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Claim Your Lollipop

(or Swim Tall, Not Schlumpy)

Visit to the doctor

So there I am with Nolan, my 8-yr old, at the doctor's office. He's been looking forward to this visit to the doctor. It's the lollipop he'll get at the end of the appointment that draws him. You see, somewhere along the line he has gotten it into his head that the lollipop is a reward for growing taller since his last visit.  He has grown and he knows it. And he wants to make sure his full height is measured. When he gets up on the scale and the nurse is about to slide that flat silver bar down to his head, he draws himself up into his straightest line, stretches his neck up as long as he can make it and puts a look of great concentration on his face. This is serious business. He has practiced this at home for several days before this appointment.

"Hey Coach!" you intone, "Why are you yammering on about your munchkin?"

Cuz you could learn a thing or two from him.

Common experience

I'm always looking for simple mental images that can help swimmers get closer to desired behavior. Better yet are mental images closely related to common experience. And as I watched Nolan get measured, it occurred to me that most people have this experience in common - not just getting their height measured, but actually standing up a bit straighter than normal and stretching their neck so the nurse doesn't slide that bar down quite as far! I mean, who ever gets up there and thinks, "I'll just schlump down a bit here to make it easier for the nurse to read my height"?

Refresh your visceral memory

Stand up right now and pretend you are having your height measured. Go ahead, just do it - humor me. Don't tilt your head forward or back, just keep your nose pointing straight forward. If you do this correctly, as you extend your neck you'll notice that the vertical plane of your face moves back a bit (as if someone poked their finger straight at your face, getting much too close).

It may also help to envision a rope tied through a screw eye firmly embedded an inch in front of the crown of your head. Draw yourself up to full height as if you were being assisted by someone pulling straight up on that rope.

What does it feel like?

Now that you've got your body parts "organized" so that you are taller than you have been in a long time, what does it feel like? What muscles are you using to hold this position and keep from schlumping back down to "normal" height? Chances are you have some tension around the base, and along the sides and back, of your neck. You probably also feel some unaccustomed tension throughout your abdominal region all the way up to your ribs.

Don't just stand there

Now try walking around while maintaining your full height. And experiment with breathing fully. And experiment with extending first one, then the other arm straight overhead. At first, you'll find that keeping your body parts organized in this manner while moving and breathing is a pretty complex task. But if you keep practicing, it'll get much easier.

How does this apply to swimming?

The idea now is to swim all your strokes using every bit of the height you've been practicing on land. You do this by achieving and maintaining, while horizontal, that same organized posture you were using to get taller while vertical. You'll find that swimming tall, rather than schlumpy, will allow you to slip faster and farther through the water with less energy. You'll also find that the muscular tension used to keep yourself organized tall will allow all your propelling mechanisms to work together (rather than against each other as they will when you allow yourself revert to a schlumpy posture).

Back in the doctor's office

It turns out that Nolan has "grown" more than 2 inches since his last visit. How much of that is from Mother Nature and how much is from his new posture skills is anybody's guess. But to him it is all good as he heads out the door with a fresh orange lollipop.

Take a cue from Nolan

So, before your next visit to the pool, practice getting into an organized tall posture. And then practice staying organized while walking around, breathing and raising your arms. When you go to the pool experiment with putting your renewed posture skills to work while you are horizontal and wet..and if you do this well, be sure to claim your lollipop on the way out. v

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2005

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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