little time, but I’m in the process of extracting this nugget from the rock.  I took a sample over a couple of workouts and it appears to be pure.  Each pull felt more powerful, and I was swimming faster with the same effort.  If you've already been doing this, then shame on you... you're a greedy gold digger who's been holding out on me.  If this is new to you, hopefully you'll get the motion I described and it will be effective for you.

I guess the moral of the story is, when it comes to the most technical discipline of our sport, there's always more gold to be found.  

And that is why I continue to chip!

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