(Terry, in Mar. 2013, pausing at the 1.2 mile buoy– the turnaround– on the Kona Ironman course)
This week’s featured video–courtesy of T.I. Master Coach Dave Cameron’s YouTube Channel– shows Terry at the 2013 T.I. Kona Open Water Camp, teaching an advanced group of swimmers (including Ironman competitors) about higher-level propulsion and positioning techniques, particularly for racing. The skills taught in this 16 min. video are subtle, detailing the finer points of propulsion that swimmers begin to practice after they have mastered all the foundational skills that T.I. teaches (Breathing, Balance, Streamlining, Propulsion with weight shifts of the core body). Terry comprehensively describes how to practice and “wire in” the most advantageous arm position, by applying strategic pressure with the hand and forearm, for faster swimming. Many thanks to Coach Dave for taping one of the teaching sessions in Kona, back in 2013! For the many T.I. swimmers who always wished to experience a coaching session with Terry but missed the opportunity, this is a valuable up-close look at how he taught advanced skills. A bit more loose and improvisational than our scripted instructional videos– with dryland rehearsal demos of stroke technique, some interesting observations from Terry about how world-class swimmers create effective propulsion, and the difference in form that he noticed from the first finishers of the Ironman swim in Kona, versus the finishers at back of the pack in the swim. BONUS: we’ve attached a transcript below the video, so you can read along as you watch/listen! If this fires you up to take your own T.I. Swimming to open water, you can click HERE for info on our upcoming 2019 T.I. Open Water Experience in Kailua-Kona on March 14-18 . Enjoy this virtual session with Terry… and Happy Laps!
[Editorial Note: This was a non-professional recording, spontaneously taped at the beach by Kailua Pier, with some ambient noise of other beachgoers in that informal environment. We highly recommend, at the 10:25-12:40 time signature, that you check out the transcript we’ve provided, due to the distraction of a paddle-boarding dog– yep, it’s Hawaii!– barking very loudly in the background. Real world conditions during this filming! The transcript is an excellent supplement to refer to at that point in the video.]
With propulsion, you’re really working on higher-level skills—you’re also working on the things that have a higher inherent cost in power and energy, and those are really limited and relatively non-renewable resources. So, how we apply them, when we apply them really, really makes a difference… The reason we don’t do too much of this [motions with hand to show the lead arm catch position] too early is that, first of all, you must have your balance, your stability, really wired in strongly in order to actually do these things effectively. If you don’t have those [fundamentals], it’s really hard to do those things [advanced propulsion skills]. So what are we talking about here? Alright, so we’re talking about, when we apply pressure, that we move ourselves forward—don’t move the water around. Alright? And that pressure may be from the hand and forearm—it may be from the leg. The legs’ pressure does not move us forward, it helps with the power generation, by assisting with the weight shift, and the propulsion is actually produced from how you apply pressure to water with your arm. So, as you do that, one of the things you want to have spent countless hours thinking about—before the race, before you’re under pressure—is the fact that what you’re pressing on is water. And that water is a bunch of disaggregated molecules. It’s really easy to start those molecules moving so that the molecules get stirred up, but you don’t really move very far… We need stroke length and we need rate. And to some degree, another trading chip we have is how much pressure we choose to apply [Terry motions with position of lead arm].
In a race, I’m constantly trying to find the right marriage—the right blend—of rate and pressure, for that stage in the race, knowing what’s coming forward. And I rely on having done that countless times, in repetitions swimming in the pool, as well as in open water practice, so that literally, I don’t really have to think very much about it. I have these auto-responses that are programmed into my brain, so that when I race, they come out. This is so—the opportunity to use this sort of thinking, this sort of strategic awareness, and finesse in how you apply those resources—is so much greater in open water, than it is in the pool. In the pool, it [competitive racing] really does come down to—a lot—to fitness, athleticism, inherent power you have, and things like that. I’m not very competitive with the best people in the pool—I’m very competitive with the best people in open water, and I can out-swim people that are far faster than me in the pool because… I love swimming in open water because it really appeals to me that, as Margie [a swimmer attending the Kona camp] said, ‘You can punch above your weight in open water’… which is really hard to do in the pool. So, what we’re going to do today, with the caveat that you need to still be working on your balance and stability over time, so that these things we do today work better and better and better… And especially work when you’ve raised your rate, when you’ve started applying more pressure, when there’s a lot of people around you and you’re feeling under pressure, ok? So that’s got—keep working on that [balance and stability], you never, never stop.
So… alright, so the first part of how you create propulsion with your arm starts with, your arm has to be in the right position… The other two groups [at swim camp]—and I haven’t swum with you [the advanced group] yet, so I haven’t had the chance to observe you underwater—but in the other two groups [beginner and intermediate groups], virtually no one has their arm in the optimal position. I haven’t mentioned it to them because they’re dealing with other stuff [balance, stability, streamlining skills]. At some point, it will be appropriate to bring that in, but they’re dealing with other stuff… Having watched you swim surface [during surface videotaping] the other day, looks like, for the most part, you’re ready to do this, cause your form looks… You look stable! You look stable on the surface, you look smooth on the surface. So what I’ll be looking at as we swim is the extent to which you have an arm position that looks like this [demonstrates applying pressure with the lead arm catch]. So just visualize a balance ball and drape your arm over it… [Group rehearses arm position together] Alright, as we start this exercise, we’re going to be focused mostly on creating a sense of shape and volume under the arm… The shape we want is one where it’s really easy to get the hand position to apply pressure so the resultant force is that way [motions forward]. Alright? Any force you apply in any other direction is wasted, and we can’t afford to waste. So, the first thing is to have the hand position so that when you apply any pressure, the resultant force is going to move you forward.
Unless you are Oussama Mellouli [Tunisian Olympic triple medalist] or Grant Hackett [Australian Olympic multiple medalist], or any of these guys– and women– who are world-class, and have an ability to almost dislocate the shoulder blade…that, what they call ‘the early vertical forearm’ and they promise you that paddles will teach you, and so on—that is pure nonsense. Alright? What you require is a shoulder blade that practically is able to dislocate—that’s one of those ‘talents’ that allows a person to be a world-class freestyler and get the arm in and do that [motions with lead arm in vertical position]… Ok? Cause if you watch video of someone like Oussama bin… bin… [Laughter]… Mellouli! From the side, underwater, you see his shoulder blade popping out, alright? And practically bursting through the skin—mine doesn’t do that. It doesn’t matter if every single brain cell I have is thinking about doing that…it’s just never going to happen. Alright…so, I make sure that I’ve got the hand facing back and I do that by relaxing [demos relaxing the lead wrist], not by turning on [muscles]. And then, I have to use muscles– the posterior deltoid primarily—to lift the scapula and open the axilla [underarm]. Those are the two actions, and they’re pretty subtle actions. Alright?… And the limiting factor on how much pressure I can apply is not the power I have here, it’s the ability of these much smaller, and less powerful muscles to hold that position. Because if I maximize the power in the prime movers, these secondary movers are just going to give up, and I end up with something that is sort of sliding the hand back, as opposed to holding that position. And by the way, you do have [points to swimmer in group]—I did see you enough yesterday—to see that you do have an inherent ability to do that, that’s better than most people’s. So that’s good… [Swimmer replies: It’s Pilates…”] Pardon? [Swimmer says again: “It’s Pilates, I think…”] I think you’re born with it! [Laughter] I’ve done Pilates and I’ve done yoga, and I’ve done all kinds of things, and it doesn’t happen…
So, in any case, you visualize… We’re going to start out, we’re going to go through a series of focal points… We’ll do a couple of rehearsals on a series of focal points, alright? You’re not going to learn this [master it] in the next 90 minutes—what you’re going to learn is the process that you can continue to make this better. So the starting point is to visualize a balance ball, and drape your arm over it [demos lead arm position], and I use that word ‘drape’ very consciously to connote that it’s relaxed… [Swimmer asks: “Where is the bowl?”] Hmm? The ball is between… [Swimmer: “Oh, ball!”…] A balance ball—a Swiss ball. A Swiss ball. [Swimmer: “Ohhh…”] So you visualize… and as you do that, think about… How large is that ball? Is it 55 centimeters? 65 centimeters?… And the space between my [lead] palm and my hip is what I’m conscious of, I’m thinking about the size of the ball that I’ve got there. Ok? And then once [I], having draped and defined the space, defined the volume, as best I can, alright?… Now what I’m going to do is just—in my mind—just hold the ball, so that there’s light activation of the arm muscles, so I feel I’m lightly holding it against my hip. Ok? That’s the feeling that you want to have as you begin applying pressure… As I drop in, as I drop into the water [with the recovery arm] through the ‘mail slot’ [angle of hand entry]… This is why we teach the ‘mail slot’ early—because it sets you up to do that [achieve optimal lead arm position for propulsion]…
I’ll mention one more thing I’ve observed about triathlon: I’ve watched the end of the [Kona] Ironman from up here, on the pier, as people are coming in, after swimming their 2.4 miles… I’ve watched other races from the shore, and seen people moving through the latter stages of the race, and you can really observe things about what predominates in the early part of the pack, in the mid part of the pack, in the rear. And when I look at the first 10-20% of the field, I see a large percentage of people going in [demos hand entry] so that the hand precedes the forearm, precedes the elbow. And then as you go further back in the field, you see more of that on entry [demos collapsed forearm]… the flat entry, elbow hitting. The further back you go [the last swimmers finishing], the more it’s the elbow hitting first…alright? So, that ‘mail slot’ entry is really characteristic of success in triathlon swimming, and other swimming, as well.
So, we’re setting ourselves up for that position with the mail slot, so we keep in mind that’s really critical, at some point in the race, to be checking in whether you’re going through the mail slot [as the hand enters the water], even listening, because that entry is quieter than this thing [flat entry]. So, one of the things you do while racing is be checking in on how much noise you’re making, especially when you’re in a pack, especially when you’re starting to pick it up [pace]. Am I staying quiet? Am I still going through the slot? Or am I—in my excitement and rate—am I starting to do this? [demos windmilling the arms with flat entry] Ok?
So—now hold the ball. Just visualize holding the ball… Alright, now lift the ball out of the water—lift the ball a few inches. Just visualize that you’re holding the ball—you’re still holding it—lift it a few inches, and then rotate your shoulder while still holding the ball, and drop the ball behind your hip. Rotate your shoulder and drop the ball behind your hip. Now, I’m going to do this several times—I’m going to lift the ball from behind my hip, I’m holding it back here… I’m going to leave my [lead] hand here, fingers at the bumper [as if reaching down the bumper of a VW Beetle’s curved hood], ok? I’m going to lift the ball, carry it forward and put it here [demos lead arm position], against this part of my hip. Lift it—return it, drop it. Ok, this is a visualization we’re going to start with.. We’re going to re-think our recovery from 3 thoughts: elbow circles, paint the line, ear hop, mail slot [TI recovery and entry focal points]—4 thoughts. From 3 or 4 thoughts– we’re going to consolidate into 1 thought, which is: what’s my optimal position to start the stroke? And can I come out of the water already in that position, carry an arm forward without any change in shape, and drop it. Alright?
So we’re simplifying the [stroke] thought into 1—one awareness… If I watch you swimming, and you go that way with 3 thoughts, little bit with one, and the second, and the third…and then you get over there. And then you come back with the 1 [stroke] thought—I should not see anything different. You should experience something that you distinguish as different, once you’ve changed from the 3 thoughts to 1. [DOG BARKING CONTINUOUSLY—refer to transcript] And this process of being a little bit more demanding of your brain in how to conceptualize what you’re doing, is one of the things that wires it [proper technique] in, so that when you’re under pressure, when you increase rate, and so on—it doesn’t break down. Ok? So you have to create a more robust circuit, so these things don’t break down under difficulty, alright? So once we introduce racing, pressure, by that I mean this pressure [motions to pressure on lead arm], as well as that pressure [pressure of competing], and rate… we need this thing [our form] to be unbreakable. And one of the tools you use in practice is more thoughts to wire it in. Ok?
So… so, we’re going to start with some visualization and rehearsal—the rehearsal means standing on one side, with that hand on the bumper, hold the ball against your hip, lift it a bit, carry it backward, drop it in. Lift it, carry it forward, drop it in. Alright? So we’ll do that, a bit with the right arm, and then swim over, just checking whether we feel the same sensation as we go across, alright? Then we’ll do the same thing with the left, and swim back, checking whether we’re doing the same thing. Ok? That will be the first step. The second step will be, having dropped it [the lead arm] in, we will visually verify the position. Alright? We won’t do this first because all our focus is on something that’s happening over here [motions with the recovery arm]. Then after we’ve had a little bit of time to familiarize ourselves with that thought—and the sensations that accompany it—then what you’re going to do is visually verify that the position that you have entered into is the one you want—the water-holding position. I call this ‘the arm full of water position’ cause it’s the optimal position for trapping water behind hand and forearm. Alright?… Step two will be to visually verify and see that it’s still [the lead arm] for at least a nanosecond after you drop it in.
And this idea of it being still is a hyper-critical one. The men’s 4 x 100 relay in Beijing– where Jason Lezak went by Alain Bernard from France, incredibly… They had, for a while, on NBC Olympics(dot)com, they had underwater video of that race. And in studying it, if you have the opportunity, this is what you would see: Lezak, despite swimming—I don’t know what the rate was, but it was exceptionally fast rate swimming, alright… His hand dropped in and there was a nanosecond where it was still, after he dropped in, before he began pulling. And Bernard, in contrast, slammed his hand in, and it just kept going back. Bernard took 46 strokes on the second lap when the wheels came off—Lezak, 34. 12 fewer strokes, and he [Lezak] went by him in the last 25 like he [Bernard] was standing still… because Bernard was moving water. Lezak was moving his body, and it’s that position [with lead arm] and that moment that makes all the difference. Ok? So that will be our second thing—that we’ll visually verify that we’re in that position and that it’s still for a moment. We’ll take some time on that. And then finally, how we begin applying pressure [on the lead arm] after that, is we’re going to visualize this disaggregated ball of molecules, not just water, alright? What it really is, is a ball of molecules, and as you press on it you’re going to do it with sufficient patience and care, that in your mind, you’re keeping those molecules together to move your body forward. Alright? When you do that, you should notice something that may have escaped your attention before—that water has density, that it has thickness. And if you apply that pressure in the right way, you can feel it return that pressure… You want to feel that pressure, so that it converts into forward movement…Ok? I can’t tell you how many dozens, if not hundreds, of hours I’ve spent visualizing like that—and it makes huge, huge difference. I can go 0.95, 0.90 rate [stroke rate with the Tempo Trainer] and not feel any turbulence as I start the stroke. Makes all the difference…
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