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terry 08-01-2011 06:11 PM

More Inspiration from Sun Yang
In my last practice I did a set of 50s designed to compare my SPL at .90 tempo to Sun Yang's. That was after his win in the 800m. Today my entire practice was inspired by his new WR in the 1500m, breaking a decade-old mark by Grant Hackett, while also shattering the efficiency benchmark Hackett had set.

To put Sun Yang's swim in its deserved historic perspective I need to quote myself, excerpting words I wrote in 2002 which you can find on pps 58-59 of the revised version of my original Total Immersion book:

From 1988 to 1992 the American swimmer Matt Biondi had a hammerlock on the title "World's Fastest Swimmer." Biondi was undefeated in the sprint freestyles and was more efficient than any of his rivals.

For several years Alexander Popov's coach had studied Biondi's stroke, using it as a model for his rising star. In the final of the 50-meter freestyle in the 1992 Olympics, Popov touched first in 21.8 seconds, Biondi right behind in 22.0 seconds. What most amazed analysts was that Popov had not only beaten Biondi by a comfortable margin, he had beaten him thoroughly at Biondi's longest suit--stroke efficiency. Popov had taken 34 strokes, Biondi 37. The time gap may have been just 1 percent, but the three-stroke difference, an efficiency gap of nearly 10 percent between the world's two best sprinters was nearly inconceivable.

It was just the beginning of a new efficiency standard. For an unheard of 10 years afterward, Popov continued to dominate the sprint events, raising the bar again and again for efficiency and speed.

Sun Yang held 27 SPL up to the 1200-meter mark of his 1500, took 28 SPL over the next 250m and 32 SPL on his final 50. His average of under 28 SPL demolished what had seemed a nearly untouchable efficiency standard Grant Hackett had set when he averaged 31 SPL in setting the former record. Sun's swim was even more of a landmark accomplishment than Popov's in 1992, because he improved on Hackett's efficiency benchmark by nearly 13 percent.

This morning, I decided to set my personal efficiency benchmark higher. setting a goal was to keep my SPL at 39 or lower the entire practice.

Set #1
8 x 100 Descend, controlling stroke count.
On this set I stayed consistent at 75 strokes. I was more relaxed, yet a bit faster, than on a similar set I did last week at 77 strokes. That time I descended from 1:59 to 1:42. Today, taking two fewer strokes, I descended from 1:53 to 1:38. I'm also very pleased with being able to swim 15 seconds faster without adding any strokes.

Set #2
4 x 200 Descend. Hold average SPL @ 39.
I descended these from 3:27 to 3:16, improving on the pace/100 I did in Set #1.

Set #3
4 x 200. Odd: Cruise, Even: Strong
I held the same average stroke count as on the previous set. I swam 3:30 on the Cruise 200s and 3:15-3:14 on the Strong 200s. Again, with the same stroke count.

Set #4
8 x 100 on 2:00
Try to repeat Set #1
I fell a bit short on stroke efficiency, my average was 76 strokes/100. My average time was a bit faster, as I descended from 1:45 to 1:41, but my final 100 was a bit slower.

Though I was striving to stay relaxed and easy I felt moderate fatigue near the end of this set, a vestige of lifting weights yesterday, swimming a tiring ocean mile race on Saturday and residual fatigue from last week's training. I'll watch this carefully since I swim a U.S. Masters National Championship event next Saturday, 5km at Coney Island.

terry 08-03-2011 03:53 PM

Avoiding Fatigue -- while 'Drafting Off' Sun Yang
A TI Coach once said he spent his practices 'drafting off my Zen Master.' For the foreseeable future Sun Yang is my Zen Master.

Today my primary goal was to avoid fatigue, so I can feel relatively fresh when I swim the US Masters 5K national championship at Coney Island this weekend. But a secondary goal is to still practice paces that are at least moderately strong. Swimming s-l-o-w-l-y while I go easy is less valuable.

There's only one way I can minimize effort while maintaining a decent pace. That's to travel sufficiently far on each stroke--while staying relaxed--that a relatively low Stroke Rate is still sufficient to produce a good pace. Which is just what allowed Sun Yang to swim 54.4 for his last 100 meters and a jaw-dropping 25.9 for his final 50 meters. So today, like Monday, I was striving to keep my average SPL below 40.

Set #1
5 x 200 on 4:00. Descend 1-4 while maintaining a low stroke count.
I averaged 38 SPL throughout this set. My 200 times were
I was encouraged by this tuneup set because both my stroke counts and pace nearly matched what I did on my opening set of 8 x 100 on Monday.
On #5 I aimed to swim with the same ease as on #1. My SPL increased by 1, but I swam a 3:33, nine seconds faster.

Set #2
3 x 100
1 x 200
3 x 100
2 x 200
3 x 100
3 x 200
3 x 100
On this set I did the 200s with Balance Thoughts - i.e. prioritizing relaxation, weightlessness and gentleness. I did the 100s with Streamlining Thoughts - extending, piercing, minimizing noise-splash-wake.

My goal was to keep average SPL below 40, and stay relaxed, on both yet swim the fastest effortless paces I could. I averaged about 3:30 on the 200s and 1:40 on the 100s.

I feel this practice was a good tuneup for Saturday's race. The low effort level was restorative, but the exacting effort to still generate moderately strong paces tuned up both my stroke and my focus.

Richardsk 08-03-2011 04:11 PM


These accounts of your approach to practice are extremely valuable, even though I am not yet (and probably never will be) in a position to adopt the approach very closely.

Currently devoting most time and thought to the butterfly problem and happy to say that I seem to be making progress. I recently had a lesson in butterfly (from an Alexander Technique coach rather than a TI coach, but he lives fairly close and the TI coaches don't). His diagnosis was not enough movement of the head, which I have been working on, and also on some drills dimly remembered from the old four strokes DVD, which I have somewhere but have mislaid, in particular the hip delay drill with two kicks at each end of the stroke. The object I believe is to learn to synchronize the kick with the exit of the hands and with the entry. I think it's working.

I bet Sun Yang (or Yang Sun as he appeared for the benefit of western viewers) can do a very nice butterfly.

dshen 08-05-2011 04:31 AM


Quick question - how do you remember and record your times for your posts above? Are you holding everything in your head until after the workout or are you writing notes down every length or lap?

I've always been challenged to find the best way to record data. I ended up buying a waterproof notebook off Amazon, along with a pen which writes on wet paper, and leave these by the pool edge to jot down my SPL and times after each lap.

Is there a better way?

I have a Finis Swimsense but that doesn't let me easily review lap times and its counting is only one arm strokes versus two. It's OK for reviewing afterwards but doesn't help me within the workout to see if my efficiency is changing...



terry 08-06-2011 10:18 PM

It's all memorization. Not normally a strong suit for me, so this itself is strong evidence of how the brain is rewired by activity.

terry 08-06-2011 10:21 PM


Originally Posted by Richardsk (Post 21164)
I recently had a lesson in butterfly (from an Alexander Technique coach rather than a TI coach, but he lives fairly close and the TI coaches don't). His diagnosis was not enough movement of the head, which I have been working on, and also on some drills dimly remembered from the old four strokes DVD, which I have somewhere but have mislaid, in particular the hip delay drill with two kicks at each end of the stroke.

I don't have the benefit of having watched your stroke but head movement is something I've striven quite specifically to minimize or eliminate. I've just finished shooting video for an all new series we will release as (1) ibooks or vooks and (2) DVDs.
These will be
Butterfly for Boomers
Backstroke for Boomers
Breaststroke for Boomers.
All will feature exclusively 60+ swimmers and a relatively simple, and quite gentle, series of 4 primary stroke improvement exercises for each stroke.

Richardsk 08-06-2011 11:04 PM


I look forward to these 'vooks' ( on the analogy of vlog, I suppose), but I am pleased to say that I think I am poised on the brink of a breakthrough and am increasingly managing to string together sequences of something akin to a slow-motion one-kick fly ( with a few extra kicks while I gather my thoughts for the next stroke).

I was fairly sure you would not agree with the head movement idea, but sometimes one has to exaggerate a movement and then later tone it down.

I'm seeing this chap again soon for fixes for freestyle and backstroke, which should be interesting, because there is plenty to fix, although I think my backstroke in particular is starting to resemble the real thing.

Didn't you have a race today? If so how did it go?

saadbox13 08-10-2011 09:57 PM

Rest Time
Hi Terry,

I see a lot of good posts and valuable feedback regarding practice sets, goal settings and focus, however I do not see anything related to rest time in between races or in between practice sets. How much time should we allow ourselves to rest, what advice can you give us to relax and avoid injury caused by sustained activity.

Thanks again,


terry 08-11-2011 12:44 AM

I did race Saturday and had an unexpected gift - becoming national 60-64 champion for 5Km - fall into my lap. This summer my priority has been to swim in a completely engaged way and practice such that I always anticipate it eagerly and never feel that a sense of obligation. In previous years, when I set ambitious goals for either speed or distance (records and titles in the former instance, marathons in the latter) I sometimes felt like I was responding to a self-imposed schedule rather than listening to my heart and spirit. This summer I've responded to that inner voice - and therefore did not set achievement goals.
I'm swimming another USMS National Championship this coming weekend, the Betsy Owens 2-Mile Cable Swim in Lake Placid, the race to which I've given the most thought this summer. This morning was my final pool practice. it was all about Relaxing and Tuning.

Wed Aug 10 3000 LCM at Ulster County Pool.

This was a simple practice. I did a pyramid, of 400-meter sets, keeping tempo consistent as distance increased and increasing tempo as distance decreased. The goal was to keep SPL as nearly constant as possible. Here's the set
8 x 50 (rest 5 yoga breaths between) @ 1.04
4 x 100 (rest 8 yoga breaths) @ 1.04
2 x 200 (rest 10 yoga breaths) @ 1.04
1 x 400 (rest 15 yoga breaths) @ 1,04
2 x 200 @ 1.03
4 x 100 @ 1,02
8 x 50 (1-4 @ 1.01, 5-8 @ 1.00)
I averaged 41-42 SPL throughout the set.
As I wrote in today's blog Swim Artfully Not Physically, when swimming at constant tempo and trying to 'save' strokes (which could mean reducing strokes if swimming a series of repeats of constant distance -- or trying to avoid adding strokes if distance is increasing, as above, an emphasis on smoother, quieter, more precise movements is the best course.
In both instances, swimming faster over a constant distance or maintaining pace over an increasing distance, your instincts usually lead you to work harder.
In today's set each time I inadvertently felt myself increasing effort, my SPL increased. When I focused on finding a sustainable effort, I could sustain stroke count - i.e. avoid adding strokes.

I did allow myself to make subtle effort increases as distances got shorter in the 2nd half, but strived to make that feel seamlessly integrated.

terry 08-11-2011 01:40 AM


Originally Posted by saadbox13 (Post 21368)
How much time should we allow ourselves to rest, what advice can you give us to relax and avoid injury caused by sustained activity.

Great question. When I planned training according to physiological principles, rest intervals were dictated by formulas. If it was an aerobic set, the formula might say I should rest for 10 to 15 seconds between 100s, or perhaps a work:rest ratio of 8:1. An anaerobic threshold set a higher ratio of rest to work. An aerobic power or lactate tolerance set higher yet.

But now I train mainly by neural principles, intuition and feel. Rather than formulas, I listen to my body and pay attention to the metrics I've decided to use as benchmarks for the set. The ratios probably end up being relatively similar because if I' aiming to hold a more exacting combination (fewer strokes and/or faster tempo) I'll likely find I get a bit more fatigued during a repeat and therefore wait longer before attempting the task again.

The key distinction is that, when training by formula I'm less responsible for the quality of my practice. The formula dictates many details of the set. Instead I take complete responsibility. I must judge the difficulty of the task and after completing each repeat, make a judgement of when I feel ready to successfully execute the task again. If I misjudge and fall a bit short -- i.e. take more strokes than I had intended, I'll adjust the recovery time upward until I can hit my goal metrics.

And sometimes no amount of additional rest will get me there, so I can either adjust the set, or abort it and replace with a set I'm prepared to do well -- and feel good about.

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