Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Dummies Guide To CSS Training

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##Annie, inspired by your great piece I worked it into this. I went for the dummies guide title - I think it will appeal to the first-timers? I'm also going to add some tempo trainer info on the CSS page on the website before friday. Paul, could you confirm Megan's times.##

When it comes to swimming quickly, your stroke technique is very important but so too is your fitness training. Without a good level of swimming fitness you won't be able to sustain your stroke technique over distance, leading to that horrible feeling of your stroke 'falling apart'.

The key is to introduce the right sort of training so that you can simultaneously improve your stroke technique and fitness at the same time. And the best way to do that is using something called Critical Swim Speed (CSS) which we're going to take a look at in this blog post.

The SS Squad in Perth setting off 5 seconds apart during a CSS set.
Even if you are relatively new to swimming freestyle, don't be afraid to introduce some CSS training sets into your swimming routine, you'll come on leaps and bounds!

Structuring Your Swimming Week

If you are swimming three times per week a good way to structure things is to focus each of your sessions in the following way:

Session 1. Stroke Technique Development
Session 2. Open Water Skills (see here)
Session 3. Threshold / CSS Training

Critical Swim Speed (CSS) training is Swim Smooth's preferred form of fitness training set for distance swimmers and triathletes. It gives you the biggest bang for your training buck and has a strong focus on pacing skills - which are also critical to swimming as fast and efficiently as you can in races.

Swimmers moving from conventional masters training to CSS sets normally see improvements in their distance performances after just a few weeks, which is very motivating in its own right.

What Is CSS Training?

CSS training focuses in on developing something called your lactate threshold, which is a physiological marker which indicates when your body is at the limit of its aerobic system. CSS training has you swimming at lactate threshold speed ('CSS pace') in order to boost its development. If we can improve your lactate threshold speed then you are pretty much guaranteed to swim faster in your races.

If that last paragraph read like mumbo-jumbo to you then don't worry, perform the CSS test below, try the training sets and see how you get progressively faster!

The CSS Test

The first thing you need to do is find your CSS pace using the CSS test:

1) Perform a thorough warmup, progressively bringing your heart rate up.

2) Time yourself over a 400m swim, swimming as quickly as you can. Make sure you pace it out well but go as hard as you can - this is a time-trial!

3) Then take 5 to 10 minutes to recover, swimming some very easy laps to help flush waste products from your muscles.

4) Now time yourself over another time-trial, this time over 200m. Go as hard as you can again!

5) Swim an easy cool-down to recover before hitting the showers.

Finding Your CSS Pace

The first thing to check is that you swam the 200m at a faster time per 100m than the 400m. This should always be the case as it is a shorter distance. This is essential or the calculation will not work!

Then take your 200m and 400m times and use the calculator here to find your CSS pace:

Or use SS Coach Steve Casson's excellent Swimulator+ iOS app:

Both of these will spit-out your CSS pace per 100m which you then need to train at. If you're using a Tempo Trainer Pro to help set this pace accurately (see below), also take note of the time per lap the calculator gives you.

We recommend you re-test yourself every 4 to 6 weeks to see how you're improving. Improvements of 1 or 2 seconds per 100m are significant in well trained swimmers but for those new to fitness training, taking off 5 or even 10 seconds per 100m is quite normal.

Using A Finis Tempo Trainer Pro

At Swim Smooth we're big fans of using a Tempo Trainer Pro to help pace you through CSS sessions. You simply set it to your target pace per lap, pop it under your swim cap and then stay with the beep as you swim. For example if you want to target 2:00/100m in a 25m pool you set it to beep every 30 seconds, then simply set off on a beep and make sure you turn and push-off on each beep. Stay with it and you're guaranteed to accurately swimming at 2:00/100m, with perfect pacing too.

You can also use it to time your recovery between swims. To do that you finish a swim on a beep, then wait until the next beep before setting off again on the next swim. We call that 'one beep recovery'.

Tempo Trainers are brilliant training partners and a lot simpler than using the pace clock! More information here: Finis Tempo Trainer Pro

The Goldilocks Set

There's plenty of examples of CSS sets to follow in the Swim Smooth Book and our Waterproof Training Plans but here's a good first session to try, the classic Goldilocks set:

After a thorough warmup, swim the following all at your CSS pace:

Baby Bear
1 x 100m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)
1 x 200m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)

Mummy Bear
2 x 100m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)
1 x 300m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)

Daddy Bear
3 x 100m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)
1 x 400m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)

You may find CSS pace quite easy at first but stick with it, it will get harder and you should be feeling the pace over the 300m and 400m swims! Don't go faster that CSS pace on the 100s - the temptation will be there - but control your pace instead and in doing so develop your pace judgement skills.

If you find you cannot sustain the pace for the whole set then rather than taking additional rest, swim very slightly slower to keep things manageable. Don't take things too easy though, you should be working really hard in the second half of the set!

CSS vs. Traditional Masters Training

Compared to traditional master swim sets, CSS training involves swimming at a slightly (only slightly!) slower pace but with much shorter recoveries between each swim. This keeps things focused on developing your aerobic system, which is what you need to become a better distance swimmer.

The problem with sprinting hard and then recovering is that it focuses much more on your anaerobic system, which is great for sprinters but far from ideal for distance swimmers and triathletes.

For more information see our classic blog post Becoming A Diesel Engine.

Mega Megan!

She looks innocent enough but Megan's rapidly become a
swimming machine... and she's not done yet.
As a great example of what CSS training can do, watch out for a forthcoming blog post about SS Perth squad swimmer Megan Surrette.

Over the past 18 months Megan has improved her CSS pace from 2:20/100m to 1:35/100m. A fantastic level of improvement which culminated in her conquering the mighty 19.7km Rottnest Channel swim this year.

The mainstay of her training? Consistent CSS training sets, week in, week out!

More On CSS

For some more detail on CSS training see our main website CSS page:

Swim Smooth!

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