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 - 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:

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 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!



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