This is meant to be Part 2 of Practice As A Puzzle To Solve.
A Practice Example
Here is an an example of how I applied this puzzle approach…
At a certain range of distance-swimming tempos (1.15 to 0.95) I have tapped into this full-body synchronized rhythm which matches the wave pattern of water flowing along my body line at the surface. This is a thrilling sensation – a new ‘Level of Heaven’ I’ve tapped into in my swimming career. I feel light in the water, sliding along the surface, rather than plowing through deeper down. When in this groove I feel like going and going, and even when tired, if I renew this rhythm I feel my strength extended further. I have memorized certain focal points which generate this position, and this sensation. Now I want to take that rhythm into faster sprint tempos to see how it would affect my sprint capabilities in a totally different metabolic state. I am quite capable of getting into it quickly at a certain range of tempos, but I want to see what it can do for me at faster-than-normal tempos.
Though this was not a ‘sprint’ practice set by any means, my objective was to work at the speed of the movement patterns without applying the greater power that sprinting requires . I know that my body needs some time under the challenging condition to solve the motor puzzle – either in many short repeats (like 6x 50) or a single long one (like 1x 300), or something in between. Because of my distance-swimming attention span I made a set of 10x of 300 to give me the most opportunity to find it, only interrupted by the turn at the wall.
I started at tempo 1.15 – at this tempo I could quickly slip into the rhythm at the quality standard I set for myself. On each round I would speed up the tempo by -0.03.
NOTE: Why use increments of 0.03, rather than 0.01 or 0.05 or 0.10, you might ask? Well, if I use too small of an increment I don’t want to take all day to get down into the most challenging zone. Buut I don’t want to start too close to the challenge zone either – I need some rounds to warm up my system and ease into it. And, as I work my way into faster and faster tempos, my (and anyone’s) ability to adapt to those tempos becomes more difficult. Smaller increments will start to feel like bigger steps up in challenge. So, as I approach personal speed limits I make smaller incremental steps in challenge and allow more time (more distance per round) for adaptation at each step. From experience I feel that an increment of -0.03 is a good compromise between too small and too big, if I want to keep the change increment fixed. Otherwise, I could choose to make the increment smaller as it gets more difficult.
So, my linear tempo progression looked like this over the course of 10 rounds: 1.15, 1.12, 1.09, 1.06, 1.03, 1.00. 0.97, 0.94, 0.91. 0.88.
I was not sure how far I could go in this set and still achieve the rhythm I was aiming for, so I left the finish line open-ended. As I went along I could choose one of three responses to the result in each round:
a) if I feel I entered into the rhythm before half-way and could sustain it the rest of the way, I considered that a successful round and would move on to the next round with the faster tempo.
b) if I did not feel I could tap into or consistently sustain the tempo with rhythm, I could do another round at that same tempo to see if my brain could adapt to it given more time.
c) if I felt overwhelmed by the tempo and could not get the rhythm I could reduce the tempo by +0.03 (slow it down to the previous setting) to slightly lower the challenge on my nervous system and give it time to get stronger at a previous level. Then in the next round I could try the slightly faster tempo again and see if I could adapt.
Failure is important because it shows me I am reaching a certain kind of limit in one of my performance systems. I can interpret the nature of that failure then choose an appropriate response to it, in order to address the root cause.
Response To Results
As I went through this set I felt competent to achieve the quality I was aiming for in the first 7 rounds. It was at the 8th round (2100 yards into the set) that I started to feel a little bit of tiredness in the muscles and concentration was getting more challenging, which made my sense of rhythm more inconsistent. I might have repeated the 9th round at the same tempo of 0.91 but, out of curiosity, I thought I should just go to 0.88 and see what happens. I’ve encountered strange results before (e.g. feeling hard at this tempo, but strangely easier at the next fastest one). And, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was able to get into the rhythm with some acceptable consistency.
Now, if I had more time, and working in my Scarce Energy Zone was what my training plan called for, I could have continued on a few more 300s to reach a solid failure point. That would be one option.
Because of time I choose to conclude the main set for the day at that point. But I feel that I reached the failure point too late in this set. It would have been better to hit it at about 1200 mark and then spend time working around that difficult tempo. I was a bit too conservative at the start – or in other words, it was too easy at the start with the tempo steps I had planned. So the next time I would use a faster starting tempo, perhaps 1.09, then work my way in -0.03 second steps down to 0.94 where I was starting to feel the motor challenge in the tempo where it coincided with some metabolic fatigue. By this adjustment I hope to hit the neuro-muscular failure sooner, before I hit metabolic fatigue. The system that fails first is the one that is going to be worked the most by pushing on further.
Personalize The Design
Notice that I intentionally tried to reach some failure point in the set, not avoid it. Success is not defined by the absence of struggle, but by provoking a problem then figuring out how to solve it. This is the learning and adaptation process. I want to swim into a specific puzzle and then spend that time working my way out of it. If the puzzle was ‘too easy’ this time I will make it a little harder next time so I really have to work for it. If I spend the time struggling to solve the puzzle but did not quite get it, I could do the same practice again and let the rest time between build up those things inside which support more adaptation. Likely, next time I would be more successful at the exact same set. If not, I could do the same practice set again or slightly lower the challenge to get a bit stronger at a lower level before returning to the higher challenge.
Also notice that all the parameters of this set were designed specifically for my motor skill and my fitness level, not for yours. I am currently wired for tempos down into the 0.70s on sprint-distance (i.e. short) repeats. Practice sets (in the pool) for me are 1000-3000 m/y in total, and even longer in open water. And 300 m/y repeats are standard ‘short’ lengths for me on distance work – the challenge for me came in gradually merging the two together, in requiring my body to sustain faster tempo over a longer duration of time. Each by themselves would not have been a challenge.
For some swimmers out there this set would be too much. For others it would be too little. Everyone needs to train in their own skill and fitness range, and work around their own failure points.
Success in this kind of practice is not just about getting out of the puzzle, but discovering and memorizing the specific things you need to do in order to replicate it again and again until it is a new habit which you can rely upon under a certain amount of swim stress. It’s a process of trial and error until you solve the puzzle, then burning the solution into neuro-muscular memory. Even if you don’t ‘solve’ the puzzle in a single practice, each piece of insight you gain takes you closer to the solution, and those are points in your adaptation favor.
And, once you solve the puzzle at this level, your next practice may change the puzzle so that you must solve it in a different way, or at a slightly higher level of challenge. In this way you continually grow, continually improve, continually expand your capabilities.
And that is a practical way to do a Kaizen kind of practice.
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