Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Double-Whips - Pt. II

I now more clearly understood Terry Laughlin's genius. Over a series of several books on swimming he has been able to translate some of the body sensations that come from perfect form into new language. He coined phrases such as "pressing your buoy" and "swimming downhill" to try to convey the sensation he was feeling when swimming perfectly into words.

Once the feelings were translated into words, he could then design drills to reinforce the new feeling. He did this by helping the swimmer practice over and over until the body could produce the new sensation automatically, and without thinking.

Coming up with the new language and practices is, I now know, not the nice linear process I just described. Instead, it takes significant trial and error to get it to the point where someone else could use it.

This I learned from experience.

At first, I just wanted to retain the feeling and the measurable results.

I immediately went to the internet to check the Total Immersion (TI) archives. I found some discussion and articles related to kicking, but they all seemed to be describing the same end-result - a kick that started from the hip, rather than in the legs -- rather than a step-by-step process that is the feature of Terry's step-by-step approach. . For example, this post on connecting leg drive and hip drive.

I have read about that for years in the TI books. Now, I had actually experienced it. But so what? I still had no guarantee that I would ever feel the same sensation again.

Earlier in the year, I had the fortune of discovering an Alexander Popov clip on YouTube. As a word-record holder in the 100m sprint, his technique is amazing to watch. I figured that if I watched him swim I might learn a thing or two.

As I clicked on his video for perhaps the 20th time I could see where he was indeed kicking from the hip. Frankly, it looked a bit superhuman, and once again I had the feeling that he was born with a gift that the rest of us could only observe on YouTube.

Then all of a sudden I saw something.

Fortunately, they had also recorded Popov's drills, and there he was doing something I had never tried. It looked like a butterfly drill.

Popov was on his side, underwater, with both his arms outstretched. He was dolphin-kicking his way down the pool.

And, he was looking like I felt in the pool!

OK, that sounded weird.

His body had the same undulating feeling I felt when I was doing the skating drill, or at least I thought it did. His looked like some exotic mermaid. I had a feeling that I looked more like a wounded walrus...

But the same "body-waves" were causing his arms to move horizontally also! Here in the Popov video clip, taken from a 13 minutes clip that has been one YouTube for a while.

I could barely wait to get back to the pool.

2 days later, I pushed off from the wall. And not a damn thing happened.

Gone were the waves and whipping and undulation. I was swimming the way I always had, with a kick that was as disjointed as ever.

But I had a feeling that this would happen, and was not surprised, although, to be honest I had been hoping for a miracle... secretly.

I quickly switched back over to my drills, and sure enough, it all came back. The skating drill has turned out to be the best way for me to isolate and focus on the sensation. I ran through a set of drills - skating, under-skate, under-switch, over-switch - trying to keep the feeling going.

The I tried the Popov drill, with the underwater dolphin kick.

And it worked. He must be a smart fellow.

I could only manage 5 yards to his 20, and I looked more like a wounded mermaid than walrus this time around. But I could now feel the whip start someplace up above my hips. My outstretched arms and feet seemed to be going along for the ride.

Essentially, I was dolphin-kicking down the pool on my side, and as I experimented I found that if I allowed my body to relax into a 60 degree angle or so, it felt even better.

Perhaps the fact that I cannot swim butterfly helps...

The effect on my freestyle, however, was instant. All I had to do was first envision, and then feel each of my legs whipping independently.

It was almost as if I had a whip in each hand, cracking one after the other (like the guy in the picture above.)

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