The Scariest Two Words In Swimming Are...


Or, to make it really scary:

The next time you get in the pool we want you to swim a 400m Time-Trial

You've only read three lines of this blog post but we bet you are already hatching an excuse for not doing this. Perhaps you're not fit enough, or your stroke technique isn't good enough yet or there's no point at your age?

In fact time-trials are so intimidating that every swim coach knows you never tell your swimmers ahead of time they're going to do a time-trial or they won't turn up to the session. When announced, a ripple of shock and panic runs through the squad: Did she just say time-trial? What, a real one? Now? Oh god surely not!

So why is a time-trial so scary? Ask a swimmer why and they will say "because they hurt" but is that really true? Is a well paced* 400m time-trial really tougher than a threshold training set you might perform every week? We don't think so.

No, the reason a time-trial is so scary is that they tell you exactly where your swimming is right now without any dressing up, over-ambition or over-analysis. They put a stake in the ground and say without any fluff: on December 28th 2012 I can swim X:XX for 400m.

What's the worst that can happen? :

- You might be slower than you would like - or slower than you used to be - but that's fine. You now know where you are, so set a new target time for 3-6 weeks ahead and your motivation to train will instantly kick in.

- You might swim faster than you expected. This happens surprisingly often with swimmers who lack a little confidence in their ability and you'll obviously get a huge lift from a result like that.

A time-trial forces you to be honest with yourself and whilst that's scary, it's very empowering at the same time.

Swimming to your maximum requires focus and determination, but it won't kill you or damage your stroke technique. In fact it is possible to enjoy time-trials for the challenge they offer and even to look forward to them (yes, really!).

If you've never swum one before, just go for it and swim as fast as you can. And when you're in the showers afterwards, tell yourself you've just joined the ranks of Thorpe, Phelps, Adlington and Yang, you've just become a competitive swimmer.

Clear Your Head And Just Swim

Swimming a fast 400m swim is such a simple thing to do but will clear out so much of the clutter from your head about how good or bad your stroke feels, how many strokes per length you take or how you ate too much over Christmas. Like many things in life what we hate to do is often the best thing for us. So why not start 2013 with a 400m time-trial and take an honest look at where you are so you can move forwards with your swimming?

Happy New Year and Swim Smooth!

*Pacing out a time-trial evenly is absolutely essential to swim your best time. Ideally every 50m should be swum at the same speed and when you get that right, it feels like a gradually increasing crescendo of effort. If you're dying in a world of pain after 100m then you started out much too fast.

Our tip is to push on the third 100m of a 400m time-trial to avoid fading in the second half, 200-300m is the time when many swimmers switch off mentally.

Visualise A Fantastic Streamline Position

We love a good visualisation at Swim Smooth. Here's double Olympic Gold medallist Rebecca Adlington showing us her fantastic streamline position off the wall. She's on her side as she's just tumbled and is performing the half-twist back onto her front:

* click on the image to show full size *

If you are a triathlete or open water swimmer it's tempting to be lazy with your streamline technique but this is still an important skill to practise, even though you won't use this position when racing in open water. Follow the tips on the image and remember:

- A good streamline reminds you to stretch through your core on the beginning of each lap, a feeling you should maintain as you break-out into your full freestyle stroke.

- This position gives your upper back and shoulders a mini stretch on every push-off which develops and maintains your flexibility over time.

 - The speed you will gain in the pool allows you to train with swimmers who would otherwise be a little bit quicker than you.

(Make sure you like our Facebook page here we regularly post more swimming visualisations like this.)

So that only leaves us to thank you for following Swim Smooth this year and wish you a fantastic festive break! Here's coaches Paul and Emma on the pool deck in Perth a few hours ago:

Merry Christmas and Swim Smooth!

The Data On Stroke Rate And Efficiency

We know that quite a few of you like a bit of science behind your swimming, so lets take a look at an important piece of research conducted by Southwestern University, Texas [1]. Even if you're not a numbers person bear with this - it's not too complicated!

Scott McLean and his team asked ten college swimmers of a range of abilities to swim in a flume tank (an endless pool). The flume was fixed to a speed of 1:40 /100m so no matter what, the swimmers had to maintain that speed, they couldn't slow down or speed up.

As a starting point, the study recorded the swimmer's natural stroke rate - i.e. how many strokes they take per minute (SPM) at 1:40 /100m. If you own a Tempo Trainer Pro or Wetronome you will have a good idea of what yours is, most age group swimmers are in the range 50 to 65 SPM.

Each swimmer was then asked to swim at 10% below their natural stroke rate and 20% below it, controlled by a Tempo Trainer beeping the timing to them. Since the actual swimming speed was fixed at 1:40/100m, as they slowed their stroke cadence they had to lengthen their stroke to maintain their speed.

For each swimmer they also sped up their stroke rate to 10% and 20% above their natural stroke rate. To keep the same speed, the swimmer had to shorten their stroke.

For each test oxygen uptake, heart rate and perceived exertion (how hard it felt to the swimmer) where recorded to give an indication of economy. They also recorded the kick rate (kicks per stroke cycle) and to keep the study fair the order of the tests was randomised.

OK that's the technicalities, what did the results say? First lets look at what happened as the swimmers lengthened out their strokes at a lower stroke rate. If you believe that a longer stroke is more efficient, then we'd expect the swimmers to become more economical:

The fascinating result was that as the stroke lengthened, oxygen uptake, heart rate and perceived exertion all rose significantly. The kick rate also increased significantly, suggesting the swimmer had to start kicking harder to maintain speed in the dead-spot created between strokes. All of these things are strongly suggesting that trying to maximise stroke length makes you less efficient, not more efficient.

Now let's add the data onto the right side of the graph as stroke rate increases:

Heart rate, oxygen uptake and perceived exertion all dropped slightly at a 10% increase in stroke rate and then rose a little at a 20% increase. When you get into the maths, the increases at 20% above natural stroke rate are not statistically significant but the mean does rise.

Our Conclusions

1) Swimmers tend to naturally select the slowest stroke rate from the range that is economical for them.

2) Don't overly lengthen your stroke below that point by trying to over-glide, it actually makes you less efficient, not more.

3) You are likely to be able to lift your stroke rate by 10% without losing any efficiency and for some swimmers as much as 20%. In open water the ability to swim at a higher stroke rate is a huge advantage as it helps you punch through wake and chop created by other swimmers. Try and overly lengthen your stroke in open water and you can literally be stopped dead in the gap between your strokes and you will slip to the back of the field despite working hard.

4) The increase in kick rate with longer strokes correlates well with what we see in the elite swimming world where Smooth swim types with a long stroke style (e.g. Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps, Ross Davenport) use very powerful kicks to help power them through any gaps in propulsion. The thing you don't want to attempt is a long over-gliding stroke with a two beat kick as you simply decelerate far too much between strokes.

Swim Smooth!

[1] McLean SP, Palmer D, Ice G, Truijens M, Smith JC. (2010). Oxygen uptake response to stroke rate manipulation in freestyle swimming. Med Sci Sports Exerc., 42(10):1909-13.

An Exercise To Help You Lift Your Stroke Rate

We hear from a lot of intermediate level swimmers who have been diligently working on improving their stroke technique but are having trouble lifting their stroke rate to where they would like it to be. You might have found that by speeding up slightly using a Wetronome or Tempo Trainer Pro you're finding it too hard work to sustain.

Try this exercise and see if it helps. You don't need a beeper for it but it's more powerful experience if you have one.

Scull And Beep

1) Take your beeper and set it to 5 strokes per minute higher than your natural stroke rate. So if you naturally swim around 55 SPM, set it to 60 SPM. Use your numbers - not anyone else's! Put the beeper under your swim cap so you can hear it but ignore it for the moment.

2) Put a pull buoy between your legs and perform our Scull #1 drill:

The point of sculling is to get a feel for the water on the palms of your hands in a good catch position, as if they were in the middle of the catch phase of the stroke. During the drill, the hands are facing slightly outwards as they travel out and slightly inwards as they travel in. This is a bit like mixing hot and cold water in the bath, you can feel the light pressure on your palm as you do so:

This may seem like a strange thing to be doing but it is actually a very powerful exercise for improving your catch technique. The key - as in a good catch - is to make sure your fingertips are lower than your wrist and your wrist is lower than your elbow at all times, as in the pictures above. In this way your palms' pressure on the water is slightly backwards, which will move you forwards. If you don't go anywhere, check you're not sculling flat with your palm facing downwards or even forwards (you'll go backwards!) :

Facing your palm forwards like this is something that Overgliders tend to do in their stroke at the front, often feeling an increased pressure on the palm of the hand and perceiving that as a good catch. For this reason, many Overgliders struggle with sculling.

This isn't an easy drill, it can take a while to get the feel of it and even great swimmers will only move slowly through the water when sculling. That's OK, don't tense up and forget to breath, keep your breathing smooth and relaxed. Also resist the urge to kick at all with your legs, that's very much cheating! :)

3) Once you get the feel of the drill, start a fresh lap and perform Scull #1 for around 15m. Then, keeping the pull buoy between your legs, immediately transition into full freestyle thinking about lightly pressing the water backwards to the wall behind you and timing your stroke to the beeper. If you don't have a beeper to follow, become aware of your stroke rate and how fast you perceive your rhythm to be.

How does it feel? Our prediction is that it will feel a lot easier to maintain that higher stroke rate as you transition into your freestyle. This really highlights the link between a good catch technique and good rhythm in the stroke: improve your catch and your rhythm will naturally increase. Interestingly, this cuts both ways, try and slow your stroke down artificially and you normally harm your catch technique, this is the Overglider scenario we mentioned above and something we always try to avoid here at Swim Smooth.

What you might find is that you can easily sustain the faster rhythm of your stroke at first and it feels great but the effect gradually wears off after 25 to 100m of swimming with it. That's normal, it's just a sign that you're slipping back to your old catch timing. Keep working on this part of your stroke and as your body gets used to the movement you will be able to swim further and further using it.

Let us know how you go with this exercise by posting on the comments on this blog (click here and go to the bottom to post).

Next week we're going to look at the results of an important study from the University of Texas into the stroke rates of swimmers and their efficiency through the water. It's not too technical and we think you'll find the implications of it very interesting for your own swimming!

Swim Smooth!

PS. If you wish to understand why this exercise works, see Adam Young's post on our forum here: Or read the chapter in our book about developing your catch technique (especially page 91).

The Other Reason You're Faster With A Pull Buoy

Most (but not all) swimmers find swimming with a pull-buoy between their legs faster or easier. The main reason is that the extra buoyancy helps keep your legs higher in the water, reducing drag. But there is second reason why.

Swimming with a pull buoy forces you to keep your legs together and so stops scissor kicks occurring when you swim. Swimmers with a scissor kick very rarely appreciate they part their legs in this manner but doing so creates a huge amount of drag akin to opening up a parachute behind you:

This is a very common problem but is sometimes missed by coaches on the pool deck as it happens so quickly within the stroke and the low viewing angle from the pool deck can make it difficult to spot. In fact on our recent clinic series 48% of swimmers had a significant scissor kick in their stroke that was easily spotted when viewed from overhead video analysis.

Fixing Scissor Kicks

A scissor kick is caused by a loss of balance, normally whilst breathing. The loss of balance is caused by your lead hand crossing the centre line in front of the head:

The scissor kick stabilises you again a fraction of a second later and stops you rolling onto your back. You probably won't even be aware you're parting your legs because at that moment all you're thinking about is 'give me air!':

The key to fixing a scissor kick is to remove the crossover of your lead hand whilst you are breathing. An excellent drill to work on removing the crossover is kicking on your side with fins on, drawing your shoulder blades together and back to bring the lead arm straight. You can find out more about that exercise on our DVDs and in our book, or on this blog post.

Once you've removed the crossover the scissor kick can sometimes linger on as a habit, so as you swim visualise keeping your legs straight and toes pointed, kicking from the hip. As you kick, make sure the big toes brush past each other in a nice rhythm 'tap tap tap'.

Give these exercises a go even if you don't think you have a scissor kick in your stroke. You may be surprised at what you find!

Swim Smooth!

Christmas Present Ideas From Swim Smooth

Looking for the perfect gift for a loved one this Christmas? Here's some ideas from us to make their festive season that little bit smoother! :

A Smoking Hot HUUB Wetsuit

Since we tailored each HUUB design to an individual stroke style, giving a HUUB at Christmas says you love someone for who they truly are (and subliminally it says you think they look hot in rubber too, which can only bring positive results).

With our free exchange policy you can easily swap your HUUB for another size once they have unwrapped it and tried it on, so you can buy with confidence.

Buy one here or for any questions about selection or sizing send us a quick email here (we're very friendly).

Swim Smooth Book & Tempo Trainer Pro

A great stocking filler, the Tempo Trainer Pro is a fantastic tool for any swimmer to help them develop their stroke technique and pace them through some solid training sets. We also offer them at the best price on the internet - see here.

We've talked a lot about our new swimming book on this blog and yes, it does make the perfect present for the bookworm in your life. We're obliged to tell you that at 300 pages it won't actually fit into a stocking but the upside of that is that it's absolutely jam packed with information on improving stroke technique, open water skills and swim specific fitness. It's the perfect present for any aspiring swimmer or triathlete and includes thousands of combinations of training sessions to follow in the back (and for all the men out there, yes the pictures are awesome too).

To buy now or check out all the five star reviews, see here

A Session With A Certified Swim Smooth Coach

Our coaches offer the best coaching service anywhere in the world and if you're in the UK, you're lucky enough to have them on your doorstep! Why not book up a special Video Analysis and Stroke Correction Consultation for your loved one, a gift that's guaranteed to improve their swimming.

For more information see here.

A Swim Smooth DVD

If your target of Christmas pleasure is a visual learner, you can't beat the gift of a Swim Smooth DVD. All our great coaching, open water techniques, and insightful footage of elite swimmers delivered in our fun and pragmatic style.

For beginner freestyle swimmers we'd recommend our Learn To Swim DVD, for intermediates our DVD Boxset and for upper intermediate and advanced swimmers the Catch Masterclass.

As a free bonus, if you hold any Swim Smooth DVD up to your left ear and listen very carefully you can hear the distant hum of pool filtration pumps in Perth, we think that's quite romantic.

Speak to you again next week, have a great Christmas and festive season!

Swim Smooth

BTW our last order dates guaranteed for Christmas delivery are:

UK: 19th December
Western Europe: 12th December
USA/Canada/Eastern Europe: 10th December
Africa/Middle East/South and Central America/Caribbean: 7th December
Australia, New Zealand, Far East, Asia: 5th Dec

Have You Settled For Less Than You Deserve?

When Louise Sawyer said "you get what you settle for" she was talking about relationships. But the same thing is true for your education, your career and also your swimming.

While swimming isn't as important as our relationships, it's saddening to see someone you care about settle for less than they deserve because they don't believe they can be better.

If you've read our new book, you'll have heard us talk about how an eleven year old can be such a fast swimmer despite having very little strength compared to an adult. One of reasons they can do that is that kids don't place limitations on themselves, every time they go to the pool they walk out excitedly on to the poolside with a clear head, jump in the water, go for it and see what they can do.

Maybe you've settled because of your age, your inexperience, your talent, your training time, your gender or your height. Are you sure the barriers you feel are not entirely self imposed? Take a leaf from that eleven year old's book: enjoy every moment, work hard, keep an open mind and believe you will become a better swimmer...

...and you will.

Swim Smooth!

Perc Edwards - A Fond Farewell To The World's Most Passionate Swimmer

In life we are infrequently blessed to meet just a handful of people whose passion deeply inspires us. For me one of those people was Percy "Perc" Edwards who sadly passed away last week at the ripe old age of 87, having just won 12 gold medals at the Australian Masters Swimming Championships only the week before. Perc had also just been awarded the highly coveted "Groper of the Month" by his club Cottesloe Crabs and last year joined the exclusive Aussie Masters Five Million Meters club!

Percy's passing was unexpected but totally fitting at the same time, being that he'd just completed another swim session at the Claremont Pool where Swim Smooth is based (featured in last week's blog). I was personally there when Perc passed, having just been discussing his accomplishments with him (which he loved to do) not 20 minutes before. I had been admiring his latest medal haul which he was carrying around in a Coles plastic shopping bag! As everyone agrees over here in the WA swimming community, it was a fitting farewell to such a beloved character and something the world's most passionate swimmer might have scripted for himself. 

I first met Perc when I arrived in Perth in 2002 from the UK. He was one of the first people to come over and chat with the new "pommie" on the swimming circuit down at what has grown to become my favourite race, the 2.2km Cottesloe to Swanbourne swim. Always friendly and always ready to tell a story, Perc was a real character and I remember being amazed at how well a 77 year old was competing against the young guns in the tough ocean conditions. 

Although he had been swimming since he was a child, Perc often said that after the loss of his wife Mary 21 years ago, it was swimming that kept his zest for life going. He lived an amazing life - as a young 18 year old flew as a navigator on bombers over Germany during WWII, had been a butcher, an accountant, was made a lifetime member of the Claremont Masters Group in 2004, and was a highly regarded swimming race referee of 30 years for Swimming WA, always immersing himself totally in the sport. His zest for swimming and life in general was staggeringly inspirational and infectious to all around him.

Back in 2004 when we released the first Swim Smooth DVD, I discussed just how important it is to find enjoyment within your swimming to help motivate you to get down to the pool and make progress with your technique, fitness and open water skills. Sadly over the years we have seen so many athletes getting into swimming but seeing it only as a necessary evil to complete a triathlon event. This proves to be a huge barrier to progress for so many people. If you have ever felt this way yourself, I just hope that you can take an ounce of inspiration from Perc by getting down to the pool and having a lightness and positivity in your attitude towards your swimming. Keep a smile on your face and enjoy being immersed in the water for all the positive benefits it brings you. 

Swimming is truly a fantastic sport to be involved with and doesn't have to be the chore that you may feel it to be right now. Find just one thing that you enjoy about being in the water and every session make sure you start and finish with that element. Perc used to love diving down to the bottom of the pool and playing around like a kid - maybe this was what kept him so youthful and positive in his later years? Maybe this same thing will be what keeps you coming back for more and with that consistency your swimming will improve.

Perc had three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He will be sadly missed within our local swimming community in Perth and no doubt much wider afield as well. Personally I feel blessed to have known and been inspired by such an amazing person over the last 10 years and I will miss our poolside banter tremendously.

Thank you Perc for all the memories and for fuelling my own passion for swimming.


Paul Newsome
Swim Smooth Head Coach

The Best Office In The World!

We've been hearing from a lot of you recently who are interested in knowing more about our set-up in Perth, Western Australia (perhaps inspired by some of the stories and pictures in our new book). Here's a quick tour of what we do:

Swim Smooth's coaching set-up is in Perth, Western Australia and it's not hard to understand why. There are 25 Olympic (50m) pools in Perth for a population of around 1.5 million people. The climate is idyllic with the summer months averaging 31°C (88°F) and the winter months 19°C (65°F). Together with a year round average 8 hours of sunshine a day, Perth is certainly one of the best places to swim in the world!

Swim Smooth is based at the beautiful Claremont Pool, which features outdoor 50m and 25m pools in its beautiful grounds (complete with barbecues!). As our head coach Paul Newsome is fond of saying "it's the best office in the world!" :

We operate three separate squads, totalling around 340 swimmers attending 12 training sessions, each made up of a range of swimmers of all ability levels. The level of interest in Swim Smooth in Perth is huge and unfortunately we have to restrict our squad numbers to maintain the quality of coaching.

Hello from our 6:30am squad!
Paul Newsome and our other coaches have conducted over 5000 video analysis sessions in Perth going back over the last decade. The training sessions and techniques that we talk about in our DVDs, training plans and books have all been born from this intensive coaching environment. If you've been using any of our coaching products you would immediately feel at home in our squads with both the style of sessions and the drills themselves:

John, Phil, Mike, Gwen and Cindy working on their exhalation technique.
We're passionate about developing swimmers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, and we hope that comes across in the blog and on our websites. We give everyone the same attention and never dumb anything down for beginners. All our swimmers from beginner to elite receive the same enthusiastic approach and high quality coaching, that's very much at the core of what we do.

We also run a special elite squad with professional triathletes such as Kate Bevilaqua and Guy Crawford in attendance, and some of the best open water swimmers in Australia. Many professional triathletes looking to improve their swimming drop in to Perth to join this squad and be coached by Paul Newsome during the northern hemisphere winter.

A lot of the elite guys have been out preparing and racing in Kona the last few weeks but are now coming back and training up for the Aussie race season ahead (and sharing a few war stories before training too!) :

We're also very lucky to have the world's largest channel swim in town, the 19.8km Rottnest Channel Swim taking place every February. Many of our squad swimmers take on the challenge of this fantastic event, either solo, in duos or teams of four swimmers :

As you know open water swimming is a real passion of ours and we run weekly training sessions in the Indian Ocean down at the iconic Cottesloe Beach :

Or we did... but unfortunately a spate of shark attacks in Western Australia have stopped us training regularly in the ocean, although major swimming and triathlon events are still going on. We can't wait to get back in there but in the meantime we have the beautiful swan river, which is warm enough to train in even in winter :

Perth really is a special place to live, swim and coach. It's the most isolated city in the world (the nearest city being Adelaide 2,104 km away) but you'd never know that. The facilities and environment are amazing and the people love all sports but particular swimming. It's the perth-ect place to develop the world's best swim coaching program!

We hope you enjoyed that quick tour of what we do. For more stories and pictures from Perth as they happen, follow Paul Newsome on twitter here.

If You're In The UK

Unfortunately we can't click our fingers and move the sunshine and amazing pools to the UK but we have imported our coaching! Our Swim Smooth certified coaches have trained with us for over a year (including special intensive training in Perth) and are now operating throughout the UK:

Book a unique video-analysis-and-stroke-correction-consultation with a SS coach today, these are very special one-off sessions which are well worth a journey to attend. Or, if you are lucky enough to live nearby, join one of their Swim Smooth squads which use the same structure as the ones here in Perth.

We're very pleased to announce that we have three more coaches currently training to fill in those gaps around the UK map, look out for them when they become certified in early 2013.

Swim Smooth!

I've Been Trying This Technique For Years And I'm Still Not Getting Any Faster!

Remember the rule-of-six-
-sessions when correcting
any part of your stroke.

Upcoming Swim Smooth Clinics / One to One Consultations:

New Loughborough SS Squad
Full information here

Richmond, UK
Nov Evening Workshops
Full information here

S'ampton / New Forest, UK
Dec Clinics
Full information here

Loughborough, UK
24th Feb Clinic
Full information here

Tri/Swim Camp Mallorca
28th April - 5th May 2013
Full information: here

Swim Camp & OW Festival
25th May - 1st June 2013
Full information: here

For more info on SS Certified Coaches see here

The human body needs to perform an action about 10,000 times before it starts to feel natural and automatic. If you're making a change to your stroke technique that's roughly six sessions worth of swimming (counting each arm stroke).

Most stroke changes feel very unnatural at first and in some cases they can even feel 'wrong' but don't give up on them too soon. Make sure you persevere with a change for at least six sessions before you judge if it's helping or hindering you. That's quite a lot of swimming and will require a bit of discipline on your part...

...but don't persevere too long! If you're trying a stroke modification and it isn't giving you a noticeable benefit after six to eight sessions then you need to do something different. Maybe you're trying to achieve too much at once (breaking things down into smaller steps might help) or you need a different drill or another visualisation.

A classic question we get from many swimmers is: "I've been trying this technique for three years and I'm still not getting any faster! When will it work for me?" - Sorry to say, it's never going to happen. You're never going to wake up one day and be a super fast and efficient swimmer focusing on the same things for months (and years) on end without any progress in the meantime. You desperately need to break out of that rut and try something different.

It could be you need to introduce more fitness training and open water skills to your training mix. Or perhaps the ideal stroke technique you have in mind is simply the wrong one and you need a new vision of stroke perfection. The very best way (if you're in the UK) is to see a Swim Smooth Coach who will give you a clear picture of the changes you need to make.

Don't be afraid to really shake things up this winter and try a different approach to your swimming - it could exactly what you need both mentally and physically to break you out of that rut.

Swim Smooth!

(this post is a revisit on an old favourite of ours)

How To Get The Benefit Of A Pull Buoy Without Using One

We know that many swimmers and triathletes (particularly triathletes!) love their pull buoy as it helps improve their body position in the water, bringing their legs up high towards the surface.

Of course any swimmer will benefit from a high body position in the water as it reduces your drag significantly, even if you don't particularly like swimming with a pull buoy. So how do we recreate the pull buoy effect in your stroke without having one in place? Believe it or not, it's actually very simple.

When you swim your body pivots around your centre, a bit like a see-saw:

The extra buoyancy of a pull-buoy pulls your legs up but as you pivot around your centre it also drops your chest slightly lower, bringing you more horizontal in the water.

This pivoting effect means you can actually achieve the exact same thing by reducing the buoyancy in your chest. If you can do that then your chest will sink slightly lower and your legs will come upwards in the exact same way as if you were using a pull-buoy.

How to reduce the buoyancy in your chest? Learn to exhale smoothly into the water to get rid of the CO2 from your lungs as you swim. You could do this continuously between taking breaths. It's no co-incidence that the worst sufferers of sinky-leg-syndrome are also those who hold onto their breath the most vigorously!

Putting Some Numbers On It

The average lung capacity of an adult male is 6 litres and for an adult woman around 4 litres. You're not going to reduce the air in your lungs to zero with a good exhalation technique but you do have the scope to easily exhale 1-2 litres of air which will reduce your chest's buoyancy by 1-2kg (or 10-20 newtons to be technical!).

A normal sized pull buoy has a buoyancy of around 1.5 kg (or 15 newtons), so you can see that the power of a good exhalation technique is similar to that of a pull buoy when it comes to your body position.

How To Exhale

Exhaling into the water between breaths is harder than you might think if you haven't tried it before as we all have a strong instinct to hold onto our breath underwater. The key to a good exhalation technique is to relax and feel like you are sighing into the water either through your nose or mouth, whichever you prefer. Imagine you've had a hectic day at work and you come home and collapse on the couch letting out a big sigh of relief - that's exactly how your exhalation should feel. Don't try and force it out, just let it go smoothly.

Traditional advice given to swimmers has been hold onto your breathe as is increases your buoyancy. Yes it does but as we have seen it does so in the wrong place. This might work for a sprinter kicking very hard over 50 or 100m as the strong kick creates lift in itself but for distance swimmers, a long smooth exhalation into the water is absolutely key to improving your balance and body position in the water.

HUUB Wetsuits

We applied this same principle when designing the new HUUB wetsuit range. For those with low sinking legs we maximised the buoyancy in the legs but actively reduced the buoyancy in the chest in the '3:5' suits. This lifts your legs up with twice the push of a normal wetsuit because of the see-saw effect. If you suffer from low lying legs in the water take a close look at the 3:5 Archimedes and Aerious models, you won't believe the difference in speed they will give you!

If you already have a good body position in the water you will find the '4:4' (men's) and '3:3' (women's) profiles maintain your balance and give you a much more natural feel than any other wetsuit. It's all about choosing the right suit to match your individual stroke.

Don't comprise any longer:

Swim Smooth!

Remarkable Footage Of Swimmers Going Off Course

Picture the scene: You're finishing your triathlon swim leg in perfectly flat water conditions, there's excellent visibility, no currents or tides, and a huge swim finish banner to swim towards. Easy to swim straight into shore?

You would think it was... and yet take a look at this time-accelerated footage we shot at the Busselton 70.3 triathlon :

You've probably stood on the shore and watched swimmers at numerous races yourself but it's only when you accelerate the footage like this that you see what is truly going on and how swimmers are adding many hundreds of meters to their swims by constantly going off course.

Are you doing this? If you struggle to transfer your pool times across to open water or have a bad race performance and are not sure why, this is almost certainly the reason. This footage was shot in perfect conditions but if the water is rougher or sighting is more difficult, things get a lot worse and more and more swimmers fall foul of this problem.

Always Keep Open Water Skills In Mind

If you've read our new book you'll understand how highly we value open water skills, such as the ability to swim in a straight line. It's all very well focusing on improving your stroke technique in the pool, perhaps chipping a few minutes off your 1500m time but if you then give away five minutes by constantly moving off course in an open water race what's the point?

That's why we strongly recommend that you keep practising your open water skills all year round, working on techniques such as the ability to swim straight, sighting efficiently and drafting confidently in the pool over the winter. These skills can improve your swim splits by 1, 2, 5 or even 10 minutes per km in extreme cases.

Many swimmers (and coaches) tell themselves "swimming is all about technique" but the truth is that there are many things that constitute great technique. Pacing yourself well, drafting effectively, sighting efficiently and swimming straight without a black line on the bottom of the pool are all critical aspects of great technique. And they are worth just as much time for your race performances too.

Swim Smooth!

PS. If you're an open water or triathlon coach, please forward this to your athletes to watch.

Maintaining Your Stroke Technique At Faster Speeds

A skill that all great swimmers have is the ability to maintain their stroke technique at racing speeds, which requires strong concentration and great coordination. Here's a simple set that you can use to start to develop this yourself. We just ran it with the Swim Smooth squads in Perth and the guys loved the challenge!

Perform a short warm-up of around 4-600m and then kick off the following descending set of 21x 100m :

If Swum With A Tempo TrainerIf Swum Without A Tempo Trainer
3x 100m @CSS* + 2 sec3x 100m at 60% effort level
3x 100m @CSS + 1 sec3x 100m at 1 sec /100m faster
3x 100m @CSS3x 100m at 1 sec /100m faster
3x 100m @CSS - 1 sec3x 100m at 1 sec /100m faster
3x 100m @CSS - 2 sec3x 100m at 1 sec /100m faster
3x 100m @CSS - 3 sec3x 100m at 1 sec /100m faster
3x 100m @CSS - 4 sec3x 100m at 1 sec /100m faster
(take one beep rest between 100s)(take 20 seconds rest between 100s)

At first the 100s will feel very do-able so get into your stroke with a nice rhythm and concentrate on hitting the times as accurately as you can. Obviously as things get progressively faster they become more challenging so maintain your focus on holding your stroke together, not fighting the water. This combination of good pacing with good stroke technique under duress is very powerful for developing you as a distance swimmer.

Whilst swimming the set, it can be a good idea to pick a single area of weakness in your stroke and focus on it as things become harder. This could be maintaining a constant smooth exhalation into the water, avoiding crossing over the centre line in front of your head or stretching through your core to keep yourself straight.

Don't worry if you are quite new to freestyle swimming, its amazing what you can achieve when you challenge yourself and give this session a good crack. If you find you fatigue quickly, you can shorten the set by swimming 2x 100m at each speed.

* CSS is your Critical Swim Speed which is approximately the speed you can sustain for 1500m flat out. You might also know it as your threshold pace. Find out more about how to calculate it here:

Using Your Tempo Trainer Pro
Elite swimmers have an amazing ability to hold
their stroke technique when swimming quickly.

A Tempo Trainer Pro is a great tool for this sort of set because it helps you pace things out very accurately by beeping to you when you should be starting, turning or finishing a lap. You've just got to stay with the beep to complete the set! Our tips:

- Use mode 1 set to beep the pace to you every 25m or 25yd so you get pacing feedback during each 100m.

- Take one beep rest between each 100m. So finish a swim on a beep and then start the next 100m on the next beep.

- If you have the beeper set to beep every 25m then take off 0.25 seconds to speed up by 1 second per 100m.

- You might notice straight away that you have a tendency to start too fast over the first 25-50m of each swim and get ahead of the beep before dropping back again. This highlights that developing a better sense of pacing will be critical to moving your swimming forwards.

For more information about the Tempo Trainer Pro or to purchase yours see:

Swim Smooth!

Choosing The Right Fin

You might have noticed that on our DVDs and in our new book we only use mid-length flexible fins:

click to play short video clip
We recommend this style of fin for all swimmers as they give you good propulsion and support when performing drills - which is the primary purpose of using them.

Shorter flippers such as zoomers can work well for elite swimmers but for most of us they do not provide enough propulsion for stroke correction work. It's critical that you feel well supported when performing drills so you can focus fully on the drill and not be worried about kicking hard enough to move forwards.

When Purchasing Fins:

- Choose something 'mid length' - i.e. longer than a zoomer but shorter than a full length scuba fin.

- Make sure they are made from a soft and flexible material such as rubber. Some fins are made from plastic which is much stiffer and places a lot of load on your ankles and feet. If you suffer from cramping in the foot with fins then a softer material should help.

- For some reason we've never understood most fins are slightly smaller than stated. So if you have size 9 feet, you're probably best going for a size 9-11 pair rather than a 7-9.

In short, choose something like this:

Fins Aren't Cheating!

A mid-length fin gives you proper
support for drill work.
There seems to be a school of thought out there that you should never use fins as they are cheating but nothing could be further from the truth.

When used with a specific purpose in mind they are extremely valuable to help you develop your stroke technique in ways that would otherwise be very hard to achieve. New movements in swimming can feel very alien so it's important that you are able to really relax to get the feel of them.

As a rough guide, in the Swim Smooth Squads we use fins for about 400m at a time for structured drill work. We do this with all our swimmers, from the relative beginners right up to our elite swimmers such as Jono Van Hazel. As an added bonus, using fins regularly helps to develop and maintain their ankle flexibility which is key to efficient freestyle swimming.

Not allowed to use fins at your pool? This is a frustrating problem to have and you can find our suggestions about it here.

Blatant Plug Of The Month

We've just got some of the excellent Floating Fins from Finis in stock on our website shop. These have the perfect combination of flexibility and length we are talking about here:

Fins like these are easy to find in Australia but we know that in recent years they have largely disappeared from the UK and European markets. So a big shout out to Finis for introducing them again.

Swim Smooth!

A Rule Of Thumb For Your Swim Fitness

What rate of improvement can you expect from your swimming fitness training per week? And if you miss a week, how much do you slip back?

Here's a rule of thumb we use at Swim Smooth:

- With consistent training, you improve by 0.5 second per 100m per week

- When you miss a week's training, you lose 1 second per 100m per week

So, if you've just had a 5 week break from training it will take you about 10 weeks to get back to where you were before the break - really highlighting the importance of consistency in your training!

Anticipating The Change

These gains and losses show up most clearly at your CSS or threshold pace. If you use a Tempo Trainer Pro or Wetronome to pace yourself through these sets (see below), adjust your pace before your training session using the rule above. Based on your previous training (or lack of it) speed up or slow down the beeper in anticipation of your change in fitness.

We've trained a lot of athletes over many years and this rule of thumb normally works very well. However, if you are new to fitness training in swimming, you may initially improve more quickly than 0.5 second per 100m.

Tempo Trainers And CSS Training

We know that many of you have been using CSS training sets to improve your swim specific fitness and have seen some huge improvements in your swimming performances as a result. For example, Alen Pezzin in our squad improved his speed by 13% in 10 weeks, dropping from 1:47 to 1:32 / 100m at threshold!

The Tempo Trainer is worn under
your swim cap and beeps once every
lap to set you a target pace.
Using a Tempo Trainer Pro in mode 2 is a great way to pace yourself accurately through these sets but did you know you can also use mode 1 to become even more accurate with your lap time? You can then adjust your lap time in 0.01 second intervals allowing you to be really precise with your pacing. The original mode 2 only allows whole seconds at a time, equating to a change of 4 seconds per 100 in a 25m or 25yd pool. That's OK but if you want to adjust things by 0.5 second per 100m you need to be more precise by using mode 1.

You can find out more about CSS training here and the Tempo Trainer Pro here.

Swim Smooth!

Sweet Uncertainty Is A Powerful Motivator

What makes a great training session from a psychological point of view? A coach we work with closely in Montréal, Charles Gaston-Couturier, describes the challenge of a good training set using something he calls 'Sweet Uncertainty', based on work by Brunelle in 1988 [1].

Visually it looks a little like this:
To the left side of the graph we have a goal that is so far within your capabilities it is too easy and boring. On the right side is a goal so hard you know it is impossible to complete, to attempt it would be futile. Somewhere in-between lies a tough challenge, one you're not sure whether it's possible to complete or not, a challenge that once set becomes very motivating.

The most common example of this form of motivation is when you set yourself a race or event goal, for instance "Next year I want to swim that hard 10km race" or "I want to complete an Olympic Distance Triathlon in 2:30".

The Flow State

Psychology Professor Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi describes how the motivation of a challenge leads to the 'flow state' [2] where all our emotions and our entire focus are aligned to help us achieve the goal:

"The flow state is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one... Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."

In the sporting world we know the flow state as 'the zone'. Attempt something too easy and we become bored but try something too hard or beyond our skill level and we become anxious and demotivated by the futility of trying. Both extremes make it impossible for us to enter the zone, instead we need that point of uncertainty somewhere in-between.

Setting Yourself Regular Challenges

What is interesting to note is that this form of goal setting motivation (known technically as 'extrinsic self determined') doesn't just exist for mid and long term goals, it works session by session too.

So if you are bored or lacking motivation, try setting yourself regular mini-challenges in your training. This could be a set you haven't tried before or times and distances you are not sure you can complete. It might be leading your lane in the squad through a CSS set or matching a training partner who is slightly quicker than you.

Such challenges don't need to be set in every session because looking forward to them will motivate you in other sessions building up to them. But find that point of sweet uncertainty and motivation (and flow) will be yours.

Swim Smooth!

[1] "La supervision de l'intervention en activité physique" by Brunelle, Drouin, Godbout et Tousignant
[2] "Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play" by Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi

A Little Science Behind Propulsion

As you swim, have you ever wondered how much of your arm stroke effort is wasted? What percentage really goes into pushing you forwards through the water and what is lost as water movement down, to the side and into eddies?

The technical term for this is ‘propelling efficiency’ and it makes a direct contribution to your overall efficiency as a swimmer. If more of your effort creates forwards propulsion and less is lost as water movement then you become a faster and more efficient swimmer.

When you work on your catch and pull technique to press the water backwards with good timing you are working on improving this propelling efficiency.

Swimmers vs. Triathletes

Last year we designed the exciting new range of HUUB wetsuits with Dean Jackson and top sports science Professor Huub Toussaint (we liked his name so much Deano named the company after him!). As well as a guru on minimising drag in wetsuits, Huub is also the world leading sports scientist looking at propulsion in swimming.

In 1990 he conducted a study comparing high level swimmers and triathletes in the water [1]. The results were fascinating. At the same swimming speed, the triathletes converted 44% of their work output into propulsive power whilst the swimmers converted 61%. A very large difference in propelling efficiency highlighting the superior stroke technique of the swimmers over the triathletes.

Huub Toussaint and Dean Jackson with Swim Smooth's
Adam Young and Paul Newsome
This study looked at national and international standard athletes. However if you are a little lower down the pecking order yourself then you can expect your propelling efficiency to be lower with the majority of your effort lost into the water. Your figure might be in the 10-40% range. At the other end of the spectrum, Huub has measured propelling efficiencies as high as 80% in Olympic swimmers at racing speed.

Propelling Efficiency And Effort

Huub's study compared swimmers all moving at the same speed. What happens to your propelling efficiency when you vary your effort from slow to fast swimming? You may find the answer quite surprising: As you work harder, your propelling efficiency improves and as you slow down it gets worse. In other words, if you increase your effort (e.g. by 10%) you get a greater return in propulsion (e.g. great than 10%). Conversely, drop your effort by 10% and you lose more than 10% in propulsion.

Although this change in efficiency with effort is well recognised by sports scientists, there is very little high quality data out there to quantify it for human swimmers. However, we can get a rough idea by looking at studies of fish. Webb studied trout swimming over their full speed range [2]. The results show a very strong relationship :

We have to be careful with this data as it relates to fish not humans but the strength of the relationship is striking. At slow speeds over 80% of their effort is lost into the water whilst when moving quickly they become much more efficient, losing only 20%. The hydrodynamics of why this happens is complex and beyond the scope of this blog but the key point to appreciate is how been overly gentle with the water is actually extremely inefficient.

(In an interesting aside, Webb noted that the fish in the study were reluctant to swim very gently, perhaps innately recognising the inefficiency of doing so!)

Efficiency Folklore

Much of the information out there in swimming books and on the internet purely focuses on decreasing your drag to make you a more efficient swimmer. For that reason it’s hardly surprising if in your mind you equate efficiency with reducing drag but really that’s only half the story. Your overall efficiency is a combination of your propelling efficiency and your drag profile.

You could say:
overall efficiency = propelling efficiency x drag efficiency

It’s important to appreciate that both elements are of equal importance, not one over the other. If your propelling efficiency is poor then you can work all you like on reducing drag but you will only make small improvements in efficiency.


If you are a bit of a swim geek (like us!) then hopefully you found that interesting. But what practical conclusions can we draw? Here are our thoughts:

Eddies in the space time continuum
1) To become a more efficient swimmer, work on both your propulsive technique (e.g. catch and pull) and reducing drag (e.g. balance, alignment and kick). Don’t be sold on the idea that one is more important that the other or more of a priority to improve your stroke efficiency.

2) As we discussed last week on the blog be careful with the notion of swimming ‘effortlessly’ to become more efficient. As we have seen above, swimming too gently actually reduces your overall efficiency. This is one of the main reasons why swimmers trying to glide effortlessly down the pool become very frustrated with their lack of speed.

3) Don’t become a ‘technique hermit’, shunning all swim specific fitness training and solely focusing on swimming drills. The more swim fit you are, the higher effort you can sustain and therefore the more efficient you will be. Swim fitness is a vital ingredient of an efficient swimmer!

4) A key area of development for the Bambino Swim Type is better rhythm in the stroke. Although this involves turning the arms over quicker, the result is normally a reduction in effort, not an increase. This happens because the Bambino has such a poor feel for the water that their propelling efficiency is very low indeed and by lifting their stroke rhythm this improves.

5) Don’t use this as an excuse to muscle the water, that’s not what we’re talking about here. Efficient propulsion is generated through pressing the water in the right direction with good rhythm and timing. Whilst it certainly does not feel effortless, the catch should not be a forceful movement either.

Swim Smooth!

[1] Toussaint HM. Differences in propelling efficiency between competitive and triathlon swimmers. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1990;22:409-415.

[2] Webb PW. The swimming energetics of trout II: Oxygen consumption and swimming efficiency. J Exp Biol 1971;55:521-540

When Is It Going To Feel Effortless?

Effortless is a word that is often used by swimmers and coaches alike. But what does it mean to you when you swim or see others swimming?

There's a big difference between an elite swimmer *looking* effortless and them being truly effortless in the water.

As a case in point, our real-life Mr Smooth Jono van Hazel, who competed at the Athens Olympics in 2004 in the 50m freestyle, looks effortless when swimming at 1:10 per 100m pace. And yet this is actually his 1500m race pace - not something he can sustain all day. If it was truly effortless, by trying a little harder he'd be able to challenge Sun Yang's 1500m world record, which of course he can't.

The word effortless has been used in a well meaning manner by coaches for many years. The idea being not to fight against the water but work with it, as elite swimmers like Jono do. However, many swimmers have latched onto the notion that swimming should be truly effortless and as such they should never work hard in training or feel anything but very easy when they swim.

When you are swimming it should not be without effort. Just like when riding or running, you can feel strong, smooth and rhythmical. You are working efficiently with the water but it's never truly effortless. Swimming wasn't meant to be that way.

Swim Smooth!

Some Vacation Reading

The Swim Smooth team are enjoying a week's vacation, so no proper blog post this week. However this gives us the opportunity to mention some links and resources you might find useful:

twitter If you didn't know already, our head Coach Paul Newsome is on Twitter here. Coaching tips aplenty in amongst the banter!
twitter Swim Smooth's Adam Young has started a new blog focusing on how to give up your desk job and turn pro with your own passion (e.g. sports coaching, physio, events, photography etc) :
twitterWe've been enjoying reading Sheila Tourmina's excellent new book Swim Speed Secrets. Sheila won Olympic Gold in the pool and became ITU Triathlon World Champ in 2004. A fantastic athlete who knows all about becoming fast in the water!
twitter Tempo Trainers are now back in stock in the Swim Smooth shop. Pick up this fantastic gadget today, perfect for developing your swimming technique!
twitterHave a question about your swimming? Why not join our forum at - a great place to meet like minded swimmers and chat with the SS coaches.
twitter If you're a coach and find Swim Smooth useful to your work, it's well worth joining our Coaches Network here (if you haven't done so already). Members of the network get invited to our coaching courses and many go on to become certified SS coaches. :)

Swim Smooth!

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