I’ve had some conversations with some of my swimmers recently about swimming “effortlessly.” When we use the term “effortless” we are using it in the sense of the Taoist term, wu wei. Wu wei is an complicated philosophical concept debated for around 2,500 years, so I will apologize up front to any Taoists when I describe it as:
- Without action or control
- Action without action
- Action that does not involve struggle or wasted effort
When we think of a person swimming effortlessly or doing any action effortlessly, the movements are automatic and do not have any elements of wasted motion.
Where my athletes are getting hung up on is thinking of “effortless” in terms of “low intensity.” We are speaking here of a high quality of moment with little mental control involved in executing it not swimming with an RPE of 1. Swimming is a form of exercise. Even if you are swimming aerobically you will feel like you are putting forth physical effort. If you are doing any speed work, you will definitely feel like you are putting effort into the swim. The key to being effortless is in maintaining your efficiency and flow at fast speeds or longer distances. Yesterday I was swimming at X-Sport next to a woman taking 34 strokes to get down the pool compared to my 13. Comparatively speaking, I was swimming more effortlessly but I still felt like my practice was challenging and I’m sore today because of the session.
I write this post because I’ve been having people stopping and getting disappointed if they are getting tired during a training session. The rules of physiology apply in swimming as in all other sports and forms of exercise. We just want to make sure we eliminate the thrashing and struggle, so you are getting value out of the training.
Sorry if I went off on a rant…