Smart Speed Part 3- Patient Pursuit of Technique

This essay will explain the why I advocate for a Technique-oriented training strategy. Whether you seek ultimate speed, racing performance, fitness or to enjoy endless peaceful swimming, building your platform for superior swimming on technique will give you the best results.

Technique is like creating new electical circuits in a computer. Technique, imprinted well, is essentially hardwired into the neuro-muscular system. Once they are built you can use them when you like. Muscular strength, on the other hand, is like keeping leaky balloons inflated- you have to keep continually stress them to keep them at their peak. Certainly, for any swimmer training on a budget of time and energy, technique is the best thing we can invest in.

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This conceptual chart displays 3 basic strategies for training. First I want to thank Peter Fabok, TI Coach and Barefoot Running Ambassador in Slovak Republic for providing some critical additions to my understanding and for giving me the idea for this graphic to represent the concepts. I expect he and I will develop these ideas further in collaboration.

In each Strategy the narrow column (red and green strips) represents INPUT, the amount of effort, all the time and energy that you can invest in your training. The red stripe represents focus on power, and the green stripe represents focus on technique. They are showing the proportions of effort in relation to each other.

The wide column (blue, green, orange) represents OUTPUT, the results you get from your training. This could be in terms of speed, or endurance, or distance. The blue block represents the natural skill and fitness you have right now, without doing any training. The green block represents the potential results you could get from perfecting your technique. The orange block represents the potential results you could get from building power on top of technique- because all power requires some sort of technique in order to apply it to moving through the water, however good or bad that technique might be. The green represents GOOD, effective technique of course.

Good technique is your ability to transfer available power into forward motion with the least amount of effort, without damaging strain upon the body. It means you are able to use as much of the naturally available forces (gravity, buoyancy, water density, lift, momentum, etc) as possible to move your body forward instead of your own.

Strategy #1 is describing the ideal training path. We pursue technique as the highest priority, and only build extra power once we have the ability to control and apply that power precisely where we want it. In swimming power is specific- it is only useful as it the body is trained to channel it into forward motion. Building power without the technique to direct it with precision results in wasted effort- working ‘harder’ in the same unintelligent way does not magically produce better technique. The power behind good technique is built into the technique training itself- so no additional power training is needed to get the most out of technique alone.

Strategy #2 represents the compromise between the two extremes. Swimmers here tell me something like, “Yeah, I want to work on my technique, but I need to build up my strength also so I can go faster.” This strategy is taken by those who think that Power and Technique are independent of each other- that they are alternatives, as if you can somehow get speed out of power without good technique.

You can try to train under this belief, but it builds a false hope in your potential. The problem with building power without first building good technique is that during that power training you are strengthening your poor technique and only making it harder and harder to use good technique under pressure. In other words, you are wasting power, and digging a deeper hole with bad habits.

Strategy #2 is suitable for people who mostly want to burn calories while reducing the risk of injury a little more. But it is not suitable for anyone who truly wants to swim the fastest and farthest they are capable of (at any age).  The older you get, power potential will decrease, while technique potential will stay steady to the latest years.

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The deception behind this compromise (Strategy #2), and behind the power-only strategy (Strategy #3) is that power training will, at first, give the swimmer big improvement in speed. Coaches can build attractive programs by running new swimmers through tough training and build up a lot of muscle and cardio-vascular strength. Naturally, the swimmers most naturally talented in technique (think of children who seemed born to dance, or sing, or run, or swim!) rise to the top, while the others train on this false hope that if they just work hard enough, for enough months, they will magically break through into incredibly fast swimming also.

But this path plateaus quickly and then this swimmer is stuck having to put out more and more effort to gain less and less speed. However, the increased force against water increases the water resistance working against the swimmer EXPONENTIALLY. The harder you try to go the harder water pushes back.

For every bit of additional power a swimmer applies they must also aim that power more and more precisely to keep water resistance at an absolute minimum. This is another way to define what technique accomplishes- precise application of power where it matters most. This is exactly NOT what power-oriented training is focused on.

Strategy #3 represents the unguided training plan, or the total power-only training strategy. On land, there is a much better return for how much power you build to how fast or how far you can run. Water is 800 times more dense than air so air-resistance is negligable for runners who increase speed, while for a swimmer the harder they try to go, the harder water will resist.

The input column to the right of Strategy #3 represents the disporportional amount of effort a swimmer, with minimal emphasis on improving technique, has to put into power-training in order to accomplish the same level of performance that a technique-oriented training plan would give him. This is why one swimmer cruises along with long gentle strokes and another beside her is an explosion of splash, bubbles, and waves, yet both are traveling the same speed.

Here are some comparisons I want to make in summary:

Strategy #1:
– Permits you to reach your fullest potential.
– Gives resilience to your performance. Technique, once deeply imprinted, can be quickly revived and applied even after months away from the pool.
– Trains you to use your time, effort, and physics to your greatest advantage.
– Provides the path of lowest risk for injury as the forces transferring through your joints increases.
– Provides the path of lowest risk for mental burn-out as the brain is trained to focus on improvement, rather than tune-out pain.

Strategy #2:
– Effort in workouts must be increased to produce speed and to maintain it from week to week.
– Can create a misunderstanding about the relationship between Technique and Power. Can create conflict in priorities during practice.

Strategy #3:
– The ‘hardest’ work, yet giving the lowest return for all the effort.
– It is the poorest use of time, effort, and neglects physics (fights available forces rather than using them).
– The highest risk for injury as the forces transferring through the joints increases.
– The greatest risk for mental burn-out as the brain grows weary of tuning out pain, day after day, month after month, year after year.

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There you have it. This essay is the first draft of a project I am working on. Your constructive criticism is welcomed!

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2 responses to “Smart Speed Part 3- Patient Pursuit of Technique

  1. Pingback: Entering the Challenge Zone III | BAREFOOT AMBASSADOR·

  2. Pingback: Coaching Ethics « Smooth Strokes·

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