A lack of understanding of how the brain and body work together to learn new skills and achieve high performance can sabatoge our improvement.
To help explain I’ll define two kinds of effort, and their result, the two kinds of exhaustion that we need to be aware of:
- Muscular–effort and muscular-exhaustion essentially come from muscles pumping and burning up all our fuel. Muscle cells are simple in their function in the sense that they just turn off/on, using energy to do so. We feel tired when they are depleted and worn. To ease muscular exhaustion we need to build new kinds of muscle cells that suit our activity and more of them.
- Neuro-muscular-effort and neuro-muscular-exhaustion is the effort the brain has to put out to control the precise movement and precise power for each muscle cell. Basically, we feel tired when our brain overloads the neurological pathways set up to concentrate and control those muscle movements. To ease neuro-muscular exhaustion we need to stimulate the growth of stronger and more abundant neurological connections in the brain and to those muscles to precisely control movement patterns.
In a neurologically-oriented training program a brand new swimmer will experience both kinds of exhaustion. He is both building new muscle and a better fuel supply network, and he is causing his neurological system to control movement in ways it never has before- these are both exhausting because his limits are easily reached. But to the untrained athlete these two may be interpreted as one and the same- plain muscular (and cardio-vascular) exhaustion. But learning to recognize the difference between the two will enable the swimmer to much more easily figure out how to improve.
TI trains a swimmer with slow careful repetitions in the beginning. We know that developing the movement pattern is the superior focus because fitness will follow naturally as repetitions increase, and automation improves. Teaching muscles to fire is easy- but teaching them to fire with precision, then automating that precision to an enduring state is difficult. What is practiced is what will be imprinted. In the TI Way the advantage is that this new swimmer, while gaining fitness, is laying the ground work for a skilled stroke rather than imprinting struggle into their neuro-muscular paths and muscle memory from the beginning. Fitness is relatively easily to build, but deeply imprinted bad habits are a bugger to overcome. So why not do it well from the beginning?
An experienced swimmer, a Learner in heart, who is pursuing a transformation in her stroke will also experience both, but in a different way. She is allowing her muscles to be re-trained at the cellular level, to fire in a different way. And often with more difficulty, in the case of an experienced swimmer, she is having to exert great concentration to override old movement patterns and remain focused on holding the improved ones. This can be neurologically exhausting, which can be mistaken for physical exhaustion for a period of time until the old pattern is neglected enough to fall out of favor, and the new pattern gains dominance. Under such exhaustion, a swimmer learning a superior pattern will not likely be able to demonstrate the new stroke with speed until the brain builds up the supporting circuitry and muscle memory.
We reveal this challenge at every TI freestyle workshop. Switching from the basic Superman drill to Skate Position drill gives a perfect example of how any swimmer new to TI will immediately be challenged to hold that asymmetrical streamline position without using arms or legs to support it. Skate position is not about strength, it is about muscular control- and subsequently, this is the key to our entire ability to hold streamline position while swimming fast or long. It’s all about activating new muscles in the core of the body, and because most people don’t use these muscles or are aware of using these, they cannot control them well at first. But given time and continual practice the circuitry is built and the skill is attained.
Be patient. And be persistent. Work on superior control and precisely applied power and we get efficient speed as a natural result.
More on trusting the process to train a superior skill in the next essay…