Spacial Awareness – and its affects on freestyle

imageSwimming freestyle is one of the most rewarding activities an individual can undergo in terms of fitness. With such a low loading movement playing next to no impact on the risk of injury, it is little wonder why so many people around the world enjoy the benefits of swimming freestyle in the liquid environment.
Now I have trained all kinds of people with all abilities in this activity, and the number one thing that I notice right across the board is the individuals belief that they are doing the movement correctly.
Swimming in a liquid environment is much different to training on land. When you are in the water you have to contend against two forces instead of just one. Whilst on dry land gravity pushes you down, in the H20 you have gravity pushing you down, and buoyancy pushing you up.
As well as these two forces you also have the much thicker surroundings of water (rather than air) pushing against your skin constantly. Thus adding the most important force to the equation… Drag.
Now I mention these forces for one particular reason, and that is body position. In order for the individual to move efficiently through the water they must place themselves in a horizontal body position facing down. Centre of gravity, and centre of buoyancy then play a role in keeping the person in that place.
However the issue is that unlike many of the land activities that make it easy for the individual to constantly check form, swimming freestyle does not allow for the same ease in doing so. As the individual is facing down, trying to overcome drag they are in doing so making themselves blind to visual cues in technique. In simple language – they are unable to see what they are doing.
A term ‘spacial awareness’ refers to ones ability to know where there body and limbs etc are in their environment, a term ‘proprioception’ refers to the neuromuscular connection between the brain and these limbs, allowing them to make adjustments etc without the need for visual cues.

So in saying all that, again, the biggest issue I see across the board in all levels of swimmers is the fact that they always seem to think that there arms etc are in a different position to where they actually are.
Sometimes I see swimmers cross there arms over the midline of the body, essentially zigzagging their way through the pool in extreme cases, whilst in the very least making them more susceptible to shoulder issues through extra loading on the rotator cuff and shoulder joints.
When I attempt to correct this, or provide feedback to the swimmer they are doing so, a lot are surprised and sometimes disbelieving that they are doing this. Upon correction they often comment that they feel as though there arms are a lot wider then they actually are in the water. Often saying that it feels like they are swimming like a gorilla.
It isn’t until you show them footage, or get them to lift their head slightly in the water to watch the entry and catch phase of their stroke that they begin to understand that their inept sense of spacial awareness is off track.
This is an example of one of the issues that face swimmers trying to work on their stroke.

How can we fix this as a coach?
We need to retrain the sensory component of the activity to suit the new movement pattern. Essentially train the brain into understanding that the new movement is not incorrect.
– Feedback from coaches and peers is essential
– mirrors on the bottom of the pool
– Video footage and analysis
– Constant adherence to the new movement

Coach Dave

Exercise Scientist


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