First of all “good” is relative. I’m not an Olympic swimmer. I'm a pretty good swimmer when it comes to triathlon, openwater and lung-exploding swim practices. Now and then people comment on my natural talent but more often people ask me about where I used to swim or about growing up in swim club. My answer: I didn’t swim anywhere and I didn't grow up swimming beyond regular swim lessons. The next question that comes is “then how did you get good at swimming?”
I’ll tell you.
First I should tell you, in swim lessons when I was very little and very buoyant, I failed a few levels because I couldn't starfish float. In fact, I still can't. Back then I had some privates to meet the minimum floating requirements and move on.
Fast forward 15 years.
I started coaching swimming. By a random chance, when I was in my first year of university, I was asked to coach little kids in swim club. I didn’t know anything about swimming but I agreed to learn. And I did. I learned a lot about basic stroke mechanics.
In "coaching" myself, I focused on what I could do: backstroke. I aspired to swim in a triathlon so I would go to the pool three times a week and swim 2100m – 500m backstroke and 200m freestyle three times through, no stopping. Swimming with my face in the water felt like my lungs were going to explode so I did mostly backstroke to start.
Through coaching, I met and started dating a swim coach. Not that I’d necessarily recommend this strategy to everyone but it certainly helped me. I dated a talented swim coach who’s parents met swimming in the Olympics! This upped my idea of what good swimming was and instead of trying to be “not bad” at swimming, I started to aspire to be “good” at swimming.
I copied what good swimmers did. I learned that more is more when it comes to time spent in the water so I invented a rigorous training program for myself. For about a month I swam 8 times a week. Everyday and twice on Sundays. Now that I had national swimmers and high performance coaches in my circle I knew how much real swimmers trained. Swimmers that have been swimming for what seemed like their whole lives swam 9,10,11 and sometimes 12 times a week, not to mention all their cross-training and strength sessions.
I had no idea what I was doing but it seemed alright at the time. I found the workout logs for the nationally ranked swimmers in the club I coached for and I’d go to the pool and do my best to replicate the practice. I focused on one new thing until I figured it out and then I’d move on. I learned how to use the pace clock, how to do a flip turn, how to use a pull boy, how to do breaststroke without going backwards, etc. I watched videos of good swimmers and compared them to videos of me swimming (that I probably forced a lifeguard at the pool to record with my phone)
Eventually I got to a place where I felt pretty good about swimming and I joined a masters swim group and dropped in to a normal routine (aka not 8 times a week).
Again, I didn't exactly know what I was doing but overall it worked out.
There are a few notable moments that I'd say didn’t exactly go my way
- The first time I did butterfly, I practiced in the deep end and a lifeguard thought I was actually drowning.
- I lied to my swim-coach-boyfriend about how much I swam a week when he was writing a swim program for me, so the program was based on this enormous volume that I couldn’t actually do. I certainly tried but ended up with shoulders so sore I couldn’t lift my hands above my head.
- For months I wouldn’t swim short course because I promised myself I'd do flip turns but doing them every 25m made me so dizzy that I’d leave the pool without getting in if I saw it was short course.
Why share all this? Well for one, I think it's a pretty funny story, I look back at 20-something me and wonder what the heck was going through my mind, and second I wanted to address the idea of being a natural. By know means was I a natural at swimming, but I developed the skill to a level I felt good about.
Is there something you're bad at? You might just become a natural.
Day 2, over and out