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terry 11-16-2012 02:31 AM

A Month of Backstroke Excellence
Lake Minnewaska closed for the season on Sept 3. I swam twice more there, the final time a month ago - Oct 15 - with water temp at 50F. Since then I've mostly swum in the Endless Pool at home. I"m enjoying that and feel I"m getting great value from it.
But I'm planning to enter a Masters meet at Ithaca College Dec 8 so I'd better get in a few practices in a pool where I have to do turns. Yesterday I swam in the SUNY-New Paltz pool for the first time since May

I've decided to do a month of focus on each of the 'non-free' strokes Now through Christmas will be my Month of Backstroke Excellence. I always strive to find a sense of purpose. I can get that by doing a baseline set, then spend the next month working to see by how much I can improve the metrics.
Here is yesterday's practice, my first of the fall
Wed Nov 14 - 2000 SCY at SUNY
500 FR/BK x 50s. Felt great. Held 13SPL for FR and 15 for BK.
500 FR - Decided to swim relaxed, stay entirely wiithin comfort zone, both form/control and effot. Held 14SPL for 250 then 15SPL. Time was 7:20. That will become a baseline too.
Repeated 500 FR/BK. This time 50BK25FR until done. Allowed SPL to go +1 No time. Just focus.
BK Baseline Set 50+100+200 BK. Held 15-16SPL
Times :51-1:41-3:30.
Nice set. SPL remained constant, but pace stayed reasonably constant as repeat got longer.
I'll repeat that set just before Christmas and see how much I can improve on it.

terry 11-16-2012 03:47 PM

Curiosity has replaced Ego and Self-Judgement
I have a good friend (and rival in my age group and favorite events) with whom I correspond regularly. Lately the theme of our correspondence revolves around his struggles to stay motivated and interested in training and meets. He attended a meet last weekend in hopes it would stoke his interest for workouts, but was somewhat disappointed that it didn't. Though he was at least philosophical about swimming times he might once have judged disappointing.

Something we must all deal with eventually is how to put a positive spin on times that inevitably slow with age. I sent him the practice summary from the post above and he appreciated that. Our kinship-in-swimming seems stronger when each of is actively training, reminding each of us of the prospect of our next race. He keeps me honest and I hope I do the same for him.

This morning I sent him these thoughts about why I enjoy swimming more than ever after 47 years.

>>After doing traditional workouts for 40-odd years I can't muster up the motivation to do them any more. Last time I tried to swim with a Masters group -- at Asphalt Green a year ago -- I lasted less than 200 yds. During the warmup set, which alternated 25 drill- 25 swim, there were 5 in the lane; I went last. Everyone was just rushing heedlessly through it -- get it done, so they could get to the next set and get that done etc. . . . I moved into an adjacent lane and spent a delightful hour working on some tasks that felt interesting and personal.

I'm able to find something interesting and meaningful to work on in every set. Some objectives are mainly sensory/subjective. On the two 500s FR/BK (the practice above) I was counting strokes, but using only 10% of my attention for that. 90% was focused on fairly subtle sensations that evaluate how well I was working with, not against.

On the 500 FR and 50+100+200 BK the mix of sensory and empirical was more like 60/40. Whatever numbers come up -- SPL, time, etc.-- I view solely as data points. I'm satisfied--occasionally delighted--when they're good. I'm more curious than disappointed when they're not as good. My attitude is that any set, or any time, has a code that's crackable. That keeps it fun.

The best thing about the upcoming meet is having finally gotten to a place where the burdens of ego and self-judging are fairly light. I have little concern with how other people may view what are likely to be 'slow' times, or how I may compare to others. I won't even think of my times as slow -- they're just empirical measures of how fast I'm able to swim that day.

I AM curious to learn at what pace I can swim familiar events on very little volume/effort prep. I surprised myself last summer, but that was OW. Pool swimming is different. But how different?

I also look forward to testing my ability to swim an 'elegant' race -- both form and pacing.

AWP 11-16-2012 08:22 PM

Thanks again Terry for another inspiring approach towards fulfillment oriented 'goals' in our swimming and sharing your own experience!

I just might have to 'join' you on this particular focus as I too look to improve all aspects of my swimming including my thought processes/ intentions/ goals and how that can ultimately enhance my life experience.

I'll try and share my "curiousities" and encourage others to try and do the same. I can envision a massively interesting, informative and comforting 'thread' emerging from such personal discussion (as many threads here already do).


terry 11-16-2012 08:54 PM

If you're part of this experiment it will be more thoughtful and more interesting.
I swam at SUNY again today, doing just 2000y like Wed. I will strive to avoid pushing for any increase - in distance, effort or pace - in my month of Backstroke Excellence. Rather I want to feel as if I'm pulled to any gains.

As I was starting today a friend of mine -- a professor at the college in his 60s -- stopped me for a brief chat. He's been swimming with the Masters at the college for the past year or so, after swimming on his own at lunchtime for 10 years or so. He can swim some pretty strong paces -- as fast or faster as anything I do up to about 200y. I haven't converted him from old-school methods like pull and kick sets, but he does seem intrigued by how I swim -- both strokewise and approach to practice.

He told me that Masters is killing his interest and enjoyment. He said it feels rote and purposeless -- and generally unpleasant physically too. So I related my conversation with my other friend.
Here are today's sets
500 [25FR/25BK] I held 13/15SPL and focused on making my catch feel as deft and firm in BK as FR, and feet streamlined in both.

5 x 50 BK on 1:00. I descended times from :54 to :49 at constant 15SPL
Rest 1:00
Descend 5 x 50BK on 1:10 :52 to :48 at constant 15SPL.
Rest 1:00
4 x 250 FR on 4:00 -- 200 descend + 50 recovery.
Rest 1:00
I descended the 200s from 2:53 to 2:47 while maintaining 14SPL and bilateral breathing. I was aiming to feel 'strong', but not hard, at all times and speeds to feel I was working with, not against.
I did this set (during my month of Backstroke Excellence) because I'll swim 1000 FR at a Masters meet at Ithaca College Dec 8.

This was encouraging progress from Wed's practice.

Richardsk 11-16-2012 11:01 PM

On a smaller scale, I too am working on Freestyle and Backstroke excellence. I swim in public sessions in a small pool with only four lanes, when they have lanes, which is only three days a week, but sometimes at weekends they have a single lane for those of us who like to swim up and down or to and fro.

Since I am older and slower than everybody else, I have to fit my repeats in between the repeats of the faster swimmers so I usually find I can't do anything longer than 50m without getting in their way. But I find that this is still useful as I can swim at a somewhat faster pace than if I were able to swim 100s or 200s.

Today I produced a practice PB for 32x25m, which was very gratifying and encouraging.

Sometimes at the end of the session a lane becomes vacant and I can do backstroke repeats. I have been doing 100m repeats at a slow pace, paying due attention to the things one is supposed to pay attention to, including the kick, which is very poor, but I think these slow repeats with attention to kicking, including dolphins off the wall, are probably better than
kick sets. It also gives me a chance to practice turns (open turns still, but one day I may decide to try doing flips).

I feel that my practice PB today was due to this approach.Tomorrow may be completely different of course.

terry 11-16-2012 11:17 PM

I occasionally do a dolphin off the wall in backstroke, usually just one. But my dolphin, despite diligent work at times, has never been more than passable. So 95% of the time I just hold a balanced streamlined (no kicking) glide letting momentum and buoyancy carry me to the surface, and do a brisk, tight flutter just as I begin the stroke that will break me through the surface. My face comes to the surface at 6+ yards I'd say -- so I'm covering 3 body lengths fairly fast and with minimal effort. I'll take that.

If anyone cares to try it, please let us know how you go.

Richardsk 11-16-2012 11:34 PM


Since my dolphin is certainly weaker and less effective than yours, should I just forget about trying to dolphin off the wall in backstroke? I usually surface just outside the flags without dolphins. I suppose I could do some underwater inverted breaststroke kicks, which would probably be more effective than dolphins. I'll experiment with this tomorrow if there is a suitable space available.

terry 11-17-2012 11:15 AM

I've forsworn the dolphin because mine creates more drag than propulsion at too much energy cost. Very poor energy expenditure. This is proof we should be selective about how we choose to emulate physical geniuses like Phelps and Lochte.
In contrast, balanced streamlining is a skill with high payoff, minimal energy cost (I never forget the propensity of humans to waste energy in swimming) which anyone can learn. It also puts you in a balanced orientation -- physically and cognitively -- as you start stroking.
I daresay any attempt to replace dolphin with breast kick underwater on your back would succeed even more spectacularly at creating drag.

The most interesting question this raises for me is what has left you convinced you must add underwater propulsion to that provided by your pushoff?

Richardsk 11-17-2012 11:35 PM

My experiments with underwater inverted breaststroke kicking today were inconclusive but my impression is that my breaststroke kick is not greatly superior to my dolphin, if it is superior at all. On the surface I would be fairly sure that it is superior. Next time, perhaps tomorrow, I'll try not kicking at all, but really for a scientific test one would need someone with a stopwatch, which would perhaps be silly at the speed I swim at, whether under the water or on the surface.

The motivation for trying to add some propulsion to the underwater is the knowledge that in general one travels faster under the water than on top because of less wave drag. Of course what works for Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps might not work as well for an old fart who has only recently discovered the underwater dolphin.

Diving deeper and holding streamline longer might well be just as effective, as you suggest.

Grant 11-18-2012 02:33 AM

[quote=terry;32380] Curiosity has replaced ego and self judgement.

I really like the above statement. As the years pile up, mine have reached the 77 year level, this statement is really relevant. With both of these it is critical that we are ruthlessly honest with ourselves when undertaking this transformation. I have found that just when I figure I have dealt my friend the ego a serious blow I begin to take an ego trip on that accomplishment.
Speaking of the self judgement aspect. I think it is an important distinction and does not include the act of measuring. We still can use the measurements in a non self judgement manner.
Each time we can observe ourselves doing the ego and or self judgement dances and can consciously replace them with curiosity the process gets easier and can be caught quickly.

terry 11-18-2012 11:28 AM

Wise words and thank you for them. It wouldn't do to get all puffed up about gaining freedom from ego, would it?

As for self-judging vs measurement, the distinction is important. A good topic for discussion, eh?
Here's my take:
Self-Judging. If my time falls short of what I thought it should be I feel sorry for myself.
Measurement. Whatever time the clock may show is simply a data point, a piece of information. It's not terribly useful unless I have at least one other data point -- splits that produced it, SPL, tempo. Mojo too. And I'm grateful for the info because it tells me where my weak point is and I relish working on those.

I think that distinction is critical to being a happy, fulfilled, mentally-energized -- but in no way complacent -- swimmer as we age.

Grant 11-18-2012 04:24 PM


Originally Posted by terry (Post 32432)
As for self-judging vs measurement, the distinction is important. A good topic for discussion, eh?
Here's my take:
Self-Judging. If my time falls short of what I thought it should be I feel sorry for myself.
Measurement. Whatever time the clock may show is simply a data point, a piece of information. It's not terribly useful unless I have at least one other data point -- splits that produced it, SPL, tempo. Mojo too. And I'm grateful for the info because it tells me where my weak point is and I relish working on those.

I think that distinction is critical to being a happy, fulfilled, mentally-energized -- but in no way complacent -- swimmer as we age.

Well said Terry. That says exactly what I think is so. You explain things clearly and competantly. You are the scource of TI and we are very grateful and fortunate.

terry 11-19-2012 09:21 AM

18 months ago I swam the Colonies Zone Masters Championship in Fairfax VA. I had a very good meet. An enduring memory is as I was packing to leave after my final event I overheard a 30-something guy in the bleachers next to me complaining to his wife or girlfriend about what his times 'should have been.' I couldn't help thinking "If elephants could fly . . ."
Deal with what IS. Try to understand how it happened and what you might learn from it. So much less agita.
We do this to be happier, not distressed or disappointed. The choice is ours to make.

terry 11-20-2012 09:24 PM

Swimming Success Algorithm for Backstroke Excellence
Tues Nov 20 2400scy @ SUNY
Do you recall the TI Swimming Success Algorithm?
It comes from data collected by USA Swimming at the Olympic Swim Trials from 1976 through 2012, then analyzed to discern patterns that improve a swimmers' chances to make the Olympic team.
In most events, while there are 8 fiinalists only 3 to 4 swimmers have a realistic chance to make the Olympic team. And only the top two will make the cut. So the question is, if you're fast, fit and talented enough to race other swimmers of similar caliber for an Olympic berth, what's the best way to swim the race that decides it?
Of the approx 9000 'splashes' (as they refer to individual races) for which USA Swimming has kept data over the last 36 years (9 Olympiads) what race pattern was most often associated with success? The ability to increase Stroke Rate near the end of the race, while minimizing loss of Stroke Length. Consequently, the great majority of my 'empirical' sets (those in which I track SPL, Time and/or Tempo) focus on testing, improving and 'wiring in' that capacity. Todays practice was an example.
I did three rounds of the same 'Pyramid' set
50+100+150+200+150+100+50 on 1:00/50 (I.E. 1:00-2:00-3:00-4:00-3:00-2:00)
In each round, my goals were
1) Hold an unchanged SPL from beginning to end, as distance increased, then decreased.
2) Strive to maintain same pace/50 as distance increased, then increase my pace/50 as distance decreased
I did one round each of:
BK/FR (25BK25FR+50BK50FR+75BK75FR, etc.)

My stroke count goal was 15SPL for BK and 14SPL for FR. I did maintain that with 100% consistency.

My first 50 BK was 57 sec.
My 200 BK was 3:39 (avg. pace of 54.7 sec/50)
My final 50 BK was 49 sec.

My first 50BK/BR was 50 sec
My 200 BK/FR was 3:17 (avg. pace of 49.2 sec/50)
My final 50BK/FR was 47 sec.

My first 50 FR was 42 sec
My 200 FR was 2:42 (avg pace of 40.5 sec/50)
My final 50 FR was 38 sec.

I took no extra rest between rounds, using the easier pace of the initial reps in next round for recovery.

This was a super-successful and thoroughly enjoyable set. While I was swimming at probably 80%+ of max effort on my fastest reps in each round, I still felt silky synchronicity.

terry 11-24-2012 02:44 AM

Practice in sunny Coral Springs
I'm in Coral Springs FL to conduct our first Different Strokes Weekend Workshop in several years. More will follow. I'm spending several extra days to feed my 'outdoor swimming jones' and hope to make several of these Long Course. This morning though, the main pool at Coral Springs was set up for 25y Short Course swimming. Here's my practice
Nov 23 3200 SCY at Coral Springs
Set #1 Swim 10 x 100 BK
1-6 on 2:10 interval
7-10 on 2:00 interval
Task: Hold constant 15SPL (14 on 1st 25) and descend. Try to maximize difference between slowest and fastest.
#1 was 1:59; #10 was 1:44. I believe this is the largest differential I've ever managed in a single set of 100s BK, without adding any strokes. It does take high skill to improve pace for 100y without adding strokes, but the average pace/100 was a bit poky. I'll strive to repeat this set in the near future at faster average paces.

Set #2 Swim 5 x 200 (50BK50FR)on 3:30 interval. Descend while holding constant SPL (15BK, 14FR)
I tried to increase speed mainly on the BK laps, while keeping FR pace very relaxed. I did keep SPL constant and descended 3:19-3:11.

Set #3 4 rounds of 4 x 75 [25BK25BR25FR] on 1:30 interval
Descend each round while holding SPL constant. Increase pace, while increasing SPL, on subsequent rounds.
Rounds 1-2 BK @ 14 SPL, BR @ 7SPL FR @ 13 SPL Descend to :47 and :46
Round 3 BK @15SPL, BR @8 SPL, FR @13SPL. Descend to :45
Round 4 BK @16SPL, BR @8SPL, FR @13SPL. Descend to :44

I shared the pool with 10 or 12 other adult/Masters swimmers and 20-odd kids/competitive swimmers. All were doing workouts with the usual equipment and non-fluent form. Lots of equipment use. I was the only one who seemed to be doing a practice composed of tasks such as those described above.

terry 11-26-2012 12:12 PM

Backstroke - and FR - with Tempo Trainer
Sunday Nov 25 - 2500y at Coral Springs Aquatic Complex

Today's practice was fairly simple in design--just two sets--but difficult to execute. My main focus was to see how much I could advance tempo in BK with out adding strokes to my initial count. I know that adapting to increased tempo is my #1 priority if I wish to swim the 200BK (the main BK event in which I'm interested) and my BK split in 200-400 IM faster. My stroke is pretty efficient -- I can maintain 15-16 SPL (that's with glide pushoff which emphasizes energy savings and streamlining, not kicking) -- but have mainly swum at fairly slow tempos.
Tuneup Set 500 [25FR/25BK] at 13/15 SPL
Main Set 8 x 250 [25FR/25BK] with increasing tempo by .01 on each

I started at a tempo of 1.30 and maintained a constant stroke count of 13SPL for FR and 16SPL for BK as I increased tempo by .01 each 250, to a final tempo of 1.23. I finally added one stroke (to 14FR and 17BK) on the final 50 of my 8th 250. That told me the set was over.

This set gives me several metrics for building on in future sets. I could increase tempo still more, but instead I'll probably make it more backstroke-centric (since this is my Month of Backstroke Improvement).
A simple adjustment would be to swim my next set of 250s as 3 rounds of
25FR/50BK and finish with a 25FR. That would shift the balance from 5 laps of FR and 5 of BK to 4 laps of FR and 6 of BK, but the more significant change would be the challenge of holding 16SPL for 50y, instead of 25.

terry 11-29-2012 02:49 PM

How I improved my Tempo/SPL combination in Backstroke
Wed Nov 28 3000 SCY at Davie FL

I did this practice on my way to the FLL airport for my flight home to NY. The Davie pool is just 15 minutes from the airport, so quite convenient. And the guest fee for 'seniors' was only $1. I'd hoped the pool might be set up Long Course (50) Meters, but I still had an enormously satisfying Short Course (25) Yards practice
Since the pool was set at 25y I decided to see if I could improve on the Tempo/SPL combination I achieved in Sunday's main set -- the practice posted immediately above -- also done in a 25y pool.
In that one I found my 'discomfort zone' on the last in a set of 8 x 250, where my SPL for backstroke increased from 16 to 17 on the last 50 at a tempo of 1.23.
I mused on the various options I had for building on the elements in that set, which were
Set Distance 2000y
Repeat Distance 250y
Duration for uninterrupted backstroke 25y
SPL 16
Tempo 1.23
I decided that for today's practice I'd reduce repeat distance to 200y while keeping set distance at 2000y.
Also that I'd increase duration for uninterrupted backstroke to 50y (freestyle at that range of tempos is very much in my comfort zone so any freestyle serves as recovery for backstroke.
Also since it would take me 10 repeats (of 200y) instead of 8 repeats (of 250y) to complete a 2000y set, my tempo would also descend by an additional .02sec.
Here's how I did:

Tuneup Set 400 [25FR25BK] @ 13/15SPL
This prepares me for main set by setting the bar higher on efficiency than I plan for the main set. I held 1 SPL less on each stroke than I will on the main set.

Main Set10 x 200 [50BK+25FR+50BK+25FR+50BK] on 3:40 interval
My goal was to maintain 14SPL for FR and 16 SPL for BK while increasing tempo by .01 each 200. I started set at 1.30 tempo and finished at 1.21. I did manage to maintain SPL at my target. This resulted in improving 200 time from 3:21 on #1 to 3:09 on #9. I did #10 all backstroke and was pleased to stay @ 16SPL with a time of 3:13.
This was a nice progression from Sunday's main set -- more backstroke-intensive and with a slightly faster range of tempos. AND I swam the final 200 all backstroke and 17 seconds faster than in my baseline set less than two weeks and only 4 pool practices (I've also done several Endless Pool sessions) ago. So targeted focus, with 'measured' practice, really does produce significant results.

Secondary Set 6 x 100 FR on 1:40 interval.
My goal was to maintain 14SPL while advancing tempo from 1.20 to 1.15 (i.e. continuing tempo progression from final backstroke 200. I succeeded at this, which meant my time improved from 1:26 to 1:22.

terry 11-29-2012 02:55 PM

How I Swam Like Sun Yang
PS: You can also see the intervening practice I did Monday morning at this thread
I swam in the 50m pool at the Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, and by using my Tempo Trainer managed to 'swim like Sun Yang.'

terry 12-22-2012 12:09 AM

Final Practice of Month of Backstroke Excellence
I began my month of extra focus on backstroke on Nov. 14. I was just resuming pool swimming after a long hiatus. I swam in open water from May through Oct, but usually delay my return to indoor swimming as long as possible in the fall.
I came up with the idea of giving myself a mission for my first month, as a way of sharpening my appetite and excitement. I chose backstroke improvement as my focus, because I think of it as my least developed stroke, and so improvement opportunities in it should be 'low hanging fruit' so to speak. Plus, a focus on improving weak points is a principle of Excellence and Mastery.

In my first practice I did the following backstroke Baseline Set, with the intention to repeat it after a month and see how much I could improve.
I swam 50+100+200 BK, holding 15-16SPL
My times were :51-1:41-3:30.

Today, I swam a modified version of that set, also at 15-16 SPL. Here's the set
4 x 50 BK on 1:00 Times: :49-:48-:48-:47 (200 total 3:12)
50 EZ FR
2 x 100 BK on 2:00 Times 1:37 - 1:36 (200 total 3:13)
100 EZ FR
1 x 200 BK Time 3:08
150 EZ FR

I was really thrilled (or chuffed as TI-UK swimmers would say) at this result. First, because I improved my 200 time by 22 seconds in five weeks. I doubt I could improve by that much in any other stroke.
Second, because I swam the continuous 200 significantly faster than the cumulative times of my 4x50 or 2x100 -- and I didn't take it easy on them.
Third, because this was just 4 seconds slower than my time for 200BK in a Masters meet two weeks ago -- even after swimming a 90%+ effort on the 50s and 100s.

It's been a great Month of Focus. In January--after returning from two weeks of open water swimming at Maho Bay--I'll take up Breaststroke.

terry 12-29-2012 11:59 AM

Next Project will be Breaststroke
I finished my Month of Backstroke Improvement about a week ago. I won't swim in a lap pool until late Jan -- I'll swim in my Endless plus 2 weeks in open water at Maho Bay until then. When I resume pool swimming I'll begin a Month of Breaststroke Improvement. I'll start with a similar baseline set 50 + 100 + 200 recording SPL and time/pace for each, with a goal to see how much I can improve on them in the following month. It will probably be quite a challenge to match the rate of improvement I achieved in Backstroke, but whatever improvement I do achieve will provide a measure of the relative strength of the two strokes for me.

Follow my updates on the Breaststroke conference, starting on about Jan 22.

terry 12-31-2012 12:44 PM

Improvement and Accountability Projects
This has been an example of both an Improvement and Accountability Project. See the elements that should lead to maximizing engagement, enjoyment and outcomes in any project you choose to initiate in this post Andy's Accountability Project.

Even better read posts 10 to 16 in the thread Stroke Rate Ramp Test of which the above is #16.

terry 08-02-2013 11:02 AM

How Important is a Strong Kick in Backstroke
I just added a post clarifying seldom-understood details about this aspect of backstroke to a thread about how to improve SPL from 20 to the lower teens. You can read my post here.

To improve SPL AND tune up the kick I would recommend trying an Asymmetric Tempo Pyramid such as the following
10 x 50 changing tempo each 50. Count strokes.
#1 @ 1.30
#2 @ 1.36 (slow Tempo by .06--six presses on right button)
#3 @ 1.42
#4 @ 1.48
#5 @ 1.45 (increase Tempo by .03--three presses on left button)
#6 @ 1.42
#7 @ 1.39
#8 @ 1.36
#9 @ 1.33
#10 @ 1.30

I recommend a smaller Tempo 'delta' for Backstroke than for Freestyle (you could also experiment with slowing by .04 and increasing by .02 or even half that -- .02/.01) because Backstroke won't support as wide a range of Tempo as freestyle.

As you slow Tempo, you should find stroke lengthening and the kick becoming more essential to the overall stroke--i.e. more integrated, rather than harder. As Tempo increases, strive to keep the sense of integration and Stroke Length.

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