Body position, flow, breathing, relaxed yet controlled awareness of body and mind … am I talking about yoga or swimming? The reality is I could be talking about either. After decades of swimming , poor posture and some brief experiences with yoga I finally have a season, routine , means and motivation to dedicate some proper time to yoga. For the past two months I have been attending yoga sessions 2-3 times a week. After a month I noticed changes. Years of swimming and shoulder and chest development had pulled my shoulders forward and down, my spine is rounded more than most, even still I had not realized how much I looked down rather than forward when I walked. After just a month I noticed how my walk had changed I was looking up rather than at my feet and seeing the world from a whole new perspective. My spine feels long and my body feels much more comfortable. I have found the yoga sessions complement the smooth rhythm required of swimming along with the requirement for control of breath.
As a guy attending yoga for the first time can be intimidating, most classes seem to be predominately female. The moves take some time to learn and girls generally have a far greater range of motion than the guys. But give it time and the moves do start to flow even when you are as uncoordinated as me. I have also been lucky in South West London to have an inspirational teacher, Ellie. Ellie took the time to introduce herself to me at my first class as she does with every single new student. She explains that in her yoga class there are no wrong moves, it’s all part of a learning journey. I have found the classes have helped me find calm outside of my busy life and away from the pool, my muscles feel more limber, long and loose and my shoulder blades are getting drawn together for the first time in a long time improving my posture and comfort tremendously. If you are looking for a great complement to your swimming give yoga a try. And if you are in South West London and are looking for a great instructor send Ellie an e-mail email@example.com She teaches classes all over SW London and teaches private lesson too and best of all she’ll be relating yoga moves to swimming throughout the class so you won’t miss a beat.
Simon Griffiths Editor of http://www.h2openmagazine.com/ published a blog post titled ‘Is drafting over-rated’. The full script is below … and below that is my response.
Elite swimmers race in packs for a simple reason. If you swim behind and to the side of another swimmer, or directly behind them, you can swim faster for less effort. There’s no doubt that drafting can help you swim quicker but, in an open water event, should our default position be to swim in someone else’s wake?
I think, not necessarily.
The major benefit of drafting is that you can swim faster than your regular pace, or you can maintain your regular pace with less effort. If you trust the person in front to follow the correct swim route, you may also get away with sighting less.
If you’re in a race and you’re after the prize money or prestige that comes with a fast time or good finishing position, by all means go ahead and draft, and swim faster. Likewise, if you’re in a triathlon and your finishing position is important (isn’t it always in triathlon) then stick on someone’s feet and conserve energy for the bike and run.
But, as open water swimmers, it’s possible we might have other goals than a fast finishing time, like having a pleasant swim or enjoying our surroundings, and drafting can spoil that for you. Here are some other reasons why drafting might not be for you.
The main point, I guess, is that if you’re swimming for pleasure or personal challenge rather than speed and medals, then drafting might not be for you. However, a lot of people, perhaps who’ve spent a lot of time reading triathlon publications, or who have come from a triathlon background, seem to adopt drafting as a default in open water swimming. It is possible for the majority of people to complete the distance without being dragged along by someone else, so why make your swim less pleasant for the sake of a few seconds or a slightly lower number against your name on the finishers list?
The other thing that annoys: if you go to a lake where swimming is organised – i.e. you pay money and there is a course marked out to follow – why do complete strangers start swimming on your feet? If you want to practise drafting, do it with your friends or training buddies rather than someone you don’t know.
FitandAbel’s Dan Abel responds
Is drafting over-rated? My answer is unequivocally No.
In our swim coaching sessions we talk about an ‘open water swimming tool kit’. It’s a figurative rather than literal toolkit. Its contents are open water swim skills; being able to breath both sides, ability to relaxed in rough water, comfort with natural water temperatures, being able to sight and navigate and being able to draft. The more tools in your tool kit the better equipped you are to deal with the varying conditions confronted when open water swimming.
We are in agreement – the major benefit of drafting is being able to hold a faster pace or being able to maintain a pace with less energy expenditure. However that is not the only benefit of drafting. Drafting is an open water skill. Practicing and refining your drafting skills is part of becoming more adept at open water swimming. Swimming in proximity to other people and non-aggressive body contact is a large part of open water swimming.
Many of the reasons you list in your blog for not drafting are experiences a swimmer would have if they are not adept at this skill; eg
- Drafting is hard work It shouldn’t be, It can actually be a great time to relax and chill out
- You are more likely to be kicked, punched or swum over Truly? Or you are more likely to leave the pack behind?
- You can’t often maintain your natural stroke This is inexperience , plain and simple
- It annoys the person in front especially if you keep tapping on toes Generally they will only get annoyed if they are also inexperienced. Learning to ignore body contact and focus on your swim is a key skill.
A large proportion of swimmers come to our coaching sessions because they want to be faster, more efficient and more competent in open water. Like get used to biking in a pack when road cycling , learning to swim in proximity to others and understanding the benefits of drafting and how to properly draft are essential open water skills. Drafting teaches swimmers how to conserve energy, it teaches them how to swim in proximity to others. Many new swimmers get annoyed at having their feet touched or at any body contact what so ever in open water swimming. We don’t have lane lines in open water. One of the hardest things to do is to swim a straight line. You may be swimming slightly left, I may be swimming slightly right of track. We may accidentally have some contact. It happens. Or I may be drafting you, I may touch your toes either accidentally or to ensure I am in the pocket OR to let you know I’m drafting (maybe we could take turns and leave the pack for dust?) . If you have trained for and are experienced in these situations you are more likely to cope, less likely to be annoyed or distracted and therefore you are more likely to perform better and enjoy your swim more.
No you do not have to draft but Yes you should most certainly practice and learn how to draft properly. Drafting can make you faster and more efficient. It will most certainly make you a more confident and competent open water swimmer.
For the second season in a row I made the trip out to Henley on Thames for the Iconic Henley to Marlow ‘Bridge to Bridge’ 14km sportive swim. This year I was accompanied by five enthusiastic Fit&Abel swimmers, four of whom were completing a 10km or greater swim for the very first time.
The Henley on Thames bridge is the starting point for this marathon swim. The bridge was constructed in 1786 and sits picturesquely on the river Thames. It is a beautiful site from upon the bridge and the same can be said from under the bridge as swimmers soon discover. How many people can say they have bobbed in the river Thames under a 227 year old bridge ?
Close to 300 swimmers started the event this year; We all start as one, a mass of green caps , wetsuits and bathers, swimming with the current on the first 4km leg of the journey . I have said this event is Iconic, it is also very unique. There are four locks/weirs that need to be negotiated enroute. Swimmers must physically exit the water, the event crew supply food and drink at each of the four exit points – for the inexperienced it is perfect training to learn how to sip a drink, have some banana and then get back in and start swimming.
The swim is billed as non-competitive/sportive due to having to negotiate the 4 weirs and because of all the boat traffic on the Thames. It allows canoe escort to be provided to ‘pods’ of swimmers . This does require swimmers to adjust swim speeds to suit a group.
The 14km swim down to Marlow provides some very picturesque swimming; you see beautiful buildings and parks, wildlife and greenery. You can see the bottom of the river and long flowing grass growing and flowing in the current. I’ve seen fish, but no sharks and no piranha . There is a walk way the entire route so family and friends can follow you cheer and support you. And best of all because you have four compulsory stops there is a chance to say ‘Hi’ more than once to fellow swimmers, making swimming as it should be, as much about the experience and a social event than just a swim.
Read the local press release on this years swim http://www.henleystandard.co.uk/news/news.php?id=39087
For more on the Bridge to Bridge see their website http://www.henleyswim.com/bridge-to-bridge/
After swimming Cook Strait in March I was looking for some shorter fun swims to enjoy over the English summer. Brownsea Island swim ticked all the boxes. Set in Poole harbour, by Bournemouth. The race starts and finishes at Brownsea castle, the swim setting could not be more iconic. It is a 6.5km around island current assisted swim, Brownsea offers plenty of interest, challenge and variety for an open water swimmer.
Registration is competitive and can be a turn off. This years 250 spots were booked within 6 hours of registration opening. It’s not the easiest system but 1. It works 2. It’s worth it ; what a beautiful island. Starting in front of this magnificent castle the field soon spreads out, there is only one marker buoy the entire way – the half way point. Navigation is your own concern, there are shallow sand banks which can make things fun , but plenty of deep water and some tidal assistance too. If you’re a right breathing you’d best get working on your bilateral breathing as the swim is anti clock wise around the island. There seemed to be more than adequate safety cover , plenty of kayaks and rescue craft to hand with water available to those who needed a drink . Watching the changing landscape of the island, checking out boats and often a nice view of the sandy bottom all help tick off time . Post swim there is a prize giving on Brownsea, a chance to socialise, check out the wildlife and spend some time drinking in the greenery and sea air. The Brownsea Island 6.5km sea swim gets a Big tick in the interest swim category and a highly recommended from Fit&Abel.http://www.rlss-poole.org.uk/brownsea2.htm
We are now well into the Northern Hemisphere open water swimming season; as per the last few summers it is fantastic to see so many new comers immersing themselves in the now hugely popular sport of open water swimming. With any new sport comes new skills to learn. As swim coaches we do our very best to ensure that your first open water experience is a good one. There are many basic pitfalls that can be avoided with a little help, knowledge and practice before your big event. Simon Griffiths of H2Open Magazine has captured some of the vital ‘First Timers’ pitfalls in his editorial below:
‘This weekend we went to the Great North Swim in Windermere. At the beginning of many of the waves the referee asked first-timers to raise their hands. Often the majority did.
This is clearly fantastic news for open water swimming. Judging from the smiles at the finish, and conversations with swimmers, most enjoyed the experience and will be looking for more.
Some though, instead of a mile swim, got a ride in a rescue boat.
The safety cover at Windermere was excellent with lifeguards on shore, in kayaks out on the course and in motorised support craft ready to assist anyone in need. On the Saturday in particular, the safety crew were busy and pulled approximately 100 swimmers from the water, often in the first 200m.
Talking to the lifeguards revealed some of the reasons:
- First time in open water: panic or underestimated how hard it would be.
- First time in wetsuit: too big, too loose, can’t breathe etc.
- First time in rough water
- First time trying to swim with gloves
- Couldn’t make progress against the waves
Notice four of the six points above include the word “first”. Despite advice from us, from event organisers, from coaches and triathlon magazines, people frequently turn up to race with very limited open water and wetsuit swimming experience. The further conditions are removed from the warm calm of the swimming pool the more likely people are going to struggle.
Of course, people need to start somewhere, and one race has to be your first. But racing puts you under pressure, even if you’re not in it to win it. Something about the crowds and the atmosphere makes you much more nervous than you would be doing a swim in a lake with some friends – so don’t add to that pressure by overloading on firsts. Your first race should not also be your first ever open water swim or first outing for a new wetsuit or pair of goggles. Please spread the word because a lot of people don’t seem to be getting the message.
One of the attractions in open water is the variability in conditions. This adds to the challenge and overcoming the elements is part of the satisfaction. But when we are overcome by the elements then it’s frustrating (or even dangerous). Windermere is a big lake. When the wind blows, which it did on that Saturday, it can generate a lot of big, choppy waves. Even some more experienced swimmers found it hard going, so it’s not just beginners who suffer.
This touches on another recurring theme: at what point should an organiser call off an event? Last year the Great North and many other swims were called off because of adverse conditions, and some swimmers who felt they could cope with those conditions were upset. This year we know of a race that went ahead that probably should have been cancelled, although at least one swimmer who completed the event thought it was the right decision to continue (see our Aug/Sep issue for more on this).
We can’t change the conditions and it is race organisers and their safety teams that have to decide whether or not events can go ahead. As swimmers though we should always prepare to the best of our ability, practise in different conditions, understand our own limits and capabilities and act accordingly. Sometimes you may get it wrong when pushing your limits and need assistance. But through H2Open Magazine we aim to share the best advice for swimmers so hopefully our readers will be among the finishers, not those who need to be pulled out of swims because of poor preparation.
Reproduced with permission of H2Open Magazine. Original script available here http://www.h2openmagazine.com/editor-s-blog/why-swimmers-get-pulled-out-at-open-water-swimming-events.html
This month I asked a swimmer to provide a guest post and Alice has kindly agreed. Swimming is an activity for all, not just those who have spent their teenage years plowing up and down the swimming lanes. If you’re experiencing any doubts on your swim journey or if you are thinking about trying open water swimming hopefully Alices story will inspire. Dan
I loved swimming when I was a kid. There’s even a cine film to prove it. Aged 2, in a swimming costume
, on a rainy and windswept Brittany beach I demand to go into the sea. Finally my mum (who is wrapped in a coat), picks me up and lowers my feet into the waves. I’m delighted…
Somewhere between there and adulthood, I lost my connection with water. That childhood adventure was replaced with wearing suits and high heels and sitting at a desk 12 hours a day, punctuated with the odd escape to the gym to run nowhere fast on a running machine.
Thankfully a series of challenging life events, including being knocked off my bike by a lorry and breaking my leg skiing (and told I couldn’t run again) meant I got a fresh perspective on the concept of a healthy and rewarding lifestyle. Part of that was finding a leg friendly sport to help get me fit!
So three summers’ ago I signed up for an open water swimming course with the Outdoor Swimming Society at the Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park. That’s where I met Anna who had a place in the Great London Swim.
One early morning I (nervously) went along to the historic Serpentine Swimming Club, to find out what this swimming thing was really about. Everyone was really friendly. I was introduced to a group of women training for the Lake Zurich marathon swim. I’d never heard of it, but their coach explained it’s a 26km swim across the lake, without a wetsuit, and in the relay you alternate – an hour on, an hour off – amongst your team.
All these ladies looked really fit and very happy. I was a little bit in awe. There and then, standing in my second hand wetsuit, overweight and having never swum more than about a kilometre, I decided I was going to swim across Lake Zurich too!
Three summers later that’s exactly what Anna and I are doing.
We’re really excited. It’s our first proper non wetsuit swim and it will be the furthest either of us has ever swum.
Neither of us has ever trained for anything as big as this before.
We have training diaries and a real coach (Dan). I also have a special bag for my swim kit now and Anna and I have matching swimming costumes. That’s how serious it is.
During the swim we will have a ‘support boat’ and on it will be the ‘support crew’ (our mate Sue).
Some days it feels like an incredibly slick operation. On others (like when I simply forgot to swim the last 800m of my training set last week), not quite so much!
Now we are halfway through our training and swimming stronger and more consistently than we ever knew we could, eating more food than we ever thought possible, learning about pacing and good technique, discovering drills with silly names like Wonder Woman, rediscovering our stomach muscles, swimming in a variety of wonderful pools, lidos and lakes, and when we’re not face down in the water, meeting lots of lovely fellow swimmers along the way.
Essentially though, this is about two girls who grew up in South East London, started swimming in the hope of being able to swim a mile, got hooked, became friends, and wanted to have an adventure.
It’s pretty wicked.
You can find out more about the South East London Ladies Swimming Club (our team name for the Lake Zurich relay) via the links below – We’re basically using our Zurich adventure as an excuse to shout about how accessible, friendly and brilliant swimming is to anyone who will listen.
Any support is much appreciated!