Swimming Stroke and Beyond

My Swimming Story

When I look back and think about my swimming from childhood, I have to say that my body was never comfortable and natural in the water, and swimming was not my cup of tea.

I could swim breaststroke for an extended period of time but the crawl was a challenge, and I had trouble swimming freestyle continuously 25 meters or 1 length of the pool. As I learned later, only 2% of the overall population can swim continuously 400 meters, and I belonged to 98% of those who struggle and fight with water.

When I started to compete in triathlon races in 2001 swimming became a great drawback by far more than I anticipated. I would finish the swim leg at the end of the heat wave and some races dead last. I remember one race when the swim consisted of two identical length laps. When I finished the first lap, the rest of the field completed both laps.

Conventional Swimming Instruction

I purchased a book Total Immersion (TI) in 2000 and spent a significant time to study and practice it. TI method is designed to reduce resistance or drag to allow the body propelling through the water with less effort and higher speed.

Practicing TI relaxed my body but my speed dropped further, and I could not figure out how to swim continuously without significant physical effort. I continued to research swimming literature and attempted to apply any training advice I could find, but there was no progress.

My body simply did not possess buoyancy and neuromuscular efficiency to move naturally in the water. I met with numerous coaches and attended their training sessions, but my swimming did not improve in any meaningful way. I took a trip to New Paltz, NY in 2006 and had a private session with the founder of Total Immersion Terry Laughlin. The session took place in the endless pool where you swim against the constant current of water.

The problem is that my body has trouble swimming in non-moving water, and I felt more uncomfortable in the endless pool. By the end of the session Terry told me that my swimming efficiency improved by 22%. Unfortunately, the increased efficiency didn’t translate into higher speed during my training sessions and triathlon races. After years of consistent and diligent effort, the speed for 50 meters was 1 minute and 30 seconds and swimming were just hard work without inner desire to swim or practice.

The Science of Human Movement and Swimming

Traditional swimming instruction targets body areas such as “knees”, “hips” or “legs” to develop a swimming stroke. For instance, you might think when you bend your knee you use quadriceps muscles.

However, any movement in the human body is produced by a group of primary, stabilizing and opposing muscles and is referred as to a kinetic or functional movement chain. As I was developing functional movement related to dancing and running, I realized that kinesiology, the science of human movement, can be applied to swimming.

Movement is carried out by three systems within the human body, the nervous system (central and peripheral), the skeletal and the muscular systems. The nervous system is responsible for sending a signal to activate an individual muscle and has no nerves to “hip” and “leg”, and it is not designed to send a signal to move “the hip” or “the leg”.

In fact, moving the “hip” without activating all required muscles can cause poor performance and lead to injury.

The science of human movement defines joint and muscle basic actions as flexions, extensions, and rotations. For example, kinesiology charts describe the muscles that act on the hip joint to produce a specific movement such as a flexion or extension.

It means that swimming movements can be described as a series of interconnected joint and muscles actions or a functional movement chain. In turn, swimming stroke training will target moving the required muscle and joint groups in proper sequence. For a reference, kinesiology does not have a term called “kicking” and it explains why swimming coaches have trouble teaching this skill by focusing on “hips” and “legs”. Following the logic described above, kinesthetic awareness and neuromuscular efficiency can be trained and they are not God-given ability.

Swimming Stroke and Weight Shift

Conventional swimming instruction is revolved around the “stroke” which shifts the focus of training to the upper body. Research has been limited to determine to what extent the lower body contributes to propulsion and to define the role of the pelvis, hip joints, and gluteal muscles to produce swimming movement. In addition, I have not found any research that pelvis, hip joints and gluteal muscles are the body parts that form a functional chain movement and how it is supposed to function.

Any human movement including swimming can be described as changing positions with a proper weight shift. It is not widely understood that efficient movement takes place by shifting the center of body weight which is a major element of functional chain movement. As I discovered during the study of kinesiology, the human body is anatomically designed to shift the center of body weight.

I started applying the principles of kinesiology and the functional movement training with my clients to improve swimming, and it produced results beyond expectations from beginner to advanced level. Those who struggle with water learned to be more comfortable and move with much less effort. The others who know how to swim found out that the understanding of the concepts of functional chain movement can help to reduce the physical effort and improve swimming speed.

In addition, my neuromuscular efficiency significantly improved, and I began swimming naturally and with much less physical effort. My swimming time for 50 meters is improved to 60 seconds, and I feel that increasing the speed to 45-50 seconds for this distance is attainable.