USE practice time. Don’t use it UP!
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on May 25th, 2010

The TI Discussion Forum continues to be a daily source of inspiring examples of rational thinking about swimming improvement. In a current thread, swimmers share experiences and insights about how to improve your ease and pace for longer distances with the aid of a Tempo Trainer.

Alan Perez sums up lessons learned on a set of 3 x 500 this way: I did note that the more relaxed I could swim, a feeling of conceding to the water, esp. when fatigue crept up, the better I was at holding my spl and form. The more tense even if I was focused intently, I’d almost always add a stroke.

Alan’s language – particularly “conceding to the water” – evokes an organic-and-opportunistic thought process that experience has taught me is the best way to approach any effort at improving your swimming.

Traditional swim training – as advocated in books and magazines or practiced at your local pool by Masters and youth teams  – is based on arbitrary and rigid formulas.  Swim X # of repeats, of Y distance at Z pace or heart rate.  These formulas came from research conducted on treadmills and exercycles, not swimming. But nearly all “serious” swimmers  follow them uncritically because it’s what everyone else – particularly those in the know – seems to be doing. It’s like ordering IBM equipment in corporate settings 25 years ago: No one will criticize if you do.

In Alan’s example, and virtually every practice set shared on the TI Forum -whether the goal is to improve efficiency or pace – TI Swimmers have pursued a distinctively thoughtful and adaptable process.

This typically means starting with a “discovery” swim or set intended to reveal what your mind and body are ready for at this moment. Then think of a way to pursue, measure and evaluate improvement on the baseline, adjusting approach and strategy based on empirical experience as you go.

This could mean

  • – Shortening — or lengthening — repeats,  rest interval, or tempo;
  • – Doing one repeat again because you sense some “slack” in how you performed it – though your plan might have called for something different;
  • – Choosing to swim the same pace repeatedly — rather than try to go faster — but create that pace with fewer strokes, or a more leisurely tempo;
  • – Or seek to improve that pace – with no increase in exertion – by shortening repeat distance or increasing recovery interval — then recognize that the enhanced pace resulted from completing the distance with fewer, more effective, strokes.

What all have in common is seeking to learn something from every set,  adding the experience of each set to a continually expanding framework for how to improve your swimming.

Arbitrary and formulaic swim training is the prevailing paradigm. Thoughtful and organic swim training  is the emerging paradigm. I have high hopes emerging will begin to replace prevailing in the next five years.

Related resources for guidance on emerging paradigm training:

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

Triathlon Swimming Made Easy Part 4, Chapters 11 to 17

2 Responses to “USE practice time. Don’t use it UP!”

  1. Katie says:

    This was a really great topic for me this morning. I’m doing my first open water race on Saturday, and I’ve been practicing the race distance (2000m) every day at a faster tempo.

    Today, I was scheduled to swim it at 1.12 which should have been a manageable pace. But, my SPL was a little off, and I felt rushed. After swimming 500 yards, I stopped for a few seconds to adjust the tempo to 1.14 and swam another 150 yards. I still felt rushed. So, taking this post to mind, I turned off the tempo trainer and swam 200 yards at an extremely relaxed pace (probably about 1.5) to try to hit my best possible SPL. At the end of the 200 yards, my SPL was still up by one from my best possible, but I felt relaxed and decided to go back to the tempo trainer. I set it at 1.14 for 200 yards, and it felt very relaxed. Then, I went back to 1.12 for the rest of the distance. By then, the 1.12 felt effortless.

    Even with all that stopping to adjust the tempo trainer and that slow 200 yards, I still improved my time by 30 seconds.

  2. Katie
    Great anecdote. Thanks for posting it. Here’s another suggestion for next time. Use the TT to recapture lost efficiency. E.G. swim a series of 50s counting strokes and gradually slowing tempo. Count @ 1.12. Reset to 1.14 and count again. Reset to 1.16, etc. Continue this way until your SPL total for 50 yds has improved by 10%. Then retrace your steps back to 1.12 by the same increments – trying to avoid adding strokes.
    I always improve my efficiency when I do that kind of set.

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