Delusions, data and improvement

Extracting the last 20% of performance is about technique, and technique is about understanding how your body moves in detail and fixing things that come naturally to do things that come unnaturally. Even when you know something is broken, it takes a lot of intellectual discipline to admit to it. And sometimes the path to improving your technique forces you to do something uncomfortable and can delay improvement. And then when the data is staring at you in the fast you’re like Luke Skywalker in Bespin screaming: That’s not possible.

Over the last year, I have spent an amazing amount of time on fixing my swim technique. And the improvements have been dramatic. Unlike my running where I have seen marginal performance improvements, more or less inline with weight loss, in swimming I have dropped 2 minutes over 500 yards.

One thing I did notice is that when I breathe on my off-side, my technique improves, but I ascribed that to luck, not to actual improvement in technique.

Because I love to swim, and because I obsess over details, I have been trying to get MAOR speed.

One trick to explore how broken your technique is, is to breathe on your off side. The theory being that your normal side is so broken, that you’ll get a big boost from going on the offside because it has no bad habits. Especially for someone like me who when I started my swim training I couldn’t actually breathe on the offside without almost drowning. But because I almost drowned the first few times I tried to swim on my left side, it’s not fun to do that.

This past week I had 25 yard sprints. And so I did 10 of them on the off side and saw my times were between 10-15% faster than on my right side. And my brain said – Nah, not real improvement, just you getting in shape. And then I remembered my wife who said that if you want to conduct an experiment you need 10 samples of each side, so I decided to do the next 10 on my right side. And lo-and-behold, I was 10-15% slower than my left side. I did that for about 5 sprints. And then said: It must be because I am tired, let me try a left side sprint to prove that. Nope, I was 10-15% faster again. The result was so incredible, that I repeated the experiment three more times because it was not possible.

I really felt like Luke Skywalker in Bespin being delivered information that made no sense.

If I had done 500 yards in 8:58 seconds on my right, assuming the improvement held over 500 yards,I would do about 7:40-8:04 seconds on my left.

Once I figured this out and was able to adjust my right side swim stroke, I got the 10-15% improvement on my right side.



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