View Full Version : How "hard" should I swim? Relaxed vs. strong

April 1st, 2015, 11:04 PM
So I'm 50, swimming a few years, had a little coaching. Turn 50 yd laps at around 55 seconds, and can sustain that pace for 15 laps or so at a time.

Goal = 30 minute mile (35 laps at 51.5, I think).

So I understand the strong core and relaxed arms, but I wonder if I'm too relaxed. So, to my question: When I played basketball, we were told that, if we wanted to leap as high as possible, jump at an 8 or 8.5 on an effort scale with 10 as maximum effort, so that we didn't tense up. Is it about the same with freestyle--especially with arm motion?

I can sprint a 40 second lap, but even swimming an hour a day, I'm wondering if I'll ever be able to pull off the 30 minute mile?

Thanks for any advice on technique or workouts, in addition to my primary question about how "hard" to swim.

April 2nd, 2015, 04:07 PM
I don't know anything about basketball but in swimming, you should be swimming the fastest pace you can swim to complete a specific distance (your "best average pace"). Don't pick a pace and see how far you can swim on that pace. If you do, the results will always be the same. Instead, pick a distance, swim that distance, and note your time. This will be your best pace for that distance. The next time you swim that distance, make your goal to swim that distance faster (giving you a new best pace for that distance).

There are lots of ways to improve your pace and make it faster. For example, swimming lots and lots of shorter sprints (50s), swimming builds, swimming broken mile descends, etc. When doing sprints, you want to swim as fast as you can without sacrificing your technique. If you find your technique starting to slide while your swimming a sprint set, slow down to the fastest speed that also allows you to remain focused on your technique. In fact, it's not uncommon for swimmers to have to stop their sprint set completely, do some drills for a few minutes to get refocused on their technique, and then resume their sprint set. For builds, do a middle distance interval and start the interval at a comfortable pace, such as at a 60% effort, and then gradually increase your pace until you finish at 100% effort. For example, you may swim a "3 x 500 build with a 1:00 rest interval" in which you swim the first 100 at 60% effort, the second 100 at 70% effort, the third 100 at an 80% effort, the fourth at a 90% effort, and then the last 100 at 100% effort. Rest for one minute and then repeat the interval two more times. For a broken mile descend, you swim 11 lengths of the pool (275 yards) and rest for 15-30 seconds, swim 10 lengths and rest for 15-30 seconds, swim 9 lengths and rest for 15-30 seconds, etc. etc. until you're done. Each distance should be faster than the previous (hence, the term "descend") so by the time you're down to the last 4 lengths (from 100, 75, 50, 25) you should be sprinting. You could even make it a broken mile build AND descend in which each interval within the set is a build and the whole set is a descend. Doing a build and descend broken mile is really tough so you might want hold off on it and stick with the descend only for now but doing broken mile build and descends will get you tons of experience learning about the relationship between your pace and your effort which will tell you whether youre swimming too hard or not hard enough (more than likely, you'll be swimming too hard until you get more practice at "feeling" the relationship between your pace and effort).

Hope that helps!

April 2nd, 2015, 11:04 PM
Thanks so much for such a detailed response. I'll work on that, and although I know it wasn't your goal, getting that much help has officially shamed me into paying USMS dues rather than just bumming free advice!

April 2nd, 2015, 11:57 PM
Another way to think about your question is to speak in terms of tempo, or how fast you move your arms. You describe a relaxed tempo. Maybe you do some medium tempo and increasingly fast tempo swims at a given distance (say 100s). Very detailed workout plans like the kind that Judester has provided can overwhelm some people, especially at the beginning. I can't do the 500s she described; it's too much to think about. If you want a simple focus to combine with introducing intervals and timing your swims, tempo is a good start.

April 3rd, 2015, 12:13 AM
I think that what you are asking about is true of most if not all athletic movements. My background is baseball. When batting, trying to swing really hard tightens everything up, making it harder to hit the ball. The key is finding that balance point where you are maximizing your power yet keeping your movement fluid and balanced. Through practice, I believe that point moves so that you can exert more and more effort while keeping technique.

This applies directly to swimming. Learn what swimming smoothly feels like; figure out how fast you can go before you lose that feeling; keep pushing that limit, which will train you to swim with greater effort.

April 3rd, 2015, 09:48 AM
Your basketball coach made a good point, and the concept of maintaining a strong core/relaxed arms position does apply to swimming. Relaxed arms translates primarily into the recovery phase of the stroke, however. You want the pull phase to be strong enough to provide forward momentum in the water.

This video on Olympic champion Alex Popov and his coach, the great Gennadi Touretski, explains these concepts well:

Perhaps you should consider working with a specialized technique coach to be able to identify all of the areas of your stroke that need improvement. The forums are great, but they are of course different than working with a coach one-on-one, a coach who will be able to give you workouts and precise technical guidance on what you - as an individual swimmer - need to adjust in order to improve.

April 3rd, 2015, 11:12 AM
Usain Bolt's coach would emphasize an easy effort for sprinting at top speed.

Swimming can easily pinpoint flaws in strokes with effort and fatigue. As mentioned above, individualized technique feedback is the key. Also effective, in addition, is video recording yourself

April 3rd, 2015, 07:01 PM
Thanks again for all the great input! The 60/70/80/90/100% 500's (was able to incorporate three sets into workout today) helped me begin to sense where a "sweet spot" might be, and I'll check into a local option for coaching.

April 14th, 2015, 09:54 AM

This looks like it may help. I have not yet read it myself.