Friday, July 18, 2014

Popeye Breathing With Jenson Button

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Newsflash: The Android version of the Mr Smooth / Miss Swinger App is now out - search for "Mr Smooth" in the play store or follow this link: play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=air.com.swimsmooth.perfectcouple



Last weekend we had the pleasure of attending the Jenson Button Trust Triathlon in Luton Hoo in the UK. If you won one of our competition places for the race it was fantastic to meet you and chat about your swimming at the event. Or if you came down for our special coached open water session on Friday night it was great working with you!

We’d not seen Jenson swim before but we had a sneaky little look at his stroke during the race from one of the support boats. As one of those annoyingly talented sports people you might be unsurprised to learn he’s a great swimmer with a really nice stroke!

One thing Jenson does really well which you should look to replicate in your own stroke is that he breathes out of the side of his mouth to allow him to keep his head low in the water whilst he breathes:



If you’ve got our DVD Boxset you’ll know we call this ‘Popeye Breathing’ as you shape your mouth to the side like Popeye chewing his spinach:

Try this the next time you swim. Keeping the head as low as possible as you breathe helps keep the front of your body lower in the water and brings your legs up higher, reducing your drag.

Swim Smooth!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Pushing Up - Another Reason Why Your Legs Might Be Low In The Water

Upcoming Swim Smooth Clinics / Camps:
Acton Video Analysis
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Richmond SS Squad
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West Lothian
Video Analysis

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For more info on SS Certified Coaches see here
Many swimmers suffer from low lying legs in the water, creating large amounts of additional drag, slowing them down hugely. If you are much faster with a pull buoy and/or a wetsuit then you know this is an issue for yourself - in fact it will be the single biggest thing holding you back.

There are many reasons why a swimmer may have low lying legs including holding their breath, pressing down at the front of the stroke, poor kicking technique and lifting the head to breathe. But here’s another that is often overlooked:

PRESSING UP At The Back Of The Stroke

Pressing up at the rear of the stroke is often overlooked by coaches because it is quite hard to spot without video analysis:





On the simplest level, propulsion in swimming is about pressing water backwards to send you forwards. Pressing up at the back of the stroke can feel quite nice because you feel quite a lot of water pressure on your palm but by pressing it upwards you are not producing any propulsion and only creating downward pressure on your legs. All by itself this can be enough to create a low lying body position.

Instead, think about pressing the water back to the wall behind you through your arm stroke and as your hand passes the top of your thigh, smoothly turn the palm to face towards the thigh to finish the stroke neatly. That will leave you perfectly placed for a relaxed recovery over the water:





Remember not to extend the arm fully straight at the rear, you’re not looking to force your arm out bolt straight, that will put a lot of stress on the elbow (commonly leading to medial epicondylitis - “golfers elbow”) and not give you any additional propulsion. Elite swimmers don't do this, they actually finish at the back of the stroke with a slightly bent elbow:



Swim Smooth!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Mind The Gap!

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West Lothian
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For more info on SS Certified Coaches see here
Previously on the Swim Smooth blog we have talked about using a Tempo Trainer Pro to control your swimming pace in training, both in CSS Sessions and also in (slightly scary) Red Mist Sessions. One of the great things about using beepers in this way is how accurately you can control your pace (to 0.01 second per 25m/yd!) and how you can easily make very small increases in your swimming speed week on week which add up to big gains over time.

BUT - and it is a big but - what if you swim in a squad session? How can you control your pace so accurately with swimmers behind and in front, all at slightly different levels of fitness to yourself? Unfortunately there's no getting around the fact that you can't be as individually accurate with your training speeds in a squad environment but there are other advantages of squad training which more than make up for this.

The upside of swimming in a squad (and it is a big upside!) is that you gain massive motivation to complete hard training sessions and measure yourself against your friends.

The 9:30 squad are all smiles after their Wednesday morning CSS session!

In the Swim Smooth Squads, when swimming CSS and Red Mist sessions we only give the lead swimmer in each lane the beeper. All the other swimmers stay behind that swimmer and match their swimming pace - the beeper being set for the best overall pace for the lane. The lanes are quite well balanced in terms of swimming ability but if some of the swimmers towards the rear of the group get dropped slightly that's not a problem, they just rejoin on the next rest interval.

The absolute key to success when swimming these sessions in a group is to maintain the gap to the person in front and not try to catch them up. We call this: Mind The Gap!

If you swam hard at the start of each swim you might well be able to catch the leader for the 5 seconds so you can sit on their feet. Don't do this! If everyone tries the same thing, the person behind you has to swim 10 seconds faster and the one behind them 15 seconds. Before you know it everyone is swimming much too hard at the start of the swim before backing off dramatically when they get onto the toes and into the draft of the swimmer in front.

This is exactly what we are trying to avoid with CSS and Red Mist sessions - the name of the game is consistent pacing to develop your aerobic engine, which is what you need for distance swimming and triathlon. By repeatedly closing the gap through a set you sprint-recover-sprint-recover which might be good training for sprinting but not so good for distance swimming where you need to hold a consistent pace for a long period of time.

And what if the leader fades or is having a bad session? We simply swap the leader and they pass the beeper to another swimmer. Or we might design the set to swap leaders regularly - teamwork!

Keep your discipline and leave a 5 to 10 second
gap to the swimmer in front before setting off.

So when swimming training sets in your squad keep your discipline and Mind The Gap - closing up to the swimmer in front will only harm your own swimming, and disrupt the session for everyone else.

Swim Smooth!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Could A Straighter Arm Recovery Be Right For You?

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West Lothian
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For more info on SS Certified Coaches see here
A few years ago on one of our coach education courses, we asked: What is the most important part of the freestyle stroke? One of the assembled coaches immediately put up his hand and said "High elbows, you've got to get the elbows high over the water!".

Do we agree? Not really! Many swimmers are better off using a slightly straighter arm recovery if it is the right thing to do for their natural style, for their level of shoulder flexibility and for the environment in which they are swimming - particularly if they are swimming in open water:

A high elbow arm recovery certainly looks elegant and has been used by many swimming greats such as Sun Yang and Katie Ledecky. Here Paul Newsome demonstrating it in open water:

Classic high elbow arm recovery (half speed)

If you're trying to use this style of recovery in a wetsuit you will quite likely end up with shoulder or arm fatigue as a result. Even in the most flexible wetsuits in the world (e.g. a slinky HUUB!) a controlled high elbow recovery is resisted by the suit's neoprene, working the shoulder and bicep muscles harder than they need to.

This is one of the reasons why most professional triathletes and open water swimmers use a more open arm recovery style:

Straighter Arm recovery style (half speed)

The straighter arm reduces the stretching of the neoprene around the back of your elbow and it uses the momentum of the recovery to reduce the work done by the shoulders. The result? Much more efficient open water swimming!

Old-school swimming coaches brought up on pool swimming may frown upon straighter arm recoveries but all the evidence shows this style is just as valid as a high elbow recovery. Aside from wetsuit swimming, there are many other potential benefits:

- A straighter arm allows much great clearance over the water's surface so your hand doesn't get caught by waves and chop.

- It allows you to swim closer to other swimmers without clashing arms with them, giving greater opportunities to draft.

- If you are quite inflexible in the shoulders then it may be impossible to swim with a classic high elbow without reaching the limits of your flexibility. This is a classic problem for Arnies and some Bambinos.

- If your natural stroke style is quite punchy a straighter arm recovery will probably just 'feel right' for you (aka The Swinger).

Take a little time in training to experiment with a slightly straighter arm recovery over the top of the water to see how it works for you. You don't need to go completely straight at the elbow, just open out the angle a little to create a higher recovery as we see professional triathlete Richard Varga do here (first out of the water at the Olympic Games):


Remember to keep the recovery smooth and loose in the shoulders - it's not a ballistic action. And as with any change to your stroke, expect it to feel a little odd at first but give it at least 3-4 sessions before judging whether it is right for you.

Swim Smooth!

PS. Don't confuse this with a high elbow stroke technique during the underwater portion of the stroke. Whatever you do over the surface of the water it's essential to bend the elbow underwater and press the water back behind you, to send yourself efficiently forwards. See here, here and here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Your Ripple Effect




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Prague Junior Swim Club
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For more info on SS Certified Coaches see here
This week on the blog SS Coach Emma Brunning reflects on her weekend past:

It is Tuesday morning on the 17th June 2014 and I feel absolutely inspired, proud and amazed at what I witnessed over this weekend.

I spent the weekend commentating at the Great North Swim, where 10,000 swimmers took to Windermere over a 3 day period, all challenging themselves in different events from 750m up to the 5km elite event on Sunday.

Standing at the finish, I got to see every finisher cross the line and witness first hand the amazing smiles and sense of achievement on people's faces. Most people had never actually swam their race distance in the open water before and others were swimming for a cause close to their hearts.




Whatever the reason you take to the water, the Ripple Effect of talking about how well you did and celebrating your achievements is enormous on those around you. You are truly inspirational!

Talking about your success allows others to take that step and challenge themselves too... You can not underestimate the power your passion and commitment can have on others:
If you have been considering something - just do it.
If you are worried you may fail - its worth a try.
If you need support - ask someone.

We live one life and it is important we make the most of it and take on the things that challenge us. Keep healthy, happy and surround yourself by good people along the way.

Wherever you are in the world and whatever you are doing, remember anything is possible, just believe in yourself. 




So sending you all a MASSIVE well done and congratulations to every single person that took to the water this weekend, wherever you are in the world. Celebrate well and keep creating those ripples!

SS Coach Emma Brunning
www.activeblu.co.uk



After publishing this post, we were very saddened to hear about the death of Colin Pringle at the Great North Swim, our thoughts go out to his family and friends at this very difficult time.

Announcing July Swim Smooth Clinics Near Oxford And A Free Open Water Skills Evening At JB Trust Triathlon

Announcing Two Swim Smooth Clinics In Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Paul will be leaving the winter in Perth and bringing
his formidable video analysis skills to Oxfordshire.
The core Swim Smooth team lead by Head Coach Paul Newsome will be running two special Video Analysis And Stroke Correction Clinics in Abingdon, Oxfordshire UK on Thursday 10th and Sunday 20th July.

Each one day clinic features full video analysis and is strictly limited to 14 swimmers -  perfect for any swimmer or triathlete looking to improve their speed and efficiency in the water.

Places on these clinics will fill up VERY quickly (the last series filled up in less than an hour!) so please sign-up right now if you'd like Paul to personally work on improving your swimming:

swimsmooth.com/clinics-july2014.html

Open Water Skills Evening At JB Trust Triathlon

Also during our trip to the UK, Paul will be running a special Open Water Skills evening on Friday 11th July at Luton Hoo House, exclusively for entrants to the Jenson Button Trust Triathlon which takes place the following day.

The session will run from approximately 6:30-7:30pm with you spending about 30 minutes in the lake. We won't tire you out before your race but work on some critical skills to use the next day and improve your times!

For more information on this fabulous race or to signup see:

eventdesq.imgstg.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=main&EventDesqID=6620&OrgID=2106

After signup details of the Open Water session will be sent out to you shortly afterwards.

Paul, Adam, Annie and rest of the SS team look forward to meeting you in July.

Swim Smooth!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Swimming Down A Narrow Corridor




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Prague Junior Swim Club
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Acton Video Analysis
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Richmond SS Squad
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Loughborough SS Clinics
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Swim/Tri Camps Alicante
All year round
Full information: here

Salisbury 1to1 Analysis
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Ringwood/Totton Squads
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Twickenham Video Analysis
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Lancaster SS Squad
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Lancaster UK, Video
Analysis Consultations

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Loughborough SS Squad
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Richmond/Wimbledon Workshops
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For more info on SS Certified Coaches see here
One of the most common stroke flaws under the body is pulling out wide with too straight an arm:
When this happens, it normally occurs more on one side of the stroke than the other and it is often related to breathing patterns - if you only breathe left you are more likely to do this with your right arm (and vice versa).

A good rule of thumb is that the hand should pull through directly under the shoulder, as we saw in our classic blog post 'Bend It Like Becky' featuring Olympic Gold Medallist Rebecca Adlington:


A good visualisation to improve this is to imagine you are swimming down a narrow corridor:


Your elbows are allowed to brush the sides of this corridor but not your hands, as Paul explains to a swimmer in this short video clip:


Here's Becky again showing us how it should be done with just her elbow brushing the corridor wall:


Pulling straight and wide like this often only happens on a breathing stroke as you press downwards and outwards to lift your head clear of the water. As well as correcting the arm pull itself, work on keeping your head lower when you breathe using the bow wave trough - that will reduce the need to press down at the front of the stroke.

So try this corridor visualisation the next time you swim, maintaining a focus on keeping your hands away from the walls - even when breathing. If you feel like your pull through becomes smoother or easier you will know you've made an improvement!

Swim Smooth!

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Art Of Chasing Speed

In the last of our mini-series on training, Head Coach Paul Newsome gives us his take on training appropriately and progressively to become a faster swimmer - aka 'Chasing Speed':

One of the great things about using the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro as a training tool is that it is programmable in increments of 1/100th of a second, allowing very precise time targets to be set during your fitness training sessions. Once you have ascertained your baseline CSS pace (approximately the speed you would maintain for 1500m continuously) you can go about systematically chipping away at your times each week. This is a very motivating approach, ensuring you are always moving forwards and never stuck on a plateau.

This method of training is especially powerful because it allows you to maintain your stroke technique as you go along. The pace is carefully controlled and progression is very gradual, so whilst you're working hard you can still maintain control of your stroke technique - not thrashing or fighting the water.

This is precisely how Mega Megan has improved so much (see posts here and here) - each week training just a little bit faster than the week before, gradually accumulating over many months. These increments are barely noticeable as you go along, as your times decrease by 0.3 to 1 second per 100m per week.

Over the last two years Megan has shaved off 40 seconds per 100m (!) using this gradual progression, even though she never set herself that huge target to begin with - like most of us she just wanted to be a better swimmer. This is "Aggregation Of Marginal Gains" in action (a method famously described by British Cycling and Team Sky Manager Sir Dave Brailsford).

Move Your Foundations Closer To Your Ceiling

Your current CSS pace is a simple but fundamental reference point to your swim fitness, if you increase your CSS pace through your training then you can be assured that for any distance you race over 400m, you will be quicker. What you're doing is moving your threshold speed (which is very trainable) closer towards your maximum speed (something much harder to train). In elite distance swimmers these two points are very close together - you might only be able to sustain CSS for 1000 or 1500m but elite open water swimmers will be very close to this level of effort over 5 or even 10km!


Rhys Mainstone motoring during Swim Smooth Video Analysis

In fact two time Australian 10km Champion Rhys Mainstone from Perth can swim 1:05 /100m for 10km continuously including (very quick) drink stops. Incredible! Rhys has worked hard to push his CSS pace as high as possible but it all started from knowing this point and then training at that pace to gradually and progressively push it upwards: "Slowly Chasing Speed"

Know Thyself

Five weeks ago on the blog we discussed getting your swimming mojo back by finding your CSS pace and then gradually moving forwards from that point, whatever it is. I recently started my own personal training comeback after spinal surgery in December. Since 14th April I've been swimming 5 times per week, completing 36 sessions so far.

On that very first session I bit the bullet and timed myself over 400m to see how much I'd lost and ensure that I was starting my program at the right intensity. The result was a lifetime worst 5:40. Being the competitive guy I am I was shocked as I've never swum slower than 5:00 in my whole life! My CSS pace was 1:28 /100m (a full 18 seconds per 100m slower than when I won the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 10 months earlier). This is the point I started training at and moved forwards from there, telling myself "it's only a benchmark" and "it is what it is".
Get your training progression right and you'll feel this good!

In years gone by my head and body would have battled each other at the start of a program - my head telling me "You're still as good as you used to be!" but my body screaming "No you're not! You can't be - you haven't done the work yet!". And that's exactly the point of the article, you have to do the work - there is no magic pill or easy way. Thankfully though, there is a right way to do the work.

Getting Started

I am sure many of you more experienced swimmers will have felt the same at some point. You have good intentions and want to get back into the flow of your training but for that initial 2-3 week period it feels so difficult to gain traction. Training feels hard. You beat yourself up for the time you have had off and your times are very disappointing.

There's a tendency to over-estimate your ability at this time and push too hard too soon - blowing up during sessions and struggling to finish as planned. But what if you set your target pace a little lower, at your true current ability level? Swallowing your pride, perform a CSS test and then setting your Tempo Trainer Pro at your current fitness level is a much quicker approach to getting your fitness back, even if it means dropping down a lane in your squad. Suck it up, accept where you're at, get the sessions done and you'll soon be back to where you want to be, proud of what you've pushed through.

In our Perth squads we have four talented Ironman and 70.3 athletes working hard to prepare for some major international events, including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship in October. Jono, the two Marks and Andy have all suffered a few false start in the last couple of months but by slowing them down and getting them to complete some endurance sessions at their current level of fitness - not where they think they should be - they have started to push through and their confidence is now blossoming.

By not starting too fast, blowing up and pulling the pin on the session, they've become much better at understanding the benefits of pacing too, a skill which is entirely learnable if you have the patience for it.

1 Second Per 100m Faster Each Week
The 10x 400m Red Mist Set on the squad board

My key session over the last 8 weeks has been a 10x 400m "Red Mist" set which looks like this:

4 x 400m at CSS +6s /100m
3 x 400m at CSS +5s /100m
2 x 400m at CSS +4s /100m
1 x 400m at CSS +3s /100m

Between each 400m take a quick 20 seconds rest - just enough time to take on a little fluid.

(If you're attempting this set for the first time you can reduce it to 10x 300m or even 10x 200m for very new swimmers).

It's not rocket science but this is precisely what I have done over the last 8 weeks at 5:30am on Monday morning without fail. Reducing the beeper by 0.25 seconds per 25m (1 second per 100m) per week - gradually (and precisely!) chasing speed.

Being slower than threshold pace makes for a very aerobic endurance set regardless of your ability - as long as your CSS pace is accurate. In the first four intervals you'll feel like you're being held back, settling into a rhythm in the next three intervals, suddenly feeling some effort in the penultimate set and having to really push on in the final interval.

It's not the most interesting session by any stretch but it's a really good chance to find your rhythm, build some endurance and most importantly measure your progression objectively as the weeks go by. You're also testing your ability to concentrate on maintaining great form and technique in a challenging session where you're not quite sure if you're going to achieve the target on all ten intervals.

It's much harder and much more representative of real world racing (maintaining your technique under pressure) than endless sessions of single-length technique work, hoping for the speed to one day magically come to you.

Each week I simply made each interval 1s /100m faster with the caveat that to do that I have to have completed all ten intervals on the target times on the previous week. I started at 1:28 descending down to 1:25 /100m and progressed really well for the first six weeks as planned. On week seven (1:22 descending to 1:19 /100m) I just missed my times by a few seconds on the last two 400s so repeated the same goal times again this week - made them comfortably - and will forge on again next week.

Of course it feels disappointing when that happens but the reality is after a while progress has to slow slightly otherwise we'll all be qualifying for Rio 2016! When that happens you'll have to make your margin of improvement smaller each week but that is where the precision of the Tempo Trainer Pro comes into full effect - we can reduce things by as little as 0.04 seconds/100m per week if we wish!

I hope you find these 'real world' example of Chasing Speed in action useful. This is how Megan did it, how the entire SS Perth Squad is doing it and how I'm doing it too. So why not give it a try yourself too?

Cheers, Paul

PS. Now I'm back below 1:15 /100m CSS pace I shaved off my beard as a reward! :




Friday, May 30, 2014

Mega Megan Part 2 - Why Not You Too?

Last week on the blog we looked at one of our swimmers Megan and her stunning swimming progress over the last 2 years as she improved her threshold swimming pace from 2:12 /100m to 1:32/100m. This is a huge improvement, good enough to take her from being one of the slowest in our squad to being close to swimming with some of our fastest swimmers with extensive swimming backgrounds.

It is certainly fascinating to see a swimmer improve so much and get a clear before-and-after perspective from the video footage. We know from all your emails, youtube and blog comments that it has inspired many of you on your own swimming journey - which is great!

Megan and SS Coach Emma Brunning

But what if Megan's story left you feeling a little uncomfortable or frustrated? After all, if she can make such big improvements with her swimming then why not you too?

When you read the post, did you put Megan's improvement down to her age, or her background or some sort of untapped natural talent? If so, you missed her real secret. The fact is that Megan has nothing unusual in those areas, she was and in some ways still is a very 'normal' swimmer... except in one regard.

Megan's secret is simple to state but very hard to *truly* come to terms with. She has:

An Amazing "Can-Do" Mentality

which leads to...

Doing The Hard Work With Brilliant Consistency For Months On End

That's all it is. Not overthinking. Not over-analysing. Never talking herself out of the work she needs to do to improve.

After last week's post, Liz from our squad asked:

You might need to think about this answer before you give it but I've been swimming longer than Megan (a lot longer) but am still in lane 1 - how come?

In answering, we highlighted Megan's amazing consistency, notably swimming a mentally challenging Red Mist Set every single Wednesday morning for months on end. Liz said:

OK, well after this week I'm away for 5 weeks on a cycling holiday then I'm back for
4 weeks before away for 2 weeks, but then I should be able to...

That, right there, is exactly the problem! If you lack consistency with your training then your fitness is constantly in a state of snakes and ladders (see this post). Megan's fitness isn't like that, it's on a constant upward curve and she's still improving even now after two whole years of consistent training.

Of course unless you're a professional athlete, some time away from the pool is inevitable for work or family commitments but the key reason someone else has improved and you haven't is very very likely to be your consistency. Why not throw yourself the challenge of 8 to 12 weeks of unbroken focus on your swimming and see what can be achieved in that time frame? You might just surprise yourself!

Megan (and paddler!) during the 19.7km Rottnest Channel Swim

A key part of achieving that consistency is your swimming demeanour. In last week's post Megan put it this way:

"I do know that I felt a big difference when I started swimming Wednesday mornings. I am not sure whether Wednesday improved my CSS or not but it definitely increased my confidence – 1 km TT? *shoulder shrug* … sure, whatever :-)"

Megan's not saying that out of bravado, that really is how she thinks. When was the last time you really shrugged at a swimming time-trial? The key to improving is not to over-analyse or procrastinate but, like Megan, come to terms with the work you need to consistently do, switch off the brain and get on with it.

If you can face your training with an inner smile rather than an inner grimace you've got everything you need to be the next Megan. Don't fear the hard work but actively embrace it - that is the attitude of a true champion.

Swim Smooth!

JB Trust Triathlon On July 12th And New Swimmer/Coach/Club Packs!

Just a reminder that the Jenson Button Trust Triathlon is taking place this July 12th at Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, UK. The Swim Smooth Team will be in full attendance, and subject to some final arrangements, we hope to be running a free open water swim clinic at the venue for all competitors, to give you some final tips the night before the race (Friday evening). Confirmation coming soon!

You can find more information on the race and enter here: https://eventdesq.imgstg.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=main&EventDesqID=6620&OrgID=2106

In the meantime, here's some advice from Jenson on tackling the swim portion of the race:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSA77Cb7n-U
It's going to be a fantastic day of racing (and socialising!) - Paul Newsome and the rest of the SS team very much hope to meet you there!


Swimmer / Club / Coach Packs


Meantime in our Swim Shop we've assembled some special offer packs for you:

8 Item Swimmer Pack

Not sure what to buy to work on your all round swimming technique? You need our specially assembled Swim Smooth / Finis Swimmer Pack! Combining the very best coaching tools from our swim shop together with a Swim Smooth DVD or Book of your choice, this pack contains everything you need to take major steps forward with your swimming.

Plus, if you're a Triathlon England member, you can receive an additional £5 discount off this pack!

www.swimsmooth.com/finis-swimsmooth-swimmer-pack.php

15 Item Coaches Pack

In conjunction with Finis we've assembled a complete set of stroke correction equipment and tools for any coach working one to one with swimmers. This is the same selection of equipment used by our prestigious Swim Smooth Certified Coaches.

www.swimsmooth.com/finis-swimsmooth-coaches-pack.php

31 Item Club Pack

Designed as a starter set of equipment for triathlon and swim clubs, this pack contains Swim Smooth's recommended equipment for squad training with around 12 swimmers. The set is designed to be both versatile and comprehensive, and is recommended by Triathlon England.

www.swimsmooth.com/finis-swimsmooth-club-pack.php

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Friday, May 23, 2014

*Mega* Megan: Going From 2:12 to 1:32 /100m Pace

Today on the blog we're going to take a look at the swimming of Megan Surrette, a 36 year old Hydrogeologist from Perth. Over the last two years she has made incredible improvements to her swimming, taking over 40 seconds per 100m off her threshold times and in March this year completing the mighty 19.7km Rottnest Channel Swim! :

Click to enlarge


Coached by our SS Head Coach Paul Newsome in Perth, she's worked on her stroke technique, her swim fitness and her open water skills to go from the back of our slowest lane in the SS squads to knocking on the door of the top lane!

Meet Megan - she looks innocent enough doesn't she?

The amazing thing about Megan is how 'normal' she is, perhaps initially swimming at a similar level and with a similar style to yourself. She's not especially tall, she doesn't have the athletic talent of an Olympian and she has to train around a full-time professional job.

As we'll see below, Megan has developed a great little stroke packed with punch and rhythm. She's developed a good feel for the water despite not having any swimming background. She's determined, she's persistent and she's swim fit. And the really scary thing (for our top lane) is that she's still improving!

Megan was a classic Bambino with a slight tendency to over-glide and if you feel you fit this Swim Type yourself then make sure you take a close look at how and why Megan's improved and bring a little of that 'Megan Magic' to your own swimming! Even if you are already a strong swimmer yourself, there's some big lessons to be learnt here in what will help you make big strides forward with your swimming... and some of them go against conventional 'wisdom'.

Paul takes up the story:
Paul with Megan - proud as punch!

What is every coach's number one goal, the thing that keeps you getting up at 4.20am every morning come wind, rain or shine? Simply to see your swimmers - all of your swimmers - improve, flourish and develop a deep love for this wonderful sport of swimming. That is all you can ever ask for.

Whether that leads to an elite athlete winning a big championship event, or to take someone with a complete phobia of water to achieving their very first length of freestyle, these moments are what drives coaches on day after day, week after week, year after year. It is a very rewarding occupation especially when a swimmer achieves something they never believed they could do (despite me occasionally being asked by random pool patrons what I do for a real job!).

A few months back I was archiving the last three years of my recorded 1-2-1 video analysis sessions (all 5,273 of them!) which left me reflecting on who had made the most significant improvement overall. So many swimmers came to mind, including Gavin Cooke's 46 seconds per 100m speed increase in 10 weeks, a brilliant and incredibly rapid improvement. Also 3-time Ironman Champion Kate Bevilaqua taking her 3.8km time from 1:04:50 to 49:33 in 4 years, going from the back of the pro-ranks out of the water to the very front. Or perhaps triathlete Renee Baker, taking her threshold pace from 1:45 /100m to 1:22 /100m and in doing so turning Pro. 

The one I’ve picked out for you to study here was a young lady called Megan Surrette because of the sheer range of her improvement (from 2:12 to 1:32 /100m at threshold) and the fact she is still on a rapid trajectory of improvement after that. Plus she achieved this not as a full-time athlete but with a professional job around which to squeeze in her training.

I've made a special recording for you looking at Megan's stroke (before and after), some of her race footage and have included a quick video interview on how she's feeling about her swimming these days. It's 37 minutes long but I highly recommend you watch it as I explore the things that made a big difference to her swimming:


Or if you prefer, continue reading as I take a brief look at the same points in written form below.

Introducing Mega Megan!

We'll let Megan introduce herself:

"I am a Hydrogeologist and work as a consultant here in Perth but I grew up in a rural community in Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada. Nova Scotia is a relatively small province that is almost an island so you are never far from the ocean, which is brilliant as I always loved the ocean (I refuse to live inland).

I had never received any formal swimming instruction (prior to Swim Smooth) apart from the occasional lifesaving course growing up. I moved to Perth in 2007 and considered myself a runner at the time. I took up Triathlon through peer pressure from work colleagues! One of my colleagues swam with the Swim Smooth squad and recommended that I try squad swimming and/or a 1-2-1 Video Analysis. She is very passionate about the Swim Smooth approach and knew I would benefit from it. However, I was very reluctant to do either as I considered my swimming ability to be too poor but I finally booked into a 1-2-1 session with Paul in June 2012."

Before!

In this first session Megan was swimming at a pace of 2:12/100m with a stroke rate of 44 SPM (strokes per minute), taking exactly 50 strokes to complete each 50m. Technically she looks pretty good - she's smooth, elegant and very symmetrical but ultimately quite slow for this level of technical proficiency:


[My full recorded analysis from that session is here]

We ascertained that the factors preventing her from progressing at that point were:

- Surprisingly low sinking legs.
- A lack of "Feel for the Water" or "Oomph" to her catch at the front of the stroke.
- A stroke rate well below what she should have been swimming at.

If we focus on the 3rd point for a moment - Megan was (even then) one of the smoothest >2:00 /100m swimmers I have ever taken for a session. She had grace, poise and very little splash or bubbles. My initial response looking at her stroke was that it simply looked "slow" and that she looked almost unwilling to disturb the water at all as she moved through it.

Without saying why, I asked her to swim at 52 SPM using a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro just to see how it felt. She was surprised to find that she was easily able to elevate her stroke rate by 18% and that it actually felt more fluid and rhythmical to swim like this.

It's no use simply telling someone that their stroke rate is too slow, we need to determine why that is the case and what can be done to enhance the stroke and as a direct consequence allow higher stroke rates to be sustained. Of course not every swimmer needs to elevate their stroke rate, as discussed here it's a case of ascertaining whether it is too slow (or too fast) for your given swimming speed, height, build, arm length and the swimming events you are targeting: i.e. pool or open water.

For Megan (as we saw in our review of Triathlon World Champion Non Stanford's stroke), she had a slight tendency to reach up towards the surface of the water as she glided forwards and this was inhibiting her ability to maintain the perpetual motion of her stroke:


Reaching up and gliding forwards was inhibiting not only Megan's stroke rate
but also her potential to improve her speed and efficiency

Working on those elements of her stroke, Megan was "completely shocked that my swimming improved so dramatically" after the first video analysis session.

After!

Here's Megan swimming 12 months on in July 2013, she's swimming at a pace of 1:44/100m, which is a brilliant improvement of 28 seconds per 100m. Or to put it another way, she's improved her 1500m time by a full 7 minutes! :


[My full recorded analysis from that session is here]

She is swimming at 64+ SPM here (an elevation of 45% from the original video) and you can clearly see the extra rhythm. But most interestingly, she was taking 6 more strokes to complete each 50m length! How could this be? How could a swimmer improve their speed and their efficiency so much but be taking more strokes to complete each length?


Since the late 1980's old-school swim coaching has repeatedly told us that taking fewer strokes is the "key metric" to improve your efficiency but this is far from the real truth. Taking fewer strokes pretty much became the world view of efficiency, and let’s face it, is very easy to simply count your strokes and monitor it. However, the real key to greater efficiency is not to simply minimise stroke count but to strike the right balance between the length of your stroke and your stroke rate. 50 strokes per 50m might sound better than 56 but in the case of Megan, it clearly wasn't right for her.

Are you endlessly in pursuit of making your stroke ever longer and praising yourself for every stroke dropped per length? Great if your speed is improving, but if its not, something needs to change!

Swim Training

Of course, it's not only the technical adjustments to Megan's stroke that have led to such amazing improvements but also the type of specific fitness training and volume she has been swimming.

Following on from the advice in that first video analysis session, Megan joined our regular Swim Smooth Perth squad sessions and consistently swam 3 to 4 times per week. During these sessions we continued to refine her stroke technique but also introduced her to the value of training at higher intensities through CSS evaluation and training despite her saying:


"I do distinctly remember thinking there is NO WAY I will ever have a CSS less than 2:00 min/100 m. EVER. And to be frank, I am always shocked after every time trial when you tell me I've improved my CSS. I would be elated even if it just stayed the same!"

I also encouraged Megan to partake in our Wednesday "Red Mist" endurance sessions even though initially she had concerns that she'd be the slowest swimmer by a long stretch and that maybe it was "above her station":

"I do know that I felt a big difference when I started swimming Wednesday mornings. I am not sure whether Wednesday improved my CSS or not but it definitely increased my confidence – 1 km TT? *shoulder shrug* … sure, whatever :-)"


The proof is in the pudding here and since July last year, Megan has further improved her swimming to a CSS pace of 1:32.5 / 100m - wow!

Should You Be More Like Megan?


Megan dons her war-paint (and plenty of sunscreen)
before the Rottnest Channel swim!
This positive demeanour is what has always made Megan such a pleasure to coach, and I think we can all learn a lot from this. It sounds derogatory to say that Megan's swimming mood is "monotone" but really this is the highest compliment I can give: there are no high-highs, but equally there are no low-lows either - just dependable consistency and ultimately it's this attitude that has led to such a massive improvement.

There is no rocket science here - Megan is a "glass half-full" type of person and is able to very quickly write off any disappointments and move forwards. Each session is but a very small piece in the greater jigsaw puzzle that is your swimming improvement. Are you able to do this or are you caught in an endless cycle of paralysing yourself through endless critical analysis. Megan just gets on and does it, do you?

The Ultimate Challenge for the Ultimate Improver

And so after just 20 months of swimming and getting her CSS pace down from 2:12 /100m to 1:32.5 /100m, Megan took on the challenge of the mighty 19.7km Rottnest Channel Swim on 22nd February 2014. She completed the swim in 6h 42m 57s at an average pace of 2:02 /100m which takes into account stoppage time for drinks, course changes and a significant cross current. At a conservative estimate, Megan's real water speed would have been around 1:50/100m - 22 seconds per 100m faster than her original video analysis recording in 2012, for a continuous distance 200 times longer!


The start of the Rottnest Channel Swim - from here the island is over the horizon!
Turning her arms over 45% faster than nearly two years ago can never be described as inefficient given the magnitude and duration of one of the ultimate endurance events on the planet. Megan had found her true stroke and had refined her engine perfectly - all that was left to consider was her mental aptitude but as we'll see in this final review in Megan's words, this was actually her trump card:


"I suspect this blasé attitude I developed toward the longer distances during the Wednesday sessions extended to my thoughts of attempting a solo Rotto swim. Although, I am really not certain why I thought I could tackle Rotto. Likely pure naivety! Up until just prior to the City Beach 10 km qualifier (early November 2013), the longest distance I had swum (solo) in the open water was 5 km at the Rotto Rehearsal in February 2013. I swam 8 km in the river with SS coaches Emma and Sally the weekend before City Beach. I felt good. I could have kept swimming. So I decided to sign up for the City Beach swim and the rest is history really.

"The City Beach swim solidified in my mind that A) I do really like swimming longer distances; B) I'm not completely rubbish at pacing; and C) I knew that I was capable of having a go at Rotto. This confidence was the key for me.

"Technically I think the things that improved my swimming are (or perhaps better said, make me feel more comfortable in the water): focusing on spearing a bit deeper in the water (my swimming mantra used to be no hand-brakes, no dead spots); lifting my head position a bit more forward  - I'm not certain what this has done, but it feels great!"

Megan would be the first to say that if she can do it, so can you! Just as Megan's journey started by coming to see myself for a consultation, by visiting one of our excellent Certified Swim Smooth Coaches, you too can find out exactly what you need to do to improve.

Special thanks to Megan for allowing us to share her journey with the world. Thanks Megan, I'm very proud of you!

Paul