Float like a butterfly, sink like a brick

Recently I have been wondering how best to find information about improving my swimming technique, speed and performance. The early signs were not promising. Out of an entire newsagents-worth of magazines, I found a solitary triathlon magazine with just one article on swimming training.

But it turns out that help was close at hand. Realising, somewhat belated, that November was NaBloPoMo I decided to find out what my fellow bloggers could tell me. And it turns out that the answer was a lot. Searching the WordPress community has turned up a wealth of useful information, and I would like to share some of it with you below (with apologies to those of you out there that I have yet to discover).

I started out at the Water Blogged Triathlete, a site that aims to help triathletes “swim smarter, better, faster”. I am no triathlete, but there are clearly some basic things that I’m not doing when I get into the pool. Unlike going for a run, I have not been setting my mind to training mode. Running always seemed like a challenge to me, and I treated it as such. Swimming, on the other hand, is easy; you just get in the pool and go.

This is wrong. My mindset needs to change.

For a start, I don’t really know how what pace I swim at. To measure this the Water Blogged Triathlete recommends completing a test set. Their suggestion is to measure yourself over the following:

10 sets of 50m with 5 seconds rest, aiming for no more than 2 seconds difference in pace between the first and last sets

Sounds good, but before I get to that, shouldn’t I be looking at my actual technique? Helpfully, the site is also building up a set of swimming drills, which is where I headed next, starting with the floating drill (worth reading for the stick men alone, if you ask me).

I have known for a long time that I can’t float. Just can’t. If you plonk me in water, I sink effortlessly to the bottom, where I will happily stay until forced upon to kick my way back to the surface for air. But, armed with a brand new drill and in possession of a reasonable idea of where my “T” might be (you’ll have to read the floating drill), I entered the pool with confidence.

This pool isn’t manned by a lifeguard. Rather, it is monitored by CCTV from the reception desk. As they sat there, catching up on the paperwork and flicking their gaze across to the monitor and back, they would have seen me swim purposefully down to the deep end of the pool. On the screen they see me settling myself, extending my arms out to each side to check my “T”. They watch as I duck my head forward, push off with my legs, adopt the floating position and…



Actually, I don’t think they were watching, as there was no sudden flurry of activity, no rushing to pull me from the water. Not that time, nor the next dozen or so, as I repeatedly sank (gracefully, it has to be said) beneath the surface. I tried on my front, I tried on my back. Neither worked.

Perseverance, though, is key. After a lifetime of displaying the floating ability of a large rock, I was unlikely to become proficient at it in 10 minutes. I will try again. I will make it part of my regular swim and, given enough practice, I am sure that it will pay dividends.

And that is just one part of my technique; I have plenty more to learn and to practice.

Next time: more helpful hints, tips and swimming techniques from my fellow bloggers.


9 thoughts on “Float like a butterfly, sink like a brick

  1. Hi Running Buffet, we’d love to help you get more comfortable in the water! I can also can help point you to some other good resources. We’ve heard fantastic things about the “total immersion” method, have you heard of it? Some of our other readers have started swimming using it as a guide and they have nothing but good things to say. In fact, I’m going to put you in contact with Chatter – another blogger that we know loves his total immersion experience: http://chatterdoesfitness.wordpress.com/

    I also think it would pay off for you if you started with a few private lessons or went to a masters practice. Most masters teams let athletes try a few days for free so you know if you like it. The masters environment has swimmers of all levels, so don’t think they’re all going to be advanced swimmers. There is a place for everyone and you’ll get immediate feedback from a coach.

    It is very easy for me to imagine your floating session above but it is difficult to correct over the internet. Next time you do a session, you can try to float with a pull buoy to force your legs to the surface. Pay attention to the way your legs go up and your chest presses down on your “T” with the buoy, then try to take the buoy away and see if you can simulate it. If you get us video, we can be a better help to your specific situation.

    How do you feel when trying a basic freestyle?

    • Thanks for your comments. I will check out Chatter’s blog. I have found a few references to Total Immersion but I haven’t actually looked at it yet; I will make sure i have a look at that too.

      I hadn’t really given it much thought before, but after doing the float drill I started trying to assess my body position when doing frontcrawl. I think I probably do have the “swimming uphill” body position, so I think that there will definitely be benefit from practicing my floating. I will grab a pull buoy and try that as well.

      Really appreciate your response and I will keep you posted.

  2. I hope it clicks for you soon!!! It is much easier for me to see what’s happening in person, which is I why I suggested a masters team or some private lessons to get the basics down. Once you get a handle on the basics it is easier to build off of them with sites like mine. I will let you know when we post drills that I think are of particular use to you, and eventually I will have all kinds of drills for every level on our site. This is a hobby for us, so it will take a little time to get there. In the meantime, here is something I think you should try: http://www.finisinc.com/blog/drills/swimming-downhill-2

    I watched the videos and read the article and I agree with the important information they’ve provided. Start with fins on and take it from there. The front breathing snorkels are about $29 to $40 and I don’t see the point in investing in one unless you’re a serious swimmer. I think you’d benefit more from having to breath without the snorkel anyway, because you’ll break that balance and then have to find it again. In my opinion, the snorkel will make it too easy and it will be a crutch and won’t help you balance in the long run. I’d rather see you breath without the snorkel on this drill, lift your head and breath to the front. Don’t worry about side breathing at all when you do this.

  3. Pingback: Swimming types and tips | Running Buffet

  4. Pingback: Exercise success, blogging fail | Running Buffet

  5. Pingback: Minor milestones | Running Buffet

Comments are closed.