Learning to sink or swim, time to learn

Swim blog part 3
Learning to Sink or swim at 50, time to learn, Part 3
Show up and see what happens!

The date of my first lesson comes around quickly and strangely I’m nervous!

As I arrive in the changing rooms, the room is filled with the sound of pumping music from the aqua size class that’s coming to an end. Quickly this takes my mind off the reason for me being here on this occasion.

When I exit the changing rooms, I’m surrounded by soaking wet ladies and gents fresh from their aqua size class, I find a locker and with goggles in hand I nervously head to the pool.

Get in and swim, or sink

To my relief, I’m not the only one taking lessons. I recognise 2 of the ladies as swim instructors that I’ve observed when I’ve brought my sons for their swimming lessons – it’s good to see they brush up on their technique too! The other lady has been coming a while, is a little older than me and happens to live in the same village.

The pool length is divided so that the swim instructors take the deeper end while we have the shallower end. After a chat with Lauren, my instructor I show her what I can do.

What I proceed to show her is my version of a never had been taught breaststroke which manages to avoid getting my face in the water, involves furious motions of my arms and a frog-like gesture with my legs with little forward propulsion. Here-in lies the problem.

Time to get my face in and blow bubbles

My husband and I took our children swimming from a very young age to get them used to water. From day one we were in the pool with them, showing them how to put their faces into the water and blow bubbles. Now, several years later, it’s my turn to do the same.

Of course this means putting my face in the water, but that isn’t a problem because I have some goggles, although I do wonder how the heavily chlorinated water is going to treat my bleached tresses!

Very quickly I find that I can put my face into the water, blow bubbles while I scoop with my arms and legs, but what I’m really bad at doing is coming up for air.

With the lesson over I declare to my swim instructor Lauren that I didn’t hate it and that I would be back! This was meant as a compliment, but I felt some better goggles were in order as my old ones were foggy and to save my over processed hair, I would have to get over myself and wear a swim hat (which was in my swim bag, safely locked away)!

Lesson structure

The lesson structure to Adult swimming lessons, is more about building on what you can do and trying new things or starting from scratch if you’re a beginner.

With my breaststroke, I had to get my head around the mechanics of the stroke and figure out when/how to breathe. The stroke was described to me by Lauren as a pizza.

My pizza was MASSIVE. Big arm strokes doing most of the work. Apparently I should reduce the size of my pizza to something smaller. In addition there should also be a glide to my stroke. At this stage, this all sounds impossible!

When it comes to my leg action, it can only be described as a soggy biscuit. Namely lacking snap which apparently is the propulsion element of the stroke. I should engage my ankles so that they add further movement. How on earth am I supposed to put all of that together? Practice!

With face in the water, I had to blow bubbles, and come up for air. Timing was a real issue to begin with. I could execute 3 strokes before I needed a breath. I had no real glide yet and it took all my concentration to engage my ankles before my legs SNAPPED together.

Breaking it down

It was really useful to breakdown each element of the stroke to practice it in isolation.

The use of a float meant I could kick my legs, engage those ankles and snap my legs shut without having to worry about breathing or gliding at the right time.

A swimming noodle helped me to focus on reducing the size of my pizza without fear of sinking or when to breath.

What else?

I want to feel more comfortable in water, so I practiced floating on my back. Children are taught how to float to live so that if they find themselves in water, they can catch their breath on the back while help comes.

I have somehow acquired the ability to swim on my back albeit without the use of my arms and when Lauren suggests that I use arms, an image of my youngest twin pops into my head remembering the arm action he was taught which I am now finding a use for!

Repetition is key

As the weeks progress, my breaststroke gets better. I go from struggling to breath at all, to 2 strokes before breath and eventually I breathe and glide during every stroke with confidence.

Being able to breaststroke ‘correctly’ really does bring a sense of calm as I swim. Please don’t confuse this with any kind of speed, but it does mean that the next thing I need to work on as far as this stroke is concerned is my endurance but Rome wasn’t built in a day!

The dreaded front crawl

With my breaststroke at an acceptable level (as far as I’m concerned anyway!!), Lauren convinces me to give it a try.

She starts with talking me through the stroke. As she’s in the water off she goes and gives me a full demo. What could go wrong?

Well, if I thought breathing whilst doing a breaststroke was hard, I hadn’t seen nothing yet! There’s so much to remember!

That sinking feeling

When it comes to front crawl I really am a fish out of water. The key, I’ve learned is strong kicking, but when I really go for it I get a cramp in my foot.

In addition my arms don’t really come out of the water when I crawl so this too is a problem. And to cap it off, when I go to breathe, I am too low in the water so its seems much more of an effort to lift up and breathe. With all this going on, I appear to slow down my kicking so I sink lower in the water. Not ideal!

Isolating arm and leg movements

Using a kickboard float with handy cut-outs for my hands I can practice kicking and breathing without worrying about what my arms are and rather aren’t doing.

Once this feels comfortable, it’s time to practice my arms. One technique I’ve been shown is to place a pullbuoy between your legs to keep them afloat and use the kickboard float to practice your stroke and breathing. To this day I’ve not felt comfortable having the pullbuoy in place. It gives me a feeling of tipping over in the water.

Practice makes small improvements

The trick with everything is to practice practice practice. I’m never going to be perfect, but after just over 6 months of tuition, I can honestly say that I feel so much more at home in water.

I’m never going to be the quickest in the pool, but that was never my aim. I had years of anxiety around water to overcome, and taking lessons in a group setting amongst other adults taking lessons for their own reasons was a lovely way to spend an hour each week.

Time to swim

As I write this blog I have taken my last swimming lesson. I got to the stage where I came to the conclusion that it was time to bring my lessons to an end so that I can incorporate swimming into my weekly fitness regime.

My PT always maintained that swimming would be a great way to stretch out my back and while I was skeptical to start with, she was so right! Not only does my back feel great after a swim, I feel a lovely sense of calm.

A swim instructor shared

I have to admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed having the same swim teacher as one of my sons. Not only could Lauren and I talk about what he needed to work on, it was a chance for my son and I to have something in common. I think he got as much of a kick out of that as I did.

I really loved Lauren’s teaching methods. From the very start she made me feel really comfortable, gave me lots of tips and was really encouraging when I was ready to throw in the towel when things didn’t go right!

Learning to swim with Lauren was such a positive experience for me and I would encourage anyone looking to learn to take the plunge. After a false start in finding lessons, I definitely hit the jackpot in Lauren, but I would say don’t stop learning if you don’t at first find a swim teacher that gives you want out of the lessons.

My top kit picks

While I’ve been learning to swim, I’ve made some different kit choices and here are some recommendations:-

Swim hat – Firstly wear one. You can’t underestimate how your hair is going to react to chlorinated water. I chose a rather fetching design, but essentially it’s comfortable to wear and it protected my hair. Made of silicon, I didn’t need to talc the interior, so if I didn’t give my hair a rinse after a swim session, I didn’t have to worry about talc dust covered hair.

Swimming costume – I chose to wear a Speedo one piece with racer back. The last thing you want as you push off the side is straps dropping. The style I chose was comfortable to wear and competitively priced too.

Goggles – I like to be able to see what I’m doing so goggle are essential in my kit bag. Unlike my children, I don’t need prescription goggles and to my surprise they’re not difficult to get hold of.

Chlorine shampoo – Even though I’m wearing a swim hat, the hair around the nape of my neck gets wet, so before using my regular shampoo and conditioner, I use a swimmers shampoo to cleanse away any chlorine.

Hair wrap – My swim bag is a regular rucksack so I don’t have much room for lots of towels. I treated myself to a hair wrap which was really great at drying my hair, but as a bonus I had an extra hair wrap which I use at home.

What’s next?

This whole thing started with open water swimming, or rather not having the confidence to do more than paddle around within the confines of the beach area. Now that I’ve had just over 6 months of lessons, I am eyeing up the idea of signing up to an introduction to open water swimming. With the summer holidays just around the corner, there really is nothing stopping me.

I already own a wetsuit (actually I have 2), I have the required hat and tow float. Visiting the place where this whole adventure started isn’t such a traumatic experience and I’m pleased to say that I’ve already joined the family for a dip in our wet suits!

CLICK HERE to read Part 1 of this Blog series

CLICK HERE to read Part 2 of this Blog series

Nella Foulds
Nella Foulds

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