Swimming Faster - Part 2 - Quality workouts

I love swimming much more than biking (well, training for the cycling leg), and especially running because I can go hard whenever I want with little to no consequence except that it hurts a lot. The good hurt. And that aspect of swimming is very valuable, both for time management purposes and also for dropping your race times.

In my experience, my upper body recovers a lot quicker than my lower body. Good news.

Yours might not, but I definitely argue that for 1/2 Ironman or Olympic/Sprint swims, going hard in practice is highly underrated.

There are few different kinds of hard, some of which might be termed fast in lieu of hard, but each type has a really important role in your workout.

1. Short rest intervals. With these, you can only go so fast. Going faster in this scenario would require more rest or else you wouldn't be able to do very many. It would be pointless for me to recommend a number of these for someone reading - I have no idea what you're capable of. But, Scott and I generally do Short Rest intervals as 100s on the 1:15 - maybe 10 of them. If we're really feeling good, it's 5 on 1:10. To make the latter, its a lot like splitting one of our better straight 500s. In general you're looking to get about 5-10 seconds rest. If you're feeling on point, 5 seconds is your best bet.
BEST TRAINING BENEFIT - the punchy sections of any distance, Sprint distance swims, and for holding it together during an olympic or 1/2 Ironman swim. You could call this threshold swimming.

2. Another kind of interval is relaxed interval training. I like to think of relaxed intervals as relaxed fit pants - they still resemble tight fit, but you have some wiggle room as to what you'd like to do. For Scott and I, it'd be any number of hundreds on the 1:20 or 1:30 depending on what kind of day we're having. Ideally, this interval is one where you should be able to go all day long, feeling just challenged enough to keep in interesting, without it being too slow that you could consistently do stroke or IM. With these it's fun to descend your time (not interval) or alternate fast/ez. I will argue that even though the interval is slower, you should still be somewhat aggressive. If on the 1:20 or 1:30, Scott and I will hover around 1:05 or 1:10 for our 100 times. Don't do less than 8x100 at this interval.
BEST TRAINING BENEFIT: Any - this is kind of the sweetspot. It will increase aerobic enzymes, "burn out the gunk", and generally make me feel more confident in my fitness. For those doing masters swimming, this is where most of the time is spent. Unfortunately, sometimes too much.

3. Fast Interval Training is next, and should be used for raising your top end, working on Lactate Tolerance, and getting yourself familiar with pushing your limits. Doing this every once in a while will keep your edge for when you need to surge in a race or training. For Scott and I, this is usually done as 100s on the 3 minutes. Yikes! Lots of rest. Yeah, because you're supposed to lay the hammer. Generally, Scott and I will aim for completing these in less than 1 minute. Done in numbers from 6-12, you're looking for best average here, and to feel the pain. Not intended to feel relaxed. About the last length of the 100, you should have doubts as to whether this is healthy.
BEST TRAINING BENEFIT: Beginning of a race, broadening your comfort zone and shifting your entire swimming speed capabilities upward. Sometimes you gotta throw gas on the fire. Lou Hollander, an 80 something year old ironman said the key to his longevity in the sport is doing something anaerobic everyday. That's what this is.

Again, one thing I like about doing more quality, along with technique in the pool is that there aren't long yards that let your technique break down. And if you're doing really hard efforts or sweetspot efforts and focusing on technique, then you're likely to become strong enough to hold technique (with focus) during the longer events. I would never recommend a set over the distance you're aiming to swim in a race - i.e. 20x100 for Olympic or 2500 for 1/2 Ironman. You have other things to worry about. Besides, if you regularly swim 3000 three or four times/wk, when you get to the 1/2 Ironman swim, the speed you'll hold for 1.2 miles will be slightly slower than you do your intervals. Swimming faster negates the need to prepare for something slower and longer IF swimming faster is making you stronger. Since it is, the effort and strength required to maintain a certain speed is less than it was before you were doing quality training.

Some people don't understand this. If I swim at a 1:30/100yd pace in my race, I should do different types of intervals (seen above) where I am consistently, with short or long rest, going 1:20s or lower. After a while 1:20 pace will become more regular, I'll be able to do more on the 1:20 over time and 1:30 will be easy to hold. And your body can take it, too! Cycling less so, and running even less. Swimming is not contact and its truly awesome. Enjoy.

Faster Swimming - Part 1 - Put Stroke Mechanics First

I find it somewhat unbelievable how long it's been since Scott or I have written on this blog. Lately, while not much training has been done on my part (mostly strength training and swimming), I have been doing quite a bit of coaching. I don't coach triathlon. I honestly don't think I know enough. But I do coach swimming, with a knowledge base of which I owe a great deal to Dave Tanner and from what he learned through Doc Counsilman, 40 years of coaching, and his personal experiences and research. Whether it's been one on one with other local swimmers, delivering practices and dryland workouts to 25 high school boys, or battling with the waves of culture at master's practice, I've had plenty of time and happenings to gather my thoughts and share them with those that care to read.

I'll get right to it.

Swimming is swimming. I promise. Triathlon swimming is no different than pool swimming. The stroke is the same. IF you have a two beat (straight or crossover), turnover is what you will thrive on. Otherwise its the same. And no, you aren't going to be able to learn a two beat crossover. Here are some interesting assertions (and how I feel about them) for how a triathlon freestyle stroke is different than pool swimming stroke:

  • Triathlon swimmers need higher stroke rating than pool swimmers - One of my high school swimmers once told me that the more strokes they took the faster they would go. That's what this is saying. Except, what happens when you can't take any more strokes in a given time? That's what this is insinuating, that you can always move your arms faster. The relationship between stroke rating and speed is a bell curve, provided that your technique remains the same. At a certain point, moving your arms too damn fast will cause you to make a less effective catch, and subsequently, a less(squared) effective finish. Losses upfront at the catch are magnified losses at the finish. And you will lose water at the catch because we've seen it on film. Elites don't really lose a whole lot of water, or if they do, are strong enough to compensate. For the average or even above average age grouper, it's just not worth it. Anecdotally, our best swimmer on our high school team - 45.2 for 100 free and well under 5mins for 500, has the lowest stroke rating on the team. He is wicked fast open water, too.

  • Straight arm recovery is helpful in triathlon - Yeah, physics doesn't agree with this. Your shoulder bears those forces. Besides, if you subscribe to the high stroke rating, this only makes it harder!

  • Techniques/drills are not all that important in triathlon swim training - Wow. Take a look at the best swimmer in triathlon - Andy Potts. His technique is picture perfect, which gives him fitness bonus points in that he can go the same distance with less energy. Factor in his true fitness and he should win every swim leg of every race he competes in. Which....he does.

  • Distance per stroke is not important in triathlon - several coaches claim this. Training as though it IS important will only benefit you. You'll teach yourself a better catch, pull phase, and finish. Is it a little harder? Yes. What about if you find the right stroke rating (bell curve), and try to maintain most of your best distance per stroke? It's faster. Why? Because you are then working off the maxims of both variables. Its an equation. Efficiency, which translates to greater distance per stroke given the same effort is worth more in the long run. Here is an older article which highlights this. http://www.usms.org/articles/articledisplay.php?a=106

Amazingly, some coaches take one look at the video of Yang Sun setting the 1500m world record, and think that there are better ways to go about it, strokewise. I'm sorry, but the fitness of his heat in that race is likely the same across the board. He simply is the better swimmer with picture perfect technique.

As a assistant coach for a local high school swimming team, I can tell you that we definitely swim less yards than the other teams who accompany us in the team top 10 rankings statewide. But I don't think other teams pay near as much attention to technique. Its how we make improvements all through the season. When a swimmer comes to me after his race and asks me what to work on, would it make sense to say conditioning? Rarely. As long as they've been coming to practice or you've been tripping it to the pool regularly, you probably have some decent fitness. So, no, I say, we have to work on your entry, your finish, your rhythm, your technique.........

You can swim 4-5 grand per session - just hammering out the yards without the needed attention to technique, OR you can swim less, swim faster, and swim better, and have more time for life, or for biking and running if that's your thing. Think about it.