What the HECK Does RM Mean?

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Since returning from Swim Smooth Camp down in Perth, I've been using the somewhat foreign "RM cycle" more and more in your workouts recently, and it always gets some questions. I know that it seems odd at first, but this way of training is excellent for one reason: it standardizes the amount of training stress that everyone on the squad experiences, which means we all get faster, more efficient, and more comfortable at new paces together. Here is how it works.

  1. Take your CSS (or Threshold Pace)—for this example, let's use Salvo who swims in lane three or four at my Nike squad as our example. His CSS is currently 1:37/100m

  2. Round up to the nearest even number = 1:38/100

  3. Split that number in half = :49 seconds

  4. This is now your "RM 0" number. By adding seconds to it, you can use it like a send-off that is more tailored to your present fitness. When we're using RM cycles, we use the Tempo Trainers (those little yellow torture devices) in mode two, and we're usually trying to "beat the beeper," i.e.: finish the interval before the beeper beeps, and leaving the next time we hear it beep. If you were to do a set on RM 0 (using your CSS pace as your send-off base per 50), it would be very hard indeed, since you would have to swim faster than your CSS pace to get any rest at all! That's why you will usually see a number after the letters RM. Here's what to do with those.

  5. Say I give Salvo a set of 200s on "RM 5." He adds five to his RM 0 number, arriving at :54 (:49 + :05 = :54). The beeper will now beep every :54 seconds, meaning that if wants to get any rest, he'll try to get farther in front of the beep every time he finishes a 50. Salvo goes out a little fast and swims :50 per 50, finishing :20 ahead of the beeper in 3:20, which he uses for his rest, and leaves on that next beep (which sounds on 3:40, or 4x:54 seconds). He sets off on his second 200, a little winded from his first effort, and only manages :52 per 50, this time finishing in 3:30. The beeper simply marches on, though, beeping :10 later, signaling him to begin again.

  6. Whenever we use mode 2, we are “beating the beeper,” which means you try to finish ahead of the beeper ever 50 (getting farther and farther ahead in longer intervals). It’s like a pace clock made for you!

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Why don't we just use traditional send-offs?

I'm guessing this will be my biggest obstacle in implementing this system. We've been used to traditional send-offs, like completing a set of 100s on a send-off "base" of something like 1:45/100. The problem with this system is that it shoehorns everyone in the lane into something that doesn't account for individuality. Salvo's CSS is 1:37, but Tracy will also swim in his lane, and her CSS is 1:43. On a set of 100s swum at threshold, using 1:45 as a send-off, Salvo gets 8 seconds per 100, while Tracy only gets two! That is a very different set for the two swimmers! Using RM cycles standardizes the set across participants. It also frees us a bit from "the tyranny of the pace clock," leaving whenever we hear a beep rather than having to wait for intervals of :05 or :10 on the clock. For those of us who grew up with a pace clock, this is an adjustment, I know, but I know from personal experience how effective this kind of training is, and how quickly you'll pick it up if you give it a fair crack.

The other reason is that it really allows us to give a swimmer the correct dose of training stimulus during each session. When we just use multiples of five seconds on the pace clock, we aren’t optimizing our time in the pool, as we’re usually getting too much or too little rest. This way we can figure exactly the correct rest number, and adequately prescribed training stress, too.

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What are the other modes for?

Yeah, good question. We use mode one when we want to stay at a certain pace, such as CSS/TP + 3”/100. With mode one we program the beeper to beep every certain number of seconds, so we can use it a pace check. Say Salvo wants to swim at CSS +3”/100 for a set of 400s. He takes his threshold of 1:37 and adds three seconds to get 1:40. If we want it to beep every 25, we have to divide that number by four, right, since the 1:40 is per 100 and we want a reminder every 25? So take 1:40 and divide by four. This is easy, since 1:40 = 100 seconds. Divide 100 by four and you get 25:00. Set your tempo trainer to that number, and you have a device to perfectly pace you through your set.

The third mode, mode three, is a stroke rate beeper, and useful for other things. We’ll discuss it another time.