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  #1  
Old 08-18-2011
Lawrence Lawrence is offline
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Lawrence
Default Is optimal technique simply the easiest?

If by optimal we mean most efficient, there is clearly a sense in which optimal is easiest; I think of efficiency as speed through the water as a function of work done to move water.

I want to make a stronger suggestion, though. I am coming to the view that optimal technique may be the easiest to perform. I think of ease as speed through the water as a function of all work done. So we include muscular effort even where there is no water being moved (e.g. arm recovery over the water, or stiff hands, abs or neck where these have no appreciable effect on how the body moves through the water).

If this is right then in principle it should be possible to secure continued improvement by adhering to a minimal effort principle and monitoring whether your swimming feels progressively easier.

This approach suggests to me the following principles:

1. minimal effort - always seek increased ease;

2. minimal movement - do only what is necessary; and

3. minimal thought - think only about the level of ease you are experiencing and how that varies with adjustments to the movements you are making.

Item 2 requires examining how little one can do while swimming. There are two parts to this. First, one has to identify the smallest number of stroke components into which freestyle can usefully be analysed (each component corresponding to a single 'stroke thought' while swimming, e.g. 'face down' or 'spear directly forwards to a shallow point from a steep entry angle'). Second, eliminate all extraneous movement from each such component.

Once 2 is secured it should follow that there is less to think about while swimming, leaving more time to concentrate on one's sense of ease, one or two of a small number of stroke components, and the pleasure of being in the water. Isn't that what it's meant to be like?

All thoughts welcome.

Last edited by Lawrence : 08-19-2011 at 09:09 AM.
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Old 08-18-2011
mattcon mattcon is offline
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The least action principle in physics has a very long and successful history so I'm sure that it applies at some level in swimming. But I hesitate to believe that the easiest and most efficient way to swim can be discovered a step at a time by doing what seems easiest. There are too many complex processes at work for this kind of reverse engineering. For example, windmilling the arms in some ways seems easier than the complex postures and timing of good swimming. And that raises the question of whether something is difficult for the mind or body--categories that are almost impossible to disentangle in the kinaesthetic experience of swimming. It is easier to pay a lot of effort in physical exertion than a small amount of thoughtful practice.

Nevertheless, economy is worth striving for. What I've come up with is the following. The extended body rocks back and forth around its axis in an essentially continuous way. (This posture structures in any necessary skating rhythms.) The arm recovery gets the arm in place at the right time overwater. The arm pull gets the arm in place underwater. (A sense of a streamlined body position will take care of the high elbow position above and below water.) That's it.

Matt
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  #3  
Old 08-18-2011
The Parrot The Parrot is offline
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Lawrence, I am sure you are absolutely right about the efficiency route forward as not only has my own speed increased very significantly (for me!) with less effort since adopting the TI philosophy but I don't see photos of many exhausted turtles, otters, dolphins or fish in their natural conditions unless hunted near to death.

But no matter how much I improve I find it impossible to envisage a time when I might swim without thinking about one or other aspect of my stroke because, as when I was an ultra-distance runner, when swimming I try always to monitor what my body is trying to communicate to me and adapt if possible. I think - and perhaps even hope - that I never lose that constant monitoring process. I am also a firm believer that concentrating the mind in long duration aerobic exercise can occasionally produce effortless power and results that seem to defy the normal physiological expectations. I have certainly experienced this on ultra distance races but so far not in swimming because I am not yet mentally focused and physically relaxed enough, perhaps.

Its a good thread, thanks for introducing it.

Martin T.
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Old 08-19-2011
mattcon mattcon is offline
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Einstein said: "Make things as simple as you can, and no simpler."

Matt
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Old 08-22-2011
mattcon mattcon is offline
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"But no matter how much I improve I find it impossible to envisage a time when I might swim without thinking about one or other aspect of my stroke because, as when I was an ultra-distance runner, when swimming I try always to monitor what my body is trying to communicate to me and adapt if possible."


A study was done on the mental activities of marathoners. Some were quite creative in taking their minds off the ordeal. One woman imagined each step landed on the face of a coworker she didn't like and one guy did elaborate math problems in his head. But it turned out that these strategies were for the middle and lower performers. The elite runners, almost universally, monitored their bodies very carefully the whole time. I've never understood trying to divorce your mind from a sport. If it's that miserable, you should find something else to do.

Matt
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  #6  
Old 08-22-2011
Lawrence Lawrence is offline
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I don't swim for the joy of thinking about how I'm swimming. I do it because it feels good. My aim is to swim by feel. I'm prepared to accept some level of necessary reflection in order to achieve that aim, but to accept it as a substitute would just defeat the purpose.
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Old 08-22-2011
Lawrence Lawrence is offline
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The minimalist approach I advocate suggests radically reducing the number of stroke components one thinks about. While I think TI has great value, I think the emphasis on drills of many varieties reflects an assumption that many different parts of the stroke can and should be addressed consciously. I don't have the proof but I think this is mistaken. If you ask someone to walk along a white line without deviation, there are doubtless many things they need to do to perform well. But mentally, my guess is that most people would just focus on the white line and let subconcious processes do the rest. That's how I think of swimming. The question is what corresponds to staring at the white line.
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  #8  
Old 08-23-2011
terry terry is offline
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Matt
You write most eloquently. Thanks for contributing. And Parrot I'm also unfamiliar with your 'handle' but your thoughtful post is the kind I really enjoy seeing and which I think distinguishes this forum from others. Please let us hear more of your musings.

This is a really stimulating thread. I'm fascinated to learn that physics has a 'least action' principle. And I'm familiar with the Einstein quote, as well as his principle of the Elegant Solution (is usually the simplest.)

My keen interest in the subject of economy comes from (1) getting older; and (2) the connection I feel with Taoism and its Wu Wei (least effort) principle.

Lawrence's first precept (minimize effort) is one I always practice. I begin every practice by trying to cultivate and imprint ease so it will inform everything I do thereafter. And with each practice task or set, I start out focused on finding the easiest way to accomplish it. In part because it makes the set more interesting. But also because I'm a competitive distance swimmer and I learn things that become really advantageous in races, against competitors who may be younger or fitter, but have not honed their economy to the degree I have.

Lawrence's second precept (minimize movement) is a goal of every high level athlete. I once read a description of a practice done by Edwin Moses during the time when he was the world's dominant 400m hurdler. It described him spending a couple of hours skimming silkily over hurdles--always 12 strides between, never 11 or 13--looking tirelessly for the slightest wasted or misdirected movement so he could fix it and imprint the optimized pattern.

I have a theory that sports or skills which take place in 'uncooperative' mediums, such as air (hurdling, gymnastics, springboard diving) on ice (speed or figure skating) or water (swimming, including synchro) have smaller margins for error and thus those who wish to master those skills must be more diligent about finding and fixing even subtle movement errors.

And I can even reconcile the seeming difference of opinions on Lawrences third precept (minimize thought). Lawrence's desire to think less and Matt/Parrot's desire to think more intently meet at what's called "Chunking." This is a cognitive skill in which we take disparate pieces of information and combine them into an aggregate.

We learned to read this way:
1. Recognize straight and curved shapes as letters, which have sounds.
2. Grasp that letters combine into words which have meaning.
3. Painstakingly sound out short sentences . . .
. . . 7. Inhale great chunks of text while speed reading.

We also learned every skill we now practice this way. Think of how many discreet balance-related thoughts or sensations you once had to focus massive brainpower on individually - hang your head, follow your laser, hang your hand, hit the target, wide tracks, OFF your stomach, shoulder barely clear, stabilizers engaged, passive legs, etc. etc. etc.
Now you've probably aggregated that into a Chunk you think of as Swimming in Balance.

So the goal is always to turn the gear-grinding effort of a Consciously Competent part of your stroke into one that's automatized (literally transferred from Cerebral Cortex to Cerebellum) to free space in the Cortex for the next skill requiring intense concentration.

After spending the last 10 years honing my catch/stroke and 2BK, I'm starting to feel almost satisfied with them. Yet I still burn copious amounts of oxygen and glycogen doing the math of SL and Tempo.

I do it because it helps me win races. I do it even more because it produces addictive moments of Flow.
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May your laps be as happy as mine.

My TI Story

Last edited by terry : 08-23-2011 at 12:34 AM.
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  #9  
Old 08-23-2011
DeBuur DeBuur is offline
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DeBuur
Default ease flows

I agree that there is always something to improve, and that continuous learning and improving, kai zen, makes sense. So analyse what you do, improve the details, body sense what you are doing, put the details together, and become a great performer, but:
brain science (by scanning brain activity) has shown that persons who excel in one kind of activity (from playing the piano to to any kind of sports) are extremely focused on what they do. Not meaning: thinking about what they do all the time, but rather that brain activity of those „maestros“ while performing is confined to an extremely small area of their brain (sounds energy saving, too). That means to me that after the phase where you constantly and consciously monitor and improve (brain all ablaze on the scan) comes a phase where you stopp thinking about what you do (tiny red spot on the scan).
Yes, you could call that ease, joy, flow, chi-swimming,...
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