Kate Bevilaqua Interview: Going From 62 To 49 Minutes For An Ironman Swim

Last weekend Perth based professional Ironman athlete Kate Bevilaqua won Ironman Louisville against a high quality field, exiting the water with the lead girls in a sensational 49 minutes for the 3.8km swim.

Kate won Ironman Louisville last weekend by just over 4 minutes. Her swim split
was only a few seconds slower than the lead pro men.

Before working with Paul Newsome, Kate regularly swam around 62 minutes for the 3.8km Ironman swim leg. For an athlete of her calibre this is a relatively slow time and left her at least 10 minutes behind her competitors, coming out of the water with a huge task to catch up with them on the bike and run. As Kate put it herself: I can't win the race in the swim but I can definitely lose it!!

What did Paul do with Kate and what does she feel made the difference? Let’s find out with our exclusive interview with Kate earlier this week:

Paul: Hi Kate, thanks for joining us this week on the www.feelforthewater.com blog. After your sensational win at Ironman Louisville at the weekend with a fantastic 49:03 swim split - you must be on Cloud 9 right now? Our whole Perth squad was ecstatic to hear of your third Ironman win - well done!

Kate: Thank you!! It has taken a while for it all to sink it! The race seems like a blur at the moment and it has been pretty hectic for the last 24 hours but once we arrive back in Boise (halfway there now....at Las Vegas airport!) then I will have a good chance to sit down and take it all in. The support from home (Perth) has been amazing and I can't wait to get back at the end of October! A few more races to do before then though! 

Paul: It's been a little over two years since we last spoke about you on the blog in reference to those swimmers who feel awkward in a wetsuit and feel that they don't gain as much time as others from using one. We worked on two key things with your stroke, for you to look further forwards in the water to prevent your hips and legs sitting too high, and to adopt a straighter arm "swinging" recovery to avoid the build up of fatigue you were feeling in the shoulders when using a classic high-elbow recovery. Both could be considered slightly unconventional but they have certainly worked, would you agree?

A straighter arm recovery over the water is one of the changes Paul made to Kate's stroke.

Kate: Thank you for all you've done with me and my swimming. We won't see another 1 hour swim here!!! But going from a chaser to the chased has been an interesting and fun change.

The two pointers you mentioned have definitely allowed me to swim 10min quicker over an Ironman, WOW thats a lot of time! Plus training with your awesome Swim Smooth Perth Squad over the summer!

A lot of people especially those who think we should all have the classic swim stroke probably won't believe me but my high arm turn over makes me feel in control, my heart rate is actually lower than when I try swimming with a lower arm turn over. My head position and stroke rate have been instrumental to my swim performance.

I feel quite lucky to be rather buoyant in the water. But therefore watching my head position is key to engaging my kick.

Paul: The IM Louisville swim was warm (27C/80F) so non-wetsuit, with your 49:03 split breaking down to an average pace of 1:16/100m which is super quick swimming. Conditions in races always vary so it’s interesting to compare your time against your boyfriend (and super-fish) Guy Crawford who regularly leads out swims at 70.3 and IM races around the world. At IM Louisville you were just 30 seconds behind Guy out of the water - a far cry from the 12+ minute gap you would have seen back in 2010. Guy must be getting a little scared?!

Louisville bike: Kate no longer has to play catch-up on two wheels.

Kate: I’m not sure if Guy's getting worried just yet but 30sec is the closest we've been in any race sprint through Ironman and I'm so happy that the techniques I've learned, drafting, sighting and Red Lining (if you can call going to max a technique) have paid off because all of those things contributed to a fantastic swim. 

It was a bit of a rough start for me as people struggled to find a good position. I fell off the back initially but worked extremely hard for the first 1km knowing it would be worthwhile for the rest of the swim. The focus was high turn over, relaxing and getting into a good breathing pattern! It was definitely tough... but totally worth it and instead of chasing for the first 90km of the bike I was sharing the lead with Nina Kraft within the first 10km. My entire race plan changed! It was weird to be in the lead of a race so early, when typically I am the "non swimmer" and chasing! 

Paul: I think it's fair to say as well that yourself and Guy couldn't have two more different physiques - Guy being 6ft 3in and with a +4" Ape Index and yourself being just over 5ft with a -2" Ape Index. Remember this video we shot of you two comparing that and your stroke techniques a couple of years ago?:

Correspondingly you both swim with very different styles: Guy the classic Smooth and yourself now the classic Swinger (developed from being more Kicktastic). Guy races at around 64SPM (strokes per minute) with yourself closer to 90SPM.

One of the aspiring age group athletes in our squad with a very similar height and build to yourself had received conflicting advice from another swim coach to suggest that she wouldn't be efficient if she couldn't swim less than 40 strokes per length (SPL). He claimed she was over-revving with a too high stroke rate despite the fact that all her times were getting significantly faster.

I had her watch you do a 20 minute 1500m swim in the pool at 56-58SPL to prove the point that whilst that might be reasonable advice for someone like Guy with his height and huge reach, it certainly wouldn't be beneficial for her or for you. How important do you think it is to ensure you're doing the right thing for your own height and build as opposed to what might be banded around as being the most efficient way for everyone to swim?

Kate: In the past before I was working with you and Swim Smooth I was given the same information. It was all about increasing my distance per stroke, slower my stroke rate down and I felt terrible doing it! In fact I felt slow and my swimming never got any better through years of persistence. When swimming with a slow stroke rate I began to over kick to compensate and we all know triathletes don't kick! We save our legs for the bike and run! I was wasting a lot of energy!

The key factor for me was knowing that everyone is different, we don't all need to look like Ian Thorpe or Michael Phelps in the water! We can swim much closer to our potential if we do what we're naturally good at. I am short with short arms, but I can turn them over super quick and rather efficiently so with some guidance (thanks to you) that’s what I do now and finally my times have been coming down and I am becoming faster and more efficient!

So work with what you have, making small, fine adjustments and the results will follow. That PB you've been after is not that far away!!

Paul working with Kate and Guy in Perth.

Paul: You spend about 7 months of the year here in Perth training in the SS squads and then the northern hemisphere race season in Boise, Idaho (USA). When in Perth we spend a lot of time working on your aerobic endurance, your ability to swim well in the wetsuit and your ability to sit on someone's feet and take maximum advantage of the drafting benefit. 

You’ve swum a lot of sessions with me now, what did you enjoy the most and/or what made the biggest difference?

Kate: Guy won't like this but its the Paul Newsome Monday 10x 400 and our Wednesday swim sets with Swim Smooth!! They are my 2 key swim sessions each week.

On a Monday it is just me training alone with the Tempo Trainer beeper, I set the pace and just get it done. Honestly it can be boring and hard to start that session, especially after a big weekend of training but as you would say "you just have to get in the water and get it done!" - I have to swim 3.8km anyway for an Ironman! [Ed: Kate’s talking about our ‘Red Mist’ set, see here]

Wednesday mornings are always a surprise and we never know what we are going to get... but I know it will be solid... and at some point in time I will crack... but I will get back on. I tend to wear my wetsuit for this session (I need to swim in it at least once a week to feel good!) and I also get the chance to practice my drafting. All of these things combined have helped to improve my swimming over the last 2 years and I now have a lot more confidence across all three disciplines rather than starting to enjoy myself only once I get out of the water! :-)

Kate now uses a more forward looking head position to stop her becoming too
high at the rear. Try this yourself if you feel unbalanced in your wetsuit.

Paul: It's been fantastic working with such a dedicated athlete as yourself over the last three years. They say that an Ironman is never won on the swim alone but by judging the results at IM Louisville it seems that it did indeed play a huge part of setting you up for a great day at the front of the field? For those readers out there who've maybe been doing the sport like yourself for a good 10+ years but feel like they've never really progressed with their swimming, what final piece advice can you offer them?

Kate: Absolutely.... my swim at Louisville set me up for a great day! I must admit I didn't realise I was swapping the lead with Nina until the first out and back section of the bike course because I thought there were some faster swimmers up front. Not that I had come out of the water with them!

Advice - Firstly (and this might sound like a plug for you Paul but it's truly the best thing to be able to see yourself swim on video and know what your doing wrong) you need a one on one with Paul Newsome or someone from Swim Smooth so they can video your stroke and give the feedback you need to make the necessary changes. That will also include the drills and skills you can do to swim faster! Honestly, you won't regret it. It helped me so much over the past few years and the information I took out of it.

Finally, don't try and fit the mould of the perfect swimmer, we are not all like that!! Roll with what you've got and learn how to use it to your advantage and you will be swimming faster! 

Paul: Thanks Kate, looking forward to catching up back in Perth in October. Here's to a great rest of your season!

Kate: Thanks Paul! Can't wait to be back home in Perth!! Better head off for a recovery swim now.... don't want to lose that "feel for the water"!!

Find out more about Kate and her victory at Louisville:


Also special thanks to Ali at www.alienginphotography.com for use of his photos from Louisville.

Swim Smooth!

New ASA/BTF Coaching Qualification Co-Written By Swim Smooth

Swim Smooth are very excited to announce a new coaching qualification for open water swimming which is set to rapidly become the standard that all triathlon and open water swim coaches will require in the UK.

The qualification is a joint collaborative partnership between the ASA, British Triathlon and Swim Smooth. It includes all our of open water coaching methods focused on developing your specialist open water coaching knowledge, the quality of your coaching delivery and ensuring the safety of the environment for all users.

Develop your open water coaching expertise.
You can find out more about the qualification here and signup here. Be quick if you'd like to be part of the first wave, the first assessments are due to be completed in September.

As you may know, we have been working with British Triathlon since 2010 and all Level 1/2/3 triathlon coaches in the UK now follow our swim coaching curriculum. This qualification is now expanding that remit into open water swimming itself in collaboration with the ASA.

If you are a swimmer and considering choosing Swim Smooth coaching then you can be assured that our methods have been uniquely embraced by both triathlon and swimming governing bodies in the UK.

Swim Smooth!

Annie's Tips For Your Kick!

This week on the blog, new Swim Smooth team member and coach Annie Oberlin-Harris gives you her tips on improving your kicking technique for beginner and intermediate swimmers. Go Annie! :

I've been coaching all levels of swimmer from beginner to advanced swimmers for many years and have seen all sorts of kicking technique along the way: bendy knees, sinky legs, feet pointing downward, half breaststroke kick (with freestyle arms!), the classic overglider-kickstart and even a full whip kick! As you probably appreciate, none of these are good!

For example the swimmer below is bending a lot from the knee as he kicks. Notice how the whole of the front of his thigh will be causing drag by pushing water the wrong way (forwards):

If you're learning to swim freestyle it's quite likely that you are kicking ineffectively and this is making things much harder than they need to be. By this I mean either bending your knees too much when you kick, kicking too hard or even dragging your legs low behind you making staying streamlined virtually impossible.

There's no magic to kickING efficiently, it is actually really easy when you know how! Studies into Ian Thorpe’s leg kick showed that even he could only generate about 10-15% propulsion from it (with super flexible size 17 feet!), the vast majority of his propulsion was from his upper body. Pool sprint swimmers may wish to develop a strong leg kick but for the majority of people doing triathlon or long distance and open water swimming, you should be looking to minimise your energy expenditure from your leg kick. You are just using it to keep your legs high to reduce drag.

Here's three of my favourite exercises to try to improve your kick:

1. Lie on your front on the floor or poolside with your forehead down, body straight with legs together. Now lift one of your legs up straight. Look behind at what that leg is really doing - are you bending at the knee? If you are then you need to learn to lift your leg up WITHOUT bending your knee, so you can actually kick from your hip. Use your lower back, glutes and hamstrings to pick that leg up about 15cm / 6 inches off the ground, keeping your knee straight and your toe pointed. Repeat a few times on each side, then have a go alternating with a faster rhythm as you would in the water.

2. In the pool, hold the wall or steps with both hands and keep your arms straight.  Put your head in the water looking at the pool floor beneath you and gently exhale.  Lift your legs up so your body is fully horizontal kicking lightly with your new straighter leg technique.  Think about trying to keep your legs within what I call 'the shadow of your body' - no deeper or wider than your torso behind you.

Turn your feet in like pigeon toes and brush your big toes together lightly as they pass. Close your eyes and tune into what you can feel - can you feel the surface of the water or bubbles with your toes? It should feel very soft as you lightly break the surface with your ankles (don't lift your whole foot clear of the water).

Kicking like this will remove the need to use lots of energy but keep your legs high up to reduce drag. If you keep your core engaged and you are kicking correctly from the hip you'll notice your body starts to roll slightly with every kick, right up to your shoulders!

3. Perform a normal torpedo push off with your hands streamlined one on top of the other, head underneath your arms and push off the wall, legs straight and together, and toes pointed.  Just at the point that your momentum slows, start to lightly flutter kick. Tap your big toes together as they pass, let your ankles stay floppy and let the kick bring your legs up high. Perform this drill without lifting your head to breathe if you can, if you lift your head you will immediately feel more downward pressure on your legs.

Whilst moving down the pool, make your kick gentler and gentler until eventually you feel a threshold and they start to sink. When you're kicking with good technique you will be amazed at how gently you can kick without sinking. This low level of kicking effort is what you should be aiming for in your full freestyle stroke - if you are kicking any harder you are burning a lot of energy and oxygen doing so which will leave you really short of breath.

Push off again but this time go into your full freestyle stroke, reproducing that gentle kicking technique you just learnt. Remember nice straight legs, floppy ankles, feet pointed inwards. Let your arms do the work instead and feel the difference.

So, get down to the pool and use these new techniques to start kicking effectively. You’ll be amazed how much easier swimming freestyle will feel - let your arms do the work!

Post on the comments of this post and let me know how you got on!

Annie! @swimsmoothannie

Also see our full article on leg kick on the Swim Smooth website here: swimsmooth.com/kick

What's The Right Amount Of Rotation In Your Stroke?

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One of the most common emails we get at Swim Smooth is from swimmers wondering how much rotation (also called "body roll") they should have in their stroke. There certainly is a lot of confusion out there about this and there has been some wildly differing opinions from coaches over the years:

- In the 1990s a movement started telling swimmers to rotate to 90° on their side every stroke to "swim like a fish" and to remain in this position for as long as possible between strokes. Although this has now been recognised as too much rotation, you can still find this advice given in books and DVDs today.

- Other coaches have instructed swimmers to rotate as little as possible. In fact one of our swimmers in our squads in Perth tells how she learnt to swim freestyle with the Red Cross in the 1960s and the instructor would walk alongside the pool with a stick and rap her over the head if she didn't swim completely flat!

What's the right amount of rotation? Let's answer this question by looking at some footage of elite swimmers. Here's double Olympic Gold Medallist Rebecca Adlington at the point of maximum rotation in her stroke (you can click the images to expand):

You can see how she's rotating to about 45 degrees; from a side angle you can see that she's doing this from both her shoulders and hips, she's not twisting through the core:

There are some quite technical debates in swim coaching about whether the hips stay a little flatter than the shoulders but if you think about stretching tall through your core and rotating your whole body (including your legs) this will give you the right outcome for distance swimming.

Rotation is an important part of your stroke technique as it allows you to develop a high elbow catch like Rebecca's while engaging the large muscles of the back and core to power the stroke. Good rotation also reduces the forces through the shoulder joint (lowering the risk of injury) and allows the arms to recover easily over the surface.

Nearly every swimmer rotates a little more when they breathe, even Rebecca:

The fact that breathing tends to drive rotation in the stroke is the main reason why we recommend you breathe to both sides regularly. Swimmers who only breathe to one side tend to have poor rotation on the non-breathing side and the simplest way you can correct this is to introduce breathing to your bad side.

However, be very wary of over-rotating when breathing. This swimmer has rotated fully onto his side as he takes a breath, causing him to scissor kick his legs apart to stabilise himself:

Does the amount of rotation depend on your stroke style? Sometimes but not as much as you might expect. Here's 7 time World Marathon Swimming Champion Shelley Taylor Smith displaying the shorter punchier 'Swinger' stroke style used by many elite open water swimmers and triathletes:

Above the water Shelley doesn't appear to rotate that much with the recovering arm swinging around the side (top photo) but this is deceptive. Below the water we can see that in fact she's rotating nicely to 45 degrees on every stroke.

Your Rotation

How much rotation should you aim for? We recommend something in the 45-60° range. Obviously you can't swim with a protractor to check (!), so how can you tell? Ask a friend to film you with your phone and watch the clip back carefully or get some feedback from an experienced coach. If you are worried about your rotation, consider investing in a Finis Tech Toc which will give you live feedback on your rotation on every stroke as you swim.

Developing Better Rotation

Besides bilateral breathing, we recommend side-lying exercises such as our kick-on-side and 6-1-6 drills with fins to help you improve your rotation:

During these drills you rotate to nearly 90° which is too much for the full stroke but by performing the drill and then breaking into full-freestyle, the right amount of rotation should transfer nicely into your stroke:

Even if you feel that you over-rotate when you swim these side-kicking drills are useful because they teach you to become aware of and control your rotation. The improved stability and posture you will feel will mean you are less likely to over-rotate in your full stroke.

A couple of additional points:

- If you have low lying legs in the water you will find rotation hard to develop. To bring the legs up, work on your exhalation technique to rid your lungs of excess buoyancy and work on improving your kicking technique (see next week's blog). Then you should find it much easier to roll from one side to the other.

- If you only breathe to one side in your stroke, focus on your rotation to the other side. A good visualisation to try is to think about rotating your hip out of the way before the hand gets there. More on that here.

Swim Smooth!

Swim Smooth Analysis: 2013 Barcelona World Championships

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We hope you managed to see some of the FINA World Swimming Championships from Barcelona last week, it was a fantastic event packed with some brilliant performances, particularly in the distance freestyle races. In this post we've picked out some interesting video stills highlighting the stroke technique and strategic elements of the men's and women's 800m and 1500m races, won by Sun Yang of China and Katie Ledecky from the US.

With very similar strokes underwater, Ryan Cochrane (right) leads Sun Yang during the 1500m final

Both Yang and Ledecky are what we call the Smooth Swim Type, having long smooth freestyle strokes and a powerful 6 beat kick when in full-flight. Notably both swimmers drop down to an intermittent flutter kick over long races, saving their full kick for the last 1-200m of a distance race. This ability to sprint is a trademark of the Smooth type, who have a natural turn of pace over short distances and so tend to also dominate the sprint events in the pool. Notable 'sprint-Smooths' being Alexander Popov, Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps.

However at Swim Smooth we recognise there is also another 'ideal' way to swim freestyle for distance swimming, the less celebrated 'Swinger' type. Interestingly the main competitors to Yang and Ledecky in these races were Ryan Cochrane and Lotte Friis, both of whom use a shorter punchier style of stroke to move through the water. Both fit into the Swinger stroke bracket, particularly Friis who favours the classic swinging straighter arm over the water from which the type takes its name:

400m into the 800m final: Friis (leading) uses the classic straight-arm swinging recovery of the Swinger, a style used widely by elite open water swimmers and triathletes. Ledecky (second place) has the classical high-elbow of the Smooth stroke style.

Despite being taller (1.84m/6'0” vs 1.78m/5'10”), Friis takes 44 strokes per length and Ledecky 38. As Friis has a shorter stroke, to move at the same speed she turns her arms over quicker at 95 strokes per minute (SPM) versus 81 SPM for Ledecky. That's a large difference and just goes to show how there's no right distance per stroke that everyone should swim at – nor is a long stroke necessarily better than a short stroke. It's about finding the stroke that works for you as an individual, if Friis tried to swim with Ledecky's stroke style or vice versa it simply would not work for them and they'd be slower as a result.

It's not just stroke rate, the personalities of Swingers and Smooths tend to be quite different. Smooths tend to be quite suave in their dress sense while Swingers are a bit more 'out there' and prefer bright bathers; in the case of Lotte Friis bright nails too!

If you have a Tempo Trainer Pro yourself, try setting it to those stroke rates in turn (Ledecky: 81SPM / Friis: 95SPM) in mode 3, see if you can stay with the beep for 25m. 95 SPM is obviously very fast but 81 SPM is quick too, despite Ledecky looking long and smooth in the pool. The secret to Ledecky's speed is that her stroke is actually long and fast.

Strategically the 800m and 1500m races were interesting as Yang and Ledecky let Cochrane and Friis lead the whole way pacing themselves off them before using their sprint finish to overtake them over the last 100-150m. It's unlikely they would have gained any drafting effect from the next lane over but psychologically following someone is much easier than leading:

Sun Yang (far side) paces himself off Ryan Cochrane midway through the 1500m, keeping an eye on him on every breath before unleashing his finish in the last 100m. Note Cochrane's straight arm recovery style.

Friis (leading) stays on the far side of her lane away from Ledecky, just in case she's managing to pick up a tow from her wake.

If you are fortunate enough to be a Smooth swim type yourself there is an important strategy lesson here, particularly if you are considering open water swimming or triathlon. You will probably feel a strong temptation to get out front and lead the whole race but if do that you will likely tow around a whole bunch of slower swimmers drafting behind you (see our classic blog post: Behind Every Smooth Is A Gaggle Of Bloodsucking Swingers).

Instead of trying to lead, learn to draft effectively and get comfortable sitting in the lead group yourself behind other swimmers. In a triathlon where there's no advantage in sprinting at the end of the swim but in an open water race you can unleash your finish with 200m to go and leave everyone in your wake.

What else can we learn from these great swimmers? We'd highlight three important things:

1. Zero Glide From Katie Ledecky

If you study footage of Ledecky's stroke, you can see how her stroke starts immediately as the previous stroke finishes at the rear. Katie may appear to glide down the pool with her super-smooth stroke but this is in fact an illusion, her propulsion is smooth and continuous and there's zero pause-and-glide in her stroke:

Consecutive video frames 0.04 seconds apart: Ledecky finishes one stroke (A) and immediately commences the next (B). You can see the overlap in Friis' stroke in the background, starting the front stroke before the rear finishes, giving her that faster revving style.

The notion that great swimmers glide down the pool is the biggest misconception in swim coaching – something we're dedicated to dispelling at Swim Smooth as it's an idea that harms so many swimmer's stroke techniques and limits their achievements.

If you've tried to add a pause-and-glide into your stroke, check out this data showing how incredibly inefficient it is and our similar analysis of Sun Yang's stroke from 2011.

2. Sun Yang's Great Catch And Pull Through Technique

A feature of Sun's stroke is his powerful catch and pull, pushing himself forwards strongly on every stroke:

At its simplest level, propulsion in swimming is about engaging with the water and pressing it backwards so that you are propelled forwards, which we can clearly see Sun doing above. You're not looking to rotate your arms round in a big circle like a waterwheel, you're entering the water, extending forwards and pressing water backwards until you reach the back of the stroke.

3. Fantastic Pacing Skills

Here's Sun Yang's splits per 50m during the 1500m race. Notice how perfectly paced the swim was up until the sprint finish over the last 100m with each 50m split only varying by a few tenths of a second:

distancelap time (seconds)
5027.13 (from dive)

To pace things that accurately takes tremendous skill and is something that nearly all non-elite swimmers lack. It's so easy to start too fast in your swims and then blow-up, ending up slower overall.

One way to help you develop your pacing skills is to swim with a Tempo Trainer Pro set to beep at your target speed - so you reach the end of the lap on every beep (a bit like a constant pace beep test). It's so easy to get way ahead of the beeper in the early stages of your swim only for it to catch and pass you. Nearly all world records on the track or in the pool have been set with even pacing, or a slight negative split where the second half is quicker than the first. Swimming with good pacing in training sets will give you bigger fitness improvements too.

Katie Ledecky's Hand Entry

We've talked about Sun Yang before on the blog and what a phenomenal swimmer he is but Katie Ledecky is equally impressive, having shocked the world to win the 800m gold at the London Olympics aged just 15 and now winning four golds at the world championships (400m/800m/1500m/4x200m) just a year later. She's the new superstar of distance swimming and we look forward to more stunning performances from her over the coming years.

Is she perfect? Nearly but not quite, she does have a distinct thumb first entry with the palm turning outwards on her right hand which is going to place a twisting load on her shoulder:

Katie Ledecky's left and right hand entries

Given that she already has a great catch and pull-through, rectifying that to a more neutral entry (as she does on her left side) is unlikely to bring a speed improvement but it will help her avoid shoulder injury over the coming years. If you suffer from any shoulder pain when you swim, a thumb first entry is the first thing to check for in your stroke.

The Open Water Races

Both the mens and women's 10km marathon swims also played out as classic battles between Swingers and Smooths but out in the open water the tables were turned and the Swingers came out on top. In the mens race, Spyridon Gianniotis took the win to claim his second world title with Thomas Lurz in second, both 'swinging' at 92-95 SPM for the whole race. The Olympic Champion Oussama Mellouli came in third with his longer smoother stroke, racing at 68-70SPM.

The start of the men's 10K swim in Barcelona. It's obvious what an advantage a straighter arm recovery is to clear the disturbed water and other swimmers.

In the women's race, the two Brazilian swimmers Poliona Okimoto Cintra and Ana Marcela Cunha took the gold and silver, again stroking fast in the 90-95SPM range. For more detail on the races, check out Steve Munatones' excellent race reports here and here where he discusses how despite the water conditions being relatively smooth, in a tightly packed group of swimmers they became very turbulent indeed.

The open water results highlight the fact that swimmers with a faster stroke rate tend to naturally excel in open water. That faster punchy rhythm helps drive them through the wake, chop and disturbed water quickly and efficiently. The key thing to appreciate is that this is not a less efficient way to swim and they are not fighting the water, it's just like spinning a smaller gear on the bike taking more strokes but each taking less effort.


Once again at a major swimming championships we see a range of stroke styles being used by different athletes to suit their height, build, natural style and the race in which they are competing. This just goes to show that there's not one ideal stroke style that all great swimmers use.

As you develop your own swimming try not to fall into the trap of thinking you must swim in a certain style because it could well be the wrong style for you. Instead, work on each area of your stroke technique such as improving your breathing technique, your body position or your catch and pull through and see how the stroke clicks together as a result.

What to work on as a priority? Take a look at our Swim Types microsite here: www.swimtypes.com. As well as the elite level Smooth and Swinger, there are four other types which range from beginner through intermediate to advanced level. Discover your type and we'll show you exactly how to improve, step by step.

Swim Smooth!

PS. If you enjoy your facts and figures, here's our summary of the women's 800m and men's 1500m swimmers in numbers:
Women's 800m Winner: Katie Ledecky (USA)
Age 16
Height 1.78m (5'10")
38 Strokes Per Length / 81 Strokes Per Minute
Gap between strokes* Left: 0.00 sec, Right: 0.00 sec
Finishing time (new world record) : 8:13.86 (61.7s/100m)
Swim Type: Smooth
Women's 800m Second Place: Lotte Friis (Denmark)
Age 25
Height 1.84m (6'0”)
44 Strokes Per Length / 95 Strokes Per Minute
Gap between strokes* Left: -0.12 sec, Right: -0.12 sec
Finishing time : 8:16.32 (62.0s/100m)
Swim Type: Swinger
Men's 1500m Winner: Sun Yang (China)
Age 21
Height 1.98m (6'6")
28 Strokes Per Length / 60 Strokes Per Minute
Gap between strokes* Left: 0.16, Right: 0.22
Sprint finish gap between strokes*: Left: 0.00, Right: -0.12 (85SPM)
Finishing time : 14:41.15 (58.7s/100m)
Swim Type: Smooth
Men's 1500 Second Place: Ryan Cochrane (Canada)
Age 24
Height 1.93m (6'4")
36 Strokes Per Length / 82 Strokes Per Minute
Gap between strokes* Left: 0.00, Right: 0.00
Sprint finish gap between strokes*: Left: -0.12, Right: -0.08 (99 SPM)
Finishing time : 14:42.48 (58.8s/100m)
Swim Type: Swinger
*The time gap between the stroke finishing at the rear and the next starting at the front from video analysis averaged over several strokes. Negative denotes stroke overlap.

The Unavoidable Facts About Drafting

Drafting (in swimming) is:

Requires focus
Requires practise
A lot faster than swimming by yourself

In our squads in Perth we asked our swimmers to perform a 1000m timetrial in the pool two weeks running. In the first week our lane 1 averaged 19:15 but the following week we moved some faster swimmers across from lane 2 and told the lane 1 swimmers to draft off them - the result: 17:30!

Where they pleased? Not all of them! Several complained how awkward and claustrophobic it felt - the exact same swimmers who tend to seek out clear water in an open water race and under-perform as a result.

There's no avoiding the downsides of drafting but the huge speed improvement makes it all worthwhile. So get practising and when it comes to a race, turn the brain off and go for it!

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