The Swim Matrix...
Inspired by Terry's recent discussion about swimming faster at the same stroke count...and by a thought that was sparked while reading his warmup for "First Workout of 2011", I decided to try a set that I now call the "Swim Matrix"
What is it: A systematic progression of first effort, and then stroke count, creating a matrix of combinations. This is something a swimmer could try after having had a lot of practice with maintaining and manipulating stroke counts at will. It is an exercise in increasing tempo while maintaining length...the key to faster swimming!
The first iteration in my mind went like this:
4 x (4 x 100) = 1600 total
Starting at your chosen "N" stroke count, here is the matrix:
4 x 100 @ 16 SPL (or N), decsend times on each repeat
4 x 100 @ 17 SPL (N+1), descend on each repeat
4 x 100 @ 18 SPL (N+2) descend on each repeat
4 x 100 @ 19 SPL (N+3) descend on each repeat
I attempted this set today for the first time and these were my results:
After my warmup, my first 25 was 15 SPL, so I started at that "N"
100s @ 15 SPL (1:49, 1:43, 1:41, 1.37)
100s @ 16 SPL (1:43, 1:42, 1:36)
And then I was done. What happened?
Well, here is what I learned...
#1) Swimming slowly at low stroke counts is easy. Maintaining VERY LONG STROKES while trying to increase stroke rate is extremely strenuous. Of all the above sets, the most challenging was the 15 SPL at my fastest time of 1:37.
In fact, I was so tired from that effort, even though it was far from a "fast" 100 for me, that swimming easy at 16SPL was challenging. It took me until the 8th length (end of the 2nd 100) to find my 16 SPL stroke length consistently. By the time I did the 3rd 100, My strokes were going up to 17, so I did not attempt to swim 16 SPL even faster.
I began a set of 100s at 17 SPL, but after the first 50 my arms were so tired I lost focus. This is not a tiredness in the sense that I felt it was difficult to swim...I coudl have, and did continue swimming for another 20 minutes afterwards. The tiredness is the type that comes from maintaining long strokes, tall swimming posture and not allowing form to falter as stroke rate increases.
#2) Developing a wider range of tempos at which you can maintain your stroke count is key to wringing a lot of value from this type of effort. Prior to trying the SWIM MATRIX today, I had played with swimming faster efforts at the same Stroke Rate, sometimes by effort and frequently with the tempo trainer. But doing so by effort alone, and being able to swim more than 2-3 sets in descending fashion requires a lot of focus and training at this specific skill.
#3) Those new to the SWIM MATRIX (like me!) should consider doing a 3 x 3 matrix to start with, and either extending number of sets or increasing range of strokes before expanding both at the same time. Eg. a 3 x 4 matrix or a 4 x 3 matrix before doing the 4 x 4 matrix.
Alternatively, doing shorter sets (25s or 50s) would allow more practice at willful manipulation of swim parameters with less fatigue.
Does this type of swimming appeal to you or is it too complex?
***Note: Doing some quick math on the 15SPL 1:37 100, I calculate my avg. stroke rate for that set was 1.34 seconds/stroke. Last summer I was working on swimming 500 at a SR of 1.3 sec/stroke & 16SPL as my targets.
During that training I was able to get down to 14SPL at 1.3, and felt that that was a "hard limit" for my swimming given my height and skill.
This tells me that I've had a significant loss of fitness as the same set of 7x 100 I did today would likely have not been that strenuous at that time. As my fitness improves, I'll continue trying the matrix and compare results.
the other interesting point is that for me, sustained 14SPL was impossible at that rate. That was about the point I made some changes to my stroke thanks to Coach JohnB, and discovered that "allowing" my SPL to comfortable rise to 18 SPL allowed me to swim faster with less effort. Swimming moderate 18SPL 100s is less taxing than swimming 14SPL 100s even at a slower rate.
The swim matrix is one way you can discover what these "hard limits" may be in your swimming.
This is an interesting set. One comment is that the stroke rate seems low.
1.3 to me is more a drilling speed (and I'm not fast). The stroke count is impressively low (I'm not clear whether the pool is yards or metres but it's good either way) but it doesn't surprise me that you have to put in a lot of effort to achieve the higher speeds. A slightly higher tempo would give more a more continuous stroke and so be easier even if the SPL is higher, which is consistent with your experience with 18SPL.
I wanted to try to verbalize (in writing) the thoughts I've experienced since last summer while I've been exploring these ideas so others can benefit from them. Many people thing that TI endorses the "lowest" stroke count possible, but really it's about the "optimal" stroke count.
Without exploration above and below your "optimum", you'll never discover your true potential. (not you personally...) :)
It's clear that trying to "limit" stroke count to artificially low numbers will prevent you from swimming your fastest, and I think that's something important for people to realize as well.
I think a key lesson from Suzanne's practice is the value - at the right point in your development - of taking a risk. There's a difference between heedless struggle that makes you tired, and attempting a difficult set, one that may carry a considerable likelihood of falling short of the standard you're aiming for.
Suzanne's decision to abort the set because she miscalculated SL and effort on the first round was a brave one. I think it's better to do something you can turn into a positive experience when you wear yourself out by aiming too high. But it's good to aim high semi-regularly too.
I recall something one of my swimmers told me in the spring of 1979, when we had just completed a season in which my team improved more than any other group I'd coached in my career to that point (dating to 1972). This was my first year coaching this team, in Richmond VA. The best swimmer on the team, who had just won the 100 and 200 Fly in record time at US Junior Nationals (ages 18 and under) and been part of a winning medley relay, told me that the most valuable part of our training was "You regularly ask me to do something I wasn't sure I could do."
Suzanne's matrix set should be a good step-up challenge for anyone who has never attempted this kind of set before. It includes two key challenges
1) Descend times for 3 to 4 100s, without changing stroke count.
2) Choose - then choose to change - your stroke count.
She attempted a matrix of 4 x 4, and fell short. Her suggestion of trying perhaps 3 x 3 on your first go is a good one.
The 12-second difference between your 1st 100 @ 15SPL and your 4th is more likely the reason for your inability to continue, than the low SPL. That's a LOT to descend in only 4 x 100.
When I do a set like this, I do my opening round with a focus on "pull" rather than "push" effort.
I don't push at all to improve my times. Rather I look for them to drift down effortlessly. I feel this happen mainly as a result of tuning my nervous system to the task via repetition. I feel a greater sense of 'touch,' coordination, and precision as I proceed. That translates into faster times without trying.
In that sense I feel I'm being pulled toward faster swims, rather than pushing toward them. It seems magical, but it's a form of magic you can master.
Wed Jan 4 3300 @ SUNY
Like Tuesday I planned this as a Recovery/Mastery (R/M) practice. I still feel tired and sore from training. I’ll stay in this mode until I feel fresher and more energetic.
Set #1 “Inverse Pyramid” Matrix
5 rounds of [3 x 100] on 1:40 interval. Descend each round 1-3 while maintaining SPL
Rnd - STKS/100 - Times
1 60 1:31-1:27
2 56 1:28-1:26
3 52 1:27-1:25
4 56 1:25-1:23
5 60 1:24-1:22
Notes: My goal was only to descend each round. Though I didn’t try to make each round faster, it ‘happened’ without overt effort. As stroke count decreased I could sense speed improving through keener focus resulting in greater coordination and precision. As SPL increased again in Rounds 4&5, I was able to lighten all aspects of stroke and kick, yet keep seeing pace improve. All are essential elements in a R/M practice.
It occurs to me that an Inverse Pyramid Matrix may be a very effective pre-race warmup for 1000 or 1650 in a meet. I’ll experiment with it at an upcoming meet.
Set #2 500 + 2 x 250 + 4 x 125 @15SPL on 1:30/100 interval.
I decided to repeat a close approximation of my first set from the day before. Same overall distance and interval, but +1SPL (yet still -1 to my planned race SPL). I wanted to see how much my pace might be improved if I allowed myself one more stroke each lap but maintained same sense of ease.
500:– 6:59 (1:23/100)
250s: 3:27-3:26 = 6:51 (1:22/100)
125s: 1:24-1:23-1:21-1:21 = 6:49 (1:21/100)
This is an encouraging result. My total time for yesterday’s ‘broken 1500’ was 21:45 (1:27/100). Today’s nearly-identical set, with +1 SPL but no more effort, came in at 20:39 (1:22+/100).
8 x 25 FLY @ 8SPL on :45 interval. Average: 21 sec.
This is a quality set, but swimming fast on 25s doesn’t compromise recovery. So short speed sets do fit into a R/M practice. My race goal is to swim sub-3:00 for 200 yd Fly in April. I expect to swim 9SPL during that race so I do my pace work at -1 to that SPL. I will continue with this set until I can hold 8 x 25 at 19 sec, then will increase # of reps and/or decrease rest interval.
Terry, I love the inverse pyramid structure. I'm going to try that tomorrow,
3 x 100s starting with 18SPL, moving down to 16, then back up to 18. I'll report on my findings.
Also I love the distinct purpose in each of your 3 sets, from the inverse pyramid matrix, to the broken 1500, to the short efforts.
I've also been finishing (sometimes starting) practices with 25 yd sprint efforts..with the focus on stictly on speed, but on fast turnover, while maintaining a smooth and sharp entry into the water (noodling/spearing/silk shirt focus).
One could do them "tabata" style with just 10 seconds rest inbetween (if going all out, not sure if your pace is all out). Or at the other end of the spectrum, 25-50 sprints with 4 minutes of rest inbetween is a protocol that Master's University showed increased aerobic endurance & speed as well as anaerobic capacity in cyclists who followed the protocol vs. endurance based riding.
The key difference is that, if I was aiming to create a physiological effect, then the best thing would be to swim them as hard as possible. I went the other way. My first 25 felt too effortful, not sufficiently flowing. It was 8 strokes and 21 sec. Over the next 7 repeats I was focused hard on making the swim feel easy. The last 2 x 25 felt very fluent. There was a strikingly greater sense of coordinated, integrated power at the end. The beginning felt like disjointed effort. That's neural adaptation, which the guy in the BT forum was scoffing at.
This kind of focus is driven by first-hand knowledge that in order to swim in the range of 2:56-2:58 (my lifetime best is 3:03 from 2006) for 200 Fly, I'll need to keep all my 50s at or just under 45 sec. If I'm working hard I won't be able to do that on #s 3 and 4.
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