In the last few months, I've been really into Total Immersion and their teaching method. Swimming is one of those activities which require mastery of so many little details that trying to learn swimming all at once is very very difficult. So they do a great job of breaking down technique with drills, and enforcing focus on only one thing at a time so that you can master that without getting confused by other things you're trying to learn. Thus, I've spent the last many months, and plan on for the better part of this year, in breaking down exactly what is wrong with my stroke and working on each individual part one at a time.
This has led me to believe that its teaching concepts in the area of form training can be applied to any other physical activity, especially in the case of cycling and running for me. In thinking about this, I thought I could encapsulate it in the 4 S's of form training:
1. SYSTEM: You must have a system for identifying problems, removing bad habits and imprinting new and correct habits. With TI, they've done all that for you. Running has some great methods now (ie. ChiRunning, Pose Method) that strive to break down running so that you can focus on parts of your form. I have not found that to be true yet of cycling and would love to be pointed to some that discuss cycling form.
Without a system, you will inevitably try to do too much at once and see little or no improvement as old habits remain ingrained, and you can't imprint new correct ones. It also means that you are hampering your brain/body's ability to imprint new habits; someone once told me that you have to do something about 45 days or so to imprint a new habit. This means that you have to perform the new habit in the new way that many times exactly!
2. SENSITIVITY: You need to develop and have a sensitivity to what you're doing wrong and also what you're doing right. When habits become ingrained, they become commonplace and we don't even notice when we're doing something. This is both good and bad. Correct habits ingrained means we're unconsciously performing optimally and not exerting excess energy and brain power to maintain activity. But if we've ingrained a bad habit, we may actually not know we're doing something wrong because we've been doing it that way for so long. So we need to develop the body awareness to know how are bodies are moving both when we're moving slow and especially when we're moving fast. Slow is much easier, but when we're cycling our arms and legs fast this may become too much to easily discern how and where are body parts are moving. Once we can know when we're doing something wrong, then we can take steps to fix that.
3. SUSTAINABILITY: Once we ingrain new habits, we must be able to sustain them over the course of training and during the long hours of a race. Thus, we must be constantly wary of falling into old bad habits especially when we get tired and/or we lose our mental focus. Training only good habits and extending them over time will ingrain good form that is sustainable over a long time, ensuring an efficient race (and probably also injury free).
4. SYMMETRY: One thing that gets sometimes overlooked is the importance of symmetry of habits on each side of your body. We humans are built with two halves, both mirror images of each other. But unfortunately, we often perform the same activity differently on each side of our body due to old habits, favoring our strong side, muscle inbalances, etc. So while our form may be great on one side, we may find that the other side is challenged. Therefore, training to make sure that we even out both sides to equal form is important or else bad form on one side can actually affect performance on the other side.
Going back to the first S which is SYSTEM, it may be hard to find a system for your activity. TI does a great job for swimming and there are some running ones, but for cycling it may be hard. But finding a great SYSTEM will enable SUSTAINABILITY and SYMMETRY more, and help you train your brain to be more SENSITIVE.