So, in the previous essay we have seen how swimming speed and ease can be broken down into a pyramid of interdependent skill sets.
In your stroke mastery and performance improvement process you need to work through this cycle several times, gradually deepening your attention to details each time you go through the process. You cannot perfect it all with one pass through. Speed will not come from a trick, but from a process built on a solid understanding of How Swimming Works, according to physics and human physiology – not dogmatic swimming tradition that works only for the naturally gifted.
Some main points of this Improve Swimming Speed series:
- Get a good process and understand how it works.
- Make several passes through the process.
- Set expectations appropriate to the current stage in the process.
- Incrementally increase challenge level (for body and mind) on each pass through.
For additional visual learning fun, let’s look at some diagrams to show you the concept of Aggregate Improvement in the Stroke Mastery Process (or any complex skill learning process):
The first time the swimmer goes through the stroke building process she will learn major ‘gross motor‘ chunks of skill – big stones. These will make a great difference in her sense of ease and control, and a little boost in speed because of the enormous initial energy savings.
Some major lessons that should be learned in this phase:
- How to create relaxation, alignment, shape.
- How to focus the mind on productive focal points.
The major sensation of this phase: I can swim so much EASIER.
After spending months imprinting the new gross motor skills (for it takes thousands of mindful repetitions, over weeks, to make a good pattern ‘automatic’), much of this will feel more natural, allowing her to maintain those actions without thinking about them. Because of this, on a second trip through this skill building process her sensitivity will increase and she will be able to notice and hold attention upon finer details in the stroke – medium pebbles.
The major lessons of this phase might be:
- How to hold relaxation, alignment, shape, timing over longer periods of time.
- How to detect then correct major drag problems while swimming along.
- How to select more (personally) effective focal points.
The major sensation of this phase: I can swim so much FARTHER.
With the energy saved from superior alignment and shaping the swimmer can spend it at her discretion. This is most often experienced as an attraction to swim longer, to swim farther than before – just because it is so easy to do it now, without raising the heart rate (or even feeling it go down!).
Longer uninterrupted distances provides the swimmer with an advantage that accelerates learning further – she gets more uninterrupted repetitions* for examining and adjusting of the stroke pattern – this has a profound effect on the swimmer’s sensitivity to the finest details in the stroke – the fine grains of sand.
*Note: The swimmer needs to aim for optimal periods of uninterrupted attention that support neuro-muscular development – one can stop too soon, or try to push too long. Changing your focal point after a period of time will allow you heightened/optimal sensory input. As a guideline you may aim for around 2-5 minutes per focal point (or blended set of focal points), but pay attention to when your sensitivity decreases or your brain seems to crave higher stimulation. This is the cue that you need to give your sensory system a new, fresh focus.
The major lessons of this phase might be:
- How to finely adjust shape and timing to improve ease and improve speed together.
- Synchronizing full body motion for smoother propulsion.
- How to identify and use the most productive set of physical and mental focal points for a practice set, or swim, or race.
The major sensation of this phase: I can swim so much FASTER.
This is the point at which she will, if persistent in the process, tap into the Accumulation of Small Advantages and start encountering bumps up in skill (i.e. speed) as normal.
Going from non-swimmer (or struggler) to swimming-easily is a matter of getting some major skill stones in place. Going from swimming-easily to swimming-faster is a matter of deepening awareness and control over finer details, having them accumulate and work together. Going from swimming-faster to phenomenal-swimming (think: age-group champion) requires the interest in detail and dedication to process that a martial arts black belt would require. Nobody earns their black-belt after a weekend workshop and a couple trips to the pool to see if the ‘tricks’ worked, no matter how gifted they were coming in to that event. The higher you want to go in achievement, the more quality time and attention you will need to invest to get there.
I hope you are aware that there are no short-cuts to your highest performance. But I also hope you are aware that some paths are much better than others. Working hard is not enough – working smart is the only way.
So, I really want to encourage – or even challenge some of you out there who feel the impatience to ‘get fast quick’ or feel tempted to slip in a lesson or workshop or study a video a few weeks before your big race event. If you dabble in TI (or any program) don’t expect bigger or more consistent results from it. You will not see great improvement until you adjust your approach and your attitude to match the reality of what great swimming skill requires.
One thing we do is help new TI students (especially those who have a longer competitive swimming background, yet are stuck at some level) understand this process and set expectations accordingly. Almost always, the swimmer is stuck because there is a gap in the skill foundation and a hindrance in their cooperation with the process.
Major hindrances to improvement:
- Ignorance of How Swimming Works and How Improvement Works.
- Unbelief in the process.
- Lack of quality (attention, planning) in training.
- Inconsistency/infrequency in training.
- Impatience in the process.
- Negative thinking against Self.
These are all antithesis to Deep Practice. And Deep Practice is the key to reaching your highest potential in this activity or just about any other.
As an exercise in your training journal today you may take some time to do an inventory on your mindset and patterns to see if you struggle with any of these. Then consider how you can make an adjustment in your attitude and practice to strengthen that area.
The TI teaching/learning method is not merely a way to learn a new stroke – it is primarily focused on establishing these mental (ultimately e-motional) conditions in the swimmer, which set the stage for smarter, better, faster swimming:
- Positive Cycle Thinking
So, if you struggle in getting faster, you may consider if that is a result of a deficiency in one of these areas first, instead of persisting in your current training methodology while expecting new results from it. If you do feel you have a need for improvement in one of these areas, then you are exactly the kind of person we can help with Total Immersion.
Read the next parts…