I often tell my pupils, mainly the children, that if you want to be able to swim fast, you have to learn to swim slowly. In other words it is not about thrashing madly through the water, it is about developing a smooth efficient stroke so that you cut down water resistance and maintain a strong streamlined stroke. There is great pleasure and satisfaction to be found in perfecting the stroke, listening to the water and finding a relaxed and sustainable pace.
With this in mind I was delighted to read about the swimming technique of Alexander Popov, the Russian swimming champion. Popov became the world’s fastest and most efficient human swimmer partly through learning to be like a fish. What I mean by this is that he seems to have worked on ways of gliding through the water, creatively finding ways to cut down the water resistance. I believe when you are swimming you have to read the water and adapt your body to the response you feel from the water. In this way you can use the water to help you.
Popov’s stroke is long and relaxed. He stretches his arms forward to achieve a long glide and he looks straight down at the bottom of the pool. Although he swims fast scientists estimate that his power output is at least 25 % lower than most of those he races.
Apparently Popov does most of his most important training at slow speeds. The emphasis is on getting the stroke just right, not on swimming as fast as possible. This is what I call mindful swimming.
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Absolutely, and the children I teach especially like the counterintuitive part of this.