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CoachSuzanne 05-12-2010 02:59 PM

Improvement of 5 seconds/100 - How I did it
Hey everyone, I wanted to share my experiences with you of using the tempo trainer for the first time to apply to longer sets. I realize longer is relative, but for me I'm talking about 500 yards.

A few weeks ago while assisting at a clinic in FLA, Coach Shane Eversfield gave some ideas about how to use the tempo trainer to help in training for longer distances. The first step was: "Find a tempo at which you can comfortably swim a 500."

There was more to his set, but at this point I'm still trying to nail down a "comfortable 500" with the tempo trainer. I know that I can swim 500, but I'd never done so with a tempo trainer and I was nervous what it might teach me about my (bad?) swimming habits.

The first time I tried it, I chose a setting of 1.3 seconds, which feels downright slow when I do 50s or even 100s, but I know that I can maintain good form at that pace.

After 250 yards, I gave up on the set! My stroke was getting sloppy, my SPL went from 16 to 20, my turns went form flip to open and I was "stealing" extra seconds at the wall just trying to figure out how to regain control. The issue was not one of a lack of fitness, but rather swimming at a coordinated, consistent effort for the duration at a set tempo. The remainder of that set I continued at the same TT setting, but did repeats of 100s & 50s, which went just fine.

The following week I attempted it again. My goal was still to complete the set. I managed to alternate flip & open turns for a few hundred yards, then went to all open. The turns were taking 3-5 beeps from initiation to completion (instead of the 3 I was striving for), and my stroke rate stayed between 16-18. It was a better set, and I finished having set a new PR for 500 yards at 1:45/100.

I was thrilled, but knew that I was capable of swimming even better. With the metric of SPL, I knew that if I could keep my strokes consistent at 16 SPL, or improve my turns that I could easily take 20-30 seconds off teh set. Never before had I understood swimming so well. Can you imagine just staring at the pace clock wondering how you could get faster for your next effort? THere was no question about get faster I simply need to swim more consistently and now I had objective measures to follow.

Yesterday was my 3rd such attempt at completing 500 yards with the tempo trainer, and I set a new PR for 500 of 1:40/100! I started at the same setting (1.3s) and started the set with 14-16 SPL (how did that happen???). I was hitting every wall around 15 SPL with a well timed flip turn & pushoff using exactly 3 beeps for the turn and taking my first stroke on the 4th beep without feeling breathless.

The consistency with which I was swimming shocked me! After 300 I knew this would be another PR, not because I was trying to swim faster...just trying to swim better, following a plan. The manager stopped me with 25 yards to go to tell me the swim team would be arriving soon, but even with that 3-5 second delay included, I finished the set in 8:25, for a new PR (for the 2nd time in 2 weeks).

My focuses were primarily on maintaining some core tension and rotating from the core with the aid of my kick. I think that's how I got down to 14 SPL for the first few lengths.

From an email I sent to Terry after the set:

"I can't tell you how enlightening this is for me. I've never had this much control of my swimming before. Funny thing is that 2 weeks ago I would have said the same thing, and 2 weeks prior to that I would have said the same thing. It just keeps getting better."

Just wanted to share, I hope you all can experience the same sorts of improvements not just in swimming, but in your approach to planning your training.

terry 05-12-2010 08:11 PM

Training Your Brain LOVES
Suzanne's anecdote/practice report captures and highlights four key insights of effective (and Kaizen) swim practice.
1) Aim for improvement in every practice and set.
2) Focus on process, not outcomes.
3) The nervous system can adapt with striking rapidity - in contrast to the glacial pace of aerobic system adaptation.
4) A neural focus makes every aspect of training tangible and concrete (I sometimes say empirical) -- again in contrast to the fuzziness and abstraction of aerobic-training focus and adaptation.

The human brain LOVES this kind of stimulus. And clearly it works.

terry 05-12-2010 10:51 PM

My Tempo Trainer Practice
Suzanne emailed me about her practice so today I decided to start my practice with a similar set.
Set #1 Swim 5 x 500 (on interval of 8:00 to 8:30) with increasing tempo.
#1 @ 1.30 strokes/sec 7:36
#2 @ 1.30 7:26
#3 @ 1.20 7:10
#4 @ 1.10 6:56
#5 @ 1.00 6:45

Notes: I held 14 SPL quite easily on #1, with 3 lengths at 13 SPL. So easily in fact that I thought I could reduce my SPL if I swam another at 1.30. On #2 I held 13 SPL on about 10 lengths. Saving 7 strokes converted into swimming 10 seconds faster.
On #3 I held a consistent 14 SPL @ 1.20. So I added about 10 total strokes during my 500, but the faster tempo converted into swimming 16 seconds faster.
On #4, I held a consistent 15 SPL (after first 3 laps at 14) @ 1.10. About 17 additional strokes over 500 yards, but a faster tempo converted into swimming 14 seconds faster.
On #5, I started with 3 lengths at 16 SPL, then 3 to 4 at 17 SPL, before recovering to 16 SPL (by timing my turns better) for the final 250 yards. I dropped my time by another 11 seconds.

This set gives me some clear guidance about how to improve my training pace for 500s.
1) I'll work in the range from 1.20 down toward 1.10, trying to maintain 14 SPL as tempo increases. I'll work in small increments - 1.19, 1.18, 1.17 etc. I expect as I increase tempo, the first time I try a new combination (e.g. 1.16 and 14 SPL) I'll probably add a stroke here and there, but as my nervous system adapts, there will be fewer such lengths with an added stroke.
2) In the range from 1.10 to 1.00 I'll probably shorten my repeats to find a repeat distance at which I can maintain 15 SPL with a semi-brisk tempo. Will it be 100 yd repeats - or 250 yd repeats. Experience will tell. If I can gradually lengthen the repeats at which I can maintain 15 SPL @ 1.00, eventually I'm confident I can hold that combination for straight 500s. When I do, my 500 repeat times will be 6:15-6:20.

Set #2 4 rounds of [3 x 100 on 1:50] Negative split each 100. Descend each round while holding 1st 50 at constant pace.
I averaged times of 1:22-1:21-1:20 on the 100s, with 1st 50 at (estimated) 42+ sec.

Notes: On this set I drew inspiration from a set Coach Eric DeSanto posted in the thread "Increasing SR W/out Increasing Effort." Eric's version was 3 rounds of 3 x 100, aiming to negative-split the 1st round by 1 second, 2nd round by 3 seconds and 3rd round by 5 seconds by swimming a bit slower on the 1st 50 in each successive 100 and a bit faster on the 2nd.

Eric reported that he no matter how easily he tried to swim the 1st 50, it was hard to go slower. I had much the same experience. I went more easily going out, and my 1st 50 time stayed the same - or even got faster.

I think it would be valuable to try this set both ways:
  • As Eric did it - Keep 100 times constant, but steadily increase the gap between the slower 1st 50 and the faster 2nd 50.
  • As I did it: Keep times for the slower 1st 50 constant and make faster 2nd 50 progressively faster. The 100s also get faster as you do.

CoachSuzanne 05-13-2010 02:47 AM

Mind boggled.
Terry, what I think is really interesting about your version of my 500 set is the "fact finding" nature of it. In your case, you had no trouble completing the first 500 at 1.3sec/stroke...but then you used that as information to guide your next set. (I can do it better...)

And as a whole you use the entire grouping of 5 x 500 to collect information and help you guide your future work in the 500 arena (identifying the inflection point as you called it).

I suppose that depending on where someone is in their swimming practice, experience, neuro-muscular imprinting of good stroke habits and general fitness (is this the least important?) the same set of 500 @ 1.3 seconds will have a variety of outcomes, leading to an infinite possibility of future sets...and innumerable learning outcomes.

I'd love to hear the results of others who try a similar & why did the choose their starting tempo, were there stroke counts as expected, where do they see room for improvement, and how did their NEXT WORKOUT go in comparison to the first?

i think that's what's the most interesting to me personally, is seeing my own evolution of this effort over 3 workouts in a period of 3 weeks...there's no way I gained that much aerobic fitness to go from not being able to complete a 500 to breaking my PR twice in 2 weeks. Yet I still see room for improvement at 1.3 sec/stroke (the last 200 was a bit wonky), and I have lots of time to work on the 500 set at faster rates as well.

Likewise, what if I slowed my tempo a bit? How slow is too slow if it allows me to swim even further? What stroke count is too high for a longer set like this? I'm striving for 16 SPL, yet your sets also encounter SPLs of 16 (albiet at a 23% faster stroke rate), and you're 8" taller than me...what if I let my SPL go up to 18-20 as a starting point? What tempo can I swim at the faster rate? Hmmm....the simple process of answering these questions requires a lot of trips to the pool. How fun is that?

From a coaching perpective, how do you create workouts like this for someone else to follow without first allowing them to spend the time they need learning how their body responds to paced swimming, or learning how to modulate stroke counting? It boggles my mind sometimes. (more often than not!)

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