I have seen a lot of Speedo® commercials lately of people spinning, weight lifting, flipping, and playing with those cute little kettle bells, all while being under water. I am a huge fan of the teachings of Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. In fact, I loved it so much I rented his Redwood Forest cabin for a few days to meet him and discuss how we might inspire the people of the world to do what inspires them, ideally near, in, on or under water.
In the Speedo commercial, they say, “Even if you can’t swim, you can do this.” That’s probably true, and the fact that they’re mixing these dryland exercises with the water accomplishes several positive things:
- Creates a unique resistance on the movements,
- Changes the pull of gravity on your body and the toy, giving you a different perspective,
- Keeps your body cooler while working out, which is better for your body, as it burns more calories than any hot-room workout (hot yoga = heat exhaustion) that just makes you sweat, and
- Puts you into a medium that makes you “happier, healthier, and more connected…”
Ah ha! More connected and better at what you do, as Dr. Nichols would say. And in fact, my cousin, world-renowned coach and founder of Starting Strength, Mark Rippetoe, says the same thing about barbell training, well at least the part about being “better at what you do.”
The fact is, being stronger will make you better at doing literally everything. I don’t recommend doing it underwater for many reasons, finding a facility would be very difficult, and although we hold our breath while lifting, being under water would make it more difficult to do the repetitions properly with a breath after each lift, thereby ineffectively administering your program. It just makes it annoying after being entertaining for a few weeks.
One of my barbell strength clients commented to me just a few weeks after starting, “Hey, my briefcase feels lighter and I didn’t decrease the contents.” That’s how it starts. You get under the bar and within a few weeks it’s easier to walk, stand, sit, and carry your plate to the table. It’s easier to bend down to get that dessert off the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. I workout just so I can eat dessert.
Strength is not the only benefit of Barbell Training
There’s a hint of spirituality about being under the barbell and under water. After taking a few months off from my personal barbell training, I started back last week and realized that being under the bar requires more than just the right equipment. It requires, more than anything besides prayer and meditation, complete concentration and presence. When lifting a barbell, whether it be any one of the 5 exercises associated with the Starting Strength Barbell program: Squat, Press, Bench Press, Deadlift, and Power Clean, you have to fully concentrate on the lift while doing it. Concentration is required to perform a technically-correct and safe lift.
“The Starting Strength System makes use of the body’s most basic movement patterns – barbell exercises that involve all of the body’s muscle mass – utilized over the longest effective range of motion and loaded progressively, to force the adaptations necessary for increased strength.”
In addition to the concentration, much like meditation, you also have to control your breathing. In barbell training, the breath control valsalva manoeuvre is used to keep a rigid spine and apply pressure inside your body. That form of breath is the exact same used to achieve a level of subconscious meditation and if done properly, is held for a few seconds just like in barbell training. And this same breath technique is used while swimming! When swimming, you should be holding your abdominal muscles tight in order to produce power in your stroke. This is the number one skill new swimmers have to be taught because most people had no idea that was happening. Just take a look at the bodies of the Olympic athletes – their abs are very well defined and this is why! When we take a deep breath our sacrum slightly flexes backwards. (Becoming Supernatural, by Dr. Joe Dispenza. Page 126). This is another reason that when lifting we have to consciously reverse that effect, while holding your breath. Additionally, “your isometric contraction around the spine is what locks the back rigid and aligns it with the pelvis. This is what protects the spine, not a vertical back angle.”
“When done correctly, the squat is the only exercise in the weight room that trains the recruitment of the entire posterior chain in a way that is progressively improvable.”
You can find the only expert source on squatting mechanics at StartingStrength.
What it Means to be One with the Water
Swimming is more than just a fitness activity or sport. Swimming is also a spiritual experience. When I am swimming, it is meditation as well as exercise. I completely shut off my thoughts and the outside world and I become one with the water by focusing inward. Yes, in the dream I had of myself swimming in the ocean as a dolphin, the dolphin as part of the wave being one with the water, that is how I came up with our name and logo; the movements of my arms and legs are secondary activities, like a natural instinct, one that I can observe myself doing. This level of meditation, where you observe yourself swimming, happens to me a lot when I am in the pool. My first experience was in college, at a U.S. national qualifying meet, while I was swimming the 100 backstroke. After the start, as I flew through the air, I felt like my spirit left my body and I watched myself swim the race. And I qualified for nationals! It was very surreal, having this experience, and a memory that I hope to never forget.
Swimming and barbell training are the two best physical exercises to help you become consciously aware of your body and self. And the recovery period is great for keeping you grounded in the present. For those of you that have “restarted” your program, you know what I mean.
In the words of a dear friend and colleague, Erik Hochstein, medal winner for the 1988 West Germany Olympic team in the 4×200 FR,
“If you want to swim fast, just swim. Oh, and do weights.” Erik Hochstein
I have twice completed the Starting Strength barbell training seminar and I currently practice and coach swimmers and lifters in Los Angeles, California. I have private clients for both barbell training and swimming.