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Old 02-10-2012
terry terry is offline
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Default How Neural Threshold Sets build a Higher Functioning Brain

Haschu made some points about neural activity in a very long post, deep in the previous Neural Threshold thread that I thought I should pull out, highlight (and mildly paraphrase) and give them a dedicated thread.
Quote:
Originally Posted by haschu33 View Post
Whenever you swim your neurons are active - there is no way around it. If you get in the pool and do your usual stroke rate, speed, turns, and so on, the brain runs into a habitual pattern and further deepens an already situated pattern. You get very good at this one pattern; it gets ever harder to move outside this pattern. When you challenge your brain and move out of the comfort zone—change SPL and Tempo, alternate drills and full stroke, change repeat distances via ladders and pyramids--all that magic stuff we call TI-- you prevent your neural system from falling into habits, you force it to learn new patterns, you also train it to learn. And that it young and flexible. . . It has a price though: it takes more energy.
These points should thrill and inspire every improvement-minded swimmer.
Revelations from neuroscience labs in the last decade are the most inspiring thing I've ever seen in 40 years of swim coaching. Here are just a few points brought up by what Haschu referenced:

1) When mice in neuro labs were moved from cages with running wheels to cages with 'gymnastic' equipment--promoting activities of greater complexity, their brains increased in mass by 30 percent. When returned to running in circles (and is there a more exact description of traditional swim training), their brains atrophied again.

2) Buddhist monks, who'd practiced meditation for thousands of hours, had significantly more mass in the left prefrontal cortex, than novice meditators. They were also able to increase activity there by 100% to 700% during meditation practice. Novices were only able to increase activity by 10%. The left prefrontal cortex is where optimistic and opportunistic thinking takes place. Practiced meditators have a far stronger 'mental muscle' for seeing possibility and plotting how to achieve it—and an enhanced ability to endure through the inevitable setbacks.

3) The best way to move new skills from Conscious Control to Automaticity is to change the task or input we give to the brain with greater frequency. I.E. Frequently--but functionally--vary SPL and/or Tempo in a repeat set, rather than repeat the same pattern over and over.

4) The activity most directly connected to growing more robust brain circuits is to progressively increase the difficulty or complexity of an existing skill pattern. I.E. Kaizen - which is not solely about whether your hand enters the Mail Slot, but also whether you can hold, say, 15 SPL @ 1.10 . . . 1.08 . . . 1.06, etc.

5) An activity closely associated with an increase in Neural Reserve (additional circuits associated with the same task) is to overturn existing assumptions and avoid autopilot thinking. Doing this - and #4 - in middle age has been shown to maintain mental sharpness as we age - and even build resistance to senile dementia.

You get all of these powerful holistic benefits -- and wire in the swimming pattern most closely associated with higher performance, the capacity to maintain SPL as Tempo increases -- with Neural Threshold practice sets.

Anaerobic Threshold sets--while affecting energy metabolism (with glacial slowness I might add)--have nothing inherent in them that creates these adaptations -- and much that makes it less likely.

But as Haschu points out, there’s a price. More intense mental activity does indeed require more energy. But brain cells run on precisely the same fuel - glycogen and oxygen - as do the muscles. But they also adapt to ‘work’ in precisely the same way as muscle cells.
#1 above refers to an increase in size/mass—hypertrophy--as a result of mental work.
#2 refers to an increase in capacity/functionality—as a result of mental work.

This is exactly how we increase our capacity for physical work. And the new neurons have the capacity to wire into both cognitive and motor networks. I.E. You can think and move better. New muscle cells can do only one thing – contract. And that only because of a signal from cognitive and motor neurons.

This is why I urge swimmers, whenever possible, to plan practices that are neurally challenging and cognitively difficult. Anaerobic Threshold sets may be physically challenging but almost inevitably turn into neural and cognitive pablum because the swimmer is instructed to repeat the same task over and over. And that virtually always leads to mental autopilot.

Neural Threshold sets, because they involve frequent, small, changes-of-task -- and consequently force you to pay attention--give you all of it.
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Last edited by terry : 02-10-2012 at 12:49 PM.
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  #2  
Old 02-10-2012
CoachDeb CoachDeb is offline
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Default Fighting the "I don't wanna's"

Ah, timing--Terry, yes. For me I get a combination of mental and physical burnout when I start to get mindless. In the physically taxing summer workouts I've done, my main hope has pretty much always been to keep up and then get it done. It felt gratifying at one level because I lost weight and was stronger and enjoyed being in my body more. But I would through the--I'm too tired to get up, can't I do this later (which I would--or wouldn't)--or the, geez, I'm just not in the mood to do something where the main challenge, other than moving faster than I can, is watching the clock.

I don't know if my wear down periods are actually some adaptation phases. Having never seriously tracked progress in a concrete fashion beyond writing down workouts, I just didn't know my body well enough to know. This last year though, with the addition of the tempo trainer, I CAN track something concrete. And I do find that more gratifying after ten years of working to swim, and live, well in this new way of being in and with my body.

Recently I've not been in the mood for long sets--and I mean even 100's this week--until I was really moving and warmed up. So I've really taken to heart this challenge of maintaining stroke count. I've also been working with breathing less often and also working to maintain a more calm breathing pattern when I finish, say, each 50. If I can swim a mile, two or three, there is no reason I have to feel tired in a pool for short distances--is there? Other than a habitual thought pattern and resulting habitual physical pattern? At Maho Celeste and I discussed my tendency to over-breathe. Just too frequent. And when I started swimming ten years ago I took in too much air and exhaled vigorously all the time. I think this has been a big issue and...it doesn't feel so hot to do that all the time. Sometimes, for a purpose...but not for an hour and a half! Amazing I didn't fall over.

So via controlled rep.s I have time to really pay attention to so many things. I did 10x50 at 1.3, then 10x50 at 1.29... Nothing earth shattering. Held 15, then 16 for the second 25. More an awareness set than anything. Instead of pushing for 14's I just let myself settle into something easy to see how it would feel. I've done lots of 1.4, 1.35, 1.3, 1.25, etc. but I think this is my next challenge to understand my swimming in more detail and to keep me interested.

And--again this week--my cello teaching has taken another leap forward because, although I had great teachers, often lessons were more punishment for not having practiced then lessons that moved me ahead during that hour. During a kid's torture of an etude yesterday, I said--stop. I told the kid, who has done a little swim team, that this was the equivalent of garbage yardage and we weren't going to do it anymore. The rest of the lesson was how to practice--watching him practice, asking him why he did it, asking him if he had done something right---awareness, purpose, control. What a relief. In cello and in the pool!
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Old 02-10-2012
terry terry is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CoachDeb View Post
My cello teaching has taken another leap forward because, although I had great teachers, often lessons were more punishment for not having practiced than lessons that moved me ahead during that hour. During a kid's torture of an etude yesterday, I said--stop. I told the kid, who has done a little swim team, that this was the equivalent of garbage yardage and we weren't going to do it anymore. The rest of the lesson was how to practice--watching him practice, asking him why he did it, asking him if he had done something right---awareness, purpose, control. What a relief. In cello and in the pool!
Brilliant! This is straight out of Talent Code -- and deserves to be described more fully in a blog. Connect the dots tween practice of music and swimming as often as possible. Is anyone on this planet better suited than you--by virtue of teaching both TI and music professionally--to do so?
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  #4  
Old 02-10-2012
igorner igorner is offline
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Default Mastery Piece Theatre

In reading the "Talent Code" and the "Mastery of Music" (I play trumpet) and this blog I note many similar strains to discussions of neuroplasticity..The Brain That Changes Itself etc, that I have seen on American PBS network programs.

This leads me to a little leap, Terry. Have you ever considered producing a show for PBS to "introduce" TI to a broader audience? Every time I go to the pool I see young and old alike madly splashing to the bulkheads and back. So , as popular as TI is, there is still a huge segment out there who seem " not to know".
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  #5  
Old 02-10-2012
CoachDavidShen CoachDavidShen is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by terry View Post
But as Haschu points out, there’s a price. More intense mental activity does indeed require more energy. But brain cells run on precisely the same fuel - glycogen and oxygen - as do the muscles. But they also adapt to ‘work’ in precisely the same way as muscle cells.
#1 above refers to an increase in size/mass—hypertrophy--as a result of mental work.
#2 refers to an increase in capacity/functionality—as a result of mental work.

This is exactly how we increase our capacity for physical work. And the new neurons have the capacity to wire into both cognitive and motor networks. I.E. You can think and move better. New muscle cells can do only one thing – contract. And that only because of a signal from cognitive and motor neurons.

This is why I urge swimmers, whenever possible, to plan practices that are neurally challenging and cognitively difficult. Anaerobic Threshold sets may be physically challenging but almost inevitably turn into neural and cognitive pablum because the swimmer is instructed to repeat the same task over and over. And that virtually always leads to mental autopilot.
I first encountered neuromuscular training with my tri-coach, who advocated neuromuscular sets on the Computrainer to train the legs to spin more effectively. It turned out to be a great way to train the legs to spin faster with less effort. Lance Armstrong is famous for popularizing the high RPM style of cycling where more RPMs could generate more watts without wiping out muscles from a strength effort. More RPMs requires the neurons to fire much more quickly - as I found, you could actually train for this.

Fast forward to today where I run a neuromuscular set for running with the treadmill. I found a treadmill that goes up to 15 MPH. I hop on it and do short sets of <30seconds where I do intervals at 12 and 13 MPH which is pretty much past the limit of any normal running I would even do. But it's great neuromuscular training to get you to feel comfortable moving your legs fast. As someone once told me - You can't run fast if you NEVER EVER RUN FAST.

Check out this excerpt from the book Easy Strength by Pavel and Dan John about using the Central Nervous System (CNS) to monitor peaking for competition:

Soviet coaches had known for decades that the condition of the athlete’s nervous system is the most important variable in posting an elite performance. Moreover, breakthrough neuroscience research by their fellow countrymen had given them an undeniable advantage over the rest of the world. Simple and effective tests of the CNS tonus were developed: the grip, the standing vertical jump, the critical blinking frequency, the latent reaction time, tapping with a pencil and hitting a maximal number of dots in 5 seconds, and so forth. Take a page from the Russian book, and use one of these tests to tweak your training when necessary, the way leading US coaches already do—Dan John with tapping, Louie Simmons with the grip, Chad Waterbury with the SVJ. But before getting down to the procedure, you need to know that there is more to these tests than flagging overtraining. Indeed, an overtrained athlete will lose his grip strength and jump height, and as you would expect, these are signs to take it easy. But surprisingly, rapidly climbing numbers can also be a cause for concern, especially in the days before a competition. A “peak”, by definition, is narrow, and once you have hit it, the only way to go is down. “Early peaking is dangerous,” observed great Yuri Vlasov six weeks before the Tokyo Olympics. “You must avoid maximum concentration. Such concentration of energy destroys strength.”

Listen to the following recommendations by Professor Ozolin: • Buy a hand-grip dynamometer, of the kind used in physical therapy clinics, and test yourself daily. Never change the testing protocol: Do it at the same time of day, with the same hand, in the same posture, with the same warm-up or lack of thereof, and so on. Do only one test. • The number itself does not reflect the level of your CNS excitability; it is the dynamics charted over time that matter. When your training load is appropriate, there will be little daily variance—1 or 2 kilograms (2.2 to 4.4 pounds). A greater decrease indicates an excessive training load, an insufficient recovery, a nervous fatigue, an early phase of overtraining, or some disturbance in your regimen or your life. A slight drop for one to three days following a competition is normal.


Although what they talk about here is preparing for Olympic weightlifting competition, I cannot help but wonder how it applies to peaking in other sports. Later in the book they give a clue for CNS relationship to peaking in endurance sports where they allude to minimizing CNS excitation because you want to be relaxed for those kinds of sports. (Of course I had to go out and buy a grip strength meter and jump height measuring device!)

Very interesting stuff and we are just now touching on the role of the CNS in all kinds of sports performance. Certainly we TIers have developed potentially the most advanced ways of thinking in CNS's relationship to swimming....
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  #6  
Old 02-10-2012
CoachEmily CoachEmily is offline
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Default Beyond Neural Threshold....

In the world of Educational Kinesiology/Brain Gym®, to have more neuronets for movement is part of the neuro-kinetic picture. Since we are each born with a dominance of brain hemisphere, eye, hand, ear, and leg, knowing one's dominance profile informs the coach and swimmer of the areas of the brain that actually require increased neuropathway activity for greater ease of movement with awareness. Dominance affects head turn, arm/hand target/patience, hip drive and leg movement/kicking and eye tracking/breathing. IE if someone is left eye dominant, their core-head rotation for breathing will likely be easier breathing to the left. Their neck will likely be more flexible turning to the right, since the left eye vision aims right and so turning head to the right is done more frequently for ease of neck turn. Students who are dominant right hand/arm will power their stroke more strongly on that side so that balance can be offset.
In addition, hemispheric dominance can show up as homolaterality, meaning each side of the brain functions independently of each other, hence so do the sides of the body, as well as the upper and lower (fore-aft) and the front and the back (core rotation)=three dimensions.
So balance of the body in all 3 dimensions effects every element of TI swimming. So what to do????? How do I know if my student is learning TI on top of a cognitively imbalanced system to begin with? I'll ask them to march and swing their arms. If their arms and legs are meeting cross laterally, both hemispheres are on deck. If they are marching with same arm/same leg pattern, I know they are going to work very hard learning because they are homolateral. Their hemisphere's are not talking to each other. It is so simple to help them prepare their brain body connection to learn TI (or anything) with greater ease. The percentage of learning challenged people and incarcerated people are homolateral. What to do? FIrst, make sure YOU march with a cross lateral pattern! Then ask them to mirror you. If they keep doing same side, have them make an "X" with their index fingers and put it directly in front of their eyes about 18" away. Gaze at this "X" for 30 seconds. Then ask them to "Cross crawl" again.
99% of the time, this integrates their hemispheres. Cross crawling (marching) and looking at an "X" may need to be done frequently until the neuronets are an established, installed pathway. Learning anything new or being in stress can send a system into a homolateral state.When the hemispheres are "talking" to each other, all the drills, sets, etc. can be easier, and the brain is available to fully motor the system (right hemisphere), as well as fully be mindful (left hemisphere). I start all my swim students, young and older, with slow cross lateral marching to create the neuro-kinetic readiness for whole body coordination. Several other Brain Gym® exercises assist the body for balanced ease too.
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  #7  
Old 02-10-2012
swimmermike swimmermike is offline
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Coach Emily

I followed you for the first two paragraphs, but could you say what you mean by seeing arms and legs "meeting cross laterally?" And "cross crawling?"

Humans, unlike, for example, horses, have a corpus callosum, a body of fibers that facilitates interhemispheric communication. Thus the general need to train horses on both sides for a task.

It's apparent that we all are better on one side than another at many tasks, but diagnosing important differences in how we need to learn swimming tasks on each side seems like a good thing to understand.
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  #8  
Old 02-11-2012
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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Emily,

I follow you, but I don't buy it. It sounds like a lot of Pseudo-science to me. Can you provide any literature references?

Are you suggesting I can teach someone the 2 beat kick by simply having them stare at crossed fingers? I'll try it...I"m skeptical.

Swimming is more like walking backwards anyway when talking about how the upper & lower limbs respond to one another.

And as far as right & Left are concerned, You need to "break" humans of their natural crossed extensor reflex in order to teach front quadrant swimming.

What you are saying sounds interesting, but the presense of the registered trademark symbol (which I don't even know how to type) suggests to me that something in there is not really based on science.

But I"m happy to be proved wrong.
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  #9  
Old 02-11-2012
terry terry is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by igorner View Post
So , as popular as TI is, there is still a huge segment out there who seem " not to know".
Ian
So many people to enlighten.
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Terry Laughlin
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May your laps be as happy as mine.

My TI Story
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  #10  
Old 02-28-2012
CoachJohnF CoachJohnF is offline
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Default Neural Threshold -- Redux

Or is the threshold distance based -- how far I can travel at a given stroke count and stroke rate before I start to degrade.

When we move above our aerobic zone, we move into an acid-burning mode. The form is harder to hold, the breathing is harder, and exhaustion sets in. In this case, we aren't looking at anaerobic in the mode of sprint sets but more "when we go anaerobic and we don't want to." We want to develop our fitness to keep form and control so that we are only choosing to go into a "speed zone" rather than having our form break down.

As I write this, I don't think that the two concepts need to be mutually exclusive. Is this a case where we as TI Coaches are looking at the same thing but from a biomechanical perspective rather than energy systems. I would think the biomechanics way is a better prism because we can teach it and provide much greater focus than "swim for 30 minutes at the hardest steady pace possible."

Fitz
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