So what exactly might a ‘Tune-Up’ look like?
It is a sequence of steps I take to prepare my mind and body for the main task of the practice. It’s a series of steps, or a routine even, for bringing each essential piece into line so the swimmer (me) has the best opportunity to achieve the objectives of the day.
First step: do some activity to get your attention drawn into the water and into your body. I like to swim as gently as possible and just enjoy the feeling of buoyancy, of flowing, of water slipping down my body line. It doesn’t take long for me to notice something that leads me to Step 2 and I am motivated to take care of it. But sometimes I slide a long for quite a while because I just need to.
Second step: scan for tension, tight spots, discomfort and start clearing these out. It’s like dynamic stretching but just range of motion in the form of strokes and drills. This is aqua-yoga time. Again, everything is gentle or pleasantly stretching. No strain. The goal is to get range of motion loosened up and feel the body systems align around swimming motion patterns.
Breathing rhythm is a really big part of this. I do struggle with it in the early part of practices. The goal is to form a gentle, steady exhale underwater, as much from the nose as possible (though this does seem to stir up more chlorine irritation for my nose, so I exhale half mouth, half nose).
Third step: lengthen the stroke.
This is the crux. I know what my normal optimal stroke length is, but if I am not hitting this with ease in my tune up time then something is wrong. (See my previous two post, Why Tune Up? and Out Of Tune for more on that). A short (shorter than normal) stroke signals ‘low energy’, ‘low force’, or ‘high drag’. If I continue into my main practice set without solving this (or at least knowing what the culprit is) then what kind of training will I do, and what results will I expect? If I am not in control of my stroke length then I cannot be in control of my energy expense.
Stroke Length is the foundation of easy speed. If I don’t find my easy optimal SL then I will be practicing struggle and costly speed- those are skills I don’t need to improve. So I want to find that easy long stroke again, as quickly as possible and hold onto it for the rest of practice.
Stroke Length comes from flexibility and coordination. In other words, it comes from shape and timing.
So I use some shape forming focal points to scan my body and tune up any weak spots in balance and streamline. Start with the head and spine. Then the torso. Then the arms. Then the legs.
Then I scan for timing points, looking for how the catch is timed to the rotation, then how the spear is timed to the rotation, then how the catch is timed to the spear, then how the toe flick is timed to the spear. I start with simple connections and work my way toward more complex ones.
Then I scan for the feel of the full steady catch. I feel for the full steady pressure of the toe flick (along the shin and foot). I try to match the steady pressure of the catch to the steady pressure of the flick.
Step 3 is taking time to run some tests and drills that get my SL dialed in for the day. This would apply to all 4 stroke types too.
How long does this take? Well, if my stroke count quickly settles into my normal optimal number then not long at all. If not it sounds like it could fill an entire practice, doesn’t it? It could actually. And perhaps it should if I am struggling to get my optimal stroke back.
Today, I essentially did just that.
For example, I spent ten or twelve minutes on Step 1 and 2. I didn’t count laps. I just swam one length and focused. I would get to the wall then decide what I need to tweak and what to focus on the next length or two. There was still something not relaxed and long about my stroke, the count was too high. So I decided to do another 10 minutes or so of 25 and 50 repeats holding 16 SPL and see if I could find where my weak spots were 0 only doing more lengths (75m) if I was holding 16 on the previous ones. (Before you compare your SPL to mine, note that I personally count each catch, not each spear, including the first underwater catch after push-off, and counting what would be the last catch and fraction to touch the wall, so my SPL counting is usually one unit higher than the standard TI counting method. I have a decently long stroke for my wingspan).
Since I didn’t find the solution right away I decided to set aside my Pace Matrix (a series of SPL x Tempo combinations to form certain target paces) and continued work without the Tempo Trainer so I could focus only on shape and timing points of the stroke.
I did do some TT work in the end, but I turned off the stroke counting to relax my shoulders after an obsessive set of repetitions and I wanted to just let them relax into the timing of each tempo. (I don’t necessarily recommend long, obsessively focused sets – I just happen to like them.)
Anyhow, I wanted to explain my thinking on how to construct a Tune-Up for each practice. And we can see that, in fact, a tune-up can be an entire practice. But when you’ve got relaxation, shape, timing and SL dialed in as you want them right now, and have some other things to work on, then hopefully you can enjoy a 10 minute tune-up and get on to other tasks (that will appreciate the advantages that came from doing the tune-up like this).
One last idea: what I discover or uncover in the Tune-Up could, and likely should, influence what I do in the rest of the practice, if not totally override it. I am taking that time to search for where my body wants and NEEDS to work that day. The Tune-Up is partly what I do for my body, and it is partly what my body is doing for me, to guide me.
A tune-up is a principle (or a set of principles). Apply the principles consistently and you get good results. You get to apply the principles in a way that fits you and your circumstances. Have fun experimenting and personalizing it!