The Bridge From Drills to Mastery
The hottest cycling tip, running tip and swimming tip I can offer is the same for all three disciplines: Each time you train – whether it is a key breakthrough session or an easy recovery session – use a focal point to aide you in your pursuit of mastery and perfection.
Drills and focal points are first and foremost perceptual enhancers - for both your mind and your body. Improve your perceptual capacity and you improve your endurance, strength and speed.
Take the knowledge and the perceptual gains from sport-specific drills and carry them over to the real thing.
As an example, in Total Immersion Swim, the first drill we “play” with is called Superman Glide (SG). It’s really simple: Gently push off into a horizontal floating position, with your face in the water, arms extended. Pretend you are Superman flying effortlessly. The first focal point you apply to this drill is to relax your head.
“Hang my head.” “Weightless head”. These are brief, simple focal points to use when practicing SG Drill. The result? You discover that when you relax your head and allow it hang and float, your legs and pelvis rise much closer to the surface. Your fore-aft (head-to-toe) balance improves. Your streamlining improves.
The next step? Swim 3-5 strokes, without breathing, without any distractions, and focus solely on hanging your head. Think of nothing else. Use the focal point as a bridge from the very simple fragment (drill) called Superman Glide over to the complex movement sequence called whole stroke swimming. When this works for 3-5 strokes, try it for 10-12 strokes – with a breath or two.
For every stroke, every stride - use a focal point!
This is the most important cycling tip, running tip, swimming tip: Use a well-defined focal point for every stroke or stride - whether you are executing high-intensity intervals, your longest ride or run, or a casual recovery session.
If you are well-versed in your drills and focal points, plan out a series of focal points for your session that will task your neuro-muscular system, as you follow the guidelines of your energy system training program.
Some athletes can keep the focus – the single thought – while they train. They can hold the focal point for the duration they choose: “For the next lap around the running track, I will focus on my elbows to create a natural, relaxed arm swing.” They can hold the focus even at the highest intensity. This takes practice!
Start with a simple, well-defined focal point:
For example, as you ride in aero position, focus on “Relax my shoulders”. See if you can stay conscious of this specific focal point continuously for one minute at an easy effort. (Use the timer on your watch.) It should be like a post-it note that you place right in front of your mind’s eye for that minute.
When you succeed at that, you can:
- Increase the duration of your interval. (“For three minutes, I will focus on...”)
- Increase the intensity of your interval. (“At 80% of my max heart rate, I will focus on...”)
- Increase the complexity of your focal point. (“Relax my shoulders and my neck.”)
Use focal points to train your body and your mind – at the same time. It takes the brilliance of your body and your mind in perfect unison to execute each stride, each stroke perfectly. And that’s the most effective way to improve endurance, efficiency, speed... and even enjoyment.
To execute each stroke and each stride perfectly for your entire race, you need to “think the movements” continuously, from the starting line to the finish line. Use focal points to strengthen your mind for this task.
The Zendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide offers drills and focal points for your pursuit of road and triathlon cycling mastery. You will learn which focal points work best for specific challenges.
There is one more effective way to develop your kinetic intelligence and strengthen your proprioception: cross training.
To find out how cross training can enhance your athletic performance and why I feel that Tai Chi is the ultimate form of cross training: Tai Chi: Ultimate Cross Training
Triathlon Motivation: Kinetic Intelligence
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