Why Practice at Really Fast Tempos?
Swimming at faster-than-comfortable tempo you will challenge your ability to maintain precision and consistent timing of the stroke choreography.
It will expose weakness and limitations in your skills that are still present when you swim at your normal tempo, but you may not be aware of how those weaknesses are affecting you. When you swim with faster tempos your brain will try to take short cuts to get the movement roughly completed within the shorter amount of time – your movements will degrade in their precision, and some parts will rush too fast and others go too slow. Working at faster-than-comfortable tempos will give you the opportunity to observe where your stroke breaks down and give you the opportunity to improve them.
If you spend more time at uncomfortably fast tempos, working hard to improve timing and control, you’ll notice things get even easier when you return to your previously ‘normal’ comfortable tempo!
Practicing with Faster Tempos
When you would like to challenge your stroke with slightly-uncomfortably-fast tempos, you do this by gradually increasing the tempo until your stroke starts to feel rushed. At this point you are forced to make the movements more quickly than your brain is prepared for.
By counting strokes you can measure how much your stroke breaks down by how much the stroke count goes up each time you increase the tempo. You can also see when your brain begins to adapt to the fast tempo by when your stroke count holds steady or even starts to go back down (while staying at the same tempo for a while).
When you first start increasing tempos away from your comfortable tempo (TC) you may be able to hold the same stroke count (SPL) for a few steps. But at some point in increased tempo you may not be able to resist adding strokes to you SPL. But why? Is it a matter of strength? A matter of your ability to hold precise movements? That is what you want to use faster-than-comfortable tempo sets to discover.
What tempo starts to feel fast to you is quite personal and depends on what you’ve been training with. You can shift your comfortable tempo range a bit over a few weeks with a systematic adaptation process. This is not nearly as difficult as shifting your SPL range, but it still requires a gradual process over time.
When you work into faster-than-comfortable tempo range, the harder it becomes (i.e. the more failure you experience) the more incremental the steps of increased tempo need to be.
For example, while inside your comfortable tempo range you may be able to increase tempo by steps of -0.05 seconds and you don’t need any adaptation time – you can get by with 50 or 100m distance for each round. When it gets near your comfortable limit you may need to make the increments smaller by steps of -0.03 or -0.02 and provide more distance for adaptation at each step – more like 150 to 200m distance for each round. When it gets extremely challenging (where failure is 40-50%) you may need to make the increments just -0.01 seconds and provide even more distance for adaptation at each step – more like 300m or more for each round. When failure is over 50% it is too much.