Caution: This Could Become Addictive
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on May 26th, 2010

Every morning practically the first thing I do is check the TI User Forum to see what intriguing ideas are being bantered about. There’s always something to get my cognitive juices flowing, and to provide a new topic to blog about.

This morning Ewa Swimmer posted the following on “Tempo Trainer and an Open Water Race.”

What really struck me in the above post was that 1.0 tempo felt “leisurely”. To me that meant I needed to experience much faster tempos so that 1.0 would feel slow. <snip>
I don’t know if it’s possible to get that wonderful relaxed flowing feeling at higher tempos. It can be addictive I think, like chocolate.

My Reply:

The first time I used the Tempo Trainer in practice, I had two reactions:
1) Wow, my nervous system is really adaptable — and I can actually feel adaptation the moment it occurs; and
2) The combination of enhanced (from the beep) and the thrill of feeling adaptation occur (in 40 years of swimming I’d never experienced adaptation except over months) had distinct potential to become addictive.

The adaptation of which I speak was of experiencing a particular tempo – 1.20 sec/stroke – as “I feel like I’m just spinning my arms” when I swam my first 50m with TT. Then, about 20 min later – after the set described below – experiencing 1.20 as “I’ve got all the time in the world.”

Here’s an excerpt from p. 68 of the Outside the Box ebook describing that moment:
>>I first used the TT in a 50-meter pool in the summer of 2006. Its first invaluable service was to alert me to how slow my tempo had become. I’d spent more than a decade focused single-mindedly on increasing Stroke Length. As I related earlier, that required tradeoffs–primarily giving up some SR. After so many years of trading SR for SL, I had a more efficient stroke but had imprinted a habit of stroking rather slowly. I did my first lap with the TT at a relatively unhurried 1.20 sec/stroke but felt like I was spinning my wheels trying to keep up.

So I reset the TT to 1.30. That felt more manageable, similar to 2nd or 3rd gear. I then swam 10 x 50, advancing beep frequency by .01 between 50s. (I.e., 1.29, 1.28 . . . 1.21, 1.20). That 500 meter set, which took only about 10 minutes, was as eye-opening as any set I’d swum in 40 years. Here are six reasons why:

1) At 1.30, I took 34 strokes to swim 50 meters. As I increased frequency, I discovered I could hold my SL surprisingly consistent. Through constant focus on Patient Catch, by the end I’d added only one stroke. Though there was no pace clock, I mentally calculated that 35 strokes @ 1.2 was faster than 34 strokes @ 1.3. (Later, using a calculator, I found it was exactly 2.5 seconds faster. Allowing 3 beeps for pushoff, 37 beeps x 1.3 = 48.1 seconds; 38 beeps x 1.2 = 45.6 seconds.) Analyzing this set was the first time I fully appreciated the math of speed and realized that the combination of stroke count and beep frequency (SR) made the pace clock almost irrelevant. If I could keep SPL fairly constant while speeding up the beeps, I had to go faster.

2) I was surprised at how quickly my nervous system adapted to an audible stimulus. A change in SR of .1 second may seem trivial, but it can add significant speed at a sufficiently high Stroke Length. Swimming 2.5 seconds faster over 50-meters converts to 75 seconds faster for 1500-meter pace and 3:10 faster for a 2.4-mile Ironman swim. Even without considering how much it improved my 50-meter pace, I was struck by how a 1.20 tempo that felt rushed only 10 minutes earlier, had quickly become comfortable. I realized the secret was adjusting by hundredth-of-a-second increments.

3) I was particularly excited that I had simply gone faster just by keeping up with the beep as it went faster. (Caution: If my SPL had increased by three, I’d have swum slower at the higher tempo.) I’m always excited when I discover a new way to cultivate Voodoo Speed that just happens rather than by trying to go faster.

4) I realized the true cost of inefficiency. Few swimmers count strokes consistently enough to know when they’ve added one. Having counted for years, I was always alert to lost efficiency. This was the first time I grasped that every additional stroke represented lost time since, at a beep frequency of 1.2 seconds, every additional stroke adds that much to my time.

5) Conscious that every added stroke increased my final time, I became even more focused on each stroke. In particular, I became aware of how even a single stroke that felt slightly rushed would add strokes-–and seconds.

6) Though I’d practiced Mindful Swimming for years, this set exposed me to a deeper level of focus. By synchronizing hand-hits to the beep stimulus, I was focused purely on what matters-–how SL and SR combine-–and the sensations that tell me I’m keeping my strokes efficient as SR increases.>>

Chapters 11 and 12 of OTB describe the systematic approach I developed for “marrying” Stroke Length and Stroke Rate to improve pace while controlling effort. That helped me “turn back the clock” on my distance swimming times by about 12 years in 2006. My times, at 55, were faster than any I’d done since age 43.

One Response to “Caution: This Could Become Addictive”

  1. chris baker says:

    Terry-Thanks for the information on the TT. This seems to be the latest tool useful in subtly blending so much that we’ve learned from books and coaches. When using the TT, and as I increase the tempo, I feel a conflict. When SR increases, I find that I pull harder (and likely, more carelessly), tiring more quickly. I often begin at a 1:40 tempo, and find it so relaxing, and try to keep the same feeling as the tempo increases, only to find that my SPL increases from my normal 16 SPL to 18 and 19. What’re the experiences of other swimmers! Thanks

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