Originally appeared on the TI Discussion Forum

Posted by Syzygy

I went to a TI Weekend Workshop two months ago having had no formal swimming experience (and thus few bad habits). I have been practicing the drills and have resisted the urge to start swimming laps hoping to ingrain proper technique prior to building endurance. I am now swimming with a stroke count of 11 to 13 in a 25 yd pool with an average speed of 20 seconds/length. I also figured out how to breathe without lifting my head and losing balance and I have a solid two beat kick (the bottom leg actually kicks now!). Good so far.

Now I am ready to start adding distance. What is the best way to build distance without losing technique. I can do about three lengths comfortably, after which my triceps get fatigued and I start to lose balance. Is it as simple as just adding a length each time out and doing repeats after some rest in between?

Is there a recommended approach for someone at this stage. On tape, my stroke looks really good, like I’ve been at this for years. I think I am ready.

(BTW, I am hoping to complete a sprint tri this summer).

Posted by Naji
Congratulations and welcome to the TI family! Last October, I was where you are now: I had little to no swimming experience, prior to my Workshop. Following it, I kept at the drills and whole stroke constantly making sure things were where they should be. When I first began to do laps I took about a 15 sec rest between 25-yard repeats, then pushed off and did another. I gradually descended to a 10 sec rest, 5 sec and so on. Now I can go at least 500 yards without stopping. But I did take it slow.

My advice is to begin practicing bilateral breathing. This will help you develop more symmetry in your stroke and thus help you be even more efficient. Then in a race, if someone is splashing on your left or right you can breathe to the other side.

BTW if your sprint tri is in a lake, you can get away with practicing mainly in the pool, but if it’s a bay or the ocean you should try to join a group that practices once or twice a week in open water. This will accustom you to currents, the cold, minimal visibility and your wetsuit. (I no longer use one and love it that way!)

It may not seem like a long distance but a half-a-mile can tire you out if you’re not used to it. There will probably be many in your sprint tri who are new to open water and it will be intense. Remember triathlon swimming is a contact sport!

Posted by Terry

Let me add my welcome to Naji’s.
Have you read the "Building Distance" thread? It asks similar questions, which I also answered there.

Two  quick things: If your triceps are getting tired, you’re probably putting too much emphasis on Pushing Back.  You can give your triceps a break bys hifting to emphasis on Holding Water and Spearing Forward. Your SPL and pace are impressive for a "still wet behind the ears" swimmer.

Now let me add a few thoughts to Naji’s excellent advice:

As you step up toward longer distances, you have these variables to work with :
Duration of Repeat — Right now your ceiling is 75 yds. Aim to patiently increase . . . while keeping the max # of variables listed below constant.
Number of Repeats – Aim to decrease the number it takes you to complete a particular distance — i.e. complete 1000 yds in 5 repeats of 200, rather than 10 x 100 . . . while keeping other variables as close to constant as possible.
SPL – Aim to incrementally decrease if repeat distance remains unchanged — i.e. in 4 weeks complete 100 yd repeats in 58 strokes, rather than 60. . . . while minimizing effect on other variables. Or to keep constant as repeat distance increases.
Breathing Frequency – Aim to be as efficient on either breathing side and to be able to maintain pace and SPL for longer distances with less breathing frequency. I.E. In 4 weeks be able to hold 15 SPL for 200-yd repeats while breathing every 3 strokes, whereas now you need to breathe 2 right, 2 left, or 3 right, 3 left. (These examples are theoretical.)

Rest Interval — As Naji mentioned, he gradually reduced his rest interval for 25-yard repeats from 15 sec to 10 sec to 5 sec. What I would add is that your goal is to be able to keep all other variables constant as the rest interval shrinks — or as you can swim longer repeats on the same rest interval. E.G. If you can maintain 15 SPL and breathe every 3 strokes on 8 x 100-yd repeats, while resting 15 sec between repeats, if you can hold that standard on 10 sec rest in 4 weeks and on 5 sec rest in 10 weeks, that would be fantastic progress.

On rest intervals, also consider occasionally (or frequently) substituting # of cleansing breaths or # of beeps on your Tempo Trainer (see below) for # of seconds. These allow you to regulate your rest interval with equal precision, while also encouraging better maintenance of focus. Instead of watching the clock between repeats you can keep concentrating on the focal point or "stroke thought" you’re emphasizing.

Pace - Most people only focus on swimming faster. My tendency would be to try to maintain constant pace while increasing one or more of the variables above increase in difficulty. When you do that 80% or more of the time, pace usually improves without trying. That’s what I call "Voodoo Speed" and I value it far more highly than "Trying Harder Speed."

What all of these recommendations have in common is that they reflect a common philosophy of Working Less in contrast to the the conventional approach to building endurance of Working More.

Your ability to increase your capacity on any variable will reflect success in reducing the energy cost or effort required to swim a repeat set at any particular combination of variables.

Beyond the emphasis on economy, what I like about this approach to building distance is that it’s: (1) systematic; (2) based on concrete metrics, each impacting directly on distance-swimming performance; and (3) stimulates neuromuscular adaptation in so many ways, helping to avoid stagnation.

The conventional approach, in contrast, is based on dogged — and usually heedless — pursuit of just one variable: More Laps. And usually ignores the effect on all other variables of your increase in that one.

All of the above were critical ingredients in the training I did leading up to breaking my first National Masters Long Distance record.

There’s one more variable I mention only in passing – the Tempo Trainer. Include that and your work with the Pace variable acquires a watchmaker’s precision.