Saturday, September 01, 2007

Swim Mechanics

Swimming is a sport that provides us with a wonderfully apt metaphor for our work as aspiring filmmakers (I include actors in the category of filmmakers by the way*). It is one of the few active sports where the art of ease produces the greatest results. Michael Caine could be a great swim coach: If you're working too hard you're not doing it right.
The world records for the 1500m run and the 400m swim are nearly identical. If you were to run once around the track with a world-class athlete, he or she would blow you away. However, by running easily and efficiently, your stride count would be similar. If you were to jump in the pool and swim 100m against an Olympic swimmer, you would lose that race as well. But your stroke count would be three to four times greater. An elite swimmer can swim the length of the pool in seven or eight strokes. It's all about mechanics.
A world-class runner is about 90% mechanically efficient -- 90 out of every 100 calories expended results in forward motion. The other ten get burned up fighting ground friction, muscle heat and other factors like wind resistance. Water is about a thousand times thicker than air. It's also very unstable, so applying power to it is a highly inefficient proposition. The best swimmers in the world achieve less than ten percent efficiency in the water. Thus, the path to improving as a swimmer is not to make more energy available through training, it’s to waste less energy by improving your stroke.
If you jump in the pool and think that more lengths are going to make you a better swimmer, you might find that the more you do something the more ingrained the habit becomes. If your stroke is inefficient, you'll be reinforcing its inefficiency. Taking the time to improve your stoke will keep you from being one of those people that can run a 10K in 0:35:00 but is hopelessly gasping for air after swimming a length of the pool.
I know many of you may be scratching your heads, thinking that getting fitness advice from the less than svelte Signore Direttore is a dubious proposition. I urge you to practice the art of ease and explore the subtext -- how can you improve your stroke?

Signore Direttore

*The best film actors are collaborators in every sense of the word. They know how to communicate with the camera, they understand editing and film grammar, they understand it's all about the subtext and they know how to survive and thrive under the extreme demands of being on a film set.

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