Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Easy Freestyle - book review

"Easy Freestyle", by Terry Laughlin

My rating: 3/5

This is a guide that teaches you do swim freestyle, or crawl If you prefer.

I’ve often found that in any approach to a discipline with any physical aspect to it, you’ll have a die-hard materialist approach on one end of the spectrum, and an eastern-looking mindful approach on the other. The materialist approach will draw scientific-minded individuals, masochists and alpha individuals, the other will draw magicians, social misfits, hippies and strong silent types. None of these categories are mutually exclusive, of course, so a lot of people won’t stick to a single approach.

If you came to martial arts and found your prefer tai-chi to boxing, or enjoy running through the pose method/chi-running and never do intervals or fartleks, if you prefer U2’s “One” to U2’s “Pride”, if you would rather watch Jeff Bridges in “the Big Lebowski” than Jeff Bridges in “Tron”, if you love the faraway surfer’s gaze when they talk about “the wave” yet hate the surfer’s obsession with six-pack abs, etc. etc., there is a strong chance that you will enjoy learning to swim the crawl through this guide.

It uses a method called “Total Immersion”. Such an evocative name, no? “Total” speaks of oneness, being at peace with oneself. “Immersion” points toward a holistic approach.

Is it the real deal? Or a marketing ploy? I don’t care, really. I’m just reviewing the guide from a literary point of view. The fact of the matter is, if you spend enough hours in the pool trying to swim freestyle, I’m sure it’ll eventually work for you. What you need, to really get into it, is a narrative. The narrative begins with you not being able to swim a pool length without puffing your lungs out, and ends with you doing dozens of them without stopping, somersaulting underwater off the wall at either end. You need a guide or an instructor to provide the plot.

This guide is the mindful type. It teaches through exercises that promote relaxation and calm in the water. It starts by showing you how to glide in the water, minimize your drag, feel at ease and calm just slowly moving through just under the surface. It’s called the “superman glide”, during which you push off from your feet in the shallow water and let yourself glide with both arms extended in front of you. 

From the “superman glide”, you learn to flutter your legs behind you, just enough to balance yourself in the water, not let your legs sink, maintain a streamlined form.

From the flutter, you learn to hold one arm ahead of you and another tucked into your side, the “skating” position. Then, you learn to roll your shoulder up, just enough to allow your head to turn, your face to emerge from the water and your mouth to suck air.

It goes on, a series of small, attainable levels of proficiency that eventually turn into a freestyle swim.

It teaches how to swim “with your body” instead of against it. It explains that you must let gravity work for you instead of fighting it (this is generally where the scientists get off the bus).

It speaks of “Perpetual Motion Propulsion” and the ZenSkate.

It offers images of a laser emitted from the top of your head pointing the way toward which your energies will be channelled.

If you look up “Total Immersion” on the internet, you’ll find some videos that demo the method. You’ll see people gliding gracefully through the water, apparently effortlessly, with the leg kick and arm movement synchronized (this is what is referred to as a two-beat kick). Look up some more, and you’ll come upon internet forums (oh, the brackish acidity of an internet forum!) where swimmers clamour about the “Swim Smooth” method being superior to the “Total Immersion” because the “Total Immersion” teaches fluidity at the expense of speed and performance, and puts a limit on your progression. Other swimmers clamour that they were hopeless in the pool until they tried “Total Immersion” and have never looked back since.

I’m going to go with this method (no, I haven’t yet done so), for the simple reason that I’ll sound a lot cooler talking about “Total Immersion” to people at social events, and if I’m talking to a swimmer I’ll just change the subject anyhow. I really hate hearing athletes recount their achievements and when they do I excuse myself and head for the buffet.

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