Three Speed Problems: Why A Better Brain – not Bigger Lungs and Muscles – is the Solution
The “Speed Problem” is actually three distinct problems — all as inevitable as death-and-taxes: an Energy problem, a Resistance problem and an Age problem. The best solutions to all three lie in training your brain and nervous system, not your heart, lungs and muscles.
Speaking bluntly, human swimmers are Energy. Wasting. Machines.
In 2005 DARPA (Defense Dept. agency responsible for developing military technology) was asked to design a swim foil to help Navy Seals move much faster and easier while carrying ‘ordnance.’ DARPA engineers began by comparing the efficiency of humans with dolphins. They discovered that dolphins convert 80 percent of energy (or horsepower) into forward motion. Humans? Three percent!
This simply reflects what I noted earlier: As terrestrial mammals, we’re fish-out-of-water. What allows us to survive at all is that, unlike fish, we possess a brain that’s ‘wired’ for problem-solving.
Conclusion: Training for ‘Bigger Lungs’ aims at solving the wrong problem. We have virtually limitless opportunity to waste less. Only Neural training can accomplish that!
Drag goes up exponentially as we swim faster. Considering this, two studies of swimming speed should cause anyone who thinks ‘bigger muscles’ is the way to swim faster, to think again.
• Those DARPA engineers also discovered that dolphins manage to swim at speeds that exceed what is theoretically possible, based on their ‘horsepower’. The engineers theorized that dolphins accomplish this through what they called “active streamlining.”
• In a study of all competitors at the 1992 Olympics in the Mens 100-Meter Free — considered swimming’s ultimate ‘power event’ — USA Swimming biomechanist Jane Cappaert found that the 8 finalists (the eight fastest swimmers) produced an average of 16% less propulsive power than 30-odd swimmers who failed to advance from prelims. I.E. The more powerful the swimmer, the slower they swam! Cappaert’s conclusion? What sets apart the fastest swimmers is “superior whole-body streamlining.”
Conclusion: Training for ‘Bigger Muscles’ aims at solving the wrong problem. Reducing resistance has been proven the best way to swim faster. Only Neural training can accomplish that!
The final speed-limiter we face is that from our mid-30s on, each passing year reduces our aerobic capacity and muscular power. Assiduous training can reduce, but not stop, those losses. If we focus exclusively — or even primarily — on working hard, all we have to look forward to is steadily losing speed.
In contrast, recent research has shown that we can continue optimizing the brain and nervous system through at least our 70s – four extra decades of potential improvement.
Conclusion: Neural training can’t guarantee swimming faster as we age, but it gives us a far better chance of at least minimizing age-related declines.
And, if you began swimming between your 30s and 60s, you absolutely should be able to continue improving for up to 10 years.