Swim Smooth are today very proud to announce our new coaching DVD: Catch Masterclass. Two years in the making, Catch Masterclass is packed with all of Swim Smooth's insightful video, drills, visualisations and techniques to improve your propulsive power and efficiency:

catch masterclass

The catch phase of the freestyle stroke is very elusive for most swimmers. If you don't fully understand how to generate good propulsion from this critical phase of the stroke, or you need to take your swimming to the next level, then this DVD is for you.

Many swimmers focus on reducing their drag in the water and whilst this is very important, if you compromise your propulsion in doing so you will soon hit a plateau or even become slower. Don't let this happen to you - use Catch Masterclass to develop your propulsive technique and become a much faster, more efficient swimmer as a result.

In the DVD we clearly explain what a great catch technique looks like and show you three champion swimmers employing the same great catch mechanics within their individual stroke style. After explaining where you might have gone wrong up until now, we give you all the methods, drills and visualisations for introducing a great catch technique to your own stroke.

The Catch Masterclass is suitable for any swimmer or triathlete who can swim freestyle. Find out more and view the trailer: here

Special offer: Until the 10th January we're shipping this DVD (and also our DVD Boxset) anywhere in the world for free!

Some stills from Catch Masterclass:

Paul Newsome takes you through the Catch Masterclass.
jono van hazel
Discover Jono's super-smooth secrets.
Instant pop-ups help make demonstrations real.
Shelley Taylor Smith - still the best.
new drills
New drills.
paul and lisa
Putting the Masterclass into practise yourself.
doggy paddle
Clearly understand the key focus of each drill.
Warning: DVD may contain images of extremely bright swimsuits.
Understand how Jono swims sub-50 seconds for 100m.
unco rhythm
Advanced level drills to perfect your rhythm and timing.
Avoiding common pitfalls.
Different stroke styles, same great catch mechanics.
Dryland conditioning.
Every angle covered leaving no question unanswered.
challenge stadium
Sorry, swimming pool not included.

Wishing you a fantastic 2011,

Swim Smooth!

The Most Common Mistake Swimmers Make

Over the festive season you may have a little time to think about and plan your swim training for the next few months. Be careful though, you could well be about to make a fundamental and incredibly common mistake - that of 'heading to the extremes'. For instance you could plan to:

- Only do technique work and no fitness training (or vice versa)

- Swim only with a pull buoy and/or paddles

- Focus purely on short sprints to develop your speed

- Aim to make your stroke as long as you possibly can

- Increase your stroke rate as high as you possibly can

- Only swim in the open water (one for our Southern Hemisphere athletes)

- Stop working on your water skills completely

We understand the temptation to take a 'one track only' approach to develop your swimming - all the coaches at Swim Smooth have been, or are currently, competitive swimmers or triathletes and have made these mistakes ourselves in the past. Unfortunately heading to the extremes like this very very rarely works out for the better. The people that become very fast efficient swimmers devote a portion of their training to areas of weakness but keep all the balls in the air with a well balanced all-round program.

If we were designing your swim program for the New Year it would include:

- The right technique work focused on your individual needs (e.g. see our Swim Type system)

- Some hard training, some longer aerobic sets and some lighter recovery sessions where you'll adapt to the hard work you're putting in.

- The use of fins during drills to gradually develop your hip flexor and ankle flexibility without having to do dedicated kick sets. Fins also help develop your kicking technique - in fact we do very few kick sets with a board here in Perth.

- If you plan to race in open water next year then we'd include drafting, sighting, pacing and mass start simulations in your pool sessions. Yes, we would keep practising this even in the off season because these skills are hard to perfect and can easily take minutes off your race times all by themselves. They're also a lot of fun and provide variety in your training.

- A focus on pacing skills - another critical aspect of your swimming technique as a distance swimmer.

- Combine these aspects into single sessions to make things more time efficient - for instance a session combining open water skills with fitness and pacing work.

- Keep it fun but be as consistent as you can with your training.

From everyone on the Swim Smooth team we'd like to thank you for all your feedback and messages of support in 2010, it's been a pleasure working with you. We've got a lot of exciting things in the pipeline for 2011 which we know you're going to love. Here's wishing you a fantastic Christmas break and a very Smooth New Year!


Swim Smooth!

Ross Davenport: What You Should (And Shouldn't) Try And Emulate About His Stroke

On our recent Coach Education Course in Loughborough, UK, we met up with Ross Davenport, double Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist, to have a good look at his stroke and understand what makes him so quick in the water. Ross has a classic elite swimmer's build, he's very tall and broad with long arms:

As you might expect, when racing Ross has a long stroke taking about 36 strokes per length in a 50m pool or 14 strokes per length in a 25m pool. To investigate his stroke make-up, we asked Ross to kick 100m for us with a kick board:

His time? 1 minute 16 seconds - a very powerful and propulsive leg kick indeed! In his freestyle Ross uses this kick to push him along and lengthen out each stroke to create a long style that is very efficient for him. This is like yourself donning a long pair of fins/flippers and finding you can easily swim with a longer stroke, taking many fewer strokes per length.

Ross races 200m in around 1 minute 48 seconds and takes 36 strokes per 50m. Given his skill level and physical attributes he could easily swim this distance taking fewer strokes if he wanted but he would be less efficient and slower because that would mean overly-lengthening his stroke.

If you don't have Ross' skill level, flexibility, height and arm span - and you can't kick 100m in 1:16 - then trying to emulate his low stroke count might be a mistake. If you'd like to be a faster more efficient swimmer then target the others key things in Ross' stroke instead:

- great breathing technique
- a high body position
- good alignment in the water
- great catch and feel for the water
- a strong rhythm and timing

Get those basics right and you will start moving very quickly through the water - and your strokes per length figure will take care of itself. Don't let the tail wag the dog!

Swim Smooth!

A special thanks to Blue Seventy and to Ross for joining us in November.

Should You Perform The Other Three Strokes?

As a triathlete or distance swimmer looking to improve your freestyle, should you swim backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly sets in training?

Our answer is that it depends on how much you are swimming. If you're in the water up to three times per week then we think it's best to focus exclusively on freestyle to give you as much specific stroke and fitness work as possible. However, if you are swimming four or more times a week then a little variety is stimulating and the other three strokes are great for developing your feel for the water and your all round conditioning.

Saying that, if you're swimming mostly for health rather than specific race fitness, or enjoying some less focused off-season training, then introducing some non-freestyle sets is a great way to liven up your sessions.

Give Individual Medley (IM) a try too - this involves swimming all four strokes in succession without a break, normally in the order: fly-back-breast-free. This is pretty tough, so start with a set of 100s IM (25m of each stroke in turn) before attempting 200s (50m of each stroke) which are quite a bit harder!

With butterfly many swimmers struggle with getting their arms up over the surface of the water. Two quick tips on that: 1. Focus on an undulating rhythm through the core akin to doing a backwards and forwards hula-hoop at the hips. 2. When breathing lift your head early to inhale and then immediately dip your chin back down to your chest to continue the undulating action of the stroke.

Swim Smooth!

UNCO: The King Of Drills

Unco is a special drill which helps you develop the rhythm and timing of your stroke. We love Unco at Swim Smooth as it brings so many elements of the stroke together and forces you to time your catch, pull and body rotation correctly. You can even use it to polish up the timing of your breathing.

Australians love to shorten any word and put an 'o' on the end - in this case shortening 'uncoordinated' to make Unco. This probably tells you straight away that it is quite a challenging drill! We'd encourage any swimmer to give it a try but it is probably best suited and most beneficial for upper intermediate and advanced level swimmers. If you are a bit of an Overglider or have any deadspots or pauses in your stroke then give it a go, you'll find it really interesting.

Performing Unco

Unless you have an exceptionally propulsive kick, always use fins when performing Unco. It's a one arm drill, performed with one arm by your side whilst performing a full stroke with the other arm:







(sequence above taken from our forthcoming DVD "Catch Masterclass")

Breathe away from the stroking arm and breathe on every single stroke - even if you don't feel you need to - this helps drive your body rotation. We suggest you start with your right arm stroking and breathe to your left as shown in the pictures above. Once you get the hang of it you can swap sides every 25m or so.

The key to the drill is to make sure that you rotate your body fully to the dead side, ensuring that you dip your non-stroking arm and shoulder down into the water as shown in the last picture. The mantra of the drill is 'stroke and drip... stroke and dip...'. You will really have to emphasise dipping the dead shoulder into the water as there's no arms stroke on that side to help you. Get this right and your stroking arm will recover easily over the top of the water. However stay flat on that dead side and the arm recovery will be very tough!

If you struggle to coordinate the drill don't worry that's normal - in fact it's the whole idea and simply highlights that the timing of your stroke may need some work. When you get it right it should feel smooth and rhythmical.

Try 4x 100m with fins as: [ 25m left arm Unco + 25m right arm Unco + 50m freestyle swim + 20 seconds rest ]

You will feel the magic of Unco when you swim normal freestyle immediately after performing the drill. We recommend you perform a short swim every time following Unco, keeping the fins on and just feeling the rhythm and timing of the stroke. The improved smoothness and efficiency can be a revelation.

By the way, The Feel For The Blog has just exceeded thirty thousand subscribers, all since July last year! Thanks for reading, thanks for forwarding the posts to your friends and thanks to all our contributors. We've got some great material planned out for the coming months to keep you on an upward curve with your swimming and hopefully inspire you at the same time. Enjoy your time in the water!

Swim Smooth!

Counting Strokes Can Hurt Your Efficiency (And Your Shoulders)

At Swim Smooth we're not very interested in counting strokes over single laps. Firstly, your height, arm length and hand size has a huge influence on your stroke length and makes the outright number pretty meaningless. Secondly, it's too easy to fake a low stroke count over short distances. This week on the blog we're going to expand on that second point and discuss the dangers of focusing too much on counting strokes.

Every day we meet swimmers who can perform at a low stroke count over single laps but cannot sustain that count for further than 100m. If such a swimmer takes 16 strokes over the first lap, that will soon rise up to 20 or even 25 strokes per lap as they swim longer distances. It's not necessarily a problem swimming with a high number of strokes per lap but this deterioration in stroke count tells us that something is wrong.

Try this yourself: swim for 400m as efficiently as you can and count your strokes for the first 25m versus the last few laps. It's normal to lose 2-3 strokes per 25m from the beginning to the end of the 400m but 5+ is suggesting a problem and your stroke may well feel "like it's falling apart" to you. Remember, it's not the outright number we are looking at here but how consistent you can be over the 400m.

Conventional wisdom says that a swimmer who cannot sustain their strokes per length should keep practising over short distances with drills and short swims. This is a major mistake because this sort of technique work actually encourages you to develop a stroke which cannot be sustained over longer distances.

By overly working the shoulder muscles it's possible to make your stroke longer by actively gliding, however the shoulders are a small weak muscle group compared to those of the chest, back and core and tire very quickly if overused. As the shoulders start to tire your stroke shortens which harms your body rotation, resulting in that feeling of your stroke falling apart. This shortening of the stroke has nothing to do with coordination or control and everything to do with fatigue in this small group.

Over-reach and introduce a deadspot in your stroke and you are forced to push down on the water with a very straight arm, this isolates the shoulder muscles and overworks them:

Fatigue in the shoulder muscles is very deceptive - being such a small muscle group they don't elevate your heart rate or breathing very high when they are being overworked. For this reason your perception of effort is highly distorted when trying to make your stroke as long as possible. Sure, it feels easy to swim at a low stroke count for 25 or 50m but this doesn't mean your shoulders won't quickly tire.

If you find that you cannot sustain your stroke count over long distance swims then it's very likely that you are overly dependent on your shoulder muscles - which is symptomatic of introducing glide and deadspots to the stroke. To overcome this, work on improving your catch and feel for the water to remove the pauses from your stroke and simultaneously start using the larger muscle groups of the chest and back. You'll know when you start to get this right as you'll be able to sustain your stroke count over much longer distances.

We use catch setup, sculling and doggy paddle type drills to help swimmers make this change. All these drills and explanations are in our DVD Boxset but keep an eye out for our new DVD called 'Catch Masterclass' which we'll be releasing very soon. It features all new footage and explanations from our hi-def filming rig, showing you exactly how elite swimmers develop such great propulsion and how to introduce these changes into your own stroke.

Swim Smooth!

Behind Every Smooth There's a Gaggle Of Bloodsucking Swingers

If you're fortunate enough to be a Smooth Swim Type you may have a problem when swimming in open water. From your pool swimming background you've got the ability to go off fast and lead the race. In traditional pool based races this method always worked well for you and more often than not you led from start to finish.

Unfortunately in open water things can be a little different. For a start many of those guys with seemingly ungainly strokes who you can drop in the pool can be really very fast in more choppy open water conditions. These unrefined Swingers have a shorter faster stroke than yourself which helps them punch through the waves and chop from other swimmers at close quarters. Worse still, these guys are often very savvy about the benefits of drafting (up to a 38% energy saving) and have the sort of personality which enjoys the rough and tumble of swimming close to other swimmers. This pack of Swingers will love nothing more than seeing you going off fast and like a group of vultures will jump on your feet and get a free high speed ride (you can almost hear them cackling to themselves).

Our advice for Smooths swimming in open water is to learn to play the game: Become familiar with good sighting technique and practise your drafting skills. Sit in the pack and bide your time to unleash your devastating finish when it's needed. Don't be afraid to modify your stroke, experimenting with a higher arm recovery and a slightly shorter punchier style to power through waves and chop.

Swimming in open water is great fun and with your skill and technical ability you are more than capable of adapting to this new environment. In time you can learn to dominate it too, just watch out for those bloodsucking Swingers.

Swim Smooth!

(If this post didn't make any sense to you, you need to see our new Swim Type system: The power of Swim Types is that it helps you understand your individuality as a swimmer.)

We're Banning The Word *Slow* At Swim Smooth!

Thinking about your swimming in a positive way is so important. The Swim Smooth squads in Perth don't have a slow lane (and that's not because everyone is a world record holder, far from it). Instead we have a fast lane, a faster lane and a fastest lane! This is a small example of the positive psychology you can apply to your swimming.

Swimming is a fantastic sport for all offering you health, fitness and friendships. Just learning to swim freestyle is a challenge in itself and everybody feels outside their comfort zone every now and again - that's totally normal. Be determined and overcome these challenges and your self esteem and confidence will get a huge lift. Sure there's always going to be someone faster than yourself but that's no problem - welcome to the water!

Swim Smooth!

Your Middle Finger

If you have a tendency to crossover the centre line in your stroke, here's a useful visualisation. Try swimming thinking solely about the middle finger on each hand. As you enter the water and extend forwards think about keeping your middle finger pointing straight in front of the same shoulder, extending gun-barrel straight down the pool:

You may have been told to extend wider to correct a cross-over but we don't like this instruction as whilst it may help correct things in the very short term there's a real tendency to drift ever wider which will reduce your rotation and harm your catch. Instead of thinking wider, think straighter!

Two thirds of swimmers we work with have some degree of cross-over in their stroke - treat removing yours as a priority.

Swim Smooth!

Wetsuits and Body Position (HD Footage)

This week on Feel For The Water we have a very rare piece of video footage for you to watch, shot with our high definition filming rig in Perth.

In this fascinating clip we look at the difference in body position from using a wetsuit, a speedsuit, a pull buoy and normal bathers. As you watch this slow motion comparison, simply observe how much the wetsuit and pull-buoy enhance Pro Triathlete Scott Neyedli's body position. Watch the video: here

The clips are time synchronised, with Scott pushing off in all four corners simultaneously. Notice how much faster he finishes the lap with the wetsuit and then the speedsuit, clearly demonstrating the advantage of a higher body position to your speed in the water.


Swim Smooth!

Dreading Get Back In The Water?

We know that many of you northern hemisphere athletes have had a break at the end of your season and are worried about how unfit you're going to be on your return! If that's you, here's a short story from Paul Newsome, our Head Coach, about his recent return to the water:


Back in September 2009 we posted a brief article on the called "Six Is A Magic Number" where we discussed how six sessions are often needed to make a change to a technical aspect of your stroke that you are working on. What we didn't say is that this six-session-rule can also work for your fitness too - especially when coming back from a break!

I recently got my backside back into gear and I am currently swimming about 4 times per week. It all started a few months weeks ago, and trust me, it wasn't a pretty sight! I haven't really trained what I would call 'properly' since our baby Jackson came along 16 months ago but am now faced with just under 11 months of dedicated training for my English Channel Swim attempt on 5th September 2011. I've been through small doses of 'getting back into it again' along the way and did reasonably well with the Rottnest Duo swim with my wife Michelle in February.

Still, there always has to be a starting point for any of these ventures and quite often the first 4 to 6 sessions will feel pretty crummy it has to be said! I thought I'd share with you the sensations of what those first six sessions felt like but more importantly the goals I set myself for those sessions. Quite often the biggest thing holding you getting back into regular sessions is how hard you perceive those sessions will feel - much easier to just roll over in bed and go back to sleep! If we can learn to adjust our goals and expectations of ourselves in those first six sessions you'll find that you're very quickly back into the swing of things, and whilst the fitness might still need to catch up, you will at least be started and on a roll of motivation. So, don't panic about the content of the first sessions, the first step is always the hardest as they say!

So here are my notes on my return to swimming:

Session 1. Monday 5th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Really cold morning today. Decided to join Pete Tanham's Rottnest Solo squad at Challenge - a sure fire way to get me back into the swing of things! Session is normally 1.5hrs and 4.5 to 5km. I can only fit in 60 minutes on a Monday morning, so already I had decided that I wasn't going to push myself too hard. Decided to sit right at the back of the lane and not even look at the pace clock. Aimed to adopt an air of laziness to help tame my natural 'Arnie instincts' of being very competitive. Did wonders. Shoulders got a little tired after about 2km but just focused on relaxing in the water and not pushing too hard. The set was full of high-powered sprints but I decided to just dial it down a bit and literally just survive for 1 hour. Really happy after the session - not feeling great, but at least I could say that I'd started my campaign!

Session 2. Wednesday 7th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. From past experience I knew this was going to be the really tough session. Even after an extended break, your first session back can often feel OK and you can cheat yourself into believing that the lay-off didn't really do you any harm at all. However, just 48 hours after the first session, this 4.5km block including some sustained efforts over 200 to 300m and was sure to test me. With my shoulders still a little heavy from the first session, again I had to just tell myself that survival was the name of the game today and that I wouldn't be breaking any world records yet. Survived it and quite surprised that I'd lasted such a long session - very, very slow though!

Session 3. Thursday 8th July, 4.30pm, North Cottesloe Beach. I'd agreed (stupidly!) to meet up with Mark Scanlon (3rd place Rottnest Solo swimmer from 2008 and soon to be complete the English Channel Swim) for one of his late afternoon cold water adaptation swims. We were due to swim in the rough surf (actually, HUGE surf!) at Cottesloe Beach. I love these conditions normally but when I'm lacking fitness and Mark is totally on top of his game, I knew I could be in trouble! It was ~15 degrees and my first thought was not how cold it was, but how totally uncoordinated my arms were - they just didn't feel like mine! I wanted them to do things and be faster and better and more powerful but they just wouldn't work! I survived the 2km dash down to the groyne and back but that was me done. Quite despondent that I'd felt so bad and been so slow but had to tell myself it was only session number 3!

Paul in action, recent Swim Smooth / Blue Seventy photoshoot:

Session 4. Saturday 10th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Mark was doing his "recovery" 10km pool swim this morning so I decided to join him for the first hour with the aim of getting 3km in. As there were only a few of us this morning I decided that I'd really just focus on myself and develop some good rhythm and timing again that I felt I'd lacked in Thursday's swim. To do this I used a Wetronome in the 1000m warm-up set to a pace of 1:32 per 100m. This felt good, and whilst not fast for me, at least it helped give me a structured goal to work towards and to feel like I was pacing myself well. We then did 2 x 800m + 45s rest where I decided to test myself a little bit, totally unknowing as to whether I'd be able to hold my goal pace of 1:28 per 100m. The irony here is that prior to my Rottnest Solo swim in 2009, this was the pace which I would go on to be able to swim for the entire 20km across to Rottnest! I felt like I'd really accomplished something in this session, despite Mark lapping me on the 2nd 800m AND he was "just" doing a 10km recovery swim! That guy is on fire!!

Session 5. Monday 12th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Back with the Solo squad this morning and more focus today on technique. It's funny, but in order to really work on technique you need to at least have some semblance of fitness to support what you're doing. As such, this technique work came at the right time - I'd got myself back into a bit of flow, my confidence was (slowly) picking up but again I didn't want to push too hard so just did the first hour of their session. At the end of this session I felt quite positive that I would indeed have a good session by number 6 - was I right?!

Session 6. Wednesday 14th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Literally as soon as I hit the water today I knew I was going to have my best session yet. Sometimes you can just feel that - everything feels loose and relaxed and breathing feels easy. My confidence was up and I cannot believe that when Pete said we were going to do a 400m Time Trial today I was actually excited about the prospect of it! Weird, hey?! Gary Claydon expertly led our lane through the 400m and whilst I arguably got a bit of a tow from Gary I was happy to have swum 5'13" for the 400m. I predicted 5'15" (which is nearly a full minute slower than my P.B) but for now it'd have to do and was at least a starting point. A Time Trial is only ever a measure of where you're at right now, so never be afraid to try one and see where you're at - the stopwatch never lies!

Whatever your level of swimming, I hope this mini-diary helps motivate you to get back into the swing of swimming and training!



P.S My seventh session was a super test - in fact probably the most challenging swim I've ever done on minimal fitness - a 4.5km swim in the Swan River in 13 degrees of water - ouch! It was super cold. We were in for just over an hour, but reality hit home when I realised that I'd be looking for at least another 8 to 9 hours in the water in the English Channel in 14 months time in similar icy conditions. Here's to a load more doughnuts then and a load more miles in the arms!!

Training Session: "The Spike Set"

Here's a challenging little set which I like to use from time to time to see how I'm shaping up in the pool from a fitness perspective. It combines elements of both flat-out speed and sustainable endurance. It's a great set to do at any time of the year and one which will keep you on your toes. As you're constantly changing pace and watching the clock, the session will fly by. We like to call it the "Spike Set" and we believe the origins of this session can be traced back to Grant Hackett's coach, Dennis Cottrell.

Here goes:

WARMUP: 400m easy freestyle focusing on relaxed breathing technique, followed by 200m steady pull buoy focusing on good rotation through the hips and shoulders.

DRILLS: 4x 50m as Scull #1 (see here) for 15m followed by 35m freestyle. Take 10 sec rest between each 50m and preferably use a pull buoy to isolate the focus on the catch.


1. 12x or 16x 50m with every 4th 50m as a sprint. On the other 50m intervals all you have to do is swim fast enough to make the turn-around time. The selected turn-around time here should be your half of your 100m threshold pace + 5 seconds. i.e. if you can do 100m intervals in 1:50, half of this would be 55 sec + 5 sec = 60 sec. A swimmer doing 1:30 for their intervals would make their turn-around time 50 sec, etc. You don't need to be overly pedantic about this, just choose a time to start off which you think will give you about 3 to 5 seconds rest between each 50m when swimming at a good pace.

2. 9x or 12x 50m with every 3rd 50m as a sprint. This time add another 5s to your turn-around time from the previous set. This extra rest will be very welcome and will allow you to swim the sprints faster than the previous set.

3. 6x or 8x 50m with every 2nd 50m as a sprint. Again, add another 5s from Set #2.

4 Finally 3x or 4x 50m, sprint every one (!) with another 5s rest added onto Set #3.

Remember, for every 50m other than the sprints, you simply have to swim fast enough to make the turn around time.

Cool down with a few easy drills to bring your heart rate back down.

This set has something for every type of swimmer - those of you who are good at distance freestyle will relish the first set with the short recoveries between each 50m, whereas those of you with a little more raw power will like the added rest at the end of the set and the ability to then sprint faster, providing you haven't over-cooked it on the first set.

If you are in the northern hemisphere and feeling a few end of season blues, this is an excellent set to release some endorphins and feel great. Let us know how you go!

Shameless plug: there's plenty more sessions like this (and the perfect mix of technique work too) baked into our waterproof training plans: here)


Paul Newsome
Swim Smooth Head Coach

Try Aiming For 80% Not 100%

One problem with aiming for 100% perfection is that it tends to make you mechanical and rigid when you swim - so you lose touch with the rhythm of the stroke. It also means you try and over-ride rather than work-with your natural stroke mannerisms, which is extremely hard (or impossible) to do. A third problem with targeting 100% is you tend to overdo and exaggerate stroke corrections too much.

80% perfection might be a much better target - relax when you swim, lightly feel your movements and get it 'nearly right'. The Swinger knows the power of this more natural approach to stroke correction - it's the secret of their success.

Swim Smooth!

The Difference Two Tenths Of A Second Can Make To Your Swimming

Before today's blog, a quick apology from us. We know that many of you are frustrated you could not get a slot on one of our UK clinics. The clinics in England filled up within 2 hours of last week's announcement which was so quick it caught everyone off guard (including us!). We're sorry for your frustration and hope to be back in the UK very soon for another series.

(by the way there are still a few places available on the Lanark clinic (nr Glasgow) if you're quick:


The Difference Two Tenths Of A Second Can Make To Your Swimming

A few months ago we wrote this very well received post about the catch phase of the stroke:

We explained there how a bad catch presses down on the water or even pushes forwards, putting on the brakes. This often feels right because you feel a lot of resistance on the palm of the hand which makes you think you're getting a good catch.

Here's another problem with pressing down, or pushing forwards: Water is very heavy and so changing its direction takes a little bit of time to achieve.

This added delay has more impact on your stroke than you might imagine. If it adds just two tenths of a second then it will decrease your stroke rate from 60 to 54 strokes per minute - a big drop off which will definitely harm your performances, particularly in open water. Of course, it's easy to add a bigger delay than just two tenths...

We see this all the time with swimmers we consult with: by improving their catch mechanics and pressing the water back rather than pushing down their stroke rate naturally increases, often without them realising it. For this reason it's almost impossible to have a slow stroke rate and a good catch - an interesting thought all by itself.

Swim Smooth!

Announcing SS UK Clinics & Coaches Education Course, November 2010

UK Clinic Series November 2010

Swim Smooth are excited to announce six UK Clinics in Loughborough, South Lanarkshire, Bolton, Coventry and High Wycombe in November. Each one day clinic features full video analysis and is strictly limited to 12 swimmers -  perfect for any swimmer or triathlete looking to improve their speed and efficiency in the water.

For full information and to book your place, visit:

** Many previous clinics have filled up within 24 hours - please don't hesitate to book your place! **

Swim Smooth Coach Education Course

Swim Smooth are also announcing our second Coach Education Course in the UK following the extremely successful event in June. The course will run at Loughborough University from 4-6th November.

The Coach Education Course is an intense program for ambitious swimming and triathlon coaches of any experience or level and will teach all of Swim Smooth's coaching methods including advanced stroke correction. The three day course will be delivered to twelve selected coaches by Swim Smooth's Paul Newsome and Adam Young.

The British Triathlon Federation have recently appointed Swim Smooth as official Coaching Consultants to their Coach Education Program. They have requested our knowledge and expertise in developing their swimming coaching resources and delivering coach training. The BTF are recommending and recognising this course as CPD for triathlon coaches wishing to develop their advanced swim coaching skills.

For full details and to apply, visit:

We very much hope to meet you in person in November.

Swim Smooth!

PS. US coaches and swimmers, we're planning to visit your shores in early 2011 - watch this space.

Dropped Wrists And Heroes

Here's a  brief video clip of our Scull #1 drill to watch this week:

The focus here is what happens at 14 seconds in, when we see the problem with dropping your wrists that we discussed in last week's blog. Doing so in your stroke adds a lot of drag, and as we see in the clip, it pushes you backwards!

Also, we have two updates on athletes we interviewed earlier this year. If you want to be seriously inspired, check out:

Brad Hosking and 31 other American and Aussie firefighters completed their incredible Tour Of Duty Run Across America finishing in New York on September 11th. Check out the amazing scenes in this photo gallery.
(our original interview with Brad is here)

Mark Scanlon successfully completed his English Channel crossing in a storming 9½ hours in August. Read Mark's full report here - notice how smooth conditions were in those pictures - not!
(our original interview with Mark is here)

Amazing work guys - big big congratulations from us.

Swim Smooth!

Leading With Your Hands

Thanks for all your emails and comments following last week's blog - your questions were about our description of this picture:

We said it showed "Michelle dropping her wrist whilst breathing", you said "no, she's dropping her elbow". This is an interesting point of perspective and well worth devoting this week's blog to discussing - it could make a big improvement to your swimming.

Here's a zoom of Michelle's forearm and hand:

We can see clearly there by looking at the line between forearm and hand that the wrist angle is good. However, relative to the water, her wrist is dropped and the palm facing forwards.

The problem with the position Michelle's reached there is twofold. With the elbow lower than the wrist it's going to be hard to get a good catch on the water as she's going to have to commence the next movement by pushing the water downwards rather than pressing it backwards. Also, with her palm facing forwards she's creating drag and again it's hard to press the water backwards from there. Instead, she should be in a nice strong catch setup position, as demonstrated by Mr Smooth here:

The key points to this position are that the finger tips are lower than the wrist and the wrist is lower than the elbow. If you can achieve this position you'll generate more propulsion for a given effort and automatically reduce any deadspots in your stroke.

The question we'd like to ask is: What came first? Did the dropped elbow cause the wrist to drop? Or did the hand position drop the elbow? Against convention, we'd argue the latter. As humans we have good awareness (technical term: proprioception) of our hands and so we naturally coordinate and lead the stroke with them. Our awareness of the arms themselves is much lower and so they tend to naturally follow the hand position. By focusing on correcting the hand - tipping the wrist downwards into the position shown by Mr Smooth - Michelle's forearm will automatically raise into a higher elbow position.

For this reason, within Swim Smooth we often talk in terms of wrist positions and like our swimmers to use a slightly tipped wrist if possible. It's an example of our cause and effect methodology that runs through all our coaching. Focus on the thing at the cause of the problem - in this case wrist position - and the rest will click into place. This approach is a much faster and less frustrating way to correct your stroke!

Coaches, try this yourself: If you have a swimmer who drops their elbows on their extension forwards, instead of telling them to keep their elbows high, ask them to focus on tipping their wrist into a slightly cocked position and possibly adopt a slightly deeper hand position too (not right at the surface). It will feel alien to them at first but from the pool deck you'll see the improvement right away. Don't forget to compensate for the distortion of the water in your observations!

Swim Smooth!

Beware Distortions!

Coaches, you need to be careful when critiquing a swimmer's stroke from above the water. Here's a couple of examples why:

James has a low body position which we should work on improving:

However from above the water it doesn't look nearly so bad:

Michelle's dropping her wrist whilst breathing here:

Yet from above the water it's hard to detect:

Refraction at the boundary between water and air bends light and causes objects and depths to appear more shallow than they actually are. If a swimmer's legs appear 20cm below the surface of the water, you won't be far off by doubling your estimate. If you can detect a slightly dropped wrist or elbow, then it's probably significantly worse that it appears.

Fine tune your observation skills and your stroke correction abilities will take a big step forward.

Swim Smooth!

Why Might Your Legs Be Sinking?

'Why are my legs sinking down when swimming freestyle?' might be the number one question we are asked here at Swim Smooth. The extra drag from a low body position slows you down dramatically but why does this happen? There's more than one possibility, here are the most common causes:

1) Holding onto your breath underwater. If you hold your breath and don't exhale into the water you have too much buoyancy in the chest - this lifts you up at the front. Since the body acts with a see-saw action when swimming, lift up at the front and your legs sink. If you have sinky legs, exhalation should be the very first thing you work on in your stroke. Find out more here.

2) Kicking from the knee and inflexible ankles. Both of these create a lot of drag and sink your legs, find out more here.

3) Flexing through the core. You don't need abs of steel to fix this but you do need co-ordination and engagement of the core muscles. Find out more here.

4) Pushing down at the front of the stroke. In swimming, we call the initiation of each stroke in front of your head 'the catch'. A good catch action bends early at the elbow and so presses the water backwards, to the wall behind you. This propels you in the opposite direction, forwards. A poor catch presses downwards on the water with a straight arm which does nothing for your propulsion but instead lifts your front end up. You guessed it, the see-saw action then sinks the legs down. Pressing down with a straight arm like this can also cause shoulder injury. Find out more here.

5) A high head position. We have to be a little careful with this as it is a very individual thing for swimmers. If you have a good body position then you can afford to look a little further forwards, so creating a higher head position. Doing so helps your proprioception and is beneficial for navigation in open water. However, if you do suffer badly from sinky legs you may have to look straight downwards to lift them up.

Which of these might you be suffering from? Shameless plug: we designed our Swim Type system to help swimmers diagnose their stroke issues (and provide you with a complete training guide to fix those issues).

Swim Smooth!

Should You Emphasise The Back Of Your Stroke?

Many swimmers are under the impression they should complete the back of the freestyle stroke with a big push as the hand passes the hip. You can reduce your strokes per length doing this but over-emphasising the push can cause swimmers numerous problems:

- It tends to fling your hand out of the water by your hip giving an unbalanced arm recovery action. Not only does this harm your rhythm but it can also cause you to snake which creates lots of drag.

- When emphasising the push, many swimmers push upwards not backwards, this is wasted effort and can act to sink the legs down, again increasing drag.

- Locking out your elbow by pushing hard causes a delay in the stroke timing. Since your other arm is extended forwards at this point it naturally causes a dead-spot at the front end too. Dead-spots harm your efficiency because you decelerate and then have to re-accelerate on the next stroke. In other words, over-emphasising the back of the stroke can harm your efficiency by turning you into an overglider.

- The amount of extra propulsion you gain is really quite small and it's inefficient because it overloads the small tricep muscles. The effort required is normally too high to sustain for more than a few laps. Swimming is quite deceptive in this regard, things that feel easy for 25m can quickly become unsustainable beyond 100m.

If you watch elite swimmers racing, you'll see that they don't complete each stroke with a distinct push and they don't lock out their elbows straight. In fact, they normally finish the back of the stroke with a distinctly bent elbow. Here's a nice clip of Ian Thorpe showing this:

Great swimmers like Ian finish their stroke naturally as a consequence of their body rotation and stroke timing. We suggest you target the same thing: work on your catch, stroke timing and rhythm, and the back of the stroke will follow and naturally click into place when everything else is right. When you find this natural timing you gain speed and efficiency - it's the cause of the 'sweet spots' you can find with our ramp test.

Swim Smooth!

A Necessary Evil?

We know a lot of people who follow Swim Smooth are triathletes. On our clinics we often ask you guys if swimming is a necessary evil for you, if you only really swim because of triathlon or Ironman. Normally at least half the room put their hands up! If this is you, we suggest an alternative mindset.

Embrace Swimming For Its Own Sake:

Enjoy the freedom swimming gives you from your daily stress and routine. Take the time to play in the water - even when you're not with your kids. Give the other strokes a go (often). Watch and understand the sport on TV. Race your friends (hard). Experiment with your stroke for fun. Swim without thinking about your stroke for a whole session (we dare you). Walk out poolside tall and proud. Swim twice in one day just to see what happens (it's interesting). Start thinking of yourself as a swimmer. Actually no, start thinking of yourself as a good swimmer.

It's very hard to be good at something you don't enjoy.  If you decide to change how you look at swimming you'll have taken one of the most important steps to becoming a better swimming. And you'll soon discover that swimming isn't really very evil at all.

Swim Smooth!

Special Test Set: What A Pull Buoy Can Tell You About Your Stroke

On this week's Blog we're going to share with you a test swim set we use over here in sunny Perth which looks at how a swimmer performs under pressure with or without a pull buoy and fins. This set might hold a few answers for you about your own stroke and what you need to do to improve your swimming. Over to Swim Smooth Head Coach Paul Newsome:

In recent weeks I've been working one to one with a triathlete called Gillian who has a strong running background. We've identified that Gillian is a classic "Kicktastic" Swim Type and so needs to develop a better catch and feel for the water to generate a little more "oomph" and propulsion in her arm stroke. Gillian used to find that she would be substantially slower using a pull buoy between her legs (i.e. no kicking) than swimming normal freestyle. She found it very frustrating to see other swimmers with quite ungainly strokes suddenly being able to keep up with her - or even outpace her - with a pull buoy.

Gillian has been working hard on developing her catch and feel for the water and to see how she's progressing with this I reverted to my own coaching-type and designed a test-set! Try this set yourself, you might really learn something about your swimming which will help you move forwards.

Special Test Set: Free/Pull/Fins Comparison

Swim at maximum effort over a progression of distances from 50m to 200m. Swim each distance three times, one each using either a pull buoy (no kicking), normal freestyle (normal kicking) or fins (accentuated kicking). The main set looks like this:

- 3x 50m + 15 seconds recovery between each: 1) freestyle 2) pull buoy 3) fins
- 3x 100m + 30 seconds recovery between each: 1) pull buoy 2) fins 3) freestyle
- 3x 150m + 45 seconds recovery between each: 1) fins 2) pull buoy 3) freestyle
- 3x 200m + 60 seconds recovery between each: 1) freestyle 2) pull buoy 3) fins
(fins are flippers in swimming jargon)
Warning - this is a hard set! All these swims are to be performed at your absolute fastest pace for that distance! The recovery times are quite generous to allow for this. The order of the freestyle / pull buoy / fins changes during the set to ensure that you are not biasing one over the other as you start to fatigue.

The recovery times don't need to be exact but you do need to be accurate in recording what times you swim for each interval as this is the data we need to analyse and compare.

Gillian performed this set admirably and whilst she was 2½ seconds slower on the 50m pull buoy than she was without, her 100m times were exactly the same, she was (surprisingly) 3 seconds faster with the pull buoy than without over 150m and 2 seconds slower with the pull buoy than without over the 200m when fatigue had definitely started to kick in.

For someone who used to be 12 seconds per 100m slower with a pull buoy than without, Gillian has done some great work in modifying and improving her catch. This was a point which she noticed in today's squad session during a pure pull buoy set - she kept up with the group rather than being dropped like many  Kicktastics would do. A clear sign of improvement in her catch!

Why not give this session a try yourself? You may have noticed these idiosyncrasies in your swimming during a session but have never quantifiably tested them - this set will allow you to do that and get a great workout in the process. If you are consistently more than 6 seconds per 100m slower with the pull buoy than without then you need to be addressing developing a better catch and pull through as your limiting factor.

Conversely, if you are more than 4 seconds per 100m faster with the pull buoy, it's very likely that a poor body position is holding you back and needs fine tuning. Swimmers who are significantly faster with a pull buoy normally have 'sinky leg syndrome' and are classically Arnie/Arnette and Swinger Swim Types. Their body position is a key limiting factor for them, especially when tired.

If you find that your speed with and without a pull buoy is similar then this would indicate that the balance of power between your kick and your catch is relatively sound.

(Of course, all the methods you need to make these improvements to your stroke are in your type's Swim Type Guide)

A Few Points To Bear In Mind:

- You must resist the temptation to kick when using the pull buoy - everyone has the tendency to do so when swimming fast!

- Don't get flustered during the equipment changes - take a few seconds longer to swap over if necessary.

- On the longer intervals (150m and 200m) you may feel there's too much recovery time but stick to it - this is designed to allow you to continue at peak speed through the set.

- Most swimmers will be substantially faster when using the fins than without - the question is how much faster? Gillian's 100m time was 1'17" with fins compared with 1'52" for her pull buoy and normal freestyle swims - massively faster. This is very typical of a Kicktastic who generates a lot of propulsion from their legs. Swingers with a 2-beat kick will see a much smaller improvement with the fins.


I then tested this set with three squads of twenty swimmers each and it proved to be very interesting indeed. For example take two swimmers in the same lane with near identical times for freestyle and freestyle with fins: Trevor (who's a fast Arnie) was 5 seconds per 100m faster with a pull buoy than without, whereas Mel (another classic kicktastic) was a good 11 seconds per 100m slower with a pull buoy than without.

From this test information you could then run a technique session and assign three lanes based purely on how your swimmers responded to this set:

a) A Kicktastic and Bambino lane (those who were much slower with the pull buoy than without and need to work on their catch)

b) An Arnie and Swinger lane (those who were much faster with the pull buoy than without and who need to work on their body position)

c) An Overglider and Smooth lane (who probably saw very little variance on the test set and can focus much more on developing the rhythm of their stroke and fine tuning a variety of areas).

It will certainly make for quite a dynamic session and challenge you to recognise the different needs of your swimmers and how best to develop each of their strokes.

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Coach Paul

How The Village People Can Improve Your Swimming

We're not joking, The Village People really can help your swimming:

At our recent June 2010 Clinic Series, we counted 76 of the 108 attendees as having some level of crossover in their stroke, where the lead hand crosses the centre line at the front:

This is bad for your stroke because it causes you to fish-tail down the pool and hurts your catch on the water - reducing your propulsion. It's also a major cause of scissor kicks and associated with shoulder injury. All round best avoided then! For these reasons, good alignment in the water is fundamental to a good freestyle stroke and many other parts of the stroke click into place when you remove cross-over.

But how should you go about removing it? All the time we hear swimming coaches telling swimmers to think about going wider with their arms to remove cross-over. Swim Smooth disagree with this instruction quite strongly - it does remove cross-over but it tends to cause an over-exaggerated wide hand placement, reducing the swimmer's body rotation. Very soon after being told to go wider, their hand entry is way too wide - resulting in more problems than it fixed. The subtlety lies in what to specifically focus on when making this correction in your stroke and getting to the root cause of the problem.

Instead of thinking about extending wider, think about extending straighter. In a minute (we're sure you're dying to know) we'll show you how The Village People can help with this. But first, let's think about posture for a second. These days many of us have office jobs and work in front of a computer. This causes us to bend forward at our desks with shoulders slumped forwards to operate a keyboard or mouse:

By spending hundreds or thousands of hours in this position the muscles of the chest shorten, and the muscles of the upper back lengthen. When we go for a swim this predisposition shows up straight away - that rounded shoulder position causing the lead hand to veer across the centre line when extended out front.

How to straighten yourself up? By improving your posture! Really we are talking about the same good posture that your Mum was referring to when she told you to 'stand up tall and proud' as a child, or that feeling of drawing your shoulder back and down when standing to attention.

The Village People's most famous song was The Y-M-C-A. Here's an exercise which is quite similar, which will help you tune into this good posture. It's called the Y-T-W-L :

Perform the YTWL after a gentle land-based warm-up before you swim - or as part of a conditioning routine. If you attend a gym, it's well worth adding a few YTWLs into your routine. Aim to hold each of the positions for about 10 seconds and notice if you have a tendency for the arms to drift forwards and not be straight out to the side.

As you perform the routine, think about drawing your shoulder blades together and back to bring your arms into line. You should find this position isolates and engages the muscles between your shoulder blades (technically: scapular retraction) which are over-stretched and underused in your stroke. The great thing about the YTWL is that it isolates these muscles of the upper back and makes you aware of using them.

Now when you hit the water, we recommend you start with some kicking on your side drills. To become straight and aligned in the water, think about drawing those shoulder blades together and back. This is what we mean by becoming straighter. Practise this whilst kicking on your side - you should find you track much straighter down the pool without veering towards the lane ropes.

At Swim Smooth we call this concept 'Swimming Proud'. Pushing your chest forwards and bringing your shoulders down and back brings you into this proud position. Not only is this great for your alignment, it also helps connect your arms to your core and so generate more power in your stroke.

You can find out more about this subject in our full web article on swimming posture.

Swim Smooth!

Interview with Mark Scanlon - Training for the English Channel

Before we get to today's feature, if you haven't yet taken advantage of our 10% Off Promotion, then act now - TODAY IS THE LAST DAY! Find out how to receive the discount off our products at: 10% Off Happy Birthday!

This week on Feel For The Water we are lucky to be joined by Mark Scanlon from Perth in Western Australia. In just a few weeks time Mark will attempt to conquer the mighty English Channel, a cold water swim of approximately 34km as the crow flies. Swim Smooth Head Coach Paul Newsome takes up the story:

Mark has been tapping into our Swim Smooth squads at Claremont Pool and Challenge Stadium in Perth for the last 3 years, tweaking and refining his stroke as he goes. To see him swim, most people's comments are centred on how strong and powerful he appears to be in the water. You can view some of Mark's training footage here and here.

In 2008 Mark finished 3rd male overall in the hugely popular 20km Rottnest Channel Swim in Perth, and will now look to nearly double that crossing distance in waters much more inhospitable than the relative luxury of the Indian Ocean! Cold, fatigue, nausea and battling with the notorious tides and busy shipping lanes of the English Channel are all sure to take their toll on any swimmer. Arguably these challenges make a successful crossing the pinnacle of the sport of marathon swimming. Tell most laymen that you are an endurance swimmer and chances are the first thing they'll ask is "Have you swum the Channel?". It's the Hawaii Ironman, the Marathon des Sables and the Mount Everest of marathon swimming all rolled into one - in fact, if records are to be believed, twice as many people have successfully sumitted Everest as have swum the Channel!

The English Channel swim is not a race on a given day, instead swimmers go individually throughout the summer season as conditions suit. There are normally 7 or 8 tidal windows each lasting for 5 to 7 days across the summer period, at these times the tidal flow is at its lowest and the chance of a successful crossing is at its highest. These periods are called 'neap tides' and swimmers book a boat and skipper (know as a 'pilot') for a given neap tide up to 3 years in advance!

The month of August is the most sought after, as sea temperatures are up to 16-18 degrees with higher air temperatures than at other times during the summer months. At the last count there are 14 registered pilots who are legally allowed to escort you across one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Each pilot will normally book 2 to 4 swimmers into each neap tide window. The weather conditions need to be ideal to make a crossing and since only one swimmer can start per day, if the weather's bad then many miss their window and don't even get to start! This is incredibly frustrating given the huge training and financial commitment of preparing for the event.

Historically only 10% of swimmers have successfully completed this swim, though with better technology and training preparation this figure is slowly increasing. The Channel was first swum on the 25th August 1875 by Captain Matthew Webb. Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria) holds the current world record (set in 2007) for the crossing in 6h 57m 50s which is twice as fast as a good average crossing of 12 to 16 hours. Alison Streeter MBE (UK) holds the world record for having successfully swum the Channel on 43 separate occasions (truly amazing!), and Philip Rush from New Zealand holds the three-way world record of 28h 21m set way back in 1987. For most though, one way and once only is more than enough of a goal, so let's hear a little more from Mark about his preparations for this grueling event.

PN: Hi Mark, thanks for joining us today.

MS: My Pleasure

PN: So, what made you think about taking on the challenge of swimming the English Channel?

MS: I'd thought about doing it as a teenager and it has kind of been at the back of my mind ever since. I got back into swimming in 2007, after travelling for a few years, to keep fit during the week so I could surf on the weekends. I decided to set my goal on a Rottnest solo swim, and things have just rolled from there. A mate of mine who I swam with in Tassie (Ed: Tasmania) back in the day, Anne Steele completed the swim in 2007 and started heckling me to do it. That was enough motivation to get me into shape for my attempt this year.

PN: Many swimmers raise money for charity and aim to raise awareness for certain campaigns when they tackle this swim - do you have any such charities that you'll be helping and if so why did you choose them?

MS: Yes I decided that I would use this swim to raise money and awareness for The National Stroke Foundation (NSF). I wanted to do something positive with the swim, and I figure it will also be a great motivator for me to keep swimming knowing I'll be letting down more than just myself if I don't make it! I chose the NSF because a good mate of mine Rob Goyan was struck down with a stroke at the start of 2009. Luckily Rob has fully recovered but at 35, it showed me that it can happen to anyone.

It got me thinking it might be an idea to use my English Channel swim to raise money for the NSF. As I researched strokes, I discovered that behind heart disease, strokes were the second biggest cause of death in Australia in 2009. That's right, more people die of a stroke each year than from all types of cancer combined!

Then late in 2009 I was on a training run with Rob in Cottesloe when an extremely distressed woman ran out of her front door screaming for help. Inside we found her husband had collapsed on the floor unconscious in a pool of vomit after suffering a severe stroke. Rob and I performed first aid until the ambulance arrived which was pretty full on. The man, Malcolm Tew, is alive today but in a bad way and will live with a permanent disability for the rest of his life as a result of his stroke. These events brought home to me how little is known about strokes and their effects, and I kind of took it as a bit of a message from above that I should use the swim to raise money and awareness for the NSF.

I've set up a website where people can read a bit more about myself, the swim, the NSF and make a donation to this great cause.

PN: Can you tell us briefly about your background, where you're originally from, how long you've been swimming, who your heroes are in this sport etc?

MS: I grew up in Tasmania in the Hobart area and joined the local surf club as a nipper when I was about 8. I spent my childhood summers in and on the water swimming and surfing. I represented Tassie as a junior in surf lifesaving and got into my swimming pretty seriously in my early teens for a couple of years, training every day. My brothers then gave me a surfboard and that all went out the window. It's only been the last few years being tied to an office job and swimming before work most days that I've gotten back into it.

My heroes growing up were Trevor Hendy and Kieren Perkins. These days my heroes are the last solo swimmers who arrive across the line at Rottnest each year. The guys that aren't technically great swimmers but are mentally tough and never give up. I'll be using them as inspiration for my channel crossing.

PN: So, you're just a few weeks away from the swim itself, can you tell us a bit about your training program over the last 12 months? What has it entailed in terms of volume, intensity and even specific things such as rough water swimming and coping in a range of elements?

MS: Yeah its creeping up on me. I guess in a way it's more than just the last 12 months, I've done the Rotto swim (20km) for the past 3 years so that's built up a solid base. From preparing for those swims it gives you a pretty good idea of what you need to do. Basically I swim with several groups to fit in around work commitments. I train in a 4 week cycle, building up the kilometers / intensity every 4 weeks followed by a recovery week which is important. I've had a lot of guidance from Peter Tanham who smashed a crossing in 2005 in just over 9hrs and taken a lot from Bill (Kirby) and Shelly (Taylor Smith)'s Rotto swim programs as well as swimming with you guys at Swim Smooth!

I guess the main difference for this swim is the elements and preparing for the variety of conditions that can get thrown at you. When I train for Rotto I might only do one or two ocean swims to prepare for them as water temperature isn't an issue and I like training in the pool to measure how I'm going. I know that just won't cut it for the channel so now it's winter here I have been swimming in the ocean and Perth's Swan River 3 times a week to acclimatise to the rough water and the cold.

Coming from Tassie and surfing, I've always been pretty comfortable in colder and rougher water but it's a whole different kettle of fish when you're in your budgie smugglers for 10-12 hours! I've also been playing with feeding myself in these conditions and working out what works good for me.

PN: Have you done a particular session in the last 12 months where you've thought 'Yep, I can really do this!', and if so, what was this session and how do you think it will help you during the bad patches in the Channel when you inevitably start to feel tired?

MS: Definitely my 13-14km Saturday morning swims with my friends Dave, Maryanne and co are giving me confidence. I'm a bit weird, it often takes me 5-6km to really get into my groove so I've been really happy that I'm holding around 1:20/100m pace at the end of these sets and knowing that I can build into those longer swims.

There's been times during those sessions where I've felt absolutely crap in the early parts of the session and mentally worked through that to get back to my target pace. I know I'll face similar times in the channel. Also the cold river swims in 13-14 degree water are really good psychologically. To know that I can handle water that is (hopefully!) colder than I will be swimming in is a real plus.

PN: I'll be tackling the swim myself next September (2011) and one of the things that everyone jokes about when it comes to swimming the Channel is how much weight many leaner swimmers need to put on in the lead-up to the event in order to maintain warmth. Personally I put on 8 kilos for the Rottnest Solo swim last year (18-19 degrees water temperature) and this certainly paid real dividends for me on the day. I likened it at the time to how a Hollywood actor would approach a role for a movie requiring a little weight gain for a certain character.

Having swum with you for an hour last week in the Swan River in just 13 degrees of water, it is clear that not only are you much faster than me at the moment but that you're also much more acclimated to this cold water than I am. Can you share with us the physical and mental preparations that you've put yourself through in the last 6 months to reach this level of apparent "comfort" in water which would freeze most people to the core within minutes?!

MS: I'm not sure about me being much faster but I sure am much fatter! I like to think of myself as trying to get my body shape somewhere in between Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Twins - ha!! My body shape is short and stocky anyway so it's usually quite easy for me to put on weight (a real danger post English Channel swim!) but given the volume of training I'm doing it's actually taken some effort.

I'm basically eating double breakfast, lunch and dinners with desert, as well as snacking all the time to pile on the spare tyre for insulation and fuel during the swim. But the analogy of preparing for a role in a movie is a good one. This swim has pretty much ruled my life for the 6 months leading up to it.

Getting used to the cold is definitely a progression thing, I started swimming in the ocean and river consistently from May, and that progression of gradually decreasing water temperature each week makes it easier for the body to adjust. Your body gets used to that feeling when you first get into the water and mentally you know your breathing will settle down after 10 minutes or so of swimming. You get used to that feeling of the cold on your skin and it becomes almost normal. I think also just having a calm relaxed approach about it all and not getting worked up helps. Some swimmers tend to talk themselves out of it before they even get in the water a lot of the time. It's definitely mind over matter.

PN: What specific aspects of the Channel swim are you really looking forward to? Equally, what things would you say you're most concerned about?

MS: I'm looking forward to touching the shore in France, and most concerned about leaving the shore in Dover!

No, I'm really looking forward to having a mate of mine who I carried to Rottnest in a Duo in 2005, Dougal Harris, on my support boat. I'm looking forward to him being there as he's in Tassie these days so we don't see each other much. We used to train and surf together a lot when he was in Perth so it gives me a heap of confidence that he'll be looking out for me. I'm looking forward to seeing some big tankers in the shipping lanes, that should be good. My only real concern is bad water quality and bad conditions on the day. But they're out of my control so I'm not wasting energy worrying about it.

I guess a successful crossing will mean reaching the biggest sporting goal I have, which will be nice.

PN: How is your race nutrition for the day looking? What products or old-wives potions and cocktails do you plan to consume? You hear a whole range of wild and wacky things that people use as fuel and hydration sources on this particular swim Mark, so what is it that you'll be using and how often will you be pausing (and for how long) to refuel as you make your crossing?

MS: I keep it really simple. I eat as much pasta as I can and hydrate well the days before a big swim, and load up on weetbix and a sports drink until I'm about to vomit on the morning of the swim!

I usually use a combination of Hi5 gels and Staminade for the Rottnest swim which has worked really well for me. I've just been introduced to another drink that is very similar called E3, which is made by a local Perth Company. I've been using it in training and will probably use it on the day. I also usually chew gum the whole way to give some relief from the salt water taste!

For the channel I'm going to also eat some banana cake and some home made nut/oatmeal bars. I'll stop for 10-15sec max roughly every half hour.

PN: Who will be your pilot for the swim and how did you make contact with them initially?

MS: My Pilot is Chris Osmond, I booked in with him mid 2009. Chris was Peter Tanhams pilot in 2005 and I think it's an advantage to have a skipper that knows exactly what level of swimmer you are so he can plot an appropriate course. From what I know, a skipper that doesn't know a lot about you will typically plot a conservative course to make sure they get you there but if they have a bit more confidence in your estimations of your swimming abilities they should be able to help you get across a little quicker.

PN: Everyone reading will probably want to know what sort of financial cost is involved in swimming the English Channel - can you estimate for us how much you think it might end up costing you and maybe even give us a brief breakdown of those costs?

MS: It's not cheap. I think all said and done I probably will have shelled out around AUS$14K:

Pilot: approx $5500
CS&PF Membership: approx $500
Airfares: approx $3000 (my support crew is already in the UK so I haven't had to pay for that)
Accommodation: approx $1500
Website & Communications: approx $1500

Then there's things like pool entry for the year, coaching, bathers, goggles, sports drink etc on top of that which all adds up (probably $2-3K for last year - ouch). I hate to think of what my food bill has increased by over the last 6 months!

PN: What is your set date and do you have a game plan in mind or a target time that you're aiming for? This is obviously hard to quantify given the changeable conditions on the day, but given good conditions, how do you think you might fare?

MS: I arrive in UK on Friday the 13th August (hopefully not an bad omen) and the official window starts on the 17th with me as the third swimmer. There's a chance I might jump the queue and swim on the 16th if weather permits, otherwise I've got a month off work in case of crappy weather. Given a great day I'd like to think I could get there in a similar time to what Peter did in 2005 which was 9hrs, but I know I'll be happy to just make it so I'm prepared for poor conditions and being in the water for 12-15 hours if needs be!

PN: Is there a way in which we can track your progress online during the swim?

MS: Yes I'll be putting a real time tracking system up on my website I'll also have updates on a Facebook page I set up.

PN: Lastly, you have a great Blog running at where people can donate towards your swim and Stroke Foundation charity if they choose to do so - you're about 25% of the way towards your goal of $100,000 aren't you?

MS: Yes I think I'm going to have to readjust my target though, I've only managed to raise just over $27,000 so far, so if I manage to raise $50,000 I'd be very happy. It's for a great cause so if any of your readers are able to make a contribution it would be very much appreciated! Donations can be made by clicking the "Donate Now" link on the website

PN: OK Mark, thanks so much for your time today. Best of luck with the swim - you've just got another 23,000 supporters behind you here at all wishing you well!

MS: Thanks Paul, I'll keep you posted, and can't wait for next winter when I'll be the one standing by the river all rugged-up watching you guys swim!

--- Interview Ends ---

Finally, we'd love to hear from you if you are swimming the Channel in 2010, 2011 or indeed 2012. We have a group of 10 individual swimmers from Perth (myself included) who will all attempt the swim in 2011, it'd be nice to touch base and share stories and ideas with you as we go. Hope to hear from you soon!

Paul Newsome

10% Birthday Sale!

Our blog - Feel For The Water - is one year old today!

To celebrate this milestone, and as a thank you from us for reading the blog, we're running a 10% Off Birthday Promotion on all physical products on our website - for one week only. Combined with our always-low shipping costs it's time to get a real bargain!

Simply enter the code 'Happy Birthday' into the voucher box within our shopping cart - click and your 10% discount will be taken off your order! So if you need straighten up your stroke with some Finis Freestyler Paddles, would like to tune up your stroke's timing with a Wetronome or fancy treating yourself to our DVD Boxset, then take advantage of this one week only offer! Applies to all DVDs and swimming tools.

(We're only announcing the discount code to subscribers of the blog but you can tell your friends if you like, it'll work for them too.)

Highlights Of The Last Year

Here are ten of our favourite posts from the last year - take a read, especially if you missed them the first time around:

1. Open water swimming legend Shelley Taylor Smith gives us a fascinating insight into her famous mental toughness: Stop And Think, Who's On My Team?

2. Struggling with breathing in your stroke? Read this inspirational story from one of our readers:
Don't Forget To Breathe, Doctors Recommend It

3. Are you a technique hermit swimming only one or two laps at a time? We explain the dangers in being a Technique Hermit

4. For northern hemisphere athletes in the middle of their triathlon season, try this perfect session 4 or 5 days before your next event: Pre Race Swim

5. One of the most discussed posts of the year, a simple but crucial concept when you're developing your stroke technique: Six Is A Magic Number

6. Are you an uncoached swimmer? Struggling to work out what you need to work on in your stroke? You need: Stroke Contrasts

7. Sometimes simple is best and this very rarely fails to be beneficial to a swimmer: Swim Faster By Brushing Your Big Toes

8. Inspired by one of the presentations on our Swimming Clinics, our complete myth-busting guide:
What Makes An Efficient Freestyle Stroke

9. That's the easiest way to take ten minutes out of your open water swim split? Find out!

10. And to finish on a light note: Cheesy Friday, The Results! Believe it or not, 3 months later, we're still receiving cheesy offerings in our inbox. Mmmm, we like cheese.

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