Here is an excerpt from the Pace Improvement Course I am offering through both the TI Academy and to swimmers I am coaching on my private Smooth Strokes Forum. This came up at the point we are taking a chosen SPL x Tempo (= Pace) combination and building up distance with intervals.
By gradually increasing distance you will challenge your abilities to hold your chosen SPL x Tempo combination. It will get difficult and you will reach what feel like limits to your ability for that day. Yet ‘failure’ of this type is an important part of your success.
Failure may come in one, or a mix of these objective forms:
- SPL will start to rise and you can’t bring it back down and keep Tempo.
- Tempo will feel too rushed, and you can’t maintain the timing any more while preserving SPL.
- Effort (your heart rate) will climb and rest intervals won’t be enough to refresh your muscles and mind for the next repeat.
And why might this failure happen?
#1 – You have reached your muscular/metabolic limits and it is physically impossible to apply enough power.
#2 – You have reached neurological limit, attention grew weak or distracted – or in other words, you lost concentration and conscious control over what was making your stroke work.
#1 is what most people assume has happened. But really, the cause may likely be #2 more often than #1. Don’t underestimate the power of concentration. You do have a limited supply of energy, but the fundamental swimming problem for humans is not insufficient amount of power, but an extraordinary amount of wasted power. It is an interesting phenomenon in many intense sports and activities that we actually ‘give up’ control from mental weakness before we actually lose it by physical exhaustion (I have prime examples in my rock climbing experience).
One of the intentions of this course is to show you that you indeed have enough power already on hand from which you can extract a lot more distance and speed, if only you learn to use it better. Steady concentration on the specific features of your stroke that reduce drag and conserve energy is what will set you up for success on this path of improvement.
At this step of the process your body is going to get that workout you have been expecting. Your fitness will be required to increase in proportion to your technical skill because you are setting an exacting neuro-muscular task for yourself. This is how fitness happens while focusing on technique. Your ability to generate power will be directly linked and subservient to your ability to use that power well. Your body will learn to supply just enough power, precisely where it is needed, precisely when it is needed because you are foremost focused on executing a specific stroke pattern to achieve specific results in timing and distance, not merely churning your arms and burning calories.
Truly efficient speed will be the result of this step in the training process when you discipline yourself to be loyal to your chosen SPL x Tempo combination, and use your assessment of ‘failure’ to find the technical weaknesses in your stroke. Don’t put in the distance, put in the quality.
When you reach some form of failure (noted above) you need to assess what is the root cause of that failure – you may ask yourself:
- Did I feel a loss of control over SPL first, or over Tempo first? Why?
- What feature of my stroke started to fail that made me feel struggle?
- When did I lose concentration? What key features of my stroke did I lose concentration on?
- At what point in a single distance interval do I start to struggle? 100 meters, 200 meters, 300 meters, etc.
- At what point in the total distance do I start to struggle or feel exhausted? 500 meters, 750 meters, 900 meters, etc?
Then you can decide if you can do something to recharge your strength of concentration and resume the practice set, or you are done for the day in order to give the brain and body time to adapt during your rest until the next practice.