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Old 02-01-2015
sclim sclim is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,499
Default Unexpected Diagnosis by Tempo Trainer/ Fixing New Problem

I alluded to this story in "Finding Focus in Unexpected Places" thread. I didn't think it was a spectacular story at the time, so I didn't elaborate, particularly as it was in the past and I was less interested in it myself. However, I was specifically asked by two people @Talvi and @Swimming Hobbit, so I'll explain best as I can remember what happened.

There has been quite some dialogue here regarding the use of the Tempo Trainer. Some people find it really, really distracting and thus can't get over the distraction, so they find they just can't use it. I initially found it somewhat difficult to get used to, but that was largely due to my difficulty with all the various macro and micro-mechanics of swimming. The concept of synchronising a regularly occurring sequence to a metronome beat (or a human conductor) was not new to me, as I have encountered it in music and have learned to be comfortable with it.

I immediately saw the usefulness of this tool -- with so many variables going on, when one is experimenting with this change or that and trying to see what happens, the last thing you want is some hidden factor affecting your experiment. That's the scientist in me coming out, I guess -- you want a controlled trial or a controlled experiment as much as possible. Tempo may change unknowingly when you finesse a move or a technique, so you're wise to fix the tempo with a TT, IMHO as long as the point of the drill is not actually to spontaneously generate a good tempo and to flow with it from internal cues (which will come later for me, but much later).

So the first task was to get used to it and learn how to get in synch. This took me a couple of sessions. Once I got into the water to try to do it, I realised, first I had to find a trigger point in the stroke cycle. It hadn't occurred to me before that there wasn't one single obvious trigger point like the first beat of of each bar (measure) of music. You can pick any one of several, and in fact this may change your focus and mechanics of the stroke (I've since used these as focus points), but again that's another story.

I arbitrarily picked the instant of the finger tips (left and right getting a beep each) hitting the water as the beep point, then set on the task of synching to it and getting it dead even. First problem was that my stroke mechanics were not uniform (stroke from stroke) due to poor control, so that took some time and focus. Once that control started to tighten up, I noticed there was another persistent and recurring discrepancy. It was a little puzzling but I eventually figured it out -- after every breathing stroke on the right side, the finger entry immediately following occurred prematurely i.e. just before the regular beep.

Some background here. For years (pre-TI) I have known that I breath more confidently on the right. For laughs I had tried to breath on the left, but I just could not do it so I never tried further till recently. Once I started TI, I forced myself to breathe alternately, but it was very difficult and tiring to do so on the left. I tried to copy what I was doing from the right to the left, but it seemed futile; left breathing was horrible and frightening and tiring. But I persisted.

Once I started to pay attention to all the various didactic elements of TI swimming, it soon became evident that I had a huge skyward lurch in my breathing. I knew it was destroying any hope of achieving balance, so believe me I recognised that fixing was a high priority. So I read up on all the methods which I won't list exhaustively here, you know what the list is. And I want to reassure you I had started from the TI beginning with Lie in the Water, Let the Water Support You, Superman Glide, Skate, Switch, etc., so well you might ask, how did the obviousness of the breathing lurch escape me until then, and how secure was my balance anyway??? I don't have a good answer, except sometimes you try to optimistically gloss over your most glaring deficiencies.

I realised I wasn't getting anywhere eliminating the breathing lurch for the longest time, despite trying this and that, hoping to get my mouth lower to the waterline, trying to aim for one goggle out one goggle in, trying for half mouth in and Popeying out to safety, but really not getting anywhere, but I just la-la-la'd along in my dream world hoping it didn't matter, until Tempo Trainer reality hit me.

I was really shocked when I realised that I was distorting the timing of my breathing stroke, so ugly and desperate my skyward lunge had become (despite all my efforts to build an elegant and smooth TI stroke sequence). And I was surprised, because I would have thought that the skyward lurch would take more time, and the immediately next finger entry would be delayed. Instead it was premature, so I was rushing that phase, and it was obvious. I was quite embarrassed and I got really upset at how long I had let this go on for.

What didn't fully sink in at the time was much surprise that my left breathing stroke was not followed by much of a timing change of following finger entry. The short story on that, after a lot of thinking over some time was that my so called easy right breathing stroke was developed over the years with a lot of ugly adaptations such as pushing down on the arm stroke to lever the head up to breathe. The left side, because I never persisted long enough to do it consistently or develop bad habits was virgin territory. So when I started to develop consistent left breathing, it was under heavy influence of TI learning, so there was consistent coaching to do it correctly, and there were no preexisting bad habits to overcome. It still feels awkward, likely due to some combination of left roll awkwardness, and left neck turning awkwardness. But when I do it, if I observe the moving-by water and waterline as I roll up to breathe, there is very little bobbing (that is gross bodily movement), only a nice roll of my half mouth to the surface; whereas on the right side there was considerable bobbing.

Even now, after all the myriad drills and focuses that I added on, gradually lessening the bobbing, there is still some residual right sided bobbing, but much much less than initially. However the original time asymmetry, the rushing of the breathing stroke tempo and the premature finger entry was eliminated quite early in the whole fixing process.

So what were the things that in my frustration and shock I pulled in to help me with? Well, if this was the big secret that you hoped I would dramatically dazzle you with, I have to disappoint you. It's the same old TI list that everyone else uses; but I kept on going round and round using the list as a priority until the bobbing got under control.

1) Don't push down either on the lead hand on the other side as you are doing the pull or on the breathing pull itself. Hard to suppress after ingraining this pattern for years. Also see later 5) EVF stroke refinement using fist.

2) Trying to maintain an axial passiveness during the roll, not changing the axial pattern to bend for air. Also see 6) for starting out with chest-neck-head in line, even before rolling to breathe.

3) The Nod or Nodding Drill has been described by several coaches and in the total immersion DVD, but the most convenient description, on a page that also had a lot of good general advice was by Coach Suzanne Atkinson in "The Swim Breathing Thread - How to make it feel effortless"

Maybe I stumbled on this again at a time that I was most receptive, but this drill really resonated, and I got it to work for me. My only carp is that for me the word "nod" doesn't accurately describe a movement of rotating the head laterally which to me is "shaking" the head rather than "nodding" it ("no" rather than "yes") but at this stage I don't care any more.

4) The rest of the "The Swim Breathing Thread - How to make it feel effortless" thread is full of useful breathing information and insight, as is the "O2 in H2O" thread.

5) Some of you following the forum may know that in a fit of madness I committed 3 weeks ago to swimming every week day with nothing but alternating 50m fist swimming then 50m open hand ("Refinement of Fist Drill" thread). There was a lot of on-line worry that I was biting off more than I could chew, inappropriate focus on propulsion rather than on balance which likely was the problem etc. but I assure you the ultimate goal was balance. The immediate obstacle was that no matter how hard I tried I just could not get myself to consistently perform an early vertical forearm (high elbow) catch while swimming. This was affecting balance, and, pertinent to this thread, was a source of persistent bobbing on my right breathing stroke, hence the need for drastic measures (says me the coach.) So that was another recent detour in aid of fixing the breathing. And after 15 days of only drill with 50% total fist distance I think it has helped immensely, finally.

6) Complicating the fist drill was another simultaneous focus on getting rid of an "old man's slouch" which had the effect of driving the neck and head down, affecting balance while swimming, and requiring a further 3-4 inches of unnecessary travel to rotate the mouth to air, not to mention bad posture on land, while driving, while running and while doing martial arts. I think that is largely fixed now, after years of neglect!

Sorry for such a long story, but it has been a long process, and it still is. Fortunately, it's gradually working and the magic of persistence continues.

Last edited by sclim : 02-01-2015 at 03:57 AM.
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