Improve your body awareness to help you perfect your stroke technique and swim faster and more efficiently
Kinesthetics is the study of body movements and the perception of your own body in motion. Kinesthetic learning is knowledge acquired through physical activity as opposed to listening, watching, or reading.
Therefore, reading this article won’t enhance your kinesthetics one bit, but trying some new techniques in the pool just might.
Why Care About Kinesthetics?
You can learn everything you need to know about the perfect stroke (an ever-changing concept) by reading, watching videos, observing other swimmers, and listening to lectures from your Masters coach. (And we all know how much those folks love to lecture, am I right?) But all the knowledge you absorb about how you’re supposed to do it is useless without verification that you’re actually doing it. In other words, because you can’t watch yourself swim in real time, you need feedback to assess your success.
The best feedback is a well-trained coach’s analysis of slow-motion video. Similarly, comments from your coach on deck during workouts are easily worth what you pay for your membership. Stroke advice from well-educated lanemates might be worth something, but beware of advice from random lap swimmers whose only experience was that one year of junior high swimming back in the ’60s.
Despite the excellent feedback you might receive from others, the majority of your swimming lacks external monitoring. Therefore, your best swimming requires a self-contained feedback system. In other words, you must get feedback from yourself. And that, my friends, is kinesthetics.
Enhancing Kinesthetic Senses
“But Terry,” you might be thinking, “your fancy science words sound a lot like what we’ve always just called ‘feel for the water.’ Are you just putting lipstick on a pig?”
Well, yeah, kinda. But most of us think of feel for the water in terms of sensing hand position to maximize thrust. I’m recommending a broader sensory net to enhance efficiency through drag reduction as well as propulsion. Exploit multiple senses for total swimming success.
- Touch—Your skin contains pressure sensors across your entire surface area. Learn to feel changes in pressure from not only your hands and feet but from hips, shoulders, thighs, and the top of your head. Use the pressure you feel from the water to make adjustments. Pressure against your palm (propulsive surface) is good; accelerate to increase that pressure (and the resulting thrust). Pressure against the outside of your thigh is bad; straighten your body to eliminate the drag from misalignment.
- Sight—Watch the line on the bottom of the pool to ensure that your head is down and that you’re going straight. Watch the gutter and pool surface when you breathe to keep your head level and one goggle lens submerged in freestyle. Observe if excess splashing indicates wasted energy from nonpropulsive flailing. Count the tiles on the bottom to maximize your glide from every streamline as you leave the wall.
- Sound—Listen for ker-thumps and sloshing that indicate sloppy kicking or hand entry. Listen to breathing to identify and correct stroke timing problems.
In addition to those senses, take advantage of your balance and sense of position in the world. These help you understand whether you’re straight and level.
The sandpaper secret
You may have seen the Hollywood cliché of a safecracker using sandpaper to increase the sensitivity in his fingertips. Try increasing your sensory awareness with these tricks:
- Wear earplugs and close your eyes to remove visual and auditory distractions as you focus strictly on sensing pressure. (Safety first: Keep these periods brief to avoid running into lane ropes, walls, or other swimmers.)
- Tread water with your awareness centered in the palm of your hand. Do sculling drills with a focus on how it feels rather than how fast you’re going.
- We ignore stimuli that become too familiar. Break out of that rut: Wear pantyhose to change the way the water feels against your legs then remove them to stimulate additional perception. Try wearing socks on your feet (or on your hands) or swimming with a Mike Nesmith stocking cap on your head. Grow a beard until you get used to it, and then shave it off. Anything that changes the way you feel intensifies body awareness to help you understand your interaction with the water.
- Instead of strapping paddles to your hands, hold them as if you were fanning a deck of cards as you swim. You’ll feel the forces of the water in a different way. Swim with a kickboard between your legs to enhance your awareness of rotation and lateral movement. Swim with your head high (water polo or Tarzan style) to feel your body’s angle and kick effort.
As you develop the habit of continual body awareness, you’ll learn to recognize which movements eliminate drag or increase propulsion, and you’ll be able to instantly adjust your stroke for more efficient swimming.
- Technique and Training