This is your Brain in Open Water: Why “Flexible Circuits” Matter
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on October 16th, 2009

Carol, a Masters swimmer from New Jersey, asked how TI instruction differs from pool to open water. After attending two TI Workshops (an intro program in a regular pool and a Kaizen Workshop in an Endless Pool) she has since become steadily more excited and motivated about swimming, including expanding her horizons beyond the pool. But in a couple of recent group swims with Masters teammates in open water she found it difficult to maintain her pool efficiency. She wondered whether she should take more TI pool instruction or attend one of our Open Water Experiences: “How is TI OW instruction different from TI pool instruction?”

I answered that we focus on training the brain in both, but with a difference: Swimming well in the pool requires “Stable Skill Circuits.” Swimming well in open water requires “Flexible Skill Circuits.”  Here’s the difference:

A good example of Stable Circuit coaching is Suzuki violin lessons, which are carefully choreographed and highly structured.  This is so because playing a Bach sonata requires a single set of narrowly defined movements, repeated with unvarying precision.  TI Workshops in the pool are also carefully choreographed and highly structured — to allow the student to learn more effective movements then imprint them deeply on the brain and nervous system to resist breakdown via fatigue or inattention. Whether you swim 15 strokes or 1500, you want every stroke to be as effective as the first few.

They coach for Flexible Circuits at the futbol academies in Brazil. Soccer circuitry is varied, fluid and fast. As you dribble the ball down the field, you may encounter any of countless possible situations, occuring at lightning speed. To instantly choose and execute the optimal response, you need to develop a network of highly accessible possibilities developed for unpredictable options and situations. This is Flexible Circuitry. So soccer practice puts more emphasis on simulating a range of situations so the players can test and refine how to adapt their foundation skills to each.

To be successful in open water, you need to retain the Stable Circuitry you have developed in pool practice. Indeed you need to make it even more robust, because both distances and challenges are greater. But you must also develop Flexible Circuitry for differing conditions – flat, choppy or swells; congested packs  or “rude” contact with other swimmers; drafting behind or alongside others; strategic changes in tempo or pace on the start, turns, while passing; adjusting your effort for the uncertainty of how long a race might last (in some mile races I’ve finished in 19 minutes; in others 36 minutes.)

Another analogy is that open water swimming is like a mix of speed skating and hockey. Speed skaters train very much like pool swimmers. Hockey players do a bit of speed/endurance training, but far more “situational” training.

Thus in TI OW camps and workshops, we create “controlled simulations” of the situations that commonly upset pool swimmers, then teach the most opportunistic way to respond. Not just to avoid distraction, but to turn these situations into opportunities to gain an advantage over rivals whose circuits are less flexible. And virtually all those who attend these camps and workshops discover that situations that they formerly found stressful — say swimming in a tight pack with physical contact — actually become enjoyable when you relax and intensify your inward focus.

Read more about open water technique in our Outside the Box E-book.

In our Outside the Box DVD, Part One Perpetual Motion Freestyle teaches how to develop Stable Circuits in open water technique. Part Two Swim with Friends teaches how to develop Flexible Circuits.

This season, we’ll teach Flexible Circuits November 15-21 at Reduit Beach, St. Lucia (Caribbean); January 10-16 Maho Bay, St John, US Virgin Islands and March 14-20 Kailua Kona, HI.


2 Responses to “This is your Brain in Open Water: Why “Flexible Circuits” Matter”

  1. Maria Hrafn says:

    Hi – really great website you have created. I enjoyed reading this posting. I did want to write a comment to tell you that the design of this site is very aesthetically delightful. I used to be a graphic designer, now I am a copy editor in chief for a marketing firm. I have always enjoyed working with computing machines and am trying to learn code in my free time (which there is never enough of lol).

  2. Maria
    Thank you for the compliment on the graphic look of the site. I’ll pass that along to the web designers. Good luck with your pursuit of coding mastery. You’ll be growing new brain cells.

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