Efficient swimming, bad technique

It was an open water swim in a clear, shallow lake and my good friend Hitch decided to analyze my stroke. After all, he had already swam about a million yards at his master’s swim practice earlier that morning and this was more of a fun outing, a swim field trip so to speak. As he watched me swim I realized he was walking through the lake as fast as I was trying to swim. This, while slightly frustrating, made me laugh. Really. This is how my swim rolls — very slow.

“Oh, we have so much to work on this winter,” Hitch said. With a race a week away and the knowledge that tweaking too many things at the same time in a swim stroke produces more chaos than correction we decided to concentrate on keeping my arms wide. I thought of exaggerating my arms, putting them out wider than I thought I needed to, because my perception of what my body was doing was skewed by the water.┬áImmediate improvement! At least it felt that way, like I was gliding and pulling through the water with ease and a bit more speed. Then, Hitch told me, “You swim really efficiently for someone with really bad mechanics.” That? Was a perfect description of my swim.

The quote stayed with me this week and I started to wonder, where else I am efficient with bad mechanics? You can spend a lifetime working on technique whether it’s swimming or playing the piano or cooking or writing. There is always something to hone or improve or tweak. It’s one of the reasons why we are absorbed in our passions — it is always becoming new to us. There are dangers, of course, that come with focusing on technique including, but not limited to, perfectionism which often sucks the joy out of living. But in my experience with swimming focusing on technique and mechanics has its advantages — it allows me to move faster through the water, yes, but more importantly it saves me energy. It makes the swim easier.

Here is why I often forget about technique — it can be boring especially since it involves repeating drills and paying very close attention to very small details. That can drive me crazy. But if I look at drills and details as focusing on a simplified version of what I love to do, if I let myself get carried away in the task rather than frustrated at my learning curve, then I can find joy in the moment. I don’t even have to work on all my mechanical flaws at once. I can pick one, just one, to focus on and that makes all the difference.┬áI find my groove and my glide and (lo and behold) I actually improve my skill level.

As I work on keeping my arms wide during my long swim today, I am sure my thoughts will drift to others of my life where focus on one technique, one mechanical skill, one detail, could not only make my life easier but open up entirely new possibilities. Try to find one spot to focus on, this week, this day, this hour, for the next five minutes. The rewards may or may not be immediate. But it won’t be an exercise you’ll regret.

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