The Swim Matrix...
Inspired by Terry's recent discussion about swimming faster at the same stroke count...and by a thought that was sparked while reading his warmup for "First Workout of 2011", I decided to try a set that I now call the "Swim Matrix"
What is it: A systematic progression of first effort, and then stroke count, creating a matrix of combinations. This is something a swimmer could try after having had a lot of practice with maintaining and manipulating stroke counts at will. It is an exercise in increasing tempo while maintaining length...the key to faster swimming!
The first iteration in my mind went like this:
4 x (4 x 100) = 1600 total
Starting at your chosen "N" stroke count, here is the matrix:
4 x 100 @ 16 SPL (or N), decsend times on each repeat
4 x 100 @ 17 SPL (N+1), descend on each repeat
4 x 100 @ 18 SPL (N+2) descend on each repeat
4 x 100 @ 19 SPL (N+3) descend on each repeat
I attempted this set today for the first time and these were my results:
After my warmup, my first 25 was 15 SPL, so I started at that "N"
100s @ 15 SPL (1:49, 1:43, 1:41, 1.37)
100s @ 16 SPL (1:43, 1:42, 1:36)
And then I was done. What happened?
Well, here is what I learned...
#1) Swimming slowly at low stroke counts is easy. Maintaining VERY LONG STROKES while trying to increase stroke rate is extremely strenuous. Of all the above sets, the most challenging was the 15 SPL at my fastest time of 1:37.
In fact, I was so tired from that effort, even though it was far from a "fast" 100 for me, that swimming easy at 16SPL was challenging. It took me until the 8th length (end of the 2nd 100) to find my 16 SPL stroke length consistently. By the time I did the 3rd 100, My strokes were going up to 17, so I did not attempt to swim 16 SPL even faster.
I began a set of 100s at 17 SPL, but after the first 50 my arms were so tired I lost focus. This is not a tiredness in the sense that I felt it was difficult to swim...I coudl have, and did continue swimming for another 20 minutes afterwards. The tiredness is the type that comes from maintaining long strokes, tall swimming posture and not allowing form to falter as stroke rate increases.
#2) Developing a wider range of tempos at which you can maintain your stroke count is key to wringing a lot of value from this type of effort. Prior to trying the SWIM MATRIX today, I had played with swimming faster efforts at the same Stroke Rate, sometimes by effort and frequently with the tempo trainer. But doing so by effort alone, and being able to swim more than 2-3 sets in descending fashion requires a lot of focus and training at this specific skill.
#3) Those new to the SWIM MATRIX (like me!) should consider doing a 3 x 3 matrix to start with, and either extending number of sets or increasing range of strokes before expanding both at the same time. Eg. a 3 x 4 matrix or a 4 x 3 matrix before doing the 4 x 4 matrix.
Alternatively, doing shorter sets (25s or 50s) would allow more practice at willful manipulation of swim parameters with less fatigue.
Does this type of swimming appeal to you or is it too complex?
***Note: Doing some quick math on the 15SPL 1:37 100, I calculate my avg. stroke rate for that set was 1.34 seconds/stroke. Last summer I was working on swimming 500 at a SR of 1.3 sec/stroke & 16SPL as my targets.
During that training I was able to get down to 14SPL at 1.3, and felt that that was a "hard limit" for my swimming given my height and skill.
This tells me that I've had a significant loss of fitness as the same set of 7x 100 I did today would likely have not been that strenuous at that time. As my fitness improves, I'll continue trying the matrix and compare results.
the other interesting point is that for me, sustained 14SPL was impossible at that rate. That was about the point I made some changes to my stroke thanks to Coach JohnB, and discovered that "allowing" my SPL to comfortable rise to 18 SPL allowed me to swim faster with less effort. Swimming moderate 18SPL 100s is less taxing than swimming 14SPL 100s even at a slower rate.
The swim matrix is one way you can discover what these "hard limits" may be in your swimming.
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
Last edited by CoachSuzanne : 01-04-2011 at 10:50 PM.