This articles is continuing from Time To Expand Your Capabilities? Part 1…
To become more capable than you are right now, you may need better stroke skills, but it is not suitable for continual growth to be working slowly on skills and nothing else. You also need strength, but it is not in your long term interest to always do workouts just to get wiped out. You could really benefit from speed work, but it is not a good idea do that without a foundation of skill and to have strength built around those skills first.
To get the components of development in place for expanding your capabilities, here is a way you could organize your training into three stages:
- Acquire the critical skills you need – control
- Build strength around those skills – endurance
- Build power, channeled through those skills – speed
Stage 1 – Control
You need certain skills on board or you may need to bring certain skills to a higher level, and this is your emphasis in Stage 1. You are working on identifying which skills are weak or absent yet critical to your goal, then develop the motor control over those so that you can execute them consistently, stroke after stroke, for thousands of strokes. In this stage, you are aiming to be able to execute these skills at least, with your best attention in place, and under easier swimming conditions.
Stage 2 – Endurance
But that is not taking it far enough. You need to build strength around those skills so that they hold up under longer duration and in higher intensities, and to the point that they can function on ‘auto-pilot’ so-to-speak, where you won’t have to keep attention on them to ensure they stay working as intended.
Before you get to speed, as a preparatory step, you first work on building strength around the components of speed:
- build strength around stroke length, and
- build strength around stroke rate.
You can train your ability to hold a certain stroke length over distance. You can train your ability to hold certain tempo (or range of tempos) over distance. Both of these involve particular neural skill and muscular strength and you can work on them separately for a while.
In Stage 2 you are attentively applying those skills of Stage 1 in training activities that specifically challenge your ability to hold consistent stroke count, to hold consistent tempo, and to maintain those skills over longer uninterrupted lengths of swimming. You would get a sense of what an appropriate stroke length (i.e. stroke count) may be for you to work with, then gradually build up your ability to hold that stroke length consistently for the entire distance. You may even work on the skill and strength for a bit longer stroke, which would make your optimal stroke length easier to maintain.
With respect to the stroke length you should use, get a sense of what an appropriate range of tempos may be for you to work with, then gradually build up your ability to hold a consistent tempo, or intentionally switch gears between a small range of tempos, for the entire distance and even a bit more. Periodically work with tempos that are slightly faster than what you intend to use in your event, so that your optimal tempo will feel easier to maintain.
If the total distance of your goal fits into a normal practice time, you will gradually build up your capabilities for that distance and then go a bit beyond, and get comfortable with that distance before the big event. It would be a big boost to your peace of mind to know there is no doubt you can handle the distance you will swim. It would then be just be a matter of how well you’d like to swim it.
Stage 3 – Speed
Then, in Stage 3, you will work on building power to distribute the load across more muscle units and train the nervous system to execute the movements more quickly while maintaining precision. In this stage you work on speed, which means you must hold both consistent stroke count and consistent tempo together. You work on both greater acceleration (getting to top speed more quickly) and greater sustained speed (holding high speed for longer duration).
I would encourage you to work on speed even if you are not aiming to be fast, because speed work will build power and the more powerful your muscles are, the more easily they can hold streamline position and slide your body through the water. Through technique-oriented power training, your brain learns to be more efficient with the power you have. It learns to recruit a better arrangement of muscles. It coaxes more muscle fibers to participate in the work, and not only do more muscle fibers help out, those numerous fibers get stronger. When technique is always in mind, your movement instinct under pressure gets smarter. All this translates into making your swimming feel easier.
For those who are eager to compete or break through to a new personal best, you are likely already motivated to work on strength and speed because you know it will help you achieve your goal more comfortably. If you don’t have a principle-based plan or structure to your training, maybe this outline will help you form one.
For those who do not want to swim fast or compete against some arbitrary time or achieve a big distance, I hope I’ve persuaded you to consider the benefits of becoming stronger, even becoming more powerful, because it will allow you to feel so much better during your leisure or fitness swimming. And it will open up so many more possibilities on what you could enjoy, in terms of practice types and swimming experiences.
For health, let alone performance sake, greater strength and greater power should be pursued in some measure… as long as you have that great foundation of skillful movement underneath. For this reason, you would want to invest proper time in Stage 1, and then don’t stop there. Keep going into Stage 2, and if you have time this season go into Stage 3 too.
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