The term ‘easy speed’ gets thrown around a lot, but for the majority of individuals, remains somewhat unclear.
In picturing it, we can all imagine the fastest Olympians making swimming top speeds look really easy, but what we don’t realise is that the underpinning theory can be extended to anyone. The most exciting element of this, is that working on even the most basic and fundamental steps to finding your easy speed, can reap far more benefit in increasing speed than it does for the best of the best.
Here is what we know…
Scientifically speaking, contracting muscles uses oxygen. In sport, and especially in swimming, oxygen is a vital and precious commodity. Quite often due to lack of awareness or a focus on trying hard, we can contract far too many muscles than required. This, in the simplest analysis, uses up oxygen with very little if any benefit.
Although it may not be explicit, most people see speed and effort as a linear relationship. That is, as you increase effort (in swimming, this is usually stroke rate) then speed will also increase at a reasonably constant rate.
Well, in essence, this is bollocks.
Instead, it appears more and more likely that this relationship is a logarithmic one, with effort leading to a large increase in speed in the initial stages but leading to far less speed as the effort increases even more.
It may appear counter-intuitive, but at a certain stage, increasing effort most certainly does not make you go faster – instead, it will usually slow you down.
To give an example, most people notice a huge increase in speed from a low-end aerobic effort to an anaerobic effort, but a far smaller increase when switching from anaerobic to approaching maximum effort. The effort increase in both these scenarios is fairly constant, but the speed increase not so much.
So what does this tell us about swimming fast?
Although maximum effort/maximum speed may be marginally faster, it is not maintainable beyond the first burst of the ATP/PC system(covered in a previous post). A swimmer operating at true maximum effort may appear rigid and fast over a short distance (5-10 seconds), but will drastically slow down after this due to the overwhelming oxygenation requirements of their muscles.
Easy speed however focuses on finding the perfect balance between speed and effort, that will allow the athlete to maintain as close to top speed as possible for the required distance. In a 50m, easy speed may be 0.2-0.5 seconds slower over the first 25m, but the added efficiency may give an extra 1-1.5 second in the back 25m.
As can be gathered, easy speed truly is an incredibly complex concept to explain, and an even more complex concept to implement. In the next few blog posts, I will expand on this explanation, but for now, start here. In my opinion, there are 3 essential elements of easy speed. These are:
- Focus on relaxing non-essential muscles
- Maintain full length of stroke without compromise
- Ensure force is applied in only the necessary parts of the stroke, in the necessary direction
Each of these elements require a lengthy explanation, and one that I can not do justice in this one post. In saying that, start by thinking about how this may apply to you, and keep it in your mind as you train. Here is a great session for beginning this journey: