Here is a brief explanation of how to set up an effective learning pattern with drills and whole stroke.

We develop the stroke, and then performance itself, beginning with gross motor skills and working toward fine motor skills. We’re going to follow the the body’s natural sequence for developing skill – moving from the core (along the spine) where balance (think ‘relationship with natural forces’, like gravity) takes place, out to the appendages where eventually fine touch and intricate timing take place within the stroke features.

The Total Immersion Principles are set up along this neurological pathway :

  1. First, Balance,
  2. Then Streamline,
  3. And then Propulsion.

TI seems to be well-known for ‘teaching balance’ among those who’ve heard of it or dabbled in it. If that is all one gains from a taste of TI it is still extremely useful because balance is the Secret Ingredient of excellent swimming. It’s ‘secret’ because you can’t see it (without a trained eye) in video clips of even the most marvelous swimmers; people tend to be captivated instead by studying movement and particularly, propulsive features and don’t recogize that ‘invisible’ foundation that makes all that efficiency possible.

So buiding a stable platform is the first priority of the drills; then forming shape; then synchronizing the whole-body; then setting the fine touches; then more and more finely tuning the whole stroke and the whole swimmer.

Here is the simplified outline of the standard, self-coaching TI freestyle drill sequence (as seen in the Perpetual Motion Freestyle DVD):

  1. Superman Glide Position starts at simpler, gross-motor skills for fore/aft Balance.
  2. Then next level is Skate Position which builds rotational balance in a streamline position (Stability).
  3. Then Skate Position with partial underwater movement, which we call SpearSkate. Then Skate Position with a single switch from one side to another side, which we call SpearSwitch (formerly known as Under-Switch). First, with single switches and pauses at certain points, then adding multiple switches with pauses, and then finally, removing the pauses.
  4. Next, Skate Position with partial overwater movements – the Arm Recovery – which we call SwingSkate. Then Skate Position with a single switch from one side to another side, which we call SwingSwitch (formerly known as Over-Switch). First, with single switches and pauses at certain points, then adding multiple switches with pauses, and then finally, removing the pauses.
  5. Finally, when pauses are removed everything really starts to look like Whole Stroke swimming, though likely in a slow and extremely controlled manner.

Can you see the steps we take to incrementally increase complexity? Let me state the progression in another form:

  1. Learning Static Position
  2. Learning Passive Shaping
  3. Learning Active Shaping
    1. Partial Movement with pauses
    2. One complete movement cycle with pauses at certain points
    3. Multiple movement cycles with pauses
    4. Multiple movements cycles removing the pauses
  4. Whole Stroke with a set of Focal Points

As we go along this progression we will encounter points where we are struggling with the skill. This is an important point to observe. This is where we need to concentrate some extra drill work. Once this skill point happens with ease we know the brain has imprinted the pattern (to the extent we have challenged it). Struggle means it is not imprinted sufficiently yet. We have to give the brain stimulation with variation, give it time to adapt with repetitions, and give it rest to build up a strong control circuit.

And in Whole Stroke?

Adding more distance, and adding more power are the next steps in increasing the complexity and challenge for the brain, and subsequently, the body. Adding distance and intensity are, in fact, extensions of the drill sequence.

When you get into Whole Stroke, you may find a point where the skill breaks down again.  At this point you can go back to a drill level where you can re-engage the attention and re-establish the skill you just lost control over. Then work your way back up to Whole Stroke.

You can swim as far, as continuous (versus intervals), and with as much intensity as you want. But the moment stroke quality starts dropping you need to assess what is causing it and address the true source of degredation – it is too quickly assumed to be a metabolic problem when the neurological reality behind the swim has not been taken into account. As I argue in Why Do I Slow Down? that stroke quality (and therefore speed) is falling, not ultimately because energy has dropped, but because attention has dropped first. It is this loss of attention which causes a loss in form, which increases drag, which causes a more rapid depletion of energy and a series of reactions that trigger a negative spiral fatigue effect. As you go back and challenge the threshold for the neuro-muscular control with specificly designed drills, you are in fact, also strengthening the muscular and metabolic systems that support it. You get all three in one.

So we recommend that ‘drills’, as you would come to understand them in the TI Framework, always be an integral part of training, no matter what level of experience or accomplishment the swimmer is at.

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