In previous editions of this series, I discussed how to determine what technical changes you should make, as well as some tricks for helping actually swim differently. While those are important, and often unconsidered, parts of the process, there is another aspect of the process that never considered at all.
How you do you get those changes to show up in competition?
The answer is that you need to train to display your skills in competition.
That’s not going to happen by chance.
It’s only going to happen with a plan.
A Plan for Transfer
Change isn’t going to happen by chance, certainly not if you expect that change to show up in competition. You need a plan to systematically develop the ability to execute your new skill during competition.
A step-by-step process is required to make this happen.
Hope is not a recipe for success. You’ve chosen the skill you want to change, and you have a sense of the tools you can use to facilitate that change. It’s time to make that change happen.
The first step is to get a feel for the skill using the tools described in the previous parts of this series. Once you’re certain you have a sense of what the change should feel like, and you’ve confirmed this with video or the knowing eyes of a coach or trusted friend, it’s time to practicing.
If you expect technical change to show up when it matters, you need to have a plan for how to progress from learning to execute the skill correctly to perfectly executing that skill under pressure. Fortunately, creating that plan is simple, just follow the steps outlined below.
Each step should be performed more or less in sequence, although you can occasionally skip ahead for small amounts of time, a strategy I’ll address at the end.
Do it right. As soon as possible, you want to move towards the right context for sustaining the change. This means full stroke swimming during ‘training’ sets. Find a way to get in the right positions where you can feel the appropriate skills and can consistently execute those skills at low speed and levels of fatigue.
This is the starting point, and you must be able to do it right to start the process of change. Most of your time is going to be spent swimming slowly over relatively short distances, ensuring that you’re swimming correctly. We’re talking about lots of 25s and 50s performed slowly on loose intervals.
The goal here is not to condition or to train, but simply to learn and practice the desired skill. Really focus on FEELING the difference between the old way and the new way. When you have a really strong sense of what the new skills feel like, you’re well on your way.
How do you know if it’s time to move on? If you can consistently execute your desired skill in the correct manner, and you can FEEL when you make a mistake, it’s time to start challenging that skill. Consistently and accurately executing the skill is the criteria for moving on.
Steps 2a and 2b should be performed at the same time as one step doesn’t necessarily need to occur before the other. However, how much time you choose to allocate will depend on your goals. If you’re more interested in swimming fast in the sprints, focus on 2a. If you’re more interested in the endurance side, focus on 2b.
Regardless of your goals, you should do some work with both processes. Learning to swim longer and learning to swim faster will challenge your new skill in different and complementary ways. Your skills will improve as a result.
2a. Do it fast. Once you can execute your consistently, you need to begin to be able to execute these skills fast. This is the next step. Progressively increase speeds, provided that your skills remain relatively intact will move swimmers towards racing situations. The distances don’t matter beyond keeping them short enough to swim fast.
All that matters is increasing the speed and maintaining execution of your skills. Over time, once speed has been achieved, the distances can begin to extend.
Go as fast as you can provided you are still executing the desired skill as well as you’d like. If you go too far and it falls apart, simply take a step back. In terms of sets, we’re talking about a lot of 25s and 50s performed at progressively faster speeds.
You can perform more 50s if the extra distance allows you to get into a better rhythm. Otherwise, 25s will let you swim faster. If you extend the distance much further, you’re going to be introducing more fatigue that will limit speed. Further, you’re not going to be able to perform as many repetitions, which will limit learning.
How do you know if it’s time to move on? When you can swim very close to your top speed and still execute your skills in the desired manner. When you can do this consistently, it’s time to move to step 3.
2b. Do it longer. This step occurs somewhat concurrently with doing it fast. As speeds increase, you can also work on subjecting skills to increasing levels of fatigue. This can be in aerobic contexts or any other situation where there is a focus on extending how long your skills can be sustained. It’s not just about going longer, as there also needs to be a significant effort component as well. It’s about going longer with some level of effort.
Any of your traditional ‘endurance’ sets would apply here. Start on the lower end in terms of volume and effort then slowly increase the challenge, making sure to execute your skills correctly. If you find yourself unable to do so, back off a bit and then get back to it. As you’re looking for progress over time rather, be patient with some short-term challenges.
How do you know if it’s time to move on? It’s time to move on when you can execute your skills for long durations at a reasonable level of effort. When you can do this consistently, it’s time to move to step 3, which discuss in part VI.
If you want improved skills to show up in competition, it requires a plan.
Do it right.
Do it faster.
Do it longer.
You’ll be well on your way toward creating change that matters.