Drills and Focal Points – Reality: A Reflection or Actual?

Recently, I got this comment on one of my dryland recovery drill videos:


When you are showing the dry land elbow position, your hand is dangling below and if there was water, it would be well below the surface. So I don’t understand how this exercise would translate when in the water. It seems to me that the elbow would need to be much higher than what you show in dry land. I find this very confusing.

My reply:

You should know first that this is a drill. And like focal points, drills can reflect reality but may not actually be reality. Their purpose is to train you with certain movement patterns, instill new habits, and abolish old undesirable ones, They will not necessarily be reality since on dryland, simulating the reality of being horizontal in water is very difficult.

In this case, we are teaching you not to “lift the elbow up” as a mental command to the arm during recovery. We want you to swing the arm out from the side of your body instead. “Lifting” as a cue and mental command can have undesirable results, like bringing the elbow behind your back which will lock up your shoulder and restrict your ability to bring the arm forward. We want you to instead keep your elbow and upper arm in front of the “frontal plane” as the clinical community calls it (see this image). It can be on the frontal plane or in front of it, but don’t bring it behind it, or behind your back.

Forget for the moment the forearm. If the upper arm swings directly out to the side, AND your body is angled in the water, your upper arm will be rising out of the water. Then depending on the angle of the arm at the elbow, the forearm and hand with either clear the water or be dragging through it.

We have found that it is not important to train explicit reality with this dryland drill. We just encourage people to hang their forearm down because when they swim, they instinctively know how much to bend at the elbow to clear the water. It is the swinging out of the upper arm in the proper path that is important to train.

Even dangling the forearm down has value; this teaches people to relax the arm when they recover. If they are tensing up the forearm, they inevitably are tensing up the entire arm which doesn’t do a recovery movement any good.

Also note that when bent over, the water is actually more at a 45 deg angle, not horizontal. The plane in which your head and spine lie isn’t truly horizontal. So when we train, how do we know exactly where the water is, when we’re on land, not lying down, and kind of bent over not to 90 deg but something less?

Does this help?

Drills, along with focal points, and any other teaching cues, are designed to work with something we see as an opportunity in the client, and potentially only this client. Many drills and focal points should not be used by many clients as they can solicit the incorrect reaction in their movements. In these drills and focal points, as we demonstrate in videos like the above, we can often see reflections of reality, as my colleague TI Coach Mat Hudson so eloquently puts it, and sometimes they are only reflections and are not actually what happens. Remember that we are trying to solicit the correct reaction in your nervous system and body, often needing to travel the translation path from ear to brain first. And then only if you exhibit the starting state that we want to change. If you don’t exhibit that starting state, a drill or focal point could take you down the wrong path.

Also note that drills and focal points can occasionally be overused, meaning that we may cue someone to a mental image that is far past the place we want the movement to take place. When first employed, the client, upon being asked to place their limb in a more extreme place, will likely put it right where we want it. If they practice it to excess, then they might actually put the limb in the extreme place and not where we saw it in the right place.

Work with a competent TI coach on drills and focal points and learn when to stop them, and when you should go back to them.

Read more about focal points and reflections of reality in Focal Point, a Tool Not a Rule by TI Coach Mat Hudson.

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