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Bracing for Impact

Reprinted with permission from Athletic Algorithms

One of the interesting things that happens over a lifetime spent working in sport (or perhaps simply observing sport) is the ability to perceive at once the ease and deftness, “economy of motion” that marks a true adept. The absence of this ease is also quite readily apparent – I often see people who are struggling in self-propulsion and am struck by the thought that they appear to be “bracing for impact”.

This is perhaps most obvious in swimmers, but one can witness this stiffness and tentativeness in less adept runners and cyclists – the body-brain readies them for a fall. This is of course a counterproductive instinct – because the best technique for falling is the supple tuck and roll – and the “natural” knows this instinctively. Like in the practice of aikido the defender embraces the aggressor.

There may be many causes for this, but I suspect that even if you are not a natural, you can develop it. The “lead dog” has an advantage here. When you are already as fast as you need to be, you can spend more time mastering your current technique, rather than trying to change it for the better.

Considerable time, therefore, should be spent on mastering where you are, instead of trying to get to where you want to be. Proper pace work is a useful tool. Setting target paces that are within your ability is essential. Pace work is not time to reach for the stars and then fear the crash to earth, but to settle into your orbit and focus on staying aloft. Raise your level of comfort while raising your level of skill and have no fear. Embrace your forward fall.