If you want to accelerate learning, you need variation.
In this article, I'll explore how to bring this idea to life through practical strategies.
Ideally, you’d like to rely on a small handful of skill development exercises to facilitate the changes you desire. Less is usually better. Using fewer exercises is really powerful at keeping you focused on what is most important. It also forces you to use the exercises that are most effective for you.
At the same time, this is not without its downsides.
Simply repeating the same exercises can become boring, especially if you’re something that likely variety in their swimming. Beyond the issue of boredom, there’s also the issue of effectiveness. A key part of the change process is getting your attention by using novelty. If you’re repeating the same exercises over and over again, what’s novel at first becomes very much not novel before long.
To maintain the benefits of focusing on a small number of exercises, while also ensuring that you’re maintaining novelty in your practice, you’re going to need some tools. Here's one that's particularly effective.
Change the Speed.
Every skill will feel different at different speeds. Swimming fast feels very different than swimming slow, and I don’t mean because it’s harder. You move through the water differently your limbs interact with the water differently. If you want to enhance the impact of the exercises that you’re using, learning to use speed to improve your learning is critical. In addition, changing speeds can make it MORE difficult to perform specific exercises, and this is exactly what you want when you’re looking to challenge your skills.
Depending on the exercises you’re performing, you may not be able go ‘fast’. However, you can always change the effort you use to execute these exercises. You can change the effort just as you change the speed. While I will discuss effort below, consider effort and speed to be interchangeable in this specific situation.
Build speed. Over the course of a single repetition, usually 30-90 seconds of swimming, gradually increase your speed. Your speed should build as you go. As you perform each repetition, you want to make sure that you are continuing to execute the exercise superbly, and the increase in speed should be achieved by a smooth increase in the rate of execution of the exercise. If you’re unable to do, this becomes a perfect learning opportunity. Figure out what’s holding you back and fix it!
Alternate speed. Go back and forth between two different speeds. You can alternate speeds on a repetition to repetition basis (i.e. 1 rep slow/1 rep fast/etc), or you can alternate within repetitions (1 lap slow/1 lap fast/etc). The key goal is to seamless transition between the two speeds. Initially, you may find that you struggle right after switching speeds, whereas you can make that transition smoother with practice. To start out, make the differences in speed small, and with practice, make those differences larger and larger.
Descend speed. Descend speed by making each repetition slightly faster. For instance, you could perform 4 repetitions where each one is faster and faster. The speed is the same during each repetition, but it is faster and faster as you go. The goal is to not only make each repetition faster, you should also aim to make the transition between each speed as seamless as possible and the quality of execution as high as possible. You want the same level of execution regardless of much you increase the speed.
All three approach are valuable, and present their own advantages. You want to be able to feel that you can be successful with executing your skills regardless of the speed, or how the speed is changing. To start, be conservative in your attempts to increase the speed. As you demonstrate success and competence, begin to ratchet up the performance levels, provided you can maintain that competence.
Swimming with great skills slowly over short distance is irrelevant. It’s how you execute your skills in challenging situations that matters. The same is true for your technical exercises. When you can master your technical exercises in a variety of speeds, you can be sure that your well on your way to ensuring that these same skills show up in your full stroke swimming, and they have the resilience to remain under pressure.
Stay tuned for my next article, where I'll show you how to vary your hands to enhance performance.
FASTER. EASIER. BETTER.