In order to test and expose the qualities I need in my Perfect 25 I do many repeats with a certain amount of rest- not based on seconds but based on heart rate (HR) recovery. I intend to push my neurological limits, not my anaerobic limits, so in each repeat I use a nasal-breath-monitoring method to know precisely when my HR is recovered just enough, but not too much, and I take off again. The timing is specific to the individual. If I let it slow down too much it is like losing steam (blood pressure) in the system and I have to use part of the next 25 to build it back up again and my stroke count reflects that loss.
If I make my target SL x SR for that length, then I repeat it over and over until I recognize every element that has made that success possible. Then I know I can execute that target intentionally, and by repeating it over and over I memorize how to execute each part of the next 3 lengths to achieve my 100m goal. If some element of quality drops off I know how to fix it. No wishful thinking or gritting it out- just plain math and consciously applied skill to achieve my goal. By mastering these metrics of the swim I gain control over my performance.
Here is the sequence and tips I use for my Perfect 25:
- At beep -2 I take my last breath and slip below the water READY
- At beep -1 I crouch my legs at the wall SET
- At beep 0 I spring GO!
- At beep +1 I am at full streamlined extension
- At beep +2 I give one full-body dolphin
- At beep +3 I set the first catch (always my right hand), I begin stroke counting here
- At beep +4 I break the surface horizontal, lazer lead pointing dead ahead
- I use various markings on the pool floor to see if I am hitting my SPL goal along the way.
- In order to achieve my best SPL every stroke has to have the exact same stroke quality
- I count the last beep before I touch the wall, and add any more time it takes up to 1/4 stroke precision. (If I hear the beep before I touch the wall I can tell quite easily if I touch at the half-beep or just before or just after half-beep).
Because I allow proper recovery at each repeat, any break down in my SL comes, not from anaerobic fatigue, but from a loss of concentration. I find my brain getting tired of holding such precision way before my body losses the strength to fire the muscles at that intensity. Sufficient power remains but I am losing precision which creates more drag which I have to exert more muscle force to overcome- a treacherous negative spiral. So my goal is to maintain the same power output by maintaining the precision of every element of my Perfect 25.
I should also note that I use exclusively a 2-beat kick. It can produce misleading results to swim otherwise. A couple reasons: 1) I am thereby forced to perfect the stroke by full-body synchronization. A kick not perfectly integrated with the core rotation can cover this up. I only get one flick per stroke so I have to make that one flick the best and make it work with the whole body, not against it. 2) By this my SPL will accurately reflect whole-body stroke quality rather than power-output by separate propulsive units (arm force separate from leg force).
I am reinforced in the belief by Sun Yang’s 1500m WR swim using a 2-beat kick, that superior swimming is more about maximum precision not maximum power. He swam 14 consecutive 100m at 58 second pace with a 2-beat kick, and only turned on the 6-beat kick for the last 100, taking in a 54 second final split. I’d be pleased with just one of those 100m splits. I likewise intend to use the 6-beat as the final power-booster, without sacrificing the superior synchronization of my 2-beat kick. 6-beat is easy. 2-beat is hard, but better for what I am trying to achieve.
I have two main Perfect 25 sets:
- Hold SR, and work lengthening SL (minimizing SPL).
- Hold SL (hold same SPL), and increase SR (faster) as far as I can
An example of #1 Set would look like this:
16x (4×25)- tempo trainer set to 0.95. See how I can reduce SPL below 15 (for 25 yd pool).
I use the first 4×25 to loosen up. But within the second 4×25 I usually set into what I feel is my best SPL for that tempo. Now I take on the goal of seeing how I can squeeze more length out of my stroke.
After a few cycles, when I suddenly find my stroke count losing even 1/2 stroke, I know I’ve lost focus on some aspect of that length, and usually I can recall exactly where it was not quite right, the very moment my mind wandered. I renew my focus on the next repeat to regain my Perfect 25.
A typical set for me will be between 11 and 16x (4×25). This allows me plenty of room to test the limits of my concentration.
An example of #2 Set would look like this:
12x (4×25)- starting TT at 0.95, then increasing tempo by 0.01 as I acheive my SPL goal.
Again, I often need 2 cycles at 0.95 tempo at the beginning to dial in my best SPL. Then I will increase to 0.94 and renew my focus.
Often I will be able to hit my goals on the next two increases in tempo, then I will lose some stroke length on the next tempo. So I will stay at 0.92, for instance, until I can pull the pieces together again and achieve 15 SPL at that tempo. I will not increase tempo unless I am satisfied with my concentration.
During this set, eventually the increasing tempo will bring me to my limit for that SPL count. I just can’t hold that SPL at a faster tempo. At this point I can stay and work at this tempo limit to build my strength of concentration there or trade off one stroke and work down into faster tempos. There is value to both, as long as stroke quality remains the highest priority for continuing on.
I’ve made it down to .89 by surrendering 1 stroke. But when I stay and work at the tempo limit of my 15 SPL I find that in my next practice, 0.95 seconds starts to feel slow. I recognize my neurological system getting stronger which allows me to do this set again but begin at a faster starting tempo- 0.93 for instance. I can keep working my way down to faster and faster tempos- increasing my sprint speed from practice to practice- in this way.
I swim in pools around the world. I often see the traditional universal ‘masters’ workout written somewhere on a white board (coach absent of course). What I see in these traditional practice sets are random assortments of cardio-training. A lot for burning calories, but little for the brain to problem-solve, and therefore little benefit for skill improvement. They seem to be there to give some change to the monotony of lap swimming. In contrast, I can use a neurologically challenging practice set, like these examples, repeatedly. Every practice time provides more testing for my concentration and skill. I record my results, assess where I need to work, and increasing the challenge incrementally from practice to practice. I am never bored. It is a totally mind-engaging way to practice.
Please, tolerate no more mindless laps. Your brain will thank you, and you’ll gain far more skill for the time you’ve spent.