As a youngster, or a beginner, you may be looking at 30 seconds. As a seasoned athlete 22-23 seconds may be how long it takes. Either way, it’s a very short amount of time, where a lot can go right, and a lot can go wrong.
We have all seen the glamorous sprinters on TV, where 0.1 on the start, a wrong step by a couple of centimetres, and the race is already decided. But how is it you get to that point?
On the flip side, there is your average Joe at the local pool who has a very different approach to swimming fast. It’s not about that one tiny mistake, but instead about making those crucial improvements. Because at that stage, there is much more to gain by looking at all the ways improvements can be made than by looking at the opposite.
It seems that as you get faster, the mindset that goes with it must change. It no longer matters that there are 100 things that you have perfected in your race, if there is 1 or 2 that are keeping you from improving. That’s why the journey in finding speed is so fulfilling, because you know you’re never going to get it completely right.
The science tells us that we can spend about 10-15 seconds in the ATP-PC zone (adenosine triphosphate and phosphocreatine), which for the fastest sprinters, is most of the race. This energy release is explosive and short, and does not require oxygen. Following this, we may spend a few seconds in the glycolytic system where lactic acid is produced, and then it’s over.
I will go into more depth about this in future discussion, where it becomes particularly important in training application. For now, that explanation will suffice.
In terms of technique, this must be automated, because when we sit in this energy system our conscious brain does a whole lot of nothing. Next time you’re at the pool, try sprinting a 50 while counting strokes and focusing on your breathing patterns. I bet you can’t.
What is the relevance of this? Well understanding the way that energy is created is crucial in analysing the way in which you use your body. Knowing then, that oxygen is largely irrelevant, tells us that aerobic training won’t make us faster (although there are other benefits, I’m not discounting it).
So, in the end, we require a technique without faults, which does not fail even when purely running off muscle memory; we require an adapted energy system which maximises Phosphogen regeneration without oxygen through training; we require the mental fortitude to pull everything together under the pressure of a one chance effort. And people say sprinting is easy…
technique. power. psychology.
If we can break it up into these three elements – technique, power and psychology – then the steps to performance become manageable. Some can be improved by optimising your training, some require a different sort of approach. All will be discussed as they are equally important in swimming fast.
The brilliance of it all, is that wherever you are starting from, this process will make you into a better swimmer. More than that, this type of training will make you feel accomplished, healthier and more present in the moment. Your body becomes less of a vessel to merely exist, but a finely tuned machine primed to perform.