Look at Zwift, Strava, or any off-the-shelf training program and you will see some workouts described as “quality sessions” such as:
“I just finished up a quality session on the trainer…”
“3200 m of quality”
“Thursday Quality swim set: 2500 as….”
But what does quality mean? Does this mean the other workouts you do are not quality? And if so, why the heck do them? Whether you are a time crunched athlete or a pro, if your session is not quality then you are wasting your time.
“Quality” seems to be one of those buzzwords that does not have a clear definition. Given this ambiguity, let me try to debunk what this word means so that you can make every session quality.
For one, quality means that the workout has a purpose. And it will stimulate certain adaptations. The purpose of a workout could be physiological. You focus on form, speed, cadence/stroke work, endurance, or strength through various sets or reps. It could be psychological too. The overall goal could be to get you used to holding a certain pace, adapting to an environment, or overcoming a fear. The purpose does not even have to be serious either; a completely legitimate purpose is to have fun or catch up with a friend on a ride. Before each workout you should know why and what you are doing. And at the end, you will be able to look back to see if you achieved this.
Did you go easy when you were supposed to?
Did you really do an all out effort during those specific sets?
Did you face your fear and swim 5 min straight in open water without stopping or flipping over to do backstroke?
Did you enjoy yourself?
Did you blow off some work stress?
Having a purpose and achieving the purpose though is only part of having a quality workout.
Quality also means that you were mindful while doing the workout. Especially in swimming, each set, lap, length, and stroke is an opportunity to be mindful and aware of your form. And how your body feels in the water when you swim properly. During a swim it’s important to remain focused on each part of your stroke from hand placement to the catch to the pull all the way through to the recovery. It’s easy to set your stroke to autopilot or let your mind wander to worry about how quickly you are going. But chances are when this happens, your form wanders too. Bringing your mind back to your breath, your stroke, your rotation, your effort, your body position, and the purpose of the workout will allow you to develop the proper feel for the water. A mindful workout is a quality workout.
With purpose and mindfulness, you can make each and every workout quality.
Chris Hague, Tri Swim Coach