Swim Lessons with Swimming Nature- Week 1

Monday, June 26, 2017

In my home state of New York, everyone has to pass the Red Cross level 5 swim lessons in order to graduate from high school. Every since I was little, I have always loved the water (maybe because I am an Aquarius?).  It just feels relaxing and soothing to me.  When my Achilles tendinitis began to persist in my late 20s, I decided to do triathlon to ease off the pressure on my joints.  I am an OK swimmer. I get around in open water or in the pool but can't do flip turns. I can breathe on both sides but always swallow lots of water.  My last summer in Michigan, I signed up for masters classes at the suggestion of a friend to help improve my technique.  Instead, I found myself suffering through the drills as I was the only non-competitive swimmer and hence the slowest.

The first few years we lived in London, we signed up for a few triathlons.  With these events in the diary, we spent one night a week at the local pool doing laps. I knew my technique still wasn't great but I was able to get quicker yet no more efficient.  I tried to find lessons for adults who wanted to improve but didn't have much luck.  Until now.

My chance finally came when Swimming Nature contacted me to try out four complimentary 30 minute lessons.  The lesson would be 1-on-1 tuition with one of their accredited instructors.  My coach is Sam and he and I will be meeting for the next 3 weeks in a follow up to last week's lesson.

First First Baker Street pool
I arrived a little early at Fitness First Baker Street to make sure I knew where I was going and in case I needed to fill in any paperwork. The front desk staff were very friendly and lent me a padlock as I didn't know I needed to bring one. I brought my own towel or could have hired one for £1.  The women's locker room is pretty big with lots of showers and lockers. The pool is 18 meters with 3 lanes. One lane is dedicated to lessons and the others are for members to use.  Sam and I shared the lane with another 1-2-1 lesson but it didn't really any impact us or our drills.

To start with, Sam had already watched me during my warm up laps across the pool, so he had me kick without using my arms to see my technique up close.  He said it looks like I have tight glutes because the range of motion from my hips isn't that great. I quickly let him know that I am a runner and that could be way the glutes are tight.  (Note: I now need yoga lessons).  He also observed that I don't pivot too much at my hips while most people would a bit more.

Homework #1 Kick like you mean it from the hips.

Next we worked on 8-10 kicks on my back, rolling onto my front for 8-10 kicks and then back to my back (without getting water up my nose)- all without using my arms.  I start sinking before I can get on my back again which doesn't always end well for my nose.

Homework #2 Practice this drill

Finally, we started to talk about arm positioning on the 'catch' of the front crawl, which is when  your hand first enters the water and then pulls you along. Of course, my technique of an S shape and "zip the dress" are old school. We worked a lot on proper arm positioning for the catch and started to build it into one stroke but ran out of time.

Homework #3 Work on my catch and follow through of the stroke.

This week we will add in breathing but I have a lot to work on between now and then. Sam said it was a good idea to meet every week but that I should try to practice at least once between sessions. The Olympic pool is near enough to home but between the Salomon Sunet Series and riding to Brighton, I ran out of time for a swim.

Have you ever taken swim lessons?  How did you fare?

Thanks to Swimming Nature for these lessons.  All opinions and experiences are honest and my own.

Active Travel: London, stay cool!

Friday, June 16, 2017

In the last few months, I have been lucky enough to try a few things in London that are perfect for hot summer days.  Whether you are visiting during summer vacation or local resident, check out these options to stay cool in sunny London.

Ice climb in Covent Garden
Ellis Brigham invited me down to their Covent Garden store in early May as part of the #HerOutdoors campaign. They are encouraging women to find the right kit for exploring the great outdoors.  We spoke to major active brands Keen and Osprey about what products they have to offer women specifically.  Read my review of the Keens boots here and Osprey bag here.

Strapped in but still need my spikes.
I was most excited to enter their frozen world at the back of the store to try ice climbing, Vertical Chill. This is something I had never done before and I thought I would be rubbish at it because I am not great at wall climbing. The store staff suited us up in long pants, jackets, boots, helmets, gloves, and spikes on our shoes. We had a safety chat once we enter the 3-story-high room with three walls covered in ice (the fourth is a large window).  The basics of ice climbing are to jam your toe spikes into the ice so your foot is perpendicular to the wall and wider than shoulder-width. Then you throw your pick deep into the ice above your head, shoulder-width apart. Finally, pull yourself into a standing position against the ice.  Simple, right?   I took the easy route to the top of the wall, falling off once or twice. I was belayed by a store employee and felt safe at all times.  When I got to the top, there is a cow bell to ring in victory.

Sessions start at £25 per person.  You can get more info and book in here.  Please follow the instructors' advice when ice climbing and not my novice summary above.  Safety first!

SUP and SUP Pilates with Wake Up Docklands

Side plank

A few summers ago, I was able to try SUP yoga and really enjoyed being on the water.  I have always wanted to live one hour from the mountains and one hour from the ocean, but London doesn't quite meet this criteria.  When I got an invite to try SUP Pilates here in town, I dove at the chance.  Wake Up Docklands (WUD) is located near Royal Victoria DLR station and underneath the Emirates Air Line. It opened in 2012 and offers a mechanical wakeboarding line with jumps and paddle board hire.  The taster session I attended was for bloggers and was divided into a 45 min SUP Pilates session with Ruth Tongue and a 45 min SUP introduction with Jason, owner of WUD. The boards were anchored  in shallow water during Pilates which meant you didn't have to worry about floating away.  Ruth was also on a board and tailored the class to our ability and comfort level on the water.  The boards are actually really sturdy and none of us fell in during Pilates.  The board adds an extra challenge to your workout because the instability of floating means your muscles have to work a bit harder.  You will get wet up to your knees wading to the board and from laying on the board itself after you stand up after wading out. We all wore activewear instead of swimsuits and it worked out.

Child's pose

We were treated to some delicious juice and energy ball from C Press between sessions to refuel. The weather was absolutely amazing and chilled out tunes were coming from the speakers on the deck that overlooks the water.  You didn't feel like you were in London but instead someplace warm and tropical.
Thank you Cold Press

For our intro SUP session, we all received life jackets and a paddle.  We could have wore wetsuits, but it was very warm out.  The lesson started on land, with a review of what the different parts of the paddle were called and how to paddle most efficiently.  We then mounted our boards and set off.   Initially, we stayed close to shore to figure out how to turn, brake, and avoid colliding with each other.  Once Jason was happy with our skills, we ventured a little further to an open area where we had more space to maneuver.  It was over here where I fell in as I tried to paddle more efficiently.  The good news is that I didn't loose my sunglasses.

Take a dip in the pool with Everyone Active

Most hotels in Europe won't have a pool like we would in the USA.  That doesn't mean you can't pack your swim trunks for a London vacation.  Everyone Active offers open swim sessions at many of their 140 UK locations. You do have to pay a small fee and need to bring your own towel.  Here are four London locations you should check out:

Seven Islands Leisure Centre recently reopened its pool after it underwent refurbishments as part of a £2 million investment in the facilities at the centre. The revamped 33m pool is now open for public swimming. All borough residents are now able to use the gym and swim for free* at Southwark Council leisure centres.  33 m pool is pretty long for London. Get those extra laps in.

Castle Centre swimming pool

The Castle Centre recently underwent a £20 million redevelopment, and now boasts two brand new swimming pools; a 25 metre six-lane pool and a learner pool with a moveable floor,  as well as a sauna and steam room. All borough residents are now able to use the gym and swim for free* at Southwark Council leisure centres.  The learner pool is a great place for small children.

Marshall Street Leisure Centre is situated in the heart of central London, off Oxford Street. This beautiful grade II listed centre has something for everyone, with a beautiful, fully restored pool with marble floors dating from the 1930s, as well as a spa where you can pamper yourself after a swim.  I think I am going to have to check this spa out.

Porchester plunge pool- lush!

The Porchester Centre
has recently undergone a £1.2million refurbishment and has two beautiful swimming pools and a lush spa. Visitors will experience in an oasis of calm with its traditional decor of green and white tiles and original features still intact from when the building was built in 1929.

What other suggestions do you have for people to stay healthy in London this summer?  Leave a comment below.

*T&C apply, see Everyone Active website for more details.

Are you ready and able to help?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What's in your first aid kit?
I have been first aid trained for most of my life.  It started when I was a teenager as a baby sitter certified by the Red Cross, and then as a camp counsellor in the summers.  The first year I learned to use an AED (automated external defibrillator) was 2001 at my first job after uni (that's college for you Americans). Since then, I have always tried to keep my certifications up to date, whether through work or as a fitness instructor.

A few weeks ago, I completed a three day 'first aid at work' course with St. John's Ambulance.  Over the years, I have heard stories from other course attendees how they saw an accident but didn't help.  I have also stopped to  help people looking ill on the Tube, while many other passengers walked on by.  My husband said British people don't want to impact on each other's civil liberties by asking if they need help.  Maybe it is cultural but as an American, we talk to strangers and we help.  Most people who owned pools where I lived growing up had at least CPR training (perhaps as a legal requirement?).  My dad was on ski patrol at the local resort, and I remember him studying for his exams in the basement with his colleagues.  He even helped a player on the boys varsity soccer game who suffered a neck injury during the playoffs.

Annie, are  you ok?
Count to 10, look and feel for breathing 

On my most recent course, the first aid instructor said after the Westminster Attack, first aid courses were held to instruct more Westminster staff on what to do in an emergency.  The media highlighted how MP Tobias Ellwood knew first aid and was able to help treat and triage victims.  On 22 May, 2017 in Manchester, a homeless man, Chris Parker, wrapped up victim wounds with tour merchandise.  You never know when first aid training will be useful.  Of course, the recent terrorist incidents are more severe than what you will usually come across in a situation requiring first aid. Hopefully these extreme incidents are few and far between, but then we had the attack at London Bridge and Borough Market.

The stories you hear during these three recent terror attacks of bravery and self-sacrifice.  Medically trained staff went to the incident sites or went into work to help treat the victims. I am by no means saying you should put yourself in danger of you find yourself in a similar situation.  The first step of administering first aid is to make sure the area is safe. By receiving first aid training, you rehearse the next steps to take depending on what situation you come across.  The repetitive nature of the training helps reinforce the correct protocol and will help you respond on auto-pilot should an emergency arise.

Would you know what to do if there was an incident at your work, in the gym, or on the playground that needed first aid? Do you carry a first aid kit with you on long cycle journeys or do you keep one in the boot of your car?

At a bare minimum, I encourage you to take CPR or one day first aid course to learn how to treat common injuries.  Another skill to learn is how to use an AED.  AEDs are becoming more common in public places in the UK (finally!) such as airports, malls, and sports facilities.  Although they do not require a certificate for use (as advised by the Resuscitation Council of the UK), you may feel more comfortable using it if you have a half day lesson.   Using CPR or an AED significantly increases the potential of survival for your causality.  According to the American Red Cross, for each minute you delay defibrillation on your casualty, the chances of their survival decreases by 10%.

Touch wood, I have yet to perform CPR or use an AED.  I have applied plasters (band-aids), wrapped cuts, and put people into a recovery position to prevent shock.  Once, I helped a cyclist who fell off his bike and dislocated his shoulder by putting his arm into a sling before police pulled over to help us as we waited for an ambulance to arrive.

If you are not yet first aid certified or took the course a long time ago, I urge you to sign up for a course.  Hopefully, you will not have to use your new skills anytime soon, but if you do, you can be confident that you are doing your best to help the people around you.