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Tricks of Mother Nature

Revised from an article that first appeared in Schwimmvergnügen in 1999.

Early in your swimming career Mother Nature played a cruel trick on you. She imbued you with the false notion that your hands are the things that you “grip” the water with and thus propel yourself with. You have labored through most of your aquatic mileage under this heavy yoke. You have built most of your technique and training around pulling harder and faster with those puny little hands.

Now, Coach plays his own trick. He tosses a pair of what appear to be rubber mittens down by your lane and says “Put 'em on, shut up and swim.” You obediently jam your hands into them only to find that you have to make a fist to get them all the way on. Is that a smirk on Coach's face? As you drop down to push off from the wall you're sure you hear Coach starting to laugh. Your once-streamlined glide feels very “blunt.” You take your first few strokes but, whoa, what's this? No traction! You seem to go nowhere! You're sure that Coach is, by now, rolling around on the deck laughing at your pathetic efforts to go somewhere!

Refusing to satisfy his sadistic appetites you push on. Quickly, you figure out that doing more of that which comes naturally - pulling harder and faster - just flat doesn't do any good with fistgloves. You must think “outside the box” of your current technique, exploring other options and possibilities - ones that Mother Nature would prefer to keep secret.

Fistgloves, as it turns out, entice you to seek an arm position where the forearm, rather than your hand, becomes the “paddle” that holds the water. You find that getting your forearm more vertical to the pool bottom, further out in front of the body just seems more “right.” You find that the longer you keep the forearm vertical the more propulsive your stroke is.

A treacherous mistress, “Mom” Nature also gave your hands bazillions of nerve endings so you'd focus on them constantly while swimming. But, just like their cousin, the condom, fistgloves dramatically and frustratingly decrease the sensory impulses the wearer's brain receives from the “protected” appendage. At first, this sensory deprivation seems a depressing occurrence. But as you use the fistgloves more you become much more aware of what your forearm is experiencing in terms of pressure and flow. As your forearm sensitivity increases you can better position it and more accurately move it to where it is most effective in holding onto the water.

Fistgloves often show swimmers that they were relying on their hands for more than just pulling. Again we see “Ma” at work. Instinct tells you that when your face is in the water you must push down on the water with your hands and lift your head. You do this without thinking and are likely unaware of it (or at least the extent of it). If you habitually press down on the water in front to lift your head, the fistgloves render this motion wholly ineffective, forcing you to find another way. If you can resist the impulse to just press down harder the only remaining option is to not lift the head.

Of course, the goal of wearing any piece of equipment in training is, ostensibly, to swim better when nekked. So, what really matters is what happens once confining latex is peeled unceremoniously from flesh and cast aside. Almost universally, swimmers report the first few nekked lengths they swim after wearing fistgloves are at significantly lower stroke counts than normal. They also seem to get their lowest swim golf scores. The longer and more often the fistgloves are worn, the longer this hyper-efficiency period seems to last. The awareness, sensitivity and technique that fistgloves foster linger as unfettered hands act as an extension of the newly discovered and sensitized forearms. In short, you swim farther with every stroke, which, of course, is the primary ingredient of faster swimming (not to mention of simply looking more like an accomplished swimmer).

But soon Mother Nature says Habit must prevail and it seems you are doomed to slowly revert to the old motions that are habitual for you. “But wait,” you say with a trick of your own in mind, “what if I put those things on again and wear them long enough for the new technique to become my habit?” (It's to think about.) v

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2004

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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