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In The Swim of Things



First off, a quick amendment to my previous post: In terms of necessary gear, add a swim cap and goggles to the list. I showed up at The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers’ pool—ponytail bouncing—for a swimming lesson with Scott Berlinger, the coach who created SHAPE’s 12-week triathlon training plan, and the first thing he asked me was where my swim cap and goggles were. Oops. Not off to the best start.
Things got better quickly, though. Despite growing up a water baby (I’m from Florida), I haven’t actually swum for exercise since the 8th grade. So Scott agreed to give me a swim lesson before I officially start training. (I recently interviewed Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin and she actually recommended the same thing for newbies, saying “Technique is so important in this sport. If you’re spending energy in the wrong places, it will get frustrating fast.”) Here are the top five things I learned from our session:
1. Breathe Easy: I was lifting my head up, then turning it to the side, then taking in air—but that’s a waste of time and energy. Turn, lift, and breathe in one, clean motion. You may take in a bit of water at first, but don’t be scared of that. You’ll get the hang of it.
2. Perfect Your Stroke: Rather than lifting a straight arm out of the water (this puts too much weight on the shoulder and can lead to rotator cuff injuries), think of keeping your arm a bit bent, as if you were bringing your arm over a barrel.
3. Shake Your Hips: OK, not exactly, but the motion of your stroke should start from the hips. Scott likened it to a boxer throwing a punch—the energy in your arm comes from driving your hip forward.
4. Keep It Small: Your kicks, that is. Women tend to use their legs more than men do because women naturally have less upper body strength. But if the biggest muscles in your body are working really hard, they’re going to suck up all your oxygen. 
5. Get Low: When you push off from the wall at the end of a lap, do so below the water. The top of the water is where you’ll encounter the most resistance, slowing you down. 
Once I implemented all of Scott’s tweaks, I felt like a fish. Albeit, a very tired one. Swimming is exhausting! But today I feel super-fit—and super excited to dive into training next week. 
What about you? Have you started training yet? How’s your swimming going? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @DaniSMcNally.


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