What is Technique Threshold?
Technique threshold defines the point at which an athlete's technique falters, you can apply it to swimming, cycling or running (plus any other sport!). When you are swimming, your nervous system has to coordinate your limbs and ensure they move correctly. Coordination becomes more difficult when the movement becomes more complex or has to be done faster. For example, coordinating your fingers to hit the right keys on a piano keyboard is easy when you do it very slowly with a single finger. Using multiple fingers and playing at speed is a different challenge altogether.
A lot of triathlon and open water swimmers have a very low technique threshold, because they spend a lot of time swimming slowly and moving their arms slowly. This is particularly true for those competing over longer distances. There are many swimmers who look gracious and smooth in the pool and they appear to have a slow, relaxed turnover, but that's because they are swimming slowly.... Ultimately, it's important to remember that swimming is a performance sport, it's not about who looks the best.
When swimming slow, the nervous system can coordinate your arms without any problems, but when you try to do it quickly, everything goes wrong and it feels like your swimming has transformed into an uncoordinated thrash!!
When swimmers attempt to complete L6 sprint swim sessions, they feel as though they are 'thrashing' so they take the following steps:
1. They slow their arms down and swim more slowly to hold 'good technique' (we've been told so many times that you should always try to swim with good technique).
2. Because they are now swimming slower the fatigue is lower and therefore they feel the recoveries are way too long when doing short / sprint sessions.
3. They therefore decide to cut the recoveries short.
By taking the above actions, you are likely to stay at one pace and in effect, you are turning the L6 sprint session into an L4 threshold session (swimming at a steadier pace). In truth, many triathletes and long distance swimmers are completely unable to swim fast for even short periods, they are very much 'one paced'.
What's the answer?
The answer most definitely isn't to avoid doing something because you find it difficult. L6 intensity is 'maximal' and therefore your intervals should be 'maximal', that DOES NOT mean the fastest pace you can hold whilst still using good form, it means maximal.
To raise your technique threshold, you may well have to 'look ugly' for a few weeks.. that shouldn't be too complicated for some of my friends. Commit to 100% effort, make your arms turn over faster, thrash the water and feel uncoordinated.. if you keep doing this, pretty quickly your nervous system will 'catch up' and your coordination will improve over time, making you a faster swimmer.
IMPORTANT: These sessions are not just about developing power or strength, they are about developing your coordination so your limbs can move efficiently at speed. The outcome of the sessions are to develop your 'technique' and break you out of the swimmer's plod and enable you to swim long distances at a much higher pace. If you persist with the sprint sessions and carry them out as instructed, you will notice a rise in your L3/L4 pace for no extra effort, purely due to better coordination, resulting in greater efficiency (a drop in energy).
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