My daughter's school has a fundraising auction every year. This year Swim Labs donated two lessons. I bid on them both hoping to win one and ended up with both. Last week I finally made it to their facility for the first lesson. Swim Labs uses endless pools equipped with several cameras to capture video that can then be reviewed by the instructor and the student. The lesson was a very full 45 minutes but I got a DVD to take home to study and help me remember what we'd talked about.
I should start by saying that seeing underwater video of yourself is rather traumatic. I knew I wasn't the greatest technician but what I saw was horrifying. I'm amazed I can swim as well as I can based on what I saw. The two biggest issues were my right arm's pull and my left arm's flailing. Below is a little something about each.
Right arm pull, power phase
Karate Kid winding up. My elbow is way too low and the only thing grabbing any water is my hand. I have my theory about how this developed. I've had it in my mind that a good arm pull should have your hand follow the same motion as it does when you push yourself out of the pool. This totally neglected using the surface of the forearm for propulsion. The only redeeming thing is that I keep my hand in the water and eventually my elbow gets on top and I finish the stroke more or less properly.
How am I going to fix this? We talked about a handful of drills to focus on. Generally they are all derived from the catch-up drill and are focused on the front quadrant of the stroke. Catch-pause, hinge drill and something called elbow pop were all suggested. We also used something called forearm fulcrums. These force you to keep a straight wrist and, when used enough, develop the muscle memory necessary to hold the correct wrist position. If your wrist starts to do the Karate Kid like mine does, they fall off, so the feedback is pretty strong.
What's cool about SwimLabs and the software they use is that they can use a video of a proper technique they are talking about and sync it with the capture of you. I'm not sure what trickery they use but to the right is an example of my bird wing right arm pull and a swimmer in the same phase of the stroke using a more preferable stroke technique. I am a very visual person so seeing something like this really reinforces not only what I'm doing wrong, but what I SHOULD be doing instead.
Left arm pull
How do I address this? Generally the same drills as above. I need to keep my arm and hand going straight backwards, not way out to the side first. Focusing on the feeling in my lats will be key here, as a wide pull puts more emphasis on the deltoid. I visualize it when swimming down the middle of the lane and try to trace the edges of the black line on the bottom. No closer and no farther apart. It feels like I'm making a big 'Y' with my arms but that's just because I'm so used to having my arms too close to the center instead of inline with my shoulders.
At the end of the lesson we arrived at what was a pretty decent stroke. My hips are still a little low and I get loosey-goosy as I get tired but I finally have the visual appreciation of what I'm doing underwater. Hearing a coach tell you your arm is too wide is one thing but actually seeing it makes the point very clear. I'm grateful for the opportunity to see it and it has already helped a lot.
The endless pool does present some strange scenarios for swimming. The current is isolated to the center of the pool. If you drift out of it you'll creep towards the front, then getting back into the center makes you snake a bit and causes the instructor to say "You need to have a stiffer torso." It's also a little strange because the feedback you get from swimming is not totally uniform across your body. The current is not as strong at the bottom or off to the side. The output at the front of the pool is large in an attempt to avoid this but it is noticeable. Some people use this as a basis for criticism of the endless pool and SwimLabs in general, but once I had been swimming for a few minutes I felt comfortable that I was using my usual form, warts and all. The weirdest thing was getting started, actually.
This was definitely a useful experience and has been very valuable helping me understand not just what I do wrong, but also how to make it right. I'm very lucky that the SwimLabs instructor I had is a swimmer and coach with the master's swim group I'm in, so I can fairly easily ask follow-up questions and get some pointers as I progress. I don't think frequent video analysis would be that useful but having a periodic look at yourself absolutely is. I have one more trip to SwimLabs in my future so until then I'll work on what I leaned at the first session plus hopefully get some more pointers during practice from the instructor. Once I've committed the new techniques to muscle memory then I'll be making another visit for sure.