Slower Strokes produce Faster Times. How so?
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on February 8th, 2010

This is my first practice of Week 2 of my marathon training program. I made solid improvement in stroke efficiency, reflected in taking only 69 strokes in my first set of 12 x 100. And in Set #2 I also managed to swim faster, even as I was slowing my stroke tempo. Very interesting.

Mon Feb 8 3100 LCM at Coronado Municipal Pool plus 2+ miles at LaJolla Cove

Warmup Swim: 200 Free at 34-35 SPL

Set #1 3 rounds of [4 x 100 Free] on 1:55 interval – 100 EZ Back-Breast between rounds.

SPL: 34+35 (69 total strokes)

Times: 1:46-1:43

Notes: This was an economy-oriented set-intending to use as few strokes and as little energy as possible. I was pleased by the improvement over similar sets last week. I took 5 fewer strokes per 100 and my interval was 5 seconds faster than any set of 100s last week. I achieved the efficiency by focusing on making my recovery in each stroke as relaxed and unhurried as possible. My times improved in the 2nd round, over the 1st, and improved again on the 3rd round, with constant SPL, demonstrating that your swimming can improve when more repetition helps your nervous system  learn to perform a task more efficiently.

Set #2 3 rounds of [4 x 100 Free] on 2:00 interval  100 EZ Back-Breast between rounds. 1st round @ 1.13 sec/stroke; 2nd round @ 1.14 sec/stroke; 3rd round @ 1.15 sec/stroke

SPL: 36+38 (74 total strokes) on rounds 1 and 2; 73 and 72 strokes on 3rd round.

Times: 1:33 on Rounds 1&2;  1:32-1:30 on Round 3.

Notes: I repeated Set #1, but this time with a Stroke Rate set by a Tempo Trainer. I set the TT at 1.13 sec/stroke on the 1st round. My strokes/100 increased by 5, but my times improved by over 10 seconds from Set #1. On the 2nd round I slowed tempo by .01 sec to 1.14 sec/stroke. I took the same number of strokes and kept my times the same. This raises the question: If my total strokes were the same but my tempo was .01 slower, how did I keep my times the same? I should have swum nearly a second slower (74 strokes x .01 sec = .74 sec).

Though the change in tempo was slight I used the extra  in each stroke to improve my hold on the water slightly and thus travel slightly farther on each stroke. In Round 1, I had to stretch and glide a bit to reach the wall after 74 strokes.  At a tempo of 1.14, my 74th stroke took me strongly to the wall, saving enough time to offset the .7 sec that slower tempo should have added.

On the 3rd round, I slowed tempo again to 1.15. Again, taking 70+ strokes at a slower tempo should have slowed my times. Instead, I used the extra time to improve  my grip again and reduced my SPL on the first 50 to 35, saving 1.15 seconds on that lap. This improved my times to 1:32 – and 1:31 when my I was able to finish stroke, rather than glide on my 73rd stroke. On the last 100, I cut a stroke from the 2nd 50, resulting in improving in time again (since cutting a stroke also saved 1.15 sec) for a time of 1:30. In this case, slower strokes yielded faster times – because my efficiency improved more than my stroke slowed – a great outcome for long-distance endurance.

Swimdown 100 Easy Long-Axis Combo

Open Water I finished this practice at 6:10 am, climbed out and drove directly to LaJolla Cove to swim 2+ miles in 57F water, taking just over an hour to complete the swim. Last week I also swam twice a day with an afternoon open water swim usually following my morning swim by about 8 hours.  This week I’ll begin doing some of these “daily doubles” back to back to see how I tolerate them. This morning my energy was a bit low toward the end of my Cove swim.

3 Responses to “Slower Strokes produce Faster Times. How so?”

  1. dinah says:

    terry, i am really enjoying reading about your marathon training swims. i am wondering how you keep track of all the numbers and figures when you are in the water? thanks, dinah

  2. kim skomra says:

    I was doing doubles like that last summer- but the water was warm! Stay strong Terry!

  3. Dinah
    Great – and timely – question. I’ve been preparing to write a blog that explains why I think mindful, improvement-focused, swimming — swimming that focuses more on brain training than physical training – grows new pathyways in neurons in the brain. I use those to swim with higher skill. I also seem able to use them for cognitive activities.

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