This is related to the previous and following posts:

Here is a comment I received from a swimmer recently (and asked permission to repost):

My usual SPL is around 17/18. On really slow tempos–1.6 and up, I can do 16. but as soon as I increase the TT, I usually can only save 1 stroke as I reach the beginning setting (usually 1.4) So the calculations for my SPL (15 to 20) were in my ballpark.

What I really find hard is the exercise where you establish “N” and then either try to go N+1 or N-1. Haven’t got the feel yet. My stroke needs a lot of work and I also need to work more with the TT. I find it tenses me up and takes a lot of focus for me to relax with it.

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To clarify above, she had been doing the math, from the previous post, to estimate her appropriate Strokes Per Length (SPL) range (15-20 SPL). “N” refers to what would be her lowest appropriate SPL. If, for her, N = 16, then N+1 = 17, and N+2 = 18. This would be her 3-point SPL Sweet Spot that she would use in her practice: 16 to 18 SPL.

Here is my comments on her situation:

I suggest that she spend less time with the TT right now, and keep this objective – solve the puzzle of making 16 SPL feel easier.

To make it feel easier she needs to reduce drag outside the body and reduce resistance inside the body. By using TI drills and associated focal points to direct attention outside the body and inside the body she can isolate points of drag, points of tension, and areas of poor core control in her 16 SPL stroke. And by addressing those one-by-one, it will, by design, get easier and easier to hold 16 SPL. The focus of the training is to lower drag and resistance, not lower SPL. SPL will get easier (or lower) as a result of that focus – ‘SPL + Ease’ is simply a way to measure that drag and resistance are decreasing.

For a while, until control over SPL becomes well imprinted in her neuro-muscular system, I recommend she train for SPL without the Tempo Trainer on this project. It is possible that she is creating a distracting level of stress by challenging both SPL and Tempo at the same time and this will hinder her progress. Tempo work will come later.

It would be better to take the time to build comfortable control over the SPL at whatever natural tempo allows her to do it. Once it gets ‘comfortable’, then pick up the Tempo Trainer again and use a Comfortable Tempo. After working with that for a while, she can gradually challenge that 16 SPL stroke at both fast and slow ends of her Comfortable Tempo Zone. This will expand her sense of ease at 16 SPL further.

For this swimmer, she is already capable of achieving 16 SPL, so she can work at that  right now. But what if a swimmer calculates that his SPL should be 16, but he is only capable of 22 right now? Good question! He will follow the same process, but at incremental SPL improvements. If 22 is already his tested best SPL he may first aim to hold 21 SPL until it becomes easier. Then he will aim for 20 until it becomes easier. Then 19, then 17, then 16. By solving the puzzle of ease from 22 SPL to 21 SPL, he will be developing the skill and sensitivity he needs to lower it further. This process may take days, weeks, or months. His own body and brain will reveal how much time this transformation requires.

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Why not use the Tempo Trainer?

If I can use an analogy: Using a Tempo Trainer takes up bandwidth in the brain. You’ve only got so much at any given moment (like your computer or internet can only handle some many apps running at one time). The more challenging the Tempo the more bandwidth it takes up. Even the act of just focusing on an easy Tempo beep itself takes up part of the concentration, and is sometimes more disruptive to performance than helpful. If you are also taking up bandwidth with an SPL challenge then you may not have enough left to add the beeping Tempo Trainer on top of it. This may either cause too much stress or cause failure in the exercise.

But keep this in mind: the brain wants just the right amount of challenge, not too much and not too little, in order to expand its abilities. At some point, when that stroke gets to a certain level of ease, your brain will ask you to increase the challenge. And this is when it is time to add the Tempo Trainer or some other complexity multiplier to the equation. This understanding of the brain is central to neurologically-oriented training methods.

Do you have to slow down?

If a swimmer feels any pressure to keep up the speed while she works on lowering her SPL then she may be feeling the common mythical fear that ‘slowing down to imprint this stroke skill will make me a slower swimmer’. She must call the bluff on this myth. By slowing down to build a longer stroke by means of lowering drag she will, in fact, become capable of higher speeds with less effort than she could before. Only by calling the bluff and letting herself slow down to increase concentration will she discover the power of this well-established neurological process.

But then, when that 16 SPL stroke starts to feel easier, she can take up the Tempo Trainer at a Comfortable Tempo and then practice not just holding that 16 SPL, but relaxing at 16 SPL x Comfortable Tempo. Given some imprinting time it will start to get even easier.

It could take 6x 50 meters to relax into that 16 SPL x Comfortable Tempo. It could take 3x 6x 50 meters to relax. It could take 2 practices. It could take 2 weeks until it feels normal and natural to swim that way. The point is, be faithful to the process and not to your expectation for a certain result in a certain time-frame. It takes time and your body will tell you what it needs to reach your goal. By being more patient in the beginning you will experience more consistent improvement later on. That is the promise of this method.

If you want to speed up the imprinting process you can: as much as possible, increase mindfulness, improve the feedback loop, and increase frequency in your training (with proper rest in there of course) – in that order of importance.

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