She swam 6 days a week for months so she could get paid to drown…hear Catherine’s story of how she trained to be a stunt woman…
Like a lot of people, I had swimming lessons as a child, so when I did my stunt training, I wasn’t exactly starting from scratch. I used to swim once a week at boarding school for fitness, but never felt I was “a swimmer” because other girls at school were in the swim club and they were faster than me.
As a fitness model, I keep myself extremely fit, mainly with running, but when I started training for the British Stunt Register, I realised that I needed to improve my technique and learn all of the competitive strokes.
Swim lessons, coached sessions and a swim club
I soon discovered that fitness is very specific. Although I could run far, swimming a comparably short distance felt tiring. I had one-to-one lessons because my goal was quite specific and I needed the flexibility to fit in with my irregular work schedule. I wanted the total dedication of the teacher looking at my technique and fixing faults as quickly as possible. One lesson a week was not going to be enough to build the fitness I needed in time, and daily lessons would be too expensive, so I went to the pool myself to practice in between. I swam for two hours a day, six days a week. My instructor gave me some ideas to structure my swim sessions, but sometimes it was hard to stay motivated. My local pool had a coached fitness class one morning a week, which was included in my membership, so I joined that whenever I could.
After a few months of regular swimming, I had built up a reasonable amount of fitness and contacted a swimming club to ask if I could join. They let me use a spare lane but I had to keep up with the pace of the session. The club swimmers were much faster than me, but I found it really motivational to be around strong swimmers and the relentless pace of the club sessions. It was helpful to be in a dedicated training space where I could swim as fast as I was able to. It can be difficult to try and swim fast in a public swim session without annoying everyone else in the lane!
Training with a one to one instructor, the coached fitness class and the local club enabled me to get a variety of opinions and perspectives on my swim technique.
After months of hard training, I booked the swim test. It was expensive and stressful and I failed. It was so disappointing and after such a build-up to it, it was really hard to get motivated to continue training. But I had done so much already that I had to keep going.
When I first started training, I was easily able to notice improvements, such as how much more of the club swimmers’ sessions I could keep up with. But as time went on, the rate of improvement plateaued. I was only a few seconds away from my target times but week upon week of hard training and I was not getting any closer. Improvements were now down to technique.
As an experienced runner, my leg muscles were used to bending at the hip and knee. Muscle memory becomes entrenched and watching videos to analyse my swimming, I noticed that I was kicking my legs in the same pattern of movement as they do when I’m running. It took a lot of work to turn my kick into a long, flowing movement instead of a pedalling action.
When swimming breaststroke, I realised I was pulling my arms at the same time as kicking my legs. I learned that you’re not supposed to swim arms and legs at the same time and you’re not supposed to pull forward with the arms. When I changed my technique to kick hard, glide and then just use my arms to lift up and take a breath, I went a lot faster.
The hard work I put in to improving my technique and swim fitness has stayed with me for life, whether I swim for stunt work or just to relax at my local spa. I’m now much more comfortable and efficient. At boarding school, I always thought that I wasn’t a swimmer, but now I realise it’s just that I didn’t know the right technique.
Never give up
The biggest thing I learned was to never give up. After a couple of failed tests, I finally passed and have achieved my dream of working as a stuntwoman on major film and television projects. I’ve done a number of drowning scenes, which opened doors for more work. There’s more to swimming than laps of the pool!
Thanks to Catherine for sharing her story.
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Photo by Wil Haub Photography