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Old 11-29-2011
CoachBobM CoachBobM is offline
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Default Learning to pace Individual Medley

Since this forum is visited by a wide variety of swimmers, I should begin with some explanation of what individual medley is.

Simply put, individual medley (abbreviated I.M.) is the aquatic equivalent of a triathlon. Just as a triathlon consists of three different forms of racing done in tandem, I.M. consists of four different swimming events, also done in tandem. Just as a triathlon gives an athlete a more complete workout than any one of its component legs, by itself, would do, so I.M. gives a swimmer a more complete workout than any one of its component events would do. And just as each triathlete typically has one part of the triathlon at which they are strongest and one at which they are weakest, the same is typically true of an IMer.

Although some people think of I.M. as an obscure swimming event that is of interest only to competitive swimmers, it really should be of interest to anyone who relies on swimming as their sole or primary form of exercise, since the four strokes that comprise it each use somewhat different combinations of muscles, thereby giving swimmers a more complete workout than they would get by doing only one or two of those strokes.

But the fact that I.M. consists of a combination of strokes also makes it the most mentally challenging event to swim. And one of those challenges is learning to pace it.

The pacing strategy I use for single-stroke events is fairly simple: I focus on streamlining and efficiency early in the event, and then focus on gradually picking up the pace as the event proceeds. "Picking up the pace" entails, in some degree, adding techniques that consume energy at a faster pace, thereby limiting the duration for which I can maintain them at my current level of fitness.

As I've noted elsewhere, this approach is the reverse of that which is used by many competitors, who go all-out early in an event and then gradually slow down as they tire. The difficulty with that pacing approach is that, as people tire, their brains instinctively try to shift the effort to different sets of muscles, and in swimming this inevitably means executing their stroke less efficiently. So, ironically, as their energy reserves dwindle, they waste more and more energy! By choosing to reduce my energy consumption early in the event, when my muscles haven't yet begun to tire, I am able to do it by swimming more efficiently instead of less efficiently.

But I can't use this simple approach when I'm swimming I.M., because my pacing of each stroke has to be integrated into my pacing of the entire event.

Earlier this year, I set a new personal best time in 100y I.M. The improvement was not enormous (about 1/9 of a second), but this came after several years of failing to come within 4 seconds of my previous personal best time (which I had set in 2006). I didn't actually decide until 2 or 3 weeks before the meet that I was going to be doing 100 I.M., and I knew that I wasn't likely, in that amount of time, to make any significant improvements in my technique for any of the four strokes or any of the three turns that comprise I.M., so I focused, instead, on perfecting my pacing.

Now, there is one sense in which I'm always practicing I.M. My normal warmup routine for every swim practice consists of a drill/swim routine based around 200 I.M. It consists of:

50m - butterfly drill transitioning into butterfly
50m - backstroke drill transitioning into backstroke
50m - breaststroke drill transitioning into breaststroke
50m - freestyle drill transitioning into freestyle

I swim these four sets in tandem, transitioning between them using the turns I would do in competition. Not only does this allow me to practice all of the strokes and turns used in I.M. - it also helps to engrain the sequence in which I have to swim them. (I still remember the first time I did I.M. in competition, when I came out of my backstroke-to-breaststroke turn and momentarily forgot what I was supposed to do next. By the time I remembered, I had already gotten myself disqualified!)

In preparation for the meet, I began my practice with this standard warmup, but then swam 100 I.M. as four stand-alone events:

25m butterfly
25m backstroke
25m breaststroke
25m freestyle

To make it as realistic as possible, I began the 25m backstroke from a stationary butterfly-to-backstroke turn (floating face down with my hands touching the wall, as they would at the end of the butterfly leg, and then executing the turn), and I began the 25m freestyle from a stationary breaststroke-to-freestyle turn (beginning as described above, but executing a regular open turn instead of coming out on my back). I timed each of the four events using my SportCount ring lap timer, and for the backstroke and freestyle legs, I timed both the turn and the stroke.

Unfortunately, I still haven't figured out how to do a stationary backstroke-to-breaststroke turn, so I had to leave that out, but except for that omission, the total of the four times gave me a sort of an idealized time for the entire event. Even when I adjusted it to allow time for the missing turn, the total was still more than 26 seconds faster than my best competition time for 100m I.M.

Next, I repeated it, but combined the breaststroke and freestyle legs into a single event:

25m butterfly
25m backstroke
50m breaststroke --> freestyle

When I looked at my times, I was interested to see that my 25m freestyle time was about 4 seconds slower than in the first set. This certainly didn't happen because the 25m breaststroke leg had tired me out! But I did notice that my freestyle stroke hadn't felt as efficient as it did on the first set. I realized that there was some mental "gear changing" needed to switch from breaststroke to freestyle, and that I hadn't done this effectively.

At my next practice, I tried the second set again, focusing on making my freestyle leg feel like it does when I'm swimming nothing but freestyle. My time for the freestyle leg dropped by more than 2 seconds!

At the following practice, I began by doing the second set again, and then tried combining the backstroke leg with the breaststroke and freestyle legs:

25m butterly
75m backstroke --> breastroke --> freestyle

This allowed me to begin including the backstroke-to-breaststroke turn (which I hadn't been doing), but I also realized that there was a significant complication: Breaststroke is my weakest stroke, and I compensate for this by trying to streamline for about half the length of the pool, since my streamline is quite possibly the best thing that I do. But it's pretty hard to do a long streamline when you're out of breath, so if I went all out on my backstroke leg (as I had been doing when I was swimming it stand-alone), it would force me to break out of my streamline early on the breaststroke leg, and that would cost me time.

The first time I tried this set, I tried to modify my normal backstroke pacing to compensate. When doing 25m backstroke stand-alone, I'd begun with a long underwater streamline, then transitioned to an all-out sprint. But I tried, instead, to relax my pace as I approached the wall, focusing instead on streamlining and efficiency, as I would at the beginning of a backstroke distance event.

In one respect, this approach worked: My breaststroke leg was only about a second slower than it had been in the previous set. But this came at a steep cost: Relaxing my pace at the end of the backstroke leg caused it to be more than 7 seconds slower than when I had done it stand-alone! It was clear that I needed to experiment with this and tune it more, finding the best balance between maintaining my backstroke pace and being able to stay in my streamline on the breaststroke leg.

I did better on it at my next practice. I dropped the time for my backstroke leg by about 1.7 seconds without it hurting my breaststroke time at all. It would have been nice if I could have experimented with it a bit more, but the meet was approaching, and I realized that I needed to make sure I got adequate practice swimming the entire 100 I.M. event.

Swimming the other legs in tandem with butterfly created another pacing problem similar to the one I had faced with breaststroke: When I was starting with backstroke, I began by streamlining for about half the length of the pool underwater. But butterfly is a fairly strenuous stroke, so it was clear that if I went all-out in the butterfly leg, as I had been doing when swimming it stand-alone, I would have to break out of my streamline very early on the backstroke leg.

The first time I tried 100m I.M., the pacing was pretty much a disaster! Although I tried to swim at a relaxed pace on the butterfly leg, the backstroke leg was a whopping 12.5 seconds slower than when I had been swimming it stand-alone, and my times on the breaststroke and freestyle legs also suffered. I knew that even my most leisurely pace for 25m butterfly is only about 5 seconds slower than my most vigorous pace, so it was clear that I would gain time overall by swimming the butterfly leg at the most leisurely pace I could.

At my last practice before the meet, I found the best pacing I had done:

- a "leisurely" fly (which actually gave me a better time than I expected)
- a long underwater streamline on backstroke, followed by an intense sprint, going to a relaxed, efficient stroke when I reached the flags
- a long streamline on breaststroke, fighting the urge to breathe, followed by an intense sprint
- breathing every 2 or 3 strokes on freestyle to encourage me to take long strokes and not to rush things in order to get to my next breath.

Although I was going to be swimming 100y I.M. at the meet, it was very encouraging to find that at my last practice I had broken my personal best time for 100m I.M. (which I've done far less often in competition) by more than 10 seconds!


Bob
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Old 12-01-2011
Richardsk Richardsk is offline
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Interesting post, Bob

Learning to do a proper butterfly would be my best way of improving my IM, although obviously the other strokes could all do with improving too.

At a recent meet, my last of this year, I managed to complete an IM without being disqualified, swimming an extremely slow butterfly leg and then doing a far from perfect turn on the backstroke to breaststroke leg. My final time was not my slowest ever but a lot slower than the last time I managed to escape the DQ, when I suspect the stroke judges were in generous mood.

Currently my approach is based on
a) swimming a lot of slow motion fly, making sure my arms are clear of the water before recovering them forward
b) swimming lengths alternating sculling and a single non-breathing stroke, which often feels like real fly, but so far has not developed into successive strokes
c) swimming one-arm fly and combinations of one-arm and two-arm fly.

Maybe eventually something will click.

I used to be able to swim a sort of butterfrog but I don't seem to be able to manage it with a single kick and now the double kick has been made illegal - it used to be legal here but not in the USA.

Some swim butterfrog with a dolphin kick for the second kick, but I'm not sure my brain could manage that.

It would be fun to do a 200 IM. I'm going to try a 50m Fly SC in the New Year and if that goes well I may pencil in a 200 IM short course.
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Old 12-07-2011
CoachBobM CoachBobM is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richardsk View Post
Interesting post, Bob

Learning to do a proper butterfly would be my best way of improving my IM, although obviously the other strokes could all do with improving too.

At a recent meet, my last of this year, I managed to complete an IM without being disqualified, swimming an extremely slow butterfly leg and then doing a far from perfect turn on the backstroke to breaststroke leg. My final time was not my slowest ever but a lot slower than the last time I managed to escape the DQ, when I suspect the stroke judges were in generous mood.
When you've been DQed on I.M., what has the reason typically been?

Quote:
Currently my approach is based on
a) swimming a lot of slow motion fly, making sure my arms are clear of the water before recovering them forward
b) swimming lengths alternating sculling and a single non-breathing stroke, which often feels like real fly, but so far has not developed into successive strokes
c) swimming one-arm fly and combinations of one-arm and two-arm fly.

Maybe eventually something will click.
I'm not clear on what you mean by "sculling". Are you breathing when you scull?

Have you done the butterfly drill sequence described in Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body or in the Betterfly DVD?


Bob
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Old 12-07-2011
Richardsk Richardsk is offline
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The usual reason for DQ is "arms not brought forward together over the water"

(one arm drags and I tilt to the side - I think it's the right arm, which is less flexible at the shoulder than the left) but I think the underlying cause is the weak kick.

I think in the sculling drill I do breathe but the scull is to set up for the full stroke.
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Old 12-07-2011
CoachBobM CoachBobM is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richardsk View Post
The usual reason for DQ is "arms not brought forward together over the water"

(one arm drags and I tilt to the side - I think it's the right arm, which is less flexible at the shoulder than the left) but I think the underlying cause is the weak kick.
It's interesting that the U.S. Masters Swimming website actually has a rule clarification that is specifically about the butterfly arm recovery:

http://www.usms.org/rules/20100607_f...rpretation.pdf

The gist of it is that all that is required for the recovery to be legal is that each arm, from the shoulder all the way down to the wrist, must break the surface of the water during the recovery. Your arms do not have to actually clear the water.

Some have argued that the dolphin "kick" in butterfly isn't really a kick at all (noting that dolphins don't kick). What you really need is a good body dolphin, and to have your stroke synchronized with that body dolphin so that your arms are doing their recovery when you're coming up to breathe.

Quote:
I think in the sculling drill I do breathe but the scull is to set up for the full stroke.
When I'm practicing butterfly, I like to alternate breathing strokes with non-breathing strokes, and to try to make my breathing strokes as much like my non-breathing strokes as possible while still getting a breath (since this encourages me not to come up too high to breathe). It's best, if you do this, to vary how often you breathe so that breathing every other stroke doesn't become so much of a habit that you can't switch to every stroke breathing when you need more air during a race.


Bob
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Old 12-08-2011
Richardsk Richardsk is offline
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I am aware that the TI view of fly is that the motion is not a kick, and probably one of the things wrong with my dolphin action is that there isn't enough body in it.

Nevertheless if one examines good butterflyers in action the leg action is remarkably similar to the leg action of freestyle except that both legs kick at the same time. The hip movement of course is quite different, as in freestyle the hips rock from side to side. Mind you my freestyle kick is severely lacking in propulsive force as well. The only kick I get any real value from is the breaststroke kick.

Perhaps more practice in consciously rocking the hips to and fro will be beneficial.

My next chance to try it under combat conditions will be in January 2012 in a 100 IM.

Perhaps next year will the year of the IM. My Year of the Backstroke proved rewarding, so perhaps I can do the same with the IM.
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