I've at last happened on a way to coordinate my limbs while swimming. It doesn't seem to add to my speed (I'm still getting passed quickly by all swimmers in neighboring lanes), but there's a rhythm to it that makes me feel I'm on the right track. Here's how it happened.
I'd reported awhile back that I was tilting forward when I did the crawl, with head underwater and feet above water on the kick. I asked one of the life guards if she had any tips on how to level out. She watched me for a couple of laps and said that I wasn't keeping my legs straight as I kicked, that I was bending my knees, which brought my feet above water to make a splash-kick (which isn't as fast or efficient as kicking underwater).
Since then, I've been trying to keep my knees locked as I swim, only bending the leg to do a scissor-motion at the hip-joint. That's made me newly aware of my legs, their power to propel me through the water.
Meanwhile, a friend told me about his personal trainer's method of making clients push themselves to failure in order to stimulate the growth of muscle. He has people do three sets of lifts, either with free-weights or on machines: the first set (of 15 or so reps.) is to warm up and this can be with less weight than you know you can lift, the second to lift your normal weight, and the third with a bit more weight than you've ever lifted, and you lift until you can't lift anymore. So if you're lifting sets of 15 repetitions, and you have to stop at 9, this is good. You've achieved the goal of stimulating your muscles to grow more to correct the deficit. My friend says he can really see and feel the difference, and he's built up muscle relatively quickly.
So, because I wasn't doing anything to build muscle (I'd given up lifting weights for swimming - which just builds aerobic capacity and tones muscles), I figured maybe I could stimulate some muscle growth as well if I sprinted every other lap or so. I tried it, could only make it half a lap - with two long, slow laps in between.
But these sprints yielded rewards. I discovered that if I gave a strong, stiff-kneed kick as I stretched my arm out as far as it would go, I could take a bigger stroke. It felt like I was taking a bigger bite of the pool with each stroke, and gave a sense that legs and arms were working together. I found that my limbs fell into rhythm with my exhalations, and I had a new sense of my body tilting slightly in the direction of each arm as it stretched to slap the water, adding a cylindrical sense of buoyancy.
I've been surprised that this new motion hasn't reduced my total workout time. But that's okay; it feels efficient and when I do a kick turn at the end of each sprint, there's a refreshing effervescence on my face as I swim back through the bubbly wake.
Another pleasant sensation I've discovered this summer is on our weekend visits to the local dog park. I used to think the great draw of these outtings was watching the dogs cavort through the woods and fields, but now I'm increasingly fond of the slow walk and idle chat with the pack of humans. It's oddly comforting to move through nature with a group of people, and it occurs to me that this might have something to do with genetic memory embedded in us from the times when humans migrated in tribes. Our dog-park has trails through woods where we can walk ten abreast, and sometimes we'll meet a group of cross-country runners approaching. We'll stand aside and watch them go by, and they look surprisingly natural in the setting, bunched up together for easy communication. In fact, when one of them or us peels off from the group on our own, it looks odd and inappropriate.