Swimming/Training Advice: Drills and CSS

>> Monday, November 24, 2014

Last week, I posted about 6 new swim workouts I had done, and I was a little concerned about just swimming hard. Did I need to be working on my form too? Instead of ONLY trying to "muscle" my way through the pool?

So I shared my concern with some fast swimming buds:

Coach Jen sent me a lot of tweets back. She's urging me to join a Master's group. (It hasn't been able to fit in my schedule, but it's looking more likely as the boys get bigger.) A big point of hers was this:

Pete voted NO to drills:

Devon texted me, and he felt the same way about drills. So the best advice seems to be easy and make the most sense: just hit the pool often!

Fast swimming buddy (sub-60 IM swimmer) Robby B saw my post last week and told me my workouts looked boring and that he had some thoughts for me. He turned me on to Swim Smooth and some of their ideas of swim training:

To improve your lactate threshold you want to do your quality swim sets at your current threshold pace or just below it. Many athletes make the mistake of training above lactate threshold in short sharp swim sets - that isn't nearly as effective.

Well, that's what I've been doing for the last 5 weeks: hard interval swims. So what's your "best" pace to train at? Your "CSS" pace. They go on to explain what that is:

CSS is an acronym for Critical Swim Speed. It's an approximation of your lactate threshold speed and you can find it by doing a couple of swimming tests (no blood involved - just a stopwatch!). It's not precisely the same as lactate threshold but it will be within a couple of seconds per 100m, which is plenty accurate enough to guide your training.

They say to swim an all-out 400, rest and swim easy a bit after that, and then do an all-out 200. Find the difference between your time in the 400 and 200, and then divide that by 2 to get your CSS pace / 100.

For example, here are my numbers: I swam my 400 in 6:10. Then I did my 200 in 3:00. The difference between those is 2 times is 3:10. Divide that by 2, and my CSS training pace should be 1:35.

The idea is to NOT go "all out" for every interval swim, because that's less beneficial. But instead, swim your CSS pace and then take less rest. That way (supposedly), you're swimming at a pace that will help you become faster and build your endurance. Their website gives a few workouts to do based on your CSS number, so check it out here.

Robby suggested a 3x400 / 3x200 workout using my CSS numbers, so I did that right after doing my CSS test. He suggested breaking the intervals up into 400/2x200/4x100 and 200/2x100/4x50. So that's what I did. I was just over my CSS pace for the first 400, a bit over for the 200s, and then held the right pace for the rest of the workout. Here's what I wrote in my training log:

Did these as 25 sec between "major" sets, 15 between shorter sets. Would PROBABLY do 20 and 10 in the future (to beat me up more).

400: 1:36, 1:39, 1:39, 1:38
2x200: (1:34, 1:38), 15 sec rest, (1:37, 1:37)
4x100: 1:33, 1:35, 1:32, 1:32 (again, 15 secs between all of those)

30 sec rest

200: 1:34, 1:36
2x100: 1:35, 1:33
4x50: 43, 44, 43, 43

Doing that workout after the CSS test was a pretty non-boring way to get in 2600 yards! (I did a warm up 100 before the CSS test, and I did an easy 100 between the 400 and 200 in the CSS test.) That was my longest swim in over 4 years! My eye sockets hurt because I wasn't used to my goggles being on for that long.

Yesterday, I did a workout suggested on the Swim Smooth website talking about CSS. It was 8x200 with 20 sec rest. The pace would be easier than I was used to being I just did 8x200 under 2 weeks ago starting at 3:07 and dropping down to 3:02. (Remember, my CSS pace is 1:35, so that'd be 3:10/200.) BUT that workout 2 weeks ago had 30 seconds rest, and yesterday's was to just have 20 secs rest - again, that's the point of CSS: don't cross over threshold pace, but then only take short rests so you're really working just below threshold without ever really recovering. The workout came with a warning that you'd really have to hold back at the beginning (emphasizing pacing), but near the end it'd start to feel "relentless" because you'll be tired and not getting quite enough rest.

Well, I swam 3:10, 3:10, 3:08, 3:10, 3:09, 3:11, 3:10, 3:09, and 3:08. Not bad. And it didn't get as horrible as I thought it would, but that's probably because I've been used to swimming hard the last 5 weeks. (Oh, and notice there are 9 splits in there - I did an extra one because I was feeling OK.)

So check out Swim Smooth and consider figuring out (and then working out according to) your CSS pace. BTW, they don't say to give up on all threshold swims, so I'll still be doing my 40x50 swim that I like every now-and-then. Thanks for telling me about this Robby B!

p.s. I posted last weekend that if I kept up my trips to the pool, I could possibly break 20,000 yards in a month for only the 2nd time 7 years (and maybe only the 2nd time EVER). That's not much swimming for a "swimmer," but that's a lot for me. Well, I'm at 15,750, so I need 2 more 2,000+ swims to get there over a busy holiday week. We'll see.


Carolina John 12:47 PM, December 01, 2014  

Hitting intervals based on your CSS pace is the kind of thing a Masters coach would tell you too! I absolutely love my masters team, and the workouts are typically 2800 - 3500 yards in 1:15. I regularly get 25k to 35k in the pool every month doing nothing but masters practices. I'm still the slowest guy on my team but usually top 10% in open water swim races, so I'd say it's a pretty effective strategy.

Yes get your yards done! Time in the pool will make a huge difference.

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