2010 TI Coaches Manual Excerpt #4
This is the fourth in a series of excerpts I promised to post here for critique and feedback of the ideas and manner of expressing it. I was extremely pleased with the quality of input on the 1st excerpt and know the final document will benefit from your contributions.
The origins of Terrestrial Swimming Technique
Human Instinct One summer day around 1957, I stood on the shore on LI Sound wanting to swim to a raft, some 40 feet way. Even after 50 years I can vividly recall thinking I’d need to churn my arms and legs (as I’d seen others do) until I was safely across. This was my first technique thought.
Once I overcame my natural fear and began thrashing across, another thought took over my entire consciousness: Do everything possible to avoid sinking! If I paused for even a moment, I’d sink—and possibly drown! This was my second technique thought. Not one among the millions of humans who have been in that position, has thought “Streamline myself to reduce resistance.”
Homo sapiens swims like other terrestrial (not marine) mammals--such as dogs and deer -- four limbs churning, heads held high. Man, however, has codified and documented terrestrial swimming technique in books, manuals and videos and created nationally-recognized bodies (such as Red Cross) to teach it
After some time, the act of swimming a short distance may “improve” from harrowing to merely exhausting. As you catch your breath and calm your heart after a pool length, you set your next swimming goal—to swim two laps, then more. How else would you measure progress? As soon as you conceive of swimming farther, it’s self-evident that if one lap was exhausting, you’ll need to be fitter to swim farther. And just as millions of words have been written on terrestrial swimming technique, a more-and-harder approach to swim training has been exhaustively documented.
Let’s look at the official structures that have grown to support terrestrial swimming technique and volume/effort based swim training.
How Swim Instruction Evolved Besides the fact that terrestrial-swimming is what humans do naturally, the Red Cross and similar bodies that have become the “official authorities” on swimming instruction all originated as safety organizations, focused on drowning prevention. Since most drownings occur just a few meters from safety there was no concern with teaching efficiency. While their methods have evolved over the years, their “DNA” remains teaching swimmers to be water-safe, not fluent and graceful.
How Swim Training Evolved Because virtually all swimmers find their first laps so tiring, they conclude swimming is an ordeal for which one must prepare with long and hard training. Swim training followed pretty basic approaches from the 1920s through the 1950s.
In the 1960s, “sports science,” based on research on interval training, “speedplay” etc., became more recognized. Doc Counsilman’s book, The Science of Swimming became the “bible” of swim coaching, followed by Ernie Maglischo’s Swimming Faster. Both books devoted hundreds of pages to explaining how the body metabolizes energy during exercise. Neither book mentions the brain even once. Doc’s book includes only one paragraph -- and Ernie’s book only two paragraphs -- mentioning nervous system adaptation. None address skill-building. Instead they examine the role of the nervous system in strength development and the release of hormones during exercise.
Both books were seen as authoritative, in part because both authors were successful coaches, but even more because each held a Ph.D. in exercise science and both included numerous citations of research. The fundamental weakness in that physiological research is that virtually all was conducted on land – using treadmills and stationary cycles. This is because it’s too difficult to take physiological measurements in water.
The results of that research have correlated well with land endurance sports. Greater aerobic capacity tracks closely with running times. Greater oxygen uptake tracks closely with cross-country skiing and cycling times. But there has never been a consistent correlation between the most common physiological markers and swimming performance. The reason fitness measures correlate strongly with performance in running is, as physiologist (and marathon runner and Masters distance swimmer) Michael Joyner M.D. said “Running and cycling performance are 70% to 80% based on fitness; swimming performance is 80% determined by efficiency.” And efficiency has far more to do with nervous system training than aerobic training.
Nonetheless, the fašade of authoritativeness provided by research and PhD credentials, combined with coaches’ eagerness for a “scientific” guide to training has resulted in the entire world of swimming pursuing physiological solutions to the “problems” of swimming farther and faster. And yet, the entire structure is based on highly questionable premises. It will be our collective mission to provide proven alternatives.
Head Coach & Chief Executive Optimist
May your laps be as happy as mine.
My TI Story