Like many 'adult-onset' swimmers, swimming is my weak link, my Achilles heel, the chink in the armor. I continue to work at it, year-round, and I've seen my average swim rank percentiles climb slowly over the last few years (68th, 71st, and 76th percentiles). This year, mid-season, Coach Jim and I noticed my pool improvements weren't really translating to my races as we expected. I'd had enough. I decided to become a "student of the sport" and do whatever I could to improve. Coach Jim formulated a new training plan and I got to work to learn all I could about the stroke, triathlon swimming, and open water swimming. "Project Swim Improvement" had begun. The first thing I did was to ask our race team sponsors at Endurance Films to send me everything they had on swimming (aside from the titles I already had) which they very kindly did! Swimming is one of those things that is hard to just read about or hear about, you need to watch it! I have some of the top books on swimming, but to try to translate a written description of a drill or a movement from text to reality just does not work for me. I got my DVD shipment a few days before the Colonial Beach race, and the night before the race, I watched every single one!! Since then, I've watched and rewatched each of the titles from the series and continue to picked up nuggets of wisdom from each and every one:  

  The different camera angles, different ways of saying things, and slight variations on drills and techniques helped me to begin to piece together a more complete picture of what I needed to be doing. I'd be hard pressed to recommend just one DVD because for me it is great to have the whole set. I did particularly enjoy Freestyle with Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen. She is a multiple master's swimming record holder and is unique in her ability to communicate how she swims in a way that makes sense and is different from the "typical" list of swim fixes you see repeated time and time again. If you are tired of hearing the same high elbows, body roll, blah blah blah, and want a new way to think about your stroke, I would HIGHLY recommend her DVD from Endurance Films. Karlyn talks about swimming with "Umph at the Front" which has stuck with me. There are times I am swimming and envisioning doing a lat pull down and breathing just as intently as I do for a hard set in the gym. That's just one example! Here's a summary of some of the changes that I've made to my swim stroke and training, and areas where I am focusing drill work:  
  • Committed to a weekly open water swim to practice skills like sighting and drafting
  • Allowed myself to deviate from the L-R-L-R breathing pattern that suits aerobic swimming to things like L-L-R-R that works better for harder efforts
  • Became more aggressive with more "Umph at the Front" (as coined by Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen)
  • Focused on higher turnover/cadence and conscious of eliminating dead spots
  • Greater and more relaxed body roll
  • Reaching further in the catch
  • Thinking of kicking "up"
  And of course, I never stop believing that I can and will get faster. A month and a half after launching "Project Swim Improvement", I showed up at Nationals and did my best and fastests race swims to date. I lined up front and center, went out harder, and "raced" the swim rather than just survived the swim. I'm seeing further evidence of change -- Some interval work that was nearly un-doable has become very doable. Times on my open water swims have dropped and I am swimming straighter. My mindset has changed too - timidity has been replaced by a more confident and aggressive approach. I've got a ways to go, sure, but I'm off that dang plateau!! To grow as an athlete, we need to be continually adding to our mental and physical playbook. These DVDs are a great way to access multiple expert perspectives and to find new ways to think about our stroke and training to achieve results at our races! More on Cort the Sport!

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