The Effort In Effortless

Recently this questions has come up few times in various forms:

How effortless should effortless swimming be?

And here is one way I’ve answered that question:

The sensation of effortless is relative – when you compare the sensation of swimming once you’ve acquired the fundamental skills of TI to just about any other technique (or lack of one) used previously our students notice a significant decrease in the amount of perceived effort, while traveling at the same speed, or faster.

Not only is each stroke feeling less effortful, the perceived limit on distance is suddenly removed also. It feels as if we could swim endlessly – just add more fuel!

The reason for this is:

1) Those fundamental skills dramatically reduce water resistance working against the body.

2) Those fundamental skills dramatically reduce energy demand from unnecessary and excessive muscle firing and tension in the body and in the mind – the brain’s limbic (survival) system quiets down, oxygen demand lowers, heart rate calms, energy transfers more smoothly through the body, etc.

3) The work load of the stroke is transferred from a tiring ‘two-motor’ stroke ( ‘arms motor’ and a ‘legs motor’ of the traditional stroke) to a seemingly tireless, full-body synchronized movement.

Quickly tiring muscles in the shoulder are reconditioned to a supporting role (literally) while the back muscles and torso’s mass take the main role of generating most of the force behind the spear and the catch/hold (we let gravity do a bit of the work also!).  The work load is more squarely placed upon the relatively tireless core of the body which, in humans, is perfectly designed to generate rotational force. Consider every other sport involving running, kicking, throwing, punching, swinging, etc – they all depend primarily on the body’s rotational force-generating features. Strangely, but a fraction of swimmers ever tap into this physiological principle’s potential.

There is a version of this exclamation I have heard either during or after each camp I’ve held in the last two years, “OMG, I feel like I could just keep swimming forever!” Most often this is uttered by one of our students who came and could barely swim 25m (sometimes only breaststroke) without exhaustion before our first day, and by Day 4 was swimming 1500m continuously and didn’t want to stop.

**

This doesn’t mean that the acquisition of TI skills that create effortless swimming comes quickly or easily. It does take a great deal of focused attention, a wise road map on how to build those skills sequentially and sufficiently, and a simple investment of hours upon hours in the water. But the investment of time and attention pay off in a really big way. So many of our students graduate immediately from 25m pool swimmer to 2500m open-water swimmer in 5 days.

Many of us developed our high level of skill and ease completely by self-coaching. It also took us years to do it. A live-coaching experience can greatly accelerate that learning process. Hence, the reason I have devoted myself to teaching it to you!

**

The point is this: we have to generate power. And that power has to come from somewhere. Where the power is generated, how it is transferred, and how carefully it is applied make all the difference in the world to how effortful or effortless our swimming will be.

Once we’ve minimized natural forces working against us, and after we’ve leveraged those natural forces as much as possible to assist us, then we must generate our own force to finish the job.

So we need to build skill for efficient effort in three sequential zones:

1) Generate force (a result of metabolic and muscular conditioning).

2) Transfer force through the body smoothly, steadily (a result of neuro-muscular training).

3) Apply force at the precise location, at the precise time, in the precise amount (also a result of neuro-muscular training).

Finally, here is a practical tip for you: as you begin to consider the relationship of these 3 zones – work on applying power smoothly, and steadily in those three propulsion parts of the stroke – the Spear, the Catch, and the 2B Kick. Study the relationship between the three, examine how each work individually, then examine how each work in combination with the others.

The spearing arm into the water should be a smooth, steady drive forward, not an abrupt punch (or heaven forbid, a slap!) at the water.

The catch hand/forearm from moment of the catch through the entire hold (which is a more accurately descriptive term than ‘pull’) should likewise be a steady, even distribution of force through the entire movement – not an abrupt grab, yank or shove.

The press of the foot should be a steady press along the entire surface of the lower leg, pressing steadily for the entire (compact) kick, coinciding with the spearing arm driving steadily forward to the target. Don’t slam or slap the foot. And definitely avoid grabbing air as much as possible.

[Note: If you insist I can give you the reason from hydro-physics why we do well to avoid abrupt (or think ‘explosive’) movements in those propulsive features, but I won’t lengthen this article further to do it. ]

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Effortless swimming still involves effort. It will, at first learning, require a great deal of mental effort, in fact, as you learn to control your body in new ways. But understand that it is not the absence of effort but a more brilliant use of your effort that creates the wonderful and virtually effortless sensation. It will take some time to discover then develop that skill.

As you do it let that effort be strong, and let it be absolutely smooth, steady, evenly distributed across the entire movement.

In the beautifully synchronized body the forces applied in these three sections (spear, catch, kick) in the same segment of time will create a electrifying, smooth flow of energy through the rotation of the body and out the front spearing arm.

grasshopper kung fu

So Grasshopper, wonder how Shinji makes it look so smooth? The secret is not found by imitating what is happening on the outside, but by imitating what is happening on the inside.

For this you must look inward and learn to practice most intensely there.

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3 responses to “The Effort In Effortless

  1. This is a beautifully written account of the “why” behind TI. I shared with my Masters Coach (who NEVER covers these concepts) and begged him to share with his coaches. I printed so i can hone my ability to repeat it when sharing with other swimmers who are so very unaware. Thanks for your invaluable insight!

  2. Pingback: Core Strength And Control | Smooth Strokes·

  3. Pingback: Three Training Values | Smooth Strokes·

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