Why I like to negatively split events
Two things I've learned from competing in masters meets are:
1) I'm a negative splitter.
2) The vast majority of my opponents aren't.
I'm posting this in the Racing section (rather than the Pool Racing section) because the basic principles apply to both open water and pool racing. So I should explain what's meant by "negatively splitting" events, since some open water swimmers may not be familiar with the term.
Except for low-tech high school and summer swim league dual meets (where the only issue is who wins and who loses), most meets nowadays use electronic timing systems which employ touch pads that are mounted on the pool wall below the starting blocks. At the start of each heat, the timing system issues a starting tone and begins timing, and then it computes each swimmer's time (and determines their placing) based on when they make contact with the touch pad at the end of the race.
Not only does this allow events to be precisely timed to hundredths of seconds - it also counts the number of laps each swimmer swims (since they make contact with the pad every time they complete 2 lengths), thereby insuring that they have swum the correct distance. A couple of years ago, I was at a masters meet where a man who had just taken a set of TI freestyle lessons from me was swimming 500y freestyle. He was so astonished by how low his time was that he at first thought his wife must have miscounted the number of lengths he had swum (swimmers in longer distance pool events normally utilize helpers who kneel at the side of the pool opposite the starting blocks and hold plastic signs in their field of view indicating the number of the length they are completing - 1, 3, 5, 7, and so on). But I pointed out that if he hadn't swum the full distance, the electronic timing system wouldn't have stopped the clock.
But the touch pads also allow the timing system to provide additional information that, while it is not a part of the race results, can help swimmers determine how they paced their heats. Every time a swimmer completes 2 lengths, they make contact with the touch pad, and it records the time for that portion of the heat. So not only does the timing system keep track of a swimmer's total time for a heat - it also keeps track of how that time was split among the different segments of the heat (50y in a 25y pool, 50m in a 25m pool, or 100m in a 50m pool).
Most of my competitors positively split their heats, meaning that their first split is the fastest, but then the time increases for each successive split as they tire and swim slower and slower. But a swimmer who negatively splits a heat swims each successive split a little faster than they swam the preceding one.
Negatively splitting a heat can make it more exciting to watch, since a negative splitter may be trailing during the first part of the heat, only to come from behind and win in the end. But there's a much more important benefit!
Positive splitting is caused by going all out early in a heat and then slowing down more and more as you grow increasingly tired. The trouble with this is that when we grow tired, our bodies instinctively try to transfer the load to different muscles than the ones we normally use. And in swimming, that invariably means allowing your stroke technique to become sloppy and less efficient.
The alternative is negative splitting. Instead of going all out in the first part of your heat and then dropping back when you become tired, hold back in the first part of your heat and gradually pick up your pace as it proceeds. Because you're holding back in the first part of your heat, before your muscles get tired, you can focus on swimming with perfect precision and efficiency: perfect balance, excellent streamlining, clean entries, flawless catches, driving your stroke with your whole body instead of just your arms. Then, as you pick up the pace, you can focus on maintaining that same precision and efficiency. If your muscles eventually feel tired and spent, it will be at the end, when you have no farther to swim.
In late July of 2009, Paul Biedermann of Germany set new world records for long course in both 200m and 400m freestyle, and it's interesting that Biedermann's average 200m pace in the 400m freestyle was 8 seconds slower than his 200m freestyle time. So not even world champions like Biedermann can go all out for the entire length of a distance event! The question is whether you want to be swimming at less than your maximum pace early in an event, when your muscles are still fresh and you can swim with precision and efficiency, or late in an event, when tiredness will make you sloppy and inefficient.
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