“Form Follows Function”… in Swimming?

Posted on October 7, 2009

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In 1896 when the famous American architect Louis Sullivan famously said, ‘form ever follows function’ the critics thought his philosophy was “problematic” and “open to interpretation.” What exactly did he mean? That things can only be designed to perform as intended? That design can be improved by tailoring it to the function? If so, does function create the best design? This is still debated today.

So can this philosophy apply to other things, such as swimming?

You see, when form follows function in design, the idea is to decrease the superfluous “extra” items and actually follow the form to design the actual item you are creating. Take a chair…simply a place to sit your bottom. Therefore, the design should focus on this and this only. Some of the most beautiful and classic chair designs have been based on this form follows function principle.

So, what about swimming? The function is to propel your body through the water as quickly as possible. Therefore, fundamentals are the key item to always work on. Period. If you can work on the fundamentals only, and do them over and over—as legendary Blue Dolfin coach Harry Meisel would say “Pete and re-pete”—you will get faster everyday.

If you swim sloppy or work less than your best effort everyday, your form will suffer, and therefore your function will as well (speed will slow or you will plateau). You must concentrate everyday on the fundamentals and work towards the actual true “function” of swimming. That is, what you are trying to do…swim out of your mind, right?

If your “function” is to swim fast and do it properly all the time, your “form” or max speed will get you there. The philosophy of form follows function will make you swim like an efficient oiled machine.

This is why we do so many drills over and over in practice. This is why we practice head and arm position, flip turns, and breathing. Why do you think Dara Torres, Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, and yes, Matt Curby look like they are cruising? Because they have mastered the drills, understood the function, and tried to look, “perfect” when they swim. Now they are basking in their perfect “form” created by the function of swimming perfectly.

The actual quote form the famous architect, Louis Sullivan is:                                                                                                                      

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

So think about the actual “function” of what you are trying to do and become one with the water. Soon you will be basking in your “form” and be the great one we are talking about!

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Posted in: Tips