Slot to Skate 144


Last week’s post described the proven principles of swimming faster, using a specific algorithm for speed– if you’re wondering what this looks like in practice, this entry from Terry Laughlin’s 2015 training log models that algorithm in a practice set. Enjoy… and Happy Laps!

This article is an adaptation of an archived TI forum post from Terry Laughlin’s training log on Nov. 5, 2015.


On Tuesday (Nov 3.) I read “The New Yorker” magazine article, WHAT WE THINK ABOUT WHEN WE RUNIn part, it was of “Poverty Creek Journal,” a collection of 51 brief reflections on a year’s worth of runs. The article also included a summary of a study published earlier this year in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Sports psychologists gave clip-on microphones to 10 distance runners and asked them to narrate their thought process during a run.

What did these runners think about?
How hard it was to move at their desired speed: “Come on, keep the stride going, bro.”
How soon they could stop: “Come on, you have enough energy for a mile and a half.”
And, quite often, about how miserable they felt while running.

The researchers summarized: “Pain and discomfort were never far from their thoughts.”

It made me wonder why people carry on with such a masochistic exercise. If they knew how it feels to practice Kaizen Swimming, would they give up running? Or would they run differently–the way it’s taught in ChiRunning?

In any case, the contrast between the runners in this study and the practice I’d done just one day earlier could not be more stark.

Before I describe my practice, I’ll review several principles of TI Fast Forward training methodology:
1.) Always focus on improving your swimming.
2.) Create a feedback loop– either subjective (Focal Points) or objective (Strokes Per Length/SPL, Tempo, Time). If the latter, use two metrics. Tempo+SPL or Tempo+Time or SPL+Time.
3.) To swim faster, design problem-solving exercises that strengthen your ability to hold Stroke Length, while increasing Stroke Rate. We call this the “Algorithm of Swimming Success.”

 Mon 2 Nov Approx. 3500 meters at Hampton Lido, London

Sean Haywood (he was among 27 members of a TI-UK training group who went to Ironman Mallorca the previous month) invited me to swim with him at the Hampton Lido, an outdoor 36-meter pool. We swam from 6:45 to 8:00 AM. Having never swum in a 36m pool, I went in with no idea what my SPL or pace might be. But that’s never a problem. I can “create meaning” in any pool, just by counting strokes during my tune-up, which I swam in the “medium speed” lane.

Swimming with a feather-light catch and barely-there kick, I took 24 strokes the first length, then added one stroke on each of the next three laps–reaching 27 SPL on the 4th. (I later did a calculation and found that the “Green Zone” for my 6-foot height in a 36-meter pool should be between 24 and about 28 strokes.) Then the tune-up effect began to take hold, and I shaved a stroke, bringing me to 26 SPL. I swam continuously for another 10 to 12 minutes, holding 26SPL pretty steadily (except when I overtook another swimmer and sped up to pass).

Feeling ready for a challenge, I moved into the “fast” lane and turned on my Tempo Trainer. It was set to 1.17 sec/stroke. I figured that was as good a place as any to start. I swam 4 lengths (144m) continuously and averaged 27 SPL. Armed with that information, I decided to swim a Tempo Pyramid, slowing tempo by .02 each 100 until my SPL returned to 26–or 104 strokes for the 4-lap swim. I reached that at 1.23– taking 25 strokes on the 1st length, 26 strokes on the 2nd and 3rd, and 27 strokes on the 4th.

Next, I would test how long I could hold this stroke count, while increasing tempo by .01 sec after each 144m rep. With a brief exception, I held this stroke count for 11 reps–to a tempo of 1.13 sec/stroke.

I missed my intended count on only one length, taking 27 instead of 26 strokes on the 2nd lap at 1.15 tempo. Because I was a bit too slow on flip turn and pushoff, I had to rush a bit to synchronize the hand entry of my first stroke to the 4th beep. I knew in that instant that the cost of the momentary lapse would be an extra stroke. This happens commonly because while each stroke must be only .01 faster, each turn must be .05 faster (.01 x 5 beeps from final stroke on one length and first stroke on the next).

I made my approach to the wall a little stronger and somersault a little faster on the next two turns and regained my target stroke count on the final two lengths, then held it for one more rep, at 1.14. At 1.13 I exceeded my target count again and knew I’d reached my limit. I then dropped down to 3-length (98m) reps and held my 26 SPL average (25-26-27 strokes) until I reached 1.09.

At 1.08 my SPL rose again, so I cut another length from my repeats, carrying on with 2-length (72m) repeats, holding 26 SPL to 1.06. Then I cut another length and finished my practice by holding 26 strokes from 1.05 to 1.02 sec/stroke. My final length was 27 strokes at 1.01.

If a researcher had given me a waterproof mic and asked me to record my thoughts between repeats, I’d have said that I was having the time of my life. I spent over an hour focusing on every single stroke–the definition of mindfulness–and consequently remaining completely absorbed.

As I solved the challenge of holding SPL as Tempo increased, I swam almost exactly one second faster on each rep (104 strokes x .01 sec). But the experience of swimming faster was enormously pleasurable. As I progressed through the set, my movement through the water felt better and better–more integrated, more fluent. And the overall effect produced a highly satisfying Flow State. Does it get any better than that?

Take Your Swimming to the Next Level!

Learn the Habits of Mastery and develop expert-level skills with Total Immersion’s 2.0 Freestyle Mastery Complete Self-Coaching Course. Do you love learning, practicing, and swimming the TI Way? Are you excited about attaining personal mastery in the most efficient and exacting skills available in freestyle? Have you mastered the TI Foundations in prior videos or the Effortless Endurance (formerly Ultra Efficient Freestyle) Self-Coaching Course? If yes, the 2.0 Freestyle Mastery Course is for you.

2.0 Freestyle Mastery course