I totally know how to swim. That is, if the definition of swimming is “not drowning.” I can float, kick, flail, and generally keep my lungs water-free with the best of them. But once you start to throw in ideas like strokes, form, and efficiently moving from point A to point B…then my swimming skills are sadly lacking.
Step 1: Equipment
Body of Water
For my first “real” swimming attempt, I decided to take advantage of my apartment complex’s swimming pool while the local kids were at school. This not only assured me an interruption-free swimming time, but also protected me from being completely schooled by 7-year-old swimmers.
I smartly decided that my blue bikini, while perfect for laying on a beach towel, would not be a perfect choice for swimming – thanks to its tendency to only stay put on my body when I am being very, very still. My only other swimsuit option was a tankini. While offering considerably more in the coverage department, the tankini’s primary function also appears to be body decoration for immobile people. Another reason why I’m glad I went to the pool while the kids were at school. My advice: wear a one piece to avoid, uh, slippage.
I usually rationalize my non-use of proper swimming strokes by claiming I can’t see where I’m going underwater with my contacts in. I decided to eliminate that excuse by taking advantage of the end of summer sale on seasonal items at Target. I got these babies for less than $5.
The biggest tips I brought with me to the pool were rotating my body on a horizontal axis, treating my arms like windmills, and remembering to kick the entire time. Here’s my take on these website’s freestyle tips:
Horizontal Axis: Basically, visualize a line running down the center of your body, from your head down to your toes. Rather than relying solely on your arms to propel you forward, learn to twist your body to give this motion more power. If you’ve ever been canoeing or kayaking, or even taken kickboxing lessons, it’s the same idea: use power from your core to move you forward, rather than your extremeties. It’s a difficult change to make, since we seem to be accustomed to using our limbs to move, but it’s possible with practice. Try rolling your shoulders in the direction of the twist to help keep the body aligned as you rotate side to side.Oh, and don’t forget to breathe once you rotate to one side. Kind of important.
Windmill Your Arms – Sort of: Think of your arms as part of a two-bladed windmill. Try your best to keep your arms completely opposite from one another – if one is reaching out forward, the other one should be reaching back. Don’t make the mistake of keeping your arms completely extended, however. Extend fully when the front arm hits the water, then bend the arm as you move it under your body, extending once more as you get ready to leave the water.
Just Keep Kicking: A constant, soft, up-and-down flutter kick, will help keep your back end out of the water and keep propelling you forward. No need for big splashy kicks here (even if you think you’ll look cooler in front of the 7-year-old swimmers). Kick gently from the hips, keeping the legs straight (but not rigid), and you’ll be fine.
Step 3: Regroup
Most of these tips were easier said than done; it’s very difficult to wipe out 20-plus years of doggie paddle muscle memory from my body. I hopped in the pool with the fullest intentions of following all these steps, but to be quite honest, I’m not sure if that actually happened.
I also had lofty aspirations that my swimming session would last for, oh, at least 20 or 30 minutes. I didn’t wear my watch down to the pool (see: electrocution picture), but I’d venture to guess that I lasted for more like 5 minutes once actually in the water. Swimming for fitness is a bit more tiring than the type of swimming that I’m used to.
My plan for next time? I’d definitely spend some time focusing on one of these three basic tips before leaping in headfirst and trying to accomplish all at once. And in all honesty, I don’t know how much more for-real swimming I’ll be attempting without having an instructor help me. Relearning bad habits ingrained in me since childhood will probably require a little more help than what the Internet offers. And, as much as I hate to admit it, adult swimming lessons disqualifies it from being a true “hobby for hobos” since that involves actual transaction of money.
But all in all, learning to swim for fitness was a worthwhile activity. I had fun, got a little exercise, and rocked some pretty sweet-lookin’ goggles. Not sure I’ll be signing up for the Ironman Triathlon anytime soon, but I think I picked up a nice warm-weather hobby…just in time for autumn. Whoops.