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Nancy Black, a personal swim trainer, demonstrates streamling for the backstroke. (JENNIFER ROBERTS/Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)
Nancy Black, a personal swim trainer, demonstrates streamling for the backstroke. (JENNIFER ROBERTS/Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail)

Why a condo pool is your ticket to fitness Add to ...

Five months ago, I moved into a new condo, and among its various amenities is a swimming pool. I had barely unpacked before heading down for a dip.

I'll be the first to admit that I swim like a granny - breaststroke, head above water - and after a dozen laps, I get bored and then splash in my own version of aqua aerobics until I get bored once more.

But the novelty of having a pool an elevator ride away started to wear off and I concluded that it was because I wasn't doing enough in the water. I wanted it to feel less like playtime and more like fitness. Alas, my freestyle technique was beyond rusty and I abandoned backstroke back in high school.

Tracking down someone who would help me improve my skills proved the first challenge. Yes, I could go take lessons at the local pool but that would negate the whole beauty of having one in my condo.

Finally, a fitness friend suggested Nancy Black, head coach and president of Master Duck Swim and Triathalon Club in Aurora. In addition to leading group classes, she's accustomed to working with athletes who are much stronger on land than in water.

Ms. Black acknowledged she doesn't usually get requests to teach people in their condos, though she expects that will change as more people find themselves with pool access but limited swimmingability.

Before meeting, she sent me an e-mail inquiring whether I had a swimsuit, goggles and a bathing cap. Indeed, I managed to find one full-piece, but that was the extent of my preparedness. "Swimming without the proper gear is like going running in jeans," she said. Point taken. I don't think I've worn a bathing cap since ninth grade but I quickly realized that it was less about keeping my hair dry than keeping it out of my face.

Before getting my feet wet, she led me through a bunch of arm circles to warm up my shoulders and we discussed my goals. Then the work began.

I won't lie: Our first session was no walk in the park. Ms. Black put me through a number of drills, testing both my endurance and my technique. She even made me do the butterfly, which I don't recall ever attempting. I'm just relieved no other residents were around.

Exhaustion does not even begin to describe how I felt when our hour was over. What tripped me up most was how confident I felt each time I'd start a set, but how my technique soon failed and breathing became a struggle.

I did, however, learn what to do once I reached the pool's edge. We're not talking Michael Phelps-style flip turns, but Ms. Black spent a considerable amount of time demonstrating how I have to push off and sink into the water, taking two strokes before coming up for air.

By our second session, I had a better understanding of how to move with purpose. We worked on the long axis (how the body moves side to side, which is beneficial for freestyle and backstroke) versus short axis (think breaststroke and fly). I kicked on my side with my head submerged to master proper breathing without lifting my head and looking forward. Then we did log rolls where I would rotate my body every few strokes until I'd completed a length of the pool. To maximize the fitness component, Ms. Black made me do 10 minutes of lengths with my hands constrained by a kickboard, which got my heart rate up while giving my legs a killer workout. Baywatch, here I come!

And then, just as I started to get really pumped about pool time, I got sinusitis.

Ms. Black, who has competed in five national championships and two Olympic trials, reassured me we could easily pick up where we left off, continuing to improve my "stroke efficiency" and shorten my distance per stroke.

She certainly stroked my ego when she told me I appear very comfortable in the water, show good body awareness and that I take instruction well. Which is to say that I'm not going to give up on my goal to make swimming part of my fitness routine. But for the sake of my sinuses, I'll be swimming granny-style until I'm fully back to health.


What is it?

Whether the purpose is to bring out your inner Dara Torres or just get reacquainted with proper stroke technique, call it personal training, aqua style.

How hard is it?

For anyone who defines swimming as floating in a swanky hotel pool, this will be a wake-up call. Luckily, more practice equals less gasping for air.

What does it work?

Swimming is one of the most comprehensive forms of non-impact fitness because it works every muscle group and is low risk for injury.

What are classes like?

With Ms. Black, the hour flies by. The downtime to learn new skills is balanced out by intense drills.

Who's taking it?

Typically, most of her one-on-one work is with aspiring triathletes although she foresees more demand from condo dwellers who want to use their pools.

Sign me up?

Personal sessions with Nancy Black start at $80. Visit www.blackduckswimming.com or www.masterducks.ca for more information.

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