Listen to Your Body, Literally

Yesterday I found myself at the pool at an odd hour, 1:30–2:30. It was a different sensory experience: I was cold from sitting around in a sweaty top for a few hours; I had the memory of lunch still on my palate; since there was no water aerobics class at that hour, there was no layer of perfume hanging over the water; the angle of the light was different.

When I sat in the whirlpool after diligently cranking out my yards, leaning back and shutting my eyes, I noticed something else new. Only two swimmers remained in the pool: a professional triathlete who races the ITU circuit, and an older, heavier man who does half a length of butterfly with no kick before standing up, catching his breath, flipping over, and finishing the trip across the pool with the elementary backstroke (to his credit, he keeps this up for an hour or more at least three times a week). The sound these two made in the water was fascinating.
Folks who are really good at what they do make it look easy. (There’s a nice piece by Rick Crawford in the September 22 issue of Velo News about virtuosity and the pedal stroke, not yet online.) In swimming, cycling, and running, they also make it sound easy. The sound of a good swimmer makes a satisfying, rhythmic “thunk” as a relaxed arm plunges into the water. The sound of an inefficient swimmer is irregular, frantic, splashy.
On the bike trainer, an uneven pedal stroke makes a distinctive whirr-whirr sound. On the road, cranks sometimes make a slapping sound when you’re undergeared.
You can hear the same differences in running. Experienced, light runners make a pitter-patter in time with the breath; plodders sound heavy both in step and in the lungs.
Listen to your body in your next workout—not metaphorically, but literally. How does your action sound? Is it regular? Does it sound light or heavy? Springy and stiff or leaky? How does the sound change across different efforts and paces? How does it coordinate with the sound of your breath? Ask a friend to record you or comment on the sound of your swim stroke.
Similarly, listen to your breath in yoga—is it flowing freely? Are there hitches and sighs? Does the ujjayi sound obscure the complaints in your leg muscles, the doubts in your mind?
(Sidenote: one of my football-player students said, as his joints pop-pop-popped when he stood up to leave practice, “My body sounds like a drive-by.”)

4 Responses to “Listen to Your Body, Literally”

  1. tarheeltri says:

    I’ve never had any official training in any sport, certainly no coaching credentials, but I’ve remained relatively injury free my entire adult life. My principle: swim and run quietly. Unfortunately cycling quietly is more a matter of money than form!

  2. kika pica says:

    Now that I live above a swimming pool, I know exactly what you’re talking about. This morning as I left for my run, there was someone doing laps (very short ones!) and making as much noise as possible.

    Kudos to the older, larger guy who can even do a half a length of butterfly! I never managed to do it at all!

  3. RP says:

    Ha! My physical therapist regularly freaks out when my left knee pops. Granted it does sound remarkably similar to an air rifle. “It’s not supposed to do that!” he’ll wail. Well, that would explain why I’ve been on the injured list for six months.

  4. Rachel says:

    Remembering years ago my CC coach would yell at us for how loud our feet hit the ground when running. Sometimes we sounded like heards of elephants. Still tell my students today to use soft feet!

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