This is a continuation of thoughts from Going Beyond Easy Speed.

There are some ‘easy’ breakthroughs in speed which come from that initial – and usually radical – improvement in body shape and movement control. But the other way to appreciate the ‘easy’ in easy speed is that it comes to you without focusing your training directly on speed itself.

How does that work?

You cannot make more speed happen directly, because speed is made up of components. You can focus your training upon these speed-components, and when you improve these, speed will improve as a natural, physical consequence of the equation.

Though the speed may come somewhat ‘magically’ from focusing on the components, the fact is, you’ve got to focus and work hard on training those components. You’ve still got to earn this speed.

Speed Is Foremost A Skill

Let me frame the relationship this way: Speed is a result of power delivered through technique. More power alone does not solve the speed problem unless there is sufficient technique in place to deliver it. Technique is not only what delivers power, it is what reduces the resistance against forward motion, and it is what reduces power leaks.


Speed = Stroke Length x Stroke Rate and both Stroke Length and Stroke Rate sustained together require a great deal of motor control, in other words,  technical skill. It’s obvious that big muscles don’t necessarily make a fast swimmer, and fast-spinning arms can go nowhere fast. There has to be a lot more than ‘fitness’ and power that makes a swimmer sustain better speed. The requirement is sustainable-power-under-control.

Level 1 training produces results a swimmer can measure, feel and appreciate immediately – stroke length gets longer (i.e. closer to optimal), and it simply gets easier to swim across the pool and beyond. The first level of training in TI is to gain control over the stroke – improve your ability to hold shape and and direct your movements in an efficient and effective way. This control then puts you in position to reach and start using optimal stroke length and to improve your stroke tempo range, and work on those two together to create certain paces that you can sustain – and this is what you will develop in Level 2.

Test For Technical Weaknesses

In Level 2, we start relying more on test swims to gather data about stroke length, tempo, pace, effort level and expose weak spots in your ability to reach suitable SL and Tempo and to sustain those over the full distance. That shows us where your specific technical training needs are – those weaknesses in motor control which are wasting your power. Once we remove those apparent points of waste, then we can add more power training in a responsible way.

There is ‘easy’ speed which comes from simply improving your shape and your stroke control in fundamental ways – you get faster just because you come into better body control. This is the gift you get at the beginning in TI. But after that, you need to earn your speed through training specifically on your weaknesses.

More on this in these posts:

Test Swim Recommendation

If you find you’ve been working on Level 1 skills for a while and are wondering where more speed is going to come from, I would suggest you conduct a test swim with specific measurements. You will use this same test swim about every 2 or 3 weeks to measure and compare your results.

Then measure these things in the swim:

  • distance
  • time it took to finish the distance
  • count stroke per length
  • perceived effort level (as it changes during the swim)
  • break-out point (where you finish your glide from the wall and break the surface)

We can do a little math to calculate average tempo from your time per length and stroke count per length, and break-out distance.

I strongly recommend that you count strokes in your head, not on your watch because in the middle of the swim, when your stroke count changes, you need to notice that moment and quickly search for what happened during that length to change the count. It is essential that you make these connections between internal cause and external effect. Watches will not help you make that connection.

Just as a suggestion for those who are new to this you might do a test swim as little as 400 to 800m. This could be one continuous swim or you could divide it into intervals like 4x 100 to 4x 200, or 2x 200 or 2x 400. If doing intervals assign a fixed amount of rest between intervals – like 15 or 20 seconds rest. Just keep it consistent from test to test.

In the test swim you do want to choose total distance and a starting pace which will eventually lead you into some discomfort during that test swim. This is meant to expose weaknesses in your ability to control your stroke- you actually want to provoke some failure which may happen after a few lengths or many.

Look for:

  • inconsistent stroke count or increasing stroke count
  • inconsistent tempo
  • inconsistent time per length
  • dramatic changes in perceived effort or exhaustion
  • dramatic changes in mental sensations

Train Your Weaknesses

Simply put, you are slower that you would like to be because, at that failure point in your swim, you have

  1. Allowed an increase in drag from poor shape, or
  2. Allowed an increase in power leaks from poor movement patterns, or
  3. Dropped a level in power supply

You look for weaknesses, then work on solutions in that order of priority to follow the critical path of what is constraining your speed.

This is where the Level 2 work begins. You build up your weaker points of control by setting up self-limiting practice sets which isolate and challenge those weak spots. There is limited value in making your strong points stronger if they are only going to be held back by your weak points. So, improve the strength of the weakest members of your technique to get them closer to the level of your strong points so that your energy is not wasted through disproportionally-developed technique.

And, here is the main key to test swim analysis: Failure Leads To Speed

And, we’ll talk about this more in the next blog post.

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