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Travails of a Non-Swimmer

Eureka Moment at the Pool

Light under water

Tonight was amazing.

During weekend nights there are always aquabics (water aerobics) classes for adults and swim classes for older kids on both pools at the gym. That means the pools are free for practicing and drilling for only about an hour. To work around it I spend an hour at the gym and then the rest of the time at the pools after the classes are over.

Saturday Night Fever

But on Saturdays, the pools are free. Out come the fitness swimmers, going lap after lap around the pool on the fast lanes. And then there’s me on the practice lane, dodging people using kickboards or waiting (impatiently) while someone tries out their very clumsy butterfly.

While waiting for my turn on the practice lane I stared at those doing freestyle on the fast lane. “These are ordinary people. They’re not even incredibly fit. They’re nowhere near as graceful as Shinji Takeuchi. But they can breathe while swimming. I must be able to do that, too.”

And so, for the next two hours, I tried and tried and tried.

A Breathe of Fresh Air

Up until today, I would either stand or roll to Sweet Spot to breathe every third stroke. But tonight was different.

I could actually breathe. Still not able to cover the entire pool without standing or rolling on my back to breathe, but just doing it much less often.


Well, not really. I was putting so much pressure on my arms that they hurt like crazy afterward. And since I am a left-handed person who insists on breathing bilaterally, my right side is weaker (bad head-spine alignment, poor body rotation) than my left and it was difficult to breathe on that side.

But still.

I could now breathe every third stroke, and do this set 3 to 4 times before crashing.

For me, that’s a eureka moment.

Learning Through the Sons

I think the mental portion played a huge part. Before going to the pool I watched several of TI Japan’s YouTube videos. The one that really helped me was the video of Shinji Takeuchi and his young sons swimming together.

They were perfectly synchronized. The difference is that while the father, who spent thousands of hours drilling and videotaping himself to perfect his swim, would breathe in what is called the “sneaky breathe” (a highly advanced way of breathing taking advantage of the bow wave), the sons (who have probably lived less hours than their father spent practicing to swim) were doing the rolling-to-breathe-on-Sweet-Spot-but-less-angled-with-no-pause kind of breathing.

You can see the difference in the screenshot below.


The father (background) only rolls to breathe with a minimum amount of head roll, while the son’s face clears the water.

Hmm, the way the boys are breathing. I can do that. I should be able to do that. I mean, haven’t I been watching and trying to do the breathing drills in the 02 in H20 – A Self Help Course on Breathing in Swimming – A Total Immersion Instructional DVD? Haven’t I been flipping on my back again and again to breathe every third stroke, or rolling to Sweet Spot to breathe?

Up until now I was attempting to do sneaky breathing, but since my balance and streamlining are too poor for it I am always drinking in water instead of taking in air. So instead of opening my mouth to inhale I would do the jerk-leg reaction of clamping it. Unable to inhale, I would either roll on my back or stand. That would end the swim.

But tonight, I told myself: “You cannot breathe like Shinji Takeuchi. It will take you years to breathe like that. First, learn to breathe like the young boys. It’s the necessary step to eventually be able to swim like Shinji.”

So I did it. I stopped looking for the bow wave and panicking when water entered my mouth. Instead, I used body rotation to roll to breathe. And then go back to stroking.

Light At The End of the Tunnel

I was so very, very tired. Two hours of being in the water, trying to swim and breathe. Every so often I would switch to the backstroke, which was relatively easy. I could easily clear a 25m pool, albeit very slowly. But it was much less tiring and a whole lot more relaxing that my clumsy crawl.

But I was able to breathe at last during freestyle. Far from perfect, far from Shinji-like, yet it was a real milestone for me.

Yey! I could finally see the light at the end of the swimming tunnel. I wrote down the things I need to work on below.

Little by little, drill after drill, I will be able to do this freestyle thing. It might take a lifetime, but hey, I’m swimming! 🙂

Notes to Self: Do

  • Relax your arms and legs! The only parts of the body you should be clenching are your abs and glutes. Let the arms and legs relax, relax, relax!
  • The one arm stroking drill until you learn to comfortably relax both your lead and recovery arms.
  • Keep your chin down and not pointed upward when rolling to breathe. Look behind you, not above your head.
  • Be more patient with the breathing drills. It’s difficult to do drills when you have to share the lane each night, but hey, you’re all practicing and if their practice is to power their way through the water your practice can be different: to find your balance and streamlined form in the water. Don’t be so worried that you’re hogging the lane. That’s what people who can’t swim do: hog the lane.
  • Be patient on your right side. Your right side is weak and it’s a struggle to keep head-spine alignment when breathing on your right. But you can fix that with drills. Always drill on both sides.

Notes to Self: Don’t

  • Push down with your lead arm. You are making yourself sink. Again: Do. Not. Push. Down. With. The. Lead. Arm.
  • Use your shoulders to power your head to roll to breathe. A very, very bad habit. Your shoulders should be rolling along with your hips and legs. They should not be the ones initiating the roll. Again, drill, drill, drill.
  • Clench your shoulders. Relaxing comes after you’ve found your balance. Which comes through doing balance drills. So drill, drill, drill. There is no substitute for that.
  • Forget the marionette arm drill. You shouldn’t be clenching your arms when they are above or below the water.

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