Here is a common question I hear from swimmers devotedly practicing their drills: How do I know if it is correct? (“It” being any one of many passive positions of a body part or a particular movement pattern.)
The answer to that question depends on what that particular position or movement pattern is intended to accomplish for you.
In Level 1.1 skills we are developing comfort and ease so the swimmer can concentrate on making movements that actually move her forward. What we want is a body position that frees the swimmer from struggle against gravity or water. And upon this, we want to create a body shape that slides most easily through the water.
In Level 1.2 skills we are developing the shape and muscle control and synchronized coordination between the body parts that allows us to move forward faster with less effort.
At first, it is natural for the student to ask me, a person outside herself, to say if she is doing it ‘correctly’. This is one form of external feedback – and frankly, the least effective kind. But we often start here for this is where the dialogue with her own body begins. From experience, reading her body’s cues, I have a good sense of what may be happening inside. So I tell her what I perceive and ask her to look inside her own body and check. For some, this is a strange and unfamiliar thing to do, but it is absolutely necessary for her progress. I am patient to let her discover this new form of communication.
Next, we can use external forms of measurement to further tell her how much she is improving her position, shape, and patterns. We can count strokes. We can see how far she glides without extra propulsion (for instance). We can regulate movement with a Tempo Trainer. We can measure splits with a watch. We can measure the work/rest ratio. We can count heart beats at the wall. And more.
But my goal is to use all these external forms of feedback to train her own internal measuring senses. Though under-developed, they have the potential to be far superior to external forms. I want her to feel whether a position or pattern produces more drag or less, requires more energy expense or less. I want her to feel where force is being produced in body, how much, how it is being transferred through the body, and how it is being applied, just where it is needed, at the right moment, in just the right amount. In the end I want this swimmer to feel the right position, to know exactly what the best shape and the correct movement pattern feels like, then imprint it so deeply that it becomes automatic and will hold up under greater challenge.
The key to this kind of improvement is the set up of feedback loops – a way to measure if the position or pattern is achieving (or contributing to) the intended result. In TI we use both external and internal feedback loops. We use those external forms of feedback to train the accuracy of our internal feedback systems – the somato-sensory (nervous) system, as well as the conscious mind, and automated responses of the brain. Though they will always be necessary to help us improve, we are actually aiming to break our dependency on external feedback – because when you get into open-water, away from the walls, or when you get into a race situation – there won’t be all those externals around to tell you when you’re doing it correctly. In order to perform as you have trained, you’ll have to confidently feel it from within, down to the finest detail.
So when you set about your drill work to examine a particular position of a body part or a movement pattern, first remind yourself of it’s intended purpose (or send me an email to ask). Then recall the ways we’ve taught you to measure – both external and internal – or think of a way you can measure how well that position or pattern is achieving the purpose.
Here are some self-exploratory questions you might ask:
- Does it produce more ease?
- Does it produce easier balance?
- Does it produce less tension?
- Does it produce less struggle?
- Does it use fewer muscle units?
- Does it use less muscle pressure/power/intensity?
- Does it allow you to slide forward farther in the same amount of time?
- Does it allow you to slide forward easier (i.e. with less effort)?
- Does it allow you to breathe easier?
- Does it allow you to take fewer breaths?
- Does it allow your heart rate to lower?
- Does it allow your mind to become more calm?
- Does it allow your mind to become more focused?
- Does it allow the sense of time to disappear?
- Does it allow me to enjoy this movement more than before?
And all the little questions asked of yourself in the drill work add up to answer the ultimate question in your whole-stroke swimming: does it enable you to swim faster and farther with the less effort and more pleasure?
TI is absolutely about SPEED – but under one absolute condition: that every increase of speed be achieved with the lowest energy expense possible. The higher in performance (and in competition) a swimmer intends to go, the more success will depend on that solution. Physics forces the point. And by training under this condition we are forced to solve the energy problem in every stroke, at any distance or intensity level. To achieve this the swimmer has to become increasingly sensitive to how energy is being used in the body, even when it is plentiful. This is detected and directed by internal feedback and control. This is how we train in TI.
Efficiency = getting more work done at less cost. And in TI we add, with more enjoyment.
Among all creation, this is exactly what the human organism is genetically (neurologically) wired for. The human brain favors anything that allows it to get more done for less (even if it is delusional, mind you). And interestingly, the discovery of efficiency is also what generates pleasure inside the human brain. And we all know humans are highly motivated by pleasure. This is the ultimate, healthy addiction cycle.
So, coming at it from a neuro-psychological direction, when you find more joy in your swimming that is also one of the important signs that you are doing it ‘correctly’. Never underestimate the importance of pleasure in your training.
When the body, the brain, and the mind line up and work together awesome things happen!