1 February 2014

Putting the Fun Back into Fitness

Breathe easy when swimming – it makes a difference.   
When summer approaches, my heart lifts. I can get back in the water. And although it takes a little time for the Pacific Ocean to bring in the warmer currents, they are on their way. My current challenge is to improve my swimming technique to the point that I am strong and confident enough to “swim the bay” – jumping into Bondi Beach at the north end and swimming the 800 or so metres across to the south (think of it as beginner’s ocean swimming).

Before attempting the bay swim, you are advised to be able to comfortably swim the distance non-stop in a pool. And at the beginning of this season I couldn’t, not doing the crawl (freestyle). I have always been a breast stroker. It feels natural, streamlined and effortless. With freestyle I have always felt more like a flailing cat. So I enlisted the help of Mermaid Swimming Academy at Bondi, and into the paddling pool I was put.


My instructor started on my breathing. It all starts with the breath she said. And through a simple drill of lifting my face to the side, ear in line with water and then turning it back underneath without altering my neck alignment, I realised how right she was. I had a strange feeling like I was a child again, panicking at putting my head under water. This is always the way when you have practised something with poor technique for years, developing certain “bad habits”. The correct technique feels foreign, frustrating and indeed scary – as though you will never get it right. The beauty of technique training is that you do, and often so much more quickly than you imagine. But it takes perseverance.

After a week of getting in the pool and making my way slowly and often uncomfortably up and down the lanes, practising this new breathing technique on both sides, everything became easier, enjoyable even until I was relaxed and found 800 metres perfectly manageable. So now the bay awaits ...

Swimming is possibly my favourite form of exercise. The whole body is engaged and gets a great work-out against the resistance of the water. There is zero impact on the body, so a very good way to get fit without stressing your joints. It also keeps the heart rate up, builds endurance, tones muscle strength and helps maintain a healthy weight, while focussing on correct breathing, keeps both your mind and body active – like active meditation.

If you are not a comfortable swimmer and get puffed or anxious about swallowing water, I cannot recommend a few technique lessons highly enough. It will transform your relationship with swimming and open up a whole new world of physical possibility including ocean swimming.

Follow up:  You will remember back in January, that I was heading off to Hawaii to paddle in its glorious waters and waves. I spent a week with Dylan Thomas of Surfski Kauai, learning technique on different surf skis and getting comfortable paddling on the river and in the open ocean. Here is a clip of my first down wind "joyride" in a double Fenn ski behind instructor, Dylan.

Emma Sandall runs Body Playground, an online space for discovering how to put the fun back into your fitness routines. With fellow Body Playground director and Pilates teacher, Peta Green, she has developed a new and expressive style of workout that brings together the technical and fluid aspects of Pilates, yoga and ballet. For tips on stretching or to learn a nice sequence you can do any time, any place, check out Vimeo.