This one's a long post, so I'm splitting it into two parts.
For the past couple of years, I've been training for longer swims, and I'm ready for even further, but I've run into a couple of issues along the way that are holding me back. The first issue is that I get excruciating lower back pain at about 15-20kms, no amount of pain killers during a swim will mask it. The second issue is that I don't ever feel balanced in my stroke, I breathe to the right only and tension across my body shows it, my massage therapist is constantly fixing issues related to imbalance.
At the end of every swim season, I usually have to take 1-2 months to recover physically and also end up working on technical improvements to my technique. In the absence of a racing season this year, I signed up for swim camp with Techno and pool swims with B-Train, I absolutely love getting feedback, although provided it's with a distance open water perspective (even in the pool, I'm training for open water). Coaches keep pointing out the same issues - my head is to high and looking forward, it bounces around, I lift it when I go to breathe, I crossover as my hands enter the water.
I've been having such a hard time fixing these things, that I'd given up, but I'm realizing now they are deeply connected to my sore lower back issue so something needs to change. I've decided to finally learn to bilateral breath, I just don't think I can be balanced over long distances without it. So I started my deconstruction looking at how my core and shoulders move, and worked hard on a relaxed recovery and good hip drive. See first video below (top one), I was really pleased with rotation and recovery, but noticed my head was all over the place, and the opposite hand to the side I'm breathing on keeps popping up to the surface of the water.
Why? I showed the video to my massage therapist, who provided great input: my shoulder girdle is over-compensating for poor posture (head looking forward = hip drop), I'm pulling harder on the right, there's a gallup to the right arm while the left is smoother, and because I'm stronger on the right my arm flies over and crosses the center line when it lands in the water. Note that there is little to no kick in either video, I really wanted to focus on hip drive, I'll add a nice 2-beat kick a little later on.
I also explained that I just can't seem to breathe to the left, I don't have the dexterity and can never get air. So we got to work! We discovered that I have good full-body rotation, with my feet firmly planted on the ground I can turn to the left or right equally well. But within with the segments, there are issues, and she found a vertebrea in my cervical spine (neck) and two in my thoracic spine (upper back) that are so tight and locked up that it's restricting my movement as I try to breathe to the left. So she worked those areas, and followed the fascia all the way up into my left cheek, which was NOT a fun release, it was so tight and painful. I'll cover more on that in part 2, let's look at the difference it's made, see the second video (bottom one).
Thanks to the massage work and ongoing feedback from coaches, my head is facing down and is fairly still, and I can breathe to the left with far more ease than before. It's not perfect, but here are the gains: the lower head position has raised my hips by 1-2" and my shoulders are swimming downhill instead of uphill, I'm in neutral spine so the pressure is off my lower back, and the still head has created a really good bow wave and pocket for me to breathe into. Overall, it's smoother but man oh man, I had to focus SO hard during this video to keep it smooth and stop myself from looking forward - but it will feel natural over time. Remaining issues: keep working on full body rotation, I still lift my head a little as I breathe, which is causing the opposite hand to wander to the surface. Still, I'm so happy.
Click on link here for part 2.