Guest Post: How to Get 2 Weeks of Improvement in 30 Minutes
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on January 6th, 2012

This is a Guest Post by Andy Williams

My curiosity had been piqued by a TI Forum post about a book called ‘The Talent Code’ written by Daniel Coyle — in particular a sentence from one of Terry’s posts about it: “Improvement in swimming starts with being conscious of creating molecular change in the brain more than in the muscles and blood vessels.”

A couple of clicks and a few dollars later I had the book loaded into my Kindle in time for a ferry ride across the Norwegian fjord. I was interested in discovering new ways to improve both as a student of swimming and as a vocal coach for singing. That evening I went to the pool with even more excitement than normal.  I was about to test the thesis: Can I achieve 2 weeks of swimming improvement in one practice session?

I decided to swim 25-meter repeats, striving to hold  14SPL (Strokes Per Length) whilst increasing my stroke rate in small increments. My goal was to find the fastest tempo at which I could still touch the far wall in my stroke budget.

I set my Tempo Trainer at 1.30 seconds/stroke —  my normal stroke rate for an SPL of 14.  Each time I completed 2 successful lengths I decreased tempo by 0.02 seconds.

This set seemed to embody the improvement principles cited in the Talent Code:

  1. Break a skilled task into small chunks; determine how you’ll measure improvement.
  2. Practice with unblinking focus; evaluate each repeat.
  3. Look for small adjustments that can ‘improve the circuit.’
  4. Repeat until you find the limit of your improvement.

To my complete amazement I was able to hold 14 SPL all the way down to a tempo of 0.95 — and in the process improve on my Personal Best for 25m by over a second.

However, it wasn’t the time that was most remarkable but the adjustments this exacting task effected in my stroke along the way:

  • As tempo hit 1.2 my head became better aligned while breathing,
  • At tempo 1.1, my stroke became more symmetrical and precise
  • At tempo 1.05 I began performing 2-Beat Kick with unprecedented coordination.
  • At tempo 1.0 I felt a longer, firmer catch.

The icing on the cake was the last 10 lengths. As my tempo descended from 1.0 to 0.95 I started to ‘feel’ all these adjustments harmonize, like a music student learning to distinguish a chord rather than a single note for the first time.

Following this set, I ended my practice 30 minutes sooner than usual. Partly because I wanted to enjoy the moment, but also to let that sense of harmony imprint on my brain. I had achieved the task and made more progress in that short session than in a couple of weeks of normal training.

Driving home I reflected that this type of learning had happened to me once before — on the dry ski slope of Sheffield whilst at university in the UK.  The slope was so short (about 15 seconds of skiing) and the lift so slow (3 minutes) that you spent far more time visualizing your next run than actually skiing,   I learnt more in a few 2-hour sessions on that slope than in a week of skiing in the Alps.

The "Dry" Ski Slope in Sheffield


Andy Williams is an Englishman who has lived in Norway for 12 years, where he works as a professional piano entertainer, singer and vocal coach. He is a regular participant in the TI Discussion Forum under the handle “andyinnorway.” Andy writes: “I swam a little in school and again in my early 20s but always breaststroke.  I discovered TI on youtube whilst on holiday in Florida last winter and have swum with purpose and pleasure  In 2012 I will be entering a handful of 1 to 2- mile open water races and Masters pool competitions later in the year.”


2 Responses to “Guest Post: How to Get 2 Weeks of Improvement in 30 Minutes”

  1. Mike Ropa says:

    I had a similar experience today. Having spent the last weekend at Mark’s clinic in Jacksonville, I was eager to hit the pool every day this week. Yesterday and today I slightly struggled to hold my form at a slow cadence on the 50m length. However, this morning, my form and rhythm was much better at a fast cadence even after 1200m. Now, if I can only keep that pace for entire distance.

    Mark’s clinic, by the way, was awesome!


  2. Scott says:

    The Talent Code is an exceptional book! Years ago, while honing my indoor archery skills, I learned to break complex tasks down into small chunks and “practice with purpose” until those small chunks were ingrained or hard-wired until I could perform them without conscious thought. Only then, was I confident that I had developed the appropriate amount of muscle memory to move on to the next chunk, ultimately allowing me to put it all together to execute that complex skill.

    I was delighted to find and read this book last year that explained WHY that method of learning was so effective and that the production of Myelin while practicing “the right way” was responsible for the development of muscle memory.

    In beginning a new lifestyle of fitness through Triathlon and having recently discovered TI swimming, I think I’m most excited about the fact that many of the principles seem to be centered around this same concept.

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