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POK 07-01-2015 12:18 PM

Improving SL sets

I haven't posted much, but am a keen follower of Terry's spring and summer improvement courses.
The one I am most interested in over the past few months is the 1500m improvement project. My goal is to swim a sub 20 min 1500m in a 50m pool. I would like to be able to hold just under 40sec/50m.

The problem I am finding at the moment is my ability to improve my distance per stroke at the higher stroke rates. Specifically I seem unable to lower my time significantly as I swim at higher stroke rates. For example, on a pyramid set (all LCM) of 10x50m starting at 1.04 descending to 0.92 by 0.04 and increasing by 0.02 I will take 39 strokes at 1.04 which will give me 42.6sec by stroking on the 3rd beep after push off. I will take 41 or 42 strokes at 0.92 which will give me 40.5sec stroking on the 3rd beep after push off. Swimming at a SR of 0.92 over 1500m is possible with the right training, but I'm not sure I can sustain higher rates than that with good form and stroke mechanics. As a comparison Grant Hackett swims at a SR of about 0.86 over 1500m…and he's the greatest, so going lower than 0.92 seems futile. What I'm wondering is how to improve my distance per stroke and what type of sets are suitable for achieving this? Given my dimensions, my stroke range should be 38-46 according to the green zone chart so I'm happy enough with 42 strokes per 50m. I just need to get more from them. Or I need to lose 2 strokes.

Is it a case of applying the same approach we use to be comfortable at a given stroke rate? And by that I mean technique focussed swimming.
I know several very experienced coaches lend their expertise on the forum, so I'd be delighted to hear what you have to say.



Tom Pamperin 07-04-2015 02:22 PM


Originally Posted by POK (Post 53779)

I haven't posted much, but am a keen follower of Terry's spring and summer improvement courses.
The one I am most interested in over the past few months is the 1500m improvement project. My goal is to swim a sub 20 min 1500m in a 50m pool. I would like to be able to hold just under 40sec/50m.


Is it a case of applying the same approach we use to be comfortable at a given stroke rate?

I'm definitely not a coach, nor can I match your goal speed (well, I can match it but NOT hold it for a 1500). But the first thought I had was that rather than trying to get more distance out of my stroke at a fast tempo, I'd pick the stroke length I want (a longer stroke than your racing stroke, maybe one less SPL) and work with a tempo timer to gradually up the tempo on that stroke until you build back up to faster tempos that will give you a speed gain.

In other words, start by swimming a longer stroke, and gradually making that longer stroke as fast as your current racing stroke. I think that might be better than trying to add stroke distance to a fast stroke. It'd be interesting to see if any coaches have thoughts to share, too. But that's how I approach my training (although at much slower speeds).

POK 07-05-2015 08:32 PM

Having looked over my training log results since September last year perhaps I am being too hasty in expecting my desired outcomes at this stage. Since I did a base test in December last year to establish the focus of my future training, I've made some decent progress. The test was repeats of 4x100 counting strokes, recording time and taking pulse on the last 100. I started at tempo 1.2, then 1.1, 1.0, 0.95, 0.90 and 0.85. From the results I established that my stroke started to fall apart between 1.0 and 0.95. So since then I've concentrated on various distances, repeats, rest intervals using tempo between 1.1 and 0.95-ish, with pretty good consistency in terms of stroke mechanics. At the same time I've had to implement a lot of changes to my stroke after having attended a workshop with Coach Gary Fahey last year. I cannot recommend him highly enough.
So maybe the times I am recording around the 0.95 rate for 50m through 400m are acceptable for now.

I'll continue to focus on these changes to stroke with varying tempo and distance. A bit of patience is in order. Good suggestion Tom.

I see Terry is encountering the same issues right now also in his LC training project so perhaps I won't feel quite so lost.


terry 07-06-2015 01:49 AM

That's an ambitious goal. Good for you. A few questions
1. How old are you?
2. Did you swim competitively in your youth or take it up as an adult.
3. From your Green Zone range, I gather you are about 6' tall.

Why don't you begin posting some full practices here? I think we can give you better feedback with a little more overall context.
How much volume per week?
Do you build in much restoration swimming between effortful sets?

I swam my best at 55, turning back the clock on my times by 13 years. I did 19:52 for 1500m that year. The most important thing I did was try to swim quite fast--as close as possible to projected race pace-- for 30 to 40 min about every 48 to 72 hours. Everything else I did was designed to help me recover for my next highly focused bout of race-pace swimming.

PS: Tom has given you superb advice to do your fast training at least one, better yet two, SPL/50m lower than you'd plan to swim in the race.

POK 07-06-2015 11:43 AM

Thanks for the input Terry.
I am 32, 6'1" and was a competitive swimmer until I was 15. I then walked away from swimming altogether until I was 22. I took it back up with a vague idea of swimming a 10km but worked myself a shoulder injury instead. This was due to my un-informed training methods which mirrored that of my competitive days: plenty of metres, paddles, fins, kickboards, most probably a poorer technique and not enough stretching.
Attempting to self-diagnose by watching clips of Grant Hackett and the like led me to some Total Immersion videos some years later. So I bought the TI book and started from scratch. This produced much better results and I decided to take a workshop when I was having trouble maintaining "higher" tempos (~1.1 at the time). I left the workshop with Gary last year with plenty to work on: over-rotation was limiting the ability to swim at faster tempos, an unbalanced head position arching my back, and too deep a catch phase.

Now that I am a student again for the time being, I have been swimming 5 days a week for the past 6 weeks. Most sets are 3-4km total, an occasional 5km. I do lighter intensity practice towards the end of the week, but probably not light enough. I'm not sure what light should be.

Today's was:

WU 6x100 as 2 x (75FR-25BK, 75FR-25BK kick in streamline, 75FR-25BS kick in streamline)
8x50 swim-drill various: hand entry, wide recovery, EVF, shoulder vs hip rotation

Tune: 10x50 TT1.04 - 0.9 in 0.04 & back in 0.02. All SPL 39-41.

Main: 3 x (4x150) rest 10. Rest 45 between rounds.
Round 1: TT-1.04: SPL between 38 (1st length on each) and 40.
Round 2: TT-1.03: SPL between 39 (1st length on each) and 40. 41 on final length of final 150m.
Round 3: TT-1.02: SPL between 39 (1st length on each) and 41.

10x50 IM order drill

400 swim down.
Total: 4000m

The main set could have felt better, but the pool I use is an outdoor without lane ropes so one is regularly having to sight and manoeuver in order to avoid collisions.

Looking forward to your comments and suggestions.
Many thanks,


POK 07-07-2015 10:04 AM

Today's practice:

Same WU as always: 6x100 as 2 x (75FR - 25BK, 75FR - 25BK kick in streamline position, 75FR - 25BS kick in streamline position)

4x100 FR drill-swim various

Tune: 10x50, TT 1.02 - 0.90 by 0.04, increase by 0.02

100 easy, attention to lengthening each stroke

Main: 4 x (4x100 + 4x50) 100's off 1.45, 50's off 50sec. 45 sec rest between rounds.

Round 1 TT 1.04: 39-40 SPL on all
Round 2 TT 1.03: some 39, mostly 40 SPL
Round 3 TT 1.02 all 40 SPL
Round 4 TT 1.01 mostly 40 SPL, 41 on the second lap of last 2 x 100m. 39 SPL on 2 x50, but 41 on the remaining 2 x 50m.

Swim down: 500m BK and BS swim & kick, no FR.

Total: 4500m

Tom, concentrating on lengthening the stroke worked a treat. I didn't feel rushed at all until the last 2 x 100 which were a bit sloppy. And went 3sec faster between Round 1 and Round 4 by adding 1-2 SPL. It's a long way off 38.5sec/50m though. We'll see how it goes.

Looking forward to comments and suggestions.
Many thanks,


terry 07-07-2015 01:02 PM

Comments on Practices
Your overall practice design and particularly Main Task design are both excellent. You have clearly taken the lessons of TI Fast Forward Training to heart.
Two comments
1. Why don't you consider leaving out the streamlined kicking from warmup. Just swim 'perfect' form for all strokes. Perhaps time them and see if 2nd round is effortlessly faster--with same SPLs--as first.
2. Do you also do Tempo Pyramids the other way--slowing first by .04, then increasing by .02?

Where are you living and where do you swim?

POK 07-08-2015 12:02 PM


I cannot take any credit for the main sets. I have taken them from your improvement projects, and from Gary. I really struggle in designing suitable practices which progress over a number of weeks. How much time (in terms of the overall training program) to devote to speed (above and below race pace), endurance, maintaining pace, recovery swimming - these are the things I am completely lost with.

The only reason I tend to do low-high-low pyramids is that I like to start and end around a tempo that I will start the main set with.

I am from Ireland, but I live in Karlsruhe, Germany. I swim in a local pool - 25m indoor, 50m outdoor which is open May through September.

Today's practice:

WU 6x100m as always. Substitute kicking for full stroke, keeping all strokes long.
8x50 FR drill-swim various. Concentrate on breathing right and left - notice differences in when the breath is initiated. Yesterday I found I was taking in water during breathing at times. Focus on initiating breath as fingers of opposite hand enter the water towards extension.

Tune: 10x50 TT 0.94 - 1.06 by 0.04, decrease by 0.02

100 easy, long stroke & breath timing.

Main: 6 x (5x100) rest 10. Rest 45sec between rounds 1 - 3, rest 1 min between rounds 4-6.

Round 1, 2, 3: all under race effort focus on form
Round 4, 5, 6: similar to race effort focus on form

Round 1 TT 1.10: 37-39 SPL
Round 2 TT 1.08: 38-40 SPL
Round 3 TT 1.06: 39-40 SPL
Round 4 TT 1.04: 39-41 SPL
Round 5 TT 1.02: 40-41 SPL
Round 6 TT 1.00: 39-44 SPL. The first length of the first 100 was 39, the second length was 43. The second 100 was 40-44. I was feeling fine up to 75-80m but very very sloppy after that. The last 3 x 100 took a lot of concentration to keep my stroke as long as possible over the final 25m and resist urge to pull & kick harder, and it worked giving me 40-41 for the 3rd and 4th 100m, and 39-41 for the final 100m. The breathing timing was better today, little to no intake.

400 swim down BK & BS
Total: 5000m

It took until the 3rd round to really feel comfortable and find rhythm today, less motivation than usual. This will be my last pool practice for about 10 days as I go on a Swim Trek holiday tomorrow for a week. I'll also try to get some stroke video - long overdue since the workshop in November.

Looking forward to comments and suggestions.


Richardsk 07-08-2015 04:29 PM

Hello Páraic

You wouldn't be an O'Kane by any chance, would you? My first teacher of Latin and Greek was an O'Kane from Derry, P.J O'Kane who signed his name POK and was predictably given the nickname Pokie by his pupils. He was a decent sort and much too soft on his young charges.

Anyway it's nice to find another Irishman on the board. I did a bit of swimming in Germany myself in my youth, in Bonn and Bad Godesberg. In those days I swam only breaststroke, although an American friend who was a very good swimmer tried to show me how to do the front crawl and a German friend who had lost half of one leg to an allied bomb tried to teach me to do the butterfly with a dolphin kick. Both without success.

I had to wait another fifty years or so until I managed a presentable but slow crawl and a butterfly that sometimes avoided disqualification, thanks to TI. Now I seem to be turning into a backstroker, but still much too slow.

POK 07-22-2015 09:34 AM

I had my first pool practice yesterday since Swim Trek last week. We did 5km each day around islands, between islands etc. One point which struck me more than almost any other was how much more relaxed I was in the absence of walls to turn on. A steady breathing pattern is surely central to this.
On one island crossing of about 1500m I decided to test my ability to hold a target stroke rate of 1.04 and I was quite surprised at how (reasonably) comfortable it felt. It is comforting to know the pool work paid off.

The link below is the only video of my stroke I managed to get my hands on. It is from a continuous 5km crossing.
Does anyone else see a pause in the stroke as the elbow and hand of my left arm exit the water? Or is it the angle of the video. I don't perceive this pause when I'm swimming. Also, I'd like some comment on my hand entry please.
The video quality isn't great I know. So before head position comes up, I take 15 strokes breathing left, then switch to right.

Yesterday and today practice was horrific. In the 4 days I haven't been swimming, I seem to have misplaced the timing of my stroke. I also seem to have forgotten how to initiate a catch. So the last 2 days I have done only WU, lots and lots of drill - swim, and 10x50 repeats.
I hope it pays off!

Hello Richard,
Not O'Kane, O'Kelly. Couldn't be much more Irish.


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