Aug 042012

Wow, have those Olympics been exhilirating! I have caught every swim race, often sitting on the edge of my seat and jumping for joy when they come to the final wall. What an amazing collection of swimmers from all over the world. Any of us who swim for fitness or competition, can understand and appreciate the huge amount of work these athletes put in to get on that big stage.   Thousands and thousands of hours in the pool and in the gym in the hopes of shaving seconds, tenths  or even hundredths off their time.

I can guarantee you that these Olympic swimmers are infinitely familiar with their pace clocks back at their training centers. That pace clock is a terrific tool for both fitness swimmers and competitive swimmers. Swimming mindless sets with no time reference is okay once in awhile, but to improve, you must work with the clock. Note that I say “with” not “against”. :-)

There are lots and lots of ways to work with a pace clock. For today’s post, I’m going to talk about using the clock to establish your base or baseline in freestyle for the purpose of interval training, which can be key to finding speed, increasing endurance, and building your confidence in pushing yourself. There is a new coach posting to the USMS workouts (open water training) and I got the idea for this write up this week from her introductory post. Thank you Coach Anne Cleveland! You can follow Coach Cleveland’s workouts here.

What you’ll see with many online workouts is a reference of B+5, B-5, B+10, etc. The “B” stands for your Base. Right. So…what exactly is that? Base is your 100 time plus about :07 seconds of rest. Again, right….

To establish your base/baseline you swim a 100 free (no fins) at a comfortable pace from the wall (no dive start). Comfortably means about a 75% effort. Since that figure can be hard to quantify, think of it this way. Swim a 100 free with just a slight push, but enough where, when you come to the wall, you aren’t breathing all that hard.

Let’s say you come in at 1:23. Adding :07 seconds makes that 1:30. (I like easy math.) Wah lah! You have just discovered your base.  Your base is 1:30, not 1:23 – remember, build in those :07 or :08 seconds.  If you see a set that says 5 x 100 on B+:05 that would mean you would swim your 100s on 1:35 (your 1:30 base plus 5 seconds). If that set reads 5 x 100 on B-:05, your 100s would be on 1:25 (your 1:30 base minus 5 seconds).

What’s cool about this, is that you can use that base for any set of freestyle. If the workout reads B+:10 on something like 8 x 50 free, then you do some quick, easy math. Using the 1:30 base figure from our calculations in the previouus paragraph, the 50 base time would be 45 seconds. Your set would then be on :55 (your :45 base plus :10).

Let’s say coach says you are going to do 4 x 200 with a changing rate like this:

  • First 200 B + :20
  • Second 200 B + :15
  • Third 200 B + :10
  • Fourth 200 B + :05

Using the 1:30 base we’ve set hypothetically, your 200 base is 3:00 and your set would proceed like this:

  • 200 on 3:20
  • 200 on 3:15
  • 200 on 3:10
  • 200 on 3:05

To improve your speed and/or stamina, find your base and go to work! Changing the intensity of your swims and your intervals is one ticket to do so. Our bodies adapt to routines. If you always swim your 10 x 100 set on 1:30, or always swim 3 x 500 at the same pace, chances are you aren’t going to improve much. If you challenge yourself to change it up, your body will respond. Push your comfort zone once in awhile.

Final note – baseline training can work for any stroke, even IM’s. Just find your 100 time – remember it needs to be at an aerobic pace of about 75% (breathing comfortably). Then, go from there.

Happy Swimming ‘Nuts!

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