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Why Swim Stands Apart

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Why Swim Stands Apart

Alyssa Blair, News Editor

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When you hear the word swimming in terms of a sport, the stereotypical image that pops into many people’s heads is a lane of swimmers, wearing caps and goggles, swimming numerous laps for a work-out. Either that, or it’ll be the name Michael Phelps, perhaps the greatest Olympian of all time, who was a swimmer, and the fastest man alive for the past five Olympics. When they dive a little deeper, however, people are often surprised to find out swimming is actually so much more than just swimming laps and automatically being fast.

Alyssa Blair starts on the block to start a race.

 

On the surface, swim looks like any other sport you may see. Our practices are typically between two and three hours, which isn’t any longer or shorter than other high school sports. We condition our bodies with workouts to gain endurance, and technique drills to ensure precision and efficiency in our stroke. Sometimes, we’ll use equipment like kickboards, pull buoys, paddles, or fins to condition different body parts throughout a practice. All of this, the drills combined with technique, is a very common approach among all high school sports teams.

Here’s where the differences come in. When another athlete, like a basketball player or soccer player, conditions, they do so on land. That’s where we as humans are meant to be trained. Don’t get me wrong, I know basketball players can jump higher than I ever could, and soccer players can run faster and kick a ball better than I could ever hope to. With swimmers, we train in the water, and people aren’t exactly meant to push their bodies to the ultimate extreme underwater. As a result, our bodies must acclimate to working the muscles in different ways. You use your abs, your arms, your legs, even your hands, and feet, in many different ways in a pool than you do on dry land. Your chest and lungs can take in the air easier on land. Even though we must train our bodies to be ready for the pool, we have to do the endurance and lifting onland as well to ensure our bodies are strong in every way possible, not just one or the other.  Part of our training in the pool becomes breath control because in my sport, breathing only slows you down. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed another athlete get chastised for breathing. At my practices, however, you’ll hear one of our coaches say it at least once a practice. Doing such strenuous activity as exercise becomes harder when you can’t do a natural bodily function like breathing. Your pulse elevates, your heart races, and it becomes a fight between mind and body where you must push your mind above the body’s desire to breathe.

Mind over body. That is, again, something you’ll hear in many instances on the field or on the court, but it takes on a whole new meaning in the pool. It takes a specific mindset to learn how to condition your body to perform well with lack of oxygen. It also takes that same mindset to teach your body how to combine proper technique with speed. In the middle of a race, chances are your body will take over, but if it takes over with improper technique, it could cost you a win, the best time, or even could get you disqualified. Swimming is a whole new challenge of combining muscle memory with efficient, clean strokes, because you gain your speed from technique, and you gain your technique from speed. Neither is more important than the other, and neither is possible without the other.

We wear our bodies down a lot in this sport, and it takes its toll. You don’t hear about many swimmers breaking bones, or having concussions, as much as other athletes. When an exercise junkie is suffering from aching joints, doctors and physical therapists will often recommend swimming in place of their normal running to keep up the cardio and go easier on their bodies, but swimmers too have their problems. A great deal of pressure is held in the shoulders and back, and often, that’s where injuries result. Whether it stems from overuse or improper technique, swimmers even have their own medical conditions, like Swimmer’s Shoulder and Breaststroker’s Knee.

Alyssa Blair swimming butterfly

Even our team dynamic is different in swimming. We are a team, but we are also individuals. When you’re swimming a race in a dual meet or a championship, you have several competitors. You have your opponents from other teams, with whom you are vying for first place. Then, you have your own teammates, with whom you are also competing against in the pool. Everyone wants to be the fastest and everyone wants that fastest time, that first place title, but it can be hard to be happy for yourself when you achieve something because more often than not, it means your teammates don’t. Obviously, there is team scoring and team totals at many meets, but if the meet is one for individual swimmers only, your competitors aren’t just your competition. Chances are they are also your training partners and closest friends. I try to look at it through the perspective that it gives us a unique bond as a team, because your greatest rivals can also be your greatest friends, and at the end of the day, you still have that friendship.  

Our overall season starts out with breaking down the body. We build our yardage up more and more, pushing our bodies further past their limits with faster sprint sets and less rest between rounds of the sets, or longer amounts of yardage at a quicker pace to build a consistent but quick pace for distance races. Then, we’ll max out at around 10,000 yards or above. That translates to about 5.4 miles. Then, we’ll begin the rest cycle called taper, which is every swimmer’s favorite part of the season. At meets end and our championship meets, which can be regionals, sectionals, states, zones, or even nationals and Olympic trials, we begin a rest cycle called taper. During taper, we decrease our yardage slowly and begin to rebuild our broken muscles. We swim shorter practices that are still intense, only with longer rest periods. Our muscles and energy build up, and at championship meets, we shave down and put on tech suits. Shaving down is getting rid of the layer of hair on certain parts of the body to ensure a mental and physical smoothness in the water. Often, swimmers won’t shave for several months leading up to champs meets so they’ll accumulate extra hair as drag, and when they finally shave it off, it’ll make them feel that much faster.  Tech suits are extremely small, tight suits that often take more than 30 minutes to get on. They are made of lightweight materials that increase your buoyancy in the water, and help takes off more times. Championship meets are normally when swimmers hit their best times of the season.

Swimming has its similarities with other sports, but they are few and far between. I have been a competitive swimmer for thirteen years now, and although I’ve done other sports, I can confidently say there is no sport quite like swimming. It’s in a category all it’s own.

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Why Swim Stands Apart