Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

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Posts Tagged ‘Rick DeMont’

Negative Splits

Like a lot of people, I get regular e-mail updates from my alma mater and last week I learned that Rick DeMont had been named head swimming coach at the University of Arizona.   In addition to being a great coach, DeMont was a superb swimmer and is an accomplished painter, but what struck me was the following statement in the press release:


“…..DeMont also pioneered negative split swimming, which utilizes the strategy of swimming a faster second half of a race than the first.”


I have also been reading a new comprehensive biography of the late UCLA coach John Wooden by Seth Davis.   The book describes in detail how Wooden adopted the full court press at the suggestion of his assistant coach Jerry Norman.   The goal was not so much to create steals and easy baskets; the goal was to control the tempo of the game, and frequently UCLA simply exhausted the other team and pulled ahead during the second half.   Sort of a negative split approach to basketball.

The concept of negative splits might also be applied to other things and developing a “negative split mindset” is maybe one way to think about managing your effort to optimize performance.  In endurance sports negative splitting can be learned by engaging in specific training sessions designed to develop a sense of pace, rhythm, effort and controlled fatigue.   The classic way to do this is via something called a descending set of intervals.   For example a runner might run a set of 4x1200m with a 400m jog between the 1200s.  In other words the three laps of a standard 400m track fast with 1 lap of jogging between.  The idea would be to run each of the 1200s a bit faster.  In addition to the time targets, the real goal is be in control throughout and sort of sneak up on a maximum but relaxed and purposeful effort during the final  fast 1200.   This general scheme can also be adapted to almost any kind of structured physical activity or exercise training.  Your imagination is the only limitation.

Can negative splitting also apply to your work day, your work week and perhaps other elements of your life?   Is it possible to learn to slowly improve over time by managing your effort?  Can consistency level out the inevitable valleys in life but at the same time serve as a platform for more frequent peaks?  The concepts of rhythm, balance and tempo are all essential elements of high level swimming and basketball.   They also apply to music and other performing arts, and I would argue that by learning how to negative split via exercise training you can develop a skill set that carries over to other things.  Learn to control your pace so it does not end up controlling you.