The Challenges of the Aquatic Environment detailed as 3 “B’s” of Swimming Performance

Breathing, Boat and Balance

 Addressing the demands of the aquatic environment must start with the most basic of understanding and acceptance of a simple fact: we don’t belong. The far-reaching implications of this basic fact are being explored all of the time and this ever-growing research of experiences by athletes and coaches is critical to achieving our aquatic potential.

“We don’t belong” is really just a way to illustrate that we are land-based animals and as such, we are not aquatic animals. The demands of the aquatic environment differ greatly and the athlete or coach who fails to accept this as a primary paradigm from which to base your experiences and target your aquatic training will ultimately fall short of reaching their full potential.

As many of you have experienced yourselves or through others, the aquatic environment can elicit a primary and powerful emotional response. What is that and why? It’s fear. Due to the history of availability to a copious and easily accessible means to stabilize the acidic levels in our bloodstream, Breathing has become a non-cognitive feedback loop. This issue must be addressed, as we are survival animals. When our breathing is challenged and our environment has changed, safety and survival will be your only primal, thoughtful focus. In short, it doesn’t matter what your coaches ask you to do, or how fast you want to go, or even how easy you want swim, once you put your face in the water, unless dealt with, the only thing your brain cares about, is getting it out. Read more on Breathing here (coming soon).

Now that you have accepted that swimming is about a ‘life v death’ experience from a primal brain function, its time to get into what being in the water is all about. The good news is two-fold as you have already mastered quadrupedal movement! Unless some of you skipped the crawling stage and went right to running?  Secondly,  you arrive already equipped with powerful land-based aerobic engines, so it would stand to reason that your performance then is not inhibited by fitness. It’s actually more land-based experience and evolution slowing you down, it’s your posture.

Land-based posture, is based on safety as well. We become bipedal for enhancing our chances of survival by satisfying safety needs (think hhunter-gatherer and we have curved spinal columns to absorb shock and protect our brains. Changing our Boat means adapting from a land-based survival posture into an aquatic posture. The alignment of your axial skeleton will greatly impact your ability to not lose velocity.  By properly aligning and energizing your axial skeleton and the associated rounded bones of the head, chest and pelvis you can create a much more efficient aquatic posture.  Read more about postural issues here: Think about what would sustain velocity more efficiently… a half inflated rubber raft or a kayak? (coming soon)

The final “B” in your aquatic quest to maximize your potential is an often misunderstood and applied word, Balance. Much like that kayak that we just decided had more velocity potential, due to is hull structure and alignment there is another reason it is faster, instability. As with the accepted theme of safety being paramount to us, instability presents a massive challenge. Our balance system, through various feedback loops will alarm us if we become unstable. The risk associated to our survival and potential success rises dramatically with this threat! To help manage this we are programmed to optimally use our appendicular skeleton and are required to manage only one gravity line. Think about leaning too far back in a chair until that instant you have gone too far… how do you react?

In the aquatic environment our Balance system is not only dealing with a new horizontal axis, but also managing the demand of three different gravitational influences. If on land, with plenty of available O2 and calmly sitting back in a chair just slightly too far, elicits such a primal response… image the impact of being submerged in water, with an elevated heart rate and two additional gravity lines influencing and manipulating you! And we have not even introduced 2000 of your closest friends experiencing the same thing at the same time! You can read more about how to learn to manage these influences here. (coming soon)

For the purpose of Balance in the water, consider your aquatic posture as a see-saw, where your lungs act as the fulcrum. Learning how to manage that line and create Balance in your relationship with the surface of the water is critical to your performance. The word Balance also applies to the previously mentioned challenges. The Breath can be used to aid Balance. The Breath itself needs to be Balanced. The energy created in your posture needs to be Balanced. Emotionally you will need to be Balanced. Movement patterns associated with aquatic performance need to be Balanced. And not one of these applications of Balance should be equated with stability.