I first acknowledge that TI Head Coach Terry is emphasizing this topic lately. It’s not coincidental that I am processing these ideas at the same time, though it is timely since several TI students have been asking for better understanding in this very area. So, with the influence of those recent discussions with Coach Terry acknowledged I am going to share some of my arguments on the topic here…
PS – this post is intended to be Part 2 of How Does Speed Happen?
It is a great misconception that somehow Technique Training and Fitness Training are viewed as separate activities in the water, as if they are in conflict with each other in some way.
Because it is impossible to separate Technique Training from Fitness Training.
Yes, it’s true. Let me explain my spin on it.
All movement requires the body to metabolize energy and supply it to the brain and muscles. And all repetitive movement is programming – programming how energy will be directed by the brain and used by the muscles. All swim training is habit-building – smart swim training and stupid swim training – all of it is either building smart habits or building wasteful ones. All that repetitive motion is hard-wiring the brain and fixing the muscle memory to use energy in a certain way. Whether you move with low intensity or high, you are programming your body to use energy in a certain way, and the strongest program is what will take over when you are under pressure.
Technique = how precious energy will be used in your body while you swim.
If you turn off attention on ‘technique’ so you can ‘apply more power’ you are essentially programming your body to be careless with it’s limited energy. It may feel good to tune out and get delightfully exhausted from a wicked hard workout, but it is pure mythology to believe it will bring you improvement proportional to the effort you’ve been putting out.
Careful technique, if not practiced in all intensity ranges, will not magically appear in your stroke on race day. With every practice stroke you are building habits that will take over under pressure. If you practice superior strokes part of the time and inferior strokes the other – then you have competing patterns being set up in your brain – and which one will win when the going gets tough? The sloppiest one, for sure. If you expect to have awesome technique on race day, you must always practice that way so there is no other technique for your body to choose from under stressful conditions.
What is fitness for?
To supply energy.
What is technique for?
To apply energy.
More specifically, technique is there to apply energy where it is needed, when it is needed, and in just the amount necessary to get the job done and no more. Or in other words, technique is the wise use of limited energy. Everyone has a limited energy supply at every level of fitness – either in how quickly it can be supplied to and processed in the muscles and/or in how long that supply can last.
This sets two kinds of energy limit upon a swimmer’s potential speed then:
1) The amount of energy made available by his fitness level.
2) The manner in which his body is programmed to use that energy = his technique.
Though the available energy limit can be challenged in practice and gradually pushed up a bit over the course of training, no one can exceed that limit of available energy today, or on any day. You have what energy you have today – so you’d better train your brain and body to always use it well.
The limit that you can affect immediately, on any day that you swim, is #2 – how well you use the energy available to you right now. With the best human swimmers estimated to be 93% wasteful with their energy, and the rest more like 97% wasteful – humans have a massive opportunity for energy saving and speed improvement just by learning to use available energy better.
And keep in mind that the higher in speed you try to go, the less tolerance for energy waste there will be. The physics of objects moving through water and human physiology force the fact. So, if you are really looking for high, competitive speed, you cannot afford to be more wasteful than your competitors.
Therefore, fitness/power training disconnected (in your mind) from technique training, though commonly accepted in traditional training circles, is scientifically foolish.
How then do we do both Technique Training and Fitness Training at the same time?
The simplified way to do this is to start with Technique work that produces a low-energy-consuming stroke. The first metric we use to determine low-energy cost is stroke count. We’re looking for a stroke length that is appropriate to the swimmer’s personal conditions, to the event and to the energy consumption needs or goal of that event (see Height-Stroke Counting Index). Then we incrementally increase the challenge placed upon that stroke by adjusting training metrics which multiply the complexity and intensity. I like to call them complexity multipliers to emphasize their relationship to neurological aspects of training:
- Consistently maintain chosen Stroke Length without compromise
- Incrementally increase Relaxation
- Add finer Focal Points (A breaks down into A1, A2, A3)
- Hold attention on multiple Focal Points (A, AB, ABC)
- Incrementally increase Tempo
- Incrementally increase number of repetitions
- Incrementally increase Distance of each repetition
- Incrementally decrease Rest Intervals
With these few complexity multipliers, single or in combination, a swimmer (or coach) can create an completely customizable and inexhaustible array of practice sets to take the swimmer as far up in performance as she desires to go.
An increase in fitness is achieved by increasing the challenge upon the stroke to hold its best technique under increasing pressure. Don’t worry, the muscles and the heart will get their necessary ‘workout’ because they have to supply and apply energy to that stroke which is being challenged.
Just try some practice sets under these parameters and you’ll quickly see how challenging it is to train this way. You can knock yourself out with as much challenge as you want to design for yourself, and you’ll be building energy-saving habits while you do.
Our commitment in TI to making all speed/power work conditional on best technique guarantees the formation of swimming habits that train us to use that limited energy most effectively at all intensity levels. Intensity level just tells us how much energy we are bringing to bear, but it does not tell us if we are using that energy well. Technique is the devotion to using that limited energy the best way possible.
This definition may be helpful: Technique Training = Learning how to reach your speed goal at the absolute minimum energy cost.
This is a literal, scientific definition of Efficient Speed.
There need be no fear of missing out on your Ultimate Speed by this approach – it is actually the only way to get to it.
Ultimate Speed for human swimmers will always be limited, not by the quantity of energy supplied, but by the quality of energy applied. For those who wish to break world records in swimming the tolerance for energy waste is getting thinner and thinner. Physics and physiology will force refinement in energy-savings over the increase in power as those super-humans approach the ultimate ‘speed limit’, wherever that is. Because even the best human swimmers are an incredible 93% wasteful of their energy in the water we realize fitness is not our ultimate speed limiting factor – technique is. So, simply put, swimmers must practice Speed with the least amount of energy cost possible. Physics urges us to look for that single path of least resistance to moving forward fast – our objective is to discover it within ourselves.
For you and I – mere mortals – our more modest Speed Goal can be achieved within a range of energy expense, from low to high. It is up to our training method to determine whether we achieve it at the low end of that expense range or at the high end. Because TI offers us the way to unite Technique and Fitness we have a choice in how we can train for speed and the price we will pay to achieve it.
Coach Terry will be hosting a webinar on this topic of Merging Technique and Fitness Training sometime before I publish this post. If that webinar becomes available publicly, I will put a link to it here on the blog. It will no doubt be enlightening.