Dec 18, 2019
When you first learn to swim the main aim is to keep your body afloat and get from one side of the pool to the other. No matter how long that doggy paddle may take, it’s a success because you’re learning. The doggy paddle will soon evolve into a front crawl and you’ll start getting stronger and build up the stamina to swim for longer.
For most of us, those first swimming lessons are the only swimming training that we will ever get. From there, our swimming technique evolves without any observation. It is a technique of survival to get from one side of the pool to the other. When you’re swimming it’s very hard to observe your technique because you’re not really in a position to observe yourself and if you’re not drowning there’s no reason to consider that you may be doing something wrong.
I always considered myself a strong swimmer, I swam what I thought was a moderate distance of 1/4 mile without getting tired, and to my limp observation, I felt like I had a decent technique. Earlier this year I signed up for a Triathlon where I would be swimming 1 mile in open waters. I now had to push myself far beyond my distance of comfort, and I really struggled. Once I got to that 10th or 12th length of the pool my chest was getting really tight and I struggled to push on without taking a break to catch my breath
Then a friend, Réamonn Byrne, who has done his fair share of endurance events (He’s rowing from New York to Ireland in 2020) recommended Total Immersion Swimming to ‘swim more, with less effort’ was how he described it to me. So I applied the technique, beginning to just focus on controlling my breath and once I had that under control, moving on to my physical alignment so that my legs were trailing and my head keeping my body afloat, and finally focusing on the timing of my strokes so that I pulled through the water with as little resistance as possible.
It completely changed my headspace when I swam, now I was focused on using my body efficiently so that I could swim further rather than just forcing myself to continue through exhaustion. I traded a mindset of effort and exhaustion for technique and control which helped me to go from 1/4 mile to 1 mile of swimming in the space of 8 days.
I didn’t know that there even could be anything wrong with my technique before I tried Total Immersion Swimming, I thought the problem was my stamina, and that I just wasn’t as good a swimmer as some of the other people in the pool. The reason for that was because my mindset and skillset around how to swim had not evolved since I was a young child. I was taught the very basics and the rest I figured out on my own with the sole intention of getting from one side of the pool to the other.
I have taught Speed Reading Workshops to a wide group of people, from executives in hedge funds to seniors in high school and I see a parallel between my swimming experience as I trained for the Triathlon and their reading experience during a workshop. The evolution of an untrained swimmer is just the same as the evolution of an untrained reader. We learn how to get from the first sentence on the page to the last and over time with greater effort and more complex language we become faster readers but our mindset is locked into effort and exhaustion. As I mentioned with swimming there are three parts which must be trained in isolation of each other; breath, posture and stroke. When you train each separately and bring them all together you become a better swimmer. Similarly, when reading, there are three separate components; speed, comprehension and retention. When you learn the framework of reading, you learn how to read with less effort.
Speed Reading has an association with skimming or skipping words but that’s not what I teach. Speed Reading is a framework and a technique of reading so that you learn how to pick out what is worth reading, read it quickly, and then organize the information so that you can retain it. Just like it’s difficult to observe your technique when you swim, it is just as hard to spot the inefficiencies in your reading practice, and with the right technique, you can glide through the material that always seems so challenging.