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Swim Your Perfect Pace

Pacing is pretty hard. It demands skill, timing, power, fitness and a knowing of thy self, all wrapped up in every moment. And so, to get it right you, likewise, need to work pretty hard at it. The even tougher task is actually knowing wether you’re getting any better at it or not- which is where you need external assistance. The external agent closes and supports your feedback loop, since it’s only with feedback that you can correct and improve. This is where gadgets have been so successful in sport performances over the years, swimming is no different.

Enter two technical innovations (one simple, and one complex) to add in to the feedback loop: a tempo trainer and the Swimsense from Finis.

The tempo trainer is designed to help you get your pacing right. The Swimsense gives you feedback about your swim. Combine the two and get feedback for your pacing. That, at least, is the theory. How did it work out in practice?

The experiment was conducted over 4×200. For the first 2 I set the tempo trainer at 0.95. That’s one arm action in just under 1 second. The first 2 reps look like this:

Avg 1.26/100m
Avg 1.24/100m

This was a comfortable pace for me, pretty close to my 3km race pace. The perceived effort on these two reps was low (and the second one is a lot more consistent, probably since I’m warm by now). Based on the conversion charts available from Finis that gives me a stroke rate of about 32. A seperate chart confirms this (also, a great read, btw).

Now, to go faster, you need to cover more distance per stroke and/or take more strokes per minute. For example (and I’ll use easy math numbers): if you cover 1m per stroke and take 20 strokes per minute, you will cover a ground of 20m in 1 minute. But if you can cover 1.5m per stroke and STILL take 20 strokes per minute, you will cover 30m in 1 minute (or 20m in 40seconds). Alternatively, you can continue to cover 1m per stroke but take 30 strokes in 1 minute and achieve the same ultimate speed. Increase both and you start getting an order of improvement. Sadly, the relationships are not always that linear what with drag, limited power, stroke dynamics, fitness…. which is where the training comes in :)

So now onto the second set of 200s. This time the tempo was upped (or downed) a notch to 0.90. Believe me, the extra increment/decrement, however small, you feel.

Granted, by number 4 I was starting to tire. The perceived effort on each was noticeably higher than the previous two, albeit not that hectic just yet. The average times were indeed faster. A faster stroke rate does mean you will actually swim faster. I will focus the rest of the comparison on numbers #2 and #3 since they are closely related (yet different paces) and besides which, #1 I was still warming up, where #4 I started to tire.

I definitely took more strokes per length yet swam quicker. What this tells me is the distance I was getting per stroke should be less. And my SWOLF score also reflects a slightly less efficient stroke when I started to turn up the pace.

Distance Per Stroke, 200 #2


Distance Per Stroke, 200 #3

Indeed, at a slower pace, I was getting closer to 2.7m per stroke (the green line) whereas with a faster pace, I was consistently closer to 2.5m per stroke. Mmm… Hence the pickup in stroke rate to make the deficit in lost power.

Now the real question: was the effort required worth the extra 3 seconds? In a race, yes. Over 3km, probably not. And I say not because I would have tired a lot quicker trying to maintain that pace and blown earlier (probably).

For me, right now, it does seem a pace setting of 0.95 is a nice steady pace which I can handle over distance and swim almost as fast. Over a short sprint, things might be different. Or even in a 400m race, it may be different. Ideally, in a race for me (and I suspect it is what happens), is that my stroke rate remains close to 0.95, but I get slightly more distance per stroke (increased power application and more focus from a race scenario). Increasing the tempo towards 0.80 AND still getting the extra distance per stroke is going to take this age grouper a lot more work!

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