Today I did another 40 minute swim workout, my second in the last three days (I also went on Monday). Last time, since it had been a while, I just focused on swimming 40 minutes continuously, with a freestyle stroke. Since I was able to do that with no problems, I wanted to focus today on my two other big issues: building aerobic fitness and improving my technique.
My general approach was to do as many laps as I could at my fastest pace possible (which generally turned out to be three or four laps), then take a break, which included a slow lap or two and then waiting until I could catch my breath. Each time I did these “intervals,” I would try a small modification on my technique, and I timed the laps to see if any of these improvements were helpful.
It seemed like none of the “improvements” mattered much. Surprisingly, things I thought would hurt my stroke, like pointing my face 45º towards the far wall rather than directly to the bottom of the pool, didn’t slow me. Indeed, they made it easier for me to turn to breathe.
Generally, if I’m swimming aerobically, it takes me about 45 seconds to do one lap across the pool, which is 25 yards. That speed would put me at 2.3 hours to complete the Ironman swim course. I sometimes secretly time other people at the pool. It seems quite reasonable to aim for 30 second laps — other people seem to be doing this rather easily (without obviously straining themselves). I also believe that their ability to swim fast is mostly due to technique, since they seem to be able to cross the pool with a much smaller number of strokes, even if each stroke is done quite slowly and (it seems to me) lazily. So I have to work on my technique a bit.
One technique area I tried to focus on today was my “catch” — where you insert your hand into the water. I’m not really sure how to do this. For a long time, I’ve been putting my palm flat on the water as far forward as I can reach (rotating my body to stretch farther), and then pulling down. But this seems wasteful since pushing down doesn’t really propel you forward. Yet, trying to do a stroke where I push my arms directly aft rather than in a semicircle didn’t seem to make me any faster. I’ve noticed others doing a stroke where they enter the water with pointed fingers at (say) a 20º angle — they don’t lay their hand flat on the surface at all, but rather thrust in and only begin the pulling motion with the arm pointing somewhat downward. I guess this avoids the part of the stroke where you would be mostly pushing water down rather than aft?
I still have a bunch of unanswered questions about the catch. For example, how much should one rotate the body? (I noticed other people doing this a lot, too.) Why does this help? When should one raise the hand out of the water? (Presumably it becomes inefficient to push up on the water rather than aft?).
My observations were inconclusive, although I think the “20º” technique does seem to be a little better than my old stroke.
I also managed to do all my physical therapy today. Score.