Winning in Practice
PS: You mentioned consistently beating teammates in practice who swim 2 to 3 seconds faster in races. Have you considered the possibility that your efforts to "win" practice swims may be partly responsible for "losing" on race day?
Joe Novak, one of the swimmers mentioned in the article Richard linked to about my work with the Army sprinters, trained with Jason Lezak for 18 months leading up to the 2004 Olympic Trials. He told me something really revealing about Jason. Their coach, Dave Salo (now the head coach at USC), put great emphasis on "quality" training, which Joe said basically meant going hard on everything.
Joe said that Jason went last in their lane most of the time, swam slower than anyone else in the group 90% of the time, but then would pick his spots and -- when he felt ready -- would swim blazingly fast repeats.
This conforms closely with something Jonty Skinner (who set the WR for 100m Free in 1976) told me when he was Performance Science Director for USA Swimming. Jonty said that, the swimmer who is fastest on race day is not the one with the most highly tuned aerobic system, but the one with the most highly tuned nervous system.
Jonty then said that most swimmers understand the true role of aerobic training. It takes only 8 to 10 weeks of training to reach aerobic fitness. The rest of the season the primary role of aerobic training should be to aid in restoration and recovery, not to continue trying to gain fitness.
The reason for that role is that your muscles need to be fresh and responsive on the "quality days" in your training week. If they're fresh, you'll be able to do practice repeats on those days -- no more than twice a week -- that imprint the coordination for a combination of Stroke Length and Rate that converts to very fast swimming. If your aerobic training between quality days is even a little bit too effortful, you won't be sufficiently recovered on quality day and your nervous system imprinting -- and your races -- will suffer.
Does this describe the training you've done in college?
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