Primal Activities: Swimming

Don’t believe me? Check this out (swimming clips at 0:48, 1:28, 2:22, and 3:05, but feel free to watch the whole thing to be inspired to do all kinds of crazy sh*t):

Swimming is the ultimate counterpoint to everything we do on land. I’ve watched with amusement as muscly guys hop into a lane thinking they’ll conquer the water with all their land-based power, only to die of exhaustion on their second lap. Simply put—we just don’t do this every day and dry rules don’t apply.

You’ve got constant resistance, which means you have to learn to work with the water, not against it. You’re aiming for efficiency. Every stroke should be maximized. To this end, if you’re a beginner and don’t know where to start, check your ego and take a lesson. It’s okay to admit that you’re a land mammal. Trust me, you’ll look and feel a lot better in the water if you have some idea what you’re doing. Besides, any time there are people gathered somewhere, things are going to get messy, which means there are rules. Please learn your pool etiquette, or else I’ll give you the most massive stink eye you’ve ever seen. It will haunt your dreams.

But I digress…Where I think a lot of swimmers go wrong is jumping in the pool and just going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth…at the same…mediocre…speed…in the crawl stroke. BOR-IIINNNGGG!!! Get in there and shake stuff up. Do different drills, like 4 hard strokes off every wall turn or going as many strokes as possible without breathing (maybe at 8 strokes, then reduce to 6, then 4 as needed). Mix it up by throwing in some back and breast stroke. Do some sprints, maybe keeping track of your 25 yard sprint times to see improvements.

Yes...kinda...but not as many steps.

Or try a pyramid. Basically, it starts with one lap of something, then two of something else, then three of something else, you get the idea. Rest for 30 seconds between steps. My pool is 25 yards, so adjust up to 50m for any lucky folks out there who have access to an Olympic-sized one. For example: 25 kickboard, (30 sec.), 50 at 80% effort, (30 sec.), 75 pull w/ hand paddles and leg buoy, (30 sec.), 100 regular swim, (30 sec.), 100 regular swim, (30 sec.), 75 pull, (30 sec.), 50 at 80%, (30 sec.), and 25 kickboard. That knocks off 500 yards (or 1,000m) and will work almost every square inch of your body, with the exception perhaps of your eyebrows.

Refining form is always a surefire way to re-energize the back-and-forth. Make sure you’re not lifting your head too much when you breathe. Make sure you’re not kicking unnecessarily hard and that your kick is coming from the hips. Make sure your hands are following through. And PULL! with each stroke. Don’t think the stroke is happening above the water where we can see it, because it’s not. It’s all about how much water you can move with those mitts of yours.

Screw your rules! I'm taking this outside.

Bonus points for taking it into the wild. Try some lake or ocean swimming. It adds a whole new component to the workout, namely fear. There’s no lifeguard, there’s waves, and you have no idea what’s below you. It seems appropriate to share with you my rule for water: It doesn’t care who you are, it can kill you. So play it safe out there. But, as Mr. Erwan “MovNat” LeCorre proves in that video above, taking it outside can really connect you with the natural world and provide a challenge that the little old ladies at the Y pool just can’t.

Lately, I’ve gotten back on the swimming wagon (does such a thing exist?) once a week. For the rest of the day I feel, for lack of a better word, oxygenated. Just infused with oxygen, limbered up, and exhilarated, like some cobwebs have been cleaned out. There’s no joint banging, no can’t-lift-my-fork-the-next-day soreness, no heat exhaustion. But a word of warning: there is extreme hunger. Just be sure to extinguish that with some good fat, like a grilled ribeye or a burger with bacon, before a violent case of the snackies unravels all the good work you just put in.





4 Responses to “Primal Activities: Swimming”

  1. Thanks for the inspiration. I was a competitive swimmer in high school and college, but have not used it as part of my routine since climbing on the Paleo train. I am going to try to incorporate this into my training once a week and see what happpens.

    • Let me know how it goes! I find that folks who once swam competitively are the ones most prone to burnout. Without a coach there, they tend to just do the back-and-forth. But I bet your form will still be good, something to be said for muscle memory.

  2. Thanks for the great post! you have inspired me to go swimming tonight. I havent swam for a couple of years, even though I used to be a lifeguard. It will probably a shock to the system (a good one to boot)
    I stopped swimming because i found the repetative lengths mind numbingly boring and have always enjoyed swimming in a more relaxed playfull way. If only i lived by the sea!

    • Yay! Enjoy! It may take a few times to get back in the groove, so don’t get discouraged.

      Yes, open water swimming is a totally different experience. I’ve done some lake swimming this summer, and it’s far more challenging than the lap lanes.

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