As I’ve written before I use the Endless Pool for tuning-and-tweaking my stroke. I reserve all swimming that is even moderately effortful for conventional pools or open water. Yet I feel I’ve significantly improved my speed through EP practice because it allows me to identify and improve stroke errors in a more targeted and intensive way.
This morning was my second EP practice since installing a pool at home. Not having used the EP in over a year, I’m reacquainting myself. This morning I decided to focus on improving how I hold water with the extended hand while breathing.
A common error associated with freestyle breathing is that the lead hand collapses (in aggravated cases) or strokes prematurely because the rotation to air, plus a tendency to lift the head, loads the lead arm. When either happens, the next stroke (left hand if you breathe right) is less effective: The hand moves back more than you move forward.
In recent years I’ve improved that aspect of technique a great deal, with most of that improvement coming from EP practice. In recent weeks, I’ve been aware of a slight “slipping” sensation in my right hand when breathing left so I thought it was time to refocus on it.
I started with a very low current speed, stroking as slowly and gently as possible. On each stroke I paused my hand for a moment at full extension. I could see my hand in the bottom mirror so I checked that it was (i) still for a moment, (ii) on a Wide Track and (iii) hanging relaxed with fingers separated and palm back.
I took 10 right breaths (20 strokes), 10 bilateral breaths (30 strokes) then 10 left breaths. I used this breathing sequence to pinpoint my right hand. Because of bad habits acquired and ingrained during millions of “pre-TI” strokes from 1965-1988, when I was mainly a left-side breather, my right hand has been more stubborn about learning patience. It’s much better than it used to be, but still not as good as my left hand during a right side breath – because that was still a relatively blank slate when I began TI practice 21 years ago.
When breathing right, it’s easy to imprint a patient right hand. Breathing bilaterally I get 5 strokes in every 6 in which I can hold that patience fairly easily. When I breathe left, I really have to focus to avoid right-hand slippage.
After each sequence of 30 breaths, I turned up the current slightly, and returned my focus to keeping that “moment of stillness” before stroking. I continued that for about 20 minutes.
In my final 10 minutes, with the current flowing a bit faster (yet still probably in a leisurely 27 min for 1.5k range) I alternated 20 bilateral breaths with 20 left-side breaths, taking a break of 5 cleansing breaths after each sequence of 20 breaths/100 strokes.
My focal point here was to feel (1) a slightly-exaggerated overlap between my hands while breathing; and (2) a sense of lightness and absence of pressure in my extended hand as I breathed.
I’m not sure my right hand was improved after 30 minutes of practice. I am sure I was more sensitized to it and that way lies improvement.
These three screen shots, from Lesson 6 of the Easy Freestyle DVD show a patient right hand–relaxed and on-track with palm back–just before my face emerges to breathe. 2nd image shows same moment, from the surface. 3rd image shows a split-second later. I’m just about to return my face to the water, left hand about to enter, and right arm still extended.
Related blog on breathing skills: Free Air: How to Breathe Easier