After recovering (at last!) from rotator-cuff surgery on both shoulders, I recently began swimming after a two-year absence from the pool. Swimming at least halfway decently is one of the best ways to build upper-body strength. And for me it makes a nice, mind-clearing change from the pavement pounding of running. I decided start by reviewing the breast stroke, because it’s much easier than freestyle.
After such a long time away, I really had to think through what I was doing with my arms and legs and how often to breathe. Like running, swimming involves your whole body. But unlike in running, you can’t just send a knee forward to get there. So what leads your body—or a fish’s body—through the water? The crown of the head.
Once I started thinking about the crown of my head leading, it was easy to think of my head leading my neck and the rest of my spine as a single unit, right down to (yes!) my tailbone. After all, we and the fish have somewhat similar skeletal structures—head, spine, limbs (or fins), and tail. And once I started thinking about my head and spine as a unit, my arms and legs suddenly felt a lot more like what they actually are—appendages branching off from my trunk, not attached to it with some kind of mental Velcro. My swimming even got a bit easier too, and the water almost seemed to flow past me, instead of me trying to get through it.
I alternate swimming days and running days, so I wanted to see if this kind of thinking would work on land, too. Could I think about my head leading, even though my body was perpendicular to the ground? I had to keep returning to this thought, but as long as I could keep looking a bit farther ahead than I’m used to, my head felt light and free on top of my spine, and my arms and legs moved a bit more easily.
Try this: The next time you’re out for a run, think about the most beautiful fish you can imagine—a speckled trout, a zebra fish, or even a Siamese fighting fish like the one here. That fish’s structure is similar to yours. Imagine your inner fish moving through the air the way a real fish moves through the water. You’ll lose the thought every so often, so just renew as necessary—no need to overthink this!
Please feel free to send me any questions you might have. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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Meanwhile, happy running!