HOW I LEARNT TO SWIM HAPPY

Last week was my final session of one-on-one swimming lessons with Swimming Nature and I’m so sad it’s over! You can read all about my first lesson here.

I went into these sessions knowing that I’m a fairly confident swimmer and I’m very comfortable in the water so I was excited to work on my technique and have my first swimming lessons as an adult.

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In my second lesson we worked further on my front crawl technique by trying to slow down my arms, the result of which is that I felt a lot less panicked when swimming front crawl. I’ve mentioned before that I felt I could swim breakstroke for hours and now my front crawl is approaching the same calmness and sustainability as breastroke. Mark also tweaked my breasktroke technique, encouraging me to look at Adam Peaty’s body position in the water to find a more streamlined way of moving. The best part of that session was learning how to tumble turn properly! I’ve only ever done them on my own before as a kid so it was great to be taught the proper technique using Fergus the toy monkey (not as weird as that sounds, trust me).

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In the third session we continued working on my arm position for front crawl to get the coveted ‘high elbow’ which creates an efficient and beautiful stroke. I’m not sure I felt so beautiful as I swam but I could definitely feel the advantage in the efficiency. We tested it by timing the tempo of my stroke (2.6 seconds per cycle) and then playing with the speed of the length by just adjusting the technique and body position. My front crawl length time dropped from 21 seconds down to 16 seconds, a huge difference!

My final session was focused on learning the butterfly stroke, something that I’ve never been taught before. Mark broke it down to its parts before we put it all together and suddenly it didn’t seem quite so scary or difficult. My butterfly certainly needs a lot of work but the basics are there. We finished off by swimming a medley, one length each of butterfly, back stroke, breastroke and front crawl. I finished on a massive high feeling really proud with how much I’ve learned and how much happier I feel in my front crawl.

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I would highly recommend Swimming Nature and specifically Mark at Fitness First Highbury for the simple teaching methods, confidence-boosting feedback and in-water demonstrations that I haven’t seen other places offering. The focus with Swimming Nature is learning how to swim beautifully and while I’m not sure my strokes are beautiful quite yet, I definitely feel happy doing them. I came away from each session feeling positive and full of energy and if there’s one suggestion I’d make, it’s that if you book a session, splash out (sorry) for the full 60 minute session. 30 minutes flies by too quickly and I was left wanting more each time.

Prices for the 60 minute one-on-one sessions are £64 which is on a par with personal training sessions, essentially what you’re getting but just in the water!

You can find out more info on Swimming Nature and book sessions here

SOPHIE LEARNS TO SWIM

I’ve spoken on my blog before about how much I love being in the water but I know that my technique needs a bit of love, as is evident when I get to the end of a few lengths of front crawl and I feel like I’ve run a marathon. So when Swimming Nature got in touch to ask if I wanted to try out a series of 4 swimming lessons with them I jumped at the chance.

Swimming Nature set themselves apart because the classes are small, either one-on-one or two pupils to one instructor and the instructor is often in the pool with the pupils helping them through the lesson. They teach kids how to swim without any doggy paddle or arm bands which is amazing. I turned up early for my first lesson and saw this in action. I couldn’t help but smile as tiny kids were learning how to do tumble turns and swim backstroke whilst being supported in the water by fun and energetic coaches.

When it was my turn thankfully the lane emptied and it was just me and Mark, my instructor. He asked me a bit about my swimming history which includes a few triathlons with very slow swimming legs. I then showed him what I could do in the water with a few lengths of each stroke. I was very flattered when he asked if I’d swum breastroke for a club in the past but it did confirm what I suspected, I feel like I can swim breastroke for hours because my technique happens to be efficient and strong. No idea how that happened as I haven’t had any lessons since I was a kid!

My freestyle, or front crawl, on the other hand needed a bit of love. Mark videoed me while I was swimming which was fascinating to watch because the struggles that I feel while doing freestyle showed up clearly on the video.

My style is very flat in that there’s not much rotation of my body as I use each arm. Whilst some swimmer sod have more of a flat shape in the water it’s generally suggested that you’re more aerodynamic (hydrodynamic maybe?) if your whole body turns as your arms move. It’s tricky to explain in words but I’m hoping that by the end of my course of lessons I’ll be able to do a comparison video.

We mainly worked on breathing to get me more used to taking breaths on my non-dominant side, something I can do but prefer not to as the other side is stronger. Like anything, the more I thought about it and focused on what Mark was telling me at the end of each length, the smoother my stroke felt. It’s amazing how much more focused I was on what each part of my body was doing within 30 minutes.

I came out of the pool with my mind buzzing and instructions to try and practice before my next lesson although I’m not sure that’s actually going to happen between work, training to cycle to Paris and life. I’ve booked some swimming sessions into my diary already for the coming weeks though so hopefully I’ll be able to practice a bit more after the other lessons.

I can’t wait for the next lesson already!

GOING FOR A DIP

It’s been a funny one with my attitude towards swimming recently because I’ve always been a water baby but I’ve been psyching myself out with how much work I’ve got to do before my triathlon in the summer.

I learnt to swim when I was really young and I’ve always loved being in swimming pools although deep open water has proved tricky. Two summers ago a week of triathlon training in the South of France helped kick that fear to the kerb and I’ve since learned to scuba dive which has helped even more. So the fear has nothing to do with being in the water, it’s all about how much work I’ve got to do on my technique and how I need to work on my cardio fitness, my least favourite thing to do.

Last week I took all of the pressure off and just took myself for a swim. The aim was to complete 20 lengths (1,000 metres) at a leisurely pace, all at breast stroke. Once I actually got into the water and out of the freezing air it was simple. One stroke at a time, count down the lengths and before I knew it I was done. I could have carried on but I decided to quit while I was ahead and still feeling fresh.

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Normally when I get out of the water I have to jump around on one foot to get all the water out of my ears, a problem I’ve always had. Family holidays used to end with me screaming in pain from ear infections after spending every day underwater perfecting my handstands and dolphin impression.

However, this time I tried SwimSeal, a product that protects the ear canal with a waterproof coating. It acts like the natural earwax that protects our ears on an everyday basis. After exposure to water that earwax can be washed away, which leaves the ear open for water to get in. SwimSeal stays put for 2-3 hours unlike the earwax so the protection is long-lasting.

I put a few drops in each ear before I got in the pool and although a bit leaked out down onto my neck my ears didn’t feel greasy at all after the swim. It contains tea tree oil, which makes it smell lovely as well as giving it an antiseptic quality to make sure no bacteria get into the ears. I didn’t have to do any one-footed jumping this time and my ears feel as good as always.

I’m going to keep using Swim Seal throughout my triathlon training because ear infections? I ain’t got time for that.

Disclaimer: I was sent a bottle of Swim Seal to try out but as always all opinions are my own

 

 

CLASS REVIEW: ROCK CYCLE, BUENOS AIRES

What’s the first thing you think of when going on holiday, especially when you’re going on your honeymoon? Bikinis, suncream, local food, spinning…. Ok, so maybe you’re not quite like me but when I travel I like to sample the fitness scene, mostly to try and make more room for all of the delicious food that I know I’ll be eating.

The only spin studio in Buenos Aires I could find (and incidentally, it seemed, the only spin studio in Buenos Aires) was Rock Cycle so I booked in for a class on our second morning in Argentina and hoped for the best.

It’s situated in Palermo Hollywood, a delightfully sunny 8 minute walk from where we were staying so off I trotted, leaving long-suffering new-husband in bed. The studio is bright and inviting and very much reminiscent of the Soul Cycle studio I visited in New York. The welcome was friendly and between us we spoke just enough English and Spanish to get me set up.

The studio itself was dark with about 40 bikes in, all facing the instructor who was raised up on a stage. Along the front of the stage were candles similar to those you might find in Boom Cycle in London. The facilities were lovely and clean with lockers to live all of your valuables in. They also sell a cool range of clothing and I might have fallen in love with a vest that found its way into my already full suitcase.

The instructor spoke no English (nor did I expect her to) but from the moment the lights went down in the studio it didn’t matter. Her energy and demonstrations went through any language barrier and I found myself swept along with the music.

The style of class was very much like Soul Cycle or Psycle in London so there was a lot of moving around on the bike including plenty of press ups which meant my triceps were suitable sore the next day. Over the course of 45 minutes we went through a number of Latin-inspired tracks with banging beats so even though I didn’t know the music the energy was infectious. We did a lot of sprints and double time cycling with only a couple of heavy resistance tracks which was a bit of a shame because I do like to crank the resistance up and let my legs burn in a spin class.

The penultimate track was one with hand weights to work out our shoulders, backs, biceps and triceps and a Latin remix of the Pink Panther theme tune did wonders to take my mind off the crazy muscle burn that I had going on.

As the class ended there was much whooping and deep breathing going on as we all caught our breath and stretched out. All in all, it was a really good class and if you’re used to spinning studios such as the few that I’ve mentioned above then you won’t have any problems not speaking Spanish as it’s very similar to those. Definitely go and try it if you’re in that part of the world!

 

*Disclaimer: I was offered a free class in return for a review. As always, views are my own and I was not paid for this review*

 

REDISCOVERING MY MOJO

Personal trainers, just like everyone else, go through phases of motivation and at the moment I’m coming out of a long stint of a lack of it. I always want to be honest on this blog and for me it’s important that I explain how I lost my mojo and how I’m rediscovering it.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this year has been all about organising my wedding and then enjoying being married so without a fitness goal my motivation for training has suffered. As everyone knows, once you get out of the habit of something it’s tricky to get back into it, especially for me if I don’t have a structure to stick to.

Therefore my training this year has been a bit aimless and sporadic which in turn has made my nutrition a bit aimless and sporadic.

However, my mojo is on its way back into my life and those habits are slowly reforming. As it’s been a while since I had to form new healthy habits I thought it might be useful to share how I’ve been going about it.

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1) Find a goal – This needs to have a time limit on it and be something achievable and tangible. For example, my goal for 2017 is to complete the Olympic distance triathlon at the London Tri on 23rd July in under 4 hours, giving me a 7.5 minute PB

2) Find something you love – Whilst I love lifting weights in the gym there’s nothing more motivating for me than a tough class that engages my brain as well as my body, which is why classes at Moreno Boxing have been key in getting me back in the swing and will form an integral part of my triathlon training

3) Remember why you do it – Everyone has their own reasons for working out so stay true to yours. I’d lost sight of just how good working really hard in a class made me feel and rediscovering that has made me hungry for more

4) Tune into your body – Listen to how your body feels after you eat and give it the right fuel for the activity you’re doing. With triathlon training coming up next year I’m working on keeping my protein-intake high with high carb/low fat on workout days and low carb/high fat on rest days because that’s what seems to work for me

5) Take the pressure off – Whatever it is you want to do doesn’t concern anyone else and shouldn’t be compared to anyone else’s achievements. Your body is yours and their body is theirs so you can’t eat, exercise and live in exactly the same way as them

What are your top tips for regaining and keeping your fitness motivation?

FINDING FOCUS

2016 for me was all about that little thing called my wedding, which happened at the end of June and was one of the most incredible days of my life (so far!).

 
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It’s been the first year for a few years that I haven’t had a physical performance goal, like a triathlon or distance race. I’ve really noticed the difference in my motivation and my focus (or lack of it) on nutrition and fuelling my body. Without an event or race to target my efforts on my training has been sporadic and a bit random. Some weeks I’ve smashed out four weight-training sessions and eaten like a bodybuilder. Other weeks I’ve spent hours walking my dog across the marshes or cycling in circles round the road track at the Olympic velodrome.

 

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Since the wedding I haven’t been tracking my nutrition closely after spending months logging all my food to keep an eye on my intake. I’d bought my dress a year before my wedding as it was an ex-sample dress and it meant that apart from a few adjustments the dress had to stay the size that it was. I therefore couldn’t lose or gain much weight or size otherwise my dress wouldn’t have fitted!

 

By not tracking my nutrition and without having any performance goals I’ve seen my bodyweight creep up over the last couple of months which normally would freak me out but actually I’m learning to love my body whatever it looks like. I can still get on my bike and bash out 20 miles without much thought and my strength in the gym doesn’t seem to have dropped drastically.

 

What’s interesting though is that my body doesn’t quite feel like it’s performing at its best. I feel sluggish, I’m lacking motivation and I’m lacking a focus. I love my body but I know it’s not in performance condition. Performance condition for me means that I feel strong, fast and efficient in my digestion (sorry for the overshare but if that isn’t working then nothing is…).

 

I’m learning that it’s ok to have periods where you lack motivation and focus but it’s now time to get some goals in place and get out of this rut. Thanks to a Black Friday discount my major goal for 2017 has been locked in, the Olympic distance race at the London Triathlon. It’s a distance that I did in 2015 and the sense of achievement to just get round the course was huge.

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However, this time I mean business. When I’m back from my honeymoon in January my life will be triathlon, triathlon, triathlon (amongst other fun things) and I can’t wait to improve my technique in all 3 phases.

COMPLETING MY FIRST OLYMPIC TRIATHLON

Last Saturday I completed my first ever Olympic triathlon. Now that’s a sentence I never thought I would say…

After my first Sprint triathlon back in 2012 I swore never to do another one and especially never do an Olympic triathlon. These people must be mad to consider the Olympic distances.

Fast forward 3 years and with one more Sprint distance under my belt I was arriving at the London Triathlon with a hell of a lot of sweat and pain in front of me.

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Note the superhero pants… I was channeling Wonder Woman

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TIPS FOR COMPLETING YOUR FIRST TRIATHLON

Anyone who knew me a few years ago would be literally gobsmacked that I’ve now completed two sprint distance triathlons (750m swim, 20km cycle, 5k run) and as of Saturday evening, an Olympic triathlon (1500m swim, 40km cycle, 10k run). I’ve never been much of an endurance athlete but this is precisely why I’ve pushed myself to do these, just to prove that I can and stop making excuses.

Triathlons can be seriously intimidating and before my first one I spent ages scouring the internet for tips and tricks to take the fear out of the experience. Now that I’m gearing up for the Olympic distance and feeling much more relaxed I wanted to share some of the tips that I’ve picked up to help anyone thinking of doing one:

1) It doesn’t have to cost a bomb

I bought an ex-rental wetsuit at first for about £65 and it kept me admirably warm & safe throughout the two sprint distances. However it now feels a bit tight so I’ve rented a new one for £59 for the rest of the season from Wetsuits For Hire. Equally, my bike was a treat to myself but I hunted around and found a great one in the sale. There’s no need to pay full price if you go for a model that’s a season or two old

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