If you want to improve, you need feedback.
Unfortunately, it's easy to perform a lot of swimming without any real feedback if you're not actively creating it for yourself.
As we saw in part I, measuring performance is one of the critical ways to create feedback. Today, we're going to focus on the value of measuring speed.
‘What gets measured gets managed.’
A common saying in business management, this is certainly true in swimming and improving outcomes.
Understanding the critical metrics, what they mean, how to use them, and how to influence them, is foundational for improving your feel for the water as well as any aspect of your swimming.
While measuring performance is valuable in and of itself, there’s another huge benefit.
The name of the game is calibration.
As you learn to pay more attention to what you are feeling as you swim, you need to learn what those feelings mean.
Unfortunately, our perceptions can be very misleading.
What we EXPECT better swimming will feel like, and what better swimming WILL feel like are often different.
The solution to this problem is to consistently pay attention to performance, and let performances dictate how we interpret the sensations we feel.
Feeling are important, yet subjective. We need objectivity to help calibrate our perceptions.
That precise calibration is what ‘feel for the water’ is all about.
More on feel later in the series.
How fast are you swimming? How much time does it take for you to complete a set distance?
This number informs you about how effective your swimming is.
As most swimmers desire to go faster in some respect, knowing your times is fundamental to assessing whether you are accomplishing that goal.
Most pools with have some sort of pace clock, either a digital or analog. My preference is always for the digital version as it will help ensure that you know exactly how fast each swim was.
However, analog clocks can work well, especially if you’re performing longer repetitions where being off a second or two isn’t that big of a deal.
In the event your pool does not have a pace clock, a simple water proof wrist watch can often serve the same purpose.
Of course, if you have a coach, asking for your times is a more than reasonable expectation.
Unless you’re focused exclusively on your skills and feeling how you’re moving while you’re swimming, you should be paying attention to how fast you’re swimming for most of your repetitionss.
This valuable for the following reasons-
Comparing internal and external feedback. You need to figure out what feels fast and what is fast.
The more you pay attention to what you’re feeling, and then compare it to performance, you learn to feel what faster swimming feels like.
There is often a disconnect between what we think fast swimming will feel like and what it actually feels like.
The only way to reset this calibration is to pay attention to what you are feeling and how you are performing.
You need to keep track of how fast you are swimming to know if what you’re are doing is working.
If it is, you need to replicate those sensations.
If it’s not, you need to avoid them.
Swimmers with great feel for the water often learn how to go fast by MISTAKE. They swim have a couple really fast practices and they pay attention to what they were feeling.
They simply start replicating those feelings. Knowing their performances allows for this to happen.
Evaluating change. Let’s say you decide to make a technical change based upon the recommendation of a coach, a friend, or something you’ve read.
How will you know if it is EFFECTIVE?
You need to pay attention to the clock.
If you make a change and it is consistently slower, than that change is probably not an effective one for you.
If you make a change and you are consistently swimming faster, then that change is probably a change you want to continue to use.
While it’s important to be patient with a change, if it’s not providing some positive impact in terms of performance pretty quickly, it worth questioning whether it’s ever going to create the impact you want.
In contrast, if performance isn’t changing or it’s getting worse, that could be an indication the changing isn’t being implemented correctly.
In either case, this is information you won’t have if you’re not paying attention to speed. You won’t know if the change is worth it if you’re ONLY paying attention to what you’re feeling.
Comparing effort and performance. Beyond the sensations of movement that you feel with every stroke, there is also a perception of effort and fatigue.
While faster is generally better, there is more to the story. It also matters how much effort you’re putting into our swimming, particularly as you’ll need to sustain that speed.
Sometimes you’ll implement a change, and it won’t result in an immediate change in performance. Realistically, this happens more often than not. However, that doesn’t mean that a given change is useless.
Even if it’s the same speed, it might be EASIER. If it’s easier, it’s going to be more sustainable, and that’s going to result in more speed eventually.
If it’s easier, that means that once you can increase the effort again, it’s going to be faster as well.
The same speed for less effort is an absolute win. The only way you’ll know if you’re making progress is if you’re paying attention to how your effort AND the performance.
If you’re not paying attention to performance, you might perform a set and it’s really easy. That might seem like a win, yet it might just be easy because you’re going slow! Easy and effortless are only useful in the context of speed.
Conversely, you might feel A LOT of effort and fatigue. However, if you just swam significantly faster than you ever have in your life, I’m sure you’ll be okay with the extra effort!
On other hand, if you’ve exerted a lot of effort and you went slower, well that’s a problem that needs to get managed. Knowing the speed of your swims helps you regulate whether your effort is being rewarded.
Measuring speed matters, and it goes beyond just knowing your times. You have to know how to use them. Hopefully, this has provided you with insight into just how to do so.
Next time, we'll discuss stroke counts.