Sunday, February 22, 2015

February swim challenge week 4 - rhythm and pacing

Each week in February we have been challenging you to swim a little more than the week before, try a new drill and complete an endurance challenge during one of your workouts. If you don't have time to do all three challenges each week, don't let that stop you from doing one of them, or perhaps two!

This week we bring all the pieces together with a terrific drill for nailing your breathing timing - UNCO. We also get you started on knowing how to pace yourself on long interval sets that have short  rest intervals by showing you how to determine and use your "critical swim speed". These sets should be your bread and butter as you train your swimming "diesel engine" (as the guys at Swim Smooth say) for long triathlon swims.

Whether you've been following the swim challenge from week 1, or you've just discovered us now, it's not too late to be entered in the drawing for a pair of Agility Paddles, a Tempo Trainer Pro, 50% off a swim video analysis session or $50 in nutrition. Four prizes will be awarded! All you have to do is share about what you've been doing in the pool on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #GTDCSwimChallenge.

Week 4 of the #GTDCSwimChallenge starts now!

Last week we encouraged you to try out the scull #1 drill to start to harness more propulsive power and pace yourself through a long swim of 500y or more. If you have the stamina  and pacing ability to finish a 500y swim, you are ready to step up to this week's challenges! This week we use the Unco drill to improve your breathing timing so you can get a great catch and pull on every stroke, not just the ones when you're not inhaling. And we also determine your critical swim speed, a very useful tool for programming tough aerobic interval sets of your own going forward and learning the pace you should be able to hold for a 1 mile open water swim. Here are your challenges for Week 4 (Feb 23-Mar 1):
1. Swim 3x for 45-60 minutes each.
2. Try the Unco drill. This is a one-arm drill that is performed with fins, and it isolates the stroke that most swimmers don't do well -- the one when you're inhaling. Even if you have successfully used sculling drills to get a solid catch and pull for most of your arm strokes, chances are that your forward arm slips down through the water while you inhale with engaging it like it should. If you breathe every third arm stroke, that means you're only 66% efficient. If you breathe every time on the same side, you're only 50% efficient!

Typically a swimmer will fail to catch the water properly on the inhale stroke because she turns her head too late. As you do the Unco drill, focus on rotating your body and your head as soon as your fingertips go into the water so that you inhale as your arm is still entending and then catching the water instead of after that.

Swim Smooth explain the Unco drill well on their website, and I highly encourage you to find all the details there. You can also see an excellent demonstration on YouTube. Briefly, while wearing fins, swim with one arm staying at your hip and one arm stroking. Each time the stroking arm goes into the water, take a breath to the OPPOSITE side so that you are inhaling as the arm extends forward and then catches the water. Then rotate your non-moving shoulder (and hip) down toward the bottom of the pool. This will help you recover your moving arm over the top of the water. Practice breathing on time on one side with the drill all the way up the pool, and then swim freestyle back the other way, still breathing only on that same side. Then repeat the sequence breathing on the other side. If it is difficult for you to breathe on one side or the other, it is likely because you don't rotate your body enough into that breath and/or it is happening quite late. The Unco drill can help you make that "off-side" breath happen more easily so you can become a more symmetrical, bilateral breathing swimmer!

3. Determine your critical swim speed. Whether you are a born sprinter or seem to go the same slow and steady speed regardless of the length of the interval, you will benefit from learning to swim near the top of your aerobic range for long intervals with short rest between them. This type of swimming trains your body to give you its best when you head down to the lake to start a triathlon with a 750m or 1 mile swim. The critical swim speed test will show you what pace per 100 you should be using for these sets as you get started with them. If you're a sprinter, it will give you what you feel is a quite slow pace goal, but I highly encourage you to stick with the recommendation so that you can swim much farther than you usually can! If you're a one-speed swimmer, your pace may feel tougher than you think you can do, but you may just surprise yourself by finding a gear you didn't think you had!

To start the test, pick a day when you are well rested and the pool is not crowded so you have your own side of a lane to work in. Warm up well with some easy swimming, some drill work that helps you swim your best (perhaps some sculling or unco?), and then a set or two of 3 x 50y descending (1st one easy, 2nd one moderate, 3rd one hard, 15 sec rest between each) to get your engine revved and ready to go hard.

The first part of the test is a 400y all-out swim. You will need to pace yourself! Go out at a "cruise" pace for the first 100, and then give a little more effort each 100 until the last 100 is taking more than you think you can give! Make sure to write down exactly how long it takes you to finish. Then fully recover with some rest and some very easy swimming for 5-10 minutes.

The second part of the test is a 200y all-out swim. Pace yourself like you did on the 400, but this time each 50 will feel tougher and tougher. Make sure you give it everything you have! Then take the two times from your two swims, and go to Swim Smooth's CSS calculator at to find your CSS pace. The same page will tell you more about how to use it in your future swim sets.
4. Bonus challenge! Complete a CSS set of 5-8 x 200y at your CSS pace with 20-25 sec rest between them. Make sure that you don't go too fast on the first one! It's always better to get quicker as you go through a set than to get slower and slower. Learning to even-pace or negative split a set (or long continuous swim like in a race) is a terrific skill for an endurance athlete to have at their disposal!

I hope this challenge has been an encouragement to you to get a solid start on your swimming fitness for the 2015. Now keep up the good work and encourage your triathlete friends to do the same! Happy swimming!

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