Just Add Water: Growing a Swimming Renaissance

By Kathleen Hersey – June 1, 2014

Dear Future Swim Enthusiast,

Let’s get started.

Grab your towels, grab your snack, grab your suits, and get a six-pack. Seriously, swimming is one of the most core-dominant sports in the world. …What were you thinking?

Living in this vibrant city of Austin, Texas, I am among the most ingenious, modest, successful, innovative (proud) and generous people. My master’s swim group alone truly has a “meeting of the minds” at every single swim practice. I am constantly in the midst of greatness—in more ways than one. Call me crazy, but when I swim with the swim folk, I feel like I’m in the middle of the Austin renaissance.

So here is my question: Why doesn’t everyone and his mother (seriously, swimming is a safe and effective workout for all ages) swim in this town?

This city provides so much sweating opportunity. From David Garza’s inspirational therapy sessions (I mean, spin classes) to Ari Witkin’s butt-kicking yoga class for athletes to Ande Taylor’s dancing class sensations, this city is packed with great sweatness. And thank goodness, with all of our varied personalities!

Austin is known for having representatives from all walks of life: the retired folk, the upcoming artists, the growing families, the young college students, and the entrepreneurial business-minded. Austin is a mosaic of movers and shakers. This all to say that Austinites are fantastic at pretty much everything they do… even finding excuses for not swimming.

“I’m not a swimmer.”
“It can smell fear…”
“That cannot be sanitary!”
“I’ll swim tomorrow.”
“My shoulder hurts…”
“I ran a marathon yesterday.”
“I think I ate some gluten.”
“It’s just the wrong time of my life…”
“It’s too late for me; I’m too old.”
“It’s too cold.”
“The water’s too cold.”
“The water’s too hot.”
“It’s too hot outside.”
“I don’t have a membership.”

Dear Reader,
You are wonderfully brilliant, hilarious, and talented. You are motivated enough to be reading this sorry excuse for an “advice column” and are, therefore, fully capable to become an expert in the water. Today!

Yours most sincerely,
A Hope-Filled Writer 
Dear person-formerly-known-as-“Reader” and now transformed into “Swimmer,” here’s my four-tiered strategy:

  1. It’s warm, it’s sunny… get in the water. The more frequently you can be submerged, the faster you will be comfortable. If you are scared of the water, then get involved even more. Go with a friend. Buddy system, power of plenty, it takes a village—you know the words. Now, put those words into action.

  2. Join a team. There are so many teams, triathlon training groups, and practices available in various parts of Austin. Do your research, and try out the different training groups. You will know the right vibe for you after a few trial swims. Absorb the newness and embrace the culture of waterlogged humans. We’re really fun. I promise.

  3. Start a consistent routine. Like any training regimen, it is essential to build your baseline of training. Get comfortable going twice a week and build up from there. You know how the Egyptians built the pyramids? Me neither, but I bet it started with the first step.

  4. Swimming Nerd Alert: Tips for Swimming Made Easy(ish)
    “Long and strong!”
    “Keep it moving!”
    “Try again!”
    If you have been on the pool deck with any of the great coaches of our time, you have heard them say all of these phrases… multiple times…EVERY practice! Take courage and keep trying. Practice makes better, but failing makes tactfully better. Don’t be afraid to fail or look silly. The beginning is just the first step toward the end, and the end is really just the journey. Confused yet?

Here is a list of comments I hear from newer swimmers and, following those comments, here are suggestions for the use of key pieces of equipment.

“My legs sink.”
Fins: swimming with fins will get your heart rate up and will help build swimming endurance. To get the most out of your fins, you must keep your kick going, which will help with ankle flexibility and bodily connection between arms and legs.
Pull buoy: This lets your legs relax. Put the buoy between your legs, and the bottom half of your body will float easier. When you use your buoy, you can also use paddles and snorkel. Focus on your core (remember that six-pack we talked about).

“My arms have no power.” / “My arms get tired.”
Paddles: this will help you hold water and build strength… This also can help with stroke technique.
Tennis balls: Hold the tennis balls while you swim. This will force you to get into a better catch because you will have to use your forearm. You always want to keep pressure on your hands and forearm while pulling.

“Taking a breath slows me down.”
Snorkel: get a snorkel (specifically made for COMPETITIVE swimming). This will help you keep your head and body position, and you won’t have to move your head to breathe at all. Get comfortable with swimming first, and then worry about breathing to the side (breathing to the side tip: One goggle in the water, one goggle out of the water).

“I panic in the water. I’m just uncomfortable/anxious.”
Kickboard: Hold a kickboard with your forearms on the board, head above the water.
Scull: Scull in place to get more accustomed to being in the water. Move your hands back and forth, keeping water pressure on your hands and forearms. Do this for increasing amounts of time; this helps you develop a “feel” for the water and gets you to relax in this unfamiliar medium.
To recap: Strength in numbers, be consistent, equipment is key, and swimming is the new football (she says hopefully).

Humans are made for village life. Thank you, swimming village of Austin.



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