I only learnt to swim three years ago, and I am 71 years young. I swim twice a week, but I never seem as fast as everybody else. How can I get the most out of swimming?
It all depends on what you want to get out of your swimming.
Comparing your speed to other swimmers and realising you are slower does not necessarily mean you are not getting the most out of it.
Most of us swim regularly to keep fit, lose weight, or combine both. The best measure of how well you have done or how much you have achieved from your swim is to judge how you feel when you finish and get out of the pool.
If you feel tired and breathless after swimming for 20 to 30 minutes, then you have probably done a sufficient workout and achieved more than enough. If when you leave the pool, you feel as fresh as when you started, then you have probably achieved little.
Having said that, at 71 years young, sometimes a gentle and easy plod up and down the pool is just what you need!
If speed is what you want out of your swimming (and London 2012 is your goal!), then some adjustments to your technique might be required.
The most common mistake made with breaststroke is not gliding with each stroke cycle. The breaststroke sequence is ‘pull, breathe, kick, glide’, and a good glide comes from having a powerful kick. The arms stretch forward after the kick and momentarily wait for a second before pulling again.
Most people continuously pull with their arms without pausing to glide. This results in a slower and less efficient swimming stroke. A powerful kick and a long glide results in a length of the pool swum using fewer strokes.
It is important to remember that a powerful breaststroke leg kick will place pressure on the hips and lower back, especially if the body is not used to it.
The most important point to get from all this is that you should not compare your swimming, especially swimming speed, to others. We all have varying levels of fitness, buoyancy and swimming ability. As long as you feel a difference from the exercise benefits of swimming, you will probably get the most out of it.
If you would like to help with your breaststroke technique my best-selling book How To Swim Breaststroke contains over 20 separate swimming exercises to help all parts of breaststroke, including the leg kick and the timing. You can download it, print out the parts you need and take them to your pool to try out. Click the link below for more information.