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Thread: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

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    Very Active Member Beards247's Avatar
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    Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    I've been focusing on stroke work for the past year or so and I'm hitting on a phase I'm hoping others have hit and have answers to.

    My 75-85% efforts are when my stroke is best but 1) It seems to fall apart when I really put the pedal to the metal and 2) If I try to slow down to build endurance, the stroke also does not stay together. If I can't maintain stroke mechanics during peak sprints or cardio/muscular endurance sets would that amount to garbage yardage?

    This funky middle ground means I get some decent effort in practice, but it seems too short compared to other swimmers workouts. Without building power or endurance using 'the right stroke' I worry that I'm not really making as good of progress as I can.

    Thanks in advance.
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    Very Active Member Swimosaur's Avatar
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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    Quote Originally Posted by Beards247 View Post
    ... I get some decent effort in practice, but it seems too short compared to other swimmers workouts.
    My 2 cents ...

    I think it is a mistake to compare yardage versus other swimmers. Other swimmers, including many masters teams, live & die on high yardage, low rest interval, cardio sets. Their focus is on generic fitness and/or endurance, not stroke mechanics. If your focus is stroke, then I'd expect your workouts to total fewer yards. If you are getting decent effort in practice, then bugger the yardage!

    Quote Originally Posted by Beards247 View Post
    stroke ... seems to fall apart when I really put the pedal to the metal ...

    As a confessed non-sprinter, I'd love to be able to help you there, but alas, I can't. Maybe some of the quicker folks can help.




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    Very Active Member Beards247's Avatar
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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    Swimosaur I think you are right, I'll never do the yardage that the cardio set does. And while I feel like my stroke work is on its way to accomplishing some of my goals, I feel like I need to find a way to build endurance with 'the right stroke' and be able to apply power to it without everything falling apart. Similarly, I should also be able to use the same stroke while swimming at an easy pace.

    I wouldn't say I am a sprinter either (middle distance seems to be my strength), I do know even for dyed-in-the-wool distance swimmers sprint/power work is important too : )

    Thanks for the feedback.
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    Very Active Member knelson's Avatar
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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    Quote Originally Posted by Beards247 View Post
    If I can't maintain stroke mechanics during peak sprints or cardio/muscular endurance sets would that amount to garbage yardage?
    My answer would be "no," but I can imagine others might disagree. I think just about everyone can relate to this. At some point, if you are working hard, you won't be able to maintain your stroke technique. But I think you still need to push yourself to this level and not merely back off when your stroke starts to fall apart. You just need to keep emphasizing good technique when you are able to and hopefully you'll start to increase the speed where the technique drop-off occurs and be able to go farther into your workout before the drop-off occurs.

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    Very Active Member quicksilver's Avatar
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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    If I can't maintain stroke mechanics during peak sprints or cardio/muscular endurance sets would that amount to garbage yardage?
    To second on this comment, if you're stroke is coming undone, there's a tendency to drill bad mechanics into your muscle memory. This isn't necessarily garbage yardage, but it's not the ideal practice method.

    Like Kirk suggests, always try to swim clean and smooth. If you have to back the effort down a little, so be it. Sooner or later you'll find yourself in the midst of the set with good mechanics and that's when you'll be moving along at a new found pace.

    Years a go I though that the key to improvements was in being able to survive a very tight interval set of 100's or 200's for thirty or forty minutes straight. It took a while to realize that the key to getting faster was technique technique technique. Slowing down the interval allowed this to happen. Form first. Engine building second.

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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    Depends. I would say my peak stroke efficiency is in my 200 free, and I don't really swim it that much. I'm a 50 and 100 free specialist, and my stroke is only a tiny resemblance of itself when i do the 50 especially. To go my 50 pace, I have to shorten it up considerably to get more turnover. No matter how much I try to keep the full long stroke, I go slower in the 50 if I try to hold anything resembling 200 technique. My 100 is somewhere between the two. In practice however, I do most of my swimming at 80-85% level. When I try to go slow, I don't fall apart, I just can't seem to go slow, lol. No matter how slow i start off a 100 in practice just trying to go slow, I end up back at above 70% because the stroke is so much more efficient at those speeds.

    So really, your observations aren't very far from my own. Aside from some second guessing myself sometimes, it hasn't been a problem so far.

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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    Quote Originally Posted by Beards247 View Post
    I've been focusing on stroke work for the past year or so and I'm hitting on a phase I'm hoping others have hit and have answers to.

    My 75-85% efforts are when my stroke is best but 1) It seems to fall apart when I really put the pedal to the metal and 2) If I try to slow down to build endurance, the stroke also does not stay together. If I can't maintain stroke mechanics during peak sprints or cardio/muscular endurance sets would that amount to garbage yardage?

    This funky middle ground means I get some decent effort in practice, but it seems too short compared to other swimmers workouts. Without building power or endurance using 'the right stroke' I worry that I'm not really making as good of progress as I can.

    Thanks in advance.
    That describes my experience pretty well. But I haven't found the answer to it. My guess is that, now that I am working on technique (something I never used to do), I am using muscles that are not accustomed to being worked, so they tire quickly at sprint speed or at distances longer than 50s and 100s - hence the stroke falling apart phenomenon. My hope is that by maintaining good technique as much as possible, those "new" muscles will eventually adapt and hold up better. We'll see...(sure seems to be taking a long time though!)

    If you find something that works, please post again.
    Last edited by GregJS; April 2nd, 2013 at 11:51 PM.

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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    Quote Originally Posted by Beards247 View Post
    I've been focusing on stroke work for the past year or so and I'm hitting on a phase I'm hoping others have hit and have answers to.

    My 75-85% efforts are when my stroke is best but 1) It seems to fall apart when I really put the pedal to the metal and 2) If I try to slow down to build endurance, the stroke also does not stay together. If I can't maintain stroke mechanics during peak sprints or cardio/muscular endurance sets would that amount to garbage yardage?

    This funky middle ground means I get some decent effort in practice, but it seems too short compared to other swimmers workouts. Without building power or endurance using 'the right stroke' I worry that I'm not really making as good of progress as I can.

    Thanks in advance.
    You could perhaps try an incremental approach to it.

    Let's say you are a 200 swimmer and you swim the 200m free in 2:10. If you were to swim a 200 at 85% effort, you would need to swim a 2:29.5. At 85% effort you say your stroke is at its best. Swim one at 85%, then rest up. Now swim another. This time try and come in a second or two faster than your first time while still maintaining your best stroke.

    It doesn't have to be done on the same day. Look at it as a long term project. You will need to time all your efforts. Over a period of months try to reduce your time while maintaining good form.

    This way you should slowly acclimatize your muscles and coordination to swimming faster without compromising your form.


    The idea of improving in increments is fundamental to my approach to training. Here's another example of how I might use it: if I want to swim a 200 in, say, a 2:08, I would know that I would have to swim each 25 in 16 seconds. Once I could swim a 25 in 16 seconds I would move on to attempting a 50 in 32, then a 100 in 1:04, a 150 in 1:36 and so on. Obviously, this would be over a period of months and my training would include aerobic sets, sprint sets, kicking and stroke work, but at least once a week, I would want to time myself for an all-out effort to see how close I am to achieving my goal.

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    Very Active Member Beards247's Avatar
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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    All great responses - thanks for the input.
    - Syd: Reminds me a bit of specificity training - or at least what we called it in my hay day : ). I guess now the equivalent is HIT training or something along those lines. But, I like the idea and should try working in this type of training.

    -GregJS: A recent fave has been a sequence of 200, 100, 50's. I'd also love to see some things you do too.
    200's are done till stroke just isn't staying together with a minute or so rest and try to hold pace. I expect that first 50 to be perfect. Perfect reach,catch,finish and body position with fly kicks (5-3) off each wall. Usually the first 50-75 is decent, then its just trying to keep it together.
    100's higher intensity, but keeping stroke together with adequate rest. Same deal just pick up the pace "with more authority" : )
    50's can go either way depending on how I feel. Sometimes I step up the intensity while keeping the stroke together. Other days I'll go to perfect 50's and really key on an aspect of stroke or perfect turns (wall/ 5 kick underwater/breakout.

    So w/o may look like 5*200 shoot for 2:40's and interval 3:30 and may increase to 4. 5*100 hold sub 1:15 on 1:45 ->2min then 7-10*50's hold sub 34 on 1:15->1:30.

    Another set we do that I haven't seen other places: perfect 50's. 5 fly kicks off each wall, perfect stroke/balance/ etc. We'll do them for 30-40 minutes 1:15 to 1:30, but they have to be perfect (or at least as perfect as we can make them).

    - fmracing: I can relate a lot to your points also. 200 my stroke 'feels' best and I've recently tried (and like) the high turnover style of sprinters (helped me do my first 12 sec 25 in who knows how long).

    - knelson and quicksilver: thanks for the input. It confirms some of what I'm trying to do and nudges me towards doing more.
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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    I find your whole set of recommendations really interesting, Beards247, because, word for word, they are almost exactly what I tend to do on the days that I work out on my own (although I'd probably come in a few seconds behind you - and I don't have the lungs to do the fly kicks off the wall). So sounds like we're in a very similar point of the training spectrum and trying similar approaches. I can't yet say whether this approach is making much difference (I've been doing the kinds of sets you describe 1-2x/week for maybe 2-3 months now), but it does make intuitive sense. Have you started to notice improvements in your ability to keep your stroke together yet with this approach?

    On the days that I do team workouts, even though I still try to maintain technique, I pretty quickly end up doing something more along the lines of what knelson said above: "At some point, if you are working hard, you won't be able to maintain your stroke technique. But I think you still need to push yourself to this level and not merely back off when your stroke starts to fall apart. You just need to keep emphasizing good technique when you are able to and hopefully you'll start to increase the speed where the technique drop-off occurs and be able to go farther into your workout before the drop-off occurs."

    So it works out that on alternate days I'm "working from both ends" - more emphasis on endurance on team days and on technique on other days. Hopefully the two will meet up at some point.

    Very interesting thread - and again, as you continue experimenting, if you find anything else that helps you get to a new level of being able to hang on to good technique during longer swims or sprints, I'll be curious to hear about it. If I hit on anything that seems to make a noticeable difference, I'll pass it along.
    Last edited by GregJS; April 8th, 2013 at 04:52 PM.

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    Very Active Member Beards247's Avatar
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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    Give a man a soap box and he's gonna stand on it : ) happy to share what I've learned/experienced, but I came here looking for insights, so please add your own too.

    Jan 2012 a friend and I split from our 'lunch bunch' group who did fairly narrow workouts. Initially we focused on IM's (5*100 on 2min-2:30 and added sets as we built endurance till we were doing 4(5*100 IM's) at our peak aka 'best days'.

    The first real break through was bringing in an underwater camera (I've owned 3 different underwater cameras and this one has been my favorite hands down). We uploaded our vids to YouTube, compared them against other great swimmers (Thorpe, Lochte, Franklin, Phelps, Yang, etc) and tried to figure out where we sucked the most. We also took away some general observations on the elite swimmers.Almost every last one of them (under 400):
    • had at least 5 fly kicks off each wall.
    • Their hand/arm/shoulder extension was seemingly ridiculous. They pushed/stretched their it looks like their shoulder is coming out of its socket.
    • Their kicks were wide amplitude and at least appeared very strong.


    another breakthrough was me hurting my shoulder trying to throw someone out @ home from center field May 2012 - Hello 8 weeks of PT. Since I couldn't use my right arm for 6 weeks I:
    • shoulder rolled kicked on my back for 5 - 10 minutes at a clip. At first My quads felt like they were going to divorce my body.
    • with no attention to speed, 1 arm drilled front and back, just focusing on hand entry, catch/vert forearm as early as possible (with shoulder still extended) - I paid attention to what muscles got tired (deltoids) for both, abs if on stomach, quads if on back.
    • Once I could lift my arm over my head, I braced in streamline position and fly kicked on my back.
    • I explored kick amplitude underwater. How wide could I make it, when did I feel it in my lower abs?


    My main take-a-ways from this 8 week time span:

    • What's 6 weeks of your training life? What if you focused on legs, trained lung capacity? Perfect body position?
    • Stroke Drill shouldn't be the middle 50 of a kick/pull/swim 150. pick a drill do it for 2 minutes, 5 minutes maybe even 10 minutes. then think about doing it faster. QuickSilver really nailed it "Form first. Engine building second."
    • I don't have to approximate near death experiences with cardiovascular workouts - punishing the muscles doesn't give the endorphin rush, but its hellacious in its own special way.


    I also received this book which I think is an excellent reference. I've lacked the discipline to pick up the dryland yet, but I know I need to figure out how to add this in.

    So now I do a lot more kicking, a series of sculling drills to strengthen forearms/hands but also to develop a feel for the hands grabbing the water, 1 arm drills, hypoxic kick sets (5 fly kicks off each wall, doesn't matter what you do for the rest) - all for lengths of time, not yards. 2, 5 minutes... 10 minutes if I can handle it.

    FWIW, my times have dropped. Backstroke I've gone from a 1:08 to a 1:05, breaststroke 1:19 to 1:15 - freestyle has not been tested yet, but my practice speeds are steadily improving.

    Hope this helps.

    P.S. My training partner has seen time drops also, even though he chooses to not swim in meets. And, overall both of us perceive that we feel better in the water.
    Last edited by Beards247; April 9th, 2013 at 08:32 AM. Reason: added PS
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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    Beards247 - Thanks for some more good suggestions. Watched the video and tried really emphasizing the extension of my shoulder - and found that it makes a big difference when coordinated with everything else. But as with every other good suggestion which I've tried incorporating into my swimming, it tends to make me get tired even faster. That tiredness is what makes my stroke fall apart. I was actually about to post some further observations here about this "falling apart" issue when I stopped to check out the "kicking rhythm" thread that just got started. On that thread, vo2 makes a post that really gets to the bottom of what I think has been going on with me. In short, he talks about learning to swim with an engaged core, which is very exhausting if you aren't used to doing it. I highly recommend checking out that thread to see if it relates to your own stroke-falling-apart issues.

    Thanks also for the recommendation of Salo's book. I've been doing general dryland conditioning, but not specifically aimed at swimming. Looks interesting.

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    Very Active Member Beards247's Avatar
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    Re: Developing power and endurance - with the right stroke

    I feel your pain GregJS! And ditto on the core (Salo's book emphasizes the same approach). It seems like everything I learn also adds a new style of agony : ). But I as I stretch out my stroke, I feel it in my core more and more - hopefully that is good!

    I am off to check out that thread, thanks for the find.
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