In my blog on Core Purpose and Values in Swimming, I wrote about the importance of swimming in an ‘artful and examined’ manner. My recent correspondence with Louise Twining-Ward and Laura Gibson Rimer (left and right below at Coney Island for Grimaldo’s Mile), two recent converts to the joys of open water swimming, is a great illustration of what that means. Both have been striving to increase efficiency via the Self-Coached Workshop DVD and have begun practicing with a Tempo Trainer. I suggested a few ‘starter sets’ with the TT. This exchange reveals how their thinking was influenced along with their swimming.
Louise: We attempted your set of gradually increasing distances, while counting strokes and maintaining tempo at 1.3 seconds per stroke. I could hold stroke count steady at shorter distances but not as distance increased. It’s a whole new element of the art of swimming to focus on these metrics!
Laura: Swimming next to Louise at constant tempo of 1.3 and slipping steadily behind made me realize I needed to be more efficient. With the Tempo Trainer dictating how fast I could stroke, my only option was to get more out of each stroke. So I focused on Patient Hands and a Mail Slot entry. I have a ways to go but feel I improved those a tiny bit. But it was just as encouraging to feel my thoughts were focused and not all over the place.
You’re on your way, clearly. Louise’s description of experiencing what’s usually a ‘workout’ as an art form should become a touchstone. To do swimming as a movement art—and then transform races into a work of art–begin by consciously striving to solve problems such as you encountered in this set artfully more than physically. Doing so doesn’t diminish the physical aspects. Rather it informs them.
My most interesting experience with the Tempo Trainer is that while, on the surface, it seems technical, the effect it has on your consciousness is to encourage artfulness — in the form of cunning — over exertion.
For example, with the TT set at 1.3, you soon realize every stroke has a ‘time cost’ of 1.3 seconds. That strongly motivates you to ‘save’ strokes. Saving just one stroke over 25 meters results in saving a full minute for 1500 meters. And as Laura intuited-on-the-fly, an emphasis on smoother, quieter, more precise movements is the best way to save strokes. Since this is precisely the opposite of what your instincts (and most external advice) urge you to do, you realize how important examined thinking is to swimming well.
What I love most about swimming is constantly discovering conundrums and paradoxes like this.