Terry, when I read an acronym I tend to say what it stands for as I read, instead of just saying the letters. Finding myself saying the f word while reading a book on swimming seems strange. I am not a prude and have been known to swear (years in construction). If I could offer another way to get your point across I would. Just my two cents, not worth a ton.
response to "Speed" intro
I've read this first excerpt from "Speed" and have a couple of questions, as I would like to offer constructive feedback on the subject. First, is the target audience, termed "Grownups" for this book primarily adults, age 18 & up, older adults (middle age & up,... ie, maybe 40ish & up), baby boomers, and/or seniors? Perhaps all? To me, the term Grownups conjures up images of those middle age, non-athletic folks, or at least more those who swim for health and fitness maintenance, rather than the type of improvement fostered by adult-competitive swimming (ie, Masters, open-water swims, triathlons, etc.). This may very well just be my impression of that word and I might be well off the mark.
Yet the content of the excerpt does seem to apply also to mature triathletes, new or seasoned vets..... as well, which is 99% of my students so far. Is a more specific target for this book "anyone who has a desire to swim faster as part of reaching their untapped potential, whether for competition (Masters, open-water swims, triathlons, etc.) or just for their own personal achievement and satisfaction??
Since we all seem to guage others based on our own personal reality, my interpretation is (hoping) that this book "Speed" is being generated in order to move TI swimmers past 'technique alone' practice, into another level of challenges based on the objective measurements of time/distance/speed.
I'm hoping this is the case for 'Speed' because I am experiencing a bit of a 'stall' as I seek practice methods to move me forward beyond stroke technique practice into the competitive world of studying how these technique improvements affect my "times". For me, I will always be competing with my own PB's, and hopefully will evolve into more competition with others. I certainly look at others swimming times to find performance benchmarks for myself.
Many 'blocks', both mental and physical seem to be occurring that I feel I need some 'hands on' TI instruction help. For me, speed is the next rung of the ladder, the natural progression following many hours of diligent stroke technique work, though technique will always be a major focus when I swim. With TI, one of the most consistent and Kaizen experiences for me is entering the 'Flow' state, or the 'Zone', which can only occur when one is challenged sufficiently, as well as being very focused on the process of practice and 'in the moment'. I feel TI provides the ideal foundation for constant improvement, which absolutely leads to faster, easier swimming for the same effort.
Depending on how long I'm expecting to live, I may *be* middle aged, but I prefer to be described in a more glamorous light.
What does "grownups" convey to you
This feedback from Mark and Katie about Grownups in the title is exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for. I have informally used "Swimming for Grownups" as one of the succinct phrases I use to convey how TI is different from traditional swimming.
I think of much of what happens in mainstream lessons and instruction as oriented heavily toward the needs, goals, learning styles, etc of younger people, from 20+ max down to adolescents and teens. Swim lessons have always targeted kids far more than adults, and the idea of adults training seriously at swimming is a pretty recent development. So swim workouts, training, whatever is also youth-oriented.
Most of those who teach or coach adults gained their experience working with young people and the approach reflects it.
TI, in contrast, is the first widely-recognized organization-cum-method that was launched explicitly to serve adults. Thus our methods have evolved with the powerful impact of accommodating the goals, needs and learning styles of adults. To me, grownups is a less formal, and even more hip, term.
But if few others feel the same way it would be a poor choice for inclusion in the title.
For now, let's call this the 'working title' and perhaps as I connect the rest of the dots from here to the closing some better suggestions will emerge.
Chapter Four: It's Worth the Effort
Swimming Faster: It’s worth the effort
In the 1970s, when I was coaching age group swimmers, I wrote: “It would be hard to justify a life’s work spent turning kids into outboard motors.” That’s even truer for coaching adults. So before we explore smart, effective solutions to the problems described in Chapter 3, let’s pause briefly to consider what makes this pursuit worthwhile – even if you’re not training for a triathlon or Masters meet, even if you’ve previously given little thought to timing yourself.
As Chapter One describes, our motivation to swim faster usually arises from small bruises to the ego, and those momentary discontents often grow into gnawing vexation. But the real reason I’ll make a concerted effort to swim faster this year is that I’m absolutely convinced that I’ll be happier, healthier 60-year old if I try to find and exceed my ‘speed limits.’
There’s a growing body of evidence that goal-oriented adults live longer, healthier and more productive lives. Swimming improvement goals are among the most salubrious of all. Knowing how efforts expended toward swimming faster can benefit you outside the pool will not only increase your motivation. It should help ensure that your actions align with your values and intentions.
Swimming Faster is good medicine
Trying to swim faster is undeniably hard work. Though Chapter Three made the case that programs based solely on how hard you can work are likely to make you tired before making you fast, the TI program doesn’t avoid intensive efforts. The difference is that your focus will always be on swimming well, rather than hard. Maintaining a longer stroke at a higher rate requires such skill and focus that your brain and nervous system are likely to work harder than they ever have. The physical work your body must perform to support that combination will raise your heart rate and overload muscles bringing physical benefits.
Physical Health Because the 85+ age group is growing faster than any other, older athletes are increasingly studied for longevity clues, including the effect of intensive exercise on mitochondria, the cell’s power plants. As we age, there’s normally an increase in defective mitochondria, robbing us of endurance and strength. Recent research suggests that performance-oriented training does more than gentler exercise to stimulate the production of telomerase, an enzyme that helps keep genetic information intact when cells divide, and activates a stem cell that seems to rejuvenate mitochondria.
Chapters that follow will outline skill-intensive forms of training that will raise heart rate and load muscles in ways that bring greater certainty of improvement and help slow the aging process. Both will benefit far more when your training is targeted rather than generic.
Brain Health Some brains age more quickly, others quite slowly. It’s partly genetic but also a function of how we live. To age well, it’s just as important to push your brain, as your body. Traditional training taxes the body but asks little of the brain. TI Training demands as much of your brain as your body, because it takes a problem-solving, rather than just physical-training, approach. The human brain is programmed by evolution to engage with and solve practical problems.
While Lactate Threshold is an immeasurable abstraction, our program will present you with concrete, thoughtfully-designed problems at every stage, including:
• Raise your skills from good to expert – then keep improving.
• Learn your best range of stroke counts and how to move among them as easily as you change gears on a bike.
• Experiment to find the combination of stroke length and rate that provides maximum speed with minimum effort.
• Seek weak spots and develop strategies to improve them.
• Create feedback loops that let you know, in real time, how you’re doing.
Finally, this is a program that turns age into an advantage, rather than impediment. You’ll be less dependent on physical capacity – which diminishes with age --and far more on awareness, intuition, insight, subtlety, synthesis and judgment, all of which improve with age.
Four E’s of Happiness
The highest purpose of Swimming Faster should be the Pursuit of Happiness. When faced with any choice, it’s hard to go wrong if you ask “Will this make me happier?” If it will, there’s a good chance you’ll find a way to use it to make you faster as well. I strive at all times to imbue my training with four qualities, each starting with E.
• Enjoyable. I strive to make training so enjoyable that I’m always pulled to do it, eager to do it, and never feel I have to push myself to do it. If I don’t feel that pull on any day, I don’t train. Feeling pulled to train ensures I’ll do it with joy, passion and commitment, and never go through the motions.
• Engaging I design training that requires me to stay fully present and engaged. The opposite of this is the folks on treadmills and elliptical machines at the gym, reading magazines and watching tv while they expend heartbeats or those at the pool ‘following the black line.” If my training were obligatory and joyless, I’d lose the motivation to continue.
• Empowering I want to have complete confidence that I make the best possible use of my increasingly-precious time. This means having the tools and knowledge to decide what I want to do, and then make it happen.
• Empirical I want every step to be logical, rational and measurable. I want to be able to link efforts and outcomes. When I can’t do that commitment is weakened.
Chapter Five: What Can We Learn From Elites
What We Can Learn from Elites
In 39 years as a swimming coach, I’ve attended dozens of coaching clinics. A standard feature of such clinics has been a talk by a prominent coach on how he or she trained their fastest swimmers. I also subscribed to Swimming World magazine for 20 years. Each issue included “How They Train” articles outlining sample workouts for an elite swimmer -- in addition to other articles analyzing the training of one or another top coach or team. And finally there are seminal books by coaches like Doc Counsilman, Ernie Maglischo, Mark Schubert, Cecil Colwin. Cumulatively these contain thousands of pages of highly detailed analysis of the training of elite swimmers.
Familiarity with how many yards they swim, how much kicking they do, how long their sets are, how much is VO2max, etc. has filtered down to every corner of the ‘serious’ swimming world – and influenced how Masters, triathletes and even more casual swimmers work out.
A curious omission has been a similarly detailed analysis of how they race. But that analysis has long been available to someone who dug a little deeper, as I’ve done in conversation with coaches of elites, studying technical race analysis on the USA Swimming web site, and even a small amount of direct experience coaching elites, prior to starting TI.
What that analysis reveals is that elite swimmers face Speed Problems too. They encounter them at far higher speeds than the rest of us. But solutions have proven nearly as elusive for them as for everyone else. Understanding elites’ Speed Problems will give much more valuable insight into how anyone can swim faster than knowing how many yards they swim.
Are you surprised to learn that elites have Speed Problems? After all consider their advantages: They’re young and fit, strong and supple. They’re usually among the most gifted athletes in the world. They’ve had thousands of hours of expert coaching. And finally, by the time they approach elite status, swimming fast is practically a full time job
There are two reasons why solutions have proven so elusive for the most advantaged swimmers in the world:
1. Problem-solving is still an alien concept in much of sports culture, as it’s mainly a mental, not physical process, requiring introspection and experimentation with untested approaches.
2. Their coaches saw the problem -- but through the lens of what they know best. If you lose a race, the other guy must have been in better shape. The solution for that is longer, harder training.
It’s not a Going Faster problem. It’s a Slowing Down problem.
A penetrating analysis of what actually happens during races shows the reason why winners separate themselves from also-rans: Patterns of Stroke Length and Rate make the result inevitable. It holds true at all distances that require pacing (i.e. leaving out the 50 Free which lasts only 20 seconds)
How to Win the 100 Meters
I first met Eddie Reese in 1978 when he was the coach at Auburn University. I visited him there after being impressed with how he had nearly won the NCAA Championship the previous year with a team of unheralded swimmers, outperforming teams with more recognized stars. Still in his future were 10 NCAA championships at the University of Texas and five stints as a US Olympic Coach from 1992 to 2008, the last two as Olympic Head Coach. Today Eddie is acknowledged as having a matchless knack for coaching fast swimming.
One thing Eddie told nearly 30 years ago has stuck with me ever since: “In the 100 meters, everyone is slowing down the last 25. The one who slows the least wins.” At the time, I was coaching mostly early to mid-teens swimmers, an age when I focused much more on technique and pacing than short-term speed, so I didn’t have an urgent need to apply that insight.
In September 1996 I began coaching the varsity sprint group at West Point, soon after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I had just read an article about track sprinter Maurice Green and his coach John Smith which described the strategy they’d employed to win the 100-meter gold medal.
Like Eddie Reese, John Smith had analyzed the races of elite sprinters and seen a nearly universal pattern emerge. They tended to accelerate over the first 35 meters, maintain top speed over the middle 35 meters and be decelerating during the final 30 meters. The same pattern Eddie Reese had observed in swimming sprinters.
John Smith recognized a problem-solving opportunity here and together he and Maurice Green developed a strategy that involved slightly slowing his rate of acceleration in the first 25 meters, to maintain top speed a bit longer, and delay the start of deceleration by 10 to 15 meters. Those subtle adjustments were enough to make Maurice Green the World’s Fastest Man in Atlanta.
I shared that with the sprinters I’d just begun coaching at West Point and asked “If end-of-race deceleration is that significant a problem -- and solving it that great an opportunity -- in a race that happens on land, and is over in less than 10 seconds, how significant might it be in races that happen in water and last four to five times as long? I proposed that we devote our season to an unconventional and untested approach to sprint training. Rather than focus on “building the anaerobic threshold and muscle power”, as everyone else did, we would learn to solve the slowing-down problem.
They agreed to participate in my experiment. Over the next three years, Army sprinters dominated all competition they faced. (I’ll reveal more about our training later.)
How to Win the 1500 Meters
Things are essentially the same at the other end of the spectrum of Olympic swimming, the 1500 meters. For decades the prevailing pacing pattern of elite distance swimmers – and one that’s are among lesser swimmers -- has been even to negative splits. Those who win swim the second half of their races at the same speed, and often faster, as the first half. Those who fall short swim slightly slower in the second half. Their loss of speed is not as pronounced as a sprinter’s because the extreme effort of sprinting produces extreme levels of acidosis – a change in blood chemistry which irresistibly slows muscle contraction. Distance swimmers may also experience this, but at more moderate levels.
Negative splits are also common in 1500-meter running, but there, it’s common for race directors to recruit a ‘rabbit’ – a runner whose job it is to set a fast early pace who will drop out when the top runners take over in the last half or quarter in a race that features a record attempt. Swimmers, in contrast, have to do it themselves. But even in swimming, there’s a strategic and psychological component to negative splitting. It’s far less comfortable to spend much of the race looking over your shoulder, than to breathe down someone’s neck. Strategically, it helps to keep key competitors in view, particularly if you have a plan for outpacing them in the end. And finally, there can be small drafting opportunities, if you hug the lane on the side where an opponent may be swimming slightly ahead, and unknowingly drift toward your side of his or her lane.
The bottom line is, at all distances, swimming fast isn’t a Going-Faster Problem. It’s a Slowing-Down Problem. And be assured, at the elite level, also-rans are not slowing down because they’re less fit. Rather, more successful swimmers use more advantageous patterns of Stroke Length and Rate. And because Practice Makes Permanent, not Perfect, they’re imprinting their success patterns in practice. Let’s learn what that is.
If the pace clock is the only measuring tool available, and you can't eek out any more speed just by working harder, what do you do? TI teaches people how to measure and improve in smaller, more manageable increments. More effective (empowering), and less frustrating (more enjoyable).
There are so many books, articles, forum posts, etc. out there that say "Do this, and you'll be stronger/faster/skinnier/healthier/live longer/look better that don't offer any empirical data to back them up. Or, they quote a study (that may or may not be relevant), but you have no way to measure whether that tip is working for *you*. TI is a standout in this area.
Until TI, I never approached fitness as an athlete. I always cared about getting enough exercise to stay healthy and look good, but I had no interest in pushing myself.
I've always thought of swimming as fun, exercise, relaxation and meditation. After practicing TI for about 18 months, I now also think of it as a sport. Now that I need to work a little harder to achieve my goals, I realize that a little extra physical exertion feels amazing. I get a feeling of euphoria from a hard workout.
I recently heard a lectio magistralis by Carlo Vittori a world class athletes coach (He coached Mennea the olympian who held the 200mt sprint record for 20 odd years and he himself what a national champion sprinter).
Vittori says that far from being an impediment emotions are what make an average performance great. Is the physiological response to them that leads the body to produce those hormones (notably testosterone) which are crucial for a better performance under stress.
It might be that the psychological side of swimming should be taken into consideration too.
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