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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 02:29 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
Coach of 4 time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year, Kirsten Sass
Steel City Endurance, LTD
Fresh Freestyle


Last edited by CoachSuzanne : 02-04-2012 at 06:41 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
Coach of 4 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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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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  #7  
Old 02-04-2012
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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Ian...I know what interval training is. This is a very specific kind of interval...in the case of the OP, he is exercising at a specific intensity for a specific duration with variable rest.

If this were translated into a cycling workout for example, I'd prescribe a specific wattage zone of 105% - 120% of FTP for 4 minutes with 2-4 minutes rest for example. I've got a name for that...and I even have a code in my workout library for it, and when my athletes see it, they know exactly what to do. In fact I have a catalog of 50+ cycling specific interval workouts for my cyclists not to mention run workouts & steady state efforts...all of which are coded in my electronic library...no questions about what they are supposed to be doing.

This is different and very specific type of interval with an organically changing component... I want a specific name to refer to this specific set.

Everything we do is an interval...even if it's a Recovery interval for 2 hours. Intervals need definition in order to reap benefit. Since this interval has an organic component, it's not easily cataloged. Hence, my desire to define it more.

The term "Cheeta" was attractive to me because cheetas run very fast for a limited duration before needing rest. Not all intervals need to be done all out...but it seems that the starting point of THIS SPECIFIC interval set that terry is suggesting was an all out 200m/yd effort by Steve. After that, he's going to need a lot of rest before doing it again.

In Terry's specific avoidance to avoid the "energy system" approach to defining swim workouts, calling this a VO2 effort (which it is) doesn't do it justice since over time Steve's efficiency with this will change far more quickly than a comparable "workout" on either the track (mile repeats or 800s @ max pace) or on the bike (Vo2 intervals @ 4 minutes duration..as opposed to 30s, 60s, 2min, 3 min or 5 min duration...each of which I have cataloged for my athletes) .

While there is an organic approach, as a coach, systemization of the organic approach helps both myself and my athletes.
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Suzanne Atkinson, MD
Coach of 4 time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year, Kirsten Sass
Steel City Endurance, LTD
Fresh Freestyle


Last edited by CoachSuzanne : 02-04-2012 at 08:47 PM.
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  #8  
Old 02-05-2012
CoachRyan CoachRyan is offline
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Default T30s are useful, IMO!

So, I am going to start the opposite side of this discussion and say that I think T30s have their place even as a monthly exercise. I have been using them with select swimmers ever since they were given to me in a meaningful way. Granted I was told why I would be doing T30s and they were not given as a mindless and useless exercise. I agree that they should not be given universally to all swimmers without regard to form or ability level or prior training, but if we are talking about athletes being coached by TI coaches or athletes that are self-taught TI swimmers, the T30 does some good things in the right context even without a Tempo Trainer (and I might even argue that they SHOULD be done without a TT). It just needs to be used as a test and not as a training set to make you faster...I agree it won't likely do that.

Here is my reasoning:

If you have coached athletes for a while or even if you just race yourself, you probably know how important mental confidence is to an athlete's performance. A well-trained athlete who doesn't have the confidence that they can make the distance in the time they are shooting for even if they physically can probably will not accomplish their time goal. The mind is very powerful and I am sure TI coaches would be the first to agree with that. I mention this because for a lot of triathletes (which is a good portion of the TI swimmers and coaches), a 30 minute continuous swim is something that they will likely have to accomplish in a race depending on what race they are doing and is at least a closer simulation of it than a 200yd repeat test (which also have their place...not discounting those at all here). Having a monthly test to see how fast they can accomplish that long of a swim is not a bad thing. It builds confidence as long as they improve each month and that is extremely powerful...and I think, for most triathletes, an improvement in a T30 is more powerful for their confidence than an improvement in a 200yd repeat as a monthly indicator. The T30 is a test, not a training tool...you are not using it to make them faster...you are using it to see how the other work (stroke length, stroke length work and such) has made them better.

In my own swimming last year, I did a T30 in the first month of training. I swam 1875 yards. I then worked for 6 weeks under the coaching of another TI coach who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, on various technical aspects of my swimming...no mindless swimming of laps...very technical work in some cases and some speed work and a whole slew of things including tempo trainer work. After that 6 weeks, I redid my T30. This time, 2075 yds. A 200yd improvement in 6 weeks at the same effort level. This did huge things for my confidence in the program. Sure, my improvements at shorter yardage did good things for my confidence and showed that the program was working but nothing affected my confidence in a positive way more than those T30 improvements. I was training for a half ironman at the time and was aiming to go under 30 minutes by a bit. I was almost there in the pool and knew I would be a bit faster in open water. I knew what I was doing different because the other training during the six weeks had wired my brain to swim with a different tempo and length in order to get those extra yards without extra effort. I could have told you at almost any point what tempo I was swimming even though I didn't have the TT on.

I suppose you could argue that the athlete shouldn't need this confidence booster from a long swim and should be able to accept that the improvements in the shorter swims are proof enough that the swimming is improving and he will be able to complete his race. Good luck convincing the average type A triathlete of that. They will go out and do the longer swims as secret workouts just to make sure. Or, you could tell him that he needs to save those longer swims for open water tests, but what about the athlete that is doing IM CDA in Idaho in June and lives in a cold area of the country and can't open water swim in the lakes until May? How does he gain the confidence that he will be able to complete a continuous 2.4 miles at his goal pace?

Now, why do I say that I would even argue that you should do the T30 without a TT? Well, I think one of the things that you are trying to do with your training is teach your brain to memorize what it feels like to swim at certain tempos and stroke lengths. It seems to me that your T30 test each month should also be testing how well you can maintain your goal effort level, tempo, and stroke length without it being dictated by the tempo trainer. I think it would be good to count strokes on a length every few laps just as a check to see if you have added a bunch of strokes so you can refocus if you have but I don't think you need the TT. You are likely not going to race with the TT (although you certainly can in USAT races), so why test with it on? You need to be able to test and see if you can make your brain hold the feeling of that perfect tempo and length for an extended period without the TT in my opinion.

So, in general, I think if your training sets that are intended to wire your brain to swim at different paces throughout the month use the TI algorithm and you work consistently on stroke rate and stroke length and mindful swimming and making improvements to your stroke, then you can certainly use the T30 as a test to see how well the changes have taken hold for longer swims that are closer to your distance racing.

One more thing I will say though as a caveat as I alluded to at the beginning. This only really applies to swimmers that are ready to handle T30s (i.e. they are at least close both in fitness level and stroke mechanics to swim 30 minutes straight without gross drops in pace and form). For instance, I have swimmers training for sprint triathlons that currently have a hard time making more than 5 laps in a row without having to stop. They have stroke issues and fitness level issues that would make a T30 useless. I have other swimmers training for longer races or just with more experience that can come close to maintaining form and speed over 30 minutes without a problem...I think a T30 is an appropriate tool for them. During the rest of the month we work at shorter distances, we work with the tempo trainer, we work with swim golf, we work with some sprints or even "cheetah sets", and then we might test with a T30.

Just my thoughts. Hopefully I haven't misunderstood your intent, Terry, with this thread.
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  #9  
Old 02-05-2012
CoachPaulB CoachPaulB is offline
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Default 200y tt sets

So I followed Terry's algorithm today. Kept 17 SPL and after steadily decreasing TT from 1:25 to 1:10 over four sets I found my sweet spot. Or in other words the cadence that I felt would be my base tempo to start the series of 200 repeats the next time I practice.
As I understand it, I am to hold that same pace and SPL and only adjust the recovery distance as long as I can maintain my SPL and tempo. Also I am to attempt 8 sets of 200. Is this correct?
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  #10  
Old 02-05-2012
andyinnorway andyinnorway is offline
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I agree 100% with coach Ryan post below.

I am at the stage now where they are very helpful to me. After a year of ti training a short interval sets my fitness is good and my stroke mechanics consistent.

Doing a long swim once a week builds my self confidence, teaches me how to swim marginally faster over a long time, and helps me keep focus.

I see it as an important intermediate skill. You have to do 50 or so of them before you know you can do them whenever you want then you can spend more time on the interval sets as prescribed.

Last edited by andyinnorway : 02-05-2012 at 11:42 AM. Reason: ipad weirdness
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