The Purple Duck
It does not matter what level of swimmer you are whether you are learning freestyle/front crawl or an experienced swimmer trying to make improvements to your stroke. Every one of us needs to spend time and apply themselves in order to make permanent changes to their stroke.
Before making changes first we need knowledge. Knowledge of what we are actually doing. Knowledge about what we should be doing. And then tools, usually in the form of isolations drills, to help us understand and ‘feel’ what the right movement feels like and also importantly what the wrong movement feels like. The greater your level of understanding of these key components the greater your ability to apply this knowledge when swimming on your own ie when there is no coach around. The more consistently you perform the new movement the sooner it becomes a natural part of your swim stroke and the more exponential the results.
There are some fundamentals we need to be aware of when making stroke technique changes. The nervous system is amazing but also utterly useless. It is amazing at telling us when we are doing something we are not used to doing. It is useless at telling us whether this new movement is right or wrong. Any new movement, right or wrong, will feel weird. If knowledge and feedback tell us this new movement is correct then we need to rehearse often and accurately enough to ensure this ‘weird’ becomes our new normal.
As adults we are hard on ourselves. We expect after receiving instructions to be able to implement them correctly because as adults we are ‘smart’ and we understand instructions. The problem is that isn’t how we work. All of us will receive and interpret instructions differently. Our learning progresses when we then put the instructions into practice. Making errors is part of learning. It’s perfectly OK to make mistakes. Very very rarely will anyone execute a drill perfectly the first time. Give yourself a chance to get familiar with a drill, work out (with the help of a coach) what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. Then refine your rehearsal to ensure you increase the accuracy.
To make permanent changes to stroke technique requires a significantly different approach to fitness training. First we must isolate the movement pattern. Don’t try and change technique while doing full swimming, you will become overloaded very quickly. Don’t try and swim miles and miles doing drills. Short amounts of high focussed high quality drills are far more productive. And finally how much drilling/rehearsal is required to make a change permanent? Enter the purple duck … if you are out swimming and a purple duck swims past will your new technique remain unchanged while you focus on the purple duck or will you revert back to your old bad habits while considering the impacts of swimming with a purple duck? You need to do enough technique so that it can happen autonomously while you ponder the purple duck.