Swimming Paradigms and Important Changes

Part II

It’s time to question what you value, while you try to improve your swimming performance. When you think about what activities you are doing to elicit positive change what are they? And while physical activities and movements are important, we are talking more about what you think, as the critical component. These articles are hoping to challenge a few common paradigms that shape our thoughts and activities.

As an athlete and coach, the use of blanket statements can get oneself into trouble and create a reputation of willful ignorance. So, while these common paradigms are discussed here, bear in mind that any technique, new or old, that can actually be useful to ones improvement should be explored.

The short list of paradigms to explore over the next few articles:

Right v Wrong  a pervasive use of this specific verbiage and how it can be altered to effectively influence your desired outcomes

Life v Death— primal brain function that is a primary driver in aquatic performance limitations

Rubber Raft v Kayak — boat structure, tonal qualities, shape and their impact on performance

Water V Land —- aquatic improvement can happen faster with land based training

Paradigm #2 LIFE v DEATH

Sounds dramatic doesn’t it? Is it too dramatic? Take a deep breath, open your mind and explore one of the most critically transformative thought patters that negatively impacts your aquatic athleticism.

But I’m not scared of the water!

I can swim all day!

I LOVE the water!!

Just a sample of the most common responses when discussing this issue, which is why it is paramount to spend a lot of time with this one.

Make no mistake, when you, a ‘land based’ animal expose yourself to the aquatic environment and subsequently submerge your breathing apparatus, the primal brain immediately takes over. Generically speaking, the only thing the brain values once you have put your face UNDER the surface, is getting it back ABOVE. It really doesn’t matter if your racing for a gold medal, in an Ironman with 3000 of your closest friends or find yourself at the beginning of your aquatic journey.

Throughout helping many to “learn to swim”, even accomplished (land and water) athletes will share, within minutes of discussing their aquatic history, a traumatic moment they remember from their early interactions with water. These traumatic experiences stick with us. They shape our interactions with the aquatic environment. And I bet you could easily draw up a scary aquatic moment that happened to you. That is what makes this paradigm the most critical to accept. Our thoughts, actions, behavior, fears, conversations, challenges, failures and successes start here.  While it isn’t simple to accept by any stretch of the imagination, it can really expand your ability to understand both your limitations and opportunities in the water.

For a discussion point, most AOS (adult on-set swimmers, or triathletes for this discussion) will go to great lengths in order to avoid doing flip turns. Flip turns. FLIP TURNS! One of the most basic and ingrained activities of competitive swimming. Why, you may ask, do they avoid doing flip turns and how do they rationalize one of the easiest and most opportunistic ways to see dramatic pool improvement? “we don’t do them in open water” or another classic “i’ve tried them and I’m slower if I do one”

Now apply the paradigm of ‘life v death’ to this example and let’s discover the real reason they are not doing them and then why that is devastating to their improvement overall, as swimmers.

From and athletic mastery perspective for swimming, the most critical skill to master is breathing (many more articles on that coming soon). One of the immediate challenges of doing a flip turn is that of being able to manage your breath. By completely avoiding flip turns, one does not have to confront the myriad of issues that happened in the 23 yards/meters before the turn, that inhibit their ability to manage that air. If they couldn’t manage with an opportunity to breath just about every 2 seconds, then they certainly are not able to manage it when they need to inhale, hold, appropriately exhale and then wait for that next opportunity for the inhale. So while the thinking brain says, “I’m not scared of the water”, the survival brain knows they are not appropriately trained to even attempt a flip turn. This is just your survival brain winning and missing an opportunity for dramatic improvement.

Secondarily, it’s called a flip turn, because there is a somersault or tumble involved in the middle of that breathing issue we just discussed. To secondarily challenge your land-based balance system in an over stimulated survival brain moment, associated with the breathing avoidance, flip turns are simply just not going to happen.

To summarize, it is critical to understand that our survival brains are programmed to react first and foremost. You cannot override that initial reaction. Fight or flight happens after the fear, when you can think through a scenario, but before any thinking occurs, we asses the effects of that fear on our survival. Then and only then do we decide if we want to or are able to confront that situation again to learn. Generally, we react to fear based scenarios by primarily holding our breath in and creating tension in our bodies. Someone who is not breathing and is filled w tension, certainly isn’t going to be able to do tumble turn. Maybe you can think of a few scary scenarios that have shaped your willingness to experiment in the aquatic environment?

You can rationalize your fears all you want, but they exist to keep us in existence. They dramatically impact your potential in the aquatic environment. Accept it. Learn and be better.

Good Luck