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!

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!

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:

Men's Grand Final:

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!):

For more information on Jack and Simon, see and the Leeds Triathlon Centre:

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!

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:

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!



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