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  #1  
Old 02-04-2012
terry terry is offline
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Default Why coaches give 30-minute swims--and why you should use the "TI Algorithm' instead

Warning: LONG post.

This week TI Coach Steve Howard (Lafayette LA) related in an email: I swim periodically with the Masters group. At our latest practice, we were timed for 200 yards. My time was 3:50 which I was happy with. Then we did a 30-minute timed swim. My goal was to maintain good form and a consistent pace for 30 minutes. I swam 1200 yards, for an average of 5:00 per 200 yards. What does this tell me?

TI Coach David Shen (Silicon Valley CA) had a similar experience: The Masters team I used to work out with always did a 30 min swim the first week of every month. If you missed that day, the coach would make you do it whenever he saw you next. I always hated the first week of a month because of that swim, but inevitably I would have to swim it. I never got any explanation for why we did it, other than some vague reference to fitness levels etc.
TI Coach, and author of the Lou Tharp wrote: Swimming 30 minutes to gain speed is like driving 30 miles to lose weight. The activity has no relation to the goal.
So why do Masters coaches give this swim--like virtually all swim coaches and a growing number of tri coaches? The 30-minute timed swim (or “T-30”) is the most common test set employed in what’s called Energy System Training, the universally-embraced paradigm for conventional workouts. As David alluded, it is supposed to predict the pace you need to swim on shorter repeats to 'build your anaerobic threshold.'

As my friend Mike Joyner, MD, director of exercise research at Mayo Clinic says, the entire Energy System framework is 'pseudo science.' Also none of the physiological measures it’s designed to focus on have ever correlated with swimming performance. On a practical level, it's ill-advised to give uncritically to wide varieties of athletes--most of whom are probably wasting 93% or more of their energy and horsepower, and virtually none of whom are ever given an adequate explanation for the purpose of this swim they’re so regularly asked to perform.

We favor using what I've decided to call the TI Algorithm for Swimming Success which precisely targets the exact metrics that correlate highly with swimming speed – Stroke Tempo and Stroke Count (or Length). The fastest swimmers in the world have consistently demonstrated a superior ability to increase Stroke Tempo while maintaining Stroke Length. So it stands to reason most training should be aimed at developing that capacity—then hardwiring it into the brain so it endures through fatigue, race pressures, etc.

The other advantage of the TI Algorithm is it’s personalized. Instead of pursuing a an airily abstract, and unsubstantiated anaerobic threshold, any athlete can learn their ‘neural threshold’ of SPL/Tempo combination (the point where it breaks down, and focus on improving that threshold in every set and practice. If they set a goal – say to improve from 30 min to 27 min for 1500m—they can easily calculate how they must improve their SPL/Tempo threshold, via a mathematically-specific approach. That’s a huge improvement over the one-size-fits-all approach of using T-30 sets to identify a theoretical anaerobic threshold.

To give Steve a concrete neutrally-oriented alternative to the T-30, based on the TI Algorithm Principle, I suggested this:
Steve, you’ve stated clearly that your goal is to improve your pace for 1500m – and eventually even the 10K swims you’ve discovered you love—to something in the range of 2:00 or better per 100 yards. The practice you cited gives you two 'data points' to compare: For the 200 trial, you swam 3:50; when you were asked to swim 30 minutes continuous, your pace fell off to 2:30 per 200. That’s 30 percent slower! The danger I see in long unbroken swims is they are 'wiring in' a pace that is plodding in comparison to the brisk pace you could be wiring in with short repeats. I.E. Taking you away from, not toward, your stated goal.

A far more valuable exercise would be a regular benchmark set of 200-yard repeats (since you have a handy data point that’s faster than your 2:00/100 goal) to see how many you could complete at the 3:50 pace in the same 30 minute investment of your precious practice time.

A simple, systematic way to approach this would be to break up 'effortful' 200s with recovery swims of some shorter distance in your first trial. Use intuition to determine how long the recovery swims should be . . . and subsequent 200 trials to test your intuition. Perhaps you guesstimate 100y of recovery between timed trials on your first go. If that feels easy, you could subsequently reduce recovery to 75y and see if you can still maintain the 3:50 pace.

Alteratively, start with 25y recovery swims, and simply adjust upward as you move farther into the set if you feel unready to swim 3:50 on your next 200. Again, use intuition as your guide. Adjust rest until you feel ready to hit your intended pace. Why do I suggest using an intuitively-based, experience-adjusted (another term for this is ‘organic’) approach to choosing repeat distance and rest interval? Because it's just as important to design practices that hone personal training intuition as it is to wire in unbreakable SL and a well-calibrated internal gauge of pace/effort.

As your neural and metabolic systems adjust to this particular task, you’ll find that you can maintain that 3:50/200 pace with shorter recovery swims. This is critical: Since your goals are oriented to longer swims, particularly in open water, it’s more valuable at this point to strive to make a 3:50 pace effortless, than to improve to a 3:40 pace! Progressive ease will occur because:
1. You devote other practices to easier, shorter swims that target Balance, Streamlining or Propelling skills, with TI drills and Focal Points; and
2. Your nervous system adapts to the specific task of swimming a 3:50 pace by learning more efficient patterns of muscle recruitment for your current threshold combination of SPL and Tempo.

This brings me to me to the other critical principle: Besides time, always use either SPL or Tempo as a reference point on your 200-yard benchmark swims. As David Shen wrote, when he can’t escape the 30-minute swim, I set my tempo trainer to around 1.1s, then try to hold consistent SPL for the entire 30 min.

As I noted, it’s better to do 200y repeats, than 30 minutes. Choose a relatively brisk tempo, or a semi-challenging (and height-indexed) SPL. Discipline yourself to stay within those ranges and discover what 200 pace results. If your pace starts to creep towards or above 4:00, adjust recovery swims upward. As it gets easier to hold 3:50, adjust recovery swims downward. You’re working toward eventually holding the 3:50 pace without rest, for 400-600-800 etc.

I feel strongly that it’s best to save long continuous swims for open water. I’ve managed to swim multiple marathons (up to 28.5 miles), win six USMS Long Distance Open Water championships (up to 10K), and break national age group records for 1- and 2-miles without ever swimming 30 minutes nonstop in the pool – and devoting 95 percent of my practice to repeats of 400m/500y or less.

However, if you still want to do an occasional 30-minute test swim in the pool, do the following: As David did, swim with TT and count strokes. Swim an easy length every time your SPL goes above your chosen range. And compare the difference between your current 200y pace and your 30-min pace. If you can close the gap from 30 percent, to 20 percent, 15 percent, you’re doing well.
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  #2  
Old 02-04-2012
CoachSteveHoward CoachSteveHoward is offline
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Default TI Algorithm

Terry,

Thank you for your excellent guidance. This weekend I will swim the TI Algorithm methodology and work on 200 yard repeats as you have prescribed.

As a matter of fact, I am going to the pool this morning and immediately implement what I have learned from you, Coach David Shen, Coach Suzanne Atkinson and Coach Louis Tharp in the past 24 hours!

With Great Respect - Thank you - Coach Steve Howard

Last edited by CoachSteveHoward : 02-05-2012 at 01:29 AM.
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  #3  
Old 02-04-2012
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CoachSteveHoward View Post
Terry,

Thank you for your excellent guidance. This weekend I will swim the TI Algorithm mythology and work on 200 yard repeats as you have prescribed.
Methodology, Steve, not Mythology. ;)


Terry, question for you. the way you have described this, it would be basically an all out 3:50 minute effort with ample rest to repeat the same effort at the same efficiency level. Is that your intention?

In otherwords, Steve did a 200 yd time trial...suggesting he's currently working within his anaerobic-VO2 capacity with a hard, shortish effort of less than 5 minutes. Even if this was his best possible form for the duration, doing so at the fastest rate possible is going to feel fairly hard in effort.

I just want to make sure that I"m understanding your recommendation, as this set would be very different from many of hte sets you've discussed with building endurance...ie...to take your easy/moderate efffort for 100 yds and learn to extend that effort for longer & longer durations.

In this set you are suggesting that he practice the higher effort swim with ample rest, (of course all the while trying ot make that hard effort feel easier by minimizing resistive forces, etc. ...)

Do you have a good 'codename' for this type of set? (that is, it's not a ladder, it's not repetitions, it's not a pyramid, it's not an assymetrical tempo trainer pyramid...)

If I'm interpreting the intention of the set correctly, I' dlike to give it a nickname to distinguish it from an "edurance building" set where one takes their easy/moderate effort SPL and works on extending it. What you've described here is a little more advanced I think.

Thinking of impressions it gives me...
-pepper
-stacatto
-morse code
-cheeta (as opposed to kangaroo)
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Suzanne Atkinson, MD
Level 3 USAT Coach
USA Paralympic Triathlon Coach
Coach of 5 time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year, Kirsten Sass
Steel City Endurance, LTD
Fresh Freestyle


Last edited by CoachSuzanne : 02-04-2012 at 05:41 PM.
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  #4  
Old 02-04-2012
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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Features of the Cheeta that make it the fastest animal on earth:
-flexible spine & long limbs to increase STRIDE LENGTH
-non-retractible claws that provide TRACTION.

This sounds to me like the STREAMLINE (length) and CATCH (traction) in swimming. I think this is a good nickname for this type of practice.
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Suzanne Atkinson, MD
Level 3 USAT Coach
USA Paralympic Triathlon Coach
Coach of 5 time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year, Kirsten Sass
Steel City Endurance, LTD
Fresh Freestyle

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  #5  
Old 02-04-2012
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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I've already incorporated "Cheeta" sets into my plans for the Pittsburgh Triathlon swim training in the speed & race ready phases. :)
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Suzanne Atkinson, MD
Level 3 USAT Coach
USA Paralympic Triathlon Coach
Coach of 5 time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year, Kirsten Sass
Steel City Endurance, LTD
Fresh Freestyle

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  #6  
Old 02-04-2012
ian mac ian mac is offline
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ian mac
Default Great explanation, thanks Terry

Suzanne,
This is referred to as interval training. One swims a predetermined distance a certain # of times. Rest between repeats can be short, medium or long again depending on the goals of swimmer/coach and time of swim season.

Although I have been doing intervals for years, since becoming a mindful TI disciple, the added focus of both SR and SPL has added immeasurably to my appreciation of how to continue adapting gradually.

Take a look at my latest post in "Formula for a faster 1500/1650" for an example of a mindful 64 minute set. With intervals, the possibilities are endless.

Once again, Terry explains it well.
Ian
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