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The Swimming Blog

Freedom from Form

Freedom from Form

Available to everybody including me

Learner swimmers need to focus on enjoying the support of the water and develop a feel for it through play,  instead of being restricted by the form of competitive strokes. They shouldn’t be too fixed on the goal of being able to swim lengths for exercise.  Swimming up and down without freedom of movement does nobody any good.

I explain all this with enthusiasm to people attending our course and encourage them to be bold and do their own thing.

Then I go off to the pool and swim lengths, almost exclusively using the four competitive strokes, albeit with the intention of freeing my neck.

But if I want to swim with the Alexander Technique, the cornerstones of which are non-doing and direction of energy, I really don't need to be using conventional strokes.

I have photos of myself as an infant, always tilting my head to one side. The twist that causes this is related to mild hearing difficulty, left eye/ right hand dominance and a retained baby reflex which hinders independence of the head from the neck and back when turning. It persists in every activity of life for me. So swimming the four strokes, even though I can execute them well, with all the head movement it entails, creates problems for my neck. Floating face down on the other hand, and doing a bit of movement from that foundation, does me the world of good.

On my last swim of the summer holidays, I went for a 20 minute dip at Aberporth.  I told myself to be creative and decided not to do anything that could be construed as a proper, conventional stroke.

I started with some crawl but rolled all the way onto my back every time I needed to breathe. It felt odd, stopping and starting, like a learner. But I knew it would be better for my neck and I kept going till I arrived at the last buoy from the shore. On the way back I began to play with breaststroke. At first, when I popped out of the water for a breath, I looked to the left and then to the right, to help stop my head from fixing in its twist as I rolled it out to breathe. Again, this felt a bit silly but there was nobody around.

Then, without any real planning, a new breaststroke sequence began to emerge. Face down, head resting underwater, I did a big arm sweep and a kick then a smaller sweep and another kick, before popping out for a leisurely breath on the third stroke. I was spending more time underwater, relaxing, and less time bobbing up for air. This produced a definite rhythm - my own rhythm. I felt like the ‘bloke on holiday’ I try to encourage non-swimmers to be. And my neck was fine when I got out.

“You were a long time,” said my friend Clive.

06-Sep-2017 /  written by Ian Cross
Not So Slow Sophie

Not So Slow Sophie

Cheryl makes friends with a head-up breaststroker on holiday and shares her top tips

On my recent  Strel swimming trip I met Sophie from Germany.

She was in the 'slow' group with me and another lady. Sophie clearly loved being in the sea and was a very competent head up breaststroker. 

For our first proper swim I breaststroked keeping fairly good time with Esther's crawl and resting or looping back to make sure Sophie didn't get too far behind.  She kept going really well for the whole of the 2k plus swim. But it was clear that as Esther and I got into our stride, she wasn't going to be able to keep up.  Despite her lovely stroke and confidence, keeping her head above the water simply made her stroke less efficient than everyone else's. 
Luckily, we were a small enough group that our guides could cope with our now 3 speed groups and Sophie continued to enjoy her swims without going as far as the rest of the group. She very quickly decided to do something about her "so slow" swimming on her return to Germany. 

I had a few minutes with Sophie to give her a few tips. Here they are: 

Drop your forehead to the floor (in this case to the seabed!). 
This opens up your neck, your breathing, your buoyancy, your freedom of movement and generally makes it all wonderful. 

Keep your mouth open 
Sophie was able to breathe out of her nose underwater but tended to close her mouth on crossing the surface. By keeping it open she avoided the stop/start action which interferes with a natural breath. 

Look at the fish
Something I encourage in the pool at Croft Farm! In the Montenegrin bays seeing the fish, and generally just looking around, helped Sophie relax. 

Fall forwards
By letting the weight of her head, arms, chest carry her forwards and leaving her legs to trail loosely behind, Sophie was able to feel a glide. 

Look at your hands
On the way out to breathe, seeing her hands in front of her meant Sophie had the time and support she needed to allow an in-breath. 

That's all we had time for so Viel Gluck "not so slow" Sophie!


17-Aug-2017 /  written by Cheryl Cross
I, Ian Cross, Am Not A Swimming Instructor

I, Ian Cross, Am Not A Swimming Instructor

Freedom from the shackles of a job title

You’re not a swimming teacher are you? You’re a therapist,” a friend said to me on a bike ride.  I took exception to this because I'm not a therapist. But he did have a point.

I would say the thing I do best is help people learn to trust the water to support them, by approaching their problem, of not being able to swim, differently. Learning to swim shouldn’t be about struggling across the water but letting it support you by stopping fearful doing. Not everybody can get it but if anyone can help a nervous non-swimmer become independent in water, I’m confident that I’m the man.

I helped someone float and regain her feet independently for the first time, before we broke up for the summer. I was quite proud of this achievement, for both of us, because her fear in water was so strong when she first came. She knew she needed to come out to Wales if she was going to do it. It took two trips and a lot of hard work.

This morning a friend I often see out walking sent me this link about the amazing benefits of swimming for exercise:

I responded:

Me: Thanks, this is the sort of thing people love. I doubt the truth of most of it. Scientists trot out the same old stuff about swimming and its benefits. In reality most people who swim are unaware that they are stiffening their necks, distorting their backs and gasping. This morning I was planning to go for a pool swim with Cheryl. I did a bit of Alexander Technique work in the kitchen and this helped me to decide that a long walk in the woods would do me more good (and I think it was the right choice).

Friend: I am a pretty hopeless swimmer, stiff necked gasper probably sums it up. A long walk in the woods sounds more pleasant to me than a pool swim.

Me: You don't look like a stiff necked gasper when you're walking and that's the main thing, I reckon. Swimming is too popular at the moment. Think jogging in the 1980s!

Friend: You don't do a very good job of selling swimming, Mr. Swimming Instructor!

Me: People are keen to learn to swim but need to be shown that in water, less is more. Just floating about is the most beneficial thing most of us can do. I don't mind selling that. I have less and less enthusiasm for swimming distances. Maybe I'm not a swimming instructor but I can and do help fearful people learn to trust the water to support them. That's what I do most of. Cheryl is more enthusiastic about teaching movement than I am.

The trouble is, when someone like you who isn't a great swimmer looks at an article like that,  it seems like a no-brainer that you should swim.  Really you're probably better off walking, even if you decide to become a good swimmer through taking lessons. Because we're land based animals and we've got enough work to do on dry land!

So this morning, I went for a walk in the woods with the dogs, had that quick exchange on facebook messenger and am now sitting here, with a sense of well-being, quite clear that I am not a swimming instructor. It feels like a good morning’s work.

Also see:  Floating Foundations / When Movements Muddy The Water To the Wall / Control Freak? Can't Swim / Floating is a Feeling Rescued: Learner Lost with Woggle at Leisure Centre / Learn Not to Swim / Landing Before Standing / Stopping the Fight for Survival / All You Need Is Love / Helping Hands / Positions and Decisions


03-Aug-2017 /  written by Ian Cross
View Pirana goggles review

View Pirana goggles review

The mirrored version has been Ian’s choice over the summer.

I was sent a sample of the mirrored version of the View Pirana goggles in April. I haven’t used anything else since then. I’ve worn them in the sea, river, quarry and pool.

Some mirrored lenses take away the sun’s glare but don’t help you see very much under water. On a very clear water swim in the Witch’s Cauldron (see video), the vision in these as I floated around over the seaweed and between the jellyfish was exceptional. In the river too, they have enhanced my vision underwater.  Because of the way they performed, I actually mistook the mirrored lenses for polarized.

They’ve done a great job in the pool too, not making everything dark like some mirrored lens goggles do.

They weigh almost nothing and I don’t feel them on my face.  They don’t give the sensation of tunnel vision that other small goggles do.  The straps are hypoallergenic, soft and easy to adjust. They haven’t leaked for me at all and they’re still not fogging up after at least 3 months of kicking around in my swimming trug and coming with me on all my dips.

In my experience, mirrored lenses are more likely to fog up than clear lenses. I don’t know why this is but the lenses in these goggles haven't fogged up at all, performing better than any others I’ve used, clear or tinted, including ones from the View range.   

I really like the mirrored version of these goggles and I feel quite attached to my current pair. No one swimming goggle works for everyone but this one definitely does it for me.


03-Aug-2017 /  written by Ian Cross
What’s Welsh for Puddle?

What’s Welsh for Puddle?

Learning to let learning happen

I’ve lived in Wales for 18 years, my dad’s Welsh and a friend recommended I put myself in the position of learner starting from scratch, like a lot of our pupils. So I’ve started learning Welsh.

The internet course I’m doing,  Say Something in Welsh, involves constructing a sentence, using the language you know,  before the teacher says it.  Trying too hard to get the words out in those few seconds freezes my brain. But when I don’t worry about speaking and just listen, understand and absorb, like a child does, it’s much more relaxing. I often fall asleep halfway through a lesson or ‘challenge’ and am woken by Aran, the teacher,  telling me how well I’ve done to make it to the end!

Babies ideally crawl a lot before they walk and do lots of listening before they start to talk. Non-swimmers need to enjoy floating around and playing with movement before learning strokes.

Watching the growing confidence of our two year old grandson Gruff is inspiring. With limited language he manages to communicate what he wants very effectively and he understands a lot. When we go for a walk with him, we don't get far. But he’s always learning. The other evening he spent about 10 minutes dropping stones into puddles.

While I wouldn't be able to string two sentences of Welsh together in the real world, I do feel engaged in a learning process. I wake up in the morning, knowing how to say, “I met your sister in the pub last night’ or ‘I’ve got a friend who knows your brother”. And when I listen to Tommo on Radio Cymru I’m starting to recognise more and more words.

I might do a residential Welsh course but I’ll have no expectation of being able to communicate in a natural setting by the end. That would be like a non-swimmer coming to us and expecting to be ready, on course completion, to enter a triathlon.

Learning without caring about results, without crippling yourself with expectation, must be the best way to learn anything. With Welsh, I remind myself to give up the idea of getting anywhere, but not to give up.

Also see:  Floating Foundations / Floating is a Feeling  / Sing When You're Winning / Rescued, Learner Lost with Woggle at Leisure Centre  / Learn Not to Swim / Stopping the Fight for Survival / Landing Before Standing


24-Jul-2017 /  written by Ian Cross
Don't Leave Home Without...

Don't Leave Home Without...

Everything Cheryl needed for her warm water swimming adventure

Packing my one cabin bag for my trip to the Montenegro Fjords I was distressed to find I didn't have room for my Aqua Sphere Aqua Skin wetsuit, even though the Strel expert, Borut, and everyone else I asked (given the predicted sea temperature of 24 degrees), said I wouldn't need it.

Still at least I'd have my Gul Evotherm top. Nobody would think I was a whimp in that, would they? I tested the water, in private in case it made me howl a bit (that's what I'm used to) and found I didn't need the thermal top either.

The sea really was warm enough and so was the sun. For ease (and to make my flight size sun cream last) I wore a Gul rashguard  and Bohn jammers with my costume and on one occasion when the back of my knees were looking a bit pink, I wore some three quarter length Bohn leggings.  Towards the ending of the week I was able to risk swimming in just my Zoggs costumes.  I knew they'd be reliable - lifetime guarantee, good coverage, excellent freedom of movement, and quick drying (although it was sensible to have more than one).

As for goggles I wore my favourite Aqua Sphere Vista. You can't beat it for visibility which I appreciated even more in the beautiful setting and clear water, and the Maru Groove - also watertight and comfortable and with mirrored lenses which weren't too dark.
During one swim, I was irritated by some leaking (it was the Vista) which I think was caused by sun cream upsetting the seal, as they were fine next day after a rinse in fresh water.

Lastly I was very happy with the Lifeventure towel. So easy to pack and quick drying but large enough to wrap myself in while drinking tea on the boat. I'd chosen the World Words design thinking that as I was travelling alone I might have time to swot a bit for the pub quiz.But time-fillers in case I was lonely or bored were definitely something else I didn't need.

Three essential items I didn't need were my earplugsglide cap and anti-fog solution.  But they weighed nothing and took up no space. 

Photo shows Cheryl back home in her vista goggles and glide cap.

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18-Jul-2017 /  written by Cheryl Cross