Just Keep Swimming

I promise that I'll take a breather from posts about the gym or posts about getting healthy at some point, but today, I just had to put this question out there to you all: how good a swimmer are you?
You see, I'm using swimming as another alternative workout, once or twice a week - it gives my muscles a rest from the high impact classes and gives me a chance to flail around in the pool. I went through all the usual swimming lessons as a kid and we had a pool in our backyard for a few years growing up, so I'm no stranger to them. 
But here's my dilemma: I can swim, but I can't swim. 
See this big old fish out of water? Well, that's me. Except, I'm not a fish. And I'm actually in the water. Sigh.
Right, so let me try to explain. 
To put it bluntly, I can swim. I'm not scared of water, I do a mean doggy paddle and I can breast-stroke just fine. If you threw me in a pool with a shark or an eel or heck, even some rogue pieces of seaweed in it, I'd be swimming out of there in no time. (Does anyone else get irrationally freaked out by seaweed? I hate the stuff. I tend to get a bit crazy and imagine that the seaweed is actually a shark or a jellyfish or one of those scary fish with giant teeth that hover around the ocean floor with lights danging off their hooks, or something.) These ones. (OH MY GOD.)
But I can't actually swim. All kicking and paddling aside, I never mastered the art of breathing whilst swimming, and because of that, I can't swim freestyle. I've tried, believe me I've tried! I've had people showing me, I've practised breathing in the gym pool with just me and a kick board, I've blown bubbles in baths, and more recently, the boy and I had simulated interpretive swim lessons right here in our lounge room. I just don't get it. I know what I should be doing, but when you get me in the water, it just doesn't happen.

I really do blame my lack of any sort of coordination on this one. While I'm a great multi-tasking machine on land, I'm not so much of one in the pool. What with the swimming and the kicking and the arm movements and the head turning and the trying not to crash into the other swimmers in the pool and the head tilt and the breathing.. it's just chaotic. 
It really is a little embarrassing being nearly 26 years old and unable to do proper laps, and it's something I'd love to master at some point. Maybe one day my stubborn self will admit defeat, fork over the cash and invest in some proper swimming lessons - but for now, I'll be that girl floundering about in the pool at the gym. Be kind and prepare to ignore the flailing arms and gasping breath-sounds - and for the love of all things summer, if you're a good swimmer? GET OUT OF THE SLOW LANE.

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Non Sequitur Chica said...

I am also an okay swimmer (my husband who swam competively would beg to differ), but I enjoy running in the pool more so than swimming. It might look a bit silly, but it's a fantastic workout!

Nathan Pralle said...

If it makes you feel better, I too lack the coordination it takes to sustain proper breathing AND maintain all the rest. If I breathe properly, then I go askew or I forget to kick or stroke properly or something. It's just too damned much going on at once. :)

Jess said...

I am actually a decent swimmer. It is my strongest sport (as in, I suck at all the others). Does your gym offer lessons? It might be worth doing an in person lesson with someone who is qualified to teach you how all the pieces fit together.

Anonymous said...

I think if you really want to learn how to breathe properly, you should actually invest in swimming classes. They're fun and you'll improve!
I can swim pretty well, but up until a few years ago I was only able to breathe on one side when swimming free style. Not so convenient! Then I signed up for swimming classes, and apart from meeting cool people, I actually learned how to breathe properly on both sides. That was quite an achievement!

Amanda said...

I used to teach swimming, so I guess I can do it pretty well. Never, ever fast, but technique is mostly fine (and to the average person, my technique is probably great... just a couple of things that swimming instructors would pick on).

Maybe this is an obvious thing-- but have you tried working on each of the steps of freestyle separately? Breathing, kicking, and arms? If you got yourself a kick board, you could practice in pieces-- throw in one of those bubble things you hold between your legs (like this: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Finis-Adult-Foam-Pull-Buoy/dp/B001GQ2CNA/ref=sr_1_22?ie=UTF8&s=sports&qid=1275579368&sr=1-22), and you could concentrate on your arms and breathing without worrying about kicking. Then you could try out different combinations -- arms and breathing, kicking and breathing, kicking with slow arms still using the kick board... you get the idea.

I'm sure you've tried all that though... I don't remember if there's anything else.

Mrs. Higrens said...

I took swimming in college to meet my gym requirement and there were only a few times out of the semester that I really felt like I had the crawl (freestyle) together ("oh, THIS is how it's supposed to work."), and then the next time I got in the water it wouldn't be there at all.

So, yeah, right there with you. (I prefer the breast stroke since I don't have to worry about breathing so much, it's more instinctive for me.)

Hilary said...

I was in the exact place you are now about 3 years ago. I too learned how to swim as a child, but never mastered breathing. I was so always so afraid of getting pool water in my mouth, so I hardly ever breathed. And when I did, I took such shallow breaths. I ended up winding myself so easily. I too wanted to mix up my workout with lap swimming. Although I spent time with my husband going over form, it didn’t help my breathing fear. Fortunately, when he left me alone to try, the man who handles the maintenance of my developments pool was there. As a former life guard and swim teacher, he recognized my fear immediately. He pretty much took control of my head and sort of twisted it into and out of the water while yelling “breathe”. I pretty much had no choice but to breathe or drown. I quickly got over my fear, and have been swimming laps every summer since!
Good luck!

Sian Kummer said...

I haven't been swimming in years - I've been in a pool bu not done laps etc. I did swimming lessons when I was really small and was never particularly fast but could swim. I always remember swimming to a beat - one two three breathe, and keep the rhythm. As for swimming straight... I just look at the big black line on the bottom of the pool lol!! And I hate the ocean or anywhere that I can't see the bottom...

Sian Kummer said...

Ps can I just say you are very inspiring... I'm soooo unmotivated to get fit but maybe reading your blog will change my mind ;)

shelleycoughlin said...

So I signed up for a triathlon thinking the swimming would be the easiest part. Yeah. Then I tried to actually swim laps and thought I would die. Even running is easier for me.

Anonymous said...

I luuuuuuuurve swimming, especially racing people. I am wicked fast. And still just a child at heart. When I was a member of a gym whilst at uni I just used to challenge myself by swimming from one end to the other at the bottom of the pool and not breathing. Good times. I don't go to a gym anymore, but I suppose if I were a lady of leisure like you I defo would. I miss swimming.

LaLa said...

Dude I am 33 and just can't do the breathing thing either - I find it messy (if that makes sense?)

I just keep going with the random gasp for air - always on different sides - until I stop and stand up in the middle of a pool.

I read somewhere that John Corbett, Aidan from SATC, actually swims laps with a snorkel and as silly as I think this looks I think I am going to give it a crack.

Fuzzy Cert said...

I taught myself how to swim, so chances are I'm not doing it properly either. I can freestyle without dying though.
I just choose not to swim anymore. There's too much public display of skin involved..

Emily Jane said...

I used to be a great swimmer (10 years ago!) but I think the less practice you have the more difficult it is for your body to be able to remember how to breathe when swimming. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes to be able to control your breath - classes may help :)

Kirsten said...

I don't ever remember NOT being able to swim - I guess growing near lakes, the ocean, and with a big swimming pool in the backyard will do that.

I went to summer camp when I was 12 and 13, and took lessons there. I didn't really need lessons to learn how to swim, so I was put in an advanced group and got some proper form to my swimming. The crawl (freestyle) stroke is one of the earliest ones learned because it has so many of the basic components in it, but is hard to master because it has so much to it and is labor intensive.

Amanda had the right idea - try to master the elements separately. The flutter kick should be tiny, quick, constant kicks that don't break the surface of the water.

The breathing can be practiced on its own as you just stand there and dunk your head in the water, turning to one side or the other to breathe. Try to keep to a beat with this one, because when you put it all together you'll breathe on every 2nd or 4th stroke. At camp, once we had these two things we'd practice with a small board held out in front of us, just kicking and breathing. When you're confident with that, add the overarm stroke in.

If you can get most of that down in a somewhat coordinated manner, use the lanes marked off with actual ropes so you won't bump into anyone else. And have fun!

The Casual Perfectionist said...

I'm a pretty good swimmer, actually. I was deathly afraid of the water as a child, and my mom forced me to take lessons. I got over my fear with the help of a very patient private teacher.

I learned to do the breathing in a way that was just rhythm to me. As soon as my right elbow goes out of the water, it pulls an imaginary string on my head and I turn and breathe. I always turn to the right, with my right arm.

They are teaching my daughter a different way of doing this. (As you know, she's 4 and in lessons.) They're teaching her to do the arms and kick, but when she needs to breathe, they have her flip into a back-float. Then, they have her flip back on her front and continue. Eventually, rather that flip all the way over to her back, they'll introduce proper "breathing."

One of the moms of the another kid in these lessons says it works like a charm. Time will tell, I guess!

Good luck!!

Teacher Anonymous said...

I'm amazed that any Australians go in the water, ever. Every time you hear about the ocean there it is almost always in the context of what deadly creatures live there.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how to swim. At all. I can occasionally muster up the ability to doggie paddle, but I refuse to go in water over my head. I almost drown a few times as a kid so I blame those experiences for my lack of skill. That said, I do love going to the beach and splashing around in the pool, so long as it's not too deep :)

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