Let's put into practice to make the abstract concrete.
Let’s say you’re given the following set- 10x100 Freestyle, aerobic effort with 30 seconds rest. Let’s use all of tactics to see how we can adjust this set to better improve your feel for the water
Just keep track. This is simple. Just start tracking your times and your stroke counts. If you begin to keep track those performances are going to improve. Just as importantly, there is going to be more engagement. The set looks exactly the same. The only difference is that you now have a lot more engagement in what you’re doing. You’ll naturally pay more attention to what you’re doing, and that’s going to help your feel for the water. Over time, you’ll learn to associate the sensations associated with faster and longer swimming. Simply paying attention will lead to improvement, even if it’s by chance. Keeping track requires no adjustment to the set, and it imposes nothing on the coach.
Design a game. This is an extension of keeping track. Rather than just paying attention, you now have intention in terms of what you’re doing. You’re not just keeping track of your speed and stroke count, you’re trying to actively change those numbers. This takes the engagement and the learning up to another level.
Here’s a sample game you can play. On the ODD 100s, hold your time constant and try to reduce the stroke count on each 100. On the EVEN 100s, hold the stroke count constant and work to reduce the time on each repetition. This is a simple way to increase engagement and require you to focus on both increasing effectiveness and efficiency. All of this requires no modifications on the part of your coach, and it can happen without any disruption to your lane mates.
Add a twist. For any set, you can always make some slight changes in the equipment you use to significantly alter the set, and the impact it has on your feel for the water and your swimming. Using the sample set, we’re going to add a twist to improve your feel for the impact of your breath.
You’re going to swim the ODD 100s with a snorkel, paying attention to the constant position of your body, and the steadiness of your rhythm. On the EVEN 100s, you’re going to swim the first 50 breathing every 4th stroke, and the 2nd 50 breathing every stroke. On the EVEN 100s, the focus is on minimizing any disruption of your body position or your breath. Because you’re only breathing every 4th stroke on the first 50, this should be easier to control on the first 50. Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to make the breathing and the non-breathing strokes feel the same.
On the 2nd 50, you can take those sensations and work to make it happen when breathing every stroke. This will likely represent the breathing pattern you’ll use for much of your training. If you can learn to feel the impact of the breath, you can learn to change it for the better. With every breath you take, it’s an opportunity to swim faster with less effort.
This is a really simple twist that can have a major impact on your feel for the water, all accomplished by slightly modifying a very typical and bland training set.
Rotate your attention. For the ODD 100s, focus on the pressure your left arm is feeling throughout the stroke going down, and your right arm when coming back. For the EVEN 100s, pay attention to how steady your kick is going down, and how rhythmic your breath is coming back.
Throughout the set, you’re paying attention to how you move through the water, focusing on many different parts of your stroke. Feeling starts with attention. Once you’re aware, you can change. A simple set made VERY productive.
Scull on the wall. Here, you’re going to strategically use the 30 second ‘rest’ period to improve your feel for the water. If you have space, you’re going to vertical sculling in between repetitions. On the odd repetitions, you’ll use big, slow sculls and at the surface. On the even repetitions, you’ll use narrow, fast sculls performed down by the hips. In the event you don’t have space to vertical scull, you’ll scull while holding the wall, performing big slow sculls on the surface. On the odd repetitions, you’ll scull with the left arm, and on the even repetitions, you’ll scull with the right arm.
Make it Your Own
As you can see, ANY set can be easily modified to provide better opportunities to work on your feel for the water. All it takes is a little creativity and a willingness to take ownership of your swimming. Just as importantly, you can do so without upsetting your training partners or your coach. It’s possible.
You’re certainly not limited by these options. Further, you can also combine any of the options above to create a new set. For instance, you can play a game and then add sculling between the repetitions. Or you can play a game, and then add a twist to some of the repetitions by using training gear. The options are only limited by your creativity.
This is where it becomes important to understand the WHY behind many of the ideas described here. When you understand the purpose behind what we’re trying to do, you can make the necessary adjustments to accommodate your specific circumstances. It’s going to make your swimming experience a lot more enjoyable, and a lot more productive.