Sprinters vs Distance Swimmers

HUUB Archimedes 3:5 and Women's AURA now in stock. Available now from our UK distribution centre: here
If you train in a squad you will have noticed how some swimmers are great sprinters, able to work very hard over 50 or 100m. Others are much less able to sprint but can sustain a strong pace over 800m or further. This is in part determined by the type of training each swimmer is doing but there also is a genetic predisposition to each, some swimmer make natural sprinters, while others are more natural distance athletes.

If you study swimmers closely you'll also notice cross-breeds; those swimmers who can sprint fairly well and also sustain a fairly strong distance pace. These swimmers normally have a sweet-spot around 200 or 400m where they are faster than the pure sprinters and the pure distance guys. These are the middle-distance swimmers, the great Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe being a classic example of the breed.

We can show this graphically as race speed over different distances of race:

The blue line is a middle-distance swimmer. He or she can travel quicker than our distance swimmer (red line) over 50, 100 and 200m. But by the time they are racing a much longer distance such as 1500m, the tables have turned and the distance swimmer is considerably faster. A pure sprinter would show an even greater drop-off in performance as race distances get longer.

Becoming A Distance Swimmer
Perth squad member Suzanne is all smiles after
her once-weekly CSS session!

To become a good distance swimmer, we're not so interested in the ability to sprint very quickly over short distances. Instead we need to emulate great distance swimmers at the elite level and train ourselves to sustain a strong pace over longer distances. The best way to do this is to swim sets at CSS pace with short recoveries between swims. Compared to sprint or middle distance training, the swims are slightly slower but with much shorter recoveries.

If you come from a team sport background such as football or rugby you need to be especially careful of getting this right as you are likely to have a natural sprint ability. Most Arnies fall into this category. A key focus to improve your swimming is to tame that competitive instinct to go hard from the gun in training and to set off at a more moderate pace but one that you can sustain. At Swim Smooth we affectionately refer to this as 'Taming The Arnie'!

When you swim at CSS pace, it feels very easy over the first 50m and only like a moderate effort over the next 100 to 200m. Be aware of this and resist the urge to go too hard too soon! The effort will progressively build and by the end of the set you'll be really working to sustain that same pace.

Aim to complete one CSS set a week and within four to six weeks you'll notice a definite improvement in your distance swimming fitness and race performances. This is a double gain as increased fitness will also help you sustain a better stroke technique without that feeling of your 'stoke falling apart'. You're changing your fitness and becoming more like the red-line swimmer in the graph above.

More information about CSS training and examples of training sets, see our website here:


The CSS Calculator

If you've played with the CSS calculator on that webpage, you might have noticed something a little strange. If you keep your 400m time fixed but reduce your 200m time, your CSS pace becomes slower! At first sight this seems very odd - how can a faster swimmer end up with a slower CSS pace?

To understand this we need to refer back to the graph above. By keeping a swimmer's 400m time the same and increasing the 200m speed, we are saying their physiology is becoming more of a sprinter and that their performances will drop off over longer distances.

The power of CSS training is that it gets you training at the right intensity level to improve as a distance swimmer, whatever your current level of fitness or genetic predisposition.

Richard Ussher

After consulting with us in Perth, five time NZ Coast To Coast winner Richard Ussher has been following our 10 week CSS development programme as he prepares for the XTerra World Champs. Rich identified that he needs to be 90 to 120 seconds faster over 1500m in the swim to match his incredible bike, run and paddling performances. In combination with work to refine his Swinger technique, we identified how essential it is for Rich to train wisely to see the results he wants using CSS training. In 10 weeks he's reduced his threshold pace by 5 seconds per 100m (or 75s over 1500m) down from 1:23 /100m to 1:18 /100m - a very nice result.

Find out more about this amazing athlete at: http://www.adventuresportnz.com/site/Welcome.html

Swim Smooth!

Join Us At Heron Lake On August 6th

Newsflash: The new Swim Smooth book is officially the best selling watersports book in the UK, topping the sales charts in June and July! We've also had confirmation from Triathlon England, Scotland and Ireland that they are recommending it to their members and supplying copies to selected coaches.

Get your own copy here and read independent reviews here.

Swim Smooth Open Water Skills Evening: Heron Lake

In conjunction with HUUB wetsuits, Swim Smooth's Paul Newsome and Adam Young will be running an open water skills evening at Heron Lake in West London on 6th August. We're only in the UK for a limited time during the Olympics and the evening is strictly limited to 50 swimmers, so book quickly!

Receive direct coaching from Paul and Adam, including :

- A special Swim Smooth seminar on improving your performances in open water.

- A coached open water skills session to improve your sighting technique, drafting skills and ability to swim straight.

Your open water skills are just as important as
stroke technique and fitness to your performances.
- Correct wetsuit fitting (this can make a surprising difference to how well you swim in your suit).

- Mindset tips and strategies for better racing.

- Special guests and demonstration swims by elite triathletes including Harry Wiltshire.

- Test out what you've learnt in a mini race! Estimate your 400m or 1500m time and then complete the respective race distance without a watch on. The male and female swimmers closest to their estimated time win a special prize!

We're sure this will fill up very quickly so don't hesitate to book your place: www.swimsmooth.com/open-water-evening.html

We also hope to have a number of HUUB wetsuits available to test on the evening, subject to their availability.

Swim Smooth!

The Red Mist Set

Our Wednesday 5:30am squad in Perth are a tough bunch, they are all experienced triathletes and open water swimmers looking to improve their performances. They come to this session expecting a challenging 90 minute swim and last week we gave them a classic training set, one that distance swimming coaches have used through the decades to test their swimmers physically and mentally.

At Swim Smooth we call this session 'The Red Mist Set' and it comes with a warning:


Paul: If you are an intermediate or advanced level swimmer give this set a go and you are guaranteed to learn something about yourself and how you are swimming. It's perfect for anyone racing Ironman or doing a 5km or longer open water race. When I was training with the British Triathlon Team at Bath University we used to swim this set every Monday morning. I make no qualms about it, I hated every last meter of it and used to dread it because it tackled a weakness of mine head on - the ability to stay focused and maintain a strong pace when things get tough. Is this something you struggle with? I think we all do at some level.

The Red Mist Set

This corker of a session is deceptively simple, it's just 10x 400m rolling straight through at a gradually faster pace:
4x 400m at CSS pace + 6 sec /100m
3x 400m at CSS pace + 5 sec /100m
2x 400m at CSS pace + 4 sec /100m
1x 400m at CSS pace + 3 sec /100m
The best way of swimming it is by using a Wetronome or Tempo Trainer Pro in lap interval mode to pace you perfectly through each swim, taking one beep rest between 400s - which for most swimmers will be 20-30 seconds recovery. If you are swimming without a beeper, use a turn around time to give you between 20 and 30 seconds rest.

The Finis Tempo Trainer Pro
- use it to pace out
your training sets perfectly.
The target pace for each swim is referenced from your CSS pace. For instance if your CSS is 1:30 /100m then your target pace for the first 4x 400m is 1:36 /100m and the second 3x 400 at 1:35 /100m etc. In this way, as your fitness and CSS pace improves the session becomes progressively harder to compensate.

Whilst this set might appear to be pure fitness training, it has two very important technique focuses to it: Maintaining your stroke technique at close to threshold pace, as you need to when racing. And developing your pace judgement and pacing skills, which are also essential to reach your potential as a swimmer.

[ Find out how to calculate your CSS pace here and use Steve Casson's Swimulator+ app to help programme your beeper. ]

The Swirling Red Mist

During Wednesday's session, around 80% of the squad became irritable, grumpy or came close to giving up during the set. This is the 'Red Mist' at work, giving you feelings of resentment or perhaps anger for being pushed so relentlessly. If you can come through this set and cope well with the mental and physical challenges it offers then it leaves you perfectly prepared for some great performances in your races.

Squad Board: The Red Mist Set
Paul: In the middle of this set you'll tell yourself that it's pointless 'thrashing around', 'imprinting bad technique' and you'd have been 'better off doing some drills' but this is your head looking for an excuse to stop. Time and experience has taught me that this session really works and if you can get your head around the seeming 'boredom', 'tedium' or 'slog' of this session, you stand to make some massive progress with your swimming. After all, how often in a race have you had these same mental tussles with yourself?

Yes this session puts you under pressure and forces you to maintain focus and push away negative thoughts from your head. To reach your potential as a swimmer it's essential that you put yourself in this pressurised position regularly (perhaps once a week). My old gym teacher at school called it 'Moral Fibre' as he forced us to go cross-country running in sub-zero temperatures in just shorts and a vest!

Every week I swim this session myself with another of our squads (our elite triathlon group) and compared to those years as a junior athlete at Bath, I now really look forward to it. I crave the challenge of taking on the red mist because I know that by getting through this set every week it will give me a real sense of confidence and 'flow' to my swim training. This is a key lesson I learnt from swimming tough sets like this one when training for the Rottnest Channel and English Channel swims.

I've now swum the Rest Mist Set 16 weeks in succession and gone from 1:25 /100m to 1:16/100m, reducing the target time by 1 sec /100m every two weeks. So whilst it's the same session each time, there's progression built in to avoid hitting a plateau.

Give It A Crack

Even if you don't normally swim 4km in training, set yourself the challenge of the red mist, turn off the negative thoughts in your head and give it a crack. Let us know how you get on!

Swim Smooth!

The Stroke Every Swim Coach Wants To Change (But Shouldn't)

Harry Wiltshire is an elite ITU triathlete who is always amongst the first few athletes out of the water at every world cup event he races. He can swim 17 minutes and change for 1500m, and trains every day with the Brownlee brothers for good measure. But Harry has a problem: every swim coach wants to change his stroke.

His stroke is a long way from an orthodox smooth stroke, with a short punchy style and striking straight arm recovery:

He takes between 45 and 50 strokes per 50m and appears to windmill his arms. His turn over seems frenetic at 90 to 100 strokes per minute:

This is a long way from what most people think of as an efficient freestyle stroke and yet he's first out of the water at the very highest level of triathlon. At an easy level of effort he swims faster than most age group triathletes can sprint. How does he do this?

Don't Mess With Harry!

Also read our exclusive interview with Harry about his swimming and trying to make the Olympic team: www.swimsmooth.com/harry-wiltshire-interview.html
Harry was the first athlete that our head coach Paul Newsome ever coached whilst they were both at Bath University during the late 90s. Like nearly every other swim coach before or since, Paul thought that's a terrible stroke, let's smooth him out and make his stroke longer! The problem with doing so was that it immediately made him slower and less efficient.

Harry is a skilled swimmer and can switch to a longer smoother stroke if he wants to but this stroke style simply does not suit him and it immediately feels hard work. He doesn't swim the way he does because of a lack of coordination or skill, he swims this way out of choice.

It was this experience of working with Harry that caused Paul to realise that this 'Swinger' style of stroke did have a lot of merit and triggered a line of thinking and research that lead to the Swim Type system.

Like all great swimmers, the secret to Harry's stroke is what happens underwater. He has a great body position with hips, knees and feet very near the surface :

An excellent catch and pull technique, pressing the water back behind him with a bent elbow :

And a low energy two beat kick, ideal for distance swimming :

Harry's fast arm turnover gives his stroke amazing rhythm which helps him punch through waves and swell, and minimise buffeting from other swimmer's wakes. That high arm recovery allows good clearance over disturbed water and lets him to swim close to other swimmers to maximise drafting benefits.

At first sight it would be easy to disregard Harry's stroke as 'fighting the water' but as we can see above he's doing anything but. There's plenty of great technique in his stroke, it's just that everything happens very quickly. If you blink you miss it!

If you've been following Swim Smooth for a while you will know that we call swimmers like Harry 'Swingers' because they tend to recover with a distinctive straight arm style. Harry is an extreme example of a Swinger but nearly all professional triathletes and open water swimmers use this style to a greater or lesser extent, including those Brownlee brothers, who are favourites for Olympic Gold in London.

Should You Use This Style Yourself?

Harry's stroke isn't something we would hold up and say 'copy this' as it is a fairly extreme example of the Swinger type with quite a lack of symmetry and a significant head lift to breathe. Compared to an elite swimmer, his catch could also be improved somewhat. However, we should recognise and appreciate his strengths because there are definitely some aspects of his stroke you can emulate to become a better swimmer :

Harry exits another swim in the first pack.
- If you are a triathlete or open water swimmer, experiment with a slightly straighter arm recovery. This may feel strange at first but it will help you clear disturbed water and also swim closer to other swimmers.

- All swimmers need great rhythm and timing in their strokes, and this is especially the case in open water. Don't lose site of this by trying to overly lengthen your stroke.

- If you feel like your stroke is long and slow then experiment with getting into your stroke a little quicker at the front by keeping your lead hand always in motion, either extending forwards, lightly catching the water or pressing it back. You're not trying to shorten your stroke at the front or rear but just remove any delay at the front. Don't be afraid to 'put a bit of Harry' into your stroke.

- If you naturally suit a faster stroke style then feel secure that there's nothing wrong with that and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Of course you should refine and develop your stroke technique but keep that great sense of rhythm to proceedings, it's a real strength in your swimming.

At Swim Smooth one of our goals is to give great swimmers like Harry credit for what they do, which has been sadly lacking until now. They may look unorthodox but their stroke style is highly effective for distance events and they are brilliant swimmers in their own right.

Swim Smooth!

Breaking news: Since writing this blog, Harry won The Outlaw Iron-distance triathlon in the UK last weekend. As you'd expect he lead out the swim (in 48 minutes in his HUUB Archimedes)...

...and then went on to win the race. Quite an achievement when you appreciate he had stopped running in March to focus on trying to make the Olympic team as a swim-bike domestique. In fact his longest training run before The Outlaw was just 30 minutes long. A phenomenal achievement which really highlights his mental toughness in running a full marathon off the 112 mile bike, a classic personality trait of the Swinger.

Read our exclusive interview with Harry, including his thoughts on developing that unique style here: www.swimsmooth.com/harry-wiltshire-interview.html

Subscribe to Feel For The Water
And receive the amazing Mr Smooth animation as your optional free gift.
Find out more: here

* required
I consent to receiving tips to improve my swimming and occasional information about our products and services from Swim Smooth. You can unsubscribe at any time. See our Privacy Policy
Powered by Blogger.


Blog Archive

Recent Posts