I am feeling inspired this morning after swimming a lifetime best set. First, I should say, I have swam 11 practices with the local swim squad. I am studying under the tutelage of Mike McWha, who for history buffs, was co-captain of University of Michigan along with Andy Potts. I also have David Tilbury Davis overseeing my whole program.
I’ll start with the set, mainly because even I am a bit freaked out by it. The reason I am freaked out is because I have been swimming 1:20/100m for years now. If I did 20×100 on 1:30 I’d probably come in right around 1:20 across the board for all of them. If I did 10×200 on 3:10, I’d probably come in 2:40 across the board for all of them. If I saw a 2:39, or even a 2:38, that was a REALLY GOOD interval!
I have been doing this set for a few months now. David Tilbury Davis wrote it for me as he thinks it’s a good gauge for me, of actual swim improvement, and not just increased effort. The set is 4×200 leaving on 3:00 with a Finis Tempo Trainer set at 72 strokes per minute. Then 100 easy on 2:00. Then 3×200 leaving on 3:00. Then 100 easy on 2:00. Then 2×200 leaving on 3:00 with a Finis Tempo Trainer set at 72 strokes per minute. Then 100 easy on 2:00. Then 200 leaving on 3:00. I should mention, I started doing this set in an 85 degree YMCA pool, so I continue to do it in this pool. One of the beauties of doing a test set in a warm pool, is that it is very difficult to “muscle” an improvement. Most of your improvement will come from increase in propulsion and reduction in drag. The reason for using the Tempo Trainer is the same. You are not allowed to take anymore strokes each time you perform the set, so if you go faster, it is because you are either getting increased propulsion from each stroke, or reducing drag.
For the set today, I found 3:00 to be too easy for the first round, so left on 2:55. For round one I went: 2:36, 2:35, 2:34, 2:35. For round two, without the Tempo Trainer and leaving on 3:00, I went: 2:33, 2:33, 2:33. For round three I went: 2:35, 2:34. And then for round four without the Tempo Trainer I swam a lifetime best 200 of 2:32. It’s an interesting experience improving when you have been stagnant for a very long time. Every interval I am actually amazed at what the clock has to say. I think a piece of me was unsure if I’d ever really improve any more at swimming. Even last year, if I swam an all-out 200, I might JUST break 2:35.
So where do I think the improvement is coming from? One of the things Mike keeps saying to me is to “get over the arm and drive the body forward…don’t push the arm back THROUGH the water.” That is a very difficult concept to wrap your head around. Quite frankly, I’ve intellectually understood what that means but I had never really seen it applied very well for any continuous length of time. Now that I am swimming alongside good swimmers every day, I get a first hand look at what “getting over the arm and driving the body forward through the water, as opposed to pushing the arm back THROUGH the water” looks like, as the swimmers in the lanes next to me lap me quite regularly. It’s actually quite amazing to watch how far FORWARD the athletes move with each arm stroke. There is very little SLIPPAGE with each stroke. It’s almost like there is an invisible ladder under the water that the athletes are climbing.
With Mike continuing to drill this comment into my head, and watching the other athletes lap me, climbing the “invisible ladder,” I set out to figure out where the heck the “invisible ladder” is. Over the last few weeks I have definitely started to get a slightly better sense of this invisible ladder, and how to hold onto it. I can feel that I am driving my body forward, as opposed to pushing my hand back through water, slightly better than I had been several weeks ago.
I don’t think anyone can describe to you how to climb the invisible ladder. It’s like trying to describe to someone how to use your arms or legs. How do I use my arm? I don’t know, I just do! I think learning to climb the invisible ladder is done in a similar fashion, but WATCHING other people climb the invisible ladder is both motivating, and instructional. This is one reason why I don’t think I will ever go back to swimming by myself. I think some coaches would argue that the basis of climbing the invisible ladder is a good “early vertical forearm” and pushing water straight back as opposed to left or right or down. Though I won’t dispute this, I do believe it is very possible to have a good early vertical forearm and push water straight back, yet still not drive the body forward and climb the invisible ladder. I think it’s far more complex than that, and has more to do with HOW force is applied on the water. I think this is why you can find a fast swimmer who exemplifies every style of swim stroke.
So, what are you waiting for? Join a swim club and learn to climb the invisible ladder! I am starting to believe that it is possible to improve, however stagnant you may feel.