Friday, January 25, 2013

46 Seconds Per 100m Faster In 10 Weeks!

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"Critical Swim Speed" (CSS) is the maximum speed you can swim for 1500m and we express it as a time per 100m. A good goal might be to improve your CSS speed by 3 or 4 seconds per 100m - if you do that with consistent CSS training sets you'll see some big improvements in your performances over any race distance.

But what about taking 46 seconds per 100m off your CSS speed? Gavin joined our Swim Smooth squads in Perth a few months ago and has done just that - a phenomenal improvement and the largest we've seen over such a short period of time, improving his CSS pace from 2:55 to 2:09 /100m.

At the beginning of the 10 weeks, Gavin's 200m and 400m times were 4:55 and 10:45 /100m - a drop off in speed of 9.3%. As we discussed in our previous blog post here, such a drop off suggests he has a lot to gain from some CSS training, which certainly turned out to be the case!

Developing Gavin's Swimming Engine

A key distinction with our approach with Gavin was to have him tackle some structured training sets. Many swim coaches would say that a swimmer taking over 9 minutes for a 400m swim should only focus on stroke technique and not consider swim fitness at all. Unfortunately that can leave you on a plateau (sometimes literally for years) as you never gain the fitness you need to sustain a good stroke technique.

In our approach, we worked on improving Gavin's stroke technique but combined this with some structured sets at the right training pace for his level of swimming (his individual CSS pace). This helped him develop that 'swimming engine' that we all need and allowed him to progress so quickly.

If you can swim 400m continuously then you're quite capable of tackling this sort of training yourself. Improving your swimming shouldn't take years, when you have the right approach it can happen really quite quickly.

We caught up with Gavin for his reflections on how things have gone with his swimming:

SS: Hi Gavin, what prompted you to start swimming seriously?

A few things got me interested in getting into the pool:

- I needed to keep fit while recovering from a running injury, so that was the trigger. - I haven't been into aquatic sport before and this has always struck me as something I was missing. - I have two young daughters and wanted to set a good example to them for fitness, water safety and sticking at learning a new thing. - A friend of mine who knows me well thought I would enjoy it and thrive on it.

The next question was where to go. I read somewhere that if you want to run faster you just need to run more but to swim better is as much brain as brawn. So I knew I needed help, and your program was recommended to me as a good way to start, by someone who had himself started as a self-confessed "muppet" in the water.

SS: What were the first few sessions like?

Tough! As a beginner I had no idea what to expect in a squad session, and even less idea what I was doing. You were encouraging in a relaxed sort of way, just saying "get in the water and give it your best". This was simultaneously re-assuring and daunting! However my fears of being belittled or embarrassed were unfounded - I remember you giving me a genuine "well done" on my first ever continuous 400m.

Fortunately most of the drills are pretty straightforward and even a beginner can quickly master them to the point of concentrating on getting the technique 100% right. This makes someone like me feel like they are learning fast.

However the stand-out feature of those early sessions was that the last 100m in the session was definitely easier than the first 100m in it.

Gavin is this year's "biggest loser"
in the Swim Smooth squads!
SS: What single technique tip has worked the most?

Tricky question! My problem was body position in the water and we've done several things to fix that so its hard to pin down. However the one that was my biggest challenge and hence I think the biggest difference was simply to breathe!

Coach Alan pulled me up one morning and said in his Glaswegian accent, "Are you holding your breath? I cannae see any bubbles". Focusing on breathing out has got my head down and my hips up, and everything flows on from there.

SS: What is your prior swimming experience?

Basically none. I could avoid drowning for some period of time. The last time I swam a lap of a pool would have been in secondary school, over 25 years ago! I've never been involved in a squad or had any coaching. Now I regret not doing it before!

SS: How did you feel about a 46 sec /100m improvement in your CSS?

I was blown away! I didn't think it was possible. I would have been delighted with half that improvement. I do qualify it a bit because it comes on a laughably slow base, but 2:09 /100m is a good pace in its own right and I am really proud.

I also feel very grateful to you and all the coaches, also to my mates who have supported me with extra-curricular swims and encouragement. While you said it was down to my hard work and persistence, support and encouragement are food for those things and no way I could have done this in isolation, even with the techniques.

The Biggest Loser!

Every year in the Swim Smooth squads we run our "biggest loser competition", normally over 10 weeks from October to January. Gavin's improvement was the biggest improvement we've ever seen in someone's CSS pace over such a short period - can you beat it?

How did the whole 184 member squad fare? Their average CSS improvement was 3 seconds per 100m which is excellent considering most of the squad train very consistently all year round anyway and the Christmas holiday was in the middle of the 10 weeks :

(A special thanks to Mike Fischer for crunching all the numbers and creating this analysis)

We tested all our squads with the classic 400m/200m test at the beginning and end of the 10 weeks and in the middle put them through :

- A solid CSS training set once a week with an emphasis on good pacing throughout.

- Technique based training sessions to maintain and develop their strokes, including some longer swims focusing on technique.

- A weekly open water skills session (normally in the pool) which is a fun blend of drafting, sighting, turning and swimming quickly in disturbed water.

Combining our "three keys" of Technique, Training and Open Water Skills in your year round training is the secret to improving your swimming and that's exactly how we developed the whole training squad here. It's not rocket science but it's almost guaranteed to improve your swimming.

Swim Smooth!

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