Understanding PACE - The Key To Improving Your Swimming

 *Pace* is a really important concept to understand in swimming:

A swimming pool is a very controlled environment. Every lap is exactly the same length, there are no hills or head winds and water conditions are very constant. That means, unlike many other sports, that in pool swimming your pace directly relates to the intensity at which you are working.

So by understanding pace and controlling it accurately you can train very precisely, easily see your progress and make some big improvements.

In this blog post we'll dig into this a little deeper and show you some ideas on how Swim Smooth uses pace to fast track your progress.

Understanding Pace

At its most simple level pace is just the speed at which you are swimming. We don't have speedos or GPS in the pool but we know the length of the pool and we have watches and clocks so we measure pace as a time over a given distance.

The convention in swimming is to quote your pace per 100m swam. For instance, 2:00 per 100m pace means you take 2 minutes to swim 100m or 4 minutes per 200m or 20 minutes to swim 1000m. This isn't quite as intuitive as kph or mph but it works really well when you get the hang of it.

Of course the faster you swim, the lower your time is per 100m. So a very strong age group triathlete/swimmer might swim 1500m in 20 minutes - that works out as 1:20 per 100m pace.

Knowing Your Pace

The first thing you need to do is get familiar with your own pace - i.e. your own times per 100m.

These days you can use a smart watch such as a Garmin, Fitbit or Apple Watch to measure your pace for you and look at the numbers afterwards but we'd also encourage you to monitor your pace during your swim sessions. You can do that using the pace clock on the end of the pool which turns over once per 60 seconds:


For instance, time yourself over 50m and double the number to get pace per 100m.

Also examine your pace by swimming with a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro. This is a gadget you set to beep at regular intervals and you wear under your swim cap so you can hear it beep whilst you swim. If you swim in a 25m pool and swim about 2:00 per 100m then try setting it to 0:30 - it will beep once per length (start swimming on a beep to get "in sync" so it beeps as you turn).

The learning begins straight away. If you set off too fast over the first few lengths you will get ahead of the beeper, before slowing down and the beeper catching you back up again. Most swimmers do that and it really harms the quality of your training.

You'll also find it's easy to sustain a fast pace over short distances like 100 or 200m but it's much much harder over 800 or 1500m! So appreciating what pace you can hold over different distances is really useful to know.

Take the time to learn about
your pace when you swim.

Critical Swim Speed

OK so that's the basics but how should you use pace to train effectively for distance swimming?

For that we use something called Critical Swim Speed (CSS for short). If you come from a sport like cycling or running you might be familiar with something called "threshold" and that's exactly what CSS is for swimming.

Simply put, CSS is the fastest pace you can swim for 1500m given your current level of fitness. So if you swim 1500m in 40 minutes, your CSS pace is 2:40 per 100m. Your CSS is a really useful number to know because you should perform swim sets targeting that pace.

At Swim Smooth we also treat CSS as a reference point, setting your training intensity "zones" relative to it. So CSS +5 seconds per 100m would be a relatively steady/aerobic level of intensity. Whilst CSS -3 seconds per 100m would be VO2max pace.

By swimming at or around CSS pace in a structured manner you will make some really big jumps in fitness over a short period of time, especially if you've never trained in this way before. It's not unusual for new swimmers to be 10 seconds faster per 100m after just 4-6 weeks of CSS training.

Finding Your Pace

To get started with CSS training you first need to determine your individual CSS pace. You can do that using the CSS test here: swimsmooth.com/improve/intermediate/css-training

Or enter your results into our more advanced analysis in the Swim Smooth Guru here (subscription required): www.swimsmooth.guru/csstest/

From your results the Guru will predict your times over different events and race distances.

Dial CSS pace into your Tempo Trainer for the first time and you might initially think it feels quite slow! Don't be fooled - it's only slow for the first 100m or so. Swim at CSS pace for sets totalling 1200 to 2000m and you'll feel the burn.

Training With Your CSS

Once you have your CSS pace you are ready to start training with it! Here's some basic sets to try:

6x 200m with 20 seconds recovery between each 200m

3x 400m with 45 seconds recovery between each 400m

12x 100m with 10 seconds recovery between each 100m

For more creative (and fun) sets check out the extensive session library and training plans in the Guru:

www.swimsmooth.guru/subsection/gC/principles/

The Guru also tracks your fitness over time and adjusts your CSS pace for best results, session by session. Genius!


Swim Smooth!

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