How do we get faster when we use fewer strokes?

Today I did 2800m. The pool was 28C, nice. (Earlier this winter is was kept around 30-31 which is great for kids and those floating around the pool, but it was a literal head-ache for any lap swimming). Still I am not getting enough sleep lately- 1 or 2 hours less than I need. It was definitely affecting my energy level and recovery rate this morning. I think I have a sinus infection because this yellow gunk in my nose is still coming out. This evening I drank a grape vinegar cocktail to loosen things up and added some grapefruit seed extract to my tea to see how that helps tonight. I hour later and I am actually noticing an improvement over the last week.

The main set was 20x 100m. The intention of this set was to see how my stroke and time was affected as I moved into faster and faster tempos- this is still only my 3rd experience with a Tempo Trainer and I need to gather data on how performance is affected at different tempos. Once I get some real numbers on where I am at currently, I can compare that to where I want to be, knowing precisely what numbers I must be able to hold in order to do it.

I did a 400m FG warm up. Then 20x 100m Tempo Ladder on a 2:30 interval. (On the table below I stacked the tempos against each other so I could see how pushing my tempo affected my speed at lower tempos when I returned to the top.

# TT Time SPL # TT Time SPL
1 1.55 1.42 14-15 20 1.55 1.38 13-15
2 1.50 1.40 15 19 1.50 1.38 14-15
3 1.45 1.43 15 18 1.45 1.39 15-16
4 1.40 1.43 15-16 17 1.40 1.39 14-16
5 1.35 1.39 16 16 1.35 1.39 15-17
6 1.30 1.39 15-17 15 1.30 1.41 15-17
7 1.25 1.39 16-17 14 1.25 1.39 16-18
8 1.20 1.38 17 13 1.20 1.40 17-18
9 1.15 1.37 18 12 1.15 1.38 17-18
10 1.10 1.35 18-19 11 1.10 1.36 18-19

Since I used the FG on the warm-up, I had the big-hand sensation on the first couple 100s. This thrill encouraged me to swim ‘hard’ and immediately I could tell that if I kept that up, under my sickness-strained condition, I was going to go lactic early on in this set and not finish it. So the next two, as you can see on the chart, I calmed the intensity way down and just focused on tempo and easy arm pressure- as I was suppose to.

It is so fascinating to see here how at the end of the set I was back at 1.55 tempo, with only 14 or 15 SPL, but swimming as fast as I was at 1.20 tempo with much higher effort to keep up. I believe that this works, but I don’t understand how well enough to explain it clearly. Somehow I was stretched out by the faster tempo, so that I could return to a lower tempo and yet glide further and faster.

Down at 1.20 to 1.10 tempo my shoulders felt fatigue quickly after ther first 25m. I struggled to keep my stroke long and smooth. I had to really concentrate to hold the form and the tempo together. If I sync’d the beep with any point of the stroke other than at the grab I would mutilate the stroke and glide, and lose speed.  I also had to concentrate much more on hip thrust and core power- when I got desperate I was reverting to poor-form shoulder swimming and it just sucked the energy from me like a sieve.

When I slowed the TT back down to 1.30 it actually felt slow. I had to hold back in order to keep the tempo, but the stroke lengthened out right away and my times held then dropped at the end! How did that work???? This must be the counter-intuitive effect that a tempo ladder exposes. I pushed past a threshold of some sort then coming back I enjoyed a rebound effect. I was getting 1.20 tempo’d times at 1.55 tempo- at the end of 20×100! Maybe I need a 1.00 second tempo’d stroke to swim a 1:10 100m, but I need a 1.40 second tempo’d stroke to swim a 21:00 1500m or beyond- so expanding both is important.

The interval was at 2:30 both because I was not 100% but more importantly, the goal of this set was not to expand speed via lactic acid threshold, but to expand speed via efficient stroke (the sum of a long stroke, few strokes, and a fast glide).

So I am estimating that my efficient tempo threshold (before my stroke starts to fall apart without unusual effort) is around 1.30 seconds currently. To improve it I can incrementally push faster tempos then come back up like I did on this ladder.

Once again, the faster tempo revealed one of my stroke weaknesses- shoulder-powered swimming. At higher speeds or intensities I get lazy on the hip thrust and timing the rotation to the grab- or maybe I don’t notice how little I do it at lower intensity levels because my shoulders are in sufficient condition to keep up. When I do longer open-water swims (2-4km in the Mediterranean) in the warmer months I notice that my fatigue is always in the smaller shoulder muscle grouping. I have some habit forming work to do on this point. I need to work on all the components so that my shoulder mainly act as conduits of power from torso to forearm rather than the generators of the power.

I also noticed at these faster tempos that I would angle my forearm to ease the resistance against them so I could pull faster (without technically ‘shortening’ the stroke) and keep the tempo. This is a flaw I need to correct as well. Somehow that forearm needs to stay fully engaged against the water while I learn to slip my body past it faster. The FG help this at slower tempos, but maybe I need to experiment at higher ones.



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