View Full Version : Raising Backstroke to my Freestyle standard

May 14th, 2011, 08:54 PM
On January 6 I stated my swimming goals for 2011 (http://www.swimwellblog.com/archives/962) -- including among them to break an Adirondack Masters 60-64 record in every discipline.

In the months since I've set a more challenging, more personal goal -- to raise my sense of mastery, and level of accomplishment, in the other strokes to match my freestyle. This is more personal because in breaking ADMS records, I'm measuring myself against others. In seeking to feel accomplished in all strokes is measuring against myself.

The most exciting thing that's happened in my swimming this year is a growing sense of that as an achievable goal.

I've thought of myself solely as a distance freestyler for 45 years. In high school and college I rarely swam anything else and it simply never occurred to me to have any goals whatsoever in other events.

When I began coaching at age 21, I found I had an intuitive knack for teaching strokes I'd never swum and coached swimmers to national championships and records in every stroke plus the medley.

When I began swimming Masters in 1988 and could swim up to six events at Nationals, with freestyle accounting for only half, I became semi-serious about practicing all strokes.

Still, any medals I won at Masters Nationals came in distance free, and in my 50s I swam several marathons, won several national titles and broke national records - all in long distance open water freestyle, which reinforced my self-image as a distance freestyler.

In the last few months, prodded by my goal to set ADMS standards in all disciplines, I began to practice the other strokes in a more exacting way. I found that my ability to execute challenging practice tasks fell far short of the ability I'd cultivated in freestyle.

One good example is being able to swim a descending set, and go significantly faster at the end of the set without adding strokes.

I began to think that if I challenged myself in the same way in Fly, Back, Breast and IM in my 60s as I had during my 50s in Free, I would give myself a far better chance of swimming them well.

Today's practice - focused on one of my favorite sets - was really encouraging in that way.
Set #1
4 rounds of 3 x 100 Back on 2:00.
I challenged myself to (i) hold 56 strokes per 100 throughout, (ii) descend each round of 3, and (iii)swim a faster range of times in each successive round. To the best of my recollection, my times were:
Round 1: 1:52, 1:51, 1:49
Round 2: 1:50. 1:48, 1:46
Round 3: 1:47, 1:44, 1:42
Round 4: 1:42, 1:39, 1:36
What excites me about this is that I improved my 100 pace by 16 seconds in this set . . . without adding a stroke.
My best performance on a similar freestyle set has been to improve by 17 seconds. In Backstroke, I feel I'm still only scratching the surface.

Set #2
3 rounds of 4 x 50 on intervals of 1:10. 1:15, 1:20
This was similar, but aiming for a faster pace. Hold 30 strokes/50 as constant as possible. Descend each round. Make subsequent rounds faster.
Round 1 on 1:10: 52, 51, 50, 49 sec.
Round 2 on 1:15: 50, 49, 48, 47 sec.
Round 3 on 1:20: 48, 46, 44, 42 sec.
Other than adding a stroke on the last two 50s, I accomplished all I set out to do. What excited me in this set was, on the final round, when I swam 48 sec on the first 50, I mentally resolved to swim the next three in 46, 44 and 42 seconds - though I had not swum faster than 44 seconds in practice this year.
I've long been able to will myself to swim certain times in freestyle, but hadn't applied will to the other strokes. It will be a great confidence builder that I did that successfully in Backstroke today.

Here's why I consider this a critical indicator set. In analysis of hundreds of elite level races, performance staff at USA Swimming have identified the most decisive factor in racing is the ability: To maintain Stroke Length, while increasing Stroke Rate in the closing stages of a race. With great consistency, the difference between winners and also rans is this: Both increase Stroke Rate in the final laps. Also rans lose Stroke Length and fall behind. Winners maintain Stroke Length and pull away.

So a set that tests your ability to increase speed without adding strokes may be a stronger predictor than anything else of your readiness to swim your best.

May 15th, 2011, 11:40 AM
good luck with achieving your goal
hows your SDK?


May 16th, 2011, 11:13 AM
hows your SDK?

Good question, and thanks. If by SDK you mean Submerged Dolphin Kick, the answer is pretty ineffectual. I feel generally incapable of generating much speed underwater via kicking - of any kind - despite years of trying. Albeit not putting much time or energy into developing that side of my racing toolkit.

Rather my focus is on improving via continual incremental improvements in overall stroke economy and impeccable pacing overall. So energy management becomes a higher priority than things requiring power and rate.

Your question is good because it opens a window into critical analysis of one's strengths and weaknesses, how to strategically optimize the former and discover workarounds for the latter.