Mind The Gap!

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Previously on the Swim Smooth blog we have talked about using a Tempo Trainer Pro to control your swimming pace in training, both in CSS Sessions and also in (slightly scary) Red Mist Sessions. One of the great things about using beepers in this way is how accurately you can control your pace (to 0.01 second per 25m/yd!) and how you can easily make very small increases in your swimming speed week on week which add up to big gains over time.

BUT - and it is a big but - what if you swim in a squad session? How can you control your pace so accurately with swimmers behind and in front, all at slightly different levels of fitness to yourself? Unfortunately there's no getting around the fact that you can't be as individually accurate with your training speeds in a squad environment but there are other advantages of squad training which more than make up for this.

The upside of swimming in a squad (and it is a big upside!) is that you gain massive motivation to complete hard training sessions and measure yourself against your friends.

The 9:30 squad are all smiles after their Wednesday morning CSS session!

In the Swim Smooth Squads, when swimming CSS and Red Mist sessions we only give the lead swimmer in each lane the beeper. All the other swimmers stay behind that swimmer and match their swimming pace - the beeper being set for the best overall pace for the lane. The lanes are quite well balanced in terms of swimming ability but if some of the swimmers towards the rear of the group get dropped slightly that's not a problem, they just rejoin on the next rest interval.

The absolute key to success when swimming these sessions in a group is to maintain the gap to the person in front and not try to catch them up. We call this: Mind The Gap!

If you swam hard at the start of each swim you might well be able to catch the leader for the 5 seconds so you can sit on their feet. Don't do this! If everyone tries the same thing, the person behind you has to swim 10 seconds faster and the one behind them 15 seconds. Before you know it everyone is swimming much too hard at the start of the swim before backing off dramatically when they get onto the toes and into the draft of the swimmer in front.

This is exactly what we are trying to avoid with CSS and Red Mist sessions - the name of the game is consistent pacing to develop your aerobic engine, which is what you need for distance swimming and triathlon. By repeatedly closing the gap through a set you sprint-recover-sprint-recover which might be good training for sprinting but not so good for distance swimming where you need to hold a consistent pace for a long period of time.

And what if the leader fades or is having a bad session? We simply swap the leader and they pass the beeper to another swimmer. Or we might design the set to swap leaders regularly - teamwork!

Keep your discipline and leave a 5 to 10 second
gap to the swimmer in front before setting off.

So when swimming training sets in your squad keep your discipline and Mind The Gap - closing up to the swimmer in front will only harm your own swimming, and disrupt the session for everyone else.

Swim Smooth!


David Kaufman said...

Great post as usual! I swim with a squad (here we call it a masters team) and we often do threshold sets. This morning we did 9x200 and instead of staying in my usual lane and getting 3 seconds of rest and working really hard to make the interval, I moved over to an easier lane where I got 25 seconds rest and took the lead. I think that this has been holding me back for years. I have been struggling to keep up in my lane and usually putting on a buoy. Anyway, now that I started doing some CSS training on my own I NOW know the correct way to train.
Thank you for everything!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. Just a quick question- I may be missing something but I can't get my tempo trainer pro to adjust by 0.01 secs; I can only alter it by 1 sec in mode 2. What am I doing wrong? Thanks!

james cliff said...

Mode 2 is what finis tell you to use but mode 1 is where you can make the little adjustments. It's meant to be used for stroke rate but it has such a big range that you can put it up to beep as if it is lap times

Cyndy@swimsmooth said...

Hi David,

Great that you've now found a way to make CSS training work for you!

Melanie Cumberland said...

I have been running CSS sessions weekly at one of our EMT sessions within our Swim Club (not a tri Club)and we have made huge progress among the swimmers of all ages from 11 to adults. One child (13yrs) has dropped 3 mins off his 1500 time to 19:50.93 but has not managed to go sub 5 mins for his 400m 5:05.71. His 50m splits almost mirror imaged the 1500m 50m splits within a second of each other other than the first 100m! Our last micro cycle of 12 weeks I included sets to fit in with the current swim programme and to push the swimmers even more I introduced the 'Mind the Gap' idea which has gone down very well. How can I coach this child to reach his aim please. I can send you his recent splits for both these events and I can also send you his weekly splits for the last year. Many thanks. Melanie

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