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!

Stroke Contrasts Revisited

It is very hard to be aware of the flaws in your own stroke technique because they tend to occur in parts of your stroke where you have holes in your proprioception or body awareness. Way back in December 2009 we posted a classic blog to help you self-diagnose such flaws using something called 'stroke contrasts'. This is a very useful method for those without a coach overseeing their swimming and well worth a revisit today, two and a half years on!

The idea is very simple: swim a short distance and deliberately add a flaw to your stroke. If the flaw makes your swimming feel immediately worse that's fine but if it feels the same or only a little different from normal then there's a good chance we've identified an area for improvement in your swimming.

Our suggested procedure: Deliberately introduce the stroke flaw for 100m and see how it feels. Rest for 15 seconds and then immediately swim 100m removing the flaw and emphasising good technique in that area. Feel the contrast!

We've given you some suggestions below of common stroke flaws that you can experiment with. Also refer back to our 2009 blog post here for more examples and feel free to invent your own too!

Contrast 1: Putting On The Brakes
A classic problem encountered by those trying to overly lengthen the freestyle stroke is dropping the wrist and showing the palm forwards in front of the head. Try 50m braking with the right hand and then 50m braking with the left hand.

To correct, focus on keeping the hand a little lower in the water and angling the hand slightly downwards so the fingertips are a touch lower than the wrist. Get this right and you should feel a noticeable improvement in your stroke rhythm.

Recommended SS product: Catch Masterclass DVD or Overglider Swim Type Guide
Recommended tool to help correct flaw: Finis Agility Paddle

Contrast 2: Pushing Downwards During The Catch
One of the root causes of a poor body position in the water is pressing down in front of the head during the catch. This lifts the front end of the swimmer up and sinks the legs. This action creates a lot of pressure on the palm of the hand which can be misinterpreted as a good catch but pressing downwards doesn't help engage the water or create any propulsion.

Contrast this with bending the elbow in front of the head to press the water backwards, this will feel less forceful but it is generating much more propulsion!

Recommended drill: Doggy Paddle
Recommended SS product to correct flaw: Catch Masterclass DVD

Contrast 3: Thumb First Hand Entry
The leading cause of shoulder pain and injury is a thumb first entry into the water, with the palm facing outwards. This internally rotates the shoulder, creating a twisting action and possible impingement. Repeated thousands of times in training this leads to inflammation in the shoulder and ultimately injury.

Contrast this with the correct hand entry, with the hand facing downwards, entering fingertips first. If you feel any shoulder pain trying this exercise, stop immediately!

Recommended tool: Finis Agility Paddles
(these give you feedback by becoming unstable with a thumb first entry)

Contrast 4: Lifting Your Head To Breathe
Deliberately lift your head upwards so that your head clears the surface when breathing. This is poor technique as it acts to sink your legs downwards and involves pressing downwards with the lead hand which harms your catch. Straining upwards in this manner can also be the cause of neck pain. Contrast this with keeping your head low in the water breathing into the bow wave trough.

More information on bow-wave breathing:

Recommended Visualisation: The Split Screen View

Contrast 5: Holding Your Breath Underwater
This one was in our original blog post but it's so important it bears repeating!

Swim 100m holding your breath underwater, exhaling at the very last moment before breathing in. Contrast this with a smooth relaxed exhalation as if you are sighing into the water. Focus on relaxing and letting go of the water easily. If possible, breath every three strokes or less frequently to give yourself time to exhale fully.

Getting rid of the CO2 in your lungs and blood stream by exhaling smoothly helps you feel more relaxed and aerobic when swimming. A good exhalation technique is key to allowing you to breathe bilaterally.

Recommended drill: Sink Down Exercise

Contrast 6: Tapping Your Big Toes Together
Tapping your big toes as they pass is good stroke technique and helps you identify a scissor kick in your stroke. Swim 100m with a gentle flutter kick, turning your feet in slightly (pigeon toed) and brushing your big toes lightly together as they pass. You should feel a regular tap-tap-tap-tap. If there's any pauses or irregularity to the tapping then it's likely your legs are parting significantly. Be especially aware of any pauses during and immediately following breathing - this is when scissor kicks normally occur and they are easily missed whilst you are focused on breathing.

Correction: Most scissor kicks are caused by the lead arm crossing the centre line in front of the head. This causes you to lose balance and unconciously scissor kick to regain stability. Both our Arnie Swim Type Guide and our Catch Masterclass DVD are perfect for improving your stroke alignment.

Putting It Together

Using the stroke contrasts above, you can construct a valuable stroke technique session:

300m easy warmup, focus on good stroke rhythm
Perform the six stroke contrasts above in turn as:
100m introducing stroke flaw + 15 seconds rest + 100m focusing on good technique in that area
200m easy warmdown, focusing on correcting the biggest flaw you diagnosed in your stroke. Only think about a single aspect, don't try and focus on several things at once!

Swim Smooth!

Our Review: The Strokes Of London 2012

London 2012 saw some fabulous swimming performances in the pool and open water. The TV footage has been stunning and we're sure you've noticed quite a range of stroke styles on display, each suited to the particular swimmer and the event in which they were swimming.

Let's take a look at some of the top performances at the games and the stroke styles the swimmers used.

Men's Triathlon

The men's triathlon was an epic race, finally won by Alistair Brownlee with a stunning 29:07 10K run. Paul Newsome was down at the Serpentine studying the swim:

"An electric pace was set throughout the 1500m wetsuit swim by Richard Varga, exciting the water in 16:56 - a very fast split indeed, even at the very highest level of triathlon. Having someone pace things out so quickly at the front really strung out the field with numerous small clusters of swimmers forming rather than the massive packs often seen at world cup races.

Watching the swim two things were immediately apparent. First, in stark contrast to many of the male swimmers in the pool, nearly all the triathletes were using markedly straight arm recoveries over the surface. This helped them clear the wake and disturbed water from other swimmers and also get closer to other swimmers around them, increasing the drafting benefit available to them. Opening out the elbow angle to create a straighter arm also reduces the fatigue on the shoulders that even the most flexible wetsuit can introduce if a classical high elbow technique is used.

Straight arm recovery technique employed
during the triathlon swims
Second, all of the athletes were turning their arms over very quickly, using a fast stroke rate in the 80-90 strokes per minute region. If you have a Wetronome or Tempo Trainer Pro, try setting it to 85 SPM* and give it a try: it's very quick!

The benefit of this shorter stroke with lots of rhythm is that it reduces (or entirely removes) the gap between propulsive strokes underwater which means the swimmer can't get stalled by waves or chop in the gap between strokes. For that reason, this punchy refined Swinger style is more efficient than a longer slower stroke in open water."

Quick Stats:
Gold: Alistair Brownlee: 89 SPM
Silver: Javier Gomez - 82 SPM
Bronze: Johnny Brownlee: 92 SPM
* SPM: Strokes Per Minute (counting both arms)

Men's 1500m 

Over in the Aquatic Centre, Swim Smooth's Adam Young watched Sun Yang's incredible 1500m world record:

Sun Yang has super long arms!
"When you first see Sun Yang in the flesh, the first thing that strikes you is his sheer height, even compared to the other tall male elite swimmers in the field. Somehow he seems even taller than his 1.98m (6ft 6in), an impression perhaps created by the length of his incredibly long arms dangling by his sides.

Sun false started the first time the field lined up on the blocks (apparently from a noise in the crowd) and hoping to witness a world record swim, the whole stadium breathed a collective sigh of relief when the starter spared him from disqualification. His competitors might have been slightly more disappointed with his reinstatement though as Sun quickly moved under world record pace and built a dominant lead in the race.

Bent elbow pull-through technique
If you have watched video of Sun swimming, he can give the impression that he glides down the pool as he has a super-long stroke style. However, when you see him swim right in front of you, you can see this is actually not the case. Yes he has a very long stroke but this gifted athlete is all power and timing, making the most of his huge arm span, driving himself forward on every stroke.

In fact our 2011 analysis of his stroke (see here) showed that he has only 0.2 second between finishing one stroke at the rear and starting the next at the front, showing this impression of glide to be an illusion caused by a very long smooth stroke. He is very much the Smooth Swim Type just with a huge wingspan!
Cutting smoothly through the water, Sun stopped the clocks at 14:31.02, a breathtaking new world record and one that will live long in my memory and that of everyone else who saw it."

Quick Stats:
Gold: Sun Yang: 28 SPL* / 65 SPM
Silver: Ryan Cochrane: 36 SPL / 80 SPM
Bronze: Oussama Mellouli : 34 SPL / 76 SPM
*SPL: Strokes Per Length (counting both arms)

Women's Open Water Swim

The women's 10K marathon swim in The Serpentine was another close thrilling race full of tactics and skilful swimming. Paul Newsome gives us his observations:

Swinging arm recoveries and light two-beat kicks
"I really enjoyed watching this race, as a former pool swimmer who has transitioned first to triathlon and now marathon swimming, this race really highlighted how tough marathon swimming is with a real race of attrition.

Just like in the triathlon events, the 10K field all used very punchy stroke styles, also using a straight arm recovery over the water. What was really noticeable in this race was how the girls combined the fast stroke style with beautifully timed 2-beat kicks. This is much slower than a flutter kick (6-beat) and involves the swimmer kicking at the same speed as their arms strokes, i.e. one kick per arm pull.

Keri-Anne Payne's excellent sighting technique with
just the eyes above the surface
Since kick propulsion is very inefficient, this slower kicking style allows the swimmer to conserve energy during a marathon swim but the swimmer must get quickly into their catch at the front of the stroke without any glide for it to be effective. Otherwise they would decelerate between strokes without the benefit of a more continuous kick.

As with the triathletes we see that swimmers focusing on open water are employing the refined Swinger style to great effect."

Quick Stats:
Gold: Eva Risztov: 83 SPM
Silver: Haley Anderson: 87 SPM
Bronze: Martina Grimaldi: 97 SPM
4th: Keri-Anne Payne: 90 SPM

Personality And Stroke Style

At Swim Smooth we've coached thousands of swimmers over the last 10 years and observed the 6 classic Swim Types at play. As well as stroke characteristics, we've also noticed how there are distinct personality traits that tend to go with each stroke style. We've noticed that Smooths tend to be much more laid back than Swingers, perhaps turning up late to swim sessions and taking their time to get in the pool and swimming. In stark contrast, Swingers want to get on with things and are often first on the pool deck, dying to get in the water!

This contrast in personality between Swingers and Smooths was immediately apparent on our Coach Education Course last weekend in Loughborough, where we had two coaches on the course with really nice swim strokes themselves. Vicki used lots of punch and rhythm in her stroke and a classic 2-beat kick, every inch the refined Swinger. Ian, a classic Smooth, used that longer smoother style together with a six beat flutter kick. Prior to filming, Ian was taking lots of time to get himself ready fiddling with his bathers, cap and goggles whilst Vicki stood on the blocks waiting to go. In her own words "I can't stand all this waiting around, I just want to get on with it!".

Perhaps this difference in urgency is what defines their individual stroke styles: the smooth relaxed stroke of the Smooth versus the 'get on with it' punchy style of the Swinger.

Swim Smooth!

Bend It Like Becky Part 2

We hope you enjoyed the women's 800m final last week - it was an amazing performance by 15 year old Katie Ledecky to take out the race in her first event representing the USA and beat the established stars! She is an amazing talent and we wish her well for the future, she looks all set to become a major swimming star herself over the coming years.

Next week: Swim Smooth's Paul Newsome and Adam Young have both been in London watching the thrilling men's and women's Olympic Triathlons over the last few days and talking to many of the athletes and coaches behind the scenes. Next week on the blog we'll be looking at how these olympic athletes swam in the Serpentine and learning a few lessons from them that you can employ to improve your own open water swimming. In the meantime, let's bend another part of the freestyle stroke with Becky Adlington!

Bend It Like Becky Part 2

If you've been studying the underwater footage from the aquatic centre, one thing you may have noticed is how elite freestyle swimmers angle their wrists slightly at the front of their strokes just before starting the catch. This helps them initiate a high-elbow catch position and is something you can look to replicate in your own stroke.

Here's Becky Adlington doing just that:

Nearly all great freestyle swimmers use this technique, including Phelps, Thorpe, Hackett, Yang and Popov. The movement is quite subtle and is hard to see from the pool deck without using underwater video footage, which probably explains why many swimming coaches said we'd got it wrong when we released our Mr Smooth showing this movement back in 2009 :

Initiating The Catch

This is an important movement becomes it helps bring the fingers and hand downwards to initiate the catch, which is the point of the stroke where you start to gain purchase on the water :

We can see that the initiation from the wrist (1) brings the hand and forearm downwards into the classic high elbow catch position (3). Becky can now press the water backwards, not downwards, which is the essence of a great catch technique.

Your Stroke

Try adding this subtle movement into your own stroke, it will help you initiate your catch and will help you keep a nice rhythm, removing any overglide you might have in place.

One word of caution, it is possible over-do this action and point the fingertips too far downwards:

Keep the angle at the wrist subtle and gradually develop a feel for this movement and how the water feels as you engage with it. Remember not to rush the catch but engage with the water and progressively press it backward, helping you generate more propulsion for less effort.

Swim Smooth!

Bend It Like Becky

Tonight is the women's 800m final in the London 2012 pool, featuring two awesome distance swimmers: Rebecca Adlington from Great Britain and Lotte Friis from Denmark. It's likely to be a close race between the two of them and all fingers are crossed here in London for Becky to produce the first British gold medal in the pool.

The fascinating thing about these two great swimmers is that they have completely different stroke styles and yet are very evenly matched. Becky has that classical long smooth stroke using a high elbow recovery and a six beat kick. Lotte is a classic swinger with a much shorter stroke, straight arm recovery and the ability to switch between a six and two beat kick.

This could well be the classic Swinger vs. Smooth race - you won't have any trouble working out who is who!

Make sure you catch the final tonight at 7:45pm UK time, 2:45pm EDT, 11:45am PDT, 2:45am China/Singapore/Perth.

Bend It Like Becky

So what makes Becky such a great swimmer? Let's have a little look at her underwater and highlight her pull-through technique, something you should be aiming for within your own stroke:

Notice here how Becky's elbow is bent to 110° which gives her perfect leverage to press clear water backwards, propelling her forwards (you can click the image to expand). In your own stroke you should be aiming for an elbow bend of between 100 and 120°.

Many swimmers pull through with a very straight arm which places a lot of load on the shoulder and produces much less propulsion:

Notice also how Becky's hand is directly below her shoulder as she pulls through:

This is perfect technique and is something you should aim for in your stroke too. If you press wide of this or cross the centre line then you will snake down the pool:

Underwater Shots

The underwater footage is fantastic at this Olympics and during tonight's final you should get a good look at both Becky and Lotte's strokes under the water as they go head to head. Their stroke styles are different above the water but don't get distracted by that, instead notice all the important things that are the same:

- Very high body position
- Great alignment without any crossing of the centre line or pressing wide
- Amazing rhythm and timing without any deadspots or pauses
- Great catch and pull through technique, pressing the water backwards, not downwards and bending those elbows!

Becky takes around 38 strokes per 50m and Lotte around 44, despite Lotte being about 5cm taller than Becky. Both swimmers could easily swim with a longer stroke if they chose to but they would be less efficient and so slower as a result. In fact, we're sure many of you reading this could better those figures yourself, albeit with much poorer stroke technique. This really highlights that you can't measure efficiency by counting strokes - not even remotely!

Enjoy the race and Swim Smooth!

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