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by Emmett Hines

October 1, 1993

Pay attention to pace and other tips

You are used to doing heart rate sets where you check your heart rate every so often and maintain some minimum or maximum heart rate or stay within a specific range. Typically this is done in an effort to make sure you are working at the intensity required to effect a specific training adaptation.

You are also used to doing stroke count sets where you swim distances using specific stroke counts. Usually this means that some or all of the distance is to be done at something less than your normal number of strokes per length. This is done to help you focus on making your stroke more efficient so you can go further with each stroke and encounter less resistance.

And you are (or should be) very used to paying attention to your pace per 100 (or 200 or 50 or whatever) while swimming a long set.

But rarely do you put all three of these together in one set.

Recently we have been doing some long, moderate intensity sets where we ask you to maintain a HR in the 130 - 140 area. From an energy system training standpoint this type of set improves your body's ability to produce energy for work through lipid metabolism - burning fat. The more energy you are capable of producing by burning fat (which cannot produce lactic acid) the longer you can delay fatigue that results from lactic acid accumulation (produced by burning carbohydrates).

This moderate intensity stuff is low stress work that you can carry on for extended periods of time. And, truth be known, this can get boring if you let it. But it is necessary work so let's explore a way to make it more challenging.

As you know, speed is not always directly related to effort. (If this comes as a surprise think of one of those recreational swimmers you see from time to time that dive into the pool, and begin thrashing about, tossing water in every direction, looking more like a big splash moving slowly down the pool than a swimmer. This guy has a 200+ HR by the end of 25 yds and is probably done with his workout. Lots of effort, not much speed.) Speed is more directly related to efficiency than energy expenditure. At any given physical effort level if we improve efficiency (as measured by strokes per length or SPL) we increase speed.

This gives us a natural, and very challenging, focal point for moderate intensity sets. Let's say the set is 10x200 holding a 130-140 HR. The idea would be to see how fast you could swim each repeat while staying in the HR range prescribed. Not working harder, just swimming faster. The key here is to improve the efficiency of the swim. Decrease your SPL by increasing distance per stroke, improving your streamline position, longer glides off each wall, being aware of and avoiding unnecessary resistance etc.

And keep track of your times for each repeat. This is very important because improving efficiency can be deceiving. If you are one of the majority of swimmers that consciously or unconsciously equates effort with speed then, when you swim more efficiently, your internal speedometer may erroneously tell your brain you have slowed down. Use the clock for speed feedback and learn to trust it.

This efficiency=speed concept takes some getting used to. Applying it in workouts takes mental activity and involves lots of trial and error. Once you get good at this at moderate intensities you can apply the concept at higher intensities.

Give it a try.

This Article first appeared in Schwimmvergnugen, the monthly newsletter of H2Ouston Swims.

Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1982, holds an ASCA Level 5 Coach Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming's Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the MACA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. His book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers), is in its third English language printing and is also available in French (entitled Natation, published by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, published by Hispano Europea) and Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong). He can be reached for questions or comments through his web site where more of his articles may be found.


  • Technique and Training