Go on a Journey with your Least Favorite Stroke
You hear it in the locker room as you’re changing…you see it on the wipe off board when you walk in…or maybe you got a heads up from a friend. The workout today is focused on your most dreaded stroke __________. Fill in the blank – we all have one. For me, it’s the dreaded, terrifying, and exhausting breaststroke.
How do you approach a workout like this? Do you whine and rush through it? Do you feign an injury and modify it? Do you take an extended bathroom break that just happens to coincide with the toughest set?
I recently encountered a tough set that happened to be in the aforementioned breaststroke, the most mind-boggling, deceivingly hard stroke of all times (in my opinion). And I’ll be honest – I didn’t want to do it. Due to some recent life obstacles, I haven’t been swimming much and feel very out of shape. It was going to be hard, it was going to be long, and again, it was BREASTSTROKE.
I jumped in and got started. The first 25 was okay but I was exhausted after my first turn and pullout. The stroke felt foreign to me – like I haven’t done it in 5 years – and I could tell my speed was veeerrrryy slow. The set was long and I had a lot of time to think. I stuck with it and a strange thing happened. I started thinking and remembered all the things I try to work on with that stroke – those little mantras that swim around in our brain:
Squeeze your elbows
Hunch your shoulders
Touch your ankles together on the kick
All of the sudden, it felt a little better. With every 25, I was bringing more of it together and applying all the things chanting through my mind. I knew I wasn’t going fast, but felt like if I could watch a video of it from above, the stroke itself would have looked better than when I first started.
This would have never happened had it not been a long, focused breaststroke workout. If it was a short set, I would have rushed to get through it and moved on. But when a set is challenging and long, sometimes you have no other option but to truly think about what you’re doing. For instance, I realized during one of the drills that my closed-fist breaststroke didn’t feel that different to me from my normal breaststroke. Hmmm…that’s not good. I kept going (again, long set, lots of time to think) and realized there must be something wrong with my catch for it to feel that way. I must not be using my hands to grab water, like I do in freestyle and back. And am I dropping my elbows? Light bulb moment! We had a lot more breaststroke to do that day and I was able to think about my hands and my catch and try to make it better.
I can’t tell you that I loved the practice when this day was over. I got tired and I’m sure my stroke fell apart by the end but I will say I loved what it did for me as a swimmer. As I left the pool, I thought about how I went on a journey with breaststroke. I went from mentally whining about the workout (okay, some verbal whining too) to thinking about what I was doing, re-connecting with the stroke, and swimming it to exhaustion. Try your own personal journey with your least favorite stroke – you just might surprise yourself and find it’s not that bad!