Most of us at GoSwim have coaching gigs. For example, GoSwim co-founder Barbara Hummel coaches a masters team of about 100 people (the UVRays) at the Upper Valley Aquatic center in the state of Vermont.
Every year, the Rays do a 6-week challenge event called the Powerball Challenge. It goes like this…
Week #1: 5 X 100 on the tightest sendoff/turnaround you can manage, while holding good form and maintaining a consistent time. Effort level should be 80-85%, putting you at the high end of the aerobic-fitness zone and the low end of the anaerobic zone. Most of Barbara’s masters swimmers established a “challenge sendoff” that gave them 9 to 13 seconds of rest after each swim. Sendoffs ranged from 1:10 to 2:20. Barbara was in the middle of the pack with a sendoff of 1:50 and swim times of 1:37-1:40.
After 5 X 100 take 90 seconds extra rest and swim one more 100 (the Powerball 100). This is a stronger effort than the 5 X 100, and your swim time will be 2-10 seconds faster than the time you maintained on the 5 X 100. (Barbara’s Powerball 100s were 1:28-1:30.)
Week #2: 6 X 100 on same sendoff as Week #1 (it’s OK to adjust your sendoff up or down if your Week #1 sendoff was too fast or too slow). Rest 90 seconds, then do your Powerball 100.
Week #3: 7 X 100 plus Powerball 100
Week #4: 8 X 100 plus Powerball 100
Week #5: 9 X 100 plus Powerball 100
Week #6: 10 X 100 plus Powerball 100
At the end of the 6-week event, it’s always remarkable how much everyone’s fitness and endurance have improved, and how much better they are at understanding pace and knowing which technique points work best for them.
OK, so everyone’s pool is closed. But if you close your eyes, you can still do the Powerball Challenge, and it’s our Set of the Week. Here’s how…
Find a quiet place to sit. Have a clock handy, or a watch in stopwatch mode, plus pen and paper to jot down your times. You’ll need 20-30 minutes for the session.
When you’re comfortable and ready, start your stopwatch (or note the time) and close your eyes. Visualize yourself at the pool, ready to get in. Visualize which lane you will be in (and you’ll have it all to yourself)! Visualize your usual entry, then see yourself doing a 100 warmup swim, with turns, underwaters, etc. Then keep visualizing, keeping your breathing relaxed and steady, as you do 50 dolphin kick on your back, 50 of your favorite drill, and 50 flutter kick on our back. When you’re done, open your eyes and note how long it took you to swim your warmup (should be 4-6 minutes).
Now you’re ready for Week #1 of the challenge: 5 X 100 plus a Powerball 100. Take an educated guess at what your sendoff/turnaround would be if you were in the pool, and what swim time you would try to hold for each 100. If you know what your stroke count would be per length, Nice Going! — you’re way ahead of the game. If you don’t know your count, take a guess and use that number.
Check the exact time on your clock or start your stopwatch. Close your eyes, push off, and start your first 100. See yourself and feel yourself taking the correct number of strokes per length — for the full 100. When you touch at the finish (eyes down!), check how long it took you to swim, and jot down the time.
Think about what adjustments you need to make in your rate and pacing to get closer to your target time. Reset the stopwatch, start it again, close your eyes, and push off for your second 100. This time, try to pay more attention to some small aspect of your technique. It might be keeping your head down or keeping the wrist straight, keeping elbows high, or rotating the hips more cleanly and quickly. Pick just one thing and see yourself doing it. Finish your 100, jot down your time, reset the clock, and start again.
Keep your breathing deep and relaxed as you swim. Try to wash all tension from your neck, shoulders, arms, and legs. With each 100, focus more keenly on some aspect of your stroke and try to see your entire body as you swim.
After 5 X 100, take a few deep breaths and start your Powerball 100. Stay relaxed, try to hold your stroke count per length, and keep focusing on your technique point. But…increase your rate just a bit and visualize yourself putting more power into the kick and pull. Note and record your time.
Next, push off for 100 warmdown. Keep seeing and feeling yourself swim, even though you’re swimming easily, and maybe doing some kick, drill, or other strokes.
You’re done! A swimming meditation. Tomorrow, move it up to 6 X 100 plus Powerball 100. Then 7, 8, 9, and 10 in the following days. You will probably find that, each day, you can “see” your body more completely and with more clarity and control. You’ll be able to add more detail. You’ll maybe be able to add another focus point of technique — or you’ll be able to follow yourself through turns more vividly and accurately. If you’re watching the GoSwim daily videos, try to pick one thing the demonstrators do, that you could add to your virtual swimming. As you get more practice at visualizing yourself swimming, your “swim” times should get more consistent.
Have fun with this. It’s not the same as being in the water, but you’re visualizing the swimmer you want to be when you get back in. That’s a powerful and productive way to use your time until we can all get back in the pool.