The Devil Is In The Details


The title of this article is a spin on a classic phrase that means: “It is the small, individual parts of a task that may cause most problems and difficulties.”

In this article, we’re going to look at it from a more positive perspective, one that can have profound effects on your training.  Take, for example, the following set:

10 x 100 free (any interval)

On paper, that’s 1000 yards (or meters).  40 lengths of the pool (20 lengths in long course).  Pretty straightforward.  Your coach might write it up on the board, and assuming there are multiple intervals offered for various speeds and skill levels, you go to the lane which best fits you.  For some, it isn’t too bad; for others, it may be a “just make it through the set” affair.  Whatever the case may be, there is a lot that you can gain from such a set (or any, for that matter), and even more that you can do to make it more challenging, or even make completing it a bit easier.

Let’s start with those who want more of a challenge.  Perhaps your practice session is unusually crowded, and you find yourself needing to share a lane with swimmers who are a bit slower than you.  This is not an uncommon occurrence.  In such an event, the fastest interval offered doesn’t challenge you, or isn’t going to accomplish what you need to get out of the practice.  Lately, I’ve been facing this challenge as a coach with a large group of swimmers with a wide range of speed and endurance, but very limited lane space, and still need to provide meaningful and effective practices for all involved.

In the case of the more advanced athletes, they can focus on a variety of details, skills and strategies that they’d like to become habits.  Here are a few:

  • Underwater dolphin kicks: get better at them! Longer intervals leave you with little excuse for not practicing this most essential skill – this could mean implementing an extra kick or two, or simply focusing on tighter streamlines when you push off the wall.
  • Stroke count: the fewer strokes you take, the less tired you get! Knowing your stroke count, and training yourself to bring it down, makes you a more efficient swimmer!  In training, do sets where you commit to not exceeding a certain number of strokes, especially as you get more and more fatigued!
  • Breathing pattern: for you freestylers and butterflyers out there, the less time you spend breathing means less time that shows up on the clock. As with stroke count, learn to gradually reduce the breaths you take, especially on sprints.
  • Underwater dolphin kicks: get better at them! Longer intervals leave you with little excuse for not practicing this most essential skill – this could mean implementing an extra kick or two, or simply focusing on tighter streamlines when you push off the wall.
  • Kicking – for freestylers and backstrokers, speed up the tempo of your kick, that is, execute more flutter kicks per stroke…and don’t cheat by slowing down your arms! For breaststrokers, you can focus on following through with your kick (i.e. snap your feet together and keep the glutes and core muscles tight in the streamline).  Butterflyers can practice getting the most out of both dolphin kicks, meaning not dialing down the power of one, as so many swimmers tend to do.
  • Add more lengths: if the interval allows, you can always do a little bit more. Good luck with this, however, in a long course pool…
  • Replace the prescribed stroke with a slower one: if 10 x 100 free @ 2:00 is too easy for you, replace part or all of the set with a non-freestyle stroke.
  • GO. FASTER. (no further explanation required).
  • Underwater dolphin kicks: get better at them! Longer intervals leave you with little excuse for not practicing this most essential skill – this could mean implementing an extra kick or two, or simply focusing on tighter streamlines when you push off the wall.

(…do you see what I did there?)

  • If, on the other hand, you find yourself on an interval that’s a little overwhelming, your options are a little more limited, but you can still get a great deal out of the set. For starters, you could simply do a little less (like a 75 instead of a 100).  That might make the interval a bit long, but then you could always implement some of the details described above.  Another great option is to challenge yourself to just make the interval for part of the set, then drop a length for the next part.  For example, if our sample set of 10 x 100 free is on a 1:30 interval, but you can’t possibly hold that for the entire set, then turn it into 5x: 100 @ 1:30, 75 @ 1:30. Over time, that challenging interval becomes easier as your body learns how to handle it as it gets more practice.

Don’t be discouraged or frustrated when you run into a set that isn’t to your liking!  Most coaches and swimmers are pretty flexible, and we’re all out to make each other better.  Just make sure that everyone is aware of what you’re doing and is okay with it.  Any set can be as “devilish” as you want by making a few modifications here and there, but at the same time, those “devils” are not to be feared, and will make you a far better swimmer.

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