Testing in Practice

Contrary to Allen Iverson’s feelings about practice, I’m actually really into practice lately, thanks to the message that practice is exactly that—a time to practice—a point recently reinforced to me while listening to coaches and swimmers speak during the recent Global Swim Summit.

As with many masters swimmer, I suspect, carving out time to swim can be tough. So when hitting the pool, most of us are uber-focused on training the “classics” required for racing well or maintaining health and fitness—sets that build condition, strength, speed, and endurance.

But as the saying goes, “nothing changes if nothing changes.” So, if I want to improve and swim faster, continuing to hammer out meters the same way every day isn’t going to get me all the way there.

Maybe it’s because as a mostly self-trained masters, I have to find my own sources of new information to spark change, and thus I was in my own swimmer bubble.

Yes, it might have taken a week-long, daily multi-lecture swim conference to enlighten me, but at least I got the message. I now realize that using some practice time on a regular basis to try new things, in conjunction with using the clock to test which techniques I should keep and which I should discard, is a vital training element.

To illustrate, two examples. It’s no secret that I’m an Oreo IMer (soft middle). As such, I’m always trying to improve my backstroke and breaststroke. So, I put my new-found “practice” knowledge to work by doing two test sets recently:

6×100 backstroke with a variety of dolphin kicks off each wall per 100 (0-6)

6×50 breaststroke (one “as is,” one with me focusing on snapping the kick, one with me focusing on driving my arms forward, twice through.)

The results? In the backstroke case, two-three dolphin kicks off each wall is my sweet spot. Not only did I immediately (and continue to hold) a 2-3 second drop off my former pace (my number was “zero”), I learned that 4-6 kicks wipe me out; I slow down. Of course, building my conditioning to go from zero to three dolphin kicks off of every wall is going to take some time, but am determined to make it automatic by Long Course Nationals this summer.

My breaststroke test was equally productive, especially as the results were the opposite of what I assumed for myself in advance. It turns out that currently I swim the quickest when thinking about driving my arms forward, not by working the kick. Certainly, there’s way more room for improvement per my weakest stroke, and am sure turning to kick improvement will also help greatly. But for now, I need to make the arm-drive automatic…

It’s only taken me oh, about 40+ years of swimming, but I’m now a fan of “practicing in practice.” Not only are the results enlightening, it’s fun to do, and this approach provides me with a solid approach to technique tweaking to suit me best, which is key if I want to continue to swim as I age.

Next week: Finding a Consistent Massage Therapist


Testing in Practice

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