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terry 04-07-2011 12:19 AM

A Pace-Honing Medley Practice
One key to improving your speed is to devote at least one -- and better two -- sets or practices per week to swimming at or very close to your current 'Speed Limit.' To do that properly, nearly everything else you do throughout the week needs to be pretty easy.

However, it's rare for Masters or fitness swimmers, and triathletes to train this way. Most swim sorta-hard, sorta-fast all the time. Not fast enough to improve on their current Speed Limit. And never easy enough to avoid a static-stale state.

This kind of training is important because Swimming Faster is Hard. Hard physically and hard neurally.

It's hard physically because drag increases exponentially with speed: To swim a little faster, your muscles and lungs must work a LOT harder.

It's hard neurally because - mathematically - the only way to swim faster is to improve the combination of Stroke Length and Rate. And keeping a long stroke at a high rate (when heart and respiration rate are also high) is devilishly difficult.

It takes a serious commitment to recovery/restoration between fast practices or sets to be able to swim the quality stuff at a level that actually produces improvement. But the easier practices that produce recovery should still be designed to hone abilities that help you swim faster. Today's Medley-Pacing practice is a good example. I did a high-intensity, neurally-demanding set of 8x200 on Monday and hope to be ready to swim fast again tomorrow. So I needed to devote today to 'serious ease.'

I did three low-intensity, yet neurally-exacting sets that will be just as valuable as any high-intensity set in helping me race fast in the 400 I.M. races I'll swim Apr 17 at Zones and Apr 29 at Masters Nationals.

Set #1 (Warmup/Tuneup)
All swims at 15-16 SPL
4 x 50 BK (53-52 sec)
2 x 100 BK (1:49-1:46)
1 x 200 BK (3:35)

Set #2
All swims at 8-9SPL Fly, 16SPL BK, 8-9SPL BR, 15 SPL FR)
4 x 100 IM (1:42-1:43)
2 x 200 IM (#1 straight 3:17, #2 as 2x100 IM nonstop 3:19)
1 x 400 IM - as 4 x 100 IM nonstop (6:36)

Set #3
All swims at 16SPL BK and 8SPL BR
4 x 50 25BK+25BR (53-52 sec)
2 x 100 50BK+50BR (1:45 on both)
1 x 200 100BK+100BR (3:29)

In each set I swam the same distance 3x, first as 4 pieces, then as 2 pieces, then as 1 piece. My goal was to keep both SPL and pace consistent as repeat distance doubled, then doubled again. My sense of pace was keenest on Set #3 where the straight 200 was faster than the 2 x 100 and 4 x 50.

The key to success in this set is the ability to control effort over the shorter swims. When controlling, not maximizing, effort is your goal, you're assured of getting good recovery.

At the same time, honing an impeccable sense of pace is just as valuable as fast repeat swimming to the ability to race your best.

AWP 04-07-2011 02:25 AM

And once again great timing.
I'd wondered if your Monday practice could also be done in reverse order or just as a recovery session too.
I'll look to challenge myself with this 'recovery' practice, in order to do so I'll really need to focus on ease. To that, your choice of spl (on the higher end) seems counter to a recovery so to speak. So is that choice coupled with one of intent towards easy effort at that count? I know we're always striving for ease but there is a difference between 16 spl @ race pace let's say and 16spl @ recovery pace. No?
I gave Monday's a go and although you hadn't posted "high intensity, neurally demanding" I soon found it to be and wondered if it should've been. Then I read the above post : )

Wednesday, April 4 @ YMCA 25yd pool
3 x 200
3:14 @ avg. 13spl
3:04 @ avg. 14spl
2:56 @ avg. 15spl
After the second repeat I knew I failed to keep enough control over the initial pace. Probably should have played out more like 3:04/3:00/2:56.
The plus was descending by adding a stroke, ideal would be then to maintain stroke length as time fell.

4 x 50 backstroke

2 x 200
2:55 @ avg. 15spl
2:53 @ avg. 16spl

4 x 50 backstroke

1 x 200
2:58 Oops!
I knew instantly, right out of the gate, that I'd come in slower especially when I hit the 'first' wall @ what I thought was 13spl. I suspected a bit of fatigue possibly from the backstroke repeats coupled with a slow start and one missed turn. I'd hold a lower stroke count on the next set @ backstroke.

4 x 50 backstroke

1 x 200 broken @ 100s
(Sensed I could have descended but stuck to the plan)

4 x 50 backstroke

1 x 200 broken @ 50s

I did manage to descend all the way through but one set. I did feel after slowing the backstroke rate that I had more to give. I'll play with the active/passive rest on this sort of session.
A challenge indeed, thanks.


terry 04-07-2011 10:09 AM

First I'll address your question about higher SPLs in my Medley-Pacing set. I don't think of 15-16SPL in BK or 8-9 in BR as high -- though I'm certainly capable of lower.
Rather there are two ways to think about the potential energy cost of lower SPLs.
1) Fewer strokes means lower Stroke Rate, which ordinarily will mean lower Heart Rate as well. . . However . . .
2) At some point a lower Stroke Rate allows a bit too much inertia to creep into the stroke . . . which means the need to generate more power to overcome it.

So the central goal of any set or practice where you purposefully vary stroke count is to strike an artful balance between a leisurely/restful tempo and conservation of momentum. Because you do this by feel, lots of practice -- and frequent changes in stroke count -- are best for honing your feel.

Your version of the set of 8 x 200 Free that I'd done Monday is an example. In my set from Monday I kept the same SPL range throughout, but added one stroke to the 2nd 100 of each to help with even pacing. I made the 200s gradually faster in part by swimming fewer of them between recovery breaks of 4x50BK.

In your practice, you sensed that you could achieve a better pacing pattern next time you try this. That's information from feel.

Here's another challenge. The differential between my 1st (straight) and 8th (broken at 50s) 200 was only 15 seconds. The difference between your 1st and 8th was 41 seconds.

Descending sets offer two levels of Master
Level 1: Improve your time steadily within the set.
Level 2: While doing that, improve overall average by closing the gap between fastest and slowest.

So now you have a goal for improving the Pace Mastery Circuit this set is designed to hone.

AWP 04-07-2011 01:44 PM

Got it, thanks!
Also, after working out the actual 'math' at home I did recognize immediately the 40sec. differential and acknowledge that I have a focused 'task' of tightening up that differential.
Having a clear cut goal spelled out certainly helps and makes it that much more interesting, priceless.
Thank you for all your time and great input.


AWP 04-10-2011 09:34 PM

Friday's practice of portions of the three 'recovery' sets provided some insight and a surprise or two.
The pool was packed so had to settle for circle swimming initially (1x400,2x200) but was determined to do at least a trial.
Not concerned initially with a spl I began the backstroke sets just swimming at a completely comfortable rhythm. My count was in the 15-16spl range and quite comfy. I was able to descend @ the same stroke range. a much easier effort if a tad slower, for the moment.
On the 2x100 I had my first surprise on two lengths of the second 100 taking two less strokes @ the same time (1:50). I have not done backstroke repeats of longer than 50yds so this was also new ground and the 200 would definitely be but it wasn't to be as a slight collision had me breaking the 200 into 2x100. Because I lost the time on the first half I decided not to mark it on the second half. More important to create and mark my ease at this distance.
I next decided to do 4x50 fly using the same focus and managed to stay in the 8-9spl range on all and descend time on two.
The 4x100 IM set provided me with another 'surprise' when I managed to maintain stroke range while descending on two to 1:36; in recovery mode! Prior, my effort, which was 'greater', had my marked avg. @ 1:45 and above!
My concentration on "recovery" helped me focus on ease which in turn helped me focus on balance which helped the streamlining which brought a marked improvement in 'speed'.
A 'rough' start that ended cool.
I have a whole new approach to recovery.

terry 04-11-2011 01:34 AM

We had a workshop at Greenwich Y today. During the lunch break I had my Best Ever Pace-Honing Medley practice - and one of my best practices of any kind ever. I was especially excited at some insights gained, which I'll share later. Right now I'll just report the sets I did.

Set #1 3 rounds of 3 x 50 BK Descend each round.
Round 1: 30 Strokes Descend to :48
Round 2: 29 Strokes Descend to :47
Round 3 28 Strokes Descend to :46

Set $2 Swim 2 x 200 IM
#1 2x100IM Continuous 3:20
#2 200 IM 3:14

Set #3 3 rounds of 3 x 50 (25BK+25BR) Descend each round
Round 1: 22 Strokes Descend to :48
Round 2: 21 Strokes Descend to :47
Round 3: 20 Strokes Descend to :46

Set #4 Swim 2 x 200 IM
#1 2x100IM Continuous 3:14
#2 200 IM 3:07

Set #5 3 rounds of 3 x 50 BR Descend each round
Round 1: 15 Strokes. Descend to :47
Round 2: 14 Strokes. Descend to :46
Round 3: 13 Strokes Descend to :45

Set #6 3 rounds of 3 x 50 FR. Descend each round. Improve average pace in 2nd and 3rd round. In each round:
#1 27 strokes
#2 26 strokes
#3 25 strokes
Descend round 1 to :38
Descend round 2 to :37
Descend round 3 to :36

What was Better than Ever in this practice?
In sets !, 3 and 5, I challenged myself to reduce stroke count yet swim faster in later rounds. I mastered that skill in Freestyle almost 10 years ago, but had never really tested myself that way in other strokes. Several weeks ago I tried it for the first time in a Backstroke set and couldn't do it.
Today I succeeded in a Backstroke set, a set of Back-Breast repeats and a Breaststroke set. I'd never done that before.

I've always been more successful in distance free than in the other strokes. I always thought that was because I had more innate ability for freestyle. But the recent reading I've done on the OK Plateau and Excellence, I'm not so sure any longer. Now I think my greater success in freestyle is that I give myself more exacting and rigorous practice tasks. I set the bar far higher on execution and precision in SPL mastery and pace mastery. Over the next couple of years I will put that thesis to the test by replicating the challenging sets I've done in freestyle in the other strokes. As always my test will be done in plain sight, so you'll all know the outcome.

In the 2 sets of 2 x 200 IM, I swam faster on the 2nd repeat of each, despite the fact that a continuous 200 IM is a bit tougher than 2 x 100 IM back-to-back. And I improved both when I repeated the set on #4.

terry 04-15-2011 01:00 AM

Last Pace-Honing before Zone Championships
Tomorrow I'll swim the first of two meets at which I hope to do some damage to Adirondack Masters 60-64 records. Today I wanted to do a practice that put a bit more of a sharp edge on my pacing sense in all strokes . . . and consequently the Individual Medley (IM). At the same time I wanted to keep my effort moderate so I feel fresh for the 1000-yard free tomorrow - one of the events I'm aiming to break a record in.

Set #1
2 round of 50+100+150+200 BK/FR
On the 1st round I alternated 25BK/25FR the whole way. On the 2nd round I swam the first half of each swim BK and 2nd half FR (i.e. 75BK75FR for 150)
My first goal was to at least hold, and possibly improve, the 50 pace as I continued to 200 in each set. I was a bit erratic there.
My second goal was to swim faster paces on the 2nd round. I did that quiet easily.

Set #2
Swim 14 x 50, doing 2x50 in each of the following:

This set includes every iteration of consecutive lengths found in both the 200 and 400 IM. My goal was to maintain the same stroke count in both 50s in each pair (a lower count than I'll use in the races) but swim the 2nd 50 in each pair at least 1 second faster than the first. Since my 400 IM strategy is to negative split the BK, BR and FR 100s, this is good pacing practice.
I hit both of my goals in this set and was pleased with the paces I swam in anything with BR or FR in it.
I'll post an ongoing report from the meet.

AWP 04-16-2011 04:50 AM

I hope the meet was a success and I'm looking forward to a report.
I'm also looking forward to utilizing these practice 'templates' (excellent execution btw, exciting I bet).
I've also had a desire, a sense, to improve my proficiency in the other disciplines and that I could if I approach them with the same attitude and sense of "spirited curiosity" as I do (have done) in my freestyle.
I've stated this as one of my goals for the year.
With these examples as guidance it's almost assured (that goes without saying my technique in each also needs attention incl. my free; perhaps as was evident on Wednesday night).
I'll report on any 'cultivable' insight/improvements.


AWP 05-03-2011 11:42 PM

After a decent week of consistent swimming (finally) I began this week with a practice session 'from the pages' of Terry's example and experienced a pretty cool outcome of pace and stroke length control.

Monday May 2 YMCA 25yd pool
5 x 100 Freestyle
I maintained a relaxed 14/15 spl, my times:
1:35 / 1:35 / 1:32 / 1:31 / 1:30
After the second repeat I knew I'd have to focus, concentrate harder, if I was going to continue to descend, and I did. My thoughts were on passing through my target area on extension and floating my arm forward; with no overt kick or pressure on the stroke arm at catch.

4 x 50 Backstroke
Maintain stroke length (16spl), no marked times, focused on rhythm and ease.

4 x 50 FL/BK (:54sec. / :53sec. / :52sec. / :51sec.)
4 x 50 BK/BR (:55sec. / :55sec. / :56sec. / :54sec.)-(:53sec.)
4 x 50 BR/FR (:50sec. / :49sec. / :48sec. / :47sec.)-(:47sec.)
On round one I focused on progressively swimming smoother on fly @ 8-9 spl and rhythm on back @ 16 spl.. "Float through" on the 8-9 fly and make the 16 easier on back. I sensed the fly got easier as I progressed, even when I hit 8.5 then 8spl.

On round two I felt unsure, and after the second repeat I thought to put a bit of 'attention' on my grip... wrong! On the fourth repeat I then focused on a relaxed but "cat like" return to streamline, no big pressure on the 'pull' forward but slide just under the surface and extend; breathe quickly, then slide right back. This felt right and I descended, so I gave it another 50 and, boom, :53 sec.

On round three a combination of a focused stretch on both the breast lengths and the free gave me the necessary timing I needed to descend the set. Hold streamline just a bit longer after the second and third strokes off the wall in breaststroke, then again just into the last two strokes of breaststroke to the wall. Then extend the stretch to the fourth stroke in breast off the wall and the last three to the wall and so on. Kept the free strokes to 14.

5 x 100 Freestyle
I began my stroke length as in the first set and this time tried to subtract strokes while hoping to increase pace. My 'excitement' came when I actually managed to do so, however, on this go it was a bit more effort-full than I would like to swim, nonetheless a good skill to continue to make easy(er).
1. 1:27 @ 58 strokes
2. 1:25 @ 57 "
3. 1:23 @ 56 "
4. 1:21 @ 54 "
5. 1:20 @ 58 "
As the "peewees" were strolling in for their lessons I thought I would not have time to complete the last 100 (I wanted 1:20) and my session but as luck would have it I still had just under 3 min.(clock was wrong) so off I go and... got my 1:20 (although I let go of subtracting I saved 7 seconds @ the original stroke count in this set and 15 seconds from the first set @ the same count. The big surprise was repeats 1 thru 4. I think this is the first time I managed to subtract strokes systematically and go faster, cool!)
I even had time for,

Set#5(recover & smile)
2 x 50 EZ Free @ 12/13 spl

terry 05-05-2011 10:16 PM

It's enormously satisfying to choose a group of metrics over which you'd like to develop Mastery and see your ability to exercise control improve steadily with practice.
The three groups of metrics in which you can pursue that kind of control are
Time and SPL
Time and Tempo
Tempo and SPL
They're all related, but the experience I have in each is quite distinct.

It feels great to keep one metric constant while improving the other -- e.g. SPL constant, time improving.
It feels every better when you can improve both metrics at once, as you did in reps 1-4 in your final set.
Well done.
I'll post my examples from the two post-Nationals practices I've done this week in a thread by that name.

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