Joel's been training with Swim Smooth in our elite squad in Perth under Paul Newsome's tutelage and has been making some large strides forward with his swimming. Over the last couple of months we've reduced his 3.8km open water time from 58 minutes down to 52:15 and he's rapidly closing in on his goal of a sub 50 minute Ironman swim.
|L-R: Cat Jameson, Joel & Tom Lowe enjoying training with us in sunny Perth|
Faster On His Bad Side
Joel has a strong preference to breathe to his left when he swims and normally would perform all his training and racing breathing to the left. Generally his stroke was pretty good technically but unfortunately some bad stroke habits have developed whilst breathing to the left which are really holding him back with his swimming:
In the shot above taken from his first video analysis with us, we can see how Joel's right arm tends to push down on the water whilst locked out straight and it's also pushing out wide. This action gave Joel a poor catch and caused him to bob up and down as he swam. He should have a bent elbow at this point in the stroke with his hand under his shoulder, as shown below by double Olympic Gold Medalist Rebecca Adlington:
Despite Paul's encouragement, Joel resisted getting used to breathing to his right side as in his own words it "felt awful and also it felt super slow".
It was only during a CSS session when Paul asked him to swim alternate repetitions breathing to his left and to his right that Joel discovered he was in fact two seconds quicker per 100m breathing to his right - even though it felt awkward to do so. In Joel's own words:
"It's starting to feel a lot more natural the more I use the right side (my wrong side)... The biggest change is that it has been proven to me that it is faster! That changes your mental ability to make the changes and it breeds positive progress. I have tried many times to change the side I breathe to but until coming to Perth I had never put a clock to it.
Any athlete, pro or amateur, is looking for quick gains in performance. Buying a nice piece of kit is the quickest gain but often the most minimal. This change in my swimming although it seems an obvious one is a revelation of just how much quicker I can go. It has all happened over a relatively short time period too. 3 months of consistent work and it has proven to be fruitful. To swim 50 sec quicker in 1 week over the same distance and same conditions just because I was bold and tried swapping sides in a time-trial... Well worth the focus and persistence!"
Find out more about Joel and what he's up to at www.joeljameson.org and @joeljameson1
Working From A Blank Canvas
In an ideal world everyone would be able to breathe equally well to both sides and to encourage this we recommend bilateral breathing to most swimmers. In some instances though the best route for a swimmer may be to switch sides completely, as we have seen with Joel here.
For tactical reasons Joel can now swap sides whenever he needs to. If there's waves, chop or bright sunlight to one side he can swap to the other. Or if he needs to keep an eye on another competitor and draft to the side of them, he can breathe to that side to judge his distance accurately.
If you have a strong preference to breathe to one side it's likely you will have flaws in your stroke that are related to doing so, these might include lifting your head to breathe, pressing down on the water during the catch (like Joel) or crossing over in front of the head. Even though breathing to your 'bad side' feels awkward, your stroke technique to that side is probably much better than you think - in a sense it's a "blank canvas" without any bad habits that you can work from.
See our related post: If Something's Going To Go Wrong In Your Stroke, It'll Go Wrong When Breathing