Thursday, March 26, 2015

Swim Social Blog: “Power Comes from the Hips, Propulsion Comes from the Feet”

"Taking an Adult Swim Series class has made me see swimming can also be a hobby and you’re never too old to consider it," Chris Kane

Blog from Chris Kane: The two active things I do regularly are swim and play golf. I am not a very good golfer, but I know where the deficiencies are in my game and that practice and the odd lesson will bring improvements. 

How I assess my swimming skills couldn’t be more different. Until recently it was a digital concept – I thought either you could swim, or you couldn’t.  That stems from a memory I have of swimming lessons at school – my final assessment involved being able to swim 100m without my feet touching the floor. Once I could do that the lessons stopped.  I know I can swim. I know this because every time I climb into a swimming pool, I have never sunk from view like Jack Dawson at the end of Titanic. 

One of my golfing buddies is training for a triathlon and I know he can swim.  I was therefore slightly curious to find out he was taking swimming classes and raving about them.  When I looked into it, I found Scottish Swimming’s Adult Swim Series. Held in conjunction with Local Authorities around the country, you can sign up to become a better swimmer, so I booked onto a “Skills and Drills” beginner class. 

Here’s what I learned after an hour in the Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh. I’m not a very good swimmer but practice and the odd lesson will bring vast improvements. Andy was the instructor taking the class of twelve adults.    

Andy assessed my problems in about a minute and a half – about the same time he took to remedy the most basic of them. I tend to swim at an angle to keep my head above water.  That means my not inconsiderate frame is having to displace a massive amount of water just to move forward.  Andy put my head forward and raised my hips up so I was swimming like an airliner at cruising altitude rather than one coming in to land.  That meant I was using less energy to power through the water.

The second tip was that “power comes from the hips, propulsion comes from the feet”. I normally kick my legs from my knees which, now that it has been pointed out to me, is daft – most of the energy is being used to make my lower torso flail about like somebody has chucked a toaster into the water. Improving this was a little more complicated – the toaster technique is a bad habit I’ve been using for thirty years and trying to convince my legs to do something different more often than not meant they stopped doing anything and I began to sink. Andy had me to put a pair of training fins on my feet. The difference was immediate; my brain switched into holiday snorkelling mode and instructed my legs to move differently. Once that happened all I had to do was think about what was happening and replicate it without the fins.

By this point forty five minutes had passed and I’d swam a dozen lengths, which is probably the most lengths of my local pool I have ever managed without needing to stop for five minutes to recover.  Except here’s the thing; the Commonwealth Pool is 50m and twice the size of my local pool. My brain was telling me I should be exhausted but my body was telling me it could keep going. That brain/body disconnect was such an odd experience that I had to go to swimming a few days later to check it wasn’t a fluke.  It wasn’t. Andy appears to have doubled the distance I can comfortably cover and still leave room for more.

Taking part in a Skills and Drills class has challenged the assumptions I have had about swimming since I was a child.  Scottish Swimming organise classes around the country; I was in a “beginner” session, but “intermediate” sessions are there for swimmers who might be thinking of taking part in a competition.  The next stage is “masterclass” lessons which concentrate on elements such as starts and turns. 

In recent years I’ve thought of golf as a hobby and swimming as a life skill. Taking an Adult Swim Series class has made me see swimming can also be a hobby and you’re never too old to consider it.  It is also considerably kinder on your body than jogging.  Classes run throughout the year and you can find out more at