Friday, September 30, 2011

Swimming Like A Fish

I've been swimming for years and years now--it's one of my favorite sports, although I've never been particularly fast or particularly aggressive at it.

I just love to swim.  Always.  In my next life, I'm coming back as a fish.  I'm pretty sure I was a fish in my former life, but somehow, I accidentally moved up the karmic continuum.

So the way I see it, all I need to do is diss a couple more people, maybe, and I'll be right back where I belong.  (Just have to be careful not to descend to the level of a slug.)

Anyway, I've started reading about and trying to implement "Total Immersion" swimming.  It's interesting, because it operates on some of the same principles (in my opinion) as Pilates: you stabilize your core and then use large muscle groups (hips and lats) to do the bulk of the work.

If you've never tried to change the way you swim, let me just say that it is frickin' exhausting.  I felt like I did "nothing" when I swam last night because I simply focused on my body position in the water, and yet after 45 minutes, I was wiped out, mentally and physically.

It's a pretty challenging process, I must say, but I'm going to stick with it and see what happens.  The basic premises make sense: instead of trying to power your way from one end of the pool to the other, the goal is to become more "slippery" and "fish-like."  So, you angle your body such that you're swimming on your sides (or close to it) rather than simply lying flat on your stomach.

Power is generated in much the same way that it is in boxing, through twisting--or rotating--your hips around a stable axis.  The energy comes from large muscles in your legs and thighs, rather than the small muscles in your shoulders.

Because this is how power is generated in boxing, it makes sense to me.  In boxing, you set your leg as a pivot, and when you swing, you rotate around that pivot, so that the energy of the punch comes from the rotation around the axis, not simply from having strong arm muscles (although it doesn't hurt to have those too).

I like the concepts behind immersion swimming, because the focus is not on powering through a workout and exercising to the point of exhaustion, but maximizing efficiency by minimizing your stroke count (the number of strokes it takes you to get from one end of the pool to another).  You spend more time gliding, less time splashing and pounding.

The goal is to stay quiet in the water, like fish do.  Obviously, this is more difficult for humans, since we aren't built like fish.  So a lot of effort goes into neuroplasticity: training your brain and your nervous system to hold positions that make sense for swimming, but that are a bit counter-intuitive for humans in the water.

In my case, though, I think I have a couple of advantages: the conventional swimming advice I have always been given has never actually worked for me and never really seemed to make much sense.

For instance, I have a weak kick (in the water, that is-- there is no question I can kick royal ass on dry land).

But in the water, you could give me a kickboard, leave me for an hour or so, and when you returned, I would have moved all of about 5 ft. in the water.  If I'm lucky.

It really is a marvel to see: one can only wonder how someone could kick and kick and yet go nowhere.

So upon your return to my swim-practice, I would simply hop out of the pool and bust the kickboard over your head in sheer frustration. 

In response, I had always been told, "Well, you have to kick harder."  Result: I would splash and splash and go... nowhere.  I was told, "You need more flexible ankles."  I can rotate my ankle with the best of them, but still, I go nowhere when I kick.

I gave up (of course), and then I read that the kick isn't really all that important anyway, so I really gave up even thinking about it.

When you think about it, although all the splashing of the strong kickers signals "force" and "power," it also means they're generating resistance, so if the goal is to move through the water, they're basically beating themselves to death--the payoff is by no means equaling the expenditure.

Water is kind on the muscles and joints during a workout because it offers maximum resistance, but this means that it is quite cruel in other ways.  Because it is 1,000 times more dense than air, we have to find a different way of moving through it. 

On the one hand, you can build strength to propel yourself through it: this is the conventional wisdom.  But research has found that elite swimmers actually produce less propulsive force than the rest of us.  So they're doing something different, and that difference is staying streamlined and decreasing drag.

Good swimmers minimize drag by minimizing the amount of body surface in contact with the water and they stay quiet in the water.  The result truly is fish-like--and beautiful to watch.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."