Work Smarter

In support of what I wrote in the last post, coincidentally, here is an excerpt from what Coach Terry sent out to TI Coaches worldwide today:

Do you recall the TI Swimming Success Algorithm?

It comes from data collected by USA Swimming at the Olympic Swim Trials from 1976 through 2012, then analyzed to discern patterns that improve a swimmers’ chances to make the Olympic team. 

In most events, while there are 8 fiinalists only 3 to 4 swimmers have a realistic chance to make the Olympic team. And only the top two will make the cut. So the question is, if you’re fast, fit and talented enough to race other swimmers of similar caliber for an Olympic berth, what’s the best way to swim the race that decides it?

Of the approx 9000 ‘splashes’ (as they refer to individual races) for which USA Swimming has kept data over the last 36 years (9 Olympiads) what race pattern was most often associated with success? The ability to increase Stroke Rate near the end of the race, while minimizing loss of Stroke Length.

Consequently, the great majority of my ’empirical’ sets (those in which I track SPL, Time and/or Tempo) focus on testing, improving and ‘wiring in’ that capacity.

** **

This is not somebody’s crazy untested idea. It is a documented, measurable fact that we base our training strategies upon.

There is an interesting contradiction in conventional training logic – they want to go harder to get faster. They call this a strong work ethic. And the typical approach is to spin the arms faster to do it, which results in higher heart rate, and gives more sense of ‘working hard’.  Frankly, spinning arms at higher tempos is relatively easy, and requires very little coaching skill to accomplish. This may be the actual reason Go Hard is so popular – there is simply too little understanding beyond fast arm and high HR  in the profession for coaching swimmers otherwise.

Do they really want it harder?

In contrast,  training for a long stroke is far more technically challenging for a coach to guide, and far more neurologically challenging for the swimmer to concentrate on. Holding that long stroke under higher tempo or longer durations is hard work for the mind, but performs so much better.  And with a longer stroke, a less extreme tempo is required.

The coach has to know what she is doing and how to measure this and how to train the swimmer to guard this advantage at all costs.

When in TI we say, Work Smarter, Not Harder it confronts this old misguided logic. But in fact, we might say we are advocating for Harder Work – but to do it where it counts more: Work the brain harder, so the body doesn’t have to.

The body will break down eventually, but this kind of training will only make the brain grow stronger, and this growth is available life long.


2 responses to “Work Smarter

  1. Mat,

    Don’t approve this post. It is a little negative.
    I looked at the link to Terry’s blog and this is why, for me that Terry is out of touch with the average swimmer.

    He will write incredibly complex articles on the stroke. He will analize data for the experts or talk forever about very intricate swim sets, but he is out of touch with the rank and file. I know his blog is very important to the coaches, but he is TI’s Micheal Jordan and we don’t hear about common swimmers problems from him. He will write a 20 page essasy on a tech subject, but nothing on sinking or how to breathe. Maybe that’s your job but he is out of touch with me. I could only get through part of his blog.

    80% of his book/dvd sales are to regular swimmers. We just want to be included too.

    Just venting,


    • Hey Steve,

      I really appreciate you stating your feelings about my post. I helps me reconsider how I’ve communicated in it.

      As for Terry, I might defend his deep, narrow and perhaps esoteric approach to things as what is blazing a trail- opening up whole new possibilities and new training territory. It is stuff that common swimmers may not appreciate so much but for a few years down the road or when citizen level coaches have processed these things down into smaller, less abstract forms that allow ‘average’ swimmers to comprehend in the water for the first time. Terry does what he does, following his creative energy in the water. He has transferred responsibility to the rest of us for bringing things down to the level of common swimmers. Hence, you seem to appreciate my posts over his.

      As for myself, I won’t immediately defend what I’ve wrote, but take your view to heart and re-consider if I really want a critical tone in the comment about ‘conventional coaching’. Generally, I’ve made it a practice to just ignore the tragedy I experienced in the old days and still see going on in coaching in the pools I visit (merely a small sampling, but I do travel rather widely), and keep explaining the Great News of what I know now to those who want to hear and learn. But I too feel the attack of some experienced swimmers and professional coaches using comments that show they are obviously uninformed about TI and about the basics of physics, yet they preach the tradition with frightening self-righteousness and closed-mindedness (this happens not just in religion!) and spreading mis-information about what we achieve with TI. I know how destructive this traditional approach is to a percentage of swimmer and for this, the ignorance I hear defended and the unwillingness I see to actually learn TI to test it objectively before criticizing it is grossly unprofessional. I believe a great deal of coaching is unethical when the education that will enable them to have injuries (physical and mental) removed from their swimmers is readily available. Ramping up Tempo without carefully trained stroke mechanics is a prime recipe for physical injury, and the workouts traditionally assigned and the suffering expected as part of the culture leads to mental injury, when better results are proven to be achievable with a non-injurous approach.

      One of my long-time good friends who has debated with me for years about conventional and TI was jabbing at me with the HTFU videos on Youtube. He was joking but there was such irony in the video theme that he knew I would catch. He said, “You know Mat. Some of us just want to get in the pool and go as hard as we can in an hour and get out wasted. That makes us feel like we worked hard and used our time well.” This is the attitude among his tri swim group at his prestigious fitness club. And how practical and safe is this approach for average swimmers? He proved my point.

      Perhaps the problem of my comments is using “they” because then who exactly are the “they” I refer to anyway? Do “they” know who they are, and those who are not know that also? Will only the truly guilty party feel the rightful rebuke? Likely not. The ones who need to hear it won’t be reading this, and the ones who do read this are already on the same page with me. No need to create an echo chamber here.

      And if I recall correctly, you are the one who coined the phase, “TI Snob” once and I think this blog post takes me terribly close to that title.

      So I’ve just about convinced myself to that, on this blog, I should just continue to keep it to myself. I acknowledge that to keep positive and refrain from criticism is better for my personal reputation. And though I am a conscientious member of a revolution to see this tragic mindset removed from the institution of swim instruction worldwide and replaced with one that will liberate people from struggle and injury in the water, I should review how I can best apply my limited time and energy to effect that desired outcome.

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