Smooth Strokes Blog
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The last six months have provided a perfect case in point for one of the reasons why I maintain both swimming and running concurrently (beyond the reason that I simply enjoy each one for their own sake)… When one beloved activity was blocked, I could shift my focus to another and maintain some form of the fitness I value and need. That second activity was already maintained in my lifestyle so that all I had to do was shift emphasis and gradually build intensity up to where it would satisfy what I was seeking from it.
Because swimming is so complex, most of the ideals for individual features of the stroke are related to and affect other details. When you put one feature into its ideal place, it makes it easier for the other connected features to find their place. When you shift it away or have yet to correct one feature toward the ideal, it makes it harder for the other connected features to find their place. Every thing works together. As more features are made closer to the ideal and the whole system experiences more ease and efficiency.
In many cases, depression is a warning sign that something within one’s inner world or outer world is misaligned and you’d better do something to improve alignment, whatever you can do personally. But that still does not make the depression ‘bad’ – it makes the cause of depression bad while depression (the sensations in your body) is just the warning light telling you to go look for that cause.
The world is going to force us to change. We will either try to resist and be worn down by it, or we, with effort, respond to the changing world and direct our own adaptations in a positive direction. By putting in this intentional effort, by facing discomfort and practicing voluntary changes we can gain some strength to handle involuntary changes too. It’s not the total solution to the suffering we might experience in those involuntary change situations, but it can help us deal with them a lot better.
…the body is programmed to stay alive and keep the organism safe and moving forward on its growth and development. When an alarm is tripped that means that very ancient, experienced and reliable mechanisms of survival in the body have been awakened to do what they have done well to bring our species this far. The body is working hard for each organism using the resources it has on hand, not against it. Fear is a messenger of the body not an enemy.
First, you need to genuinely want to try this, out of some sense of need, interest or curiosity. I can give you some ideas for how to make this easier, but this is the one condition that is really necessary to get very far with the practice. If you try and bump up against the initial challenges without that intrinsic motivation, you’ll not have the kind of energy to work through it and this could discourage and increase your aversion to try it again in the future. When you face challenges with curiosity rather than duty, your ability to not only endure but to appreciate those challenges goes way up. So, intrinsic motivation is a very helpful pre-condition to trying this.
…nothing confronts the weakness in mental control like mindfulness-without-motion. And ‘confrontation’ is probably a good word to describe it. I acknowledge the fact that the early stages of exercising control over attention while sitting still can be very frustrating. And it will be especially frustrating for people who believe they have an attention deficit of some sort because they are already primed to believe they will have a harder time doing this than others do. I also point out the fact that those who find mindfulness-without-motion frustrating are providing evidence in that complaint that they need this skill more than those who don’t seem to suffer from attention problems.
That which is easiest to measure often gets measured most. That which is measured most often gets prized the most (in one’s head, in an organization, in one’s culture, etc.). But that which is getting measured most may not necessary be what is most important.
Distance and speed are the easiest things to measure in swimming. They are the easiest things to compete with. They are the easiest things to post and brag about on social media. Meanwhile, the subjective qualities of health, of movement, of efficiency, of sensory pleasure and flow state are not easily measured, they cannot be compared to another’s.
Regardless of how much someone else has achieved compared to yourself, no matter how low you feel your current position is compared to others moving in the same direction, in any case where personal growth and health is concerned, it is worth the effort to keep moving ahead on your own.
In popular culture and media, when we hear the term ‘high performance’ we readily picture something like fast athletes or fast cars. That impression comes easily because getting to a destination most quickly is highly prized in our society. But we know that getting somewhere quickly is definitely not the only thing or even the main thing many of us value most, despite what they say.
I demonstrated that I can possibly keep going with good form when working in this beyond-fitness range. But the price I end up paying to operate there is much higher than normal. Indeed, I could still feel some residual fatigue 4 days later on an easy run. Not many people function in that range often (versus ‘once in a while’) without some sort of longer term debt to their body, whether that comes in the form of tissue injury, metabolic/hormonal debt, or mental injury (e.g. a decrease in the desire for that activity).
I came to the pool with an open mind as to how far I might swim this first day, and determined to be gentle. I wondered if I might do 1800 (a mile) but I firmly decided that my body would tell me, and specifically, the weakest members of the system would tell me when I had had enough if I kept listening carefully and respectfully.
…in those final 2 miles, as I kept paying attention to what my body was doing and saying, I sensed that the urge to stop was connected to another warning system, the one that monitors the internal resources for action. My body was obeying my will to keep going but I imagined it was dipping more deeply into energy reserves to do so, and that the deeper it dipped in the higher the price I would have to pay in recovery. The discomfort was not increasing in overall intensity, but I noticed the quality of it was changing. When the effort crosses some sort of line and the body dips into that reserve, I know that the recovery process afterward will become more difficult and take longer.
A day of poor performance in training, or poor output (compared to your best) is a pre-pain signal that something is wrong.
Think about that one for a moment. If poor performance is seen as an early-warning signal that something is off, what’s the consequence of not finding out what the cause is and making sure to improve that issue for the future?
It’s easy and common for instructors to tell a struggling person what they need to do, but it is critical (and unfortunately rare) to guide them in a way that both increases their skill and reduces their stress at the same time. Because it is not known how to put them at ease, the assumption is that if they can just endure the stress for as long as it takes and break through with the skills, the stress will then all go away. But for many this is not the case because that stress gets embedded more deeply into their body and becomes more detrimentally associated with swimming.
It’s not happening quite yet in my region, but for some people out there pools are starting to open for swimming again. I am anticipating being able to return, perhaps within the month, but I also realize I need to adjust my expectations when I do. Though very fit in other ways, I will not have quite the same swimming body as when I stopped and the pool swimming world we are all returning to will not the be same either.
Here are some things I am thinking about and preparing for…
As for me, I want more strength so that I can more comfortable and more safely head out into a wider range of interesting and challenging terrain. I want more strength so that I can safely continue training for the decades (I hope) ahead of me. I want to be free to explore now, and I want to be free to keep exploring for many years to come.
…this is an important time to savor what we do have, right now in this moment. Once it does open up, the water is there to welcome us back. The neural connections we invested in building are still there, ready to receive those swimming signals. The body is eager, even if a little weaker, to get back to its healthy, life-giving movements in that invigorating liquid medium.
While doing that patient, persistent work for the first few weeks what you don’t see happening is the growth of the roots below the surface which set the stage for the next jump in your capabilities, like seeing the leaves and branches spread out above . You’ve got to stimulate the system through this patient persistent work for weeks to build those roots, and then you see the leaves emerge. Every time you hit a plateau and see little progress for your efforts, this is what you need to believe is happening unseen below.
These exercises don’t directly make me a faster or more fit in running or swimming – that only comes from training in those activities specifically. What my strength & conditioning does is make my joints more stable and strong so they can safely handle more training on the road or in the pool. That is what I understand to be the main point of such training – to build a better general conditioning foundation upon which the specialized training for one’s sport can take place.