I had a great time coaching two groups of wild swimmers on the wild and majestic Hebridean island of Jura at the weekend. it’s not far from me on the mainland in the heart of Argyll. We’re into December but we were blessed with great conditions for the sessions, as you can see from the photos.
It’s difficult to imagine that just a hop further north of this location off the end of Jura is the infamous Corryvrecken, the third largest whirlpool in the world. A powerful vortex of eddy currents said to be instigated by the mystical Calleach in Gaelic folklore.
Just like the Calleach, these wild swimmers I was coaching on Sunday have the potential to create relatively powerful eddy currents of their own - believe it or not!
Whenever a swimmer moves through water, they leave a space behind them. The water rushes in to fill that space and this creates eddy currents, not dissimilar to a whirlpool. The eddy currents behind a swimmer can cause the water to move very quickly and that can pull swimmers back. This is why it’s so important to engage our senses to ensure efficient technique and have smooth movements in the water, which reduces eddy currents.
You might believe that you have a strong and technically sound front crawl propulsive phase under the water but if you’re splashing too much on the surface you’ll create eddy currents resulting in resistance, making you less efficient. Likewise with your kick, It’s important to be conscious of the style of your kick and what muscles are activated. For example, kicking from the knee imbalances a streamlined body position, creating drag and leaves space for an eddy current to evolve.
Maintaining a streamlined body position and ensuring that your leg kick and hand entry is as smooth as possible is fundamental. By nailing this it makes the learning journey through to the technicalities of propulsion, rotation and timing more seamless.
I’m a big believer in learner led discovery. Regular high quality sessions with an open water swim coach who can go into the technical aspects of how to “move smooth” will transfer material improvements to your skills and capacity as an open water swimmer.
However, it’s how you apply the learning in between that matters. Some of the most meaningful learning happens in a relaxed setting when the individual swimmer, armed with the coaching points from the previous session, can follow their intuition and grow.
By connecting, feeling and listening to the water when swimming we can gain an accurate picture of our progress and efficiency through the water. Engaging the senses is our superpower to ensuring smooth and efficient movements. As a coach, I can’t hear or feel for you!
It’s one of the reasons I prefer using swimming ear oil as opposed to the more popular ear plugs for example - listening to how turbulent the water becomes as my hands, arms, legs and feet interact with it is an underrated strategy. Combine this with really feeling the water. Tune in to how it feels as your hand enters, catches and progresses to the propulsive phase.
Move smooth to make progress and leave the Calleach to making whirlpools in the Corryvrecken!