One of the most simple and natural things to do in water is pull back both the arms to get the body moving forward - rudimentary breaststroke. This works really well for everything except getting the head out of the water to inhale. Doing what comes naturally in water only gets you so far. Fully developed human swimmers have replaced instinctive movements with conscious ones.
We don't all need to be fully developed swimmers. If you're not worried about covering any distance, or if you're using a snorkel on holiday, you don't have to come up for air every stroke, so you can enjoy sweeping the arms back as far as you like. [As my friend Dean once said to me, “In a pool I'm useless but when I've got my snorkel in Greece, I'm like a ****ing torpedo!”] It's a movement children like to do as they learn through play. Adult learners find that it immediately works and they need to do plenty of it to develop feel for water. Divers have done it for thousands of years. Elite swimmers do it once at the start of every breaststroke race. It works. It's a natural swimming movement there for us to use without thinking. It's great.
But most recreational and fitness swimmers who swim breaststroke with their face in the water haven't adapted this basic movement and need to change what they do with the arms in order to facilitate inhalation.
To swim breaststroke for any distance without straining yourself, you need to use the arms to support the breathing position. All that is needed for this is a small, gentle sculling motion, in front of the body - hardly anything – as the head breaks the surface and the hips drop, legs bent in preparation for the kick. Inhalation takes place before the head goes back in, eyes down, for another glide or shallow dolphin dive with arms pointing forward, where you want to go.
You can't have your cake and eat it. If you pull your arms back, they can't support the breathing position. So inhalation becomes forced. The pattern that soon and inevitably emerges is a deeply wired response to a stimulus perceived as dangerous: the Baby Panic (Moro) Reflex.
This reflex quickly forces a larger than normal amount of air into the lungs, for survival. The neck stiffens, the head is thrown back against the spine, the arms extend into a star shape and all this results in a big gasp.
Let your arms dominate in breaststroke when you're coming up to breathe and you'll see your own baby panic reflex in action. Pull your arms back, forcing your head out of the water for a breath (which will be a gasp) and keep this going for a few strokes. When you stop, you might notice you're in a state of nervous over-excitement. Something is happening in your body which is, when you think about it, more than just the aerobic effect of exercise.
It's useful to try this because it's good to know what it is that we don't want, so we can work to find a better way. A better way is a relaxed, non-doing inhalation which makes us feel more like a dolphin or seal than a frightened human being. But it is kind of natural to be a frightened human being in the water so, when you're swimming breaststroke, be aware...more
12-May-2013 / written by Ian Cross
We only sell products we know from personal experience to work. We don’t mind selling things that customers repeatedly ask us to sell, like the Barracuda B300 foam goggles, even though we’re not fans. But we refuse to sell kickboards and pull buoys for example, because we believe them generally to be detrimental to the process of swimming without stress.
But, with memories of Olympic legend Popov training with a snorkel back in the 90s, we were intrigued by the Swimmer’s Snorkel by Finis and thought we’d try one out. Not put off by Finis’s motto under the logo on the packaging, ‘Swim Hard’, Ian has tested the snorkel during recent training sessions with some surprising results.
“The Swimmer’s Snorkel is a revolutionary product that all swimmers canuse to improve their technique” Pablo Morales, Three Time Olympic gold Medallist
“The Swimmer’s Snorkel allows the swimmer to isolate and concentrate on body balance, rotation and alignment by eliminating the complicated breathing motion.” Richards WQuick, Head Coach, USA Women’s Olympic Swim Team
As an Alexander Technique teacher, it would be easy for me to argue against any of the benefits of a swimming snorkel claimed by Finis. But I’m certainly glad I gave it a go. I’ve been using it for about 300 or 400 metres during each training session (about 25% of distance covered) and find that it really does something for my stroke. It causes me to feel, particularly after I’ve taken it off, that I’m getting hold of the water better than ever before though I can’t quite work out why.
Trusting the process of breathing through a tube takes a bit of getting used to (when swimming with fish on holiday I prefer not to bother) and it wasn’t until the second time of using that I managed to stop holding my breath! But I’m definitely a fan. In the same way that sparing use of training fins makes your kick more effective by educating the legs and feet, using the snorkel seems to improve my stroke and makes me feel, fleetingly, like Michael Phelps (so long as I don’t look at the clock)!
I find it helpful to regulate snorkel-breathing by exhaling through the mouth on one glide (as one arm enters the water and travels forward) and inhaling on the other. It is enjoyable just to allow yourself to switch from left to right like a pendulum with your neck relaxed and head and spine still, at the centre of it all.
When you take the snorkel off, can you keep a similar rhythm or does the need to rotate into the breathing position change the rhythm of your stroke? I find that my old pattern when breathing bilaterally is to think something like ‘one, two, breathe left, one, two, breathe right…’, which means I’m breaking the flow of the stroke in order to inhale, whereas the challenge is for the breathing stroke to be just another stroke with no interruption of forward direction. After using the snorkel, I remind myself to think ‘left,right, left, right…’ or ‘one, two, one two…’ so that breathing bilaterally doesn’t cause me to interrupt the flow of the stroke; the simple, brain-satisfying pleasure of switching from oneside to the other, left to right.
So to sum up my experience and advice:
Don’t think of using the snorkel as an opportunity to forget about the breathing, while you focus on the rest of the stroke.
Continue to think of the stroke as a whole – with the head releasing into the water, the breath flowing and the spine lengthening as the base from where the movement comes.
17-Apr-2013 / written by Ian Cross
Women are more likely than men to go swimming for regular exercise.
According to a survey into the nation's exercise habits (for the National Lottery Good Causes) 10% of women swim regularly compared to 7% of men.
But what percentage of these women who swim for regular exercise swim breaststroke with the head held out of the water, not knowing how to let the water support them or how to breathe out under the water?
Head up breaststroke puts a lot of strain on the neck and back and makes relaxed breathing impossible. It may do more harm than good. In the UK, a lot of women swim like this.
If you swim for exercise but don't get your hair wet, here are 6 reasons why it's not a good idea:
1. You can't breathe well because your neck is constricte
2. You're risking neck and back problems. Imagine walking around for 20 minutes looking right up at the ceiling. This is the sort of position your head's in when swimming head up breaststroke
3. You don't float with your head up so you need to keep your arms and legs moving all the time, making the stroke inefficient
4. You're missing out on the real joys of swimming - when you immerse, you enter a new world and experience the complete support of the water. You can slow down and learn to breathe out naturally
5. You're a one trick pony, with only one way of swimming, which makes you less confident and less safe in deep water.
6. You can't see the fish when you swim on holiday.
22-Dec-2012 / written by Ian Cross
US swimming guru Terry Laughlin points out that fitness should be something that happens when you work on technique.
In our quest for fitness, it’s easy to forget all about technique. If you’re a fitness swimmer or triathlete, though you may be comfortable in the water, things can go wrong with your general coordination when lane swimming.
Many swimmers are a little bit anxious about breathing, especially in front crawl. If we’re anxious about breathing, we rush it and the more we rush it, the more our coordination suffers. Instead of getting ourselves into a place where a relaxed in-breath can happen, we struggle into a breathing position, losing our balance in the water, lifting the head, twisting the neck and straining the back. We may start to hyperventilate and if we do this even a little bit, we’re losing control of ourselves.
Advanced swimmers may not be conscious of any anxiety about breathing. But even if you are an advanced swimmer, how much are you thinking about your technique when you’re lane swimming?... And what does ‘technique’ really mean?
There are elements of swimming technique that we all like to think about when we’re training….. Gliding with the forward arm extended and the body rotated will produce fewer strokes per length and counting strokes per length is a good measure of stroke efficiency. A high elbow facilitates clean entry of the hand into the water….. But there are more fundamental elements of coordination which we usually neglect. Though we may not be aware of it, behind the bits of swimming technique which we try to apply, we are always using a kind of technique in the way the head, the neck and the back work with each other. The Alexander Technique helps us see the importance of this head, neck, back relationship for quality of movement and makes us aware that it is always at work, either for or against us.
For example, our arms are lighter, freer and better connected to each other when they move from an expanding back. But if we’re anxious about getting to the end of the pool before the person in front, or more quickly than we did last week, there may be unnecessary tension we’re unaware of in the neck, shoulders and back. This underlying tension, often hidden from us by our efforts to get the job done, hinders attempts to employ what is conventionally thought of as good swimming technique. But more importantly it causes us to restrict our breathing.
If we have any anxiety, about sucking in water when we’d like a breath of air, about not being last out of the water in a race, or even about not winning a race, we really need to think about what’s going on with the head and neck. A useful question to ask is, ‘Am I tightening my neck and holding my breath?’ If we do have a tight neck in the water, we’re not quite getting the benefits of swimming everyone talks about. As Alexander discovered, it isn’t possible for us to be free if we are pulling the head into the body.
So while swimming can be a kind of meditation and make us feel calm and relaxed, our trips to the pool can have the opposite effect if we’re not careful. If you sometimes experience a bit of ‘road rage’ in the car, you may well experience ‘lane rage’ in the pool and both can be avoided by being aware of tightness in the neck.
So next time a foolish person sets off for another length just as you’re completing your turn, or someone seems to be overtaking you in an aggressive and thoughtless manner, before you decide whether you need to talk to them, just have a think about your neck.more
09-Jan-2012 / written by Ian Cross
18-Jun-2011 / written by Ian Cross
08-May-2011 / written by Ian Cross
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“ I'd like to help people through this blog who are currently struggling with something in the water - strugglers of all abilities - non-swimmers, people unable to co-ordinate the strokes, fitness swimmers who can't stop watching the clock, teachers of swimming getting nowhere with belligerent pupils. There are a lot of you about and if it wasn't for you, Swimming Without Stress wouldn't exist. So please feel free to comment."Ian Cross - Swimming Without Stress