What is the purpose of drills?

Yes, the drills we use will help us build a beautiful and effective stroke. But they are also there, as importantly, to help us build a deep sensitivity to the water and our body sliding through it.

We are not a machine, though sometimes we regard ourselves that way in order to accomplish some unpleasant task. But we don’t want swimming to be an unpleasant task. We want it to be an envigorating one, a mentally and physically enhancing practice.

If we treat drills as something to build a mechanical set of motions, then it shouldn’t be a surprise that we end up feeling like a machine plowing its way through the water.

If we treat drills as a process for learning to feel the water and work with it, a process for learning how my body should feel and flow through the water, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we start feeling as free as a fish slipping around quite naturally.

Next time you do you drills in the pool, pay attention to these points- both, when you are executing a pattern of motion correctly and when you are doing it incorrectly. Compare the differences:

– What does it feel like?
– What does it sound like?
– What does it look like?

Though we hope to for the pleasure of having other skilled swimmers and coaches around to help us make improvements, ultimately, we want to be equipped to be our own coach- not just in setting a training plan, but in detecting errors, making corrections, and honing our stroke into finest shape. Using our senses within the body are an essential piece of this objective.

To get you thinking on this let me give you just a few specific examples (from crawl stroke) using these 3 senses:

– When the head is in weightless position, on laser lead, I feel a steady flow of water over the swim cap- neither bobbing nor wavering to the side (like a torpedo moving steadily forward)- even when I turn to breath.

– When my lead arm is on track, the hand on target in skate position, I feel a gentle pressure against my loose fingers, and an even pressure of water flowing on both sides of my forearm.

– When I have best core rotation, directing force forward from the connection of foot-hip-arm extension, I hear a ‘swoosh’ of water accelerating past my ears at the beginning of the catch.

– When I have a compact, vertical 2-beat kick, I hear no ‘whomp’ when my foot flicks down (which means I successfully kept my heal underwater and did not catch any air).

– When I pull my hand out of the water at the end of the catch phase, and when I slide it back in at the end of the recovery phase, I hear silence- no splash, no waves, no bubbling sounds.

– When my lead arm hits its perfect target I see just a certain section of my upper arm out of the side of my goggles (which means my head is also looking straight down where it should be).

– When I spear my hand quietly down its (VW Bug Hood/Bonnet) pathway to the target I should see no bubbles streaming past my goggles- none coming from that forearm.

– When I have best core rotation (as noted above under FEEL) I see the tiles on the pool bottom fly past my goggled view me as I accelerate at the beginning of each catch phase.

– When I am holding laser lead my eyes are able to stay fixed on a line on the bottom of the pool, without waverying left or right to hold it. (It’s easiest in a shallow pool).

In general, FEEL is about sensing water pressure and flow over the skin. With muscles relaxed the nerve cells in the skin are freed up to give us important feedback about how hydrodynamic we are keeping our body, and how effective our propulsion is.

SOUND tells us a lot about where our energy is going. The sound of water flowing smoothly past the head is a good sign. Splash, waves, slaps, thunks, whumps, bubbling, gurgling, swishing sounds are all signs of wasted energy.

Since the head is resting, eyes looking directly down, SIGHT gives us indirect information about our motion, and it gives us information about our environment, our pace, direction, and about others swimming nearby. We should learn to use our peripheral vision- it’s very helpful. (If Iam paying attention, out of the top end of my peripheral vision, I can usually see a swimmer in the pool or bather in the sea I am about to collide with a couple stroke before I reach them- just enough to take evasive action.)

When  you get out into open-water you can add smell and taste too (though I suppose we could come up with interesting uses for them in the pool). Yes, these will give you more clues as to what kind of water you are swimming through, or even who may be swimming near you! (I can always tell when someone has perfume or lotion on nearby because it leaves an oil slick I have to swim through).

Open-water takes the importance of the 5 sensory inputs to a new level.  But I will save much of that to share with you at our open-water camps! Or another blog post when I get inspired.

I could write a ton more about this, but I just wanted to encourage you to explore the role of the senses in your swimming more thoroughly. Have fun with it- it’s extremely practical fun.

You can use such ‘sensory focus points’ for warm-up and tune-up sets. The more you use them and hone them the more you’ll come to appreciate the advantages they give you.

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