first water, low and slow – or – efficiency and perspective

There are a bunch of concepts at play when training. Efficiency, for one, is painfully obvious but maybe not so easy to describe. That’s what kinesiologists are for. As a recreational or amateur athlete, I just need to know it when I see it. Like today. Time is always important to me in the pool, so I was a little bummed to see my slowest time ever for a 1000m free. 18:35 is almost 5 seconds slower than the first day I swam it, in years anyway, 4 weeks ago. My goal is to get this time under 17:30. So, I consider the swim – how I felt and what I was focused on. I’m trying to gauge intensity and form. And my intensity was low, significantly lower than any previous swim at this distance. Form felt much better. Four weeks ago my intensity was almost unbearably high. I’ve relaxed a bunch, smoothed out my stroke and slid in to an intensity level I can maintain almost indefinitely. To roughly quantify, I would say I’ve decreased intensity 20% for a decrease in speed less than 2%. Speed is the goal, but efficiency is necessary. As much as I hate to have a slow day, I should be happy with the improved efficiency. I’m confident that on a more intense day I will see a dramatic speed increase.

If you want to change intensity, find a new perspective. Intensity is a psychological concept. While physical efficiency, the result of focused technique, happens unknowingly, intensity is a measure of your conscious effort. And it’s stressful. Most folks avoid high intensity training, and as a result define their performance ceiling at a point far below their physical potential. Those that push themselves above this median pay a psychological toll to see great performance. Accomplishing an athletic goal is rewarding but the day-to-day stress of intense training can make one crazy. I believe this is why many of the athletes I respect seem a little off. The point is, it’s hard work that you have to make sense of in your head. Here’s where the principle of periodized training is most useful, I feel. It forces you to take a new perspective, sneaking in a little more effort than you would have otherwise chosen to exert. The effect is cumulative, resulting in a pronounced increase at the end of the periodized regimen, most likely months. Conversely, if you can show up to the pool or the weight room or whatever, lay it all out every day with little variation to your program and see steady gains, then do that. If you’re like most of us and you inadvertently hit a plateau, change things up. If you’re still stuck, change it more. It impresses me how much variation I need to incorporate in to my routine to see a measurable change. If I’m bench pressing and 315 lbs feels heavy, I might rack 405 lbs and do a negative. I’m telling myself: ‘You think this is heavy? Try this.’ The same principle is useful in the pool. I’m starting to think 1000m is far. It’s probably time to swim a 2000m freestyle. After taking away the intimidation I feel with my goal distance, I will be more comfortable pushing harder for the duration of the event. The thing is, 2000m will massively suck. Whatever – it has to be done because I’m not here to suck for forever.

da numbers:

  • 2 x 100m easy free
  • 1000m free
    • time: 18:35
  • 100m easy free
  • 200m fly kick

total distance: 1500m

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