My Chicken Wings

30 Mar

Yesterday’s pool session was brisk but challenging. Brisk because we’re tapering this week; challenging because our swim coach pointed out that I am still throwing hooks in the water. This was distressing because I’ve made a concerted effort over the last week to really address my less-than-perfect crawl. And I really felt like things were changing. When we bring awareness to the problem, change can happen quickly, right? But the coach got a little video of me on his iPhone and when I watched it, I was kinda horrified because what felt straight to me is SO not straight.

This has a lot to do with muscle conditioning from boxing and scar tissue built up after a mild dislocation I suffered in the ring but honestly, it’s just how I’m built. I was never even a very good straight puncher. My money shots were always power punches. When I did throw straight lefts and rights, my boxing coach would call me, “chicken wing arms.” My elbows pop out to my sides. I can’t help it. Even when I run–and I’ve seen it in recent race pics–I always kind of look a jet plane on a runway about to take off.

I want to become a more efficient swimmer and “fixing” this little musculo-skeletal issue could help me shave time off of my swim. But what’s the end game here? Is it just about getting faster, better stronger? Or is it about trying to be something that I simply am not? A swimmer. Is this even something I can change? Or am I just setting myself up for a massive disappointment?

It’s one thing to build muscles where they don’t exist; muscles that are needed for specific activities. Like, I should be doing lat pulls because lat strength would help me with my swimming. But we’re talking now about adjusting the mechanics of the body.

There is quite a lot of debate about changing up running form. I read a story in the June 2011 issue of Runner’s World, about elite runner Paige Higgins, who despite efficiency and speed, had hit a sort of rut in her racing career.

By early 2010, two years after quitting her job as an art teacher, moving from Colorado to Arizona, and joining a full-time training group, Higgins hadn’t cracked the elite tier of American marathoners. With her coach, Greg McMillan, she was engaged in an increasingly desperate search for a breakthrough performance, and after a series of so-so marathons, she and McMillan decided that her form was partially to blame. So they decided to rebuild it from the ground up.

This took a lot of time and work and involved a three phase approach to training.

First, he [McMillan] had her focus on a series of non-running movements—one involved standing in place and lifting her knees one at a time, which was meant to engage the full range of movement and the full power of her hip muscles. In the second phase, Higgins did drills—high knees and lunges—hoping to take advantage of her new range of movement with dynamic, rather than static, exercises. In stage three, McMillan had Higgins run with a mid-foot strike, higher knee lift, and a slightly longer stride.

There were some positive changes but in the end, Higgins wound up injuring herself while training for the NYC marathon. She got a stress fracture diagnosis that she partially attributed to the change in foot strike. McMillan refused to offer a simple explanation.

‘She was training for a marathon. It’s impossible to know for sure.’

When asked about the whole form-change process, Higgins had this to say.

‘…I learned the hard way that being too aggressive can lead to injury.’

And is it injury because we’re trying to make our bodies do something they don’t want to do? Or aren’t built for? Some of us have crooked spines, or uneven hips. Some of us have abnormally high centers of gravity or abnormally short arms or narrow shoulders. Some of us have chicken wings. These variations might not make us “perfect” athletes, but there’s no reason we can’t still swim or bike or run with them.

Nobody is suggesting that my chicken wing arms make me a bad person, just that they slow me down in the water. So ultimately, the choice is mine. If it is so important that I get faster on the swim, I might have to consider attempting to “rebuild” a part of my body.

The broader implication: if it is so important that I look good in this pair of jeans, I might have to compromise my nutritional needs; or

if it is so important that this specific person wants to date me, I might have to consider compromising my needs; or

if it is so important that I make a shit ton of money right now, I might have to consider compromising my ideals.

I guess we know we’re fully evolved when the really important thing is just to do what you do. Naturally. Without trying so desperately to fit the square peg into the round hole. I’m working on it in other areas of my life, but in terms of training, the chicken wings might have to go.


11 Responses to “My Chicken Wings”

  1. Silvana Roncal March 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    you crack me up!!! triathletes are not good at any single discipline! we are just good at suffering and reaching our goal: the finish line. if that makes you happy then so be it. chicken wings or not……

    • mymultipersonality March 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

      Yes but there’s that nagging desire to be perfect at everything too. Plus, i’m sorta over the suffering part. I just want pleasure all the time.

  2. Mark March 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    I read that article as well, although mostly because I’m in the process of transitioning to a midfoot strike, myself. I can’t say I’m out of the woods just yet. I seem to still have some more soreness than I would like, and it’s difficult for me to tell whether it’s just the normal pains of adaptation, or an injury.

    I’d like to hear what you end up doing (if anything), and how your progress goes.

    • mymultipersonality March 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

      i think probably I’ll end up doing some exercises to develop better range of motion. part of the problem is that my left shoulder is super tight so moving straight back and forth is difficult–thus the chicken wings. In yoga, i’ve started putting a lot of focus on the postures that will help with this. we shall see.

  3. Judy Freni March 30, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    A little blue cheese and hot sauce might help…..

  4. CultFit March 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Nice post…This is a tough and tricky question you have presented yourself with. I’ll spare you personal stories, they are all cliched and self serving anyways. Stepping back and taking a wider perspective you may start to see that the swimming bit is not as important as say other areas of your life farther down the road? Easy for me to say…Injuries fundamentally change the bio-mechanical function of our bodies, no matter how big or small.
    There are ways to overcome this and none are easy and take time. Wish you the best, stay healthy and train hard!!!

    • mymultipersonality March 30, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

      thanks. for the moment, a little extra work seems to be a decent trade off for what might = more efficiency. but i will try to be realistic. we’re talking about shaving seconds off, not minutes.

      • CultFit March 30, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

        Sounds like a plan! How are your transitions out of the water?
        Wish you the best in your training and continued success!!!

      • mymultipersonality March 30, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

        My transition is OK. Legs always feel OK but I am slightly wobbly because my swimming still isn’t super strong. T1 is generally around 2.5 minutes but I think my wetsuit contributes a bit to that time. Sunday will likely be my last wetsuit legal race until next fall. I’m working on getting all transitions below 2min.


  1. 13.1 Miles of Amazing « mymultipersonality - April 29, 2012

    […] swing straight back and forth. This is totally thanks to Frank DiPadova for making me aware that my chicken-wing arms were robbing me of valuable energy I might need to conserve on longer runs. Like this […]

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