Go Faster With Fewer Strokes

Today I did 3000m. I swam around 14:00- I had breakfast at 9:15 but no lunch- so I was naturally looser (as evidenced in my stretching beforehand) and my fuel tank a bit more filled than usual. The pool was a perfect 29 degrees so it was pleasantly un-noticed.

(I use the term 100m “hand” to note the switch from Fistglove (FG) to normal open-hand swimming)

500m FG, enjoyable cruising. SPL 18.

500m hand, natural cruising pace, hold SPL at 16. Came in at 8:30 (1:41/100m pace)

*Holding SPL and make negative splits is today’s primary focus.

2x [250m FG, 250m hand timed, hold SPL at 16] Came in at 4:07 (1:36/100m pace), and 3:58 (1:32 pace) respectively.

4x [100m FG, 100m hand, hold SPL at 16] Came in at 1:31, 1:30, 1:29, and 1:26 respectively.

200m cool-down

COMMENTARY

When I wrote this workout this morning I didn’t have a clear focus in mind at first. I was mentally tired today and knew I just needed to swim and I would feel better (since napping with a house full of children is a nice wish but a rare possibility). I didn’t have a clear next-step idea emerge after my last workout. So I put together a Fistglove-Openhand set that would help me focus and enjoy some work on building a consistent firm grip (high elbow, forearm and hand creating a long paddle to hold the water with). I am often tempted to compromise this stroke feature when fatigued or being driven by a tempo near my threshold.

When I got into the 2nd 500 I found a spark- seeing how easily I fell into a 16 SPL and kept holding it. My time was not surprising at this natural-feeling ‘cruising’ tempo (I mean ‘cruising’ like a cross-country jet, not like boys in a hotrod cruising down mainstreet on a Friday evening). That roughly estimates to be 1.39 tempo.

I expected to descend times as my distances got shorter, but I wondered how much of a negative split I could make as I covered more and more total meters and felt generally tired.

On the first 250 I was pleased to improve my 100 pace, but wondered how much faster I could being constrained to only 16 SPL, since I was encroaching on the times I would normally be swimming at higher tempo with higher SPL.  When I came in 9 seconds faster on the second 250 I realized I was tapping into something instinctively in my form and stroke, but I did not consciously decide to do it. It is likely a combination of adjustments I was making to increase my tempo without increasing my SPL. I was swimming the same distance in each stroke but covering the distance faster. I was actively lengthening my body even more while also actively resting what could be rested so that I did not fatigue un-necessarily.

When I came to the 100s I expected to level off just above 1:30. But as I swam the first I felt I could squeeze some more. And after the second, a little more. After the third I was pleased I was came in at 1:29 still using only 16 SPL. (And I was coming in well within 16 SPL on ALL the open-hand sets up to this point- no struggle to make 16, except maybe 2 or 3 lengths when I push off was not quite as strong as it could be.) So I launched into the last 100 focusing on just tighting my body, reaching long and sliding my body through that small hole made by my hand. I was so pleasantly surprised to see 1:26 on my watch when I touched the wall! I was not focused on swimming “FAST!” I was focused on swimming long and strong as possible, and how my brain and body responded resulted in nearly achieving my PR this spring with more efficiency than ever- and I can tell I had not pushed my limits today either.

With a Tempo Trainer I am forced to keep the beat, so I shorten the glide and reach to make the next beep. I am more loyal to making the beep than I am to form- or rather, I adapt my form to keep the beep while still trying to hold onto the basics of the form. However, doing these sets today without the TT, I was loyal to form foremost (tight-long body, full-solid grip) in order to hold SPL and let my body find its own tempo to serve it. I roughly calculate that last 100 where I came in at 1:26 to be at a 1.15 tempo.

Ultimately, this is how I will swim a race or distance challenge- without a TT beeping me along. So this was so encouraging to see how my brain and body found a natural-feeling way to swim fast, efficiently. My swimming has improved by using a TT to push my tempo comfort zone and force me to find drag in my stroke at higher speeds and remove it so I can keep tempo with less effort. But then take away the TT and see what happens! I can swim more “efficient-fast” meaning I can swim faster using fewer strokes.

Somehow, over the total distance today, I was able to apply power more effectively in each pull, while reducing drag around my head and shoulders. More force went into forward movement because less was being cancelled out by drag, or lost through a dropped elbow.

This also prompts me to consider how futile simply cranking my arms faster to swim faster is. If those arms are going to move faster then the amount of increased energy I am burning up has got to be worth it. Since I swam here at 1:26 at 16 SPL, and I swam barely under 1:30 at 1.00 tempo and less with 18 or 19 SPL in previous workouts- I realize that it is foolish to try to simply develop a faster stroke without bonding it to a better stroke. The results today clue me into how wasteful I was becoming, and how fatigued I was becoming at those higher tempos in previous workouts. At the last 100 today I did not have any particular set of muscles feeling fatigued. I could have done another 500 worth the sprints and maybe dropped my time another second or more. I am well on my way todays reaching my 1:15/100m marker.

I will also note that I used the Fistgloved swims as recovery. I took maybe 15 or more seconds to slip the gloves on then swam comfortably and smoothly with the FG just focused on keeping my body long and the strokes full. Then I took off the gloves, waited 5 seconds then pushed off for the open-hand sprint. This is so counter to how I first learned to train! I should be pushing my heart-rate and pushing my lactic threshold! But instead I am chipping away at my sprint speed by carefully measured work, rather than monster work. I use the longer swims to push my endurance rather than less rest. Between each swim I let my HR recover so that each swim can be in best form. There is no point in training my body to endure poor form, unless I happen to be one of those swim-aliens who can afford to waste energy and still somehow come in first. No matter how fast a wasteful swimmer is when he is young, an efficient one will be likely swimming a lot later in life and enjoying it.

This is the theory, at least, that I am banking my swimming life on.

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