Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Australia Day Weekend

Dear Swimmers

Just a quick note today to inform you that despite the Australia Day celebrations being on this Thursday, all normal training sessions will continue as normal, i.e. 5.30am, 6.30am & 9.30am on Friday and 1.00pm on Saturday. Many of you were asking at squad this morning given that I think some of you are planning a long weekend off from work etc? 

So please note that we'll still be on getting Fresh 'n' Fruity as usual! ;-)

Also, this weekend sees two very significant events taking place on the WA sporting calendar:

  • Rottnest Channel Swim 10km qualifier at Sorrento Beach
  • Perth Olympic Distance Race at Langley Park

...both these events will be great to go along to and support if you fancied it - remember, it's due to be VERY hot this weekend though!



Monday, January 23, 2012

Help Kimmi raise $20k for WA Cancer Research

Dear Swimmers

Hoping you can help out - lane 2's Kim Annear is just $950 short of her $20k target for raising money for WA Cancer Research as part of her Rottnest Solo Swim Campaign - can we help her crack it?!

Kimmi has gone to the full extreme with this challenge as besides the challenge of swimming across to Rottnest she has also been raising money by keeping her hair shaved short for the last 6 months...I can't imagine what she will look like when it grows back as personally I've only ever known it like this!

Anyway, if you feel you can help (even just a little bit) please donate via the webpage: http://www.everydayhero.com.au/kim_annear_4



Monday, January 16, 2012

Making the impossible, possible...

Is it possible for me to write a Blog that's less than 25 words long?! Yes - watch this, it'll improve your swimming this week:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Common query about CSS results

Dear Paul,
Very interesting results. I am very interested to see however that some swimmers with both faster 400 and 200 times have calculated CSS times slower than those who they beat over both distances. Have you put in a further personal knowledge factor or made an adjustment for lack or excess training.?
Please note this is not a complaint. I am perfectly happy with my results and CSS but I note it occurs in several cases.
Yours sincerely,
Dr Guy van Hazel


Thanks for your email and feedback about the test results Guy. All the results you see have not been adjusted, but subjected to the same formula which can be seen here: http://www.swimsmooth.com/training.html
That's a question we've had a few times about CSS and something we're going to clarify on the website soon. The reason is that the calculation compares the 200m and 400m paces not only in terms of your speed but the drop-off between the two – it sees the bigger drop off between the two speeds and predicts this drop off will continue at longer distances (CSS is more like your 1500m pace).
Here's a graphical example of two swimmers, the middle distance swimmer is faster over both 200m and 400m but has a much greater drop-off between the two and the prediction says this will continue giving a slower CSS pace overall:

Does that make sense? It does take a little thinking I must admit!



Friday, January 13, 2012

The results are out and we're about to commence our 10 week program!

IMPORTANT: Swimmer needed to complete a Team for Rotto - please call John Harris on 0417 936 368 or email john.harris@ifi.com.au - thanks!

Dear Swimmers

Firstly, let me say a big congratulations and thank you for popping along this week to be tested over 400m and 200m as part of our 10-week CSS Development Program. In total 108 of you (!) attended this week which will no doubt make for some really interesting data as we go through the next 10 weeks.

If you recall CSS or Critical Swim Speed is much the same as 'threshold pace' and is really just a measure of what pace you might be able to sustain for a continuous 1500m swim at this point in time. Doing the time trial is purely a reflection of where your current fitness levels lie and is certainly not something you ever need to shy away from. 

People struggle to improve when they either: a) believe they are fitter than what they are and as such set off too quickly and blow-up (thus ruining the beneficial effects of the training session); b) don't challenge themselves on a regular basis at a pace which is both aerobically challenging but not so quick that all form and technique breaks down. By knowing where you're currently at, we can more decisively move forwards. With the ability to make these micro-adjustments to your pacing down to 1/100th of a second with the new Finis Tempo Trainer PRO we can really ensure that everyone is on the right track.

Please see the results of this week's CSS tests at: http://www.swimsmooth.com/pauls_images/CSS_Experiment.pdf

If you're happy to just show up to training for the next 10 weeks and go with the flow, that's fine, nothing will really change. If you want to know a bit more about the project, please read the geeky stuff below (warning: it's long - get a cup of coffee to digest it!).

What you're seeing:

  • the first 3 pages simply split the results down per squad and per lane. Notice that some lane allocations have weird numbers like 4.5 or 3.75 - this simply shows that on occasion I will run several sub-groups within a lane.
  • each lane is ranked as per CSS pace. Those with the fastest CSS paces within the lane will generally lead the sets going forwards, however, just because you have the fastest CSS time in the lane (and are therefore generally strong over longer distances), doesn't necessarily mean that when we do shorter sprints of less than 200m with lots of rest you'll be the fastest then as those with higher sprinting capabilities may be able to power on.
  • the Aerobic:Anaerobic ratio column simply looks at the difference between your 400m time (aerobic capacity) and your 200m time (anaerobic capacity) as a percentage, with lower values indicating swimmers with very good ability to hold a consistent pace over a long distance. Typically those with results here under 4.0% are what we'd classify as very aerobic and good at endurance events, those between 4.0% and 6.0% are possibly more suited to middle distance events and those with results over 6% could either be very good at sprinting relative to their longer distance efforts OR didn't perform quite as they might in the 400m during the test. Take this with a pinch of salt though as things like pacing and having an "off day" can really throw this. Equally, those who have trained for a long time for specific endurance events (e.g. the Rottnest Solo or English Channel) have trained the ability to become more aerobic. If you're interested in this ratio, you may like to re-read the original thread at http://swimsmoothperth.blogspot.com/2012/01/is-75-really-too-much-to-ask-for.html at the bottom of which aims to explain why some swimmers might have faster threshold paces than those with faster 200m times but slower 400m times. You don't need to remember any of this - I just thought you might find it interesting and help explain why some of you are good at the longer sets and some of you are better at the 'sprinty' sets - it's a physiology thing.
  • I have given each swimmer a letter code (A to D) for their performance where A = good representation of current ability; B = perhaps a bit flat on day of testing?; C = potentially unfit / underpeformance?; D = good prospect of swimming a faster 400m time next time, potentially from poor pacing or holding too much back for the 200m. This is where the science of the numbers meets the art of the coaching and knowing each of you individually and how I'd expect you to perform on a given day. It's purely subjective though and please don't take offence if I've given you a 'C' - it's just my way of reconciling the results.
  • from the results of your 400m and 200m time trials I've then calculated your CSS pace, worked out what this is per 25m (for input into the Tempo Trainer) and given an estimation of what this threshold pace equates to as times for 1000m, 1500m, 1900m and 3800m swims currently. 
  • initially I proposed the potential to improve by 0.75% per week (compounding each week), but upon closer inspection and reflection, I have decided to re-evaluate this with the goal of aiming for 0.5% improvement in CSS pace per week for the next 10 weeks. Depending upon your current level of fitness, some of you may well be capable of improving by more than this, others maybe less - it doesn't matter massively however so long as we are chipping away in the right direction, something that we have been unable to do with precision until now. At the end of the program we'll see how much each of you have improved with a re-test. If you feel that you may be capable of more than 0.5% improvement per week, don't panic, setting the program like this won't hold you back either!
  • given this compounding 0.5% improvement per week, I've then been able to calculate where that should lead you over the same distances of 1000m, 1500m, 1900m and 3800m by week 10. Ideally we'd do a time trial over all these distances (don't panic, we won't!), but in reality they're there to simply show you what your efforts will hopefully result in if you were to race.
  • if you then scroll down to the final page you'll see I've expanded out these 0.5% improvements per week over the course of 10 weeks to show you just how small (and hopefully achievable) these increments actually are. Here I've taken the fastest CSS pace per lane or sub-group and rounded it down to the nearest whole second to start the program as of next week.

There are a few caveats which I'd like to explain:

  • of course, a lot of the success of this challenge will depend on your consistency at training. None of what we're doing is rocket science - it's just that the technology is now available to allow us to chip away assuredly at our fitness levels to elicit improvements in performance.
  • this is a bit of an experiment admittedly - I've already gone from 0.75% down to 0.5% as our improvement factor and as fancy as all the numbers appear, really the true value in what we are attempting here will come in the day-to-day coaching and what each session compromises, both from the fitness and technique perspective.
  • in an ideal world you'd all have your own beepers and all be assured that you're working totally specifically to your individual level - in reality this would be impossible to manage within a squad situation. What you lose in total specificity within a squad is more than made up for by the coaching input and the motivation of swimming with others of similar speed to yourself.
  • some of the sub-groups within the lanes have ranges in CSS 'ability' of 5 or 6 seconds which seems like a lot, however, even with a 5 or 10 second gap between each swimmer, there is still a lot to be said for the 'magneto' or drafting effect that inevitably occurs within the lane to narrow this margin. That's not code for "it's OK to draft" though! Maintain your distance behind the person in front of you and you will maximise your training effect.
  • these are very precise timing increments and yet in reality you're not going to be perfectly precise every time, nor will you always make the beep, especially when I start to really challenge you. Don't panic, use the beepers as a guide and we'll see what we can achieve!
  • extrapolating out to calculate what you'd be capable of for longer distances in a race doesn't account for whether you're wearing a wetsuit / speedsuit, what the conditions are like and how much of a draft you may / may not pick up - all these factors can affect these results massively.
  • these numbers are purely a fitness development program assuming no other variables, and whilst enhanced technique invariably helps a swimmer move faster through the water, the 0.5% improvement per week does not account for the potentially larger improvement you may see if you were to do a stroke correction session for example midway through the program.

What happens at the end of 10 weeks?

Simple, we evaluate how well its been working for everyone and if all looks good we'll simply keep chipping away in the right direction. The nice thing about the CSS test is that if you have a break for holiday / illness etc, the best thing to do is get a couple of sessions under your belt again and then simply re-test and reset the benchmark and then continue forwards from there again. Aiming to pick up where you left off is never normally a good idea and can be pretty frustrating when you see how much fitness you may have lost!

How will it work?

If you didn't know we were doing this 'experiment' you might not even realise that anything will have changed! We'll still be doing the same great sets and variations that you know and love, just with a little more precision. Each week though on a Tuesday (Monday for the 9.30am crew) I may give you the challenge of doing a couple of longer intervals at a pace relative to your CSS pace for the lane, i.e. CSS +4 seconds per 100m, and I'll give you the beeper set accordingly for this pace to help you pace it out. On a Friday (Wednesday for the 9.30am crew), the main set for the next 10 weeks will always feature at least 6 to 10 x 100m at the CSS pace for that week with 10-15 seconds rest between each one (or potentially a full beep recovery), just so that you can really zone in on these minor improvements. This will only constitute up to 50% of the main set with the rest kept for some variability and challenges either slightly slower or slightly faster than this pace and over a range of distances from 50m to 500m.

OK, that's enough talking for now - I hope you like the sound of this plan and like I said last time, are at least 50% as excited as I am!



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Help! Another boat needed for Rotto!

When it rains, it pours...now Renee and Olivia's boat has fallen through for the Rotto swim in just over 6 weeks time - can anyone please help? Renee can be contacted on Renee.Baker@healthscope.com.au or 0402 161 948 - the last enquiry worked for Gary Claydon, so I'm hoping there's someone out there who can help these great girls too - they should do really well!



Monday, January 9, 2012

Is 7.5% really too much to ask for...?!

Dear Swimmers

Hope you have enjoyed a great weekend and are starting to get back into the swing of things with both work and your training and that everything is balancing out on the 'homefront' nicely!

As promised before Christmas, this week we will embark on a bit of an interesting experiment to see just how much you can all improve both your stroke technique and your swim specific fitness over the course of the next 10 weeks. This will obviously take us past the Rottnest Channel Swim (now only 7 weeks away - and counting!), but nevertheless it will ensure we're all heading in the right direction.

I've been really excited over the Christmas period about putting this plan into action and I hope that you will share my enthusiasm with it as well!

This post is necessarily quite long for those who want to understand the whys and hows of what we shall be doing, but for those who like to skim read, all you need to really know is that at 9.30am this Wednesday and 5.30am and 6.30am this Friday we will be performing a time trial test set over 400m and 200m with each swimmer to determine your current swim specific fitness levels. This is nothing to worry about as it's only a measure of where you're currently at - nothing more, nothing less. Many people often steer away from performing a time trial but there's really no need to feel this. If you want to be assured that you're training at the right level to get the most out of your swimming, then this fun little test is entirely necessary. Given the format (explained below), you should also be aware that total swim distance in these sessions this week is likely to only be ~60% of normal.

The first point to make is that nothing will change dramatically from what we have been doing previously over the last three seasons with respect to using the Wetronomes / Finis Tempo Trainers to gauge pace and give you a sensible goal to work towards in each of the harder "Fresh & Fruity" sessions.

What will change is the precision of the numbers that we will be using to set a pre-determined pace for each lane each week. In the past we have been restricted to increments of 4 seconds per 100m when setting the beepers to cue your pace every 25m. This would mean that I either had to set a pace of 1:36 per 100m or 1:40 per 100m if I wanted the beeper to assist your pacing per 25m - I couldn't set it to say 1:38 per 100m, nor 1:37.5 per 100m, nor (and this is me getting really pedantic!) 1:37.24 per 100m - but now I can as the new beepers work in increments of 1/100th of a second! What this means in a nutshell is that we can be much more precise about our increments and allow ourselves the ability to set very small intermediary goals to ensure that we're on the right track with our swimming, week-in, week-out.

I've always felt that whilst having the beepers full-stop have been a massive help over the years and why you're all swimming so well, that it's often been a touch difficult to monitor improvement and set appropriate intermediary goals which many of you ask for when we've been restricted to jumps of 4 seconds per 100m.

So, how do we determine what pace we want to start at for the next 10 weeks and how much improvement can we realistically expect to see? Let's try and answer the second question first:

With a group of 12 of Perth's best Half and Full Ironman professional athletes that I am currently advising twice per week with two dedicated swim sessions, I have proposed that being highly trained already, it would be a realistic goal to aim for a 5% improvement in their threshold pace over the course of 10 weeks; this equates to just 0.5% improvement per week and typically a reduction in their goal time at this pace of just 0.1 to 0.15 seconds per 25m - hardly anything! If it all works according to plan (and it seems it is as most have jumped to week 5 immediately within the program after a bit of stroke work tune-up), then this will mean that these guys stand to shave off ~2 to 4 minutes off their Ironman (3.8km) swim times in that period. They often say that an Ironman is not won in the swim, but it can be lost, and this is precisely why I am working with these fantastically fit athletes, all of whom see themselves as relatively 'weak' on the swim compared to their cycling and running disciplines.

So, if a highly trained athlete can aim to improve by 0.5% per week, what can us mere mortals aim for? That's the million dollar question really and the truth is that we'll all be different! Whilst the highly trained athletes stand to make a much smaller percentage improvement (as they're already highly trained) they are all typically swimming 5 to 6 times per week (consistently) and are typically not working full time (which helps from a recovery perspective) and so may in theory be able to improve by more than this. However, typically I would expect less highly trained athletes to see improvements of 0.75% to 1.0% per week when working in a dedicated, focused manner like this. As such, we're going to use a 0.75% improvement goal per week as our base. This does assume though that you'll be swimming on average 3 to 3+ times per week over this period - consistency really counts here to see the full effect.

This is how these goal times per 25m might work out once we have ascertained everyone's threshold or CSS pace this week (click for an enlargement) - each new row represents a different ability level, i.e. the top row is where I predict the fastest guys in lane 4 at 5.30am on a Friday will be capable of currently:

So, let's say that we determine that the guys in the fastest lane, produce results this week to suggest that they are capable of sustaining a pace of 1:20 per 100m for a distance of ~1500m, then each week (starting next week), we'll aim to reduce their 25m cycle time by ~0.14 to 0.15 seconds - a seemingly small margin, but one which will elicit a structured improvement pathway. By the end of the 10 week program, we would hope that they have shaved off nearly 60 seconds for 1000m, i.e. 13:12 down to 12:20. Is this possible? In truth, I don't know, but at the end of the day, such a simple plan utilising technology never before available to us, will clearly result in improvement of some sort (due to it's progressive nature). The good thing is, all you have to know is that the weird numbers I might start writing up on the board or plugging into the Tempo Trainer for you will have a method in the seeming 'madness'!

To answer the first question now - how do we determine what pace we want to start at for the next 10 weeks - we need to perform a test to determine your threshold pace (i.e. that which in theory you can maintain for ~1500m as a full-on time trial effort). This pace is often referred to in sports science as Critical Swim Speed (or CSS for short). Without the necessity to do expensive and intricate blood lactate analysis on each swimmer, we can test for this with two short time-trials within the same session - a 400m time trial to loosely determine your current AEROBIC capacity and a 200m time trial to loosely determine your current ANAEROBIC capacity. These two times will allow us to calculate a CSS pace per 100m for each of you and then subsequently determine a suitable leader and sub-groups within the squad for those with similar CSS paces. Chances are, this will mean that your lane allocations won't change from what they currently are, but for those of you on an upward 'swing' it might prove to show that you'd be worthy of either moving up in your own lane or in some cases moving up a complete lane. Watch out! ;-)

So, this Wednesday at 9.30am and this Friday at 5.30am / 6.30am we will be conducting time trials for each swimmer over both distances (400m and 200m) as per the protocol below. Given that I'd like this to be done accurately and without the chance of drafting affecting the results, we may opt to run 2 or even 3 waves / heats within the session. This may mean that you will swim a reduced volume this week in these sessions, but the upside is knowing that we have an accurately calculated pace for you all.

Remember the possible anxiety you may feel at the mere mention of the word time-trial! Try to relax during the test and see what happens without any preconceptions or pressure. Whatever your times just see them as a stake in the ground at that point in time, the whole idea is that you improve them from here.

Some important notes:

- Remember the test is about your current fitness levels so don't feel tempted to skip the test and put in your all-time 200m and 400m personal bests, unless you have just swum them!

- Your efforts need to be a true and accurate reflection of what you can currently do for that distance in order to produce a valid CSS figure. Remember that a well paced effort will feel quite steady at first but build in perceived intensity as it goes on: steady - tempo - hard - very hard.

- Carefully sanity check your results, for instance you should have held a faster pace over the 200m than you did over 400m, is that the case?

To find your CSS pace in time per 100m from your results the easiest way is to use the simple calculator at: www.swimsmooth.com/css - I will collate all this information and prepare a report with everyone's CSS pace for reference.

Your resultant CSS pace might at first glance appear a little easy for those of you with experience of interval training but remember that CSS is about a hard 1500m pace. Certainly you could swim quicker than CSS in an intervals session with lots of recovery but CSS sets should be performed with short recoveries so that the training effects are focused on the energy systems used in distance swimming, not sprinting.

One interesting thing that the test might show is that some of you who feel that you have no real turn of pace (especially those of you doing the Rottnest Solo who've been developing their 'diesel engines' this last 4 months) may see faster CSS paces than those in the squad who think of themselves more as 'sprinters', even if their 200m time is slower than the 'faster' swimmers. How can this be? How can a sprinter potentially end up with a slower CSS pace than someone slower than them over the very short distances? Simple really...the sprinter's ability to maintain pace will be much less than that of someone who's trained the ability to swim well over longer distances. The sprinter will see a much more pronounced decay in their pace over progressively longer distances than the distance swimmer, as demonstrated in this graph:

...the good news for the sprinters in particular is that so long as you do the right training, if you want to become better at endurance swimming, it is easier to develop your engine to that of a 'diesel' than to go from being a natural diesel trying to become a fuel-injected petrol engine. Personally this is what I've had to do for all my recent marathon swimming events and I must admit to it feeling weird initially having to get much better at significantly slower paces than I was ever used to.

Now obviously holding pace for a 100m effort compared to a 400m effort is substantially different so what we shall do each Wednesday at 9.30am and Friday 5.30am / 6.30am for the next 10 weeks, is make 50% of the main set (typically 800m to 1000m) a simple set of 100m intervals at this reducing CSS pace with 1 beep recovery between each 100m in order to truly track progress and give you a measurable way to see if you're able to hold to the target of a 0.75% improvement each week. For the remaining 50% of the main set, we shall also do some further CSS pace work but over distances ranging from 50m to 400m, with the occasional full-blown sprint in there for good measure!

Hope that all makes sense and that you're excited about this as I am...well, at least 50% as excited! ;-)



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Boat needed for Rotto - URGENT request!

"Squad member needs boat for husband's solo Rotto swim crossing 2012, experienced solo swimmer, expenses met, with good conditions would estimate relatively quick crossing (~5-5.5hrs), also needed for 2 pax as support crew etc,  can skipper boat if necessary……….. we have a friend who is an experienced skipper so even if someone has a boat to loan out we can skipper it safely.  Please call Gary Claydon on 0433 267 836 or Caroline on 0433 269 532."

Please help! Gary is a rocket!


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Once I'm a little bit fitter…"

Once I'm a little bit fitter, then I'll be ready to swim a continuous 1000m swim...

Once I'm a little bit fitter, then I'll be ready to do a full swim session by myself...

Once I'm a little bit fitter, then I'll be ready to come back to a squad session...

Once I'm a little bit fitter, then I'll be ready to think about doing a race...

Once I'm a little bit fitter, then I'll be ready to set some new goals...

...the trouble is, when are we ever as fit as we'd like to be? Probably never.

At this time of year many of us go through the process of thinking about doing something to improve ourselves (in or out of the water), when in reality that over-thinking can often lead to procrastination and never feeling like you're fully ready to start your new task (whatever it might be). As such, this delaying strategy often leads to further frustration and a feeling that we've failed by never even starting. It doesn't have to be this way.

Personally I'm a classic for this when it comes to thinking about doing some useful work (i.e. planning, accounts etc). I can spend hours preparing to do these tasks only to realise that what I was really doing was simply putting the true tasks off rather than simply turning the brain off, starting the task and getting on with it.

I've been overwhelmed with emails recently from people saying that they're 'scared' to get back into things for fear of not being able to 'keep up' or excel as well as they would hope. We've personally just had a lovely holiday down south in Esperance but sadly with not a single ounce of exercise of any description! Mish is preparing for a Duo swim and I proposed the prospect of us doing some swimming together over the next few weeks to motivate us both to get back into shape. I have just started a group on a Tuesday and Thursday at 12pm with some of WA's most aspiring athletes and suggested that she comes and join us - the initial reaction? "Once I'm a little bit fitter..." 

This is not just a 'Mish thing' - this response is quite natural in all of us - it's the fear of letting ourselves down or not performing as we would think that others would expect of us. The truth is, this is never an issue. I absolutely guarantee that whilst you might not be Michael Phelps when you return to the pool, it really won't be as bad as you're telling yourself it might be. Don't believe me? Have a read through of my "Six Sessions Kickstart" experience back in July 2010 at: http://swimsmoothperth.blogspot.com/2010/07/are-you-scared-to-come-back-to-squad.html - this is what you can expect to go through when you return...and guess what, it's really not that bad, nor will you suffer insanely ;-) It's all in our minds.

What really spurred this post today? Well, short story, but when we arrived at the airport a week last Friday to fly down to Esperance, both myself and Michelle forgot to bring Jackson's 'yellow cow' comforter which he has had with him every day since he's been born (2y9m) and always cries for when he's upset. He also has a dummy which we've tried unsuccessfully to ween him off. This was potentially a MAJOR disaster and I actually felt sick at the potential ramifications for 'holiday bliss'! 

However, we had no time to return to the house to get it, so our bed was made and we had to lie in it! I replaced the said cow with a stuffed dolphin which was a small reprieve for the little guy, taking the bad news firmly on the chin. The hotel we were staying in had a pool and even though you'd probably imagine that with water-loving parents like us, whilst Jackson likes being in the water, he always refuses to put his head under the water and absolutely hates getting his eyes wet. Just like with the call-to-action above about simply getting started though, we had to start somewhere with the little guy and having easy access to the pool on a daily basis really helped, as did a pair of goggles I bought him (which in the past he refused to wear). For whatever reason, one morning he 'suddenly' decided that he could put his head under the water and with that a whole new water baby emerged! As you'll see in the photos below, by the end of the holiday we couldn't get him out of the water and he's now doing all sorts of aquabatics and loving it! I'm a very proud Daddy! I think forgetting the yellow cow turned out to be a very good thing!

So if your 'yellow cow' is your doona or that good book that you've been reading over the holidays which you just don't want to give up, go right back to basics, be a child again without the inhibitions, turn the brain off and as the famous Nike slogan says: Just Do It! 

All you've got to do is start and who knows where that'll then take you!

Now, back to those accounts...! ;-)

NEWSFLASH: Nicole Hodgson may have space for 4 team members for a Rotto swim this year - anyone keen to find out more should contact Nicole direct at nicole.hodgson@bigpond.com