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Continued from Special Stamina Part 1

Incremental Increase In Challenge

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Let me describe briefly how to adjust just one of these variables at a time to create a gradually equalizing and increasing challenge upon your performance systems…


Rate Perceived Effort

When the physical effort level is low it is much easier to focus on precision of movement. Then you gradually increase the effort level, using something like the Rate Of Perceived Effort (RPE) scale, in which you practice the movement. Start at RPE 1 (‘walking’ level of effort) and work your way to RPE 2 (‘jogging’ level of effort), and so on, working your way toward a failure point.

Another way to increase overall effort level is to gradually reduce the amount of rest you take, whether active rest or passive rest.


When the distance/duration is short it is easier to stay focused on a precise movement. Then you gradually increase the distance/duration (of each repeat) which requires you to hold focus for a longer period of time, working toward your failure point. Start with 6 to 8 strokes (without breathing) and work your way toward one full length with breathing. Start with 1x 25m and work your way toward 4x 25, then 2x 50m, then 1x 100m, and so on.

Task Complexity

When the task is simple for your voluntary and involuntary motor control system it is easy to control a movement pattern the way you intend to. Then you gradually increase the task complexity, working toward your failure point.

Tasks, from most simple to more complex:

  • Standing rehearsal
  • Drill
  • Drill + 3 or 4 strokes (no breathing)
  • 6 to 8 strokes (no breathing)
  • 1 length whole stroke (with Roll-To-Breath)
  • 1 length whole stroke (with rhythmic breathing)
  • Multiple lengths whole stroke with rest intervals between

Start with a standing rehearsal of the movement, then try it in drill position in the water. Then try drill plus 3 or 4 strokes. Then try 6 to 8 strokes (without breathing), and so on, working your way toward a failure point.

Water Conditions

When the water conditions are calm and comfortable it is easier to focus and control. Then you subject the movement practice to different conditions – crowded lane, deep water, rough water, salt water, cool water, etc., looking for weaknesses revealed by gradually increasing challenge under these conditions.

Note that water conditions can have physical and/or psychological challenge features to them – it can be mostly a physical challenge or mostly a psychological challenge, and often a mixture of both. Consider how swimming in rough water will physically challenge your motor control, while swimming alone in deep water offers some people a severe psychological challenge (though water offers the exact same support no matter the depth). Swimming in cold water challenges both the body and the mind.

Energy Zone

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When you are in your Abundant Energy Zone (which I wrote about in Swimmer Speed Curve Part 4) it is easier to focus and control. Then you practice the movement at later stages of energy depletion – in the Scarce Energy Zone – to reveal weak spots in control, in fitness, and/or in your mind. First do the activity when you are fresh, then return to it later in the practice when energy is lower, or return to the focal point later in the long swim when you are feeling tired.

Now, these variables are all used in every practice set, whether you think about them or not. The point here is that you can and should carefully choose and adjust them. In a wise and creative arrangement of these you may keep your mindful and measurable practice efforts more effective and more enjoyable. You should not be changing all these variables randomly – there should be a thoughtful method to how you make the adjustments. A good scientific approach to training would have you keep most variables constant but change just one and then measure for changes in internal sensations and external performance.


To establish special stamina you aim for consistency in quality during your efficiency-building training sets (as in, “Did I do it well?”), not just quantity (as in, “Did I finish the distance?”).

Consistency is your ability to do the movement over and over again with the level of precision you expect. Change one of the challenge variables, practice and test again – it will go much better when you practice that focal point under a variety of challenge conditions, spread across several practices. Variety is necessarily but it must also be done methodically, with spacing and interleaving with other skill-building work.

I sometimes refer to consistency as ‘success/failure rate’ – over the distance of your repeat, are you hitting your quality objective about 50% of the time, 70% or 90%? That is your consistency. There is both the sense of quantity (how many times) and quality (how close to my best) in this concept.

Consistency below 50% usually means your challenge conditions are too complex. 60-80% means you may be right in the sweet spot for strengthening the motor circuit. 90% or above means you are getting closer to automation and should consider increasing a challenge variable by some small increment.

Hitting A Wall?

If someone says “I am working so faithfully each week, but I am still getting stuck at this XXX distance mark” then I suspect that there stagnation in the challenge variable settings, some randomness about changes to the variables, or some negligence in quality control.

If you practice all the time with only 12 -25m increments for your technique improvement with lots of rest between and then jump to a 500m test swim and wonder why you always hit a wall at 100 (exhausted, breathless, mindless, etc) – it is likely because you are practicing differently than you are testing. Make your practice sets correspond more closely to your test, or make the test correspond more closely to your practice.

If you are making no progress in stamina, check the design of your practices:.

  • Are you measuring a specific quality feature? (not more than one or two at once)
  • Are the starting variables set appropriately to your current skill level? (can you start the activity with a high consistency/success rate?)
  • Are you keeping variables constant, and changing only one variable at a time?
  • Are you making careful incremental increases in challenge? (rather than big or random leaps)
  • When you test for progress, is the test putting you in similar conditions to how you have been practicing?
  • Have you tested to see whether your weakest system is primarily technique or fitness?
  • Are your practice sets bringing you to some failure point and revealing the weakness that causes it?
  • Are you emphasizing the weaker system in your practice design?

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