Here is a question I just received on my post Power From The Core

Is it possible to guess how much difference there are between a good and a bad catch, if counting SPL and if other factors are equal?

My answer is given here to provide a better chance that it will be found by those who might share this question:

If you’ve got a steady # Strokes Per Pool Length (SPL) and a steady Tempo, these means your stroke ”gear’ is  fixed for a certain Pace. Now the challenge is, how can you make it easier to hold that Pace (that SPL and Tempo combination)?


An obvious place to look at is the catch. The logical assumption is that whatever catch allows you to cover the same distance in the same amount of time with less effort must be better.

The conventional but often misguided solution to making the stroke feel easier is to build bigger muscles. Bigger muscles make the job feel smaller by overpowering it. Bigger muscles consume more energy. That’s fine if your goal is to burn calories, or simply to enjoy more definition in your physique (that was definitely my goal when I was 14).

The practical solution for most of us is to find the way to use less muscle power to achieve the exact same Pace. It is the same idea as finding a way for your car to use less fuel to drive the same distance at the same speed to work each day – you can do this by improving the way you brake and accelerate and shift gears, or by tuning (or changing) the engine so that it runs far more efficiently. Then you have more fuel or have more money in your pocket to do something extra with. The same with swimming- fuel saved means you have extra in the tank to go farther or faster with.

I will give you the self-coaching solution (versus explaining to you the elements of a superior catch- I can do that in another post if you like):

The simple experiment you can run is to test different catch positions and patterns while hold the same SPL/Tempo gear. Take a few repeats to test and compare each pattern and see which one feels the easiest without disrupting that SPL/Tempo gear.

You can measure ease (a subjective definition for efficiency) in two ways:

Objectively, by Heart Rate (HR). And subjectively, by Perceived Effort (PE).

For HR you could clip a Finis AquaPulse onto your earlobe and see that you hold a steady HR. Or the old fashioned way, by taking your pulse at the end of certain repeats. I have an AquaPulse. It’s a very useful device. But I do encourage you to train yourself to develop a keen sense of PE. You’ll use it extensively as a mindful swimmer.

The subjective skill for PE starts developing as simple as this: if it feels easier, it just might be. Your brain is really quite smart.

So you can pick a set of repeats, set a Tempo Trainer at a certain tempo, and choose to hold a certain SPL. Pick only one of those to be near the edge of your comfort zone, not both (at first). Then use your normal catch pattern and hold it for several repeats, taking notes of the PE.

Give yourself ample rest between repeats and sets if needed to let your HR settle a bit.  Your goal is to get careful feedback from your nervous system, not to push your metabolic or cardio-vascular system. You want to find out which pattern is easiest, which means, which one uses the least amount of power to get the same job done. (Once you find the better catch, you can apply it later to a set that pushes your muscles).

Then decide upon one specific adjustment in the catch, focus upon holding it, and then use that new pattern for another set of repeats. Once you set the pattern don’t change anything mid-length! You need time to see the effect of that single change. Compare to the previous pattern. Was it easier or not? Where exactly on your body did it easier or harder? Did it affect your SPL? Did it make the Tempo suddenly feel more rushed or more slow? Note exactly where the benefit or consequence was for that adjustment in the catch.

You may notice a change in your PE, in terms of your breathing getting stronger or not, your heart beating faster or slower, or you may notice that it got harder/easier to hold the Tempo or the SPL you chose. This is telling you whether you are getting ‘hotter’ or ‘colder’ in search of that better catch.

Coincidentally, this is exactly what I’ve been working on in my sea swims these last two weeks. I have been using a more brisk tempo (1.10 to 0.98) to keep up the heat as the water temperature is dropping gradually this month. But my goal is to start working my way into even faster tempos, holding SL, while preserving the same sense of ease. There is the issue of monitoring the effect on my Stroke Length but I can explain how I keep an eye on that in OW in another post also.

If this answer still leaves gaps in your understanding or inspires more questions, PLEASE write a comment and I will improve my answer for you.



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