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terry 11-20-2011 02:31 AM

A 'Formula' for a Faster 1500/1650
I want to start this thread with an emphatic caveat. The title isn't meant to suggest that the approach I'll suggest here is formulaic. It's not. It's highly organic - influenced by individual experience and adjustable in the moment. However, it's meant to provide an organized framework for setting a goal then planning practices over a week, a series of weeks, and a period of months designed to systematically adapt your nervous system to the combination of SL and SR that will bring you to your goal.

The main elements for this formula occurred to me while swimming the two practices I described in the thread My Practice with Paolo.

I'll open by relating my goals for the coming 7 to 9 months. I've just begun swimming indoors in a 25y pool after five to six months of swimming mostly in open water with occasional practices in a 50m pool. My primary focus is to prepare for the FINA World Masters Championship in Riccione Italy next June. I'm attending the meet mainly to enjoy a visit to Italy - after the meet I'll spend time with Paolo at his home in San Ginesio where we'll bike on mountain trails and swim in lakes.

But as long as I'm going to the meet I'll prepare as thoroughly as possible to give a good account of myself. I'm seeking quality of life while in Italy seven months from now -- and every day I swim in the pool between now and then. Practicing with guidance from the framework is a way to improve the likelihood of both.

I won't attempt to describe every element of the framework in this initial post. Instead I'll add detail gradually following whatever direction evolves from the input, comments and questions of others.

In my blog Secrets of Swimming Speed, Part 7 -- A Practice Guide for YOU I showed a chart of suggested 25yd stroke counts indexed to height. For each height range I suggested an SPL range of 4 counts, representing moderate skill level. E.G. The suggested range for my height 6'0" is 14 to 17, but I easily swim in a range from 13 to 16SPL.

The first element in my training framework is SPL. I suggest that every goal-oriented swimmer develop the ability to swim smoothly and rhythmically across a range of at least 3 SPL, with a goal of expanding that range to 4 SPL. I.E. In my range of 13-16, I feel highly efficient at every count. I generally swim at faster tempos and speeds at 16SPL, but never feel rough or rushed doing so.

If your goals are more distance-oriented (1500 meters and longer), you should spend relatively more of your time practicing at the lowest count in your range, and progressively less at each higher count.

E.G. I'm aiming to be 'race sharp' for 1500 and longer races beginning in June, so between now and Feb I might divide my practice time something like this
13 SPL 40%
14 SPL 30%
15 SPL 20%
16 SPL 10%
From January to March, I might adjust the mix to
13 SPL 20%
14 SPL 30%
15 SPL 30%
16 SPL 20%
And in April and May, in my final race-sharpening period, I might adjust it to:
13 SPL 10%
14 SPL 30%
15 SPL 30%
16 SPL 30%

The second element of my framework is Stroke Rate. Along with your range of Stroke Counts, you should also have a range of Tempos at which you can swim smoothly and rhythmically. If your SPL range is 3 counts, your Tempo range should be at least .3 sec. If your SPL range is 4 counts, aim for a Tempo range of at least .4 sec. I will complement my 13-16 SPL range with a Tempo range mostly between .90 and 1.30. I feel I can swim with fairly good control across that entire range, but I will strive to increase that control through practice.

The Tempo and SPL ranges will correspond pretty strongly. At the slower end of your tempo range, you should swim at the low end of your SPL range.

I've swum the last two practices entirely at 13 SPL. My tempo has been mostly 1.30. This month and next I plan to focus on improving my performance range more at 13 SPL, than at the higher SPLs. Using the sets of the last two practices as an example, I've demonstrated the ability to swim up to 200 yards @ 13 SPL with tempo ranging between 1.27 and 1.30.

I'll strive to steadily increase the tempo and distance for which I can maintain 13 SPL.
I feel if I can hold 13 SPL @1.30 for 200 yds, I can probably hold it for up to 500 or more yards, since I didn't feel taxed at 200. For now I won't emphasize increasing my repeat distance. Instead I'll stay mostly with repeats of 200 and under, while pushing my tempo lower.

I'll try to incrementally work down to 1.20 and possibly faster for 200 repeats. At the same time, I'll do a mix of shorter repeats, on which I test my ability to hold 13 SPL at significantly faster tempos. I feel that working down toward 1.15 or 1.10 tempo on 100-yd repeats, and faster than 1.10 for 50-yd repeats, without exceeding 13 SPL will help me get to a tempo faster than 1.20 for 200 yd repeats.

When I choose to swim at 14, 15 or 16 SPL, I'm confident the tempo work I do at 13 SPL will help me improve my tempos at each higher count in my range.

In my next post I'll explain how each count in my range figures into my race-and-pace planning.

AWP 11-20-2011 03:47 PM

Very good reiteration of a well proven "framework" for practice, thanks!
I'll be following closely as I strive to get back into a groove coming off an erratic season of swimming.
I have a similar 'goal' for my swimming level more so than competition but hoping this will set me up for the beginning of next OW season where I do intend/ strive to participate at a 'competetive level' at 1 mi. And 5k distances and also expand my ability to swim 10k, 20k and beyond with equal vigor.
I've begun, as of last week, with my "DiSCO" play and will share as well. Now if I can only continue to squeeze in some IM play as well (did an I'm session that both livened me and surprised me) it would be perfect, I miss it.


terry 11-20-2011 08:57 PM

I see performance in the 1500/1650 as a benchmark for anything longer. Obviously it's an easy stretch to the 1.9km Half Ironman distance. But an improvement of, let's say, 1 minute in the 1500 should be highly predictive of an improvement of 3 minutes or more for 5k.

Anyone who takes up the 1500 training program I'll outline will find it very easy to adapt for a 5k or 10k by increasing the percentage of training time put in at the lower end of the SPL and slower end of the tempo range. I strongly believe that adjusting the mix will matter more than adjusting the volume.

I did two 10k swims in Red Sea and Sea of Galilee on consecutive days in Israel on Nov 2-3. I had some concerns going in since I had trained at very low volume for about 10 weeks prior - perhaps 30k total. By swimming the first 10k at a very moderate SR I actually felt more energized at the end than I had starting out. The next day I picked up the tempo and pace and felt quite strong all the way. These were the two easiest 10k's I'd ever done and - by conventional standards - I was completely unprepared physically for them. Moreover, during the 10 days I was in Israel I did a cumulative 45km of sea swimming, about as much swimming as I typically do in a month, even when in concentrated training. I never felt a hint of fatigue.

terry 11-22-2011 03:40 AM

Two Ways to Swim Faster
Sun Yang's historic 1500m world record can be a valuable source of inspiration and example. One really impressive aspect was the breathtaking speed he unleashed on the last 50, which shot him from behind Hackett's pace to a new record

Sun averaged 27SPL and 29 sec per 50m for the first 1400. He streaked through the final 50 in 25.9 sec at 31 SPL.

That final 50, was an example of two rare and remarkable strengths:
1) Reserve Speed - Sun swam the first 1400m with such ease, that he was able to unleash a final 100 of stunning speed.
2) Trading Strokes for Seconds - He went from 27SPL to 28 SPL to 31 SPL on the last three lengths, and each time he upped his stroke count, he got a LOT faster.

Nearly all swimmers take more strokes in the closing stages of a race. A few lose speed. The great majority gain no or negligible speed. A rare few swim significantly faster. Those who do nearly always win. So the training framework includes sets that test your ability to swim faster. These come in two forms
1) Swim faster without adding strokes. You gain speed by adding power.
2) Swim faster by adding strokes.

In both cases, the key skill is to avoid moving the water, as you add power or stroke faster. To convert either a faster or more powerful stroke into faster locomotion, you must do them with care and precision. That can only be built through practice sets, specifically designed to hone it.

My practice today consisted of a single set, which tested both methods of swimming faster.
5 rounds of 3 x 200
I swam these on an interval of 3:15, with an extra 30 to 60 seconds rest between rounds

Round 1: Warmup pace with TT set @1.3 to 'wire in' an SPL of 13. My times were 2:56-2:55-2:55.
The plan for the next four rounds was to:
1) swim without TT - control SPL by feel.
2) increase SPL slightly in each round
3) descend each round (get faster without adding strokes)
4) swim faster average times in successive rounds (get faster by adding strokes).

I added strokes in a way that's highly typical of my practice:
Round 2: 150@13SPL + 50@14SPL.
Round 3: 100@13SPL + 100@14SPL.
Round 4: 50@13SPL + 150@14SPL.
Round 5: 200@14SPL

How did I do? I did descend within each round.
I improved my average times through the 3rd round, but--despite the added strokes--could not swim faster on the 4th and 5th rounds.

I believe the main reason is conditioning. I hadn't trained with this level of speed or effort in almost three months and I expect it will take a few weeks to acclimate to it.

andyinnorway 11-22-2011 01:50 PM

This is a good one for me
I am going to try this today, hope its a correct set in line with your suggestions Terry.

SPL training with increased speed

Each set = 4x25, 2x50, 1x100 =300m

SPL 14, SR 1.3 24.258
SPL 15, SR 1.2 23.592
SPL 16, SR 1.1 22.726
SPL 17, SR 1.0 21.66
SPL 18, SR 0.9 20.394

REPEAT X1. I will also repeat any 25 or 50 I miss my SPL target on.


Where my current 1500m speed would be SR1.1 SPL 17/18. I anticipate that the first and last part of the sets will be the hardest for me. (Holding 14 SPL over 100m, and maintaining form, balance and rhythm at SR 0.9 which is around my TT threshold).

If I complete the fifth element then I will be swimming under my 100PB which is around 1:24 at the moment.

AWP 11-22-2011 06:51 PM

Aah, conditioning, yes, what I lovingly refer to as RUST (really unnecessary strained training) something I like to scrape off one step at a time..
Oops, another acronym...

terry 11-22-2011 08:03 PM

It's a good illustration of the fact that fitness is one of the requirements of performance. What's different in TI World is that, rather than just working 'harder' we give ourselves tasks of gradually increasing difficulty. The body acquires the metabolic capacity to perform the particular task as the nervous system attunes itself to perform it with more efficiency.

andyinnorway 11-23-2011 05:48 AM


Originally Posted by andyinnorway (Post 23538)
I am going to try this today, hope its a correct set in line with your suggestions Terry.

SPL training with increased speed

Each set = 4x25, 2x50, 1x100 =300m

SPL 14, SR 1.3 24.258
SPL 15, SR 1.2 23.592
SPL 16, SR 1.1 22.726
SPL 17, SR 1.0 21.66
SPL 18, SR 0.9 20.394

REPEAT X1. I will also repeat any 25 or 50 I miss my SPL target on.


This was an amazing swim for me. I went over my SPL target on only one lap and probably won back 40 strokes on the first repeat and half that on the second.

The two 100's at SPL 14 and SPL18 had me near my limit but definitely one of those sets that made me feel like I had become a better swimmer because of it.

(I even did my bilateral warm ups too).

ian mac 11-24-2011 01:11 PM

The adaptive process - going past anaerobic threshold
I fully agree with Terry that in training for 800/1500m, conditioning slowly comes from the adaptation process.

Today's practice consisted of 1200 of various swim, kick and pull drills. Main set was 3 x [10 x 50] on a 50 sec. interval, 1 extra minute rest between each set:
Set 1. using TT at 1:04 maintain SPL of 15/14 avg. time 40 sec
Set 2. using TT at 1:00 maintain SPL of 15 avg. time 38.5 sec
Set 3. 1-6 using TT at 0:96 maintain SPL of 16/15 avg. time 36.5
7-10 no TT maintain SPL of 15/16 times: 35.2, 35.0, 34.9, 34.6 - had Coach take my splits.
My SPL varies slightly because my turn is in the deep end and I am able to go deeper and farther than the initial push off in the shallow end.
When swimming fast, I vary my SR through each length as I concentrate on accelerating 2 strokes into the turn, streamling off the wall and breaking out 3 strokes hard before getting into the "easy speed" of the SR set by the TT.
I try to swim my last 4 x 50 below my threshold in order to continue setting new standards for adaptation.

Final set is my hypoxic set of 7 x 50 on 1 min. interval, starting with 8 breaths and reducing breaths by 1 each successive 50 until last 1 is only 2 breaths. 1 min rest and then 1 final 50 with only 1 breath, trying to swim< than 35 sec.

andyinnorway 11-25-2011 09:13 PM

I did a repeat of my set in post 8 yesterday and interestingly I gained hardly any strokes, mostly just hit the target each time, however, at the end of the set the SR0.9 set felt much more relaxed than the day before which suggests my brain and body are getting used to the faster co-ordinations.

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