Why Set A Goal?
Setting a new achievement goal is not just for those who are ambitious or competitive. Even if, and especially if one is simply pursuing health and happiness through swimming, a goal that requires you to swim a bit farther, a bit faster, or swim better under more challenging conditions provides structure and accountability for your health-focused training time. It can help you make sure you are doing the work that is really taking you in the direction of improvement. Health is not a static state – it is the movement from one state toward a better one, thus stimulating all the processes involved.
For those who are newer to setting achievement goals in swimming, how do you go about preparing yourself for a that achievement, swimming a bit farther than you have gone before, or swimming a bit faster, or doing a certain distance under more challenging conditions?
If it were so simple to do, then any generic plan in a popular swim training book would get you where you want to go. But, in reality, many of you have discovered generic plans don’t work very well. It is a rather complex task to find a plan that really fits you, starting at where you are right now in your personal condition and take you all the way to a suitable goal because there are quite a few principles involved in a wise plan and satisfying all those together is tricky. (I think this complexity and the many possible ways of handling it helps explain why there are many earnest but seemingly conflicting opinions out there on how to train). It gets more so when we customize the path to fit you because it needs to take you along at the pace that your body can handle and it must fit into your budget of training and recovery time. A truly personalized plan has to take into account all of that about you, or it needs to give you room to make adjustments for yourself without losing the principled structure.
This complexity is not beyond you to study and master, but understandably, some people would prefer to save the time and outsource the planning and decisions to their coach. But for those of you who do find this interesting and worth your time, I am glad you are reading because learning to train ourselves is a great part of what this blog is about.
So, let’s look into this situation…
Define Your Goal
Let’s say your next goal might be to swim something that takes longer than 30 minutes, but less than 2 hours – something that could possibly fit into an ordinary person’s practice time at least once a week. (When we get into longer distances, we have to be more creative with how to generate long-distance forms of stress into very limited training time).
The first step is to define the goal in terms of distance or duration, and to indicate the speed you will go, even if you are not trying to go fast or set a record. Speed is one of the ways to measure your strength and strength is something you need to build up for comfort sake even if you are not intending to be competitive. The stronger you are, the more comfortable you will be during that endeavor. The stronger you are the more easily (quickly) you will recover afterward. The stronger you are, the more easily your skills can be converted into speed. Strength is not just for the ambitious athletes out there – it is a vital component of safety, longevity and comfort.
Notice that I define strength in terms of both quantity and quality – what it produces and how it feels. Those two together paint a more accurate picture of what’s really going on in your body and how good those changes are for you. If fitness is really growing in a healthy direction, you are going to feel better inside during more strenuous activities.
Part of this strength is revealed in your recovery. Your recovery time and ease is greatly determined by how close you got to the limits during the event or in training and how long you kept it there. The lower your capabilities, the more readily you come to that red line, which means the more limited you will be in how far, in how fast you can go and how good you will feel doing it and afterward. We might say that your rate of recovery is another useful indicator of your strength.
Let’s get back to Speed…
We need to break the concept of speed down into stroke length and stroke rate which are variables we can directly work on. In pool training, it is more convenient to handled stroke length and stroke rate in terms of stroke count (strokes per length of the pool) and in tempo (seconds per stroke). Both of these can be measured and developed separately; they each reveal important information about your skill level and strength. You may recall that Speed Is A Skill.
Measure Current Capabilities
Then you need to measure your current capabilities in those same terms. How far can you swim without pain, without provoking injury? How far can you go before feeling exhausted or breathless? How does speed change over the course of that swim? More specifically, how does your stroke count and tempo change over that swim? How wiped out are you after that swim and how long does it take you to feel recovered?
If it’s an appropriate one, the goal you’ve set is asking of you something you are not currently capable of, or not sure you are capable of. The intent of your training process is to take you from where you are at right now and gradually expand your capabilities to handle what the goal requires and a bit more. You want to train in such a way that when the event happens you don’t merely survive that endeavor, you finish it well. You want to feel strong during it and recover more easily afterward.
Get Ready To Be Stretched
Therefore a good training process has to stretch you, and stretch you in a variety of ways. It has to start working on your capabilities where they are right now and gradually take them up to the demands of your goal and even go somewhat beyond. It must frequently require you to do things a bit beyond your current capabilities. Each week you get a bit more skilled, a bit stronger, and then you turn up the challenge a little more. It needs to gradually stretch you in a variety of ways which address the different dimensions of performance that will enable you to comfortably accomplish what your goal requires. It won’t work well to stretch yourself in just one dimension, like swimming a bit longer each time, but always going the same speed. It needs to work on a wide range of skills for lowering drag and for using available power better, and eventually it needs to push you to build more power.
What we see happening is that many people park it on just one of those ways of stretching, neglecting the others, rather than working through all three progressively. This will limit strength and limit how comfortable you will be in that big event.
In the next part we’ll look at these three stages of training toward your goal…