Friday, September 21, 2007

Someone noticed!!!

Well its official. I got my first solicitation due to my blog today. I can't tell you how warm and gooey that makes me feel. Wait. Nope, just some gas.

That said today's post relates to my favorite aquatic activity...2nd favorite if you include this.

That means swimming! For perspective I will include a rough diagram of how the pool at the local Y is set up.

So thats the pool. Primarily I swim in lanes 1 or 2. It should be noted that Lane 1 sucks it with two people because there's metal stuff sticking out from the side. The hollow squares are lifeguard 'towers' which I included only because the text feature of mspaint is so freaking clumsy.

Yesterday I was cutting it up in lane 1. A larger female was swimming to my right in lane 2. (the bottom of the picture is where I orient myself.) Part of swimming etiquette is that when you're in a lane by yourself you are obligated by common courtesy to allow exactly one other person into your lane. That way 2 people can swim and only marginally get in each other's way. Usually when you're the person who wants to jump in on another lane you hang out at one end and wait for the person to hit the wall and then belt out heymancanisharealanewithyourealquick!?

They say yes, you jump in, and huzzah.

Yesterday this woman was standing at the foot of my lane wearing normal clothes speaking directly to the woman next to me. I thought it an odd mix of postures (keep in mind 93% of the time I'm under water and only glance up for breaths every few seconds) but I had a few laps to finish so I went on my way. If she really wanted to swim in my lane she could just put her feet in.

Now as I came to a halt at the (bottom) wall I took a rest between my 1000 yd freestyle and my 400 yard mixed stroke sets for a drink of water and some stretches. As I did this the women to my right conversed in all manner of 'technical' speak relating to swimming strategies. Strategy in the pool to me usually means that you're up to no good but hey, different strokes.

After a few minutes I deduced that this CHARLATAN was none other than a sports psychologist from the other woman's church. For ease we'll call them Swimmer and Talker. Talker had a lot of interesting ideas and I wanted to slap out a few tidbits in case any other would-be sports psychos feel the need to dispense this tripe as advice.

Shitty Statement the First: "Some people swim a length freestyle and then get out of breath so they just swim the next length doing backstroke to catch their breath."

I might agree with this if you were talking to a 4 year old. To someone so small a 25 yd pool looks like an underwater football field. To a six foot tall woman...not so much. I watched this woman breathe just fine with the usual 'turn your head out of the water and inhale method.' Why switch to backstroke?

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find anything to prove that breathing in swimming is almost as important as your stroke technique and physical fitness. During my early days as a swimmer I would just breathe whenever I could or felt compelled to. When you're using a majority of the body's slow-twitch muscles you want to pant like when you're running hard but you cannot do it.

That sucks but then again swimming for an hour burns about 900 calories (for me, for you its different and there's a lot of leeway for temperature, time of day and all that mess.) It isn't a good idea to base life decisions on personal experience *but everyone does it so I can too!!* but I strongly believe that part of swimming's overall efficacy is due to simulated altitude training.

Think about it!!! Most of the time you're breathing in-out-in-out all day every day. When else do you have to wait a few seconds between breaths? Never. There's plenty of analogies I could use but lets think about Milk. Thats right milk.

2% milk has more calories because its 2% milkfat. Skim on the other hand is more or less calcium water with some lactose thrown in for color and opacity. The body is a very deterministic system and you can only usually get it to change by forcing change upon it. That said sealevel air is like 2% and high-altitude air is leaner skim. By spacing out breaths you're diluting the available air (milkfat in this example) with water. Adding a little water to 2% doesn't change the milkfat content but the calorie density lightens.

Its not a very good analogy but it still seems logical to me that a broken supply of rich air balances out to similar levels of rarefied air *at altitude.*

Shitty statement the 2nd: "Lifting weights and doing aerobics will help your swimming."

I do not disagree with this statement. I can't. It is without doubt a true and honest configuration of words.

Despite that I still consider it bad advice for several reasons. I have known swimmers my whole life who tear a hammy or blast out their shoulder or something terrible happens to a part of them that ought to remain firmly affixed to bone or muscle. And these bad things almost ALWAYS happen outside the pool

Now consider this. You're a newb in the fitness world. You are asking advice how to maximize the safety and effectiveness of your aquatic workouts. If you don't know about basic principles of fitness then you're probably unaware of certain fundamental differences between cardio and weight training or aerobic vs anerobic exercises. It's a good way to get hurt.

Shitty Statement the Third: "A lot of people forget to keep kicking no matter what. Even if you're just doing your cool off make sure you're still kicking at least twice per stroke (during freestyle and back stroke)"

Where to begin. I'll throw in a caveat that girls swim differently than boys. Doodz have a lot more upper body strength to rely on but men and women alike are held to certain principles of physics and biology.

Kicking uses a lot of energy which is good for burning calories. However kicking has a very low ratio of energy use to actual forward motion. In fact unless you're wearing fins or you're at a swim meet where not kicking will get you in trouble its wise to barely kick at all. I'll come back to this sentiment with the fourth and final statement.

Suffice to say I have done my fair share of swimming. Kicking actively belongs during sprints and when you're using a kickboard explicitly to increase leg strength. During laps or medium paced exercises the legs are more useful for balance and stability than for speed.

Shitty Final Statement: "The most important factor in swimming is strength."

Even typing this makes me want to link to Penn and Teller Bullshit just to hear Penn's loud bombastic voice screaming about how inane this is. Maybe for some 'elvis never did no drugs' action also.

The fundamental principle of swimming is not physical strength. The greats of any sport will naturally have great strength but it is technique that really defines just about any athlete. Think of how great dancers and gymnasts would be with their bodies but without the years of training for the balance and rhythm that coincide.

Swimming takes balance, it takes grace and it takes an extreme measure of focus to do it right.

Lets analyze these things. Balance seems a little silly in the water. After all you're being supported completely by a buoyant force equal to the mass of water that your body displaces. That force is uniform. Your body however is not.

Side note: Its actually easier for chubby people to swim than well-muscled types. With a wad of belly fat your pool profile looks like --- that. If you're muscle-dense your legs sink and your torso tilts like / so you have to swim at an upward angle. Granted once you start moving your body acts like an airfoil but lets not digress.

Grace is not something often attributed to me. If you've seen the bizarre flailing ineptitude of my dancing you should know what I mean. However pathetic I may appear above ground my fluidity underwater is lovely. Not one percent of all the people in the world can swim like I can.

I take pride in that.

Focus is key for the usual reasons and a few unusual ones as well. Timing strokes, breaths, kicks and turns takes a lot of mental dexterity to do well. Its not hard to not to do well but if you want to coordinate a smooth approach to the wall, an artful turn and all without having to break stroke for a breath well that takes something special.

Yes of course I am biased but only because I love to swim and I know what benefit it can hold for both myself an others.

I'm nearing the end of sane posting limits (actually I've gone on typing all the way around the world and I am coming back to the starting line now) so I will sign off.

09.18.2007 - 2 Miles
09.20.2007 - 1.5 Miles
09.22.2007 - 1.66 Miles.

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