More on the Mundanity of Excellence: Ankle Flexibility and Updates on Sleep

Last week was a weird week here in the southeastern US. We had a huge winter storm, followed by a small earthquake. My family is fine; we were warm and safe through it all. I did miss two days swimming, which is a big deal for me–I don’t just skip two days swimming–but what can you do? When the state highway patrol issues a civil emergency alert telling drivers to stay off the roads, you stay off the roads. I have some consolation knowing that I am well ahead of where I need to be to meet my 500 mile goal for the year:

My Go The Distance 2014 total through February 16th
My Go The Distance 2014 total through February 16th

In my days hanging around the house, I had time to think again about the mundanity of excellence. As Daniel Chambliss writes, “Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesized whole.” There are many small skills swimmers can work on; one that can be worked on at home on a snow day is ankle flexibility.

Ankle flexibility is one of those small but vital components of swimming. Flexible ankles are key to a good kick, and while kicking is a minor source of propulsion compared to pulling, a good kick also keeps your feet up, creating a streamlined body position and reducing drag. I sometimes see people with kick boards kicking very hard and not going anywhere; their kick is producing more drag than propulsion.

Steven Munatones discusses ankle flexibility in his book, Open Water Swimming, which I reviewed in a previous post; he has a very impressive photo of a woman in what I have since learned is known in yoga as the Reclining Hero Pose (Supta Virasana).

I told my children I was working on this pose–we were all home together last week–and they both immediately flopped into it. It was alarming. They may be made of noodles. I can get down to my elbows on my own power, but I am better off with a firm cushion behind me to rest my head and upper back on.

But the Reclining Hero Pose is not your only option for flexible ankles; simply sitting on your heels is a good stretch. In addition, a routine of pointing, flexing, and rotating your feet will improve your ankle mobility; see this GoSwim! article for photos of various exercises. The USA Swimming–Ask the Dryland Coach series also suggests tracing the alphabet with your feet, one foot at a time. Doing ankle stretches is my new small activity, and I am working to make it a habit.

In addition to a new focus on ankle flexibility, I am continuing the mundane practice of getting enough sleep. I think I’ve doing a good job going to bed at a reasonable hour, but during this time off I began to wonder if I really was: I haven’t been measuring. So I recently downloaded SleepBot for my smart phone. It will do all kinds of creepy things, like record you while you are sleeping, but it also serves as a simple sleep log. I am aiming for no less than eight hours of sleep a night.

More mundanity is sure to come.

Chambliss, Daniel F. (1989). The mundanity of excellence: an ethnographic report on stratification and Olympic swimmers. Sociological Theory, 7, 70-86.

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