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Training the Right Stuff

or Personal Reference Performances

What is a Personal Reference Performance (PeRP)? A PeRP is a single swim for which you record (mentally or manually) one or more data aspects—e.g. time, stroke count, heart rate, perceived exertion, blood lactate etc. You might, for instance, swim a 100 freestyle in 1:08 using a total of 58 strokes to establish a PeRP with two aspects, time and stroke count. A PeRP then may serve as a reference point to base subsequent swims or sets around.

Meet or beat your PeRP. Using PeRPs as a basis for a swimming set, the idea is to “meet or beat” your PeRP on every repeat of the set. This means you must meet or beat each aspect of the PeRP. The old fashioned way to do this was to do a set of, say, 10x100 on some interval—mebbe 2:00. You'd swim the first one in, say 1:16, then you'd simply try to swim all the remaining repeats as fast or faster than the first swim. Your first swim was, in effect, your PeRP where you established only one aspect—time—to be meet or beat. In days gone by you'd likely soon start sacrificing stroke length in search of greater stroke rate in the vicious cycle initiated by chasing the single aspect of time. Thus, instead of conditioning the muscles used for long, fluid swimming strokes, you'd spend a large portion of your efforts conditioning the muscles and ranges of motion used for short, choppy strokes—not the stuff of great performances.

In our new paradigm of swim training we might augment the above set by swimming the first one to establish a PeRP with two aspects. Assume you go the same speed but you also count strokes and get 54 strokes. Now your goal is to swim every repeat at 1:16 or faster and at 54 strokes or less. Any repeat in the set that is slower than 1:16 or requires more than 54 strokes is not considered a success. This creates a whole new set of challenges—both mental and physical—that keeps you on a more productive conditioning track.

PeRPs can be established from a variety of types of swims. You could use a swim done early in a workout while you are still “fresh” as a PeRP—he goal might be to repeat the performance several times throughout the workout as you become more fatigued.

An early season PeRP that requires lots of rest to repeat a few times successfully could be used throughout the season with the goal of decreasing the amount of rest necessary to repeat it successfully. An alternative goal might be to do more successful repeats in a set. See H2O Standard PeRP Sets section.

You could use a swim from a meet as a PeRP. While you are likely only to repeat these performances in other meets, an advantage of this is that you have more aspects than simply your time—perhaps you add stroke count and heart rate to the PeRP mix—to compare from meet to meet. Swimming the same time, but doing it with fewer strokes or at a lower heart rate, would be considered as much a success in a meet as going a faster time. This gives you more opportunities to realize progress in your meet performances.

Ever notice that your first swim right after using fistgloves always seems to be more efficient and maybe even faster than subsequent swims? How about doing a sorta-fast PeRP swim of 50 or 100 yards immediately after doing an EZ or moderate-paced fistglove drill/swim set to establish a very high efficiency level for brisk-paced swimming. Then, a set of swims where your goal is to meet or beat this PeRP on every repeat would be a very challenging set. You'd likely need to take a fair amount of rest (maybe even doing a bit of EZ fist drilling) between each repeat to be successful in maintaining both speed and stroke length on every repeat .

PeRPs don't have to be all-out swims or even very fast swims. Using a low-stroke-count moderate-paced swim as a PeRP for a long set of short-rest repeats allows you to establish a high efficiency standard to maintain throughout a more aerobically oriented set.

If, in search of successful PeRP repeats, you find yourself saying “I just can't get both the stroke count and the speed right at the same time, Coach, even with lots of rest—what do I do?” opt to sacrifice a bit of speed and keep stroke length. While this is not, by definition, a “successful” PeRP repeat, it does allow you to continue training the “right stuff”—as opposed to just grasping at straws to hold speed.

Sets based on PeRPs allow you to keep the big picture in focus—the tradeoffs between turnover rate and stroke length become more important than simply what the pace clock says. This allows you to consistently and reliably condition the right muscles and ranges of motion—the ones needed for efficient, fluid swimming. Definitely the stuff of great performances. v

© 10/1999 H2Ouston Swims

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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