I can’t swim well

Yep, it’s pretty bad. Last night I managed to go all of 8 laps in 27 minutes—that’s 1200 feet. For those of a calculating bent, that is 44.4 feet per minute, or just under 8 inches per second. To be fair, most of that time is spent spluttering and panting at the pool’s edge—when I’m actually swimming, I’m moving faster than this.

Why is breathing under water so hard? I mean exhaling, of course. Here’s how it typically goes: first three strokes and exhalation is great. I can see tiles passing by on the bottom of the pool. On the 4th stroke I turn my head to inhale, and that goes great. Then something happens. My exhalation gets a little choppy (it gets choppier the farther I go), and my 2nd breath is not very helpful. I spend the time in between the 2nd and 3rd breath trying to replay breath #1 in my mind, while trying to coordinate my arms and exhalation—oh, and don’t forget to kick those legs! Sheesh, swimming is a pain in the bahonkus. By the time I get to the 3rd breath, I am so ready to be at the opposite wall. But I ain’t. And so on . . . this goes on for around 30 minutes.

How long will it take me to build up a modicum of aquatic endurance? All around me I see rather fat people performing lap after seemingly effortless lap, so I know it’s not some kind of elite goal. On the other hand, it could be that fat people have it easier, since they float better. But I gotta wonder: What is the deal with all these fat swimmers? It’s stranger than the “fat personal trainer” phenomenon.

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5 Responses to “I can’t swim well”

  1. Mr. Speedo Says:

    Well, Curly, you are full of cr*p. See, I had to say it.

    But seriously, from someone who does his fair share of swimming, I can offer a bit of advice. Breathing technique is a key element of stroke technique. Body position is also one of the crucial elements, but you can work on that over time. Since you are just starting, you should try to adopt bilateral breathing right away, as this can be hard to switch to later on. If you are swimming properly, you are actually using more core strength than you might think, so if your core is already in good shape, you will have a distinct advantage.

    Reading your description of your breathing problems, I would say you are taking short breaths.

    Okay, so let’s say you concentrate on the “crawl” stroke – or freestyle. Make sure you take big breaths, then try to hold it, but you can work on this… Just time your breathing to the point just after you can see your opposite hand enter the water. This is crucial. Your body position should be completely straight – avoid ANY lateral movements. You will need to roll your body, but make sure this is a straight roll… Ideally, you should roll into your breath with as little neck movement as possible. When you are not breathing, the water line should be at your forehead, just above your goggles, with your head facing “forward/down.” This way you can see your hand enter and THEN breathe.

    Swim in sets, then take short breaks. I never swim more than a 200 (4 laps on the short course – 25 yard lengths) without stopping. I’m not training for a triathlon, and trying to swim a mile without stopping will not help you work on your technique. Break it up and it is much more fun and productive.

    If you stick with it, you will at some point want to start using paddles, fins (short), pull buoys, kick boards, etc. They are not just hype, they do help you refine your technique and work on the body position you will want. Do not use paddles until you are more comfortable with your stroke, however (injuries happen).

    So there you go, it’s a start. Just please work on your technique FIRST, then start worrying about speed MUCH later. You will be happier. I swim with others who can swim as fast as I can but have such poor technique that they can never hope for much more, or they will end up injuring themselves.

    There are some underwater videos on the internet so you can look at some really good swimmers and see how they do it. That might help. Also, if you happen to be lucky enough to have a good swimmer at your pool, get in the lane next to him/her and watch them underwater. Notice the straight body position and notice how their whole bodies are aligned with the surface of the water – no dragging. You’ll see that I’m right, of course.

    Ideally, you will take some lessons or a class…

    And, most importantly, buy some speedos and wear them religiously, otherwise no one will take you seriously. Especially not Mr. Speedo.

    And yes, 8 laps in 27 minutes is just abysmal. That’s not swimming, it’s “not drowning.”

    Other answers:
    1. It will take years, by the way. Many years, and it gets harder after 30.
    2. The fat swimmers are a nuisance. Ignore them.

    Good luck,

    Mr. Speedo

  2. Curly Says:

    Many thanks for your encouraging words, Mr. Speedo. I look forward to future affirmations from you.

    I did take some lessons, end of March / early April. Not sure how effective these were, or whether all one really needs is a lot of time in the water.

    One thing that suggests I am on the right track: when I went in yesterday, I told myself that my #1 job is breathing, not “swimming,” whatever that is. It seemed to help. I think you are right about the breaths—I don’t always get as much air as I need. And I just realized that my inhalation is happening as my opposite stroke is moving through the water. I should breathe, and THEN execute the stroke. No?

    At any rate, my goal is to go to the pool 5 times this week. Next week, too, wouldn’t probably hurt. It seems that is the only way to get better at it.

  3. Mr. Speedo Says:

    Yes, breathe just before you “grab” – your opposite arm should be extended forward as you breathe. It sounds like you are breathing either really late or really early…

    Have fun!

  4. Monique Says:

    Once you master the stroke, you can turn your attention towards the turn. This will save you time and can be quite a bit of fun to break up the laps.

    I don’t suggest using swim paddles at all. Thems the bioches that contributed to my wrist tendonitis when I was on swim team in high school. Stick with the kick boards and weight lifting.

    Most of all…have fun with it!

  5. Lose Arm Fat Says:

    Lose Arm Fat…

    […]I can’t swim well « Curly Couch[…]…

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