This continues from Part 1 of Four Step Training Progression…

Customizing For Each Swimmer

Let’s say two swimmers are working on the same skill at camp but have different starting points, because of where they are at in their neural control for this particular skill. Let’s compare two hypothetical swimmers with contrasting situations:

Jackie is quite experienced at swimming and has strong fitness – but she has very strong old patterns from years of swimming a certain way and it is hard for her to override these old patterns. Though she can swim far and fast, if she does that with a new (conflicting) movement pattern her brain will likely kick back into the dominant (old) pattern – it’s irresistible. This means she has very weak neural control for the new pattern and would do best to work carefully in Step 1 and Step 2 until she can easily slip into the new pattern before we let her turn up the power of the signal she sends through that new circuit. This could take a single training session or several – it is up to this swimmer’s brain and attention on how long it will take to stick.

This obviously requires an understanding for how neuromuscular skills develop, then the application of patience and humility as the ‘experienced’ swimmer simplifies and slow down enough to establish a new pattern. She may have been somewhat accomplished with the old pattern she was using, but she is motivated to change it for something even better. She must exercise faith in the process, believing it is worth the time and effort because she will have to slow down for a while before she can speed back up and confirm it will produce the superior results she expects. 

Roxanne only became a swimmer a few years ago and is focused only on making fitness swimming more enjoyable. She has been so careful to work on this particular skill but she is used to moving slowly and she knows it. We would want her to understand how increasing strength and speed can make her swimming more enjoyable. Then she must apply diligence in Step 3 and eventually in Step 4 so that the specific strength around this skill increases and she speeds up and swims longer as a result. 

This requires an understanding that increase in strength is a part of a responsible longevity fitness plan. By focusing on an increase of skill under more challenging conditions she is going to have a stronger, healthier, happier brain and body. Increasing healthy performance is not about competition with other people, but about resisting the decay that normally happens with age. She is not content to be ‘normal’. 

Mark is sliding into Skate Position in the calm, sheltered water of Limanağzı Beach in Kaş, Turkey.


Different Skills, Different Steps

It is possible in a situation like Jackie’s that if she is working on changing her arm-switch timing, she might need to slow things down in Step 1 or 2 for a while just to keep her brain from clicking back to the stubborn old pattern. But if we gave her a subtle change in her head position while turning to breathe, she might be able to insert that focal point into Step 4 activities and immediately maintain the new skills.

So, we don’t assign the entire swimmer to one of the steps, we assign her skill project to a certain step. She may work on Step 1 for a particular skill (like arm switch timing) and work in Step 4 (like breathing) for another. Her success rate for making the change and maintaining it determines when she can move into the next step for that particular skill. 

We should note that it may be appropriate for the swimmer to work on some skills in Step 3 or 4, while working on others in Step 1 or 2. But it may be unnecessary, even frustrating, to keep the swimmer working in Step 1 or 2 until all her skills are at the same level, when in some areas there is no reason to hold her back. Some skills are enhancements to the fundamentals and these could be ignored while working on fundamentals in the higher steps. 

Some skills are more fundamental, more consequential – such as balance and stability – and until these are established the swimmer might do better to stay in Step 1 and 2 for all skill work, because the other skills are dependent on these in order to function as intended.

This is where it may be helpful to consult with your coach to determine how you can arrange different skills on different levels of training, so that more intense training does not de-train your fundamentals, while allowing you to work on a higher level of intensity without fear of messing up other enhancement skills you cannot pay attention to yet. (You may also be encouraged by this article to train some skills at a higher step while others need to be worked at a lower step).


Are You Working Each Skill On The Appropriate Step?

If you are training in the pool for several months and still working on all your stroke skill projects on the same step, then you may need to reconsider what you are doing.

If you’ve been hanging out on Step 1 for a while, you may actually be in need of increasing the challenge and testing those skills on higher steps. If you are waiting for perfection on every part of your stroke before progressing to another step then this may be a misunderstanding. Some features of the stroke need to be worked at higher intensity to make progress. Taking your current skills and working them on higher steps is an important way of testing your work to see what is sticking and what is not.

If you’ve been hanging out on Step 4, working all your skills at the same intensity and feeling like they are ‘good enough’ then you might consider a check up with a coach or choose to increase your standards of quality on some part of the stroke. As part of the kaizen (continual personal improvement) path you will stay fresh and motivated and be more satisfied when you stay on a growth-oriented path. And that wonderful Flow State is triggered only when you are challenging your skills, urging them to go to a new level. This would mean that you voluntarily seek out a new skill improvement that requires you to start back on a lower step.


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