Sunday, December 24, 2006

Have You Ever Played the Game of Swolf?

Coach Brad introduced this ‘game’ to our group about a month ago but true to form I’m only now starting to comprehend what it’s about, all due to reading an explanation of this drill’s whys and wherefores in Maglischo’s book ‘Swimming Fastest’. In his section on stroke technique Maglischo suggests using this drill to optimize the relationship between your stroke length and stroke rate and explains its importance. In a brief summary a longer stroke normally indicates better technique and thus a more efficient one, while your rate shows your stroke’s speed. The higher your stroke rate, however, the shorter your stroke length becomes as you become progressively less efficient. Somewhere in between your most technically perfect but slowest stroke and simply flailing as fast as possible will be your optimum combination. Finding this point for each event you plan race is clearly of benefit to swimming your fastest possible times. Maglischo takes several pages to explain this and does so far better than I. His analysis of competitive swimming is very comprehensive, if you’re at all curious about how to improve all facets of your racing I can highly recommend his book.

The objective of swolf is to reduce your stroke count (think of your drives), or your time (think of your puts), or even better reduce both at the same time; and this similarity to golf is the reason for the name. The book uses a 50 meter free as an example so I adopted a slower version of it as my ‘par’ (imagine a local pitch & put course rather than Pebble Beach). I did nine ‘holes’ (reps) because, well because at this stage of my conditioning I’m not going to do eighteen of anything. My results for my first game of swolf were:

Hole Par/Bogey
  1. 0
  2. +1
  3. 0
  4. -2
  5. +6
  6. 0
  7. +3
  8. +4
  9. +4
Aside from that eagle creeping in there and a couple of extra pars it bears a remarkable resemblance to my golfing score cards. The first thing I noticed doing this set was the amount of conscious effort it took to actually change my stroke rate. I aimed for reps at my estimated 200 free race pace and for the most part I was within a second of the desired speed. The only two times were on the fifth rep when I deliberately increased my rate by four strokes, and in the eighth rep where I deliberately tried to lengthen my stroke despite increasing fatigue; both of which resulted in adding another second to my time. My ‘eagle’ came about when I reduced my stroke rate and found the small change had virtually no impact on my swimming speed. It was interesting to note as I started to get tired my last three reps showed significant increases in stroke rate. Clearly my body finds swimming at a faster stroke rate with less technique to be preferable to the effort of swimming a technically correct stroke. A most damning indictment of my overall strength - I’ll have to work harder in my workouts.

Golf's own version of swolf, and just as ugly.


Isis said...

How many times have you done the swolf? If I am reading right, it sounds like not that many. I think you shouldn't take it as a negative at this point. For now, you should treat the swolf as a learning experiment--just figure out what works. Then try to maintain consistency, say, of your -2.

Scott said...

I agree with you this should be treated as a learning experience. Eventually in future games of swolf I’ll start going for low scores but for this, my first game, I tried various stroke speeds to see what would happen. I found it interesting my stroke rate increased as I grew tired, logically I think it should decrease, and the conclusions I drew from the observation (my body found it easier to stroke faster than continue with an efficient, more powerful stroke) was my current state of endurance, as bad as it is, is still better than my overall strength. My weight regime and increased mileage should address this deficiency but it’ll take a good year plus to make any significant headway.

Isis said...

I think it is normal to lose efficiency with fatigue. Part of what training does is teach the body to maintain efficiency for greater periods of time, so your sense that weight training and swimming volume will address the issue seems mostly right. The other piece is that as you raise the volume of your training, you have to work hard to maintain efficiency, so as to avoid "junk yardage" (as we say here in the land of no metric system).