The afternoon swim session continued to build on the student’s knowledge. Karen and I worked together in the 2nd lane…one I could stand in. This group of swimmers were eager to learn (like everyone), but it became very clear to me that some people are just sooooo resistant to change. Not because they don’t want to change, but for a lot of reasons. Old habits, familiar feelings, muscle tension, joint movement patterns and possibly a fear, even subconsciously, of abandoning old stroke habits that are nothing more than self-preservation mode.
I was really pleased to see many of the students in my lane make some great advances today. Also a bit dismayed that as soon as we would give them a new stroke thought, something we had just corrected popped back out of alignment. Elbows out was a common one. Some students required nothing more than a tap on the elbow to reposition. Other students needed two hands and a hip to get all the parts lined up where they ought to be!
I’m sure there will be challenging students in every setting, but I wondered about a particular one…what would I do if he was my one on one student? Probably I would take him through the progression a bit slower, keep the lessons short, and let him focus on just a single thing (or two) until he gets it. But if someone isn’t there to physically help him change, will his brain get it on its own? What’s body awareness and can it be improved? One student wanted to look forward to see where his hands were, and I reminded him that when dancing you don’t need to look at your feet. He said that he did. Nevertheless, he got the point and I can see him, and others, thinking actively while swimming to make corrections.
Finally, at the end, Terry said, “Let’s let our birds fly on their own!” and let the students swim whole lengths without any intervention from the coaches. It was fun because we (the coaches) got to do a little swimming ourselves, and the students got to practice whole lengths while we watched from the other end.
After the class session was over, Terry did a 30-minute workout with the coaches. Now in Terry’s mind, a workout is not about building sets and yards and pace clocks and push-offs. A workout is a well thought out progression and collection of stroke thoughts with a specific intention behind them. Today’s workout was really eye-opening for me. First, we simply swam relaxed, with long glides to the other end with a pause at the rear of the stroke (Not normally something you’d intentionally practice…but Terry had a plan). As we swam, we decreased the amount of pause at the rear of the stroke, so that by the other end we were close to, but not quite at, a normal swimming rhythm. After a few laps of this, we swam with a long, slow-motion recovery and long glides between strokes, with the instructions to make the recovery as long as possible without stopping or pausing it. Then he had us do the same thing while counting strokes. I did 14 strokes the first time. I had been thrilled just a few hours earlier that I did 16…it felt really good then, but felt strained now. I thought in my mind that I was doing a great job (relative to where I am…I was….but it’s impossible, or at least difficult to not compare myself to others). The 6′ tall guys were doing 8 strokes, and Fiona, who is 5’3″ did 9 strokes. Fiona did 9 and I did 14! I guess I have room to practice.
Terry wanted me to do 13 on the next length, and just by focusing on streamlining my glide, along with the slow recovery I got down to 12 strokes. Now here is where the fun begins. The instructions were: each lap swim exactly one stroke more than the previous lap, but slightly increasing the rate of the recovery. Nothing about the glide or the weight shift should change, just the speed of the recovering arm. Keep adding 1 stroke to each lap by increasing the speed of the recovery until you can no longer swim with full extension any faster. It sounded interesting enough and then I tried it. And it was really freaky! Just by slightly increasing the speed of my recovering arm, and nothing else, my stroke count went up (but I was traveling faster). Each length all I focused on was the speed of my recovery and increasing it slightly. And sure enough, my stroke count went up by 1 each time! I got up to 20 before I felt like I couldn’t recover any faster and still stay in full extension after my glide.
Then we repeated the entire thing again, from 12 to our top number. My range was 12-20 strokes. Neither end felt good, but there was a sweet spot in the middle ranges. Some of the men were doing 8 to 12 stroke range before they felt like they couldn’t stroke any faster. The next set Terry had us change our focus to our lead hand entering the water in a position that would allow us to immediately grab and trap water with our hand, envisioning that none of the water molecules would sneak past our fingers. While doing this, we repeated the stroke rate exercise. This was a bit harder but felt more powerful. Terry commented that my stroke looked longer than on our first day where I was looking very compact from above the water.
That was the first time I’d ever felt like I had any control over my stroke rate…because I had a single variable to focus on that made sense. – the rate of recovery. It makes sense because nothing else under the surface of the water should change in the stroke, otherwise your stroke loses effectiveness. When I tried controlling stroke rate prior to coming out for the clinic I was focusing more on the “gestalt” of the stroke, how it felt, without having a specific component to modulate.