Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The rhythm method

Paul and I were watching the NCAA championship swim meet the other day, and those dudes swim the backstroke twice as fast as I do the crawl. Not that being a male NCAA swimmer is my goal, it just put things in perspective: there's always room for improvement.

A bit of background (you can skip the paragraph if you've already heard my Total Immersion soap box), in 2005, I couldn't swim more than 25 yards in a single go. In preparation for my first triathlon, I picked up a copy of Total Immersion at the suggestion of some random guy at the pool. TI breaks the crawl down into a set of drills that don't really feel all that much like swimming (i.e., kicking on your back, kicking on your side, kicking on your side with one arm by your ear). The focus is on getting your body in the right position in the water, so you don't expend a ton of extra energy trying to keep from drowning, and instead you use that energy to propel you forward. TI takes a lot of commitment to going to the pool and not swimming, but if you're willing to put in the time in the drills, it really does clean up your stroke significantly. I recommend it to any one wanting to improve their stroke.

I credit TI with creating my relaxed stroke, but the flipside of a relaxed stroke is that it's sometime hard to swim faster. At the relay a few weeks back, Paul commented on how I didn't look like I was working very hard during the race. A few months ago I read an article (either in Lava or another tri magazine, I can't recall), written by Terry Laughlin, the founder of TI, on using a metronome to slowly speed up your stroke rate, while maintaining your distance per stroke, thus speeding up your swim overall. I was intrigued. Terry's written more about it on his blog.

There are two devices I've found that serve this purpose the Tempo Trainer and the Wetronome (yes, really). But seeing as how I have a waterproof case for my ipod, and I could download some sample tracks from and try it out less than 12 hours later, it seemed the way to go.

First, my options are somewhat limited with the tracks. They offer tracks in 5 beat per minute increments. Turns out my natural pace is somewhere between 55 bpm and 60bpm. 55 just felt slow, and 60 gave me a cramp. Both metronome devices offer finer tempos. For now I think the tracks will suffice, but if you're looking to get me a present in the near future, take note.

Second, I'm never going to be somebody's back-up dancer, but I like to think that my rhythm isn't that bad. I was pleased to find that I don't slow my stroke significantly to breathe. I was a bit afraid that my stroke-stroke-stroke-GASP might be a problem, but it was ok. Still, getting back on tempo at the wall was tough on a few of those turns.

Third, I'm still excited by the potential this tool may have to improve my swim. I'm looking forward to using the metronome to plot out my curve of time per 100 versus strokes per length to find my baseline optimal stroke count, then to try to improve it. Though I'm a little concerned that trying to start my watch, count my strokes and sync up with the beats may be a little challenging. We shall see.

Have you ever tried swimming with a metronome? Any suggested workouts?


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