I had a great practice set in the pool early this morning- 1600 yards broken into 16 x (4x 25 yard sprints), with a rest interval based on my heart rate*.
The objective- holding SPL (at 16) while increasing tempo from 0.95 to 0.83 seconds, using a Tempo Trainer.
In the winter I like to work on my sprint skills. I have in mind to break 60 seconds for 100m. Something I could not do 20 years ago at 18, but very much within my reach now because of TI.
Following that Speed (Pace) = Stroke Length (SL) x Stroke Rate (SR), I know that I need to achieve 17 SPL x .80 tempo (in a 25 meter pool) to reach 64 second 100m, and 17 SPL x 0.75 tempo to reach 60 second 100m. So I am simply building practice sets to incrementally improve my SL x SR combination until I reach my goal.
Though the word sprint tends to conjure up the image and sensations of hammering (powering through the water) I was not, in fact, hammering. My goal was to find the path of least resistance– to increase speed without increasing effort. This is smart swimming. I do this by continually refining my form and timing of movements, finding the most slippery pattern and and most precise timing to every aspect of my stroke and body position. Specifically, I did this by increasing the precision of each stroke- applying the exact amount of power at the perfect moment in the transition of the arms through the core body rotation, so that I could SLIDE my whole body through the water, rather than shove against it.
It works. Precision is powerful.
At 0.92 tempo, on the 3rd 25 I felt all the details of what I was focusing on come together- making my tempo and SPL goal with EASE. It was thrilling. I burned the sensation of that length into my mind, knowing that is exactly how I wanted to feel on each and every 25, and this is what I carried as I worked my way down to faster tempos, searching for and holding onto every facet of my stroke that contributed to that sensation.
In this practice set this morning rather than suffering, I was thrilled. Rather than enduring, I was deeply engaged. I was enjoying the challenge and focus of holding every detail of a slippery body, and enjoying it so much that I was eager for the next faster tempo even as the challenge to my focus increased. This was a great practice: ending mentally energized and wonderfully exerted, but certainly not wasted. I made major progress on my SL x SR sprint project without tearing my joints and muscles up and depleting the energy I needed for the rest of the day.
* A quick note about rest interval-I waited for my heart rate to recover to a certain point (by feel), but not get too rested. I found that my performance from length to length was better when I recovered ‘just enough’ but still kept the HR strong. If I rested too much I actually lost momentum on the next length, as if my engine was sluggish on the first few strokes of the length, waiting for my heart to get the pressure back up.
When focusing on EASE, or in other words, when training the neuro-muscular system to take the path of least resistance, I was providing myself enough rest so that I kept challenging my muscular control, rather than pushing my muscular power, though that was still certainly getting a good workout. It is the neuro-musclar system that holds superior form, not the cardio-vascular system. If I pushed my cardio-system it would make it much harder, if not impossible for me to hold such form at these tempos- but if I build the neuro-muscular control, I will get the muscular power to go with it by natural effect of the training itself. The strategy here is to first achieve the skill in small pieces, then train my body to take that skill into longer and longer distances.
Excellence comes one stroke at a time.