Total Immersion has two dimensions as a technique:
- A technique for shaping a swimmer’s stroke into superior form
- A technique for how to train a swimmer to swim at optimal performance with that superior form
Let me discuss this #2 aspect briefly: Total Immersion as a Technique For Training
In developing a swimmer we work on the 4 M’s of training:
- Muscular (think ‘body-builder’)
- Metabolic (think ‘big lungs and heart’)
- Motor, or neuro-muscular (think ‘perfect position and precise movement’)
- Mental (think ‘focused, clever and wise’)
To use a visual analogy, let’s view these as features on a boat in the water. The Muscular system is like the size of the outboard motor on the back. The Metabolic system is the fuel system and the engines ability to produce power from burning petrol. The Motor, or Neuro-Muscular (to not confuse with the ‘outboard motor’) is the shape of the hull and the shape and function of the prop, and the Mental system is like the pilot driving the boat.
Much of common swim instruction is focused on building the Muscular and the Metabolic systems as big as possible = Bigger Motor is Better. The basic mantra is: to go faster you’ve got to swim harder = more meters, more frequency, with more intensity. “No pain, no gain.” Common coaches write muscle-oriented workouts with little regard for the individual needs and neuro-muscular skill level of each swimmer- no actual skills identified, measured, nor improved.
To use our visual analogy this is like taking any boat and simply building as big an outboard motor as possible, one that burns as much fuel as possible to produce the most power output possible. But there are practical limits most swimmers reach immediately- a boat can only handle so much engine! Just as in boat-design there are limitations to engine size and output and the stress the hull can handle from it, there are limitations on the human body’s ability to produce the power, and there are limitations in moving a human body through water without injury or exhaustion.
Counter-intuitively, the fastest swimmers in the world are not the most powerful (they don’t have the biggest outboard motors or fuel tanks). They DO have the sleekest hulls and most finely tuned props, which require far less power output than their less successful competitors. And, of course, they are the best ‘pilots’ of their boat, knowing how to maneuver and shift gears, how to pace and when to accelerate.
The problem with the Bigger Motor approach is that we immediately bump up against the laws of hydrophysics and human physiology- and this easily stumps all but the most naturally talented, and physically freakish swimmers. As a human tries to move faster through the water, just like any vessel in water, water pushes back at exponentially higher rate. And there is just a limit to how ‘hard’ a human can thrash the water without requiring an impractical increases in fuel, lactic acid tolerance, and injury resistance. Few swimmers have the instincts to work around this and rise to the top of their sport.
The good news is that it is not ‘magic’ or super-human or ‘HTFU’ that gets us there. TI has found a way to get the rest of us mortals up there within reach of our true swimming potential: “Swim Smarter, Not Harder”.
You will be amazed at what happens when you apply some understanding of physics and physiology to change the shape of your boat!
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