Do you ever sleep?
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on March 30th, 2009

Another email exchange with my friend, photographer G. Steve Jordan. I’ve been advising Steve as he transitions from LEARNING new stroke habits with TI, to PRACTICING AND MEMORIZING with whole-stroke practice, combining Mindful Swimming (stroke thoughts or focal points) and SPLs.
Do you ever sleep?!
Thanks for the very helpful advice! I’ll pick up a Tempo Trainer and give it a shot. I’ll also pay closer attention to Shinji’s video to get a better sense of what you describe. In some other (often conflicting!) videos on the web there is a reference to “digging” and I think I’ve been going too deep with that hand.

All these things to try to keep in mind is one reason I am attempting to just enjoy the feel of the water and work slowly towards some of these concepts. One could easily get tied up in knots by “thinking” too much…no?>>

Better to feel than think too much. One great benefit you’ll discover with the Tempo Trainer is that it calms and concentrates your mind. Here’s how you’ll use that calm to combine more acute sense-awareness with on-the-go analysis of your stroke:
1) When you lower your SPL by several strokes, particularly by using the extra time in each stroke-interval to begin the stroke more slowly, you’ll notice that your stroke feels markedly different.
2) You should then heighten your awareness of the new sensation – you might call it a “sticky” hand and “thick” water.
3) As you swim, narrow your focus to: (i) feeling that sensation every stroke; (ii) synchronizing with the beep; (iii) counting your strokes. This may require an unprecedented amount of concentration. . . which may create mental fatigue. If so you may be able to maintain this level of focus for periods of just 10 minutes or so. Be patient. Intense-focus practice will increase your “mental stamina” just as conventional training increased your physical stamina.
4) Until your leisurely-catch muscle-memory deepens, that sticky-hand-thick-water feeling may be erratic. You might notice, in the middle of a lap, that your catch is a bit more hurried, a bit less firm on ONE STROKE — and that adds a stroke to your count when you reach the next wall.
5) When you realize that a moment’s inattention – and the extra stroke — also added 1.4 seconds (or whatever interval your TT was set at) to your lap time, your focus will deepen further.
6) As a new habit of purposeful concentration develops — aided by the calming metronomic beep of the TT — you’ll become more consistent with the higher-efficiency movement I’ve described. This reflects a deepening of muscle-memory for that particular movement. It also reflects a shift from relying on short-term, or working, memory, to long-term memory, where your new skill will be more “automatic.” (Otherwise called “unconscious competence.”)
7) You should choose a new skill-focus to occupy the free space in your working memory.

How does this development improve your swimming? As your concentration (and the skill you’ve focused it on) improve so will your ability to maintain a formerly-challenging combination of SPL and tempo. Instead of one or two lengths, you’ll be able to maintain it for four, then eight, etc. This means that, instead of maintaining a particular pace for just 50 or 100 yds, you now find you can stretch to 200 or 500 yds.
You’ve “gained endurance” – not by working harder and longer – but by using concentration to deepen muscle memory to maintain the same combination of Stroke Length and Stroke Rate longer.
The nice thing about using mental effort to increase physical endurance is that, unlike muscle glycogen, it can become relatively inexhaustible . . . if you diligently “practice concentration” as you swim.

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