Video: Doing what DOESN’T come naturally
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on September 7th, 2010

Perpetual Motion Freestyle (PMF) is modeled on the way aquatic mammals move through the water—balanced, streamlined, propelling with whole-body movements. A challenge humans face in learning PMF, is that our instincts to swim like our fellow terrestrial mammals – head up, all four limbs churning – is so strong.  Learning PMF requires conscious choices to do what doesn’t come naturally.  Segment 4 of “Work Less; Swim  Better” illustrates that in many ways.

Shaped like an Aquatic Mammal

Take the path of least resistance – This segment is about imprinting body positions that minimize drag. No human swimmer, purely by instinct, has ever emphasized drag reduction over creating propulsion.

Path of Least Resistance

How much to Rotate – Our first instinct is to swim flat. We feel more secure that way. But ironically when we learn rotation is advantageous, we usually overdo it. (Actually, human swimmers tend to overdo most everything.) The ideal amount of rotation is much smaller than we tend to think. When learning this skill, we generally need to focus on controlling it, not on making it happen.

But rotating just a little is actually harder than rotating to a “stacked-hips” position. To remain stable in a slightly-rotated position, you must activate spinal stabilizer muscles. That’s good. These underappreciated muscles are more important than more familiar and visible muscles — pecs, triceps, quads, etc. And the idea that invisible muscles that we use mainly for stability are more important than very visible ones we use for pushing water back is one more counterintuitive idea!

Extending Bodyline – From our first attempt to swim to the other end of the pool, one of our strongest instinct is to windmill the arms and push water back. Yet, the arm is far more valuable when used to reduce wave drag by extending your body line. That’s a pretty dramatic inversion of our usual way of thinking as we swim.

Relaxed Hand – It’s not just instinct but instruction that tell us to stiffen the hand into a cup or paddle. Red Cross lessons teach that. And we just naturally do it so we can push harder on the water. It takes considerable concentration to stop tensing the hand. But once you do relax it, your fingers drop into a position that both aids balance (by causing your feet to rise) and in which your stroke produces force that moves you forward.

To improve your swimming, you first need to think differently — i.e. develop new cognitive circuits. Consciously focusing on new Stroke Thoughts is one ways to permanently change thinking habits and imprint new intentions. This leads, eventually, to creating new motor circuits.

Because these intentions and actions are so un-natural, a big part of the training I did to make them second nature was very brief, highly examined repeats. I only continue the repeat as long as my focus remains acute because even a moment’s inattention is all it takes for me to go back to doing what comes naturally.

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