Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Technique Hermits, Pacing & Fitness

What does your weekly swim program look like? Is every session the same or do you mix things up? How does each session breakdown? Do you factor a bit of technique work into every session and likewise do you feature some laps of continuous normal swimming as well, possibly with goal times for your intervals? If you can comfortably swim 400m continuously and you are keen to really develop your swimming, these are questions you should be asking yourself.

Swim Smooth are firm believers about including some fitness training for all swimmers with a basic level of competence. Technique work is very important, in fact critical, to a swimmer increasing their speed but we also know that swimmers who take this to the extreme and only do technique work lose a huge amount of fitness. We call these guys "technique hermits". Many end up swimming only 25-100m at a time and that's not enough to maintain any fitness level.

Here's what we hear from technique hermits all the time: "I'm focusing on my technique, it isn't good enough yet because when I swim over 200m my stroke falls apart."

If you only ever swim short distances you not only lose fitness, something else happens: your pace judgement becomes very poor. The fact is that if you ask a technique hermit to swim 400m they will always set off at much too fast a pace over the first 100m. This feels easy to them because it takes a while for their heart rate, breathing and sensation of effort to catch up. By 200m our technique hermit is struggling to maintain their stroke.

Just like a rower's stroke length shortens as they get tired or a cyclist has to drop into smaller and smaller gears up a hill, our swimmer cannot maintain their own optimal stroke length. I'm sure you've experienced this - it feels terrible and yes it does feel like your technique is falling apart. In a sense it is - but here's the important part: not from a lack of control or co-ordination or practice. Instead it's shortening from a lack of swim-specific fitness and starting out much too quickly.

The thing is, our technique hermit isn't quite as fast a swimmer as they think.. Yes, they can swim 100m with minimum strokes per length and it feels nice - but relative to their fitness they’re actually swimming hard to do this. So if they want to become a faster distance swimmer, what should they be doing?

We'd suggest:

1) Still do plenty of stroke technique work. Approximately half of your swimming should have a technique bias to it but pace those technique swims right and there's no need to stop every 100m.

2) Include fitness training - long steady swims and threshold work. Fitness gains will allow you to maintain your stroke for longer - giving you more time to work on it.

3) Learn better pace judgement. Not only will you pace your races better but you'll pace your training sets better too - so you'll get more benefit from them.

You can easily fit these three things into your training week to ensure good development of your stroke technique, your swim-specific fitness, and your pace awareness - all the elements of an efficient freestyle stroke.

Getting these key elements right in your swimming is what Swim Smooth's all about. We're going to visit each of them in the coming weeks in this blog.


Swim Smooth!

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