Descending: What it means and why it is important

Descending, or negative splitting refers to getting faster over the course of the race is not just a swimming concept. It is a critical concept in energy consumption for all endurance sports. If you are swimming a race longer than 50 yards you need to manage your energy output.  The concept of descending will help you maximize speed over distance. Many athletes are unpracticed at the idea of descending resulting in slower pace/splits at the end of the race.  Let’s look at three key concepts; Energy output at speed, how to practice, and how to use it in a race.

  • Energy output: A key concept to remember is that as you go faster you have to use more energy.  In order to increase your speed, you must increase your power output. the real problem is that to go a little faster, you have to work a lot harder. For a small improvement in your per 100 split you are draining the tank pretty fast. You have to find the optimal balance of energy consumption to speed.
  • How to practice: There are several ways to practice descending (getting faster over the course of the race) or even-splitting (holding same pace over the course of the race.) Create a set based on the length of the race. For example:  5x100s for a 500-yard race, or 5x 200s for a 1000-yard race.  Then start on day one by doing each interval on 20 seconds rest, maintaining the same time for all five.  Here is a key note:  The longer the distance you want to descend or even-split the easier pace you must set in the first 100/200.  This is where most swimmers make their mistake.  I hear them say, I felt great, or the first one felt good.  If the race is long enough to press your training level, you must start off feeling EASY and relaxed.  If you are trying this set and cannot hold your time per 100/200 then you started to fast! Go back and do it again and again, and yes again, until you can hold your pace time for all five. Once you can hold the same time for all five, and you feel like you have used up all of your energy by the end of the set, then drop the rest from 20 seconds to 15 and start all over again.  With less rest you will probably not be able to hold as fast a time, then do it with 10 seconds rest and finally 5 seconds rest.

    Over time you will not only improve your ability to descend/even-split, but you will find these sets are great training and help you get into overall shape.

  • Settle into pace. You have spent months developing an improved ability to descend/even-split and now you are about to apply the concept in you race. Here is another important note:  Settle into pace, don’t rise to pace.  In the first 100 yards, be slightly faster than your desired pace.  That’s slightly faster, don’t go crazy, and relax and settle down into pace. Years of experience show it is much more difficult to rise to pace.  You often don’t get quite to your pace level and each split misses the mark.

This takes not only practice, but confident belief in the process.  If you need more convincing leave me a comment below and I will share more on the physics of power, force and speed.

Up Next: Training Top Arm Breakout

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