Swimming at the Center of the Universe

Sometimes the basic assumptions we apply in pursuit of a goal get in the way of success.

Take astronomy. At one time in history, astronomers studied the way the planets revolved around the Earth in an attempt to create an accurate calendar.

But for centuries, it had been slightly off, every 100 years or so it would snow in July and the Pope would say, “Crank the calendar back six months.”

July would become January and the calendar would be correct again. But this put a real crimp in people’s vacation schedules and a better calendar had to be formulated.

Hence, astronomers enjoyed gainful employment.

The problem was that astronomers were laboring under a false model. The very definition of an astronomer’s job, one who studies the way the planets revolve around the Earth in order to create the perfect calendar, precluded them from finding the right answer.

At the time, it seemed logical to assume that all heavenly bodies revolved around the Earth, everyone could clearly see that for themselves. (Of course, the telescope hadn’t been invented yet.) There was no basis for differing assumptions.

Then, a very inquisitive fellow named Copernicus challenged the notion of the Earth being at the center of the Universe. Using nothing but math, he theorized that the Earth and the other planets revolved around the sun. It took another 100 years before Galileo, and the invention of the telescope, got the concept out in the open.

And even then, the Pope wanted to barbecue Galileo for daring to imply that the Earth was not the focal point of all Creation. (Some people get very fidgety when you challenge their basic assumptions.)

Now take swimming. Are you laboring under a false model in your swimming? Does your definition of swimming go something like this: “I pull with my arms and kick with my legs. If I do it faster, I’ll go faster?” If so, you need to step back and evaluate.

Too often, I hear swimmers talking about swimming with their arms and legs. If they go into the weight room they think in terms of strengthening their arms and legs. When they want to swim faster, they think and talk about moving their arms faster and kicking harder.

To the untrained eye it seems reasonable and logical to look at a swimmer and say, “See those arms moving water, see those legs churning away like an old stern wheeler? That’s what makes a swimmer go.” Heck, if the arms don’t move and neither do the legs then the swimmer becomes a floater… or a sinker. Right?

Now think for a moment about the powerful moves you see in other sports, a pitcher throwing a baseball, a batter hitting that ball, a golfer hitting a drive, a tennis player hitting a backhand, a discus thrower. All these activities and, in fact, nearly all single arm power moves, are based on the same principle_they use the arms to deliver huge forces that have been generated by rotation of the body trunk.

In swimming freestyle and backstroke we are doing the same thing. The arms are used as a delivery mechanism for the power generated by rapidly rolling the body from side to side. Sculling motions produced by the small muscles in the arms and around the shoulders help us hold onto the water. But it’s the large muscles of the torso that provide the bulk of the propulsive power.

In breaststroke and butterfly, the large propulsive forces are created by bending and unbending the torso. These forces are then delivered to the water with the arms and legs.

Imagine how ridiculous a swimmer would look if he held his torso absolutely flat and just moved his arms and legs. He’d probably take about 88 strokes per length. Imagine a baseball pitcher standing absolutely still facing home plate and throwing the ball using just his arm? Or an arm-only discus thrower? Can you say “wimpy?”

Your thought process in swimming should examine ways to develop power in the torso and deliver it to the water with your arms. This may prompt questions. It may even make you fidgety. But, suffice to say, if your focus is still on swimming faster by moving your arms and legs faster and harder, then the Earth is still at the center of your Universe.