Sunday, 5 February 2012

Sweet Spots

Today I did the Swim Smooth ramp test to discover my optimal stroke rates. It turned out that I have two sweet spots, i.e. two stroke rates at which I have the highest efficiency given pace and perceived effort. The first one lies at 61 strokes per minute and second one at 76 strokes per minute. What does that mean? At 61 strokes per minutes my pace clearly dropped by 3 seconds per 50 metres, compared to 58 strokes per minute, while maintaining approximately the same rate of perceived effort. This can be considered my long and steady pace stroke rate, which clearly supports what I have been doing during training. At a stroke rate of 76, I dropped 2 seconds per 50 metres compared to the preceding stroke rate of 73, an outcome which was absolutely new to me! However, swimming at this stroke rate is hard work. This stroke rate can be considered my CSS stroke rate. CSS stands for Critical Swim Speed and is an approximation of the lactate threshold speed. CSS can be calculated by doing a 400 and 200 metres time trail (see CSS link above). Over the last 6 months my CSS decreased from 1:32 to 1:28 and now to 1:25 minutes per 100 metres (as of last week). Looks like I am on the right track!

Stroke rate     Strokes/50m     Time/50m     RPE     Comments
46 34 49.3 1 very slow
49 37 46.8 2 feels smoother but still slow
52 36 44.2 2.5 feels nice and easy
55 39 44.1 3 feels good
58 39 43.6 3.5 feels good
61 40 40.5 4 feels fast and easy to breath bilaterally
64 42 40.7 5 starting to work
67 42 39.7 6 working now
70 43 38.6 7 working but stroke feels good
73 45 38.5 8 stroke degrading; fighting the water
76 45 36.7 8 feels smoother again for some reason
79 45 35.5 9 sprint
82 46 35.1 10 sprint plus fighting the water

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Speeding things up!

After having my swim stroke analysed by Paul Newsome, the first thing I did was working consciously to avoid the 'arm press down' when breathing, as well as not crossing the mid-line with my left arm. Besides these flaws in my stroke, his analysis also showed a stroke rate of approximately 54 strokes per minute and I could clearly see that I had a little bit of a glide, i.e. a dead spot at the end of my stroke, which forced me to rush through the catch phase -- the phase which is most important for propulsion. Dead spots, or gliding, is something one should avoid since the only thing it's doing in that moment is slowing us down and as a result one has to accelerate again. Gliding and accelerating feels (and is) very inefficient. In a 60 min swim, with a stroke rate of 54 strokes/min, this would mean 3240 times gliding and accelerating!! Accelerating may also put more stress on the shoulder joints and tendons due to the sudden and quick force generated by the muscles. After having done this simple calculation, I was absolutely convinced and ready to get rid off this glide in my stroke. So, I took my Wetronome, switched it into stroke rate mode, bumped it up to 60 bpm and started swimming. During the first few workouts I felt terrible and rushed as if I was fighting the water and not working with it. And if this is not enough, I still had this little bit of a glide at the end of my stroke. I started doubting the whole stroke rate thing until I realised something interesting. It's not just about increasing the stroke rate but also to shorten your stroke a tiny bit and not reaching out so far. It's almost the same when transition from fast walking with a long stride into jogging (or running) with a much shorter stride but faster leg turnover resulting in more speed. Now, I can also do 65 strokes per minute (for longer intervals) without fighting the water. My goal is to keep my stroke rate up between 60-65, and once I am totally comfortable with it, I will go back and lengthen the stroke again while keeping it quick.
When cycling I also try to have a smooth and quick pedal stroke and not pounding the pedals down (The Art of Spinning). If you have ever biked on rollers, or a trainer, you know this uneven buzzing noise when you start pounding on the pedals. In order to achieve a smooth pedal stroke, I ride rollers, listen to the buzzing noise and make it sound as evenly as possible. As for swimming, I got myself a Wetronome and listened to the beep. As for running I do a lot of track workouts in which I aim for a high leg turnover. I recently found Good Form Running, a video which is linked on Jack Cook's Fast Trax Run and Ski Shop website. It summarises all you need to develop a quick and efficient running style.
I am confident that if I maintain a high stroke rate/ cadence/ leg turnover for miles and miles, my body will eventually adapt to it and I become much more efficient and faster by decreasing the risk of injury. Isn't that all we want? Absolutely yes! But unfortunately, there is always a catch: Changing a motor pattern that developed over many years of training requires a fair amount of time and dedication, but once it's done I am sure it will pay off!

Bring it on!