I asked myself this question several times when it came to swimming. I just about had myself talked out of it when this beginner triathlon group came up. It was expensive but I get swim lessons, bike lessons, run lessons, transition lessons, a training plan, etc. so I figured it was worth it.
Now I can truthfully say that if all I got was swim lessons, it would have been worth it.
You can look at all the YouTube videos and read all the books you want. But until you either tape yourself or have somebody with experience analyze your stroke, you will never really know right from wrong. Especially if you are a newbie swimmer like I am. Until two months ago, 2 weeks before my 42nd birthday, I had never swam a lap. Yes, the videos helped a little to get me started, but the pointers and drills I have gotten in these last two sessions have made HUGE gains in my form and speed. But more than anything, what I am noticing is that I am not tired at the end of the practices.
I think the reason for this is that the changes I have been making are helping me be more efficient in the water. I am gliding through it more, rather than fighting against it. I can also maintain the same speed (albeit still slow) for a MUCH longer distance now. Granted I’m not going to set any records, but I won’t be the last one to get IN the pool now… or out.
My main problem was simple mechanics. I was doing what is known as “windmilling”. I would have one arm almost straight down under me in the pool while the other one was in the air out of the pool. Logically to a non-swimmer, this symmetry would seem to be the best. But the problem with it is that when one arm gets to the end of it’s stroke back behind you, the other one is just entering the pull phase. There is a brief bit of time where you are not getting pull from either arm. While this bit of gliding is good for really long swims, it slows you down in shorter distances like I am swimming. Also, and even more importantly, the more time you (especially us male swimmers with lead butts…) can spend with your arms forward in the stroke, the easier it is to stay on plane. If you have one arm back at your hip and one arm forward, the extra drag and weight makes your legs sink. This one simple adjustment brought me up on plane much more, cut down my strokes per lap by 4 and knocked 4 seconds off my lap time without any extra effort.
The drills that have helped me the most with this are the catch up drill, where you do one full stroke with one arm and bring it all the way back out front and touch your opposite hand, then repeating on the other side, and the hitch drill, where you do a stroke with one arm and then pause your arm right at your head for a second during the recovery. This is the signal for your other arm to start the pull (takes a while to get this right on your bad side…!).
I still don’t “LOVE” swimming. But I think I have gone from “tolerate” to “grudgingly enjoy” now…
I also ran a mile after I swam this morning. It’s part of the training plan and I had never done a swim/run so I was curious how I would feel. Even though I was a little fatigued from the swim it was amazing how comfortable and easy the run was. I ran a 7:40 mile and it felt very comfortable. My legs weren’t tired at all.
I’m out of town tonight and in a town that isn’t exactly runner friendly so I may just bike tonight on a stationary (if the hotel has one…) and take tomorrow off since I will be teaching/driving all day.