Learning how to swim online; good or bad idea?

The "Mr. Smooth" desktop application is supposed to show novice swimmers proper technique.

The internet is good for a lot of things — finding recipes, shopping, banking, mapping your runs when you’re not hurt and many, many other everyday tasks. It must be good for learning a new sport. Right?

(If you said, “Yes,” to yourself, tell me if you still agree after reading this post…)

When my doctor told me to hop back into my walking cast, I decided it was high time I dove headfirst (so to speak) into swimming for fitness. I’ve been aqua jogging once a week, so I thought if could swim instead I’d get a more intense workout.

One of my readers, Matt, who has a site called Race for Others, told me to check out Total Immersion. It seemed a like a great resource, but they wanted me to pay for DVDs. I’m savvy enough to know that somewhere online I could find free answers — so off to Google I went.

In my searching I came across the blog SwimSmooth.com where I found two key items:

  1. The Mr. Smooth desktop swimming animation console; and
  2. Seven tips for how to breathe correctly when swimming.

Learning the skills

I studied Mr. Smooth from all angles on my computer, because the app let you select from which vantage point — front, behind, above, below, side — you’d like to see his form. Then I read the article on how to breathe correctly. I also printed it out, folded it up, stuffed it in my purse and studied the techniques on the L on my way to the gym.

Here’s what I found to be the most useful tips:

  • Exhale under water
  • Breathe into the “pocket” (a slightly lower water level is created near your ears as your head pushes through the water)
  • Don’t lift or over rotate your head
  • Breathe bilaterally (from each side)

Could I do any of them? Uh… no.

My problem is not that I can’t swim. I can swim. I can swim sidestroke, backstroke and freestyle (as long as I don’t stick my head the water). Yes, my problem is related to submerging my face in the water.

In the pool

Three of the four lanes were taken, so I plopped my stuff down by the far lane along the wall. I stood out like a sore thumb next to the swimmers in attendance:

  • I looked nervous;
  • I had my print-outs in case I needed to refer to them;
  • I was wearing pool running shoes;
  • and I was sporting a super-awesome Speedo a nose plug.

I gathered supplies from the poolside bins: an aqua jogging belt, a kickboard and some other thing that you’re supposed to stick between your legs so they can float and you use your arms only. I have no idea what it’s called. Then I piled them next to my lane and climbed down the ladder into the deep end (a true swimmer would have probably dove in).

I logged a couple of laps with the kickboard to warm up. Then in the shallow end I tried to swim by practicing the breathing techniques I’d learned via the Web. But sticking my face in the water gave me so much anxiety I could only go a stroke before gasping for air at the surface.

Thinking I had expected too much of myself too soon, I stood in the shallow end and just tried to dip my face in the water to practice breathing. I even tried taking off the nose plug to see if that was throwing me off. Nothing worked. Each time I’d come up gasping for air — even though I was doing little more than standing there. I gave up.

I spent the next 30 minutes alternating between aqua jogging, using the kickboard and doing the backstroke. But I felt like a joke. I had planned to swim. And dammit, I was going to swim.

So after my workout, I took the kickboard, placed my left arm on it, left my right arm at my side and just kicked two laps while practicing my breathing. I was fully aware that I was not putting any of the techniques I’d just read about into practice; however, I was moving in the water and breathing!

Next I decided to try to swim again — a last-ditch effort, if you will, before I would hang up my swimming goggles and nose plug for good. “If I can just swim one lap,” I told myself, “then there’s hope for me to be able to swim for fitness.”

I did it.

It was ugly. My legs cramped twice. I gasped for breath every time I had to breathe. I pulled my head out of the water and over-rotated it. But I made it down and back.

And when I had showered and changed, I threw humiliation to the wind and I marched right up to the gym’s front desk and inquired about swimming lessons for grown-ups.


Filed under Aqua jogging, Online tools, Swimming

5 responses to “Learning how to swim online; good or bad idea?

  1. Pingback: I took an adult swimming lesson and I’m not ashamed « f my injury [dot] com

  2. Please update on how your swimming lesson went! I can’t wait to read all about it!

    • Thanks for being such a good reader, Brady! I will update the blog TONIGHT — I promise. But I can’t do it until then because I have to focus on the day job…. ;)

  3. First, thanks a million for the shout out. Indeed you have thrown humiliation into the wind and under the bus. It takes a lot _humility_ to share those things you don’t do well. I’m not sure how many visits to the pool I made last summer. Not more than about 4. And they were all similar to your experience. I too was mostly humiliated. I think there is a careful balance between learning from instructions and learning from doing. Something as nuanced as swimming definitely requires a LOT of the latter. I’m excited to hear you are sticking with it and look forward to hearing about the progress.

    • You’re very welcome for the shout out — thanks for the idea of where to start my research!

      Agreed on the learning from doing point. I just need to keep at it!