How to Improve through Balanced Perspective
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on May 20th, 2010

In a post yesterday on the TI Discussion Forum Sue L asked whether she should resume using a 6-beat kick (6BK) to regain some lost speed on her 50-yard practice repeats. I replied asking for more info  – how much difference in both speed and effort had she seen in a briskly-paced 50 with the faster, harder 6BK, vs one with the easier 2BK.

Sue wrote back: “My brisk 50 yarders are now like about 46-47ish when they used to be like 43ish. The effort exerted doing the 2BK ones is about ten thousand times (okay I exaggerate) but we’ll say a *lot* less. My two mile swims are now 1:02 vs. 1:01 which seems like a small price to pay. But those 50 yarders are somehow always so disappointing to me.”

Sue’s post makes a revealing statement about what is very likely an almost universal psychology of swimmers. While her 2-mile time – which I think highly respectable – has fallen off by less than 2 percent, her 50 time may have fallen off by 7 to 10%.

Yet the loss of speed in her50 looms so large that she’s thinking about doing something – kicking harder — that would undoubtedly hurt her potential to swim the mile or 2-mile well.  This way of thinking is probably widespread beecause  (1) We  measure our performance by 50 or 100 times far more often than by1-or 2-mile times; and (2) We think of 50 times as reflective of Speed, and times for longer swims as reflective of Endurance.

But Endurance is really Speed — Sustained. And who among us is more interested in swimming fast for a minute or less as opposed to being able to improve our pace for a healthful 30 minutes to an hour or more.

I suggested to Sue that adopting a more expansive way of evaluating her swimming  would be helpful in many ways.

Measuring your swim performance is always good. “What gets measured gets improved“,as the saying goes. But a key question is what to measure. Most people focus exclusively, and disproportionately, on Time. But there are really four key metrics:

Stroke Length or SPL – a measurement of how well you combine streamlining and propulsion

Tempo – as measured by the Tempo Trainer

Effort – Land exercisers use a HR monitor but I’ve found them unreliable in the water and have been well-served with my subjective, but well-honed, internal effort gauge. I like a 5-point scale in which 1 = almost literally effortless and 5 = maximum. I train 85% of the time at 3 or below.

Time – what the pace clock or sports watch tell you.

It has been some 20 years since I only used Time as a measure of my swim performance. I now use at least two at all times. Every week, I’m likely to do sets that include all of the combinations below:

  • Time and SPL
  • Time and Tempo
  • SPL and Tempo

And in fact I always use 3 measures  since I never fail to consider how easy or effortful the swim was.  Indeed if I can do a particular combination of Time and SPL or Tempo and SPL at a 3 effort, on my next repeat, I’m more likely to try to repeat the same combo at a 2.5 effort, rather than try immediately to improve the combo.

Measuring more aspects of swimming, and relating one metric to one or more others will:

Give you more information about your swimming,

Give you more things to focus on improving – and the psychic rewards of doing so; and

Give you a more balanced perspective.

Finally, I emphasized to Sue that I’m not suggesting for a moment that she cannot reclaim those lost 3 or 4 seconds in her brisk 50s. I’m fairly certain that when she begins measuring the things that matter, she could aim to break an hour for her 2-mile. I even suggested she set a goal doing so, possibly at this race I’ll be swimming in August.

For detailed guidance on effective TI Training, see these related resources:

Triathlon Swimming Made Easy Part 4, Chapters 11 to 17

Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body Part 3

The ebook Outside the Box: A Program for Success in Open Water Part 3 Chapters 8 to 12  

3 Responses to “How to Improve through Balanced Perspective”

  1. Sue says:

    Thanks for your help, Terry. Your thoughtful response was constructive, instructive and insiprational. And today, voila, I broke 1:02–finally–in my two-miler. And I stuck with that 2BK the *whole* way and have the fresh legs to show for it. Yay!!!

  2. Sue
    Delighted to hear it. Congratulations. For ideas on how to improve further, see the blog How Suzanne Improved her Speed.

  3. […] more and more focused solely on time and doing sets that pushed that metric. But there are 4 metrics that all contribute to fast, efficient swimming and to excel a swimmer needs to learn how to work […]

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