Learning The 2 Beat Kick

Learning The 2 Beat Kick

Some of you have been drawn to develop your 2 Beat Kick lately.

I would like to call your attention to some resources that may help you.

First, if you are new to this kicking style called the 2 Beat Kick, then you may first want to view some of our stroke demonstrations on the Video Tutorials page. In any video where you see me swimming whole stroke you will see a 2-Beat Kick behind me.

It would be important that you first understand how the 2 Beat Kick is different from other styles of the flutter kick (namely, the 6-Beat and the 4-Beat kick). Then, you may learn why we prefer this style for most of our swimming purposes, and then to learn how to acquire it.

Please start by reading this article 2BK Defense, which will provide some additional links to the remaining articles on learning the 2BK.

And then you may go back to the Video Tutorials page and study the 2BK drill videos there which show you the various exercises we teach to help you train your brain and legs to prefer this kick pattern.

Then you may want to check out the 2 Beat Kick section on the 101 Focal Points page.

Enjoy, and let me know how it goes!

Solutions For Breathing Easier

Solutions For Breathing Easier

Let’s continue the discussion on how to solve breathing problems…

 

Solution: Improve Technique

Among those reading this post it may be readily understood how improving your body control and your breathing technique will make breathing easier – investing time and effort into those will:

  1. Increase economy through technical control – you simply won’t require as much air exchange to do the same amount of work.
  2. It is easier to get to air and get sufficient exchange.

That takes care of a great deal of the complaints swimmers have with breathing.

 

Solution: Improve Timing

It gets a bit more complicated when we try to think about the math behind this, but you can adjust these variables to find a better breathing pattern:

  • increase stroke tempo – the frequency at which breathing windows come along
  • change your breathing pattern so that there is less average time between breaths over a full length
  • use smaller exhales, smaller inhales
  • reduce the amount of pressure or effort per stroke

Like using a smaller gear (faster cadence) on a bicycle, you can speed up the tempo while reducing the pressure per stroke, then insert a breath every 3 strokes. You may find this easier than using a slow tempo, keeping as much pressure per stroke and inserting a breath every 2 strokes. Once you add up the amount of effort and the frequency of breaths over the length you may find that a shorter stroke at higher tempo, with more frequent-but-smaller breaths are more comfortable to maintain.

With those four variables you have a lot of room to experiment in finding a more sustainable stroke+breathing pattern for each event.

 

Solution: Higher Intensity Training

There is no way around it – we can work on perfecting technique forever but at some point we’ve got to increase effort and add power in order to go farther and go faster. (I spent a good portion of Smooth Strokes blog space over the last year explaining this).

Let’s say you and your TI Coach feel you’re stroke is quite economical at short distances, yet you start to feel breathless at around 150 meters. What’s going on? You may have reached the end of ‘Easy Speed’ benefits your early TI training provided you.

You will only increase your comfort for swimming beyond 150 meters by swimming into the discomfort past 150 meters and training there. Like the burn of good stretching in order to lengthen those tissues, you have to swim into that burn of breathlessness and muscle fatigue in order for your body to be provoked to adapt to it. There is just no other way to adapt your metabolism and muscles to longer distances.

As a matter of fact, the science of fitness behind aging is pointing us to the reality that increasing and then maintaining fitness longer in life is directly dependent on our dosage of high intensity training ( high intensity = uncomfortable in terms of breathing and heart rate and muscle burn).

So, to expand your comfortable swimming distance and speed – no matter how fine your technical control is – you have to swim into the uncomfortable zone to do it. And further more, the more you avoid discomfort (of this kind), the faster your comfort zone will shrink with age. That’s the hard word I am hearing from the experts on aging and fitness these days.

 

Solution: Become Comfortable With Discomfort

There is eu-stress (positive stress on the body) and dis-stress (negative stress on the body).

One one hand we are training to listen carefully to the body in order to remove unnecessary stress and strain, to make things flow better, make things feel better.

One the other hand, there are many strong sensations that are unavoidably present when you work your body at higher intensity or over longer distances. They are normal and they are healthy. Rather than label these as ‘unpleasant’ it is possible to retrain your brain so that they are regarded as positive sensations rather than negative, so that you associate them with good things rather than danger.

For those who are unaccustomed to high/long intensity efforts, in the early stages of a swim – especially when you have started out too hard – when these uncomfortable sensations are building up, this can trigger some anxiety or fear. The brain mistakenly worries that if those sensations keep building and building like that, surely the body is going to explode! But in fact, those sensations may just rise to a certain level and, if you keep the same effort level, those won’t actually increase. And, if you concentrate on focal points which restore your economy, after 300 or so meters it will start to feel easier again.

Essentially, this is the intended effect of a good warm up and the reason we emphasize doing it with quality every practice, every swim.

Just be aware that some amount of the breathlessness is appropriate – it’s the normal state you’ll be in when working at higher speeds or longer duration, and you can not only get used to it, but come to like it.

 

Conclusion

It will be good to invest in all four solutions:

  1. Lower your demand for air exchange with better technical control
  2. Use a pattern which provides smaller-but-more-frequent breaths
  3. Insert higher intensity training into your weekly plan
  4. Reinterpret the sensations that come with healthy higher intensity work

 

~ ~ ~

Sources Of Breathing Problems

Sources Of Breathing Problems

I want to start a conversation with you about breathing problems and their possible causes.

Feeling ‘out of breath’ (when I don’t think I should be) is one of the most common complaints I hear from swimmers and it has come up recently with some members in the Dojo. In this post I want to map out many of the possible causes for this.

First, it is likely that the problem of being ‘out of breath’ is caused by several factors affecting you together.

Second, some of these factors are things you can improve with know-how and training once you identify what they are. Others are things you may compensate for with changes to your technique.

Third, some of the problems could be with your technique (wasted effort), some with your conditioning (improvable conditions or unimprovable conditions), and some of it could be a matter of perception – you may need to change the way you interpret uncomfortable sensations that come with higher exertion.

I don’t know what is affecting you. But as you read through this list (and there could be many more that I have not listed) you may suspect certain ones are related to your situation.

Here is a list of possible causes that come to mind….

 

In Body & Stroke

These are factors that will either make it harder to get to breath (to inhale) or just make more work for the body which increases demand for air exchange.

  • Faults in body position which create excess drag – you have to work harder and require more air exchange than necessary.
  • Faults in the stroke pattern which increase drag or reduce power transfer – you work harder but accomplish less.

 

In Breathing Technique

These are factors that will either make it harder to get to breath (to inhale) or just make more work for the body which increases demand for air exchange.

  • You drop the lead arm (or ‘break the ice’ as some of you have learned from me) before it’s time to switch the arms.
  • You breathe too late in the window of opportunity.
  • You hold your breath underwater.
  • You try to make massive air exchanges – nearly emptying the lungs on each exhale, feeling desperate to fill the lungs on each inhale.
  • Your turn to air and return to ‘face-down’ position is so disruptive to balance and streamline that it breaks your momentum on each breathe requiring two or three strokes to restore these.

 

In Breathing Pattern

This is actually a complicated situation – when training you in breathing patterns we hope you will naturally fall into suitable patterns without thinking about it too much. But the fact is, your brain is having to sort through these variables to find the best sustainable arrangement to let you swim the speed and distance you want.

I will list these one-by-one but realize that they are interdependent, affecting each other…

  • Your stroke tempo is inappropriate (too fast or too slow)
  • Your breathing pattern is too infrequent for your intensity level
  • The volume of air exchange is too much or too little (often too much)
  • The amount of effort per stroke is too high

 

In Conditioning

The longer you have been swimming and the younger you started, the larger ‘bank account’ of fitness you have to draw from when you get older, and the higher the potential you could possibly return to if you fall away for a while. These factors listed below could be from either a small ‘bank account’ or one that has been neglected for too long.

  • You are older.
  • You do not have a long and strong history in systematic swim training.
  • You lack experience with high-aerobic athletics.
  • You have been ill recently.
  • You have been training frequently for less than 6 months.
  • You swim (on average) less than 3 times per week.
  • You rarely include any high-intensity (80% to 100% effort) work in your training.
  • You rarely swim continuously for duration longer than 5 minutes at a time.

Frankly, those who have experienced high performance when younger have the most to lose, and can be most discouraged. If they have neglected their fitness for a long time it will be hard to get close to the potential at this age they could have if they had kept it up. While those who have not had a strong endurance athletic background, chances are they are not even close yet to swimming at the potential they could with more appropriate fitness-building training – any progress will feel better than they have had before.

But good news for all of you – you can build up a good ‘bank account’ of fitness again. As you get older you just have to be extremely dedicated to building it and maintaining it. 

 

In Your Head (consciously or subconsciously)

Note: all of these listed below assume your body is functioning in a healthy way and the uncomfortable signals in your body are what is normal and appropriate for that effort level – these are sensations that you need to change your relationship with because they will always be present in healthy high-effort athletics.

  • You feel uncomfortable with high heart rate.
  • You feel uncomfortable with prolonged, deep respiration. 
  • You feel uncomfortable when lactic acid builds in your muscles.
  • You hold your breath without realizing it.
  • You hold excess tension in parts of your body (which don’t need it) without realizing it.
  • You feel uncomfortable with the buildup of carbon dioxide in your system between breaths and during turns.

These final factors all relate to your perception – you are working hard, breathing hard, heart rate pumping harder, and that is normal and healthy and sustainable if you will accept these sensations as OK. Sometimes inexperienced endurance athletes misinterpret healthy discomfort as danger signals that things are going to break down, when in fact, the body is ready to keep going for an hour or two.

We can discuss solutions to each of these sections in the next blog.

 

~ ~ ~

Longer Distance Test Swim Part 2

How far should you swim?

I recommend a distance that will push your perceived (mental) endurance limits just a little. But not too far. Something you can do within the hour. Something between 500 and 2000 meters may be about right for many.

Some of you are training to achieve a longer distance you’ve never swam before, and in your mind right now you’ve regard some short distance as your limit. Start about where you think your limit is and in your next long swim go past this distance just a little. You can increase the distance gradually as your mind feels more confident from each swim.

Some of you are training for a distance you can already swim, but you’ve want to swim that distance in open-water (more challenging conditions), or at higher quality performance. (Some of you are preparing to take a qualifying swim test so you know you need to swim that distance at a certain speed). So, you may pick that test distance, then you can add variables that gradually increase the challenge on your systems over that full distance – you can set more complex Focal Point goals, set higher SPL goals, set higher Tempo goals, set variable Pace goals, etc.

Why Should You Do It?

Here are a few reasons why:

  • This is the easiest, safest, lowest pressure way to try longer distances. With solid TI skills in place you really may not have a distance limit any more (just add fuel), except for what remains in your mind.
  • You will become familiar with what happens to your body and after you swim past various ‘exhaustion points‘. Get to know what these changes feel like and learn how to respond to them so they no longer create negative experiences.
  • When you get tired, you need to swim even smarter and apply all you’ve been practicing with TI to keep going. It will push your brain to use your new skill much better than short distances (and abundant energy) will.
  • Such distance will no longer be ‘special’, it will just be normal. And you can feel proud that you are truly a distance-swimmer because this is what distance swimmers do!
  • You fall into a rhythm that you can only experience after 12 minutes of continuous swimming, and a deeper rhythm after 25 minutes, and an even rhythm after 45 minutes (times suggested by my own experience). You don’t know what you’re missing until you swim past those points and give your body and brain time to unify.
  • You get a substantial test of your increasing abilities, and a way to find out where your weak spots are when energy is no longer abundant. You can compare results – taking notes on your external objective performance and your internal subjective experience.

There are many more reasons to do this. You may even have some of your own that urge you to have a regular distance test swim like this. I would be glad to hear how you are using test swims and what your motivations are.

Longer Distance Test Swim Part 1

I have challenged some of you about swimming longer distance already. And some of you are challenging yourself without my prompting.

I encourage you to set up a longer test swim that you will do at least once a month, up to once a week, if you like. You’ll find that you are more capable than you realize, and then after several swims, you feel quite capable at this distance.

I have been doing this in various forms for as long as I have been training myself in swimming (and running, and cycling back in those triathlete days long ago). I didn’t do this when I first started swimming, but it became a habit later on. When I was in high school (on a state championship swim team, but I was not one of the champions) all of us who were less-gifted in swimming dreaded the 500 yard race. We prayed the coach would not assign us to it – it seemed so far. To those of us with inferior technique the 200 yard sprints were quite hard enough, so 500 yards seemed like a survival event, not a race.

After 3 years away from swimming (severely injured in my shoulders by that poor technique) in college I was drawn to Olympic Distance triathlon and so I had to get comfortable with 1500m, and ready to do it in open-water (but with a wetsuit). I had other teammates making some good peer pressure so, in addition to my normal workouts, I started swimming that full distance once a week to just ‘get in shape’ for it, physically and mentally. I wanted to remove the intimidation of the distance and make it a normal thing.

But I didn’t stop there. The Ironman race was the greatest triathlete test at the time and there were IM athletes on our triathlon team who inspired us all. I removed the intimidation of the 3800m (4200y) swim by swimming it once a month – an ‘hour of flip turns’ in a 25 yard pool can make you dizzy! But by doing this regularly I could feel confident I could handle that distance when I needed to. And this was all before I found Total Immersion!

When I did find TI several years later, I was still doing a 1500m swim about once a week. So, I immediately started applying my new TI skills to see how they worked on my test swim. And that is how I got sold on TI – it got so much easier, so much smoother, that distance was no longer something I was proud to endure, it became something easy to enjoy. (Being tough lost it’s glamor when suddenly I could swim smart!). Several years later from that, when I moved to Antalya Turkey and began swimming in the sea more and more, I started seeing the profound advantages TI gave me for swimming in open-water and for swimming longer distances. I quickly started challenging my perceived distance limits and pushed them back farther and farther. A 45 minute continuous swim turned into 1 hour. 1 hour swims became 1.5, which became 2 hours, which turned into even a couple 3-hour swims just because I was so curious how far TI could take me on one tank of fuel. 10k suddenly became a pleasant (though long) swim, not an epic endurance event.

Now I am confident that I could handle great distances as long as I have fuel and can stay warm enough. (And that is why I do cool water winter training now – to remove that perceived barrier also!) I did these longer swims with no pressure to accomplish them at any speed – I just started gently and went along to see what would happen, and learn new things. And though I had a distance goal in mind for each swim, I set my course so I could get out any time I needed to, at any sign of trouble in body or mind. That gave me great peace about pushing those perceived distance limits. And they fell away so easily.

Practice Set: Staggered Tempo 1

Practice Set: Staggered Tempo 1

Practice Set

  • 3 rounds of 2x (2x 150) freestyle
  • 30 seconds passive rest between repeats – or 8 deep nasal breaths
  • Staggered tempo, descending (getting faster)
  • Round 1: 2x 150 at tempo 0.96, 2x 150 at 0.87
  • Round 2: 2x 150 at 0.93, 2x 150 at 0.84
  • Round 3: 2x 150 at 0.90, 2x 150 at 0.81

Distance

1800

 

Quantity Objective

To swim entire distance.

To maintain the assigned tempo.

 

Quality Objective

To hold best full-body synchronization (rhythm) as tempo gets more challenging, as muscles get more fatigued.

In each round, use the relative ease of the slower tempo repeats to ‘rest in motion’.

 

Possible Failure Points

  • Cannot hold tempo (muscular)
  • Cannot maintain precision (motor)
  • Cannot maintain rhythm, full-body synchronization (motor)
Practice Set: Tempo Gears 1

Practice Set: Tempo Gears 1

Practice Set

  • 3 rounds of (3x 150) freestyle
  • NO rest between repeats – use Gear 2 as active rest
  • 30 seconds passive rest between rounds
  • Alternate between Gear 2 and ‘Gear 4 at Assigned Tempo’ (out of a scale of 1 to 5 gears)
  • On each round G4 tempo descends (gets faster)
  • Set Tempo Trainer to assigned tempo.
  • Ignore TT beep on G2 segments – swim G2 by feel
  • Each round swim (alternate 100 G2/50 G4, 50 G2/100 G4, 150 at G4)
  • Round 1: G2 by feel, G4 at Tempo 0.90
  • Round 2: G2 by feel, G4 at Tempo 0.87
  • Round 3: G2 by feel, G4 at Tempo 0.84

Distance

1350

 

Quantity Objective

To swim entire distance.

To maintain the assigned tempo.

 

Quality Objective

To hold best full-body synchronization (rhythm) as tempo gets more challenging, as muscles get more fatigued.

In each round, use the relative ease of the Gear 2 tempo segments as ‘rest in motion’.

 

Possible Failure Points

  • Cannot hold tempo (muscular)
  • Cannot maintain precision (motor)
  • Cannot maintain rhythm, full-body synchronization (motor)
Practice Set: Mat’s Warm Up 1

Practice Set: Mat’s Warm Up 1

Warm Up

  • 1500 continuous, no rest
  • Divide distance into mental intervals
  • 300 Silent Swimming – as gentle as possible
  • 300 Silent Swimming – pick up tempo slightly
  • 6 rounds of (50 fist / 50 DPS* / 50 brisk tempo)
  • New synchronization focal points on each round
  • Round 1: focal point is Perfect Arm Switch timing (AB)
  • Round 2: focal point is hip driving the extending arm (CA)
  • Round 3: focal point is sync foot to extension (DA)
  • Repeat those three for Rounds 4,5 and 6

Distance

1500

 

* DPS = distance per stroke, or extend stroke length

 

Quantity Objective

To swim entire distance.

 

Quality Objective

First 2x 300 – to let body tissues gently wake up, warm up and lengthen, to be ready for more work.

Carefully scan the entire body looking for any areas needing extra attention or warm up time. Or possibly encounter signals that urge you to rest more this day, rather than work harder.

Last 6x 150 – to tune up the power-transfer connections through the whole body, preparing for work of the main set.

 

Possible Failure Points

  • Unusually tight or stiff spots in the joints or muscles
  • Difficulty in reaching your best synchronization standards
  • Low energy
  • Low motivation

Variety As A Form Of Rest

Vary the intensity, physically and mentally.

Vary the intensity over the year. Vary the intensity over the race season. Vary the intensity over the week. Vary the intensity during each practice. Keep in mind you have different systems in training:

  1. Metabolic system (processing fuel)
  2. Muscular system (generating power)
  3. Motor Control system (directing that power with precision)
  4. Mental system (including attention, attitude, and emotions)

You can raise or lower intensity in practice for any of these systems.

You can provide an abundance of clean fuel and water, or work under a fuel-stressed system.

You can keep the muscle load within comfortable limits or work around your limits.

You can keep focus just enough to maintain your normal level of ease in the activity, or apply super-laser-focus to provoke higher precision than you’ve achieved before.

For example, you can have low-physical intensity and high mental intensity – like your first TI workshop! Or you can have a high-physical intensity, with moderate mental intensity – like going for a longer-than-normal swim with a few ease-inducing focal points in mind.

There are also different kinds of rest. There is passive rest and there is active rest. A day-off is a form of passive rest. A slow swim, a low-intensity drill or a walk is a form of active rest. Low-intensity practice can be a form of rest also. You can still practice without exhausting your body. One does not need to go hard on all three, four, five, six days a week, and that is not advised either.

Switching from one focal point to another gives one part of the brain rest while another is working. Switching from one activity to another gives rest to some sport-specific systems or parts of the body, while others are working. You can be resting in one way while remain productive for some part of your sport in another.

It is not just my bias as a swim coach, but swimming is your best way to take active rest from your other sports. Its gentle for the body, helps flush the systems, and soothes the brain. A short day in the pool without an agenda or intensity – just move gently and enjoyably – is a great way to take a wet rest-day in the middle of your normal weekly practice routine.

You may notice how all our practice plans in the Dojo follow this principle of variety as rest It is just one way you can build variety of activity and intensity into your week. It is a way you can create a relatively balanced training diet, balanced in skills, fitness and intensity levels, with lots of room for customization.

Minimum Amount Of Practice Part 3

Rotate sport emphasis (if you have multiple sports to train for).

Here is an idea multi-sport athletes might work with. Instead of always trying to give an equal 1/3 of your resources to each sport, you may emphasize one sport for a period of time while giving a minimal amount of maintenance to the others. For a few weeks or a couple months you may give emphasis (in time and intensity) to one of the sports and reduce the emphasis on the others – just do enough to maintain a level of ability in those sports.

There is some cross-over of fitness between the tri-sports and you can rely on that to some extent. Devote X weeks to more intense focus on one sport, building up to a new level (granted you’ve build a base in that sport), while doing just enough in the other two sports to maintain your level there. Then you may switch to a new sport emphasis.

For example:

  • Month 1 – Swimming emphasis, minimal on Running, Cycling
  • Month 2 – Running emphasis, minimal on Cycling, Swimming
  • Month 3 – Cycling emphasis, minimal on Swimming, Running

Of course, you may want to keep this in tune with the seasons. Say, for instance, you have the opportunity to travel to the Med (with me!) to work on swimming when the water and weather are awesome, so you can back off the less convenient sport of cycling. Then there may be an ideal distance cycling season in your region. And there may a season of more ideal running weather (I prefer harder run training in winter!) when swimming distance outside is not practical. I’ve done it this way with swimming and running some years. When the summer heat comes it makes makes running hard, while the water is still cool enough to swim with intensity. I would spend the winter building a running base so I could maintain over summer with much less running until it cools off again in the fall. Then in late spring I started emphasizing swimming distance to build my base for a fall long-distance swim project. I switched from mostly running in winter to mostly swimming in summer.

Minimum Amount Of Practice Part 2

Devote part of the pre-season to building a big base.

Part of getting your body and mind ready for improvement in your achievement season each year is putting in the long and low-intensity distance that gradually stimulates the body tissues to build up and prepare for more intense efforts in the main season. It’s what endurance athletes do in pre-season to prepare their bodies for more difficult training.

There are prescriptions for each sport (and for each event in each sport) for how much distance one should aim for, but just know that getting a lot of easy, mindful, injury-free meters/miles racked up really, really helps. Basically, it’s giving months of rhythmic repetition and stimulation to the body that the necessary systems in the brain and body get built up to a high level in support of the activity. The brain says, “Hey, this gal is super-serious. This is looking like a lifestyle. We’d better set up the whole system to get ready to live this way!” And it does.

But when the person engages in the activity only occasionally, the body may respond more like, “Oh, she’s trying that again? Let’s just resist her a bit and see if she won’t give up and stop it. We don’t want to go to all that effort retooling the whole system if she isn’t serious!” And, so over this pre-season of work unseen but important things develop inside the body to allow an athlete with a big base to perform in season at a much higher level than one without such a base.

I know the benefits of this base well from my early years of swimming and triathlon (when I had to do it in three sports!), and I still work this principle in my Flow State distance swimming and running training now.