If only we were taught these basic adult skills alongside spelling and math!
Most of us pick up basic adult skills along life’s way, like doing laundry, basic cooking, basic financial skills. Some of us even master the finer points of table manners, changing a tire, taking care of children. But what about the stuff that nobody ever teaches you? It is usually not before a late-life encounter with fitness gurus, therapists, and other medical experts that you learn there is a “right” way to stand, walk, bend, breathe and smile.
How to breathe: Most of us get through the day on fairly quick, shallow breaths. Is there a better way? Yes, deeper. Bring air down towards the belly, through the nose. “Belly breathing” brings in more oxygen and can lower tension. Swimming is also an excellent breathing regulator. The water forces you to take a deep breath, then slowly exhale fully in the water before taking your next breath.
How to sit: “Please take a seat. And now, without using your arms, stand up.” Are you asked that by your physical therapist? As you came to see your PT for a painful lower back, she or he watches you hunch and wobble out of the seat while reaching for the chair, using your arms anyway! As it turns out most of us are doing it a hundred times a day–Wrong! Your PT then demonstrates the magic of first planting your feet, then using your thighs, butt, and abdomen, not your arms, to power you up and back down. The improved stability and strength are unmistakable. Consciously practicing it will make you stronger, and it will become second nature. Better core muscles will improve your swimming, and swimming will improve your core muscles. You will win both ways.
How to stand: Often leaning to one side or the other, we stand like a crooked stick. It is not before our first visit to a PT, chiropractor, or fitness guru that we learn how to stand. Position your feet right below your hips, then put 60% of your weight in the heels and 40% in the toe box. From this solid foundation, with your knees rotated out ever so slightly, the rest of your body can naturally and properly stack above, shoulders above pelvis. It’s amazing how your back will stop aching while waiting in long lines. Although swimming will put us in a horizontal position, thinking about alignment is crucial. Are your head, shoulders, hips, and toes aligned in a straight horizontal position on top of the water? If they are, goodbye lower back pain, and welcome to faster and more efficient swimming.
How to walk: An experienced hiking guide will keep reminding you to keep your shoulders down and back (meaning not up to your ears) and strike your steps from heel to toes. Then, for better balance, which produces more energy, swing your arms straight out, coordinating the movement so that the right arm is in front when the left leg is in front, and vice versa. For longer hikes, the Nordic hiking poles may help you keep your posture and balance the whole way. Think about that natural posture when you swim. The head needs to stay in a neutral position (not up or down). Do not shrug your shoulders while swimming backstroke. Keep your arms and legs in coordination (2, 4 or 6-beat kick). Coordination of your arms and legs also remain the secret of an efficient butterfly or breaststroke.
How to bend: Anybody who has suffered from lower back pain after extensive garden work, or helping a friend move, has been reminded by their doctor, PT, or fitness coach to squat every time you want to pick up some thing off the floor. From your strong standing position, squat and reach the floor. We all do it a hundred times a day–Wrong! Can you imagine how strong you would be off the wall on every turn and dive in the pool if you had done all the squats required by your normal activities.
How to smile: At a conference the speaker, a psychologist, asked the audience to smile. “Turn up the corners of your mouth, even if it feels fake”. They did, and the mood of the whole place lifted. The very act of moving your mouth muscles into an upward curve tricks your brain into “reading” you as happy, igniting chemical changes that make you feel so. Turns out, you don’t have to wait until you feel like smiling to smile – once you put one on your face, that happy feeling will follow. How many thought it was the other way around!
So put on your happy face, smile broadly at people, and go enjoy swim practice!!