Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What's the Catch?

Last week I was still suffering from a head cold so I dropped The Boy® off at swim team and headed to the steam room. Before doing that I had a few minutes to speak with Coach Suzanne, the headmistress of the Plymouth Swim Team. I was admiring a young (20ish) swimmer in the pool who was easily...even lazily...turning 50-yd laps at probably under 30-secs. The conversation went like this:

Brian: Look at how easily he is turning laps. It is like he is not even trying. Just effortless. Its fun just to watch him.
CS: He's a champion swimmer and has been swimming for decades.
Brian: Yeah, but look at his stroke. He has one stroke for my every three.
CS: Yep, your catch sucks.
Brian: My what now?
CS: I've watched you. You need to work on your catch.
Brian: What do I need?

The rest, as they say, is history. Within 24-hours...like all Type-A triathletes...I had gone and purchased the necessary equipment that would soon have me not only swimming like Michael Phelps but have the worlds attention as the next up-and-coming challenge to the Big Boys at Kona. In fact, you can probably compare most triathletes to those nervous little dogs...who know the ones.

I headed to the best swim shop this side of the Mississippi river, Pure Blue Swim. The store is exactly 1.74 miles from the Maas Mansion. Four minute drive. I've spent more money here this year than at any other store save Gear West Triathlon.

I walked out with two new toys.

TYR Mentor Paddle - $20.99

TYR's Mentor Paddles is perfect for swimmers of all levels, from fitness swimmers to triathletes. This evolutionary, technical paddle is designed to build strength without losing feel and catches water quicker on entry phase of the stroke that traditional paddles. Constructed of lightweight PVC foam for added flex. "Alluvial wing" design of the TYR Mentor Paddle helps reduce shoulder stress. Convex palm dome fits natural swimming hand position. Wrist strap placement aids in proper stroke recovery. Multi-hole strap design for custom centering on hand. Extra strap tubing included.

The sizes are colored coded. I got the red which is for older high school males, Sr. National females, mid-level masters, and triathletes.

Finis Forearm Fulcrum - $19.99

Improve your stroke efficiency and technique. The Forearm Fulcrum holds the hand, wrist and elbow to position the forearm optimally. Comprised of two closed section, the process of placing the hand through the sections creates an ideal elbow-wrist angle. This positioning of the forearm creates the most efficient application of propulsive force. Can be used by swimmers of all levels to improve stroke technique and has applications for all four competitive strokes.

Despite the head cold, I was in the water the next night. I did a 500-yd warm up with the paddles. Felt weird, but I could immediately start to feel the position of my stroke to optimize the most catch. I then did another 500-yds using the fulcrum in conjunction with a pull float. Again, it felt weird but this tool was helping me realize the importance of catching the water not only with the hand but the whole forearm. I was also learning how to position the elbow and finish the stroke by the hip.

I'm no swimmer. I'm self taught. I would rank myself 50th percentile in my age group but can often surprise myself such as in 2008 when I was 9th out of the water at the Bismarck Sprint Triathlon and again in 2009 when I was second out of the pool at at the Dickinson Triathlon. The later setting my 500-yd PR at 7:36.

But when I go hard, I would be drained. So I already knew my stroke was not efficient. Maybe improving the catch won't necessarily make me faster but if it can make me more efficient, and thus save energy, it will make me stronger for the bike and the run.

So back to the pool. After the two 500-yd trials using the equipment I decide to do a hard 100-yds. When I turn hard 100-yds at practice my time is usually in the low 1:30's. And I'm breathing hard. On this night, I concentrated on what the tools had taught me just minutes before. I imagined myself placing my arms over the top of a big ol' beach ball and grabbing that water.

I turned a 1:36. And it was laughingly easy. I wasn't even winded. Incredible to have that result after one session. Now I'm stoked to work those drills even more and see what it can bring me over an entire 500-yds and 1000-yds. Should be fun to see the progress.

I explained this to Coach Suzanne after she asked me how it went...feeling like I should also be writing her a check at the same time....and was told to next start counting my strokes.

Coaches are never satisfied, are they?

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