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  #1  
Old 02-11-2012
Danny Danny is offline
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Danny
Default more thoughts on reducing SPL

A while ago, at the urging of some people in this forum, I set about trying to reduce the number of strokes per 25 yd pool length (SPL) I needed to swim. At the time I was swimming a comfortable distance pace at 19 SPL. I am 5’ 11’’, and 19 SPL seemed too high for someone my height. I should remark that I was capable of swimming at a much lower SPL, but only for short distances. For example, I could swim 50 yd (1 lap) at the beginning of my workout with an SPL of 12, but I couldn’t hold it for much more than 1 lap. So the goal I set myself was to learn how to swim distances at 16 SPL, and I would do this by trying to hold that pace for 300 yd intervals. After much experimentation, it seems like I am succeeding in this, but there have been some surprising discoveries along the way, and I thought it was worth putting some of this in writing, both as an aid in my own understanding and also to see how much of my experiences are common to other people. Some of the recent threads here do indicate some common ground.

1. The first thing I tried were the variations in stroke rate using a Tempo Trainer (TT). The idea here is to slowly reduce your stroke rate and then slowly increase it in order to see what impact this has on your SPL. To my surprise and dismay, I discovered that I was using pretty close to 19 SPL no matter what stroke rate I used. This held, for example, at 1.4 s/stroke (my distance pace) up to over 1.65 s/stroke. After one or two weeks of this, I realized it wasn’t going to work for me, and I would be interested if other people have had the same experience.
2. So I abandoned using the TT, and started trying to swim 16 SPL without it. The main tool I used in doing this was to glide longer distances between strokes. My goal was to swim 300 yd intervals, but, when I saw my SPL increasing above 16, I would stop and regroup. This didn’t take long, usually all I needed was enough time to catch my breath and regain my concentration. Then I could start swimming at 16 SPL again. With some practice, I reached the point where I could swim 300 yds without stopping, although this process was easier at the beginning of my workout, and I started needing more rests as I got tired.
3. This leads my to my first discovery. I had envisioned that reducing SPL would mean that I would expend less energy and swim more comfortably, but the opposite seemed to be the case. Instead I was getting tired much faster, which explains why I couldn’t hold 16 SPL for longer distances. If you think about it, this isn’t all that surprising. If you want to cover more distance per stroke, you are going to have to stroke harder, so you can glide longer, and this takes more energy. It is true that, after doing this for a while, you start to finds ways of reducing resistance, which enables you to expend less energy, but the first step in this process for me is to work harder so I can glide further. So it isn’t all that surprising if I need more energy to do this and can’t hold the SPL over longer distance.
4. The next discovery I made is that, if I am working harder, I need more oxygen. Indeed, most of the time when I found I had to stop and rest, it was because I was running out of breath. The simple solution to this was to abandon alternate breathing and start breathing on one side for a while, when I started going into oxygen debt. I was in such a habit of alternate breathing that it took me a while to realize this, but, once I did, I was able to greatly increase the distances I swim at 16 SPL.
5. Of course, over time, I started learning some tricks which seemed to make the process easier. I’m not sure how many of these I can articulate, but here are some that I can. First, I need to keep my hips down. This helps streamlining, but it also seems to have really important anatomical advantages. It is much easier to engage my lats during stroking, if my hips are down. I don’t know why, but, when I get tired, this is one of the first things that I forget. Second, the most important time to concentrate on streamlining is when you are actually stroking, because it is here that reducing resistance will have the biggest impact on speed. The main things I started focussing on were to keep my head down and to finish my stroke on my side with my head lower than my feet (or so it should feel…). In this regard, my kick can play an important role, because it initiates the body rotation. In fact, I have the sense that the quicker I can accomplish that rotation from one side to the other, the more effective my stroke becomes. This turns my swimming into something of a pulse-glide style, where the pulse comes from the kick and the rotation. These pulses require a certain amount of conditioning, and, over time I am getting better at it. But it is not the relaxing style that I had anticipated.
6. After getting to the point where I could swim 16 SPL for 300 yd intervals, I re-introduced the TT. This was definitely not easy. Without the TT, if I have a bad stroke, I can compensate for it later on by gliding more, but the TT is very unforgiving. It forces each stroke to be at the same pace, which prevents cheating of the above type. So the introduction was piece-wise. I would try to do some intervals with the TT, and when I was getting tired or frustrated, I would swim without it. Eventually, I found a comfortable pace at which I could swim with the TT. For me, this was 1.66 s/stroke. Amazingly (or not, if you do the arithmetic) even though this was a very slow stroke rate, I was swimming at a pretty decent pace for me.
7. Now comes the really interesting part. After finding a pace where I could swim 300 yd intervals with the TT, I was hoping that by practicing at that rate it would become easier. It didn’t. (Again, disappointment…) So, instead I started speeding up the TT and requiring myself to hold the 16 SPL. To my surprise, I discovered that I can swim at much faster stroke rates and still hold 16 SPL, but only for shorter distances. So here is where the pyramiding with the TT comes in. I slowly increase my stroke rate, and, as I do, I start being unable to swim the 300 yds without stopping. But I keep going and keep reducing, even if it means swimming shorter distances. Right now, I wind up cutting it back to 1.44 s/stroke, although I can usually hold this pace for only 100 yds. At the end of my workout, I turn off the TT and swim a 300 yd set at a pace that I can hold for the entire 300 yd. To my surprise, the pace I can hold has improved dramatically in the week or so that I have started doing this.

In summary, it seems that this method I have fallen into is a lot like the interval training people use in running, with the one additional constraint that I have to hold 16 SPL. I must admit that this is pretty hard work. I feel like I am getting much more of a workout than what I would get before, when I simply swam longer distances at a comfortable pace, but the process seems to be producing results. I expect that eventually I will plateau out, but the other thing I have learned here is not to keep doing the same thing when that happens. So, depending on how it happens, I will start experimenting again to see what works. Any advice from others will be welcome.
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Old 02-11-2012
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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Danny, I commend you on your focus and your improvement, but just based on your description I'm pretty certain that you are relying on power to produce all the changes you suggest. I had 2 private lessons this week with swimmers who match your description. 5'10", and "stuck" at 19 spl @ 30 sec per 25 no matter what.

In one case we tried the TT to no avail. What the swimmer was doing, but not realizing it was letting the lead arm drift down even at slower paces, rather than holding it in extended streamline until stroking. This causes a lot of drag and requires a lot of compensating force for propulsion, causing fatigue & frustration.

In one swimmer he had a breakthrough by focusing not on contracting the lats, but by focusing on STRETCHING the lats during the recovery/swimg (elbow forward) position, stretching the lats before entry, and holding that stretch after entry creating a wonderful streamline which reduced drag meaning he didn't have to push or pull as much to slide forward.

The other swimmer, on the same day had his breakthrough by practicing one-armed swimming. What he had been doing was focusing on the pull to assist in rotation, but he didn't realize that. If the pull is rotating the body, there is no opportunity for streamlining on the opposite side or an effective pull.

Of course doing one-armed drills can be done incorrectly as well so he required some one - on- one feedback to figure it out.

Both of these students have been doing really well, but not progressing quickly and each had a fundamental problem in their understanding of what it means to streamline and what function the "stroke" served (one drifted, never reaching streamline, the other used the stroke to aid in rotation). You may be doing something similar or totally different...but each of these swimmers were able to reduce their SPL...one clear down to 10 within one hour, making full use of his long arms with no increase in effort and swimming 25 yds in 24 seconds...faster than his previous "cruise" pace @ 19 strokes.

I have one other question for you...what do you mean be keeping the hips down to engage the lats? This is another phrase that makes me envision you doing "Lat pull downs" in the water to move yourself forward, which is not efficient and will tire you out.


Can you post any video so that we can help you further?
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Last edited by CoachSuzanne : 02-11-2012 at 07:36 PM.
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  #3  
Old 02-11-2012
Danny Danny is offline
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Suzanne,

Many thanks for your feedback. Of course, there is nothing I would like better than to discover that I have a fundamental flaw in my technique which, after correction, is like a free pass to easy swimming. The difficult part, of course, is to find out what that might be.

When I say keep my hips down, I mean roughly the same position one uses if one stands in chest-deep water with back to the wall and uses one's hands to push oneself up to sit on the pool edge. In that case, I would say it helps to have the hips forward, away from the wall, and the chest out, but the position is the same. Is this what you are suspecting?

As far as videos go, that is a challenge for me. I will look to see what I can come up with, but I am pessimistic. Is there any other way you might be able to give me some things to try? They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I am willing to spend some time describing things, if that would help...

Danny
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Old 02-12-2012
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CoachDave CoachDave is offline
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Default video suggestions

Any chance you could just have someone grab a call phone and take a 30-second clip? That could be uploaded or you could send it to me at 952-807-3774 an I'll gladly take a look and forward it to Suzanne.
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  #5  
Old 02-12-2012
Danny Danny is offline
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That's a great idea! I swim at 6 am in the morning, so I will have to try to organize someone who's there to do it, and I'm not sure how long it will take, but I will work on it and let you know. Thanks for you help!
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  #6  
Old 02-13-2012
Danny Danny is offline
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Danny
Default cell-phone video

Dave, Suzanne, I just sent Dave a cell-phone video of my freestyle, taken this morning. I will start out with apologies about the quality of the video. As you will see, half the lights in the pool were off, so you can only see the first half of my lap. Still, I think there are a few strokes that are clearly visible, and hopefully that will be of some use. If this quality is too poor to say anything useful, please let me know and I will work on alternatives. However, I am sending this to you because I think a better alternative will take some time and effort to organize, and I'm not sure how possible it will be. Thanks ahead of time for any advice you can offer!
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  #7  
Old 02-14-2012
russellw russellw is offline
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This is a great subject for someone like me who is coming on with the drills, but feeling the “dead spot” in my stroke, and stroke length static.
The description that Coach Suzanne highlights may well be me also. I think my lead arm falls down too early – creating drag.
But one thing that i have to ask – how do we not rely on the pull for momentum ??? I tend to try, kick, rotate and lengthen, as per my instructor and then pull so my thumb touches my thigh before coming back out of the water. Easier said than done. But where does the pull phase come into it ???
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