first water, subtlety

There’s a subtlety to good technique. Some training sessions are devoted entirely to technique, to developing the form in which you swim, run, lift, or otherwise contest your sport. For points-based sports like gymnastics or diving, I don’t know; but for those scored on indisputable metrics, such as time or distance, there is the concept of proper form, there in most cases to optimize the contestants’ speed, efficiency or power. And most athletes will do best to implement at least a variation of this concept.

Athletes of every echelon of all sports benefit from continually practiced technique, though no doubt new practitioners focus here more heavily. And while the importance of such training for all athletes is seldom argued, the serious athlete should recognize when his thoughts are to be consumed by form development. For a boxer, that time is not in the ring on fight night. Nor is it appropriate for a swimmer to be distracted by technique before taking her mark on the starting block. It is at these moments the athlete should be in a mental state that will allow her to exert a maximum effort, leaving nothing in the pool or the ring or on the track that could have bettered the performance. I try to think about that sometimes when I’m swimming in the morning. Sometimes I imagine how I would feel next to an athlete in a race, how my effort would intensify and how that would affect my form. Any change to my technique near race intensity would have to be done smoothly so that my time would not suffer. I really need to focus on moving forward, directing all movement in that effort, not on some new detail of my stroke. Any change to my form would have to be subtle. I’ve swam long enough that I instinctively swim in basically good form. Most of the recent change to my stroke has happened subconsciously, from my body naturally becoming efficient mechanically and physiologically.

Swimmers maybe appreciate more than other athletes the importance of subtlety. Humans do not intuitively perform well in the water and the skill can not be rushed. It is only after many miles over many sessions that a swimmer will start to look comfortable in the pool. I swam almost 80 miles this summer but I’m amazed how much more efficient competitive swimmers look. They’ve adapted their technique, sometimes consciously but, I suspect, mostly in subtle ways they are unaware of. For highly developed athletes technique would have to be second nature, so they clear their minds of any such distractions, dealing instead with the psychological impact of physical exertion near human potential. To them, any conscious effort to adjust technique would be very subtle.

da numbers:

  • 150m easy free
  • 1000m free
    • time: 18:30
  • 3 x 50m free
  • 200m fly kick
  • 100m catch-up drill

total distance: 1600m

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