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.

Going Beyond Basics – Part 1

I received a comment on the latest blog post ‘Improve Swimming Speed Part 1‘, and it grieved me a bit. This swimmer wrote:

“I learned crawl by myself with the TI method over 10 years ago. I quickly managed to swim 1500m and more. But that’s really my only accomplishment. I’m still slow as I was 10 years ago, despite swimming and training 2-3 times a week. I have read all the TI books and looked TI-DVD’s, read the TI forum for years. I have joined a couple of the TI camps, and also taken one personal TI lesson from a TI coach. You say “Trust the process”, but I mistrust this process.”

I wrote a personal email back to him with the offer to examine his experience of the process to find out where short-comings in the Total Immersion services may be, or find a gap in his understanding that we might fill and send him on his way to better results. He has not replied yet. His comment made me consider what gaps there may be in your understanding of TI – both in your mind, and in the bridge I am trying to build for you in our training events and in the Online Coaching Program.

~ ~ ~

One of Terry’s highest values that led to the Total Immersion system was this declaration early in his coaching career, “The problem is not the swimmer, the problem is the method.”

If the swimmer is failing to progress, then the method needs to be examined. And this remains one of our guiding values today. That is what makes TI unique among all other programs that have great success with swimmers – they may have success with some (usually more gifted) swimmers, but how many are they not able to help? TI is expecting success with all kinds of swimmers, especially the most troubled ones that other programs can’t help.

We warmly welcome those who have failed in the other systems, and if our current box of tools won’t help, we are eager to invent new ones rather than send them away. This continually puts the TI method and the TI Coach under the test. It forces us to refine things more and more. But it does not remove the responsibility of the student. And that is why we need to examine all parts of the equation to find out where the obstacle to any swimmer’s progress may be.

We might say there are four parts to the success equation with Total Immersion:

  1. The completeness of the TI Method to meet all needs.
  2. The competence of the teaching (whether from a coach or a book/video).
  3. The understanding of the swimmer.
  4. The quality of practice (time, attention) given by the swimmer.

Because I know you somewhat, and you have been a part of the  Online Coaching Program, I have no doubts in your dedication to improve with TI. I have no doubts in the TI Method – I am not claiming it to be perfect, because all human programs are adaptations and a work-in-progress – but I spent so many years testing it myself and seeing results with so many others (especially those who are not natural at swimming), that I am confident it is better than most.

But where I am constantly questioning myself is in how well I am teaching you. How can I do better at giving you just what you need, right when you need it? Then, how can I do better at teaching you how to do this for yourself when I am not there to do it for you? And I am looking for the gaps in your understanding of the method.

The whole point of the Self-Coaching Program is to save time and error by passing on to you what worked so well for me and countless others. (Maybe one day you will turn around and pass it on to another swimmer also!) It is an experimental project to develop this online coaching tool to help you succeed at home, on your own.

So, inspired by the comment from this swimmer I want to clarify your understanding of the TI method, if it is needed. I want to help you set your expectations to match how this works.

Look for the continuation of this essay in Part 2…