After a swimmer has invested the time to thoroughly work through fundamental swimming skills, often the swimmer encounters some obstacles to improvement that are better addressed by training he needs to do outside the pool.
Some major areas for improvement that emerge are:
- Postural alignment and strength
- Breathing technique and fitness (general breathing, not just for swimming)
- Sleeping patterns
- Clean, whole food nutrition
One swimmer in Germany that I have been working with for a couple years – starting with an initial private workshop and then occasional remote coaching through our online Dojo – has been particularly meticulous in his approach to examining and improving his swimming. One of his improvement projects has been on removing some excess tension in his body that he could feel was inhibiting the ease of breathing.
Let me paraphrase his description:
An ongoing challenge of mine is to, step-by-step, improve and optimize body tension, in breathing strokes and in non-breathing strokes. As I started working with the Total Immersion concepts I realized that I was swimming with too much muscle tension. The problem was that the information from my body was not precise: I did not notice tension and I did not know where it was coming from. And I had no idea (or feeling) how much tension or relaxation would be help or harmful, and in which parts of the body.
In our live lessons in Antalya, you pointed out one of the pieces of the “foundation of improvement” – you noticed there was a slight forward tilt in my hips (thanks again). In various medical checkups this was not pointed out to me. I did not notice the mis-alignment which silently crept into my body during years of spending too much time sitting in the office chair, which weakened my back musculature. Apparently, swimming distance three or four times a week was not enough to compensate.
About 14 month ago, in order to support my TI training, I started to systematically strengthen my back musculature and breathing muscles based on the Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization approach as part of some daily, general conditioning exercises. I linked this with the TI Learning Method. Since that time my standing posture has slightly changed, the use of the diaphragm as main breathing muscle has been re-intensified, improvements made in abdominals, gluteals, flexors… these have at least been retrained to do their job.
The positive effect: step by step this Body-Mind-Connection has developed to help me sense where and when tension is helpful or harmful, enabling better body-control and smoother movements. Not to mention, this conditioning supports body control and skills in swim breathing as well. This all takes time and persistence is a must, but small steps in improvement are rewarding and create motivation. I’ll go on and see what happens. Thanks for this journey!
People come to swimming – and to TI in particular – to improve their swimming because they have tried other approaches and know somethings are still not as good as they could or should be. If we stick with the training process long enough, and practice deep enough, eventually we often discover issues in the body and mind that cannot be solved in the water. This is not because the methods in the water are inadequate, but that the human body is more complex and has a lot more to its well-being and maintenance than can be addressed by athletic exercise alone.
This is when we are motivated to examine the topics of lifestyle and daily habits. We seek out better understanding in some area that catches our concern. We gain hope that there is technique we can learn for these patterns too. Then we are motivated to insert some work on improvements in this area, in addition to whatever we may do in the water. The benefits of this ‘supplemental’ work are experienced in swimming, but more importantly, the benefits of this are experienced in one’s whole daily life.
Poor posture and poor breathing habits are such common conditions for modern human bodies that most people – maybe even you – are not aware of that they are enduring a significantly impaired life of activity until some pursuit like swimming exposes it, and they wonder why they can’t swim as easily as others seem to be able to. But the more remarkable thing is how much even sleep and brain function for daily problem solving and good attitude are affected by inhibited flow of neural signals and insufficient respiration.
Should we act like a foolish homeowner who never bothered to inspect and maintain the foundation of his house until the walls suddenly start sagging! No. It’s a good thing to broaden our inquiry into these other areas that affect daily performance on land, as well as in the water.
One might learn from me how to position his body, position his head, coordinate his arm switch, turn the head at just the right moment, exhale in just the right way, but still feel unstable and insufficiently respirated. It could have a profound effect if he were to also start exploring his posture to improve his spine alignment and strength through the core. It could have a profound improving effect if he were to learn to breathe in the abdomen and build up strength and endurance of these particular muscles which would make breathing so much easier once these areas are trained to for it.
If you have been working faithfully in the water to incorporate all the best focal points but still feel like breathing is not as easy as it should be, you might just consider looking at your body beyond what’s happening in the pool.
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