How Did The Swimmers Who Made The Biggest Improvements In 2013 Do It?

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As we build up to the New Year, now is the perfect time to look back on the last 12 months, have a reflect on everything that happened, good and bad, make some plans and set some goals for 2014.

Swim Smooth Coach Emma Brunning recently made her second trip out from the UK to Perth after a gap of around 6 months and has some really interesting reflections on how different athletes improved within the Swim Smooth Squads whilst she was away and how they did it.

Wherever you are at right now with your swimming, hopefully it will kick start a few thoughts and ideas in your own mind about how you can take things to the next level in 2014.


Emma's Reflections: My time in Perth

I am one of the UK Certified Coaches lucky enough to run my own business Active Blu on Lake Windermere in the beautiful surrounds of the Lake District National Park. This year and last I've had the opportunity to escape the dark and wet British winter for a few months to visit Australia, and as you can imagine I grasped it with both hands!

Perth is a fantastic place to visit and the work is really interesting too, I have been coaching in the extensive Swim Smooth squads and supporting our Coach Development Programme working with the latest group of certified coaches in training.


Lane 1: My favourite lane to work with!

I'm typing this on the flight back from Australia right now and thinking back to everything I saw over the last 3 months in Perth. It was really evident just how many of the squad had improved since last winter, not just in performance but also in confidence. As a passionate coach that likes to see people achieving their goals and dreams, I wanted to share my reflections with you to help make your training more enjoyable, useful and rewarding.

It seems to me there are several key areas which helped motivate and encourage the swimmers: 


1. Create A Routine That Fits Your Life

The majority of us have significant family commitments and jobs, and we all have differing goals for participating in our sports. This means the commitment we can give, the way we train and the outcomes we desire differ slightly to the next person. Whatever your situation it is important that we recognise what we can do, rather then focus on what we can't:

Emma with the amazing Sue Oldham from our squad
- the oldest woman to have swum the English Channel!
- Be realistic with your time commitments, it is far better to train slightly within yourself but very consistently than go through a boom-and-bust cycle of training as you overcommit and life bites you back.
- Whatever your level of swimming and level of commitment, recognise at the end of the day it’s about enjoyment so make sure that you enjoy the routine you create and that you don't put too much pressure on yourself. If you're a 'highly strung' person then often less pressure brings better results.

- It is a lot of fun (and great motivation) to train in a well organised squad and the group dynamic can really push your swimming forwards. These days squads often cater for all levels of ability and if at all possible I'd recommend you try a few sessions with a local group to see how you get on.

The group camaraderie in the squads in Perth is incredible and whilst us certified coaches can't bring the Perth sunshine to your area, we do actively nurture that same positive, motivating and athlete centred approach in all our own local squads. Being part of a group like that can make an incredible difference to your swimming, don't miss any opportunity you have to join one!


2. Keeping It Simple And Measure Your Progress

Something that is really obvious with the athletes in Perth who really kicked on whilst I was away was how they kept their swimming routine really simple. There is so much conflicting advice out there, but following a few simple guidelines on your training week will help you to be successful, without over complicating it:

It's not all hard work on the pool-deck.
- Follow the same structure every week, for example: Monday- CSS training set. Wed – Technique session. Friday – Endurance session. Keep a routine like that rolling for months on end and you can't help but improve.
- Be really clear in your mind what the goal of each session is and how it will help you improve.

- Work out your CSS and monitor your progress to gain motivation as you improve. You would be amazed how often swimmers take big strides forwards but don't realise it and struggle with motivation or even quit just when it is coming together! In Perth we normally conduct some sort of timetrial or a CSS test every 8 weeks so every swimmer can see how they are progressing, you should do the same.


- For more on keeping it simple, see my blog post here: activeblu.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/keeping-it-simple.html



3. Consistency Is The Key

Once you have a training plan that is achievable, progressive and you understand it, then stick to it! Perhaps easier said than done but so so important. Every swimmer who I ever spoke to who got significantly faster recognised that relentless consistency was the key to their success:
- Keep a training log so you can track your consistency over time.

- Recognise that you can only move your fitness forwards slightly from each individual session but from a series of 20, 30, 50 or 100 sessions over many months (and even years) you can really move mountains. So see the goal as completing a block of training rather than attempting world-records in a single session.
- If you're training hard then schedule recovery and lower intensity weeks to avoid burn-out.

- As a great example of consistency at work, check out Paul Newsome's 50 training sessions he completed before winning the 46km Manhattan Island Swim - all around a full time job and a young family: swimsmooth.com/paul-mims-training.html


Find out more about Emma's coaching at
activeblu.co.uk and find your nearest Swim
Smooth coach at: swimsmooth.com/certifiedcoaches

4. Essential Components

Here's some other specifics that I've also observed to be critical to improvement:

- Your training needs to include your race skills. If you are a triathlete or open water swimmer that means practising open water specifics such as drafting, sighting and developing a symmetrical stroke to swim straight. You can put a huge amount of effort into improving your basic stroke technique and fitness but it will all go to waste if you can't execute well in your race environment.

- Practice what you least like as these are probably the areas that need most work!

- Do not underestimate the importance of breathing drills, no matter what level you are at with your swimming.


OK, I hope that triggers some thoughts to reflect on with your own swimming and how you might go about improving things for yourself in 2014. Think of some new challenges and know that with the right support, training and advice almost anything is possible!

Best wishes and have a fantastic New Year!

Emma Brunning
Swim Smooth Certified Coach
www.activeblu.co.uk

PS. One final thought, it's striking how often we forget to celebrate our successes. So if you have had a great 2013 or achieved something you never thought you could over the last 12 months then make sure you take the time to reflect on that and enjoy the moment. And at this time of year there's no harm in rewarding yourself with an extra mince pie or glass of red, you'll soon burn that off when Swim Smooth gets to work on you in January! ;)

PPS. Let me know your thoughts and how you are getting on by tweeting me @ActiveBlu
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Wishing You A Very Smooth Christmas!

No proper blog post this week as the Swim Smooth team are taking a few days off in the build up to Christmas, spending some quality time in the Christmas queues and busily wrapping presents for loved-ones!

But we can't leave you without some sort of Swim Smooth fix, so here's a couple of links. Paul Newsome chatted to the John and Bevan on IMTalk ealier this week about stroke rate, stroke length and meaning of life, you can listen to that here (starting at 26:50): www.imtalk.me/home/2013/12/17/imtalk-episode-392-paul-newsome-and-david-rowlands.html

And if you fancy a real challenge and have a beeper, take on the cracking 12 Lengths Of Christmas swim set in your next session: pbs.twimg.com/media/Bbrre-2CEAAbi5W.jpg

Merry Christmas from the squads in Perth!
We have been particularly busy recently working on several big projects behind the scenes which will see the light of day next year. 2014 is going to be a very exciting year and we can't wait to show you what we have in store for you and how it will improve your swimming or coaching - you're going to love it!

We have also been busy training the next generation of talented Swim Smooth coaches who are diligently practising all our techniques at the moment ready for us to certify them next year. And yes we do have some in North America... :)

That just leaves us to thank you! Swim Smooth is all about helping swimmers get faster and enjoy their swimming more, and you guys are a huge source of inspiration to us. Thanks for sending in your thousands of stories, experiences, news, views, questions and suggestions over the course of the year. Please keep them coming in 2014, we love to hear from you from comments on the blog itself, facebook, twitter (here and here) and of course even by good old email.

Have a super-smooth Christmas and a swinging new year!

Swim Smooth!
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Chasing Ray Pt 2: Caught In The Poor Pacing Trap

Last week's blog post But I Was Just Chasing Ray! was about how most of the swimmers in our squad started their 200m and 400m time-trials much too quickly and under performed as a result. Thanks for all your comments and feedback about it - great to know it was well received!

We've heard from many of you who really struggle to pace out your swims and quite a few who don't see why it is important to do so. Let's take a look at some of those comments and questions:

Carl in Minnesota wrote: I inevitably see the very drop off that you talk about in today's post when I swim. I can even notice it in the 50 m splits... My first 50 can be as fast as 0:38 if I am really pushing it, but more typically it is around 0:42. My second 50 is typically 0:46, and then I settle into my pace of 0:49-0:50 per 50 m. If I try to ease back on my first 100 m pacing, it actually SLOWS my 400+ m times! I still end up swimming all the rest of my 50's at the 0:49-0:50 pace.

Hi Carl, this is a classic situation to find yourself in, the first thing is (and we hope this doesn't sound rude!) but we actually don't believe you will be slower if you pace things out evenly. When you start at 38-42 seconds per 50m it feels very doable but the truth is that you're entering 'the red zone' and the damage is being done for the rest of the swim. It takes a minute or so for your breathing, heart rate and muscular feedback to respond but by then it is too late and you slow down dramatically - and in a maximum effort like a timetrial this is going to hurt a lot!

From our experience if you actually started at 46 seconds for the first 50m you will be able to sustain that pace for the rest of your swim and end up quicker overall. We see swimmers make this improvement all the time, the hardest part is to actually get them to slow down over the first 50-100m. Once they've got that first lap or two right, they naturally swim quicker without even realising it (and it normally feels easier too).

But of course this isn't just about sustaining a level of work, it's also about sustaining your stroke technique. If you start too fast and then fade, your stroke will deteriorate (perhaps feeling like it is 'falling apart') and you will slow down yet further. If you have any sort of crossover, scissor kick or poor body position this will inevitably worsen and you'll really start to fight things.

The drop off in output plus the deterioration in technique means you slow down hugely - a real double whammy.

Should I really be trying to force myself to slow down my first 100 (and thereby slow my 400 and 200 m times) so that I force myself to pace my swims better?

Absolutely yes! Although we doubt you'll actually be slower over the 200m and 400m - perception and reality can be very distorted with poor pacing, which is obviously the root of the problem in the first place.

An analogy we like to use is to imagine transitioning from being a high revving petrol engine which is great for sprinting to becoming a diesel engine which can sustain more continuous power for long periods of time. Go diesel and your distance swimming will come on leaps and bounds!

Oliver K said: First of all I must say that I never ever go for 400m as fast as I can. I mostly swim 50m and some 100m, and then 400m is close to infinity. So I go "strong"; I feel that has a kind of "fixed" meaning, but at the end of 400m I feel puuuh, rest say 60s in the water, and continue, while with a race I would either die or crawl out of the water with the last remaining strength (and die then).

That's that high revving petrol engine at work Oliver! Can you see the trap you are in here? By never swimming further than 50 or 100m you never train your diesel engine so it never develops. The only way out of this is to swallow some pride and sustain some longer swims at a slower pace. No it won't feel good at first but your fitness will start to improve and it will progressively feel easier (and faster) to do so. It is this aerobic fitness you need - it's not your strength that's failing you.

Get this right and you'll find 400m is only a short warmup - not infinity at all!

Isabel in Quebec posted: I have been pondering Carl's exact same question for a long while too. My first 50m is a good 5-6 seconds faster than my average speed (49' first 50m, average 54-56'). I figure at least half of those 5-6 seconds is the time it takes to turn around (I don't tumble) and if I'm already going as fast as I can, I can not do as well on the other laps because i don't have those free seconds I get from the inital push off. I'm thinking maybe I can do a crescendo, start off slow and catch up on the last 100m, but I think that at the very best, I finish off with the same total time and I will only have worked harder the last 100m.

I just can't figure out how we can improve by not taking advantage of those free seconds we get from the initial push off. And if my mind doesn't get it, maybe my body doesn't want to contradict it ;-)


Hi Isabel, this is obviously along a very similar vein to Carl and Oliver's questions and you can see our answers there (and we don't think it's the push-off, you get one of those on every length?). Make sure you time yourself push-off to push-off, not push-off to touch before you turn. That way you will be measuring the exact same thing on every length.

To us the key points in your post are in the very first and very last sentences. You've been pondering this 'for a long while' which suggests to us that you've been starting fast and then slowing down in pretty much every swim you do over many months and perhaps years? The question you've got to ask yourself is this: has that been working for you? Are you swimming as quickly as your hard work deserves? We're guessing not.

At the very end of the post you say 'my mind doesn't get it' and that - right there - is the trap isn't it? You simply have to come to terms with the fact you need consistent well paced longer swims in order to improve.

A Simple Set To Improve Your Diesel Engine

Here's a challenge for you if you feel you are in the same situation as Carl, Oliver and Isabel with a large drop-off in pace as you swim. Once a week swim this very simple session:

8x 300m with 20 seconds rest between each 300m.

That's it! But there are three rules:

1) You can swim this at any speed you like but every lap must be the same speed - don't start too fast no matter how easy it feels over the first 50-100m! Ideally use a beeper to get this spot on.

2) The whole session has to be straight swimming with no toys at all (e.g. pull buoy, paddles, fins) except for a beeper.

3) Stick to the 20 seconds rest (we'll be watching you know!)

Swim 3 to 4 sessions every week and include that session as one of them. After four weeks you will start to notice the improvement in the speed you can sustain over 200m and up. What's more, that improvement will continue for a long time as you keep that consistent training and pacing rolling week-in week-out.

It's Not Easy Being An Arnie!

The Arnie Swim Type is the most susceptible to being caught in this 'poor pacing trap' as they are naturally athletic fast-twitch athletes who find it all too easy to start too quickly. We've worked with Arnies from novice swimmers to elite triathletes who struggle with distance swimming speed but the answer to improving their swimming is always the same :

- Swallow some pride
- Fix the pacing
- Swim longer sets with short recoveries

Most Arnies reading this won't truly come to terms with this and will disregard it, leaving them in the poor pacing trap until they do. If you can be the one to truly take it on board and swallow the bitter pill of swimming slower but more continuously, you will soon be on the way to being a much faster swimmer.

Swim Smooth!
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"But I Was Just Chasing Ray!"

Last week with the Swim Smooth Squad in Perth, we conducted a 200m and a 400m timetrial to calculate each swimmer's threshold (or CSS) pace. This threshold pace is the speed they should be able to sustain over 1500m in a race.

We were lucky enough to have eight coaches on the pool deck so that all 112 swimmers who swam the test (over three sessions) got their times individually recorded. Not only that but during both the 200m and 400m swims, we recorded their first 100m split to compare the speed they started versus their overall time to assess how well they paced things out. All the timetrials were from a push (not a dive).

Even if you're not a numbers person bear with us here, there's some really useful things we can learn from the results.

400m Timetrial Pacing

To keep things simple, let's look at their 400m timetrials and compare the speed they swam the first 100m with the speed they swam the last 300m (in the left hand columns below). Remember the idea of a timetrial is to swim the overall distance as fast as possible to get the best overall time.

Every swimmer but one slowed down after the first 100m and some of the drop-offs in speed we saw where huge. The majority of the squad were at least 5 seconds per 100m slower but many were 10, 20 or ever 25 seconds slower per 100m! :

To help visualise what this means, we calculated how each swimmer would have swum if they had kept up the same speed after the first 100m and how many meters they ended up behind that 'virtual swimmer' in their real swim. That's the right hand columns above, showing most swimmers ended up around 20m behind their virtual selves and many 30 to 70m behind!

If these swimmers had started off a few seconds slower over the first 100m, they would have sustained a much faster pace and swam much quicker overall as a result. For the guys in the red-zone above, they might have swum a whole minute quicker over the 400m by pacing things out better!

It's important to appreciate that despite most of the squad swimming with poor pacing (to a greater or lesser extent) most improved their speed between 3 and 5% since July - imagine what they could achieve by pacing things out correctly.

"But I Was Just Chasing Ray!"

Stopwatches at the ready: The coaches get ready
to start the timetrials with the 9:30am squad.
Megan joined the squad less than 18 months ago and in her first video analysis session with us was swimming around 2:15/100m. 10 weeks ago Megan's CSS pace was down to 1:45/100m (a quantum leap!) and last week she tested at 1:41/100m - an improvement which would save her over 1 minute per mile.

But is Megan in the 20% who paced things brilliantly last week? Actually no! She went through the first 100m in 1:32 but fell away to 1:37/100m for the last 300m. When we pointed this out to Megan she replied "But I was just chasing Ray!". Could this same competitive drive also be costing you during your races and training sets?

Consistent Cobie

Cobie is one of the most consistent swimmers in the squad and as a result she's improving at a huge rate of knots. Out of choice (!) Cobie swam in all three of the squad sessions where we performed the 200 and 400m timetrials and so she had three goes at it.

Cobie's CSS worked out at 1:59.5 on Wednesday, 1:51.5 on Thursday and 1:53.5 on Friday - all a huge improvement on her CSS in July of 2:11.5. What can we take from this though? Well Cobie's best performance came on Thursday night when coach Sally suggested that she should "treat it like a training session" given that she'd already done the test 36hrs previously. The result? Much less stress, better pacing, and a significantly faster result!

Sometimes we build these things up into something they're not - a timetrial is only ever a gauge of where you're at, right here, right now - nothing more, nothing less. Don't fear them, embrace them for the value and insight they offer.

World Record Holder Sun Yang

So how do these performances compare to a great swimmers? Let's look at Sun Yang's 50m splits during his mighty 1500m world record at the London Olympics:

27.09, 28.81, 29.46, 29.05, 29.35, 28.97, 29.53, 29.34, 29.23, 28.89, 29.26, 29.27, 29.25, 29.34, 29.41, 29.3, 29.49, 29.38, 29.46, 29.32, 29.42, 29.21, 29.54, 29.37, 29.17, 29.19, 29.39, 29.14, 27.81 and 25.68s

Obviously he gains a couple of seconds from the dive at the start and is able to lift his effort to sprint the last 100m but his judgement for the rest of the swim is incredible, with every 50m within a range of 0.7 seconds. Amazing pacing skills! Do you think you could do that? How about with the adrenaline of an Olympic final in your system?

These figures actually give us an insight into how Sun got himself into such supreme shape for that swim - you can imagine how precise he was through all of his hard sets in training.

Poor Pacing Lowers The Quality Of Your Training

Not only does poor pacing harm your race performances but it also harms your training as you fade during training sessions. By learning to pace things out correctly you will improve the quality of your training and get bigger fitness improvements as a result. You still want to train hard but aim to sustain a strong effort through your sessions instead of starting too fast and fading away (or blowing up!) every session.

For more information on how this should feel, see our Gradual Crescendo blog post.

80% Of You Do The Same?

Looking at the figures from the squad, over 80% paced things quite poorly. We can easily extend that to the readership of this blog and say with 80% confidence your own pacing is pretty poor too and needs some work. Fix this by pacing out your swim well (like Sun Yang) and you'll almost certainly set some personal best times straight away. Even better, those PBs will keep on coming over the following weeks and months as you get the fitness improvements from the improved quality of your training.

One of the best ways you can develop your pacing skills is with a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro - a brilliant gadget that will beep a pace to you as you swim. Set it to the speed you want to swim and simply pace yourself so you turn and push-off the end of the pool when the beeper goes and you too will have perfect pacing.

We'll leave the last word to Nathan:

"I managed a PB for the 400 so I'm stoked. I thought I would do around 7:00 and managed 6:51 so I'm thrilled. I always worry about blowing up after the first 100 and knew I'd done the first 100 fast so I backed off consciously in the 2nd, much as I wanted to keep up with Shane (who smashed it!). Then I felt like I built up my pace into the 3rd and 4th 100s."

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Does Your Stroke Need More Oomph?

If you're quite new to swimming, you're likely to fit the mould of one of two of our Swim Types: The Arnie or The Bambino. At first sight they may look quite similar in the water but in fact they are very different swimmers.

The Arnie is the classic swimmer who tends to fight the water, with a large crossover in the stroke, low lying legs and often a scissor kick. These are normally athletic guys and girls with a background in other sports who try to use their strength to power through the water but unfortunately they work much more against the water than with it, wasting a lot of energy:


See the full Arnie profile here to see if it fits your swimming.

The Bambino may have some of those faults too but uses a much lower level of effort with the hands slipping gently through the water with very little traction. They may take on water when they breathe as the lead hand collapses downwards on a breathing stroke giving them no support whilst taking a breath:


See the full Bambino profile here to see if it fits your swimming.

If you are an Arnie, slowing down your stroke slightly is a good idea to give you the time to lengthen out on each stroke. Focusing on getting more control is critical to improve your swimming. This is the traditional approach to swim coaching at work which will serve Arnies well. Of course, once you've developed your technique, you can speed things up again to get further gains in speed.

However, the Bambino responds in a very different way. Slow your stroke down and you lose what little attachment on the water you have and so things get harder, not easier. With your swimming you actually need a little more stroke rhythm - or as we like to call it: OOMPH!

The next time you swim, try focusing on positive movements in your stroke and getting a good rhythm going. You can do this simply from feel or use a Tempo Trainer Pro to make small adjustments and get things just right. These little beepers sit underneath your swim cap and beep a rhythm to you, like a metronome but for swimming. You simply time your stroke to the beep. At the moment you probably take something in the region of 40 to 54 strokes per minute but we suggest you try lifting that initially by 3-6 strokes per minute up to around 50-60 strokes per minute:

For an Arnie lifting their stroke rate would definitely make things harder and less efficient but for Bambinos a greater rhythm actually makes things easier as you gain a better feel the water and traction with your arms stroke. We're not looking to turn you into a thrashing beast but a little more purpose and oomph is definitely a good thing for your stroke style.

Once you've tried this and got the feel of swimming with a greater sense of positivity, introduce the One-Two-Stretch Mantra we talked about here: www.feelforthewater.com/2012/05/two-quick-tips-if-you-struggle-with.html. You'll soon be on the way to faster and more efficient swimming!

Swim Smooth!
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Fingers Together Or Apart?

Take a look at these two pictures of Michael Phelps (left) and Ian Thorpe (right), two of the greatest swimmers of all time. How are they holding their fingers? :



If you said 'slightly apart', are you sure? What about the other hand?

Many elite swimmers do spread their fingers slightly at the front of the stroke as they enter and extend forwards but once starting the catch and pressing the water backwards they bring them together to stop water slipping through. If there is a gap between their fingers, it is tiny.

You may have been told you should hold your fingers slightly apart in order to increase the surface area of the hand slightly and to feel relaxed but it is only with closeup photography or video we get a clear picture of what elite swimmers actually do once into their stroke underwater. The danger with trying to hold them slightly apart is that you end up spreading them too far and dramatically reduce your hold on the water.

The Thumb

One exception to this is the position of your thumb, which may move slightly out during the stroke. Here's Athens Olympian Jono Van Hazel doing just that:



Russian freestyle great Alexandar Popov held his thumb out in a similar way:



Meantime double Olympic Gold Medallist Rebecca Adlington keeps hers tucked in:



What should you do in your stroke? We recommend you simply hold your fingers lightly together and focus on the much more significant areas of your stroke technique. Unless you are knocking on the door of elite swimming you will almost certainly have plenty of refinements in your stroke technique to work on which will bring large gains to your performance, as will the right fitness training and open water skills development.

Should you spread your thumb? We suggest you go with whatever feels right to you, some people like the feeling this gives, others not so much. In all likelihood you're already doing whatever suits you best naturally.

Swim Smooth!
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So Much Talent Going To Waste

A personal article this week from Paul Newsome on a subject very close to all of our hearts at Swim Smooth:

As Malcolm Gladwell made famous in his excellent book Outliers, of those who make it to elite or professional level in nearly any sport, there is a large bias towards those who were the eldest in the sport’s age banding as a child.

His example of professional ice hockey in Canada is fascinating, as observed by psychologist Roger Barnsley:

"In any elite group of hockey players - the very best of the best - 40 percent of the players will have been born between January and March, 30 percent between April and June, 20 percent between July and September, and 10 percent between October and December."

When is the age cut-off for age-class hockey in Canada? The 1st of January. A boy whose tenth birthday is in the first few weeks of January is nearly a year more physically developed than another child in his group who doesn’t turn ten until December. No wonder he skates better than the younger child, gains confidence in his ability as a result and is viewed as more talented by his coaches.

This is a significant advantage at this early age but the self belief it creates, the team selections and the extra coaching he receives as a result means that advantage self re-enforces and continues for many years, right into his professional career. Our younger boy of equal natural talent is much more likely to be underdeveloped and cast aside by a system focusing on short-term performance over long term potential.

Of course the exact same effect happens in swimming with age-banding – which is also a great shame – but it is actually not age-banding I’m concerned with here. It’s the type of events that junior squads focus on around the world: sprints.

In swimming, up until the age of about 12 or 13, the majority of events raced by our youngsters are from 50 to 200m. In fact at this age 200m is considered as a distance event when in fact it still favours tall powerful kids well suited to highly anaerobic swimming. There is next to no opportunity for any child of that age to race over further than 200m and so the children with great natural endurance (but perhaps not the longest smoothest strokes) never get the rewards they deserve and start that cycle of positive re-enforcement that the good sprinters benefit from.

Good coaches will tell parents that they don’t allow their swimmers to specialise too young in any particular event and that “all strokes should be attempted” due to the balancing effect this will have on them. However, if we are not letting our children specialise towards a stroke to give them time to develop, shouldn’t we also give opportunity to those who may not naturally be suited to sprinting to try some longer events that might suit them better?

The fact is that the meters covered in training in most junior squads is more than enough to race effectively over longer distances such as 800 or 1500m pool swims, or 2.5km open water. And ironically we often see those kids suited to sprinting doing too much volume for their needs!

As age-banding in all sports neglects the talent pool, so does our ‘sprint-only’ approach to junior swimming. The drop-out rate of kids from swimming is notoriously high in the 13-15 age range, perhaps because by that age kids and parents have realised they will never be the next Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin. The question is, how many of those would have made fantastic distance swimmers? And just as importantly, how many would have enjoyed distance swimming and kept it going for the rest of their lives – perhaps transitioning to open water which might have suited them perfectly?

As a child in the 1990s swimming at Bridlington Swimming Club, I know I was completely unaware of distance swimming as a sport. There was a lad in our squad whose mother enrolled him for the local open water club in Scarborough. I knew nothing about what or why he was doing this, only that the other kids and I thought he was only doing it because he wasn't that good in the pool and was carrying a few extra pounds in body weight.

How wrong we were - that kid went on to perform at a high level in open water and has since swum multiple marathon swimming events. What's more, he's still in the sport and still loving it as much now as he did when we were all 6 and thrown in the deep end of the pool for the first time.


I loved triathlon and instantly found my natural stroke style perfectly suited open water swimming.

In the UK and elsewhere it could be said that triathlon has benefited from this problem. Back in 1999 whilst studying Sports & Exercise Science I was also a Young Person’s Development Officer in the South West region of the UK for the British Triathlon Association (as it was then). There was much talk that as Talent ID officers, we should be visiting the local swimming clubs and looking for swimmers who weren’t quite making it in the pool to give triathlon a try.

Not co-incidentally, many of those swimmers who chose to switch to triathlon were those of smaller stature than their sprint-rivals and had shorter choppier strokes (the Swinger style as we call it). Many of them had weaker kicks too, perhaps lagging behind during kick sets. 

This still happens today with many swimmers converting to triathlon (the Brownlee brothers being classic examples), which is great for triathlon but not so great for swimming as a sport. With open water races booming and the 10K marathon swim now an Olympic sport, it’s high time we took another look at how our juniors are prepared from a young age. 

However for me, as I made mention of above, this is not just about gold medals, it’s about fairness and giving every child the best chance in swimming and the opportunity to experience something they love. Aged 16 I made the switch from swimming to triathlon and found I performed far better over longer distances and in open water. Suddenly it didn’t matter that I didn’t have much sprint capacity and I was 5’10, not 6’4.

I love distance swimming, particularly in open water. I love getting in a rhythm and switching off from the pressures and strains of daily life. I feel fortunate to have found distance swimming and I also know that whilst I have continued swimming through adulthood most of my contemporaries from my days as a junior swimmer have long since left the sport.

Swim Smooth is about helping you become a better swimmer but it is also about unlocking that love for swimming which is a gift for life. For us that starts with recognising that we are all different, swim with naturally different styles and are good at different events and that should start in kids coaching.

So if little Jonny comes home one day dejected that he hasn't made the team for that weekend's sprint meet, perhaps we should give him the chance to try some longer events. Who knows how he might perform with that opportunity, what it would do for his self esteem and where that could take him. It could be something that literally changes his life.

Paul

PS. Also see this interesting article on why kids drop out of sports
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Two Minutes On Tumble Turns With Fiona Ford

** We're very proud to have be nominated for 'Offering Of The Year' at the WOWSA awards, if you enjoy Swim Smooth, why not vote for us? See our profile here and vote here - thanks :)

At Swim Smooth we get a lot of requests for instruction and tips on developing your tumble turns.

You'll be glad to hear we have a full SS production on tumbling in the pipeline but you don't have to wait - Swim Smooth Coach Fiona Ford has just created a great two minute Youtube tutorial on tuning up your tumble turns here:


Unless you're a competition pool swimmer it's not essential to learn to tumble but it's a lot of fun and a great skill to learn. Of course, when you master it you can save a lot of time and it helps you train with slightly faster swimmers if you can turn faster than them.

Fiona's based in Richmond, London and runs full Swim Smooth Video Analysis consultations and squad training suitable for all levels of ability: www.fionafordcoaching.com

All Swim Smooth coaches are hand picked from our extensive coach education work across the globe and we train them extensively to bring you the very highest level of coaching available anywhere in the world. Book a session with your nearest coach today and discover what they can do for your swimming: www.swimsmooth.com/certifiedcoaches


Swim Smooth!
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Can Jellyfish Hear You Scream?

If you are learning to swim freestyle you will be coming to terms with having your face down in the water, finding air to breathe and often doing that whilst being out of your depth. Well done to you, that's not easy at all!

When you're going through these challenges it is important to keep your morale high and not get down when it feels really hard. It can and will get easier with perseverance and by working on the right things in your stroke technique. e.g. http://www.feelforthewater.com/2012/05/two-quick-tips-if-you-struggle-with.html

Learning freestyle is often a challenge in overcoming anxiety and one thing to realise is that it never goes completely, as your confidence grows it will get easier but nearly every swimmer (even elite swimmers) have some level of anxiety in the water - even if they don't openly admit it. So don't feel bad about that!

To back up that point, here's a funny extract from Coach Annie's journal from her recent trip from the UK to sunny Perth. Annie's an experienced open water swimmer but even she had a little setback she needed to overcome during a training swim:

That morning I accepted the gracious offer of a swim in the Swan River's Freshwater Bay with Swim Smooth's Adam Young. It was a crisp sunny Sunday morning and the blue shark-free waters shimmered in the early morning sunlight.

We met Paul who was half way through his 20km swim building up to his Manhattan Island win a few weeks later. He and the rest of the marathon swimmer squad were putting in regular 10-30km swims in the river before heading over to New York:


Feeding from a pole is a skill marathon swimmers need to develop.

Paul started on his second 10km lap (!) and then Adam jumped in the water and headed out after Paul shouting back "There might be a few jellyfish but they don't sting!". He must be joking right, we're in a RIVER, does he think I'm that easily fooled? Please no jellyfish, I don't do jellyfish.

So he swims off into the distance and I get stuck into thinking "please if there are any jellyfish, just don't come near me" coupled with "you can do this, just don't freak out now!".

OMG, it turns out Matilda Bay is actually like a Japanese Jellyfish soup:



(Adam: It's bad but not quite that bad!!)

Every 5 seconds the jellies were slithering over my wetsuit past my body, touching the skin on my feet and neck. Hold it together - hold it together! I did pretty well for about 30 minutes until I head-butted straight into one which then slid down my face:
Ssscccrrrreeeeeaaaaammm!!!!

The guys tell me that if you listen carefully you can still hear that scream echoing around Freshwater Bay! Although I didn't know it at the time it caused some alarm to the good people of Perth having a peaceful breakfast on their verandas overlooking the river...


Annie safely back in the pool and
no worse for wear.
Our wetsuit free marathon swimming group (think big burly bronzed manly men) had just finished their own long swim and also heard the scream. They rushed to locate the source and help this damsel in distress!

Frankly I wouldn't have minded being rescued at this point (especially by big burly bronzed men...) but they were nearly 1km away down the river - I guess I do scream loud! - and I was only 100m from the shore. So I managed to do a sort of backwards breast stroke keeping my head as far out of the water as possible until I could wade onto the safety of dry land and walk back tail between my legs.

The marathon swimmers rushed up and asked if I knew who had screamed. As they were about to dive in and conduct a search and rescue operation I had to swallow my pride and sheepishly admit it was me...

I felt pretty embarrassed for a few hours afterwards until I realised that actually, I was taking on my fears - swimming with thousands of jellyfish - and doing a pretty good job of it for quite a time. That was really hard and swimming anywhere else now feels easy in comparison! Onwards and upwards!

Annie


Like Annie, give yourself a little credit for taking things on and pushing your limits, a few setbacks along the way are inevitable but try not to get down about them. The satisfaction you gain from overcoming them will be all the greater for it.

Our best advice is to push yourself a little further every session, try not to get in a comfort zone where you just do what you know you can do and nothing more. Move things forwards a little every time you swim and your confidence will grow and those fears gradually subside. However, you'll be glad to hear that swimming with jellyfish is entirely optional!

Swim Smooth!
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Can A Glass Of Fine Champagne Be Good For Your Swimming?

Actually, it just might...

Many swimmers roll their head around on every stroke when they swim:




If you do this yourself you are unlikely to be aware of the motion but you will be stirring up your inner ear which at best will make you feel slightly dizzy and at worst leave you nauseous and give you a headache. Developing a good stroke technique is hard enough without trying to do so whilst dizzy!

To fix this problem, practise by bending forwards slightly in front of a mirror on land. Focus on keeping your head still while you roll your body from one side to the other (move your feet in small steps to help get the body rotation):


When you feel like you are getting the hang of this use the 'Champagne Glass' visualisation to help transfer this still head across into your stroke:


Imagine you have a glass of Champagne (or your favourite tipple) balanced on the top of your head. As you swim you've got to keep your head dead still or you will spill the bubbles... and nobody likes to do that! Rotate your head smoothly to the side to breathe but then return to your fixed head position, looking at the black line on the bottom of the pool 1-2m in front of you.

Try this visualisation the next time you swim whether you know this is an issue in your stroke or you are not sure. Do you feel more balanced and stable when you swim? If so you've got another thing to like about Champagne!

A useful tool to develop this further is a snorkel such as the Finis Freestyle Snorkel. Not only can you swim without having to rotate to breathe (which gives you longer to practise keeping your head in one position) but if you do move your head you will immediately feel the resistance of the water on the side of the snorkel, giving you useful feedback:


Swim Smooth!

PS. Thanks for all your messages, tweets and pictures from Kona - next week we'll be having a bit of a round-up of the day's swim events. Jodie Swallow, who we featured last week on the blog, had a great swim exiting in second place right behind the swim leader Haley Chura.
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Jodie Swallow: Anything But Boring

The Hawaii Ironman is tomorrow (Saturday) and if you're a triathlon fan (like us) we bet you can't wait to see the best long course athletes in the world duke it out in the extreme heat and humidity of the lava fields of Kona. The event has a great live internet feed you can tune into here: ironman.com/triathlon/coverage/detail.aspx?race=worldchampionship&y=2013

The women's pro field has a real wildcard in it in the form of Britain's Jodie Swallow. Jodie is an ITU Long Course World Champion (Perth 2009) and Ironman 70.3 World Champion (2011) but is racing in only her third Ironman and her first in Hawaii. Her fantastic win at Ironman Kalmar in August qualified her for Kona with a brilliant 8:54 clocking over the 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run distance.

Back in 2009 in Perth, the very next day after her World Championship win, Jodie was keen to jump in the water with us at Claremont Pool and have a little video analysis on her swimming. Watch Paul Newsome's summary of her stroke from that footage here:


We'll let that clip speak for itself but suffice to say Jodie epitomises the Swinger Swim Type with a ton of rhythm and momentum in her stroke. It's important to understand that she's not hacking at the water, she is actually working with it, just with a lot of purpose and rhythm!

If Jodie's bike and run form in the extreme heat and humidity of Kona is an unknown quantity, in the water her ability is anything but unknown. Jodie is one of the best female triathlon swimmers in the world - in fact in Perth in 2009 she caught and swam through half of the men's pro field who started two minutes ahead of her over the 3km distance!

That day the conditions in the Swan River were very challenging with a short chop blown up by a strong easterly wind making it very hard for the swimmers to find a rhythm in their stroke. It wasn't easy for Jodie either but versus anyone trying to swim with a long smooth stroke, her natural style was a huge advantage and Jodie quickly broke away from the entire women's field and continued to dominate the race from there.

Jodie's stroke technique is a deliberate choice of hers as it's ideally suited to triathlon open water swimming. Make no mistake, she's a very skilled swimmer and she can swim with a nice long smooth stroke if she wants to. You can watch her doing that here (make sure you watch right until the end of the clip when she tells us just what she thinks of it in no uncertain terms!):


That's Jodie all over, a no-nonsense athlete and person. The non-wetsuit rough water swim in Kona should really play to her strengths so watch out for her exiting the water with the leaders on Saturday morning - let's hope we get a good shot of her working her rhythmical magic in the water before they get to T1.

Jodie's a friend of Swim Smooth and we're rooting for her to have a fantastic race. Good luck to everyone else competing - the swim is always hard so tough it out and keep a great rhythm in your stroke, there's plenty of time to recover afterwards on the bike ;)-

Swim Smooth!

PS. Why not tweet Jodie your best wishes here: @jodieswallow

PPS. The race starts at 6:30am Saturday local time, that's 5:30pm Sat UK, 6:30pm Sat Europe, 12:30pm Sat EDT, 9:30am Sat PDT, 3:30am Sun Sydney, 12:30am Sun Perth.
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Elite Swimmer Visualisation: Don't Start Too Near The Surface

Below is a series of video stills taken from a selection of elite swimmers right at the very front of their stroke as they commence the catch:

2x Olympic Gold Medallist Rebecca Adlington:


Our original Mr Smooth Jono Van Hazel:


2x Australian 10km Champion Rhys Mainstone:


2x Commonwealth Gold Medallist Ross Davenport:


Elite Junior Triathlete Sky Draper:


Elite Triathlete Guy Crawford:


Looking at the position of their lead forearm and hand, notice how similar they all are and how uncomplicated the position is. The elbow is just above the wrist and the wrist above the fingertips:


Notice also the depth of their arm and hand. The arm isn't right up at the surface as many swimmers believe it should be, it's actually quite deep around 30-40cm (12-16"). Trying to catch the water near the surface shows the palm forwards and drops the elbow, really damaging the catch. We call this position "putting on the brakes" as it not only harms the catch but kills stroke rhythm too.


The next time you swim, picture the position and depth of our elite swimmers' lead arm and feel the extra propulsion and rhythm you gain in your stroke.

Swim Smooth!
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Is Your Swim Fitness In A Permanent State Of Snakes And Ladders?

A good way to visualise your training is that each session you complete takes you one small step up a very long fitness ladder:



Your body only gains a small amount of fitness from each individual session but with a great deal of consistency over a long period of time, you can climb that ladder very high and achieve some great performances.

Consistency is the key word here because if you miss sessions then you start to lose fitness again and start to slide down the fitness 'snake':



Sports scientists call this principle 'reversibility' - your body naturally sheds fitness once training stops. Of course you know that already but it might not be obvious how it happens so incrementally and so quickly?

If you train hard for a few sessions, get demotivated, train again, get sick, start again then your fitness is going to look like this and ultimately not go anywhere:



If you take a long hard honest look at your own training over the last few months, has it been intermittent that?

This is a very simple model (you can see a more developed one here) but you can draw some very powerful conclusions from it with respect to how you should train:

- Avoid the temptation to try and climb the ladder too fast with 'world record sets' or 'monster weeks'. These are extremely physically and mentally taxing and can easily lead to burnout, far better to train slightly within yourself but be very consistent over many weeks.

- Think of your training in blocks of 8-10 weeks rather than individual sessions, this is the ideal period of time to stay focused and you can climb a lot of ladder rungs over that period. What happens in each individual session is far less important than the bigger picture of the block. Shameless plug: it's no co-incidence that Swim Smooth's training plans run for this length of time!

- If you have a busy professional and family life (like us!) then design a training routine you can sustain when life throws a few curve balls at you, even if this means doing less than you might on a good week.

- The less time you are able to spend in the water, the more critical it becomes to do the right sort of focus training to get up those ladder rungs. For any distance swimmer, open water swimmer or triathlete we recommend your key 'hard' session of the week is a CSS session.

- Swim at least three times a week to keep the ladder heading upwards.

Swim Smooth!
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Introducing The New HUUB SKN-1 & SKN-2 Swim Skins - Just In Time For Kona!

If you've been following Paul Newsome on twitter, you'll know he's been testing the very latest HUUB Swim Skins in Perth. Incredibly, he's found a 4 second per 100m improvement in his times swimming with the suits, which is pretty much the benefit a swimmer of his level would gain from a full wetsuit!

No wonder he's smiling, he's just completed a PB set of 100s in
the pool in the SKN-1.

We've just put the new SKN-1 and SKN-2 models on sale on our website here: SKN-1 and SKN-2 Swim Skins

Whatever your level of swimming you'll experience a big speed improvement from the suits - perfect for the southern hemisphere open water race season ahead.

If you're racing at Kona on October 12th we can still get you one of these suits in time - but be quick, stock is very limited.

Swim Smooth!
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Exclusive: Our Video Analysis Of ITU Grand Final Winner Non Stanford's Swimming

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Hopefully after reading last week's blog post you watched the ITU World Championships Grand Final from London, which despite the cold blustery weather delivered two fantastically exciting elite races. In the women's final Wales' Non Stanford put on a fantastic performance to win and become overall ITU World Champion:

Watch the Women's Grand Final on Youtube here and the Men's here

We were particularly thrilled to see Non's victory after SS Head Coach Paul Newsome ran a video analysis session on her stroke back in March last year. We've sought out special permission from Non and her coach Jack Maitland to share this recorded session with you, to give you an exclusive insight into her swimming and what was holding her back at the time (see below).

Non's made huge strides forward in all three disciplines under Jack's guidance and we can't speak highly enough of his and Simon Ward's programme up in Leeds in the UK. Two other stars of their set-up being Alistair and Johnny Brownlee of course.

The session we ran with Non is exactly the same as you can receive for your own swimming with any Swim Smooth Certified Coach. Your swimming might not be at Non's level but they will apply exactly the same process of analysis and stroke correction back in the pool with your own swimming to help you make some big strides forwards.

Non Stanford Video Analysis

As part of our work with British Triathlon (including rewriting their entire swim coaching curriculum and leading their open water training) we are fortunate enough to work with some of the UK's best triathletes. In March last year we visited the fantastic John Charles Aquatic Centre in Leeds where GB World Class Podium Coach Jack Maitland runs arguably the world's most successful ITU triathlon programme alongside Simon Ward's sessions for Leeds & Bradford Triathlon Club.

Three of LBTC's coaches (Francis Riley, Carol Young and Fiona Hoare) have all sat our own Swim Smooth 3-day Coach Education Course so we felt very much at home when we arrived on pool deck to film and analyse some of Jack's elite squad in action.

In the 17 minute recorded analysis, SS Head Coach Paul Newsome is speaking directly with Non and discussing her stroke with coach Jack Maitland. As you'll see, Paul and Jack share very similar philosophies on how to develop Non's stroke and Paul was very much in agreement with everything Jack was working on in her swimming:


When we met Non she was just 23 years old and still 6 months away from winning the ITU World Triathlon Under-23 Championships in Auckland. Having taken three top 10 finishes in ITU events in 2011 (her debut year) and having come from a very successful 1500m and 3000m track running background, she clearly had huge potential.

Some key points we'd like to highlight from the analysis:

[0:05] Non was concerned about her hands drifting back up to surface upon entry creating a slight braking effect. This was identified by Jack in December 2011 during video analysis and they had been working together to address the issue with key drills such as sculling to improve this:

Non in maximum extension at the front of the stroke, showing the dropped elbow which is
apparent with both arms during the stroke. (click image to expand)
The slight braking effect at the front of the stroke was causing Non to over-kick to compensate for the resultant small dead-spot in the rhythm of her stroke:

Non's "kick start" from the knee comes into play to compensate for the minor braking effect
caused by the right hand. (click image to expand)

[15:43] This strong kick, especially when performed from the knee, cause additional fatigue which Non comments on when asked about how well she swims in the open water relative to the pool: "I'm worse - I think I should swim better in the open water than I do. I lose my race in the first 200m, I'll be there for the first 50m, but then they just go!"

[16:14] Jack adds that not only have they been addressing this with specific drills but with specific interval sets designed to help Non through this period in a race. When wearing a wetsuit, the additional buoyancy would cause Non to literally kick into clean air and so lose the propulsive benefit she normally gains gets from her kick:

Non starts to get some active forward propulsion 30ยบ into the catch phase. (click image to expand)

If you are an Arnie, you might barely believe that it's possible to be overly buoyant in a wetsuit, but if you are a Kicktastic you'll know all too well how frustrating it can be to feel like you're not transferring your good pool skills and speed across to the open water. A classic example of how you need an individual approach to your swimming (again discussed last week on the blog).

[11:40] Jack (in reference Rebecca Adlington's stroke): "It's actually quite simple, there's nothing that extraordinary, there's no hyper mobility evident etc. Becky's catch is not as extreme as I would have expected". Non: "I'd be more than happy to swim like Becky that easily at 1:12 per 100m! That's fine by me!"

[2:40] Non has a very minor cross-over (as do most swimmers) and a slight thumb-first entry on the left hand. Paul discusses how this is causing the minor scissor kick that Non experiences and potentially might cause shoulder pain as well as hinder the initial catch phase of the stroke. Non recognises that little tweaks can make a big difference at her level and that the thumb-first entry into the water might be a remnant of what she was taught as a child in the UK.

[4:58] Paul highlights a very minor delay in Non's breathing timing, causing the head to lift up a touch too high. In reference to using the Unco drill as a way of improving her timing, Jack discusses how the spine should stay in "neutral" as Non rolls to breathe but in fact she lifts the head "away". Jack explains how this is very common, especially in open water with the necessity to sight forwards for navigation: "we always do a load of those type of drills which over time help to improve a swimmer's stroke."

[8:08] Paul highlights a very slightly wide left arm pull through and goes on to discussing the difference between pool and open water swimmers / triathletes during the catch phase and how Non's slightly wider stance might give her stability in turbulent water. Jack: "What I'd say is that you need to improve the front end first and in doing so this might impact and improve the mid-catch phase." This is a perfect example of a "cause and effect" approach to athlete-centric coaching.

Paul: "Like Jack keeps saying, it's a cause and effect thing - rather than thinking you've got 12 different things to work on, keep it simple and focus on the front end in your case and it will all come together."



As we vividly saw last weekend in London, Non and Jack's work has made all the difference. Non exited the water in Hyde Park in exactly 19 minutes for the 1500m swim (a pace of 1:16/100m), only 17 seconds shy of Australian Emma Moffat and well within the lead group. She then went on to secure the win with the fastest run of the day, a super fast 33:12 for the 10km run! In fact the BBC reported that Non might now contest for a spot in the 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 as well as the Triathlon event.

If you missed the two races on TV, you can watch highlights of both here:

Women's Grand Final: www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYhrxbAD05Y

Men's Grand Final: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_b4LusGFQw

Many thanks to Non and Jack for allowing us to share this session with you. As shown by her results over the last 18 months, the brilliant work that Jack and his team have done with Non has turned her into a swim/bike/run machine - the very best in the world in fact. Congratulations on your first senior World Championship Non, hopefully it's the first of many to come and here's wishing you all the very best in the build up to Rio 2016!

Swim Smooth!

You can follow Non on twitter here (please tweet and thank her for letting us share her video!): twitter.com/NonStanford

For more information on Jack and Simon, see www.thetriathloncoach.com and the Leeds Triathlon Centre: www.leedstriathloncentre.info
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Heads Up Or Down In London This Weekend?

Many swimmers (and coaches) believe everyone should look straight down when they swim with most of their head in the water:


The idea of this is that it helps bring the legs up high in the water reducing drag but if you have a great body position from good stroke technique, or if you have a good buoyancy distribution for swimming (as most women do), then this is terrible advice. It offers no advantages and runs the risk of bringing you too high at the rear so you start to feel awkward and unbalanced in the water. You might also start to kick into clean air:

Marina's been brought too high at the rear by having her head too low
this is a common problem for female swimmers.

As you can imagine, don a wetsuit and this situation gets much much worse, which is why many female swimmers strongly dislike swimming in their wetsuit. Every swimmer would be far better served if coaches adopted an individual approach to head position - choosing the best head position for their swimmers needs from the full spectrum available:


The irony is that very few elite pool or open water swimmers look straight down when they swim:

Ian Thorpe using position 4

Michael Phelps using position 3

London 2012: Keri-Anne Payne (top) and Gold Medallist Eva Risztov using positions 2-3

Whilst you're enjoying watching the Triathlon Grand Finals in London this weekend (they will be webcast here and on live BBC TV in the UK) take a look at the elite athletes in action in the water. You won't see the Brownlee brothers or Javier Gomez with their heads buried, they have a mid-range position which leaves them nicely balanced and allows them to see forwards a little underwater to try and pick up that all important draft.

For more information on head position in freestyle (and whether you should use a low head if you have sinky legs) see Choosing The Right Head Position For You.

Swim Smooth!
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Make Sure You Do Your Open Water Homework! (Vegas 70.3 World Champs)

How many times after an open water race or triathlon have you thought "I think I swam a little off course there - I wonder how much time I actually lost?". If you were following the blog way back in May 2010, you would have read our classic story of an athlete of ours called Dan who had a disappointing swim in a Half-Ironman (1.9km swim) event. Fortunately he was wearing a GPS tracker under his cap and we could see he swam 430m off course over the distance!

To back up the GPS data, our time accelerated footage shot at the same Busselton event shows how nearly all the swimmers are moving off course to a greater or lesser extent despite ideal conditions: www.swimsmooth.com/offcourse

Tracking accurately around a swim course is extremely important if you want to perform to you best on race day. In today's blog we'll discuss how a little homework in the build up to your event can make all the difference in how you approach it tactically.

Paul Newsome takes up the story:

Last week Debra from our Perth squad approached me before setting sail to sunny Las Vegas for this weekend's World 70.3 Championships. Deb is a strong contender in the 55-59 age group and sees swimming as the weaker of her three disciplines.

Needless to say she wants to really minimise the distance she has to swim this Sunday, especially as it's a non wetsuit race in fresh water, which is notorious for producing slow swim splits. Deb showed me the official course map which you can see below (click to enlarge):




The course is striking in that it is banana shaped and so offers the potential for swimmers to deviate significantly off course if they haven't done their homework beforehand. I've not raced on the course myself but from what I saw on the map, went through a planning exercise with Deb to give her the benefit of my racing and coaching experience.

You might not be racing in Vegas yourself this weekend but see this as an example of how you might best 'do your homework' before your next race and develop a good strategy for success.

Here's the map we drew to discuss (again click to enlarge):




Outward Leg

Starting at the Swim Start (point 1) you are 800m (0.5 miles) away from the first right-hand turn buoy (point 3) in a slightly left-curving line. As in any world championship event, the standard will be very high meaning that this first stretch will be frantic with plenty of thrashing of arms. This intensity will make navigation challenging as will the rising sun which is likely to be in the swimmers' faces. A darker lens on your goggles will be a must.

The narrowness of the course also presents its own challenges in that it could be easy to sight on the southern most marker buoys on this outward leg, rather than those on the northern edge. It will be tempting to hug the buoys on your right but doing so follows the curve of the banana and will add some extra distance.

The most obvious landmark ahead of you will be the Westin Hotel to your left and it would be equally easy to get drawn off-course into the cross hatched area (X). Ideally for the first 550m (0.3 miles) you want to be navigating towards landmark (A) at the north-eastern end of the lake which should help shave off part of the curvature of the marked course, even if only slightly. As a gauge as to how well you're doing this, I suggest that you want to feel like you have an equal number of people to your left and right at this stage, given my prediction that many will either hug the buoys or swim too close to the shore.

This will ideally bring you to Point 2, whereupon you then adjust your sights slightly to your left (landmark B) and to that first 90° right turn buoy (point 3). It will still be frantic at this point, so hold your ground and don't get too flustered. It's then a short run to point 4, sighting ahead to landmark C for guidance.

Homeward Leg

The return leg is slightly longer than the outward leg but with the benefit of the rising sun over your left shoulder, it should make sighting easier. For minimum distance you want to be swimming close to the marker buoys all the way into the finish chute. As a gauge of how well you are doing this, you should feel like the majority of the field is on your left side on the return leg (assuming you haven't wandered off into the middle of the course!).

The map indicates that the marker buoys will be approximately 75 meters (80 yards) apart and given that the field will have thinned out a little by this point, getting on the right line should be easier to achieve. The danger on this stretch is cross hatches (Y) and (Z) which will be off to your left. You run the risk of being drawn towards these by sighting too aggressively to the left side of Montelago Village and then secondly on the Hilton Hotel.

A good aim from as far back as turn point 4 would be to sight between these two buildings (landmarks E and F) but with your primary focus being the marker buoys on your right. Once you draw parallel with Montelago Village head towards the bridge aiming for between the middle and left stanchions as you see it. From there the exit gantry should be very easy to sight.

Arriving At The Venue

Well, that's all very well in theory of course! My advice to Deb was to take this sketch and utilise it before the practice swim on Saturday morning. The curvature of the course could be much less pronounced than we can make out from the map. There may well be more obvious landmarks that line up with the turn buoys that Google Earth can't show us.

In any case, the next stage of the homework assignment is to arrive at the venue, get down to the course and either swim it or for low key races arrive a few hours before race start and take a walk around the course to pinpoint some of the key features in the topography of the land that might help you shave off 15-20 seconds here and there. Every little helps!

As I concluded with Deb, I've never raced this event nor is it likely that I have raced your local event, so take the specifics of what I say with a small pinch of salt but use it to encourage yourself to:

1) Study any pre-race maps ahead of time

2) Take a reconnaissance walk around the course (including getting down low to water level to see what the marker buoys look like from the surface of the water)

3) Speak to others who may have experience of a particular course or conditions (e.g. life savers and coast guards). They won't necessarily always be right but better to have some idea than none at all.

The more practice you have completing these homework assignments, the more likely you are to score an A+!

Let us know how you get on and please share this information with anyone you know who might be racing this weekend. Good luck to everyone from our Perth squads, and everyone following Swim Smooth around the world who are racing over there!

Cheers,

Paul
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