Monday, January 9, 2012

Practice makes perfect

We've heard it before: Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent. And for most people, this evokes images of a person doing something wrong over and over again to the point that the wrong skill is ingrained and it can't be changed. With this model for learning, unless you have perfected the movement beforehand, you cannot go on to repeat it. This means that event-specific endurance can't be built before perfect technique is learned. This model also tells you that technique does not change with repetition, meaning that an athlete goes through repetition of the movement essentially like a robot.

What this model leaves out is one important aspect of all biological systems: adaptation to stimulus. While a particular movement is being performed and repeated, changes of technique do occur. An athlete does not go through repetition with an immutable technique, but technique changes throughout the process. One of the jobs of a coach is to make sure this adaptation process is a positive one.

All this to talk about band swimming. Band swimming is a training tool that induces positive changes in swimming technique by giving the swimmer instant feedback on a variety of technical aspects in front crawl swimming. Here's my top-2:

- High-elbow pull - Swimming with a band increases drag. In order to overcome the additional drag, swimmers get instant feedback if they're not pulling through the water correctly. What is interesting is that pretty much any swimmer will improve their high-elbow catch by swimming with a band. They adapt to the new stimulus by positively changing their technique.

- Head position - Swimming with a band affects your horizontal balance in the water. Swimmers get instant feedback if they don't have an horizontal position. They quickly realize that their head position has a great role in horizontal position. They adapt to the new stimulus by positively changing their technique.

Now, just put on a band around your ankles and all your swimming problems are solved, right? Actually no. As with all things training, coaching and training design have a bigger impact in your progression as a swimmer. Swimming with a band is one tool that will help that progression, but doing the right training mix will have the greatest impact in a swimmer's development.