Will Interleaving and IM Help You Swim Faster?

Will Interleaving and IM Help You Swim Faster?

Quite possibly.

Dan McLaughlin, a photographer-turned-golfer, is making scientists around the world rethink what is possible in the field of play. A non-athlete, McLaughlin quit his job and is attempting to scientifically realize his dream of becoming a professional golfer in an innovative.

In a relatively short amount of time and utilizing a non-traditional approach, McLaughlin has become better than 85% of American male golfers using a technique called interleaving.

In computer science and telecommunication, interleaving is a way to arrange memory in a non-contiguous way to increase performance. In an analogous situation in athletes, interleaving is catching the attention of researchers, academics, and psychology professors from UCLA to Harvard University. At the Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Performance, top learning and memory researchers are watching and studying McLaughlin’s The Dan Plan. “[Interleaving] has much grander implications than golf,” explained kinesiology professor Mark Guadanoli to Time Magazine.

Robert Bjork, one of the world’s most respected cognitive scientists, is working with McLaughlin. Bjork recommends testing different skills up during a practice as the optimal way to train. Just as McLaughlin continuously changes clubs and alternates targets during his golf practices, we also recommend interleaving in swimming, whether you are a pool sprinter or a marathon swimmer.

The top swimming coaches in the world follow this theory in practice. Interleaving places different stresses on the body and mind in a non-congruous way via practice of a variety of skills. A term borrowed from the fields of telecommunications and computers, interleaving works by not only helping with motor learning, but it also with improvement in memory recall. Professor Bjork believes that athletes can learn better in smaller, more randomized bits of specific drills and different practices of skills.

So instead of swimming pounding out miles and miles of freestyle, swimming hours after hours at the same intervals and at the same pace leading up to an open water swim, interleaving in the open water swimming world includes the concept of alternately pulling, kicking, stroke work, sprinting, and distance sets in a workout. Interleaving also incorporates the use of different strokes and individual medley (IM) sets – performed forwards (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle), backwards (freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly), and randomly (where all four strokes are swum in no particular pattern during sets). Interleaving includes working on pacing, dolphining, navigating, positioning, feeding, sighting, and drafting in a workout, whether it is performed in a pool or an open body of water. It can include doing ins-and-outs and body surfing if workouts are performed at the beach. It also includes leap frog and pace line sets during pool swimming workouts or lake swims with other people. It incorporates training in the morning during tranquil conditions as well as training during windy afternoons where surface chop is a constant nuisance, as well as performing prime number sets, sets performed in descending or ascending intervals, and incorporating different kinds of dryland training interspersed within a swim practice.

A well-known example of interleaving among channel swimmers is the last day of the Body Brain Confusion Swim performed at the Cork Distance Week where coach Ned Denison gives random instructions for a very difficult workout that stresses the physiological and psychological limits of the swimmers.

Elite swimmers also occasionally incorporate interleaving in their workouts. Eva Fabian, a world-class marathon swimmer, used to do set of pull-ups on the pool deck between sets of 200s. Gerry Rodrigues regularly incorporates deck-ups in sets of 25s or 50s. The Open Water Swim Club and NOVA Masters also utilize POW (Pool Open Water) training as well as vertical kicking and dolphin drills in a pool.

Open water swimming is regularly understood as a sport where the mental part of the sport plays a huge role. And scientists readily acknowledge that interleaving gives the brain a better workout than traditional repetitive training of the same motor skills. Interleaving stimulates stress that then leads to the secretion of corticotropin-releasing factor (CPF) in the brain’s hippocampus where memory and learning are centralized and improved.

So mix it up in the pool and open water. You will be better off for it.

Photo shows Darren Miller crossing the Tsugaru Channel in Japan.

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Steven Munatones