Swimming Secrets for New Year Swimmers

For some years, my New Year’s post for those taking up swimming for exercise or weight management has been one of the site’s most popular and has gone viral on a number of occasions. But like with my Christmas Swim post, I wanted to change it up this year. Like so much of what I’ve written, I was thinking of what you other lone swimmers out there, who like myself, might benefit from that I’ve learned and the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the year here and elsewhere.
I have previously said that there are no tricks or secrets in learning to swim. But while that’s true about swimming, it’s not entirely accurate about other aspects of swimming. It struck me this year when I was often in the pool while the local tri club were getting lessons that there are many coaches who themselves aren’t or weren’t swimmers and that there are things therefore that they do not know and don’t teach or teach incorrectly. So these are secrets in that experienced swimmers know them, but it can take a long time for others to learn. These are the nuggets of knowledge that get passed in changing rooms and on decks, and are part of what we might call swim culture.
Like every pursuit, this is knowledge that swimmers often don’t realise they’ve learned or absorbed over the years of practice, from swimming technique, to equipment and hygiene. So while I’ve probably not covered this completely, because it’s hard to remember everything when writing such a list, this should help collect some of the “soft” knowledge that experienced swimmers gain over time and so many new and improving swimmers haven’t yet learned, especially if they are not part of a swim group.

A single ray of New Year’s eve light and a belaboured metaphor breaks through 

Lane Etiquette

By far the most annoying thing for swimmers are people joining the lane who have no understanding of lane etiquette used around the world by experienced swimmers. Actually this often includes the lifeguards on duty many of whom (most in my experience)  don’t understand either. Below are four simple rules. Yes, I know as a beginner you think this is too much, but people don’t play golf with a hockey stick, so I don’t know why non-swimmers think swimming is different. Here is a comprehensive explanation of lane swimming etiquette  if you are inclined.
    1. Ask or let the swimmer already in the lane know you are joining.
    2. Don’t start swimming or turn in front of a faster swimmer.
    3. The fastest swimmer has the right of way.
    4. Stay aware of what everyone is doing to avoid collisions and frustration for all.

Goggles

Because every swimmer in the world has an opinion and will happily entertain long discussions about goggs.
  • No anti-fog will last on goggles longer than a couple of months
  • Spit into googles for a simple reasonably effective anti-fog. Never touch the inside of the goggles.
  • Use a 2/3 water, 1/3 baby shampoo mix, swirl it around and rinse it out for a more effective anti-fog
  • Most “high visibility open water goggles” aren’t high visibility and are seriously over-priced. The google design offering the most visibility are clear Swedish goggles (aka Swedes). Which are also the cheapest.
  • More expensive goggles does not in any way mean better. Blame triathletes for the escalation of costs. The best goggles I’ve bought in years were €4 in Lidl the summer before last.
  • There is no such thing as a generic “best google” answer. Competitive swimmers/online swimmers most often respond Vanquishers  or Swedish Goggles. Vanquishers are not available in Europe anymore & Swedes (Which I wear myself in the pool and I show you how to fit here) aren’t a good idea for beginner swimmers. I also wrote this article about understanding the different kinds of goggles so you can choose based on your own requirements rather than other’s opinions, because I had never once seen anything like this by any of the goggle manufacturers, or anyone else.
  • Silicon straps don’t last long. Bungee straps are a great replacement.
  • Two thirds of my swimming time is spent with my face underwater exhaling. I can see everything including guys jerking off, teenagers and older couples fiddling with each other and numerous erections.

Technique (Front crawl)

The name of the stroke is front crawl. Freestyle means that in competition you can swim any stroke, and since crawl is the fastest, it (mostly) gets used, so a lot of swimmers think crawl is freestyle and visa versa. Someone will probably even say in the comments here that no-one calls it front crawl. Front crawl is extensively used outside the US and is the accurate term.

  • BLABT  is the acronym for the process most swim experienced teachers use to evaluate stroke and teach front crawl. It stands for:
  • Body position
      • Get horizontal in the water. Not being horizontal is the most common reason for swimming slow.
      • Push your chest forward and down into the water. Try to swim downhill!
      • Keep your head low and steady, don’t allow it to swing to the side. Imagine you are an a rotisserie spit that enters through your forehead, your whole body rotates around the centre point. If you raise your head, it’ll cause the rest of your body to sink.
      • Clench your butt cheeks. (Core muscles are used for position and rotation, doing this helps engage them).
  • Legs
      • In an elite swimmer, the maximum propulsion that comes from kicking is only 15% of overall speed. But to do that requires the body’s largest muscles and disproportionate amount of energy. (Long distance swimmers like myself do very little or no kicking).
      • Fixing the kick is important for beginners so the legs don’t slow you down or cause you to sink. Kicking wildly (especially common in runners or triathletes) is more likely to cause you to slow. This is also part of the horizontal body position above. From what I have seen most triathlete swim coaches get this completely wrong and spend far too much time focusing on a better kick.
      • You are not riding a bicycle. Kick from the hips, with only a little movement in the knees. New swimmers often have a big wide kick or their legs sinks, or both. This slows them down.
      • While reading this, see if you can point your toes like a ballet dancer. If you can’t, start stretching your ankle while watching TV or while sitting at a desk. Not being able to point your toes while swimming is like pulling a weight behind you.
      • Try swimming with your toes clenched into a fist. Yes, just like Die Hard. This will stop you kicking from the knees. You won’t be able to do it all the time, but it will help you understand what your position and kick should feel like.
  • Arms
      • Reach forward. No, further.
      • Pull back underwater. But only when your palm is facing backwards behind you, not when they are facing the bottom. This called the Catch, when your hand starts effectively pulling.
      • Keep pulling, then pushing backwards until your thumb scrapes your thigh.
      • Try to always keep your elbow above your hand, at every point in the stroke. This is not easy, and take a long time to get right.
  • Breathing
      • Exhale underwater
      • Hum a little to get used to controlling your breath and exhalation
      • Try sinking to the bottom of the pool with no arm or leg movement
      • Rotate your head out of the water, don’t lift it. Don’t look forward or around. There is no forward visibility as part of standard front crawl, and learning this is a separate activity.
  • Timing
      • Both arms and legs alternate and all actions are smooth and continuous.
      • Breathing is to the side.
      • Rotate your hips to drive your arms to reach forward.

Swimwear

  • Buy your swim suits one size smaller than the size you think you should wear based on your street clothes because water causes fabric to expand. You can’t see it but others can.
  • Wear your swimsuit in the shower after your pool swim, it’s easiest way to wash out the chlorinated water. Suits will last up to four times longer. Polyester suits lasts longer than chlorine tolerant fabric, and feels largely the same.
  • Swimsuits are currently in a “shrinking phase”, that is, getting smaller. Male briefs are becoming more thong like with very narrow side panels, female racing suits are getting cut much higher at the rear. You can find different cuts, but it can sometimes take a bit of work.
  • Never wring the water out of your swimsuit, it will weaken the fibres and seriously reduce its longevity. Simply squeeze it or use a suit spinner if there is one available.
  • Baggy board shorts should not be used. Beginner and many intermediate swimmers have problems with drag. Board shorts add even more drag and make improving your stroke even more difficult.
  • If you insist on using baggy shorts, please wear something tight underneath, because I have seen too many scrotums and assholes and I’m not even a paid professional.
  • How you look or feel in a swimsuit does not correlate with how well you swim.
  • There are three materials for swim caps: cloth, latex and silicone. Cloth is comfortable but otherwise useless, usually used by hotels to keep patrons from getting hair in filters. Latex lasts moderately well but snags hairs more. Silicone which is most expensive lasts longest but is also thickest and may be too warm for some people. No swim cap lasts for ever though. I never get more than a year from a cap.
  • Swim caps will last longer if your dry them between uses, and better yet sprinkle with talcum powder.
  • If you have a problem with the swim cap coming off your head while swimming, look for ones which have parallel ridges running around the inside edge.

Pool Hygiene

Pool swimming took a leap forward in the 1960s once reliable swim googles became widely available and training sessions for Olympic swimmers were able to last for 3000 metres or even a whole hour! Nowadays these would be considered short training sessions. Goggles are essential for pool swimming because most pools use chemicals to make the water safe. I have a longer post explaining the interactions of pool chemicals and people in more detail here.

  • Pools that have a strong chlorine or chemical smell are LESS clean than pools that have little or no odour.  The less the chemical smell, the cleaner the pool water.
  • Pool-water colour has no relationship to pool water quality. Most pools use pool tiles to make the water look blue. Some even add small amounts of copper into the water for the same reason. (Similarly, part of the reason why quarries are so dangerous for swimming is metal leaching into the water makes them look clean while hiding danger)
  • Just because you’ve read that swimmers pee in the pool doesn’t mean you have to. But if you do want to stay being a swimmer, you should probably reconcile yourself to the fact that you are absolutely swimming in dilute urine. If this is really troubling you, best of luck with your sex life.
  • It may not be chlorine that’s making your eyes burn. The pool may have the wrong water acidity (high or low). Soda-ash is added to pool water to control this.
  • Use goggles. There are NO competitive swimmers who don’t use goggles. Of course, if there are too many organics (sweat, urine etc) in the pool, then more chlorine must also be added to balance the pool.

Food & drink, & peeing

  • Cold air in the pool deck or changing rooms, cold showers etc, evaporation of water from skin all cause the skin temperature to drop. This raises blood pressure as less blood flows and the hormone that suppresses urination is reduced. All this causes you to need to pee more. It’s completely normal.
  • Therefore swimmers need to be more careful about hydration. Experienced swimmers will always drink during training.
  • Yer Mammy was wrong. You can swim after eating.  All marathon distance swimmers like myself have to eat/take nutrition during swims for example. However, your body will be using air to digest food and use energy for exercise at the same time, so you will feel sluggish at best.

Effort & Diet

  • It is extremely common that new swimmers, regardless of or more likely due to prior experience in other sports, underestimate the overall difficulty of swimming and overestimate how much energy they are expending. If you haven’t mastered breathing and are desperately out of breath this does not mean you expending significant energy.
  • Calorie consumption rates in swimming given by website, apps or wearable fitness trackers or watches cannot be trusted because the variables are too varied. Weight, water temperature, stroke, experience, rests, set and session duration all play a part. I could say it’s almost certainly less than what any of those are telling you for an hour swimming.
  • Pools are lower than body temperature and conduct heat away. So your body does start using energy to retain heat. The effect lasts after the swim is over. This makes swimming an appetite enhancer. Swimmers notoriously eat a lot. For beginner swimmers, you need to learn to control this.
  • Most people with a good but average diet will have sufficient energy in blood and liver stores to sustain two hours of high intensity exercise. So it is not essential to “pre-load” in advance of daily swimming

How much should you swim?

  • How much you should swim depends obviously on your goals. However since swimming is technically difficult skill, it is safe to say than more swimming is better.
  • But how much? As a general guideline I recommend four times a week, 2000 metres at a time is a good aim. Beginners won’t be able to swim anywhere near this distance, so let’s say 40 minutes a session.

Injury & other physical problems

  • Swimming is low impact sport, with little chance of causing injury“. This is a widely repeated misconception. Apart from the obvious, front crawl injuries to the shoulders do occur, caused by overuse and poor technique. You can get injured with only a small amount of swimming.
  • The best ways to reduce the risk are to improve your technique and ALWAYS do a little backstroke each session. Backstroke is a stabilising exercise for front crawl. It helps strengthen the opposing muscles in the shoulder muscles to assist in keeping your shoulders balanced.
  • Does sleeping on your side cause discomfort? The cause is almost certainly tendonitis. This will not get better by itself, or with rest or by reducing swimming. I recommend some deep tissue massage, direct icing and physiotherapy, in that order as required, with massage & ice fixing ninety percent of problems.
  • Water in your ear is easiest dislodged by bouncing on the heel of the leg on the same side as the water. If this doesn’t work, have a shower and stand with your ear up under the water. If this doesn’t work, try a drop of rubbing alcohol (surgical spirit). Wear ear plugs if this is a repeat problem.
  • Asthma prevalence is correlated to regular swimming. The simplest and most effective treatment is to use your Daily Preventer, that you may not want to use daily.
  • Chlorine sensitivity causes very runny nose, sneezing, sore, red or streaming eyes. The simplest and most effective treatment is to use a nose clip. They take about one day to get used to, and are 100% effective.

Triathletes

  • Don’t swim enough

The Copper Coast

  • The Copper Coast on Ireland’s South-east coast is where I do most of my open water swimming. It’s the world’s best cold water swimming coast. It’s better than Cork or California!

My particular area of interest is open water swimming. There are thousands of sites who write about how you can swim better. I like to cover everything else but especially cold water swimming.

4 thoughts on “Swimming Secrets for New Year Swimmers

  1. “I can see everything including guys jerking off, teenagers and older couples fiddling with each other and numerous erections.” No wonder you hate the pool! This is not okay! Happy new year – for 2019 I hope none of us encounter any of the above. Wow!

    Like

  2. Thank you for such a complete and detailed article on pool swimming. I love the lane etiquette list. I think we should copy this and secretly place them in every swim bag on the poolside. It’s also nice to be reminded even if I’ve learned all of these things previously. Thanks for your posts; I always enjoy your insight.

    Liked by 1 person

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