As swimmers, when we think of balance, the idea of body roll, smooth and effortless, comes to mind. But as Masters swimmers, as adults with complex lives and pressures, the idea of balance takes on a deeper, richer meaning. Balance for us, is more than getting your hips up and your head in line. Balance comes from taking a step away – from a broader perspective that encompasses more aspects of our life than just swimming, yet a perspective that profoundly influences the satisfaction we can derive from our sport. Here then are some thoughts on balance and on its influence on and by swimming.
Okay, balance IS body roll, being sure that you roll equally to both sides and avoid the freestyle limp that tends to occur when we breathe only to one side. Learn to alternate breathe. See what your breath side is doing and try to mirror that motion and the timing on your opposite side.
Up and Down
If your head comes up, your hips go down – not one of Newton’s better-known Laws – but it still holds water. If you’re a flyer or a breaststroker, make sure your head comes up for only a short time, only when you’re at the most powerful part of your pull. Then work on minimizing this motion to keep a more streamlined forward footprint.
Fore and Aft
Much of our mass sits behind our center of buoyancy, our lungs. In freestyle, we can do a better job of balancing this by tilting our head downward more and by keeping each arm out ahead of us for a longer portion of the stroke cycle. Front quadrant swimming or three-quarter catch-up lets your legs rise to the surface for a more efficient kick position and balances you to swim downhill.
Stop and Go
The older we get, the longer the recovery time seems to be after stress. Balance those hard workouts with rest to allow for recovery. Or, balance the type of work you do to stress different areas on different days, allowing other areas to recover.
Fast to Slow
Balance the long, hard yardage you do – and obsess over – with focused, short yardage, or, race-paced speed work. These focused race-rehearsals are essential because if you want to swim fast … you’ve got to swim FAST.
Off and On
Don’t do freestyle all the time, even if you only compete in that stroke. Give yourself a whole-body workout by swimming off-strokes in workouts to work on strengthening your weaknesses.
With and Without
We love our toys: our fins, our paddles, our pull-buoys (you know who you are.) We love them because we feel like we swim better with them and it’s just easier. Both are good reasons to use toys … and both are bad reasons to rely on them. Balance your pulling and fin-work with more honest swimming.
Good and Not Good
Have the discipline to work hard – make it hurt. But balance this with swims that also feel good and reinforce your confidence and the reasons you love swimming.
Mind and Body
Work your body hard. But work your mind equally hard. Think about your strokes, your streamline, and eliminating your weaknesses. Think to exhaustion and build the habits that will get you better at swimming.
You’re very lucky. You have an opportunity to live in another world – your own water world – and give yourself psychological relief from the stresses of that other world of day-to-day life. Live in them separately and use them to rest from one another. Balance and compartmentalize.
Time and Again
As adults, our lives are complex with many responsibilities: family, work, keeping ourselves healthy. Workouts are important but one, single workout is not. You’re just not going to be available for every workout you expect to be at. Don’t worry about it. The broad sweep will offer ample opportunity for enough workouts. Likewise, don’t stress over a “bad” workout. For many reasons, you will have good days and bad days. Do what you can and don’t obsess. Enjoy your swimming as one aspect of your balanced life.
Dave Samuelsohn lives in the hills of Katonah New York with his wife and two children. He is the coach and founder of Westchester Masters in Larchmont NY – a group of about 40 swimmers started about 18 years ago. Dave is a Masters swimmer and has coached at various levels - including age group, high school, college, and Masters – for nearly 30 years.