Suzanne has given an example of the kind of set I did with great frequency from 2000 to about 2004. I think this kind of set was extremely valuable in helping me swim extraordinarily fast in 2006, when I turned 55. I set some BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) for that year and achieved all of them. In doing so, I turned back the clock and swam times in the 500, 1000 and 1650 yd events that I had not seen since age 42. My enhanced pool speed then helped me have a record-breaking summer in open water races.
The process for getting there involved a lot of patience and several stages.
During the 90s I gave most of my attention to increasing my stroke efficiency - which means decreasing my stroke counts. I dropped my average SPL in a 25 yd pool from the 17-18 range in the early part of the decade (still lower than the 20+ strokes I took in college in the late 60s) to around 13 SPL around 2000-01. But I had also sacrificed a fair bit of speed, in part because I reduced my tempo or Stroke Rate so much to increase Stroke Length. I wasn't racing much in the pool at the time, so my loss of speed didn't register. I was still faring well in open water races.
But in my early 50s I started to increase my rate and stroke counts again. I was comfortable doing so because I felt I'd established a good efficiency base. I did this in part with sets similar to the one Suzanne describes.
The point of such a set is threefold:
1) To do a task that requires your full attention on every length
2) To develop a level of control that allows you to finely calibrate
your stroke length. Suzanne intended to add exactly 4 strokes per/100. She was able to do exactly
that with great consistency. That reflects highly developed motor skill.
3) To convert that increased SPL into increased speed
not just increased turnover.
Here's an excerpt from my book, Outside the Box: A Program for Success in Open Water
which describes the rationale and benefits of such a set:
>>I now have a consistent range of stroke counts for both 25-yard and 50-meter pools. In a 25-yard pool, my range is from 12 to 15, and occasionally 16 SPL. In 50 meters, itís 33 to 41 SPL. I think of these stroke counts as 'gears' similar to those on a bicycle or car.
12 to 13 SPL is 1st gear;
13 to 14 is 2nd gear;
14 to 15 is 3rd gear; and
15 to 16 SPL is 4th gear.
Many years of practice have given me the ability to (1) calibrate my stroke to swim at any count in my range, (2) change gears with nearly as much ease as a cyclist, and (3) even to 'play' them like a pianist plays scales.
After hundreds of hours of practice, each count has a different feel, which I sense mainly through how Patient I am in making the catch and beginning the stroke. Slow it down slightly and my SPL goes down (stroke lengthens); make the catch more briskly and Iíll add strokes. So 14 SPL has a subtly, yet distinctively, different feel than 15 SPL. [NOTE:
Suzanne made her adjustment by changing the speed of her recovery; I've used the same approach at times. The key point is we both have a strategy
for adjusting Stroke Length and Tempo -- and it's one we can apply in open water.]
I also know what pace each will produce and how taxing it will be to swim with each. When I move from the pool to open water, though I no longer have walls to tell me Iíve completed 25 yards, I can still choose to swim with my ď13 SPL feelĒ at some points and my ď14 SPL feelĒ at others. And Iíve honed my sense of stroke rate in relative ways, with Speedplay practice (see Chapter 11), and in exact ways, by using the Tempo Trainer
The most valuable takeaway is that this math of speed
provides an absolute certainty and predictability that no other approach to swimming faster (more effort, more yards, more anything
) can match. Each time you improve your combination of SL and SR you WILL swim faster. Once you shift from the Try Harder approach to systematically trading tiny gains in length and rate, the pace clock, and even your effort level, become almost irrelevant."