We Pass Through Awkward

I often congratulate swimmers when they tell me they feel a little awkward when working on a new skill. What they are practicing may be more efficient or more fluid. It may be a better movement, but the movement feels awkward because it is not familiar to the muscles, or the mind.  It’s a new muscle pattern developing. It takes time to move from old pattern to new pattern, so the in between place feels awkward. The body is working to figure it out. I say embrace awkward. You are on the path to change.

In the book Born to Run, running coach Ken Mierke made this comment in reference to when he’s teaching runners better running (page 206):

“When I teach this technique (running) and ask someone how it feels, if they say ‘Great!’ I go ‘Damn!’   That means they didn’t change a thing. The change should be awkward. You should go through a period where you’re no longer good at doing it wrong and not yet good at doing it right. You’re not only adapting your skills, but your tissues; you’re activating muscles that have been dormant most of your life.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Ken Mierke based on my own personal experience when making changes to my technique, as well as in my teaching others. We go through awkward, it is part of the process. If you feel awkward then be glad you have done something different, a new pattern, a shift in old habitual pattern.

You have to be okay with feeling awkward. Do not stop when you feel awkward. Be persistent and pay attention. Feel what your muscles, your body, is doing, process it. See if you can feel it then, verbalize what you feel. You already know what you want to do, can you feel it then express it with words? “When I do this, it feels like …” fill in the rest.

I have had athletes do a lesson with me, go away for a few weeks to practice then come back for the next session. I ask how their practice went since our last session. When they tell me “great!” I ask if they did the drills I prescribed, they say “no, I just swam and thought about my arm or head…” etc. When I watch them swim, they often look exactly the same as I remember them on day one. Nothing changed physically. Maybe mentally they changed, as in they thought about their arm but never actually did anything different with.

It takes being awkward or uncomfortable and being okay with feeling awkward or uncomfortable, in the in between stage, to have the muscles do something different. It requires mental energy and maybe be a little humbled to have to slow down enough to integrate the change, make the change. You may get slower before getting faster. Your body needs to adjust to what the mind is asking it. You want to FEEL it. And feeling it in the beginning may be awkward. You may feel like a beginner again-and you may not like that.

On your way to effortless swimming it will take effort and moments of awkward. But don’t resist this feeling. Know that you are making changes-which is what you want. Trust, you got this!

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