Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A swim video analysis gets to the bottom of why I'm not improving...

If I’m to attempt an ice mile this winter season, to reduce the chances of getting anything more than mild hypothermia whilst swimming, without a doubt I need to speed up. Not to over complicate it, in short, the quicker I’m done the quicker I’ll be out and enjoying a congratulatory, and very well deserved, slab of cake (the real celebrations will be later, once I’ve sufficiently recovered and warmed through, and will probably involve a large glass of a warming, seasonal tipple whilst cuddling very closely to a hot water bottle and sporting a very smug grin).

I spent this last season firstly build up my strength again after surgery, and then train for a long distance swim (10.5 miles) I had entered pre-surgery (anyone else that level of stupid, or is it just me?) and so all of my training was geared up for endurance rather than speed (not that I’m built for speed in the first place), and so now all that’s done, I’ve been spending hours in the pool and various lakes, working on my speed and as of yet, despite my best efforts, haven’t been able to improve on my mile time, and if my current training isn’t yielding me the results that I’m going to need, it needs changing. 

One way of doing this is to actually make full use of the squad training offered by the Tri club that I’ve been a member of for the last three years. Till now the only thing I’ve used is their beautiful lake, and so despite feeling out of my depth, and more than nervous, I bit the bullet and went along to their squad training session. I fully expected to feel intimidated, however I couldn’t have been more wrong, it was full of regular folks, mixed with seasoned triathletes, training for different reasons. I really enjoyed it, except for trying to decipher what all the numbers and letters (all in swimming lingo/code) on the white board meant. They may as well have been written in Mandarin (there may also have been an element of middle aged eyes trying to read tiny writing)! I think I hid my fear well, and decided that my best chance of not cocking it up was to follow the swimmer in front and hoped that they too weren’t new, and also struggling to decipher the lingo. It was hard work (in a good way) and at the end of that first session I felt great. At the end of the session I spoke to Coach about my inexplicable lack of progress, and also that my mile time in my wetsuit was about five minutes faster than without. As an official ice mile can only be done in a costume, hat and goggles, I didn’t have the luxury of the faster time. He suggested there could be several reasons for the time difference and for my lack of improvement. These included: I’m possibly over reaching, my lower body position being wrong, my hypermobility, a wetsuit is more hydrodynamic, less kicking required in a wetsuit meaning I won’t fatigue as quickly. He added that the best way to get to the bottom of what was exactly the problem would be to have my swimming analyzed. He does have a good point, and so I decided to go for it.

I booked one for the following week with Coach at the pool in Tadcaster. He explained that it would be done using a high definition camera to record my swimming above and below the water from various angles. I have to say, if I’m being honest the second he mentioned high definition camera he cannot have failed to see the look of horror on my face. High definition? Doesn’t that translated as up close? Which leaves me in a bit of a dilemma, you see as the winter swimming had progressed, and the water colder, I have followed the advice of various hard as nails fellow swimmers, who insist that one of the best ways of keeping warm (unless they are literally pulling my leg, and the more I think about it now, the more convinced I actually am that they might be) was to (I quote) “relax a bit on the self grooming” They weren’t talking about the odd out of place eyebrow, they were talking legs…now I have the long legs, (this is just a point of fact, not a complaint), so there’s a lot of leg, meaning I have grown quite the impressive winter pelt, which that leaves me in a quandary. Should I get rid? I’m not actually sure whether it does add that much extra warmth, and I might be over thinking this but I’m now worried that whilst it could be keeping me a tad warmer, it could also be causing unnecessary drag (thus I think I have unwittingly stumbled across the reason right there for my lack of speed without even needing the analysis after all!). Added to this, I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the luxury of the extra five minutes I’ve gained in bed every morning as a direct result of my ‘relaxed self grooming.’ Despite my quandary there was no way I was risking it, sadly it would have to go. All those minutes gained in the morning would now be spent in one fell swoop… I may be some time!

The analysis:

Coach asked me to swim six lengths and explained that he would video me from various angles (oh hell!), which would capture all of my movements, enabling him to clearly identify the problems that are preventing me from improving. We would then look through the footage together (him at my stroke, me checking how my newly de-feralled legs were faring under the spotlight of ‘high definition’) and discuss what was happening and why, after that it was back in the pool for a step-by-step guide in how to correct my stroke using drills, training methods and practice specifically tailored to me. This was accompanied by analogies (some were hilarious, but hell I will never forget them) to solidify my understanding.

Six lengths completed, and one thing’s for certain, we were able to pin point many flaws in my stroke technique, which we discussed in depth. Some were problems due to poor technique; some caused by something else in my stroke (symptoms), some were bad habits and others were linked to my hypermobility. I’ve included some here:

1)   My right hand entry is thumb first, which is causing unnecessary strain on my shoulder (after Windermere I certainly felt this). I was given some Finis training paddles to help correct this. Let’s just say there’s work to be done… Nothing more embarrassing that having to fettle round the bottom of a deep pool for a lost paddle, all because you have a wayward thumb that just won’t do as it’s told!

2)   The video showed that because my stroke rate is slow I am over gliding which then causes me to have a pause (dead spot) in my stroke. This meant that in every stroke I took I had a point where I was actually slowing down, and I then have to do a kick-start to re accelerate. To get rid of this dead spot Coach suggested I shorten my stroke and increase the rate from 54 strokes/60 sec to 66/60. He also suggested that I spend time building up to this rate (thank goodness… I think I may expire from the effort otherwise!) and also spend time focusing on my rhythm. I had previously, and deliberately spent time slowing down my stroke rate, as mainly the distances I do are longer. I felt this meant that I was swimming more economically and preserving energy, however the video also highlighted that when I was doing my longer, slower stroke, what I was also doing was over-reaching.

3)   Over reaching causes two problems for me. The first being the increased strain on my already tense neck and shoulders. Let me explain: being hypermobile is of great benefit to swimmers, however my hypermobility (score 6 on the Beighton Score (that’s like a B in the new GCSE’s!)) is below the waist, and the lack of stability I have there (despite the trillion daily exercises I do) means that it causes increased strain for the muscles in my back, neck and shoulders as they are constantly trying to stabilize me (the effects of hypermobility, sadly), so whilst it would have been miles better for my swimming to be hypermobile in my upper body, my legs are the one area that Coach said was fine, and my ankle flexibility is actually an asset (hooray for me!). So basically, by over reaching I am adding extra stress to my already over worked muscles, and so by changing the length and pace of my stroke, it will mean I am swimming within my range and mobility, and will actually be kinder to my body.

4)   The other problem with the over reaching was that I am dropping my wrist and elbow. This meant my catch and pull are actually not very effective. To demonstrate this Coach compared it to that of Team GB Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington. Side by side it highlighted that I was using my shoulders to push the water down and outwards, rather than using the power of my lats and pecs, like Rebecca, to push the water back. I addition I was also arching my back as I lifted my upper body and was overloading my shoulders. Coach used a great analogy here “It’s like driving to London with the handbrake half on. You won’t get there as quick, you’d use lots of fuel and you’d probably do a bit of damage.” I must add here that in order to view the comparison I was given a large head start. In addition Rebecca was at half speed, and for a very brief moment I was actually winning (‘cause it’s always a competition, right?) before she motored past me at neck breaking speed!

That's me on the left for those of you struggling to tell๐Ÿ˜†

Analysis done; there’s lots to do. I’m armed with a copy of the session (video and audio), which I can (and I will) refer back to, suggested tools and corrective drills to support my training, and the knowledge that I can call Coach for advice and support (and I will) if I need to. I’ve learnt today that sadly I will never be able to swim like Rebecca Adlington, or a dolphin, or even a mermaid for that matter. I’m hypermobile in all the wrong places and slightly (only just though) over middle aged and over the hill (I already knew this bit), but today I also learnt that although the point of the analysis was to improve my technique to be able to swim faster for what is ultimately only one swim (and what I wasn’t expecting), the session was very much centered around this (‘cause that was the point of it), but the changes and improvements were also very mindful of my own physical limitations, so in essence the things I can do bugger all about, a better understanding how swimming as I am can exasperate these existing problems, and that the adjustments we’ve made will not only result in improving my speed, but (I feel now, as importantly) will also remove any additional tension to my already fatigued back, neck and shoulder muscles, for which I am delighted. And so what I wanted to gain from this analysis ultimately was speed, but what I actually came away with is knowing that I have actually invested in longer than just the one swim… I’ve invested in all of my future swims.

One last thing, and almost as importantly as all of the above, news of the body hair – after much discussion with Coach (mainly consisting of his rip taking and not taking it one bit as seriously as I felt he ought) the jury is still out as to whether I should ditch the razor again or not, when actually I’m not one bit convinced that either the extra glide I’m promised from being more sleek or the extra insulation from a dense pelt are a fair match when compared to swimming in a lake that’s water is under 5oc. What I do know however is that thankfully hairy legs (or not) are not visible in high definition at a swim analysis (I checked … real close).

One last thing, it's a year since I first began writing my little blog, which stared as a way of writing about my recovery, the training and the swim I did last year (Windermere one way). I have been amazed and overwhelmed at the amazing response, and lovely messages of support I have had. After I had completed the swim I was asked if I would consider putting last year’s journey into a book. Going from a blog to an e-book is something quite different, and a lot scarier, however I decided after a lot of consideration to take the plunge (no pun intended) and do it, and finally has now been published this week on Amazon. How amazing (but mostly scary) is that? I hope that for those of you that read it feel inspired to not only take on difficult challenges, but also to never underestimate how far you can push yourself to achieve what you set out to do.

Open Water Woman Swims Windermere is available on Amazon

For those of you that are interested, Coach Morgan Williams did my stroke analysis at  

Finally, I wanted to share with you this link. It’s written by Dr. Alan Pocinki, MD about movement balance and sports performance by about hypermobility syndrome that I found interesting and informative, and actually made me feel something close to normal!

If you have enjoyed reading my blogs also I have a "group" on Facebook. Its not really a group, as it's only me, but on it I post more regularly, and I'm also on Twitter and Instagram. You'd be very welcome. Here are the links. ๐Ÿ˜Š

No comments:

Post a Comment