How to Create Enduring (Muscle) Memories
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on February 22nd, 2013

Awareness + Learning + INTEGRATION = New Improved Skill

I adapted this ‘improvement equation’ from a presentation given by TI Coach Dinah Mistilis at the TI Coach Certification Course this week in Coral Springs FL.  I’ll explain it below, giving special attention to the key step of integration.

Improving a skill starts with becoming aware of the error you’d like to correct–moving from Unconscious Incompetence–not recognizing your technique error–to Conscious Incompetence.  From there–perhaps with guidance from a TI DVD or Coach–you progress to Conscious Competence. In this stage, it takes constant vigilance to resist the pull of old, ingrained habit.

A critical brain adaptation that allows the improved skill to ‘hardwire’ is to integrate the new neural circuit  that guides it with existing circuits. Those include both cognitive circuits–how you think about and experience the new skill; and motor circuits–instructions from your brain to your muscles. Here are three ways to aid the process of integration.

Develop a ‘Personal Vocabulary’ to Describe It  

The act of putting new thoughts and sensations into your own words–especially to articulate them to someone else–forces you to refine your concepts about the new skill–why and how you do it, and how your swimming feels different as a result. Try these:

1. Explain it to someone else.  Or even better, bring a friend or family member to the pool and teach it to them.

2. Write it down. The best place to do this is on the TI Discussion Forum where others who are working on the same skill can share their process and insights with you. The Wisdom of Crowds is more powerful than that of any one individual.  Check out this site (in English) by a woman in Japan who only began swimming three weeks ago but has already set up a blog, and made numerous posts recording and reflecting on her experiences and what they’re teaching her.

Visualize when not swimming

Learning researchers have observed that the brain’s firing patterns are nearly the same when you think about a skill as when you actually perform it. Indeed, the more brainpower you devote to the skill, the more the brain recognizes it as a ‘high value’ activity, and will continue encoding the movements while you sleep. If you find yourself dreaming about swimming, that’s your brain accelerating your learning process. Here are ways to encode consciously.

1. ‘Meditate’ away from the pool. When you have some quiet time, imagine yourself swimming–as vividly as possible –in the new way, at times. With practice you should find that your visualizations become stronger and more realistic.

2. Breathe and Visualize before practice. Yoga classes often start with sitting cross-legged, doing breathing exercises and reviewing your intentions for practice. I sometimes do the same prior to swimming. I sit at the end of the lane, direct my gaze down the lane, breathe slowly through my nose (stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, making you more receptive to suggestion) and visualize  my first length. When I  begin swimming, I ‘find my groove’ immediately.

3. Visualize between repeats. While resting at the wall between repeats breathe slowly, and keep swimming mentally, until you push off. Stay in your mental groove full time during sets.

Increase awareness as you swim.

1. Practice wrong – then right. When working on a new technique, intentionally start a length with the wrong technique, then correct.  Start a lap with your head too high; halfway down release its weight and notice how your entire body feel better supported. Or start a lap intentionally over-reaching, then slip your hand through the Mail Slot. All it takes is a few repetitions to gain a stronger sense of the right technique–and why it’s beneficial.

2. Close your eyes. Whenever I practice an especially elusive technique, one that requires a high level of sensory awareness, I find myself involuntarily closing my eyes to feel it better. When people lose their sight, of necessity their other senses become much keener.  Turning off visual input will increase your sensitivity to sensory inputs.

9 Responses to “How to Create Enduring (Muscle) Memories”

  1. Reading this blog post was a great integration moment for me! Thanks for summarising the importance of these 3 aspects of the transformation process. I would like to acknowledge my mentor and friend Dr Izzy Justice, who has helped me develop a deeper understanding of the neuroscience of learning.

  2. Thank you so much for this blog post, Terry, and for mentioning my blog! I’ve been “lurking” in the TI forums since purchasing several TI DVDs and self-teaching. It really does help to see that I’m not the only having difficulties with certain drills or focal points. I do hope to stop lurking and finally introduce myself, and even perhaps make a contribution.

    As a 35-year old complete non-swimmer, I enrolled in a group swimming class at my local gym hoping to learn to swim. But even while I knew nothing about swimming, the way it was being taught made me question the effectiveness of traditional methods (staying as flat on your back as possible, kicking and pulling as hard as possible for propulsion, drilling with the kick board as much as possible, etc). After each class my back, arms and legs would hurt. I knew there had to be a different, better way to learn.

    I did some research and found TI Swimming. After a month of traditional group swimming lessons I still couldn’t breathe or cover a 25m. Doing the drills in the Ten Lessons DVD, the 02 to H2O DVD, as well as watching footage of Shinji and his sons on YouTube was what finally enabled me to breathe in freestyle.

    I also purchased the Backstroke DVD and on my second session I was able to go across a 25m pool and back, very slowly but completely relaxed.

    There are so many things I need to work on, and I don’t think I could call myself a swimmer unless I can do at least a 1000m non-stop, without tiring. But with TI Swimming I can see incremental progress. Despite my being terrible at sports in general, I know I can reach this goal as long as I drill and do mindful practice day after day.

    The gym pools are so busy: there are always recreational/competitive swimming or water aerobics classes, and plenty of fitness swimmers in whatever lanes are not being used for classes. With all the distraction around me I really found the blog post on holding One Thought to be incredibly helpful. I’d like to incorporate visualization and meditation in my practice as you mentioned in this post. Since I need to share the lane most of the time I could visualize my swim while I wait for my turn.

    Reading this Swim Well blog is really inspiring and a great source of ideas and encouragement. You are absolutely right in saying that writing about what you learned helps. It has helped me not just in documenting my progress and reviewing focal points, but also whenever I am discouraged. I would read an old blog post and this would help me see how far I’ve come.

    While I dread my weekly traditional group swimming class (that blasted kick board!), I really look forward to each night session on my own, to do the TI drills and slow but mindful whole stroke.

    Last week the TI Breaststroke DVD arrive. I hope to watch it this weekend and start on the first drill or two. I know I haven’t mastered freestyle or backstroke yet, but I’m looking forward to learning all the different strokes so that I can find out how they complement each other and help me become even more at home in the water.

    In the meantime, I will update my swim blog daily. Thank you, Terry and TI, for giving this middle-aged, clumsy, unfit non-athlete a chance to learn to swim, work on becoming healthier, and actually enjoy the process!

    PS. Sorry for the overly long comment!

  3. Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect this technique is just what we do in golf to learn better technique.

  4. Greg Bannoff says:

    Closed-eyes awareness has worked beautifully for me in engaging the whole kinetic chain. Visualizing movements creates intention-based results without distracting visual “clutter”. Tactile sensation becomes more acute, and I can sense more precisely the areas of water resistance and support, feeling when a stroke engages or conversely, when and where it slips. Noticing little incremental improvements maintains the challenge and the fun! and keeps it fresh.

  5. Beverly Claire 35 is YOUNG. So many years of Kaizen ahead of you. With your examined, purposeful approach I know you can master all of it.

  6. […] when I read about visualization to improve muscle memory in swimming, I thought I’d give it a try in and out of the […]

  7. […] Awareness + Learning + INTEGRATION = New Improved Skill I adapted this ‘improvement equation’ from a presentation given by TI Coach Dinah Mistilis at the TI Coach Certification Course this week in Coral Springs FL.  […]

  8. […] “ Awareness + Learning + INTEGRATION = New Improved Skill I adapted this ‘improvement equation’ from a presentation given by TI Coach Dinah Mistilis at the TI Coach Certification Course this week in Coral Springs FL.”  […]

  9. […] Awareness + Learning + INTEGRATION = New Improved Skill I adapted this ‘improvement equation’ from a presentation given by TI Coach Dinah Mistilis at the TI Coach Certification Course this week in Coral Springs FL.  […]

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