An “Effortless Endurance” Practice
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on February 3rd, 2010

Wed Feb 3 3500 LCM at Coronado Pool

As this is my first week of concentrated training, after 4 months of relative inactivity, I’ll be conservative on both volume and effort this week. The goal in this practice was to swim as well as possible by maximizing mental effort while minimizing physical effort.

Set #1 Swim 8 x 200 on 4:00. Maintain constant SPL. Aim for “effortless” increase in pace.

SPL: 36-37-37-37 on most 200s

Times: Descended 3:43-3:35-3:27-3:22-3:21-3:16-3:16-3:12

Notes: I intended this to be an “open-ended” set. Rather plan a specific # of 200m repeats I would continue the set so long as my repeat times improved and my SPL remained steady. My SPL target would be whatever it was on the 1st 200. I didn’t do a formal warmup so the first few repeats would serve as warmup.

In addition I decided to swim with no overt kick and the lightest possible pressure on my armstroke – aiming for a truly effortless descending set. This would create two benefits: (1) Replace physical, with mental, effort; and (2) Aid in recovery from residual soreness from yesterday’s practices. (I swam 3200m in the pool in the am and 2400m in the ocean in the pm.)

I managed to continue improving my 200 times, without increasing my initial SPL, for the first six 200s. On #7 I had both an increase in SPL (to 38 on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th 50s) and failed to swim faster. So I did one more 200, adding a light compact “toe flick” to the non-overt 2BK I’d been using to that point. My SPL returned to where it had been before and my time improved by 4 seconds.

A key question is how did I swim faster without adding strokes. I traveled a constant distance on each stroke throughout the set (1180 total strokes for the numerically inclined). To swim faster I would need to increase Stroke Rate since I kept Stroke Length constant. However I never tried to stroke faster. Another way of looking at this is that I traveled the length of each stroke faster as the set went on. Still, I never tried to swim faster. I swim sets like this – swimming faster without “trying” regularly – My conclusion is that my nervous system gets “tuned up” with more repetitions of the same task, which results in improvements in the mechanics of both active streamlining and propulsionn.

This suggests a clear benefit for neutrally-focused training: While more repetitions tend to fatigue the body, they can have the opposite effect on a well-trained brain.

Set #2 Swim 3 rounds of [50+100+150+200] on an interval of 1:00/50.

Task: Increase SPL by one stroke per 50 in each repeat 50 @ 37SPL; 100 @ 37+38; 150 @ 37+38+39; 200 @ 37+38+39+40

Notes: While the task in Set #1 was to keep SPL constant, in Set #2 the task was to increase SPL in a closely calibrated way. It is an exacting skill to choose a stroke count, swim 50 meters and hit that count precisely. It is even more demanding to set a new SPL on each successive length – in this set there were no consecutive lengths on which SPL remained the same. – and be able to adjust your stroke to hit a new count, on the nose, in each length.

The goal of this kind of set is twofold: (1) Use its mental and coordinative demands to strengthen the neural pathways for stroke adjustment; and (2) Add effortless speed by increasing stroke count – I.E. More strokes should always result in more speed.

My 200 times in the three rounds were 3:16-3:14 and 3:11 – though my total stroke count for each 200 was the same.  This indicates again that my nervous system “learned” the particular task I gave it as I repeated the basic set of 50+100+150+200 three times. As well, my 200 pace in each round was faster than the 100 pace in that round, indicating that I converted more strokes into more speed.

Swimdown: 400    [50 BK @ 41SPL – 50BR @ 21 SPL]

Swimdown: 400 50 BK @ 41SPL – 50BR @ 21 SPL.

6 Responses to “An “Effortless Endurance” Practice”

  1. breccene says:

    Good sets Terry, I finished a five hour piece in the pool yesterday, my left shoulder is very sore and this concerns me. Ned has the Cork channel swimmers doing 8 hour pieces in the pool I may head down on the 13th of this month and do a 5 hour with them. You should be pleased to hear that the 40 Foot is warming up nicely after a barmy 20 year low of 4oC..!..

    Breccene Ennis
    Solo Channel 2010

  2. David Shen says:


    Your effortless stroke part intrigues me. It is also amazing that you can do under 4:00 with supposedly almost no pressure against your stroking arm, especially because I think I would probably be over 4:00 swimming that way.

    So I was wondering, if you aren’t actively stroking back with strength as your arms do the “lead arm shoots forward, stroking arm moves back”, then what exactly is happening with the your other parts of your body to enable the speed, and then of course the descend in time?

    is the lead arm still shooting forward with authority and speed? certainly body position would have to be optimized. what kind of tempo do you think your arms are moving at? is the hip driving the recovering arm forward with authority also? whatever you can describe would be extremely helpful!

    Thanks and am going to try this practice to see what happens, and what my time per 200 comes out to be…


  3. John Fleming says:

    Hi Terry:

    I enjoy reading your progress reports. It’s very interesting how you analytically approach each session.

    However I was wondering, if you where incorporating other “dry land” (resistance, yoga, etc.) exercises into your regime? Additionally, have you modified your diet in any way to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead?

    Keep work’in hard, I’m rooting for yah!


    P.S. I signed up for the 4 stroke camp in March…… can’t wait for it to start….

  4. John I am incorporating dryland elements into my training. I’ve done less of that this week mainly to avoid excess physical stress, because I’m swimming much more than previously. I’m also pretty conscious of diet. I’ll post on both soon. Thanks.

  5. adib says:

    thank you from iran

  6. […] הנה מקבץ ראשון של אימוניו:Day One of Marathon Season – Training Log BeginsAn “Effortless Endurance” PracticeAn “Effortful” Practice Example: To swim the Channel FASTERSlower Strokes produce Faster Times. […]

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