Lesson Series Spring 2018

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    Mat Hudson

    Session #1 – April 2

    In today’s session we focused on your catch. Since we wandered deeply through the topic as observations and questions came up organically, there was not a pre-meditated order to our topics, and it may be a bit hard for me to remember everything in the order it came up.

    We discussed the limitation of having an external-only viewpoint and instruction on the catch. We need to know what we’re trying to achieve on the inside, in terms of how it feels, and in terms of what it produces in our interaction with the water. So, my focal points to you today were meant to give you different ways to explore the internal sensations we are after in the catch action and then in the synchronized action of the two arms.

    Later on I noted that you first need to align and harmonize the movements and flow of force inside the body. Then align and harmonize that body with the water. In terms of the catch, you can feel how you can activate or load the shoulder and back muscles in different ways as you adjust the shape of the catch and where you focus attention.

    Rather than think of the stroke action as a circular motion, think of it as a linear action of extension and contraction. In the mature stroke, there is never a passive moment in Skate Position, (or the dreaded ‘overglide’). The side of the body is either extending, sliding through, channeling the flow of force forward, or it is contracting, building up resistance, pressing against that resistance.

    There is a smooth transition between this extension to contraction, like a ball thrown into the air slows down to a stop and then gradually accelerates as it falls back down. Drawn onto a curve, no matter how high or how hard the ball is thrown, it always has this smooth transition between flying up and then falling back down again. In the extension action, you have been reaching forward from the shoulder, letting the wave of force move through your arm and out your wrist – the forearm and hand remain somewhat soft. Then, at the moment you set the catch, the shoulder and upper arm to the elbow may still be reaching forward as the forearm and hand begin to gather inward – the upper arm is, for a moment, still driving forward while the hand yields to the flow of water and starts sliding back into catch position. This may create the sensation of sliding the forearm forward over the beachball . You add a little pull to that hand and forearm (touching the beachball) and the pressure builds behind that planar surface as it turns perpendicular to the direction of your pull.

    Like on a bicycle, your leg is attached by the shoe to the peddle. The idea is to maintain constant pressure against the pedal in the orbital direction of cranking. But as the leg moves through the different angles of the pedal, the muscle activation choreography is constantly shifting to a new arrangement, and there needs to be a very smooth transition to each arrangement. One set of muscles is firing as the pedal reaches the peak and is gradually diminishing while a new set of muscles gradually picks up the load and keeps it moving.

    In the final microseconds of the extension,  the extending muscles are gradually diminishing their work as the forearm collapsed inward and starts picking up the load in the opposite direction. It should be felt as a smooth, yet powerful – or powerful, yet smooth – transition from extension to contraction, from extension to the set of the catch.

    We worked with two ways to focus on loading the back during the catch/pull (I will use the term ‘pull’ to describe what the arm is doing relative to the body, while catch/hold is what the arm is doing to the water, relative to a position in the pool).

    1. Stroke with just the upper arm, as if the forearm is missing or paralyzed, so that your must pull on the water with the inside of the upper arm. This essentially requires the body to pull with the back muscles and the loading in the shoulder joint feels fairly light. It is goofy looking, but it is an easy way to feel how the body solves the pulling puzzle by pulling from the torso rotation.
    2. Fist swim, and focus on holding the water with as much of the forearm as possible, even up to the elbow. The closer the pulling point is to the torso, the less loading there is felt in the shoulder joint, and the more the body needs to pull from the back muscles. So, focus attention on building pressure behind the entire forearm, not just the wrist. This compels you to pull the forearm further into perpendicular plane against the direction of the pull. 

    A concept to keep in mind- the longer the lever (the rather the main pulling point of the catch arm), the more pressure you will feel in the shoulder and around it. You can pull too close to the body and lose effectiveness and you can be too far away, adding unnecessary loading to the shoulder joint.

    I showed you a two-part way to construct the catch, so that you could train your muscles in the sequence:

    1. Gather inward with the forearm (like scooping the ball)
    2. Hold that forearm shape and pull with torso rotation

    Initially you may practice these as two distinct steps, waiting for the rotation until you’ve gathered inward with the forearm. But ultimately it is a dual action, with a transition of emphasis from the gather inward at first to the pull with torso rotation. The torso is starting to turn, but it is just starting and is not full speed yet. You build up pressure behind the forearm first, getting that pressure as far up the forearm as you can, then you hold that shape and feel the pressure gradually increase as the rotation accelerates to its most powerful moment about half way through.

    You can be powerful on the catch, but power needs to be applied gradually and smoothly. Increase power smoothly, not abruptly. After the initial set of the catch and the build up of pressure, keep that sense of pressure, that ‘grip’ on the water steady through the rest of the pull, until it diminished behind your arm at the end of the catch phase.

    These are the stages of the catch development:

    1. Shape of the catch
    2. Timing of the catch + rotation
    3. Pathway of the catch
    4. Pressure of the catch
    5. Synchronization with Entry/Extension arm

    We touched on just about all of these during this session!

    You can read more in the outline of the the Catch lesson.

    You can read more about the AB Arm Synchronization instructions.


    These notes beautifully replicate     the discursive intensity of the session. Thank you so much for listening to my request to speak to me in this way.

    I look forward to trying to replicate this new feel for the water.

    This kind of instruction, this level of fresh and generous detail, inspires me.  I can’t wait to get back into the pool.

    This lesson is exactly what I needed:    Start conditioning all over again from observing how I interact with my own force/intention in my hands and arms.

    I’m adding for my own memory other points we touched upon:

    —although focus is on the feel of the pressure of the water against hands/forearm/upper arm there is a difference between focusing on these parts and making the arms the main agents of propulsion

    —when the catch is synced up to the rotation of the hip (zooming out of the close focus of the hands:forearms/upper arms) the stroke feels balanced and propulsion is a result of the catch, rotation and torque of the ankle happening all together

    —the focus on the arms did not create an arm dominate stroke; to be sensitive to the pressure allowed me to regulate the amount of force; the feedback from the pressure along the hands/arms allowed me to time when I wanted to add the hip rotation to the movement; the feel, not some external cue, is what moves me

    -zoom in zoom out

    -imagine the feel of pushing Mat away and remember how that sent me forward

    —the catch is a force backward and the entry is the release of that force forward

    —in order to feel the pressure zone of water I have to relax my wrist; I lose the feel of the water and slip if my wrist is tense

    —move through the water feeling nothing but the pressure of water along my hands and arms






    —if I just catch the water with my hand and consequently limit my feel for the water to just my hand this narrowness of perception promotes yanking and slight panic; panic causes an aggression I do not intend

    —a calmness comes from feeding the pressure of the water from my hand down my arm down my side to send the hip back

    —and yet all at once

    —My mind needs to cope with the transition from entry to catch; practice feeling just that moment  when the hand slightly arches like the head of a jelly fish and the tentacles of the fingers drop down for the catch, creating an even bigger arch up to the elbow bending outward

    —if I can spread the awareness of the pressure of the water along my palm and forearm and upper arm there is no longer a gap of perception from hand to hip catching and rotating all at once


    Mat Hudson

    Between the two of us, we might capture a good portion of the good ideas that flow when we get going in the water! I appreciated your recollection as well.

    It would be quite a challenge to capture this in a book in mere words. I love the potential and power of the live sessions to examine these things. Much more fun in the water than on a couch.

    Mat Hudson

    Pool Session – April 29

    We explored a couple main concepts today, but I fear I can’t recall a fraction of what was actually spoken since we were putting new things into language for the first time. I will try to summarize what we were focused upon.

    I understood that you are looking for that feeling of power flowing smoothly across your body, from one side to the other, in each stroke.

    Some general principles we want to follow:

    First, harmonize things inside the body, and second harmonize that body with the water.

    Arrange the core of the body with the proper kind of length and unity, then coordinate the appendages to that core.

    In Superman, spread the shoulders away from the hips. Feel the lengthening and elastic firmness of the abdominal region. The emphasis is not on the reach of the forearms, but in the reach of the shoulders away from the hips. Stretch then lock in place, to create a solid torso unit of the hips and shoulders. You swim with this constant sensation of an extraordinary long-and-narrow feeling in the torso.

    When extending in Skate Position, feel the oblique muscles stretch. When this side begins the catch, feel this side of the body contract. Notice the linear stretch-then-contract-then-stretch-then-contract cycle on each side of the body, tapping into the elastic properties of the body.

    Blend the catch into the torso rotation – not too slow/soft and not too fast/abrupt. The catch should support or feel supported by the torso rotation, blending with the rate of the torso turn.

    Position the entry/extension arm to be driven into extension by the torso rotation – have it in position to receive the wave of force, and extend at the rate of flow of that force.

    The torso rotation is central and the catch and entry/extension become extensions of that torso rotation. They conform to it. If the rate of torso turn increases or decreases, the arms must adjust their rate of speed to remain blended with it.

    If each are separately conformed to the torso rotation, then there should be a proportional connection between the amount of pressure on the catch and the rate of speed of the extension. They should feel proportional and cooperative. The catch holds to give the torso more leverage, which then transfers this wave into the entry/extension arm. The wave flows from one side to the other, with the movements timed to the rate of that wave flowing through the body.

    As this connection improves the whole stroke feels increasingly centered in the middle of the torso, rather than in the shoulders. The center of the torso is the junction where force transfers up from the pelvis (when legs are engaged) and force transfers from side to side. The flow of force feels smooth and frictionless, while still being powerful.

    Progression for synchronization:

    • Focus on one side at a time
    • Blend catch to torso rotation
    • Position and time entry to receive the wave of force from the torso and direct it into forward motion
    • focus on one pair at a time (left catch and right entry, or right catch and left entry)
    • Zoom out to feel torso rotate with catch blended, and entry receiving and directing


    Woops! I forgot to take you into the weight room to play with hanging on the bars.



    Beautiful transcription of a fun and deeply interesting swim lesson.

    I will add:

    I need to press down into my armpit and chest. Otherwise any force that is generated from the torso rotation dissipates. Press to create a channel from thorax through shoulder into arm.

    The thorax, here, is The Spot, the pivot point of the rotation I The middle of my chest. Here is where the power resides. From here it flows into the arms.


    The arms receive this power, instead of pulling or pushing the torso. The torso drives.

    Lengthen and lock in that length by driving the hip into the shoulder extension on same side.

    Keep thighs together. Their weight downward creates core, not sucking anything in.

    what seems like a slight pause on the entry is the upper arm following the torso rotation.

    Feel the water flow under around and over me. Ride.


    Deeper understanding of external vs. internal cues from today’s no where near optimal swim.

    I started out fatigued (sleep deficit), continued with poor concentration and swam way past fatigue into causing pain in my shoulder joint. When I analysed the videos I saw, indeed, I was pulling first in the right hand/arm, then rotating. I was so tired the entire swim I could not feel what I was doing. I thought I was in sync.

    Thinking I had dialed in syncing up the extremities to the rotation of my core was my downfall. That’s what I’ve been working on for two weeks. But today, since the whole swim felt off, I thought I’d try to bring my feet into the game. I’m very aware of an imbalance in my kick. I feel pressure on the left side of the ankle, across the top arch to the first metatarsal. But I feel very little pressure on the top of the right foot.

    Again, I looked at my video and saw that the downward kick of the left leg and foot went way past my body line. The right leg and foot lagged, but stayed within my body line. My sensation, for years, is that I can’t move the right leg quick enough. No matter how hard I try, I mistime the kick.

    This observation led me to examine the cue “tippy toes”. I thought, maybe if I could keep my core active there’s a better chance of moving into the kick through rotating the ankles and just feeling pressure on the top of the feet. No need to go whole hog and use the kick to drive the extension. It’s a goal but I’m not there yet. Just rotate the ankles and feel pressure on the tops of the feet.

    I put on flippers to better feel the pressure and eureka: I realized my toes were not elongating in the flippers. Although I could feel the pressure strongly, I sensed I would still cramp my toes if I took off the flippers.

    So I did nothing but focus on my feet. I noticed that the way I interpreted “tippy toes” was completely incorrect. All I was doing was cramping my toes. Pinching them down. Creating tension in my feet. Flippers or not, this cue was not activating my core, and it was causing a lot of tension.

    After a few hours, on dry land, I found what works for me: to extend the arch of the foot downward from the tibia. The stretch is from the tibia through the arch. The toes follow that stretch and hang out. The toes do not start the stretch. The toes do nothing. Another way to think of it: the heel moves in toward the calf (and slightly out for the pigeon toed effect although the toes are not a good cue for me).

    If I swim with external cues without feeling how I am executing them I create funky situations. In this case, my cramped toes are translating to dry land and I’m having to work on relaxing them when I walk and run. The imprint of “tippy toes” stays in my body long after a swim.

    As for not being able to kick, I know I can’t fire that right glut and I’m trying to lift that leg with the hamstring, which is causing hamstring strain. The train should be:  multifidae, glut, then hamstring. So I’m dry land training that hamstring to fire after the glut.



    I think the seed of this realization came from observing Rocky. He was continually thrown off by the cue “superman”. He kept asking you for clarification but it was only by the third day that you guys had a longer discussion and he finally got that the arms extend from the body but at an angle. He never thought to target more deeply because he was trying to execute exactly how superman flies, with his hands level to his hand, not lower than his head.

    Once Rocky understood that, he was able to target more deeply and articulate a tone in his arms and a lighter finger tone.


    Mat Hudson

    You’ve pointed out how one can misinterpret a focal point code word. Each focal point has a context and if we’re reading the words and making our own interpretation without the original context in mind we can misapply it.

    Now I can see the weakness of my abbreviation. Tippy Toes is the code word for “while standing tall, imagine you are reaching for a high shelf in the kitchen by standing on your tippy toes. Feel the lengthening of the torso and the subsequent engagement of the abdominal region and pelvis to stabilize that wobbly part of the body.”

    Pointing the toes is way down the list of priorities on that focal point. Lengthening the torso and engaging abdominal/pelvic stability while elongated is the main priority.

    It’s just that I’ve been searching for a way to more easily connect people with some familiar action on land that will be most similar to the way the body should feel horizontal, weightless in water.

    When we’re teaching, we are on the look out for clues that the swimmer has understood or misunderstood some aspect of the focal point. You caught Rocky’s misunderstanding of the arms. I often adjusted his arms down to the target (when touching his arms would not be too much of a distraction from his assignment), but he would still bring them up often. I thought it was just too much for him to concentrate on at one time so let it slide for a while. Yet you sensed he was just following the idea of “shape yourself like Superman!”and was actually correcting back to what he thought was proper. Part of the challenge of reading the student!

    Mat Hudson

    The leg kick could be initiated a few different ways – or at least two main ways:

    1. vertical action – lifting the leg with glut or bending knee with hamstring
    2. torque (arcing) action – leg fairly straight then twist of ankle combined with twist of hips

    Which one are you aiming for?

    I would describe Shinji’s and the common approach as #1. My style is #2.


    My misinterpretation of the cue “tippy toes” is my own fault. I forgot all the clear directions you have given me and used the shortened phrase in a fatigued state to compartmentalize the  fuction of one part of the activation chain.

    I take responsibility for mangling the cue. Even though I hurt my shoulder during that swim, I feel it is invaluable to learn to say no to a swim practice or a full hour. I want to be a more disciplined athlete and stop when I’m that tired.  But if I were not that tired and frustrated I don’t think I would have examined where my stroke was breaking down, and, discovered the origin of the breakdown was in my head, or a distortion of the cue. If I had not been that tired I don’t think I would have noticed my toes were curled tight.

    On another note, I do remember when I was first learning TI (not from you) the way the lingo was given was not clear, nor explained. It was like a foreign language that I eventually chose not to engage with.   Swimming was hard enough. Why add cognitive dissonance to that?

    The reason I returned to TI was you and your ability to speak plainly, in layman’s terms.

    As for the kick, I was doing a hybrid of #1 and #2. Trying to do a little more than just balance and rotate my hips by rotating my ankles. I wanted to feel more oomph going into the glide, a glide backed up by a  kick.


    Test Swim to Determine which Course to Take:

    Yesterday I discovered that my baseline comfort for the TT was way off. This could be responsible for what I was terming “energy leakage” or why my RPE was not in the zone I wanted. In mode 1, I was swimming, all this time, for at least 9 months with 1.20 as the baseline and dialing it up or down depending on the game plan.

    Yesterday I dialed it way down to 1.30, then 1.35 and I could breathe much easier and focus more on swimming continually. Maybe this is this biggest revelation to date.

    I’m going to test dialing it back further, then choose a test swim once more.

    Mat Hudson

    Session #3 – May 21

    Let me list out the principles in learning Butterfly that come to mind:

    1. Build rhythm inside the body first (internal harmony).
    2. Then, blend the body’s rhythm with the rhythm of the water and gravity (external harmony).
    3. The, you can gradually send more powerful signals through those harmonized channels.

    If you lose the rhythm with the water/gravity, then you start fighting against those forces. Slow down the stroke until you feel you are back in control, back in rhythm.

    If you lose the rhythm inside the body, then stop everything and get that back (return to pulsing until it returns).

    Butterfly is a carefully controlled oscillation above/below the body’s neutral line in the water. You are playing gravity and water pressure off each other through the flexing frame of your body. The goal is to maximize forward horizontal movement by minimizing vertical movement. Keep the amplitude minimal and the faster one wants to swim (the faster the tempo) the smaller the amplitude needs to be (as the period between waves decreases also.

    The key is to redirect downward drive of the body mass to forward slide. It’s called precession in physics – redirecting a force vector 90 degrees. In the case of butterfly, we are taking the downward press of gravity against the front of the body, pressing against water pressure pushing upward and sliding it forward between the two.

    You need to keep the body as one long, flexing unit, but avoid bending (hinging) at neck, hips and knees. The body is like one long, FIRM rubber fin, not a flimsy plastic fin, and definitely not a hinged mechanical snake.

    The key to the long, firm, rubber fin like body is in resisting bending at the hips and knees. Let the legs be one long fin, anchored in the abdominal region. When you press with the feet, the legs are one long lever and the abdominal muscles take the load. If you bend at the knees (and thus also at the hips), it breaks the lever in half and the quads take the load, and you break the long sleek body line which can more easily slide over the ball of water.

    The long, very stretched, extended body line is the key to sliding forward more easily. After diving into the water, it is this fully extended body line that transmits more forward momentum and is more easily lifted by the water, to set up for the next pull and exit. This long extended body line creates a lower exit angle (more forward than upward), which allows a minimal rise above the surface.

    How the swimmer exits from the water sets up the pathway for the rest of the stroke cycle. If she is pointed upward too steeply, or extending her neck and thoracic, then that increases the upside amplitude and then requires a deeper dive underwater to compensate (gravity will balance the equation either by driving the head deeper or keeping the lower half of the body dragging deeply through the water). The key here is to use the fully extended body line, patiently waiting until water pressure lifts it closer to the surface and then thrusting forward more than upward to just barely clear the face above the surface for a breath.

    The crown of the head stays pointing forward, the eyes looking downward, the scapula arcing forward and downward to keep the thoracic arcing downward, to limit the upside amplitude. With a low exit angle, this immediate arcing of the upper spine, redirecting motion curve back into the water minimizes the amplitude, and thus sets the body up to make a more shallow dive into the water, thus setting up a lower amplitude pathway forward.



    See attached image…

    The pulsing action is initiated by a press downward of the sternum (which represents the head-neck-thoracic unit) and then a slide forward of the shoulders to redirect this downward force into a horizontal one. The thoracic is ready to curve downward, the hands are poised just below the neutral line.

    Imagine laying your sternum on a pilates ball, with arms drapped forward . Push your body forward slightly with your feet and as the sternum rolls forward, and the head rolls downward, slide the shoulders and arms forward – translate the rolling of the body into forward reach. The reach of the shoulders prevents the head from sinking deeper and pulls it forward instead.

    The press of the sternum initiates a slide forward of the shoulders. The hands redirect the downward force into a forward direction. The head-neck-thoracic sink between the shoulder blades, and thus downward motion is absorbed and redirected, preventing the body from going too low.

    The first pulse of the sternum does not get the swimmer moving forward much because that first pulse is just sending the first pulse of water under the body (we may call them ‘balls of water’) .  Lower down, the wave of the body line presses against that ball of water, squishing it backwards in order to nudge the body forward. (This is how many kinds of fish propel through the water – they create vortexes and then push against them with their undulating body.) After the second pulse there are then two balls of water somewhere under the body – one under the face, and one under the feet.

    The pulsing, undulating body is a conveyor belt, smoothly sending a ball of water sliding under the body line.

    Pulsing is the foundation of the butterfly action because it requires the internal harmony and then the external harmony. It is the most minimal oscillation above/below the neutral line and our reference point for the dynamic balance around that line. At any time you lose the balance while doing whole stroke, you should return to pulsing to reestablish this internal and then external rhythm.


    You must be logged in to view attached files.

    Thanks for the overview to butterfly.

    I am coming at it from the perspective of not doing the whole stroke. To practice, do you suggest I make a drill out of pulsing and the next step would be scull with pulse?

    I hurt my right shoulder on the pull. At some point, when I add arms, I would like a description of the pathway and timing (with kick) of the pull.


    Hi Mat. The attached image is confusing to me. Where are the arms of the swimmer in the stroke cycle? By her side? Flung out perpendicular? Or forward ready to dive in?

    At any rate, it’s hard for me to take in the dynamics of the whole stroke right now. I’m not doing the whole stroke because I haven’t learned the underwater or overwater pathway of the arms correctly and the whole stroke hurts my shoulder.

    This amount of detail is overwhelming. I am not ready for the larger picture of the stroke because it’s just theory.  I have nothing to relate it to in what I’m doing in the water. If, like I did yesterday, test the waters from pulsing to stroke, I hurt my shoulder.

    My main goal right now is to not hurt my shoulder to have fun with with The Wave or Underwater Dolphin Kick. Get that internal harmony. Next step. Feel the water pushing me back up. Next step see if I can feel my rhythm and the rhythm of the water.If we could focus on these instead of whole stroke that would give me something to do right now.

    Mat Hudson

    Without any photos or video of fly or pulsing to pull from, I tried a quick sketch of the concept with that image. The left side is the head and right side the feet. The blue oval is the wave or pulse of water we generate. The left side blue oval is just below the head of this abstract swimmer. There is a beige oval there that represents the head of the swimmer. The arms are extending forward in front of the head, draping over the blue oval, as our arms would at that moment in pulsing.

    I laid out the overview of fly in order to hold my thoughts on pulsing accountable to their ultimate aim, which is to set us up for fly. The purpose of each action in pulsing find their justification in how they serve fly, otherwise, pulsing would be an activity with an end in itself (which it could be for those of us who just enjoy it for its own sake).

    In pulsing, step 1 is to practice initiating the pulse, as described above.

    Step 2 is to practice sending that pulse (ball) of water sliding back, under the body line, with a body that ‘flexes’ in a rippling motion more than it ‘hinges’. That seems to be the big trick – those who can make their bodies move dancer (fluid) like do the best, while those who seem rhythmically challenged seem to move very mechanical and hinge-like, bending at hips and knees. So, I keep searching for any ways to guide people into rippling snake-like rather than hinge-like.

    When doing underwater dolphin, you can focus on resisting knee bend, which then leaves the body with limited options for how to leverage the kick at the end of the action – leveraging from the abdominal region becomes the prime candidate. The body then feels very long, in one continuous flex or extension on each part of the full-body kick action.

    It’s this long, flexed (NO HINGE) body line that seems to set me up for the smoothest pulse and the easiest fly. But it takes a lot of concentration because it is not intuitive to move this way.

    Watch the knees!

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