Stroke Length Before Stroke Rate

I swam 2048m at 8:10. Sunny, warm. The PC 32m pool was maybe 30 degrees already.

WORKOUT

8x 256m (4 laps), with lap #1-3 at lowest SPL, and #4 BR recovery

On lap #1 held 19-18 SPL; #2 held 19-18 SPL; #3 held 18 SPL’ #4 held 18; #5 held 18; #6 held 17; #7 held 17; #8 held 18-17

The keys to getting down to 17 SPL per 32m today:

  • I needed about 500m to warm up and then I naturally got looser and looser.
  • I reached further with the extending front arm by rolling a bit further into each reach forward, rolling to a slightly steeper angle.
  • I used a slightly higher spear-hand target since I am gliding further, delaying my catch a bit longer, letting the water gently lead my relaxed hand down to catch position rather than adding drag by driving it there and holding it until catch moment.
  • In Skate Position I kept my head looking straight down and cheek tucked as closely as possible to front-reaching shoulder.
  • I exhaled during each glide so I could quickly inhale and return to Skate Position.
  • I had to make the jump from each wall strong, lean and long, every time. Any fumbling in it would add a half a stroke or more to my SPL.
  • I kept my elbow high on each catch (I had to watch my right side which had a tendency to drop today).
  • I needed to focus on a wider track on my left arm today to avoid the little irritation/pop there. But still I would enter as near my head as possible- I have tested this tighter entry point against a slightly wider one and it produces lower SPL for me.
  • I concentrated on foot-hip-spear-hand-forward. I know it’s effective when I can feel the foot meet stiff water resistance, almost like pushing on a ledge, when I flick it down to give me leverage to drop the opposite hip. And after the swim I feel some nice tiredness in the legs if they have been doing their job in this way.

COMMENTARY

I was not deeply motivated today. I had a good 9 hours of sleep 2 night ago, but I need that kind of sleep every night, not just every once in a while. For several years now I’ve lived in mostly ‘sleep-deprived’… no let me adjust that word… ‘rest-deprived’ conditions so that limited physical performance is normal. Why? That’s another story, but let me summarize by saying that living in a foreign land is a lot more tiring on the brain and body than someone who hasn’t tried it can understand- and we’re in a very demanding season of parenting too- it’s a struggle to get the 4 kids to bed early enough but we’re lucky to have them all down by 9 or 10, and even if they stay up late, the littlest ones will wake up at 6:30, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We don’t have anyone to take them so we can have a break. So we just live ‘tired’ most of the time. I can’t wait to be a grandparent!

At least I have enough internal drive to keep up my training knowing that even when I am down, it does not last and I will appreciate that I have at least maintained my fitness so that when the motivation does return I am ready to ride with it.

Also, at this time of year the days are hotter, the water is so warm that it easily provokes that lazy/exhausted sensation. That is another thing to fight against, likely factoring into my general tiredness.

However, I made myself work during these 45 minutes that I had today before lessons. It takes a great deal of concentration, fine sensitivity to drag, and effort to hold minimal SPL lap after lap, with a mere 2-beat kick. It is a serious workout. I’ve heard the comment that such minimum SPL work is worthless because a person will just so slowly to ‘extend’ each stroke and therefore not get any fitness benefit at all- gliding is not ‘real’ swimming. But in reality it doesn’t work like that because the physics of water require the swimmer to maintain both best position and a critical level of momentum to gain the longest ‘true’ stroke, and therefore true SPL count. My ability to both hold the most streamline position effortlessly and time the switch has developed tremendously over the years. I would be interested in challenging a non-TI swimmer to match my SPL in these drills and do it with less effort than I am, then match my SL and pace in a 3km OW swim and then compare our energy levels at the end.

In these sets I am going slower than my race-cruising pace, but I am conditioning the muscles and neurons that enable me to hold this position and even lower my SPL at higher SR. Sets that improve my ability to hold low SPL are the foundation to my ability to hold high SR over longer distances because I am training to use less energy at higher speeds over longer distances. Without such foundational SL work a swimmer becomes one who is merely spinning his arm-wheels, thrashing a lot harder but getting a fraction of the forward-moving benefit out of it that he could.

At this stage of my swimming-wisdom I would say: First build SL religiously. Then build SR on top of it, and always maintain that order of priority.

By holding SL in priority over SR in my training  I find that I can make micro adjustments in SL to accommodate higher SR without sacrificing the features of my long stroke that make it so efficient and long-lasting. I am able to build ‘gears’ into my stroke that I can pick from at different points in a swim to address different conditions or goals. But it is my increasing conviction from experience that one who builds SR at the cost of SL will never even come close to their potential as a swimmer.

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