1602 header approp advice

My last blog post Longer Length Or Faster Rate? attracted many thoughtful comments from regular readers. Those comments brought up many more enticing blog topics. I would like to lay out one of them in this post.

Here is a scenario that seems to happen eventually to many newly-practicing TI swimmers in their local pool:

You’ve started practicing Total Immersion and you spend your time in the pool doing many activities that no longer look so much like what you used to do, and certainly don’t look like what the others in the pool are doing. Then one day a concerned pool-mate (or coach or lifeguard) comes up with some concern and offers you some advice about what you should be doing to get some ‘real training’.

There could be a range of motives for these people coming up and offering you some input you haven’t asked for. Let’s not speculate too much about why – that’s something you should examine on a personal basis with anyone who might actually come up to you. It is certainly not fair for me to generalize what the motives are from afar. And anyway, that interaction could be an opportunity to explain your chosen values and methods, advocating for a different way of training.

But let’s do look at your situation and try to understand where this unsolicited advice may likely diverge from your interests. Then I will propose a way to prepare yourself to respond with more confidence.

We might oversimplify the Total Immersion training process into two major stages:

  1. Obsessively reduce drag
  2. Gradually extend or increase power, while resisting excess drag

In Stage 1 the act of reducing drag in your body shape and movement patterns produces an enormous savings in energy. In order to do this, the TI method has you simplify the situation for your neuro-muscular system, so it can more easily be retrained for firm, precise, consistent control over your body, allowing your to move in a much more hydro-dynamic way. This often means you ‘slow’ things down to get into position for superior control over energy expense – it gives your brain a chance to make the necessary connections. (Note: speed of motion is just one variable among many in the complexity of the swimming action.)

Now, for people who tried to swim with extreme struggle before finding Total Immersion, Stage 1 liberated these folks from so much turmoil that they immediately swam farther and faster than before. They can actually make it across the pool without total exhaustion! Often, this brings great surprise and praise from those at their local pool who may have noticed the dramatic difference. They might even ask what helped do it, because it is quite remarkable.

For others, who had some limited capability with an old form of swimming, your new TI practice likely slowed you down in order to rebuild things. And, when people at the local pool see you slowing down, doing rehearsals and drills – this definitely draws attention because this does not look like what anyone else is doing in the pool. And, after weeks and weeks of drills mixed with brief distances of whole stroke, and then longer distances of slow-tempo strokes – this can really start to get on the nerves of people who have totally different expectations for you – especially if those people have strong traditional opinions about what one should be doing in the water. At this point they may feel their first urge to tell you what they think about what you should be doing.

In Stage 2, you start increasing intensity – through longer intervals, better stroke length, faster Tempo, adding more power, working in more challenging conditions – to increase complexity, while protecting minimal-drag body shape and movement patterns.

When you get into this stage you may spend increasing proportion of your time in whole stroke with focal points, and in a variety of activities designed to even out and then strengthen your metabolic and neurological systems together. Since TI is completely oriented to building the swimmer from the inside-out (see my posts here and here on that topic), those observing from the outside may see you doing something that looks the same lap after lap, while on the inside it is very focused and regularly varied. What they cannot see is how your mind is switching from one focal point to the other, changing quality-control details at regular intervals. This is the next point which those self-appointed advisers may feel the urge to tell you what they think about what you should be doing.

But not everyone wants to go as far as Stage 2 can take a swimmer. As a matter of fact, some people – once they discover how much energy they no longer have to waste while swimming – seem quite content to keep swimming with their Stage 1 skill set. It is slow, yes, but it is smooth, it is relatively effortless, and if feels awesome. It’s something they know they can do for the rest of their life, and that makes them very happy. And, that is OK.

But frankly, that bugs some people at the pool who have a different orientation, if they keep assuming your objective for swimming is the same as theirs.

In reality, moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2 is not a distinct step, it is more of a flow from one to the next. Then Stage 2 is more like continuum, and swimmers will find contentment somewhere along that continuum, with very few at the extremes. Where you are at in your chosen training process, and what your goal is may not likely be recognized by those watching from the outside.

1602 diagram energy saved 800x500b

Stage 1 is about saving energy, and Stage 2 is about spending it carefully for a specific result.

First, let’s look at those two extremes to this continuum in Stage 2. I was reluctant to put labels on these sections, for those will only describe one dimension of our motivations, and they certainly overlap. But the labels may help use clarify some things in the context of this essay.

On the left are those who are content to swim with a minimal use of energy. These folks love the liberation from stress and exhaustion that TI has given them, and keep going steady, worry-free. I’ve used the label ‘Recreation/Fitness’, where there is great restraint on how much is going to be spent on this activity.

Then on the right are those want to see how far they can possibly go with all the energy they have available. These may be very serious age-group competitors, amateur to pro athletes – those who focus a disproportional amount of time, energy and resources on making personal records in their chosen event. I’ve used the label ‘Unlimited Competitor’ to describe their eagerness for expending a great deal to reach their athletic goal.

For those swimmers on our TI training path, both kinds will have gone through Stage 1 (and keep going back through it cyclically, to improve drag reduction further). But in Stage 2 they have very different priorities for how to use the energy they have conserved. Some have a goal that will require a great expense of energy and training that prepares them for this kind of swimming, while others will have a goal that does not require such a great expense and the training will reflect that. 

In reality, most of us will fall somewhere between those two ends, being willing to spend a bit more or a bit less to achieve a certain goal. There are those who are dedicated, mastery-minded, fitness swimmers who increase challenge in certain ways but are not motivated so much by competition or going a certain speed – perhaps these could be called ‘Budget Explorers’ – where ‘budget’ means there is some limit to the amount of time, energy, and resources they are going to spend to increase their abilities. And there are those who are ‘Budget Competitors’, who want to go faster and farther, yet still commit only a limited amount of time and energy proportional to what is required for other priorities in their life.

But how do the people watching us at the pool know where we are aiming for, and what path we’ve chosen to get there, and what step we should be at on that pathway?

Their interruption to ‘help’ could be an opportunity to explain, if they are interested in learning.

~ ~ ~

The questions for you are:

1) Where are you in this process? Stage 1 or Stage 2?

2) And, what is your goal in Stage 2? About where do you feel you belong on that continuum?

Those are two very important questions to answer to yourself, so that you are better prepared to respond to these advisers, and you are better prepared to sift through the advice you read and receive. The advice needs to support your goal and fit your chosen pathway to get there.

And, you might be able to explain what you are doing and why, if they care to listen.

The people outside of your paradigm may come to you with advice because:

  1. They assume they know your training objectives and priorities.
  2. The activities they see you doing in the pool do not fit their model of how to achieve that assumed objective.
  3. And, they feel they know what you should be doing if you were to be following their process for development.

It makes sense they would be concerned, if they are unaware that there could be other goals, and there could be other ways of getting there.

Now, if you know clearly what your personal training objective is, and you understand (not merely blindly believe) how your chosen method is suppose to work, and you have some confidence that you are working at about the right place in that process toward your goal, you are in a much better position to securely respond to unsolicited advice, even when that advice is coming from people who seem to know a lot about swimming… about their kind of swimming.

I’m encouraging you to become a good student and advocate of your kind of swimming.

What I can’t do for you in this blog essay is tell you what to say in that moment. But I would recommend first asking the would-be adviser kind but direct questions, since it is possible he/she did not start by first asking you questions to make sure the advice was appropriate.

You could present questions or requests like:

  • From your viewpoint, what do you think I have been working on?
  • Please explain more about the principle that piece of advice is based on.
  • Please explain how particular piece of advice fits into the bigger picture of the training process you propose? What steps should I take before and after this?
  • For this particular piece of advice how much time do I need to give? How do I measure progress?

Just maybe, they will have thoughtful answers and there might be something useful in it. Or, it might give this person pause, realizing you really care about why and how their advice should work and they have better be ready to explain it thoroughly.

I would like to believe that those who are truly masters of their sport will do a lot of observing and asking questions to first try to clearly understand the context of the athlete-in-training, careful not to assume too much. And even then, such masters are reluctant to give advice when not asked and reluctant to guide those whose history and needs they are not very familiar with (kinda’ like a mature, responsible doctor would be).

How is this would-be adviser presenting him/herself? Are they trying to get to know you as a person, your goals and your needs? Are they interested in building a relationship? Are they interested in explaining the principles behind their advice?

What might be motivating them to give you advice in the first place?

Maybe with a little inquiry of your own, you could tell the difference between an adviser who really approaches you out of skilled concern, and one who comes out of his/her own insecurity or annoyance about what you are doing.  The one who is skilled might appreciate your explanation about what goal you have in mind and the thoughtful process you are following to get there, while the other kind probably will not.


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Now, I am sure there are many stories among you where you’ve felt the urge to give, or had been asked to give some advice. And you’ve likely also been in the position of being offered advice at your pool when you were not necessarily asking for it.

How did you approach that situation? How did you respond?

What advice would you offer to others who might face a similar situation? (Note: I am asking you to share your advice!)

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