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Danny 11-25-2015 11:35 PM

what happens when I get tired swimming?
For a while now I have been trying to understand in more detail what happens to me when I get tired while swimming. The short answer is that my technique deteriorates, I start to develop tension in my legs and shoulders, and all of this spirals downward. I am trying to understand all of this in some more detail in the hopes that it will help me to avoid or delay the problem. So I will lay out some of my thoughts and conjectures here and I would be interested in anyone else’s thoughts on this subject as well.
I’ll start out with a dry-land exercise as an illustration. When I stand on the floor and reach as high as I can toward the ceiling with my right hand, my left foot comes off the floor. At first I thought this is because I am lifting my left hip, but I think the opposite is really true. When I extend the right side of my body as much as possible, my right shoulder girdle extends my arm upward and my right hip extends my leg downward. The result is that my left foot comes off the floor. I think the same thing occurs when I am swimming with good technique and not tired. In particular, there is a hip extension which does not directly have to do with rotation but just with extending the low side of my body (the side with the extended arm). This extension is important because it aligns my body closer to a straight line, which makes the ensuing body rotation easier. One of the first things that happens when I get tired is that this body extension becomes more difficult. Not sure why this is, and there are a couple of possibilities. It might be that the muscles needed to do this become tired, but it might also be that, as my lats and back muscles fatigue, they lose flexibility so that it becomes more work to stretch them out. I would welcome insights on this from anyone else who knows more about it than I do. When my body loses its ability to extend, I either start bending more at the hips (legs drop) or not extending as much from the shoulder girdle or both. The result is that body rotation becomes more difficult, and I need more energy, both in my kick and in my pull, in order to accomplish the rotation. This is the downwards spiral I was referring to. In addition, the poorer rotation may cause me to start lifting my head to breath which also causes my legs to sink and …. Well you probably get the idea by now.
So my thought is to concentrate on keeping my extension going when I notice fatigue. This means a focus on my hips as well as my shoulders. In addition, a focus on keeping my forward balance is very important because it helps keep my legs up. The mental image I work with when trying to do this is to make sure I have the same sense of balance I have when doing the skating drill, and this seems to work well for me. The hard part here is combining all of this with a good body rotation, and I think what happens as I fatigue is that I have to slow my stroke rate somewhat in order to be able to hold all of these focusses and avoid the traps I mention above. But the slower stroke rate is worth the price, if it keeps my technique together.
As I said above, I would be interested in anyone else’s experience in this regard and how they deal with their fatigue.

sclim 11-26-2015 12:05 AM

What an insightful look at a problem that has puzzled me too, except I never got past the thinking in your first paragraph, after which I just shrugged my shoulders because it was just too much thinking and information for me to sort through.

Hopefully you have led the way to encourage me to think more clearly on my own fatigue deterioration situation!

Streak 11-26-2015 01:43 AM

Hey Danny,
You always give such insightful answers. I am nowhere as eloquent or deep thinking but I'll give you my sixpence worth.

We all get tired sooner or later and at that time something has got to give.
You did not say after how long this happens.
With very poor technique that could happen after 2 lengths.
With decent technique that could only happen after 50 lengths.

Part of my quest is to swim further faster through better technique and getting fitter.
One could compensate poor technique through getting fitter and grinding away but the poor technique will soon catch up again maybe even with some injury.

TI teaches using the least effort to get the most DPS.

Assuming your starting technique is good, I would say do shorter or slower repeats, building on that each session and stop when things start falling apart. Some video would really help the experts here assist with determining where any inefficiencies could be.

Ken B 11-26-2015 03:51 AM

Hi Danny,

I think it is as simple as losing posture. In the pool l don't let it happen but l'm back in the estuary, (Southern hemisphere) The water was dirty and rough today so I only stayed in for a short time but I notice that the minute I go slightly banana shaped everything gets harder. In the short term a stern talk to myself helps, long body, tight tummy, press chest, resist lifting head, that sort of thing.


andyinnorway 11-26-2015 06:19 AM

I do the same as you Danny - Focus on my extended position - alter glide length according to my need to rest in between strokes.

Zenturtle 11-26-2015 07:06 AM

I loose core tone-alignment, extension and high elbows.
Its al falling back a bit towards more land based normal movements.
Its also related to flexibility.
Operating at the edge of the range of movement gives internal friction at every stroke.
It takes a lot of swimming time before the core uses just the amount of tone and timing that is needed and not too much.
Alternating a sprint lenghth with a relaxed length can give some clues what actions are essental and what tension can be relieved a bit.

grahamsellers 11-26-2015 01:48 PM

I know this isn't really your point, but after a few longer swims i've started to view getting tired in a different way.

When i'm fresh, i find the honing of my technique is a relatively academic exercise, "streamline body, keep head down" etc.etc. etc.)

However, when you get tired in specific places, then this is a real red flag, and can help to identify areas you need to focus on. For example, on a recent 5k my shoulders started to ache miserably, so i literally HAD to concentrate on finding a solution in the water there and then. I figured I was kind of hunching my shoulder (to accommodate an elbow lead recovery), and when I started to swing the arm around it really helped.

In that way i find tiredness to be a kick in the pants to say "need to do better, focus on x,y,z". I always give myself a break whenever I get tired, I back off the speed and focus on technique….I don't try to hold speed.

Sucks though. I empathise.

s.sciame 11-26-2015 02:14 PM


Originally Posted by Danny (Post 55849)
Not sure why this is, and there are a couple of possibilities. It might be that the muscles needed to do this become tired, but it might also be that, as my lats and back muscles fatigue, they lose flexibility so that it becomes more work to stretch them out.

Or they get less and less oxygen and more and more CO2? What happens if you stop and take just a few breaths and then start again? If your first length is brilliant again (for instance you shave 1SPL) in spite of being tired (your muscles are tired and can't recover in a few seconds), it's a breathing issue, even if you don't feel short of breath.


Danny 11-26-2015 04:15 PM

Thanks to everyone for your input!

Streak, what motivates this question is when I try to swim a fixed interval at the outer range of my speed capability. Since that is my goal, it is almost a given that I will encounter fatigue at some point in the interval no matter how long that interval is. The question then becomes how to deal with it.

grahamsellers, I agree with you entirely. This process can be viewed as a kick in the pants. If you are up against it and have to deal with it, it forces you to become creative, figure out the causes and then try to find workarounds. This is the motivation for the questions I am asking.

I know that TI preaches letting speed come to you, instead of the other way around, and I have followed this strategy for some time. Eventually I got the sense that I had plateaued doing this. When I started pushing myself, I started to learn new things and this got me interested in the process. Perhaps this is because, when you push yourself, the sensory input becomes more intense and easier to understand, perhaps it is just (see above) that I needed a kick in the pants. My sense is that all of these strategies have something to offer, but if one uses them exclusively then eventually the well runs dry and it is time to try something else. Switching strategies also keeps things interesting.

Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, an American holiday. Yes, I am very thankful, especially when I think about the turkey dinner I will have later today, but I am also saddened by the fact that all of the pools near me are closed until next week. I wish Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

sclim 11-26-2015 09:57 PM

I took about a month break off swimming and got back to it a month ago, and I found I had lost a lot of focus. I could only maintain my prior SPL by doing a length at a time, and I gradually managed to stretch this out to 4 lengths, although my last length was usually iffy for good form, and obviously deteriorating SPL. But I wasn't able to identify a specific muscle group or body zone that just couldn't put out the required force any more.

So the question regarding what was actually happening when I tired really resonated with me -- it was not an obvious answer; I was in some minor distress, but I wasn't always short of breath. If I was short of breath it often transpired that this was only a secondary phenomenon as I compensated for deteriorating technique by powering through, which was grossly inefficient and energy wasting.

Today I really got my act together, and resolved I would do 1000m in 5 200m sets trying to maintain all the elements of good form that I had practiced prior (in focussed points). I really focussed mentally to get everything right, or as right as I could, and was able to carry out my plan successfully. What was really gratifying was that by implementing mental discipline I was able to maintain my prior almost-best SPL count often all the way through or maybe failing by half or 1 stroke only on the last length. It obviously was a mental concentration and discipline/patience thing, as my muscular strength or cardiovascular endurance didn't suddenly improve the last couple of days.

P.S. One of the specific things that I was able to identify was that when I got tired and started to crap out, I stopped reaching out nice and long with my lead hand. My elbow wouldn't extend fully, and/or my shoulder blade wouldn't slide as far forward of my head on the reach. It was mixed up somehow with the thought that if I were to reach out all the way like I was supposed to, I wouldn't have the concentration or energy to keep in balance and alignment, so the easy way out for this up-coming stroke was to do a "sort-of" reach. But with mental discipline I was able to over-ride my reluctance and to do a proper full reach, and almost always the balance and alignment was still achievable.

A real eye-opener.

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