The other day, I went for a quick swim at the Y. I asked an older woman in the Medium Lane if I could share her lane with her.
“Sure,” she responded.
Throughout the first 25 minutes of my swim, I was amazed by how gracefully and calmly my lane partner was swimming. When she swam by me, I wouldn’t even notice. No splashes. No waves. Nothing. She simply glided by unnoticed. I felt like I was swimming all alone.
As I was taking a break at the end of the lane, she kindly offered me some tips. Apparently, I swim the “old” way, all in the shoulders without rotating my hips with each stroke. According to my lane partner, I rotate with my hips when I take my breath, but I should be doing so with each stroke as well.
The woman explained, “During the time Matt Biondi and Alexader Popov were racing in the Olympics, swimming instruction started to change. We don’t want to use just our shoulders because that will strain the rotator cuffs. You want to rotate with your hips, too. Imagine your arm and hip as one unit so when you bring your arm up to stroke, your hip also rotates up with you. This will give you the gliding motion.” She then took my arm and pulled me through the water while showing me how my body should be moving. After that, she had me stand up and watch her body as she swam down the lane.
“Ok, I’ll try it,” I said nervously, not sure I could do it and nervous I’d disappoint my lane partner, clearly an experienced swim instructor.
I swam in this new way down the lane and back. I immediately felt the difference — no stress on my shoulders. The movement itself felt rather awkward, but I could feel how this would be a much better way for to swim.
“It’ll feel awkward at first, and you won’t have as much speed,” she told me when I got back to wall. “But soon you’ll be able to cream me!”
She went on to offer more pointers.
“It’s not necessary to raise your arm so high out of the water. Your arm just needs to clear the water and that’s it. Get your elbow out and let your forearm and hand relax.”
After she watched me go 2 more times down and back, she gave me some reminder tips and then got out of the pool.
“Do you know who that was?” asked an older man from the Slow Lane.
“No,” I responded.
“She’s a USA National Level Swimming Official,” he told me.
“What? Really?” I was stunned.
“Yes. She knows what she is talking about. She has helped me a lot. And she watched you and gave her approval, so you’re doing alright. You just got 5 minutes of free instruction that would cost others $1000!”
I was speechless.
As I finished up in the locker room, I saw my lane partner/swim coach.
“When you asked to share my lane you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into, huh?” she said as she pointed to the USA Swimming logo on her jacket. “It’s what I do. And keep it up. You’ll save your shoulders.”
Here is a decent video describing how I should be swimming.