Stop Breathing For A While!

If you have a problem with your freestyle stroke, it is most likely to appear when you go to breathe. For instance you might cross over at the front of your stroke, bend through your core or drop your wrist, all of which hurt your catch. It's only natural to focus on your breath and getting that air in - it feels very important - but this shift in mental focus away from your stroke to your breathing often introduces or worsens stroke flaws.

These movements become a habit when you breathe which hurts your speed and economy through the water. Here's a way of breaking those habits and bringing them to your attention so you realise what you are doing:

Short Technique Swims Breathing Less Often

Normally we'd ask swimmers to breathe bilaterally every 3 strokes (counting both arms). Instead, in these special breathing sets we ask swimmers to breathe every 5 or 7 strokes over short distances. Swimmers who are good at this sometimes go to breathing every 9 strokes.

Here are two example sets to try (insert these in your drill sets):

1) Repeat 3x 200m with fins at steady pace (kick only gently). Over each 200m swim 50m breathing every 3 strokes then 50m breathing 5s then 50m breathing 7s then 50m breathing 3s.

2) Swim 3x 100m breathing 3, 5 and 7s in turn - so first breath after 3 strokes, second after 5 more, third after 7 more, then back to 3 strokes.

Why do this? In these sets you perform many more 'good clean strokes' without the distraction of breathing. By focusing on smooth, well aligned strokes you dial in those good movement patterns. Then when you go to breathe you have a much better chance of holding good form - and of feeling the change in movement if you do introduce a flaw.

Aside: In years gone by swim coaches used to ask their swimmers to breathe less often - they believed the oxygen starvation made their swimmers fitter. This was known as hypoxic training. This is NOT what we are doing here - this is technique work not fitness training. You will normally feel a little short of breath doing these sets but that's OK, don't push it too far - it's not supposed to hurt. Keep exhaling long and slow into the water to get rid of the CO2 and focus on perfect smooth strokes.

If this sounds really tough to you still give it a go! For short distances it's not as hard as it sounds. Just relax, swim at a steady pace and enjoy perfect strokes without the distraction of breathing.

This method is just one of the subtle ways we work to improve your stroke in our highly regarded training plans: - They're the perfect mix of training and technique!

Swim Smooth!

Why Kick On Your Side?

Kicking on your side drills are normally performed with fins, with your lower arm extended out in front of you and the upper arm resting by your side. Your shoulders and your hips are fully rotated onto the side with both at 90° to the bottom of the pool. In this position, gently kick with the fins to push you down the pool.

There are 3 reasons why kicking on your side is very good for your freestyle:

1) You become accustomed to being on your side, making rotation more comfortable in your full stroke. Good rotation adds power and efficiency to your swimming.

2) You can practise getting in a good arm and hand position before you start the stroke. Do this by holding your elbow slightly higher than your wrist and your wrist slightly higher than your fingertips. Make sure you have a flat hand, don't bend at the knuckles.

This setup position is great for improving your catch and feel for the water - increasing your propulsion for the same effort. Don't underestimate how important this setup position is if you want to swim faster!

3) You get the feel of holding your body straight in the water and holding your lead arm straight out in front, this is especially useful for removing cross-overs at the front end of your stroke.

Tip: Whilst kicking along on your side, you can briefly raise your head slightly and look forwards, check you arm is extended straight and your hand is in that cocked wrist position.

Two classic Swim Smooth drills employing kicking on your side are 6-1-6 and 6-3-6. If you have the Swim Smooth DVD Boxset or used one of our training programs you'll be familiar with them. Insert some 6-1-6 and 6-3-6 in your drill sets and you'll be on the pathway to faster, more efficient swimming.

Swim Smooth!

Shelley Taylor Smith: Stop And Think, Who’s On My Team?

Today we have a special guest who many of you will be familiar with. Shelley Taylor Smith is an open water swimming legend – a 7 time World Champion and 5 time winner of the mighty 48km Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Known for her mental toughness and fearsome competitiveness, she’s an inspirational figure to us and many other swimmers round the world.

Shelley’s from Western Australia and Swim Smooth are lucky to have her swimming regularly with us in our squads in Perth. Since retiring from elite swimming, Shelley’s turned her energies towards becoming a hugely successful motivational speaker and coach. We twisted her arm for some of her secrets on the mental side of swimming - here’s our first instalment from Shelley, we hope to have her back again very soon.

Swim Smooth!

Hi everyone! Here’s a strategy I used to great success throughout my swimming career, I wouldn’t have achieved what I did without assembling a great group of people around me. I would always think "who's on my team?" :

The most profound influence from the "outer world" is most certainly OTHER PEOPLE.

The people you allow into your life and who you spend the most time with, are the greatest external factors to the direction your life will take. Yes, external influences are that powerful.

It is known that you will be the combined average of the 5 people you spend the most time with; you will have the combined lifestyle, health practices, thinking processes, expectations and income.

Think about it. Whatever is consistently entering your experience ends up becoming your reality. Similarly, whoever is consistently in your experience is bringing dominate thoughts, attitudes and actions to your reality.

Who we spend our time with determines what conversations dominate our attention and the observations, attitudes and opinions we are repetitively being introduced to.
Eventually, we start to eat what they eat, talk like they talk, read what they read, watch what they watch, treat people how they treat people, even dress like they dress and think like they think. All the while this may not even be a conscious transition.

Your associations don't shove you in a direction; they nudge you ever so slightly over time.

Have you ever been out to eat with a group of people who are more health conscious than you might normally be? Did you find yourself compelled to order something a little more healthy than normal? That is the power of associations; you were influenced to match their "stride".

Unfortunately the same compulsion is true if you go out to eat with a group and everyone orders multiple drinks, heavier foods, deserts etc. Even though you will try your best to be a maverick, over time you will slowly but surely start "matching" their stride as well. This is true of attitudes, expectations, perspectives, beliefs, opinions, etc – in every area of your life. Even the most self-contained individual is subconsciously lured into the grip of associations' influence.
shelley and dawn fraser
But what can we learn from this as swimmers? Well, is there someone that you train with that carries a lot of negativity with them? Someone always looking on the downside or doubting themselves? Even a coach or group leader who has a negative approach or an elitist attitude? If so, seriously consider changing your training routine to free yourself from this negative influence. Like it or not if you're in the presence of this person, they're on your team!

Or, do you know someone you admire who is the athlete you aspire to be? Or someone who has the positive approach or dedication you’d love to have? One great thing about pool swimming is that you might not be as quick as another swimmer but you can be in the same lane or pool and pick up on their positivity and dedication. Ask them for tips or advice, even ask them what their secret is – a few flattering words will pull them in closer, and increase their positive influence on you.

If you’re looking for a training squad or group, make sure you observe the coach or group leaders in action. How do they talk to their swimmers? What’s their approach to motivation? Consider this as important as their technical knowledge as a coach. Remember everyone you train with is on your team - pick your team carefully and they'll start to rub off on you!

Final word from Coach Shelley:
1. Observe the relationships around you. Pay attention.
> Which ones lift and which ones lean?
> Which ones encourage and which ones discourage?
> Which ones are on a path of growth uphill and which ones are going downhill?
> When you leave certain people do you feel better or feel worse?
> Which ones always have drama or don’t understand, know or appreciate you?

2. Seek relationships with quality, respect, growth, peace of mind, love & truth around you.
> List the people around you who possess these attributes and more?
> What qualities do they possess that you both admire and aspire to emulate?
> They are your ‘balcony people’ your Champion team who will cheer you on..
> They will be your witness as you declare yourself and your dreams!

Shelley Taylor-Smith, 7-time World Marathon Swimming Champion, Self-Motivation Teacher, Success and Performance Coach. In need of motivation, inspiration, education or a kick in the pants to get you fired up for the year ahead? …then log on at and receive the fortnightly Champion Motivations ezine…full of tips and tools to boost your self confidence and energise for success!

The Conveyor Belt Visualisation

Here’s a neat visualisation to help you remove deadspots from your stroke.

Deadspots normally lie right at the front of the stroke, the lead hand gliding in a stationary 'dead' position for a period of time causing the swimmer to slow down between strokes. Not only do you lose speed here but many stroke problems occur in this dead period, such as dropped elbows and wrists – adding drag and ruining your feel for the water.

Problem: Swimmers can find it hard to co-ordinate removing these deadspots, when they try they often end up accelerating every other phase of their stroke but leave the deadspot in place!

If you’re in that situation here’s a little tip to help you, we call it 'The Conveyor Belt Visualisation'. Imagine you are swimming over a conveyor belt in the water (you could also think of it as a treadmill):

What you have to do is simple, try and keep one arm stroke on the conveyor at all times – so as one stroke finishes at the back you begin catching the water at the front. As you do this try and stay relaxed and find a new rhythm, there will be a temptation to swim harder but this isn’t necessary. In fact, as you remove the deadspot and become more efficient, you can reduce the effort in your stroke a little to swim at the same speed – great!

Use the conveyor belt visualisation as a drill to practise a new improved stroke timing. Depending on your individual stroke and style, the 'conveyor stroke' may be too extreme for you to be comfortable swimming over longer distances – you might need a very small delay between finishing at the back and starting at the front. That’s OK as long as that lead hand never stops and pauses – it’s always in motion: either extending forwards with your body roll, gently initiating the catch by tipping the fingertips over and bending the elbow or pulling backwards on the water. If you watch him closely, this is how Mr Smooth swims.

We've opened a thread to discuss and asks questions about this blog post in our forum here:

Swim Smooth!

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