In a live training session the coach can watch and offer you vital feedback on how closely some part of your body position or movement pattern is matching the ideal. Then hopefully, they will also offer you practical guidance on how to bring it even closer. Some coaches are even set up to use radios during the training sessions with each swimmer wearing a bone-conducting receiver so they can listen to the coach’s feedback while they are in the middle of a training set. This way you can get that feedback while you are swimming, not just after you’ve finished the length.
But this doesn’t supply everything you need to swim proficiently on your own. What good will it do if you can only detect what is better/worse about some feature of your stroke when someone outside your own body has to tell you?
Connect Sensation To Appearance
The crux of the matter is this: at some point, in some way, you have got to figure out what better/worse feels like with your own nervous system so you can swim along and make corrections with your own built-in feedback. This is really the only way you are going to make consistent progress in your technical ability.
Every piece of visual feedback given by your coach needs to be connected to a physical sensation that you can recognize inside your body yourself. The visual feedback has to be translated into sensory language.
If the coach says to you, “Your head position looks just right,” you need to immediately scan for how that head position feels so that you can create a strong sensory association between ‘looks correct’ and ‘feels correct’.
If the coach in the water adjusts your lead arm position, you need to immediately pay attention to how the two positions feel different – creating an association of ‘worse’ with the former position and ‘better’ with the new position. Your coach can tell you or move your body part into the better position and then you have to do whatever you need to do in the moment – slow down, or shift into drill mode – to feel the contrast between where that body part was and where the coach says it should be. You main work at that moment is to memorize the feeling of the new position.
This is probably the most valuable thing you take away from that live lesson. Challenge your coach to speak less in abstract conceptual terms and more in concrete sensory terms. Get her to teach you how it should feel, how it feels inside her body in terms that help you you more easily identify those same sensations inside your own.
Tools For Improving Senses
Rehearsals are your first step in developing better awareness and control using your own nervous system.
A rehearsal is where you stand up (in water or on the deck), isolate just one part of the body, and practice awareness and control of that part. In a rehearsal position the concern for floating and balance in the water is removed and there is less competition for your attention when you don’t have to control all the other parts of the body at the same time.
Don’t underestimate the value of rehearsals for etching a new movement pattern into neuromuscular memory. It doesn’t seem like you are swimming, but it is training a part of your body to become familiar with and eventually prefer a certain position or movement pattern. Just as you used repetition to create the inferior habits you are now trying to break, you will use repetition in many forms to etch new habits to override those old ones.
Drills are the next step in developing awareness and control.
A drill is where you lay down into the water and work in horizontal and floating position. A drill has you isolate just a part of your position or stroke in your attention, and often this requires slowing things down (but not always). That isolation may be physical where you are moving just one part of the body while the other parts are still, or the isolation may be mental where all the parts are moving in the whole stroke choreography at normal intensity, but you are holding complete attention on just one part.
To be more explicit, realize that drills are a spectrum of activities, from stationary and distinctly not-swimming, to full-tempo whole stroke swimming. When you are deeply attentive and corrective with a point of your body you can be in ‘drill mode’ even when you are swimming along in a race. Drill mode is foremost a matter of your attention – you just adjust your activity to have more or less complexity to make it easier to pay attention to what you need to work on.
Do not underestimate the power of drills, especially when you think of them as a ‘drill mode’ because that is the state in which your brain will receive the stimulation it needs to improve body position and movement patterns. In this way, you can spend your entire practice in ‘drills’ while participating in an entire array of activities and intensities.
Rehearsals have you standing up vertical, working against gravity pushing downward. That is where they are limited in helping you learn something ultimately used in the water. Once you lay down into horizontal position, with gravity mostly neutralized, body weightless, unstable, with water pressure all around, the brain might not so easily remember how to do what seem so easy while standing up. The step from rehearsal to drill sometimes involves a big jump in complexity. But sometimes it is this very fact of not-being-in-the-water that frees up your brain to figure out how to move in a new way, without falling back into habits that are instantly triggered by laying down in the water. So, sometimes rehearsals are the right tool and sometimes going to a drill is a better first step.
More in Part 2…
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