Short workout, but a great day at the pool today. Where to begin…

I only had 30 minutes to swim before the kids swim team practiced, luckily there was a lane open with no one swimming. Next to me as a guy about my age who looked serious…his form looked pretty good as he cruised up and down the lane making big splashy flip turns at either end.

I sat on the edge of the deck and put on my swim cap and goggles, and set my one swim toy on the deck…my tempo trainer. I looked at the deck at the end of my neighbor’s lane…2 kick-boards, huge paddles, fins a pull buoy and an inhaler. I looked back at my tempo trainer and smiled at how uncluttered my deck area was. Uncluttered just like I hoped my mind would be by the end of my swim.

I had pre-contemplated what my focus would be for stroke work before swimming based on what felt lacking in my last workout. I decided to work on the shape of my catch as well as on my kick-timing/hip drive (I wasn’t sure which). Afterwards I thought I’d do a tempo trainer set, but hadn’t decided what exactly.

I spent a solid 15 minutes working on just the shape of my catch, all the time visualizing Terry on the pool deck, leaning forward as if swimming, making the shape of a VW bug hood with his leading arm. I progressed through a series of small movement and position focuses in legnths of 25s. It went something like this…
-shape of a VW Bug
-reaching for the bumper with ringers
-vusualize elbow staying closer to the surface
-tipping fingers/wrist down on entry
-keeping hand and fingers relaxed and open
-feeling thickness of the water trapped behind my fingers

Throughout this progression, I tried to pay attention to any new sensations that may crop up. I noticed what felt tight or limiting at the most forward part of my extension. Earlier this week, I wrote about scapular elevation…today what I noticed was latissimus stretching…a part of the muscle I don’t typically notice or focus on…deep in the muscle right alongside my ribcage…not the wide “v-shaped” portion of the muscle typically referred as the “lats”.

At each end of the pool I rehearsed my entry focusing on that sensation, trying to make sure I wasn’t overexagerating the movement by bending my spine laterally.

All the while I was doing this progression focusing on the shape of my entry and catch, the guy next to me was doing sets with paddles. He put his huge paddles on and started pulling hard, while wearing the pull-buoy. I snuck glances at him under the water. He was using maximum paddle surface to it’s advantage underwater, but at the expense of a dropped elbow and shallow angle of entry, not reaching any significant purchase against the water until his paddled hand was pointing directly down at the pool. He sure was fast though, and he cranked out repeated 50s and 100s of his paddle/pull buoy set.

Not long ago I would have been impressed, but today I was annoyed and mystified. What is the point of wasting time building up muscles that are not connected or integrated with an appropriate arm entry and catch position? His loss I figured. I wondered if he and his friend were paying the same sort of attention to me shaping my stroke.

After about 20 minutes wringing out what I could from this progression, I started with the tempo trainer. On the spot I decided to start at 1.20 and swim with what I’d developed in this session and see how it felt. My stroke counts were between 16/17 on each lap and felt pretty good, but not magical.

I played with what part of my stroke I timed to the beep. Terry’s suggestions had been hand entry and hip drive. For me however, it seemed more natural (or came naturally) to use either “pull” or “kick” as my timing. I tried to focus on the other parts of the stroke. Focusing on hand entry made me seem to lose power, but I knew that focusign on “pull” was likely to force me to let water slip adn let my elbow drop when the tempo increased. Likewise trying to time the hip drive (instead of kick) felt weak to me. I’m not suggesting they are not good focal points, but for me they felt awkward…so I’ll keep revisiting them at intervals. Something cool happened during my decreasing tempo trainer set however.

I decided to try 10×25 decreasing the TT by .02 each time. I would have done 20×25 at .01, but didn’t think I’d have time, and I really wanted to get the TT down to 1.00s before finishign for the day just to see how it felt. I told myself that if I hit 19 strokes, I’d halt the descending intervals and bump it back up just a bit.

I was thrilled that for nearly the entire progression, I was at 16-17 strokes. I focused less on the exact timing of the stroke and tried to keep the shape that I’d been working on. But as happens, my mind wandered and I found myself thinking of things like “hand entry”, “hip drive”, “pull…no don’t pull…”.

As the tempo increased, my pace stayed the same and I actually felt…better! Around 1.14 I started to feel even more coordinated. Suddenly it hit me that “hand entry” was actually “arm extension”. I started timing not jsut the entry into the water but trying to hit that most forward part of my stroke with the beep. This helped coordinate the high side hip with the arm drive, and I suddenly had a surge of energy in my stroke. As I continued to drop the tempo trainer by .02 with each lengths i chose that one focus and to my surprise, my stroke count stayed at 17 for nearly the entire set until I got right to 1.00 seconds.

So…this was pretty cool. 3 beeps for pushoff plus 17 strokes = 20 beeps, a nice even math that I can do while swimming. At 1 sec, that’s 20 seconds per 25…40s/50y…1:20/100y. I see 1:20/100s in my future.

The paddle hands guy watched me for a portion of this tempo trainer set, but he left before I was finished. I was so engrossed in my discoveries during the set that I was glad he didn’t inturrupt. But it kills me to not share the TI gospel with my fellow swimmers.