Lasers & Tempo Trainers - What Can We Learn From Eliud Kipchoge's Stunning Sub 2-hr Marathon?

#Nohumanislimited is the motto of Kenyan born Eliud Kipchoge, who most definitely pushed himself to the limit to become the first man in history to run a sub 2 hour marathon. Last weekend in Vienna, the 34 year old completed the marathon in a jaw dropping time of 1hr 59mins 40.2s, smashing the 2 hour barrier! But what was the key to his stunning achievement?

Exercise Physiologist Dr Michael Joyner first predicted that a sub 2 hour marathon was possible in his 1991 research paper. Using statistical models he anticipated that it was possible to complete a marathon in 1hr 57mins 58s in perfect conditions. For over 25 years, long distance athletes edged ever closer to this 2 hour mark, with Eliud's first direct attempt in 2018 setting 2hr 01min 39s, but until this week no one has achieved a sub 2 hour time.

But what can we learn From Eliud's stunning performance to maximise our own personal sporting endeavours - including your own swimming?

The one thing we would highlight was how incredibly well *paced* his run was. With every km (but the last) set between 2mins 48s and 2mins 52s. His run was so well paced that he had a little left in the tank to complete the final km in 2mins 40s and complete the final 400m in 65s! 

With all his experience, discipline and talent, we have no doubt that Eliud has excellent pace judgement in his own right but just to make absolutely sure of perfect pacing, you might have noticed that the electric pace vehicle shone a laser on the road to set a precise running speed:

This laser set an exact pace of 1:59:50 to follow (giving him 10 seconds spare in case he stumbled on the run-in to the finish).

Pacing isn't "sexy" like a cool pair of running shoes or a fancy swim-skin but the fact is that every world record in any distance event has been set using even pacing or a slight negative split, where the second half is running slightly quicker than the first. If you want your best times in training or in races then you too should aim for precise pacing - it's absolutely essential.

So good pacing is important but what can you use as a guide if you don't have a budget running into millions giving you laser guiding technology? Actually in pool swimming it's really easy to achieve the same thing as the lasers gave Eliud - significantly easier than in running, cycling or almost any other endurance sport.

The solution is a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro. This small yellow beeper sits under your cap and sets a perfectly even pace for you to swim:

Set it and pop it under your cap by your ear!
Get yours here:

If you are in a 25m pool and want to swim at 2 minutes per 100m (which could be your own personal equivalent of 2 hour marathon pace!) then you set the Tempo Trainer to beep every 30 seconds. Swim at 1:30 /100m? Easy, program it to 22.5 seconds.

Using it is a cinch: Wait for the beep, start swimming and pace your effort so you turn and push off the wall when the beep goes. The first time you use one you'll immediately realise how easy it is to go off too fast and then consequently how hard it is to stay with beeper over longer distances! If Eliud had done that he would have fallen well short of the record with all the world's media watching him.

The important thing to appreciate with a Tempo Trainer Pro is that it gives you real time feedback as you swim. Reviewing your splits back retrospectively on your watch is far less valuable as it's way too late to do anything about your pacing after the session!

Beneficial To Training Not Just Racing

Here's another thing - although pacing is super important in races for best performance, it's arguably even more important in training. That's because well paced training sets give you much more fitness improvements than sets where you start too fast and then tail off.

This is why we use Tempo Trainer Pros so extensively at Swim Smooth. In the SS Guru (our virtual swim coach) we determine the pace you should be swimming for any given training session based on your own individual level of fitness at that moment in time. Then the Guru tells you the number to put in the Tempo Trainer to achieve this pace. Place it under your swimming cap and voila!, you have pacing as good as Eliud Kipchoge:

You can think of this system like a virtual training partner, not only does it set the pace for you but it keeps you honest and motivated throughout the swim - genius!

For pacing as good as Eliud Kipchoge, add the Finis Tempo Trainer to your swim bag now and follow one of our pacing sessions on the Guru to nail your pacing for your next swim.

Swim Smooth!

Is Photoshop Harming Your Stroke Technique?

Manufacturers of swim suits, goggles, wetsuits and swimming gadgets love to show us great underwater images of their products in action:

And here's a fantastic promo shot of one of our favourite swimmers Becky Adlington:

Shots like these are beautiful and remind us how lucky we are to do a sport where we get to spend quality time in a wonderfully different environment. But is there something wrong with these shots, something that actually harms our own swimming?

Take a look at this shot of Becky when she's actually going about her business of winning Olympic Gold Medals:

What difference do you notice? That's right - bubbles! Lots of bubbles! Particularly bubbles exiting from the nose or mouth.

Of course when selling products, photographers and marketers are looking for the cleanest images possible so naturally select shots without any air bubbles in the shot. And if necessary they will resort to Photoshop to get rid of any pesky air from an otherwise perfect shot.

The problem here is that by seeing these images you might consciously or unconsciously decide this is how you should aim to swim and end up holding your breath underwater.

At Swim Smooth we understand that good exhalation technique is the single most important aspect of freestyle swimming. Failing to exhale at all or only exhaling partially holds huge numbers of swimmers back:

Holding your breath causes CO2 to build up in your blood stream which quickly becomes uncomfortable and makes you feel short of air. How often do you hold your breath cycling or running? Never hopefully! Try it and you'll find how much harder it makes the activity.

[Aside: If you get a headache when you swim it's quite possibly a CO2 headache!]

Further, holding your breath underwater increases the buoyancy in your chest. This will cause your chest and upper body to rise in the water and the legs to sink. If you have sinky legs when you swim (most male adult swimmers do) then the easiest way to bring them higher (and so reduce drag) is to simply develop a better exhalation technique.

We love this short of Becky at full speed: A dynamic stroke with great exhalation

Developing Good Exhalation Technique

Need to improve your exhalation in the water? Here's a simple exercise to develop a better technique called "sink downs". This is the perfect drill to perform at the start of a session during your warm up to improve your confidence in the water and get used to exhaling smoothly and continuously.

As long as you are confident being out of your depth, start in the deep end of the pool. Move away from the wall and treading water take a smooth relaxed breath in and then start exhaling, bringing your arms down by your side. Exhale through either your mouth or nose, whichever feels more natural. In fact we recommend you try both and see which works best for you.

The goal here is to sink straight down to the bottom of the pool. If you find yourself hanging around by the surface then you need to relax a little more and let go of the air a little quicker. Keep exhaling and you should find you drop down from the surface towards the bottom.

Once you feel you have got rid of most of the air in your lungs, push off from the bottom and return to the surface. Repeat this exercise several times through, the more relaxed and confident you are the better:

Now it's time to bring that better exhalation into your freestyle stroke and to do that we recommend using our all time favourite Mantra: Breathe-Bubble-Bubble-Breathe...

Push off from the wall into your freestyle and literally say 'Bubble' into the water every stroke - speaking the word will make you exhale as you do so! Repeat Breathe-Bubble-Bubble-Breathe... and rotate to inhale on the 'Breathe'.  You'll notice the mantra has you breathing every 3 strokes - great technique in its own right as it gives you enough time to exhale properly between inhales and also helps you develop a nice symmetrical stroke.

You can watch our full coaching videos to perfect these two exercises in the Swim Smooth Guru here (subscription required):


Swim Smooth!

Treading Water: Staying In The Game During Your Off Season

Competed in an event and unsure what to do next? Deciding whether to take a break from training or keep pushing on? If you are a triathlete, should you be focussing on your swimming, running or cycling in your recovery?

A good training program is expertly tailored to gradually increase training intensity and duration to prepare you for your big event. But when the event is over, you are often left to your own devices. What should you be doing to maintain your fitness and stay in the game until you decide on your next goal?

There are two training principles that we need to consider when looking at post-event training: overtraining and reversibility. We need to get the right balance between these two principles to ensure we maintain our fitness to keep us in the game whilst ensuring our bodies have enough time to rest and recover.

Following a well designed training programme should gradually increase your training load up until your event, to ensure peak performance is achieved on race day. However, it is unrealistic to expect our bodies to continue training at this intensity for a prolonged period of time after the event.

Continuing to train your body at high intensity post event will lead to overtraining. Your body needs time to rest and recuperate following the increased stress that was placed on it before your event. Pushing on after the event can make your body more susceptible to injuries, having a longer term impact on future training and performance.

Other signs of overtraining may be elevated resting heart rate, poor sleep quality, muscle soreness and even a decrease in performance. Therefore, when considering your training programme post event, ensure that you allow sufficient time for rest to allow your body to physically recover from the stress of race day and take a mental break too. But should you stop training completely?

This is where the second training principle of 'reversibility' comes into play and explains why it is not normally wise to completely stop training at the end of your season. Reversibility says that any fitness gained can also be lost and will start to be lost as soon as you stop training. As a very rough rule of thumb, your fitness is lost at three times the rate at which it is gained. That means if you have been training for 9 months for your event you could pretty much be back to square one if you stop training for 3 months!

Keep training in your off season but keep it light and fun!

But there are some subtleties to this. Certainly if you have been training in a sport for many years you do seem to retain more fitness and get it back more quickly again. If you are a triathlete with a long background in one or two of the three disciplines, this is something to consider for your off-season.

UK Head Coach Adam Young: I know from my own experience as an athlete how this is the case. As a child I used to run cross country competitively and then a little later got into cycling, riding through school and university. I'm now well into my 40s but if I stop bike or run training for a while I always seem to retain some residual fitness, and quite quickly get back up to speed when I start training again. But with swimming it feels very different. I didn't swim at all as a child and only properly started swim training when I got into triathlon aged 26. If I stop swim training now, my fitness very quickly drops down to nearly zero and it takes a long period of consistent swimming to build it back up again. For me it's really important to keep some swimming training going at all times, even if ticking over at a low level in the off season.

Adam competing at Ironman France

So when considering your training plan post triathlon season, you might want to back off your strongest disciplines where you have the most training background but keep a little more going in your weaker event. This gives you a physical and mental break but leaves you best placed to start training again for next season.

Swim Smooth!

Another Great Stretch To Bring Your Body Position Up In The Water

How often do you make time in your schedule for stretching sessions? Daily, weekly, monthly or even less? When delicately juggling the balance between work, family and your exercise routine, stretching sessions are normally the first to drop to the bottom of your priority list. Most people state lack of time as the main reason for not including stretching sessions in their exercise programmes. But the question is, what impact is this having on your swimming?

Check out this image of five time Olympic Gold medallist Ian Thorpe:

You can see the full extent of the "body bend" that is required to extend the lead arm forwards in front of him while still keeping his hips and legs high near the surface. This is all down to the large degree of flexibility that Ian has in his upper and lower back, shoulders and lats.

Note when you try and get into this position yourself, you are not consciously thinking about bending through the body (or you could easily end up snaking laterally through the water). Instead you are simply aiming to extend forwards beneath the surface whilst keeping the legs high.

Without good flexibility, when extending forwards into this position with the lead arm, your body and legs will be pushed lower into the water:

As adult swimmers it's unlikely we'll ever get to the level of flexibility that elite swimmers such as Ian have in their upper body but even small improvements will bring the legs higher and so give you significant gains in speed and efficiency.

Way back in 2011 we posted here about a simple hip flexor stretch to bring your legs higher in the water: and in this post we're going to introduce another key stretch to bring you similar results:

The Mermaid Stretch 

For our variation of the Mermaid stretch you will need to sit on the floor and position your legs such that the sole of one foot rest above the knee of the other leg:

If you find this leg position uncomfortable then release the knee and let it slide up the other calf a little.

Hold a towel, or even better a theraband in both your hands and raise above your head. Apply a light tension to the towel or band and lean over towards your outer foot, as demonstrated here by our new Community Manager Myffy (welcome to the team!!):

You should feel the stretch run all the way down your tricep, through your lat, your side and down to your hip. Take long, controlled breaths during the stretch.

This is a powerful stretch so only apply gentle pressure and stop right away if you experience any back or shoulder pain.

If you are nice and flexible (like Myffy above), then you can increase the power of the stretch by pressing the arms further apart, applying more tension to the band.

Without moving your legs, also stretch to the side away from your legs. This will feel significantly easier:

Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat two or three times to each side.

Whilst we can’t promise this stretch will have you swimming as fast as Ian Thorpe, we can promise that an improvement in flexibility will definitely improve your freestyle stroke!

Also see our dry land training programmes in the Swim Smooth Guru to increase your flexibility and further finesse your freestyle stroke:

Swim Smooth!

Sarah Thomas' Incredible Feat of Endurance

You've probably read in the news about an incredible swim that took place this week:

Starting in the early hours of Sunday morning, Sarah Thomas from Colorado battled through the harsh currents, weather and cold water to break a new world record by swimming four times non-stop across the English Channel! That's 209km, 54 hours and (only!) 1 jellyfish sting - a truly astounding achievement!

Considering your own long distance swim? Would just like to improve your stamina a bit in the pool? Distance swimming is both physically and mentally demanding. Sarah Thomas claimed that ‘every length had something hard about it’. Therefore, both physical and mental preparation is key to ensuring success in these type of events.

You can read Sarah's full race report here.

The English Channel did not make life easy for Sarah with each lap presenting a new challenge to overcome. In the first and second lap, nausea set in and eventually led to sickness. Despite this, Sarah's mental strength shone through. Her goal, in the darkness of the second lap was to keep swimming and 'make it through until daylight'. After the turnaround, the sickness escalated and was now a certainty after every feed. The crew on the boat were instructed that if the sickness didn't subside, Sarah would have to be pulled out of the water. Unaware of the severity of the situation, Sarah was given anti-sickness tablets in her next feed and carried on swimming, 'daydreaming about being dry, warm and asleep'!

With the sickness under control, the final challenge (if there wasn't enough already!) in lap four presented itself - the early change of tides. Sarah was instructed by her pilot to crab across the current with the hopes of breaking free to the other side. As you would expect from Sarah, she did it, but at the cost of a huge time delay. Fortunately, she had support in the water from her friends, Craig, Elaine and Karl, in the final 4 hours of the challenge. She even managed to sprint to the finish and was welcomed on the shores by crowds, champagne and M & Ms! Sarah describes it as one of the hardest mental challenges she has ever overcome - "I wanted to quit - and had good reason to do so. Yet, somehow, my crew gave me the strength to keep going!" Her focus, determination and perseverance throughout the swim is incredibly inspiring and highlights the importance of mental control during long distance events.

Sarah Thomas had her crew supporting her the whole way - even at the end!

Swim Smooth’s Paul Newsome has first hand experience of the mental challenge of long distance swimming as he took on the challenge of swimming the channel himself in 2011 and since then has completed several other long distance swimming events. How did Paul prepare for this and keep motivated during the whole event?

Paul immediately before starting his channel crossing in 2011.

Paul: I think the most important thing about a long distance marathon swim is to break it down into much smaller component parts. Whilst Sarah had the goal of swimming 4 laps of the Channel (unprecedented in the history of the sport), on the day, I’m very doubtful if she would have allowed herself to think that far ahead.

If you’ve ever swum for 1hr continuously you’ll know how daunting and challenging that is. Imagine getting to the 1hr mark and someone telling you you still have another 53h10m to go! Psychologically that would be hugely difficult to deal with, but if the goal were just to swim for another 30 minutes until your next feed, then suddenly that starts to become more manageable, such that, rather than thinking too much about the stress and strain of what your imminent future holds, you can try to remain in the present and even break it down so granular as to just visualise keeping each stroke balanced smooth and efficient in that particular moment.

Whenever I’ve personally thought too far ahead I’d get daunted by the challenge and start to lose motivation, but I can specifically recall when swimming 46km or 28.5 miles around New York (where I am right now), all I was saying to myself was “bubble-bubble-breathe” (seriously!) and eventually this became “just focus, stay focused now, concentrate, concentrate, concentrate” when I eventually took the lead at 2.5hrs in and went on to win the race.
It gets very lumpy in the middle of the channel!

Giving yourself or your swimmers something simple to focus on here and now in the present is absolutely essential to stop that drift of focus into the “what if” future. When we swam around Manhattan, Adam clocked my initial stroke rate as 88-90spm which I knew in training wasn’t sustainable, but I knew 81spm was. As soon as he fed me back this data, the next 30 minutes was all about falling back into this predetermined feeling and gaining confidence that, whatever happens to the other competitors, I know that this is what I can personally sustain. So I doubled down on that and eventually it all came good.

Sarah's swim from her GPS data: England -> France -> England -> France -> England!

I would imagine that Sarah knew exactly what pace she could hold and dialled into that. This is evidenced by the fact that, acknowledging her favourable conditions on the day, the first 3 GPS traces describe a very similar sine curve pathway, indicating that she was getting pushed equally left and right (east and west) with the changing of the tides as she progressed forwards. In lap 4 (which no one has ever done before), she starts to drift a lot more left and right with the tide indicating that her speed has dropped considerably, but when you turn around for your 4th lap after 37hrs and face the impossible or literally the final frontier where no person has gone before (for you Star Trek fans) then this is to be expected. She’s essentially been swimming for 2 continuous days at this point without sleep and so it’s no wonder that she would slow down. The point is that she made it through and it was all that savvy pacing, focus and will power in the first 3 crossings that enabled the impossible to become possible. Truly amazing stuff!

If you are interested in completing your own long distance challenge (in the pool or open water) head to our Long Aerobic Interval sessions on the SwimSmooth Guru, designed specifically to physically and mentally prepare you for long distance open swims.

If your goals are a little bit more modest then what can we take from Sarah's stunning achievement? Well perhaps take inspiration from this extreme display of endurance and push your own regular swim sessions a little bit longer. Swimming 2km right now? How about a 4km challenge this weekend? If that's too easy, perhaps even 6 or 7km? Sometimes the barriers in place are more mental than physical - give it a shot and when you're feeling a little tired, stay in the moment, ask yourself can I do one more stroke, and then one more lap, and then one more 100...?

Swim Smooth!

Why Do Elite Swimmers Recover Over The Water Like This?

If you've watched elite swimmers in the pool you might well have noticed they often recover over the surface of the water and angle their hands back behind them like this:

In fact our freestyle animation Mr Smooth also does the same as he swims:

If you noticed this you might have wondered why and if you should try and do the same?

The reason elite swimmers get their hand in this position (either consciously or unconsciously) is that they have been coached to swim using a classical high elbow arm recovery over the surface of the water:

This certainly looks pretty but with the forearm becoming so vertical, they run the risk of the hand hitting the surface of the water as they swim (as if performing old-school finger-trail drill). The backward angle of the hand gives them more clearance so they don't drag on the surface.

A high elbow recovery could be the right thing for you in the pool if your upper back and shoulders are flexible enough to achieve it. However in open water, where the water is much more disturbed, you run the risk of catching your hand, which would slow you down:

Far better in open water to use a slightly straighter arm recovery and bring the hand up and over more. This is why you see elite swimmers and triathletes swimming like this:

Even if you swim in a perfectly flat lake, the surface very quickly gets disturbed by other swimmers. In fact you can see this in both images above, the swimmers are moving through quite flat water but immediately around them it's turned to mush.

So, if you are a triathlete or open water swimmer, don't focus on developing a classical high elbow recovery because it will be a major hindrance when you are in open water. A loose relaxed high recovery is better, as we can see demonstrated by super-fish elite triathlete Richard Varga here:

You can study Richard's stroke in full in the Swim Smooth Guru here (subscription required):

As you'd expect, our Miss Swinger animation shows this higher open water recovery style:

So should you swim this way all the time? All year round? In a word - yes! It's the right habit to get into for open water and it works perfectly well for pool swimming too. And, if like many adults you are a little tight in the upper back or shoulders, you'll find it makes for a more relaxed recovery that feels easier to perform.

Here's Swim Smooth Coach Fiona Ford practising this with her London triathlon squad:

Swim Smooth!

Still Trying To Glide? Check Out These Two Images

Who are the greatest female and male swimmers of all time? Undoubtably Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps with 28 Olympic and 42 World Championship gold medals between them!

Check out these two underwater images of them at the same point in their freestyle strokes. They are both finishing one stroke at the rear and visibly starting to tip the fingertips downwards to start the next stroke at the front:

Why is that significant? Because in a single image for each, we can see that neither of these GOAT swimmers is gliding - there is no perceptible pause between one stroke finishing and the next starting. Both Katie and Michael are smoothly transitioning from one stroke to the next down the lap.

Despite our best efforts, there are (still!) many swimming coaches and coaching programs on the internet teaching swimmers to pause-and-glide when they swim. This is a massive mistake as water is 800 times more dense than air and by pausing in your stroke you instantly decelerate before having to reaccelerate on the next stroke. An incredibly inefficient and ineffective way to swim!

When you watch elite swimmers on TV they often look like they are gliding forwards through the water but this is an optical illusion brought about by the length of their strokes. The fact is they achieve that length through good streamlining and a great catch and pull technique, not by gliding.

You should follow the same philosophy in your own swimming, work on your stroke technique by improving your body position, becoming more streamlined and developing a good propulsion technique - transitioning smoothly and continuously from one stroke to the next.

Whether you are coached or self-taught, by actively trying to glide you are artificially lengthening the stroke - putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

Also see our classic posts:

Curing The Overglider:

Case Study: Scott The Extreme Overglider 5 Years On:

Swim Smooth Analysis: 2013 Barcelona World Championships:

Swim Smooth!

Why Are Women Better At Kicking Than Men?

If you've performed kick sets in the pool you might well have noticed how women tend be much better at kick sets than men. Of course there are exceptions to this but it more often that not holds true across a spectrum of adult swimmers. Why is that?

There are two main reasons:

1. Flexibility In The Hips, Ankles And Feet

Last week on the blog we posted this image of a female swimmer showing good kicking technique:

This is actually the amazing Lucy Charles-Barclay, an elite swimmer turned pro triathlete who holds the swim record at the Hawaii Ironman.

Compare this to our age group swimmer:

The difference is his body position is immediately obvious but notice how stiff his ankles are in comparison to Lucy's such that he can't easily point his toes.

Also notice how tight he is in the hip flexors in comparison, bringing the knee forward and down in the water:

Of course this comparison is a little unfair as Lucy is an elite athlete with a decade of competitive swim training behind her but these differences commonly bear out between male and female adult swimmers. Whilst men can be stronger than women this also tends to come with much less flexibility, and as we can see here this is bad news for their swimming.

So if you are a man (or indeed a woman) in this position, what can you do? Perform regular gentle stretching of course and slowly loosen off those tight areas. As you'd expect, the Swim Smooth Guru contains a full stretching routine to achieve just that (subscription required):

2. Q-Angle And Toe In

A second key difference between men and women is the natural angle of the feet and hips.

When we kick we want the toes to be turned inwards:

This toe-in position (also commonly called being "pigeon toed") increases the effectiveness of the kick. Many women naturally revert to being pigeon toed when they are not thinking about it (e.g. when standing) whilst the default position for men tends to be toed-out:

Partly that's due to women's better flexibility in their hips, knee and ankles but it also comes from the fact that women tend to have wider hips and so the legs naturally angle inwards towards the feet creating natural toe-in. In the jargon this inwards convergence is known as Q angle and on average women's Q angle is 4.6 degrees more than men's*.

Of course there's not much you can do about the width of your hips but when you swim you can focus on what your feet are doing and where they are angled. If you think about turning your feet in and brushing the big toes as they pass you'll be in a good toe-in position. Maintain this focus even whilst you are breathing to the side (when you may find your legs have a tendency to separate):

But Does Your Kick Really Matter?

You might well have heard that as an adult swimmer you should be looking to develop nearly all of your propulsion from your arm stroke and very little from your legs. Your arm stroke being a far more efficient and effective way of creating forward drive.

At Swim Smooth we certainly agree with this - as an adult swimmer the main purpose of your leg kick is to lift you high in the water (reducing the drag of your body) with minimum effort and with minimum drag introduced by the kick itself.

So if you are bad at kicking (from the reasons given above) does it matter? Actually yes it does because not only will making these improvements give you a little propulsion from your kick but much more importantly they will also lift you higher in the water with less effort and reduce drag from the kick itself.

In other words, improving your flexibility and kicking technique is sure to make you a better swimmer - not just during kick sets.

Swim Smooth!


Five Ways Fins Can Improve Your Swimming (Without Using Them For Drills)

Perhaps the single best tool you can buy to help you develop your freestyle swimming is a good pair of swimming fins (also commonly called flippers). Swimming with fins gives you extra propulsion and support in the water, allowing you to focus on developing a particular area of the stroke much more easily.

Elite swimmers use fins for "overspeed work", allowing them to swim faster and really work their kick hard in doing so. For that reason they often use short "zoomer" style fins:

Whilst short fins fit more easily in your swim bag, generally we don't recommend them for age-group adult swimmers as they don't provide enough propulsion for most adults and their stiffness can place unnecessarily stress on your ankles.

Instead, we recommend a longer rubber fin such as the Finis Floating Fins:
These are long enough to provide good propulsion but the rubber is highly flexible, reducing the pressure on your ankle joint. You can see them in our swim shop here:

(Note you might have a pair of long plastic diving/scuba fins in the back of the cupboard but these are best avoided as they will be very stiff and place a lot of stress on your ankles.)

Using Fins To Improve Your Swimming

Fins are probably most famously used for performing Swim Smooth drills such as 6-1-6, Broken Arrow and Javelin. However, even without performing any specific drills there are some great benefits you can gain from swimming with fins during your sessions, especially for relatively new swimmers.

Here's five benefits:

1. Practise Breathing Bilaterally

As we discussed here breathing every 3 strokes (bilateral breathing) is hugely beneficial to your stroke but many find it challenging at first. Breathing every 3 becomes considerably easier with the support of the fins whilst you adapt to it.

Use fins to practise bilateral breathing the next time you swim but don't overkick with the fins on (it's tempting) or you'll burn a lot of oxygen and place pressure back on your breathing. Focus on a nice smooth exhalation into the water and kick gently but with a nice rhythm.

2. Keep Your Head Low When You Breathe

If you are quite new to swimming and feel you are still working on the basics of freestyle, then it's likely you are lifting your head clear of the water to breathe:

Doing this causes you to press down on the water with your lead arm (losing you propulsion) and it lifts the whole front end of your body up, sinking your legs (adding lots of drag).

Instead you should keep your head low when you breathe and use the trough of the bow-wave to find air:

The support from the fins will help you develop this technique as it can feel strange and disconcerting at first. You'll be moving quicker with the fins on too which makes the bow wave bigger and easier to access.

Find out more about bow wave breathing here:

3. Kick With A Straighter Leg

Many adult onset swimmers bend their knee excessively when they swim:

This sinks the legs low in the water and burns a lot of oxygen and energy.

Instead you should kick more from the hip with a straighter leg, keeping a slight softness at the knee to allow a small amount of bend:

The good news is that swimming full stroke freestyle with fins naturally pushes you into a straighter leg position. Swimming steady paced freestyle with your fins on for 200 to 400m allows you to get the feel of a better leg kick technique.

4. Gently Stretch Your Ankles

Not only do fins help you keep a straighter leg when you kick, they also push your feet into a straighter (plantar flexed) position:

This reduces drag and helps bring the legs higher in the water.

As discussed above, stiff plastic fins will force you into this position aggressively, so are best avoided. However a pair of soft rubber fins will apply a light stretch and gently increase your ankle mobility over time. After a few months of regular use (little and often) your ankles will be better able to achieve a good kicking position.

5. Experience "Overspeed"!

Just like elite swimmers by swimming with fins you too can experience moving through the water significantly faster than your normal pace. This helps you feel the water better, get an appreciation of streamlining your body more effectively and helps you develop a sense of "purpose" to your stroke.

Overspeed work should only be performed for short distances (perhaps 50 to 100m at a time) but if you feel a bit "one paced" in your stroke it can help you break out of that rut to faster swimming.

But What If My Pool Won't Allow Fins?

In some countries around the world (notably the UK) it is common for pools to not allows fins in public lanes. If you're in this predicament then it's well worth asking the pool staff if there is a session during the week where fins are allowed - perhaps an evening sessions with adult-only lanes. If not then ask your pool manager to create one.

For those pools that have a blanket ban in place then it's well worth travelling a little further once a week to find a pool where they do allow fins - they really are that beneficial to your development in the water!

Swim Smooth!

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