From Doggy-Paddler to Triathlete

When I was young, my swim lessons consisted of my older brother taking me down to the beach at Pineview reservoir, throwing me in the lake, and yelling “time to swim bro.” Obviously he was right there to pull me sputtering out of the water. I spent countless number of hours swimming, rope-swinging, and boating in the lake behind my house. I gradually learned how to do a rudimentary form of freestyle swimming, and it wasn’t until 3 years ago when I started training for my first triathlon that I actually realized I had no idea how to swim efficiently.

My goal in 2008 was to do two triathlons, and after my first sprint triathlon in St. George, Utah I knew I needed to find a way to improve my swim. Here is a picture of me in my first triathlon plowing my way like a barge through the swim, which gratefully was in a pool because I don’t think I would have made it in open water (notice how high out of the water my head is).

As I talked around someone recommended I look into Terry Laughlin’s book “Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, Easier.” I quickly got a copy of the book and started to practice the techniques.

Reading Total Immersion I realized that I was going about my swim training all wrong. My routine swim training consisted of lap after lap of grueling, inefficient strokes just to get in the distance. The book taught some simple drills and proposes spending the majority of time working drills rather than hammering out laps. The book does a great job of showing and explaining the techniques and drills, but it was still hard for me to conceptualize what I needed to be doing. A friend let me borrow Laughlin’s DVD of the book and seeing in action the drills and techniques completely changed my swimming experience.

One of the things I noticed first that I needed to improve was keeping my body streamlined in the water. As I show in the picture of me above, my head is way out of the water and that is causing the rest of my body to sink thus causing a ton of drag. It took a lot of practice but eventually I learned how to keep my head down and cut through the water as shown in this video.

By the end of my hour long training sessions I didn’t feel exhausted and I was able to increase my distance. Granted there are several things I still need to improve such as keeping my legs tighter and having a better kick, and extending longer in my strokes. Everyone talks about swimming being more technique versus muscle and physical strength, but until you experience this firsthand it’s hard to understand. With increased efficiency, my swimming distance has increased, my speed has increased, and most importantly I enjoy swimming much more than before. I finish my workouts refreshed rather than dizzy and drained.

Based on Laughlin’s book and DVD, now when I go swimming I try to keep my focus narrowed on a few drills and techniques rather than trying to figure them all out in one session. Once you have mastered one of the techniques, move on to the next one, but I recommend reviewing and repeating them periodically. If I were to summarize the main tips that truly transformed my swimming experience I would have to include the following four suggestions:

  1. Swim downhill. Look directly at the bottom and “press the buoy” which entails leaning on your chest as you swim.
  2. Lengthen your stroke. On each stroke, extend your arm out by reaching out as far as you can under the water before you pull your arm back to complete the stroke.
  3. Be a yacht, not a barge. Picture a barge plowing it’s way through the water, heavy and very slow…now picture a yacht, slicing through the water with amazing speed and efficiency. In conjunction with swimming downhill, by rolling on to your side as your arm is extending through the water you will experience decreased drag and increased speed.
  4. Kicking. In the DVD Freestyle: Made Easy – A Total Immersion there is a kicking drill that helps improve strength and efficiency. I am still working on this one, but the more I practice the better it has become.

One thing that greatly helped in my preparation for my triathlon was to swim as much as possible in open water. I spent an entire week on vacation in Bear Lake where I swam almost every day in both calm and rough water. I was soon able to easily complete a mile distance in time for the Bear Lake Brawl Triathlon where I competed in the Olympic distance. My swim time was 33:34 which put in the middle of the pack in my age group, but most importantly I enjoyed every minute of it and I felt great coming out of the water.

Recommended reading and Total Immersion resources:

Current Swim Gear and Resources – the great thing about swimming is that you don’t need a whole lot of gear to do it:

Next on my wish list:

About Tyler Toone

Web Manager for Canyons School District with a passion for web design technologies & social media. Cyclist, triathlete, fly-fisherman, and outdoor adventure seeker.

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