This DVD programme gives you liberty to learn at your leisure – but can be tricky if you don’t have a pool in your attic flat
What method have you been using this time?
I’ve been checking out the Swim Smooth method.
What makes it different to the others?
The blurb says: “Our overriding goal is to raise the standard ofswimming coaching and the level of knowledge available to amateur swimmers and triathletes around the world. Here at Swim Smooth we just say: ‘The world needs better swimming.'” They’ve just partnered with the British Triathlon Federation to rewrite the swimming curriculum for all triathlon coaches in the UK.
Hang on, you’re training for a triathlon now? I thought you couldn’t swim at all?
I’m not doing a triathlon (yet …). Swim Smooth was started by Paul Newsome, a Brit living in Perth who spent three years working as a triathlon coach and used video analysis to correct his students’ strokes. It was so effective he put together a DVD-based “learn to swim” programme. It’s aimed at those who struggle to swim freestyle and has a step-by-step process to follow to build up swimming technique. There’s also a website that’ll show you what kind of swimmer you are and give you exercises with animations to match your specific weaknesses. There are drills to watch on YouTube, and a handful of Swim Smooth-accredited coaches in the UK, the Czech Republic and, of course, in Australia.
Sounds like there are lots of different options. Which did you choose?
I tried both a lesson with a coach and then the DVD sessions.
Tell me about the lesson first …
At the start of my class I had to go under the lane ropes to walk across the pool. Not a good start for someone who doesn’t like getting their face wet! “You’re clearly afraid of having your face in the water aren’t you?” said my instructor.
“Um … yes,” I replied.
He got me to show him what I can already do in the water, so I swam a couple of lengths of chin-out-of-the-water, scrappy breaststroke.
Of course, I know by now that you can’t swim fluently without putting your face in the water, so we then practised breathing out underwater, first through my mouth, then my nose, then both. I did a “sinking” exercise, where you breath out and try to stay below the waterline.
Then I was given fins to put on my feet before practising my kick.
Fins and floats? It all sounds quite technical
“Most people get frustrated at their lack of forward motion when they’re learning, so these will help,” said my coach. I was also given a float, so I did a couple of lengths kicking with my face out of the water, then in the water, with lots of repeats.
He filmed me doing different drills too, and then got me out of the pool to watch myself so I could see how I needed to improve and what I had done better. It did make a difference once I got back in the pool to try again. I then did endless lengths of the pool on my side, face out of the water, and face in the water.
What were the high and low points of the lesson?
Having had a couple of lessons where everything’s natural and you use no aids, it was strange to have fins and a float. I felt like my body was being tugged in opposite directions (though I’d imagined the buoyancy of my bottom would have acted as a counterbalance). I’m realising there are a lot of elements to swimming, and with all the kicking, floating and gliding, breathing is the thing that I always forget. In the session, this is when I felt almost panicky, and I swallowed quite a lot of water – one of my pet hates. But I also know that this is just part of learning and the more I practise, the more relaxed I’ll be and the less water I’ll ingest. Wearing fins really does make a difference in propulsion and doing reps meant that I felt I was exercising rather than just learning technique.
How did it go with the DVD afterwards?
“Repetition is the only way to break your fear,” my coach had said. “You need to confront it repeatedly.” So after the session, I tried to follow up with the DVD and the book, which has combinations of drills as potential session plans. The DVD really does take you though things step by step, starting with a visualisation exercise and several drills that are done outside of the water. However, not having a private pool in my small attic flat meant that I was trying to remember what I’d seen on the DVD when I got to the public baths. Without someone there to remind me of what I needed to be concentrating on (breathing out, for example), I found everything much harder to do, and made much less progress alone than I had with an instructor. If I was going to learn this way, I’d have to try and go every other day at least and be really patient with myself.
What did you learn?
Kicking from the hip is a lot more effective than kicking from the knee. Also, from watching the video clips of myself, it seems that I gurn quite a bit when concentrating.
Who is it good for?
Although they do give lessons to beginners, with a focus on breathing and endurance, the Swim Smooth technique seems to be particularly suited to triathlon training. Even if you’re not training to do a triathlon, it’s worth trying their method to help enhance your speed and the efficiency of your stroke in the water.
Where can I have a go?
Anywhere you like – that’s the beauty of the DVD training format.
Read this feature as it originally appeared on the Guardian