Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Adult swim squads

Each week intrepid reporter Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise to bring you the low down.

Many adults are joining swimming squads to perfect their techniques. Photo / Doug Sherring
Many adults are joining swimming squads to perfect their techniques. Photo / Doug Sherring

What are they? Adult swimmers attend squads to individually better their technique and swim times so they can tackle challenges such as triathlons, ocean swim races and harbour swims.

What's needed? Swimwear, goggles, swim hat, flippers, towel, water bottle, serious energy.

The experience: Champion swimmer Trent Bray sells swimming to me, saying, "It doesn't jar your body. It's not like running where you can ruin your body and knees. You can't hurt yourself, unless you swim into the wall at the end of the pool ..."

That sounds good in theory. But I'm no fish and I tell Bray that I learned to swim in the provinces in a freezing, concrete primary school pool, probably in an era when many Kiwis were taught how to just simply survive. From memory, my instructor then was my poor, shivering teacher who later smelled of chlorine all through maths, English, art, reading and geography.

Bray has invited me to a swim squad night where I'm about to join a poolful of masters level swimmers, including him. Gulp. I remind him I don't have "refined" technical ability. I'm definitely not at masters level. I can do backstroke and breaststroke okay, but I suck at overarm, which is what tonight is all about. Bray assures me it's okay. The adults who come for squad nights are at mixed levels and many are from the same era when professional swimming lessons were perhaps not the norm. Bray says this is the reason squad nights are increasingly popular as more adults want to learn how to swim so "it's easier in the water", not "hard work". This is with the increasing popularity of triathlons, distance and harbour swims.

Before I enter the water I watch a pool of 10-year-olds skimming fast like dolphins, back and forth, back and forth. They're absolutely fabulous.

They exit then I am among two dozen adults, roughly around the 40-year-old mark or older, gathering for instructions from Bray's mum, Sandra Burrow.

I'm in lane one, the opposite end of the pool to and am joined by 69-year-old Manfred who's dubbed our position in the pool "the hospital lane". He's a sweetie whose 41-year-old son is in the next lane. They're training for an iron man competition and are like many here: fit, lean, broad-shouldered and have style in the drink.

Burrow starts me off on the flutterboard to warm up then gives me technique tips at regular intervals, as she does for all the other swimmers.

At first I have my head up and hips down and this was why it is "like pushing two people through the water", she says. So, bit by bit, when I stop to catch my breath, she teaches me how to keep my body in a straight line, hands out straight in front of my shoulders, head down, hips up.

She has me alternate my sides for breathing at three-stroke intervals and reminds me to do small fast kicks, keep my feet together and to have loose floppy ankles and to knife my fingers into the water. Burrow is enthusiastic and encouraging, which improves my confidence in the water.

Within the hour, I'm astonished to find I can glide better through the water. I've come a long way in that time under expert instruction from a woman who cares about her craft and truly loves teaching. It's amazing to think with practise it's possible to one day become a better swimmer.

Burrow praises how far I've come "quite quickly". She remarks that she loves teaching adults to swim: they listen well and just get in there and want to do it well.

I feel exhilarated, but I'm exhausted and ready to replace the truckload of calories I've just burned off ... before crawling into bed.

How much?

Squads are $13 a lesson each week, or $11 a lesson for twice a week. They're held at the Trent Bray Swim School on Mondays and Wednesdays, 8pm-9pm, Tuesdays and Thursdays they're on from 7pm-8pm as well as 9.30am-10.30am both days.

Worth it? So worthwhile to refine your swimming technique and it's a bonus to be even safer at our beautiful beaches, lakes, rivers and pools.

Try it: Trent Bray's pools are at Kowhai Intermediate School, 2 Sandringham Rd, Mt Eden, ph 09 845 4599, or check out tbss.co.nz.

Rating: 9/10: Wish I'd had that lesson years ago.

- Herald on Sunday

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