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Travails of a Non-Swimmer

Body Rotate or No Air for You

Person swimming

I was quite unhappy with the instructor I got for my group swimming classes, so I enrolled with another coach at a different facility. The new place was not as accessible as my gym’s pool: I had to get there by car or bus. Yet, because I really wanted to learn and felt that I needed individual coaching, I went for it.

Being unfamiliar with the three coaches at this new place, I didn’t know whom to choose so simply picked a schedule that was convenient for me.

Barely Legal

The coach turned out to be a young man who seemed just out of high school. I glanced at his youthful face and highly toned swimmer’s physique and thought, “Ugh, he’s a kid! Another one of those people who have been swimming since the day they could walk. What would he know about teaching a fatso middle-aged complete novice who is somewhat afraid of the water?” I was both skeptical of his skills to teach a slow-learning adult and worried that things would not go well.

Turns out I’m such a pessimist.

The Importance of Body Rotation

First, he told me that I was kicking too hard. I did not need to, in fact, I didn’t even need to count and think of beats at this stage. I simply needed to kick in a relaxed manner, with a slight knee bent (not the log-like type of kicking I seemed to be doing) at a rate that I was comfortable with.

Next, he diagnosed my inability to breathe in between whole strokes as due to lack of body rotation. A rotation or roll was essential to having the head in a position to take in air, he explained. I was swimming so flat on my chest with shoulders in the water even while stroking that no matter how I craned my head to the side I would end up drinking pool water. He then demonstrated how I should be aligning my hips and shoulders while taking my breathing stroke.

He also pointed out that my lead arm was not just pressing down into the water but also crossing the center line during my breathing stroke, so my balance was being undermined and I was sinking. I needed to keep the lead arm relaxed, not far away from my shoulder line and patiently waiting for the recovery arm to stroke so I can breath.

One of the drills he suggested I practice was to glide face down and then rotate my body until I was floating face up. If I could do this we could work on my rotation so that I could roll just enough to take in air and then continue with my stroking.

The new coach turned out to be quite competent. And nice and friendly. Really, I shouldn’t be judging books by their covers!

Total Immersion DVD Has Arrived!

After our session I went home to find that my new DVD had arrived. I purchased the Total Immersion Swimming: Perpetual Motion Freestyle in Ten Lessons. I popped it in and fast forwarded to the breathing portion, Lesson 3. Some great exercises to build breathing confidence! One of the first drills was what my new coach suggested: to practice flipping, using body roll, from a face-down position to a face-up in order to breath.

I think I’m off to a good start. Really looking forward to trying out the breathing drills. I feel they will, finally, be what I need to stop gulping in water and finally start taking in air.

Notes to Self: Do

  • Use body rotation or roll to position your head to breath.
  • Have a relaxed kick, slightly bent at the knees with toes pointed.
  • Breathing drills. You’ll need them to become comfortable with the idea of breathing on your side and actually having air to breath instead of water.

Notes to Self: Don’t

  • Let your lead arm cross the center line while the recovery arm is stroking.
  • Press your lead arm down into the water to raise your head to breath (you will sink instead!)
  • Judge people by the way they look! Just because someone is half your age doesn’t mean they can’t help you.


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  • slf

    Glad you found a nice and helpful coach. I would’ve thought you’d audition all three coaches first but since this one worked out well and your sched fits, then you got the right one.

    • beverlyclaire

      It never crossed my mind to audition them! But I think it’s a great idea, especially when success depends a lot on student-teacher rapport. On hindsight, I should have taken a trial class first before jumping into the group lessons thing at the gym.

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