It is very likely that most of you reading this article have also browsed online videos of marvelous swimmers that you admire in some way.
Who would be your favorite?
And maybe you’ve gone one step further to study one of those in particular and have started to memorize and emulate certain features of their stroke.
Having a strong (moving) image of what you want your own body to do is a powerful way to urge your body to get there.
I want to encourage you to choose a role model who demonstrates the features and quality and style you would like to have. Burn his/her image of marvelous movement into your memory. Imagine what it might feel like. Let your body experiment in seeking out that external appearance and the internal sensations that must be in there with it.
Why does this work? As you imagine and imitate what you envision, this shifts a good portion of your movement out of conscious control and into subconscious control which may help you solve some movement puzzles faster than the conscious mind ever could. There is a time for conscious learning and control, especially at the beginning of learning new movement patterns. But there is strong evidence in (neuro-physio) motor learning science that shifting the brain into another mode of control in practice can take that skill into the next level of proficiency.
But here is a bit more to think about when choosing your role model…
Choose a role model who is demonstrating those features at a speed similar to what you intend to go at. Form changes in significant ways as speed increases because the forces involved increase. When your hero or heroin is flying along at world record pace, they are positioned in a way that is not how you will be positioned when you are going at your best pace (I am sorry to break that to you!). They are working against forces and channeling forces much greater than what you typically face. There may be some useful things to observe and learn while they are going at a pace you’ll never experience, but you’d do even better to find a clip of them swimming closer to the pace you are intending to go and study how they interact with that water in that context.
Also realize that form under acceleration is different than form at constant velocity – the power priorities are different and the muscle activation can be significantly different. In acceleration (like when you are driving a car and press on the gas) the muscles are increasing power and the mechanics and leverage angles of the body parts may change. There are universal principles for how human swimmers need to position and move their body while swimming forward in water, yet the application of these principles changes with the context. For example, sprinting all out in the water, like 50’s and 100’s, would have small-but-important differences in pattern than when swimming 400 and longer. It might be easier to notice that, for running on land, sprinting form of one runner, like in the 100 and 200 is going to look different than what that runner looks like at 800 or 1500 or longer.
The program you follow should give you those universal principles – the fundamentals – that need to be in place for every human, in any swimming context, from beginners to elites. Then that program needs to teach you how to apply those principles in your specific swimming context, and through the capabilities and limitations of your particular body. The underlying principles are the same, but how those are applied will look somewhat different in different situations.
So when looking for a role model, you do well to find someone that is performing the way you want to perform, in the context you are in. Then take your understanding of those principles and study their form to see how they seem to be applying them, in ways that you may imitate.
Having their pleasing image in your mind may be a powerful way to get your body to do that, without having to consciously make yourself do it as much as you have been.
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