Change of Venue but Great Practice
Sept 7, 2011 3200 LCM at Coronado (CA) Municipal Pool
I'm in San Diego this week to speak at the ASCA World Coaches Clinic and staying through Sunday to swim the 5K LaJolla Rough Water Swim. Each morning I'm swimming with Coach Suzanne Atkinson at the glorious Coronado Municipal Pool, where I trained Feb-Apr 2010 for the Tampa Bay Marathon.
As a tuneup for Sunday's 5k I swam a more distance-oriented set yesterday. My entire practice consisted of this one set
8 x 400LCM on 8:00
Problem: Hold 38 SPL and swim faster each successive 400.
6:23 (100 each @ 38-39-40-41 SPL)
I descended this set by adding one length at higher speed to each 400.
#1 350 Cruise, 50 Strong
#2 300 Cruise, 100 Strong
#7 50 Cruise, 350 Strong
In the thread Test Efficiency and Mastery with these sets, Alan Perez described his strategy for adding speed at a chosen point in a swim as follows: I added a bit of emphasis on hip drive to 'strengthen' my rotation on recovery to entry, giving me a bit of "oomph" on extension. It felt like a cadence; 1-2, 1-2 or ta-TA ta-TA on hand entries (the TA being the spearing on the breathing side.
On the Cruise lengths that started each 400, I breathed bilaterally (every 3 strokes) and strove for a feeling of slipping through the water with as little disturbance as possible. I applied little power - using hip nudges and very compact toe flicks. I tried to feel as if my catch and the light pressure I applied with it didn't move a single molecule of water in an unintended direction - trying to keep a feeling of 'thickness' behind my hand and forearm.
On the Strong lengths, I swam almost exactly as Alan described. I switched to breathing left-only and after each breath (because I roll a bit farther to breathe and therefore have a bit more gravity-aided momentum at my disposal) to use a sharper hip-and-toe action to spear my left hand more strongly to its target while maintaining the firm-hold feeling on my extended right hand. I also added pressure to both hands/forearms. As you can see from the progression in my times, those subtle changes led to significant increases in speed -- i.e. precisely how I'd love to feel during Sunday's race.
The skill challenges in this set were:
1) Calibrate Stroke Length accurately and consistently. In this entire set - 64 lengths - I missed my SPL target only 4x, two lengths @ 39SPL -- and consequently two where I gave myself a 'budget' of only 37 to keep my average where I intended it.
2) Convert the increase in power into increased speed efficiently. That meant taking great care to avoid moving the water, rather than myself when I applied more power and pressure.
I was enormously pleased with
1) SPL consistency
2) Being able to swim 40 sec faster (10 sec/100m) without adding a stroke - then swim an additional 17 sec faster adding only 12 total strokes on the final 400 (as well as accurately calibrate adding a single stroke on successive 100s
3) How totally in a mind/body zone I was for the entire 64 minutes this set took.
And here's the really cool part. Considering the Essential Swimming Equation of V = SL x SR, in increasing my V by :05/50, while keeping SL unchanged from #1 to #7, I had to increase SR considerably. But at no time did I actually try to stroke faster. My intentions were restricted to the thought/action process I describe above. The increase in SR and V "happened."
Yesterday was my first swim in a week, and my first practice in a 50m pool since the one I did two months ago and posted above.
My main set was 16 x 100 Asymmetric Tempo Pyramid slowing tempo in .05 increments from 1.25 to 1.50 then returning it by .03 increments to 1.20. SPL was 38-39 @1.25 at the start and 36-37 @1.20 at the end. So today I decided to do another set @1.25, this time testing my ability to maintain -- or perhaps even improve -- Stroke Length, as repeat distance increased.
100 + 200 +300 + 400 + 500 on an interval of 2 minutes per 100m. I did this 'cold' -- i.e. starting without a warmup. My times were (with pace/100m in parentheses)
I did manage to gradually reduce my average SPL. The most interesting part of this process is that when I'm trying to 'save' strokes, I do so by taking each stroke with more care and precision, trying to keep the water molecules around my hand and arm as calm as possible. The result of saving stroke - while swimming at constant tempo - is that I swim steadily faster, but the usual 'work harder' thoughts remain far from my mind. This is an extremely valuable insight for anyone who races.
5 x 100 @ 1.20 - 1.19 - 1.18 - 1.17 - 1.16 I held 74 strokes (36+38) per 100 as tempo got faster. Last 100 was 73 strokes. My times improved from 1:37 to 1:33.
After improving SPL and pace while keeping Tempo constant as distance increased in the first set I decided to swim shorter repeats at faster tempos in the second set and again, try to keep SPL constant - this time while increasing tempo. Again, I had good success.
An important practice principle you can draw from this practice is to note that at my last Long Course practice. Sept 8, I swam the final 400 at 38 SPL in 6 min 40 sec. This works out to a tempo of 1.11. Today my tempo for 400m at 38SPL was only 1.25 and my time 6:58 - 18 sec. slower. Yet I still consider this a great practice.
The key takeaway is that I give little thought to past performances in a new season. I choose a circuit (some combination of SPL, Tempo, Pace and Duration) to improve in each practice. If I improve that circuit over the next 45 to 60 minutes I count that a good practice. And I'm confident that after a month or two of regular pool practice I'll match the standard I set at the end of the summer season.
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