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


Steve Wieck said...

Thanks very much for the time and thought that go into your posts. Swim Smooth's advice has been tremendously helpful in improving my open water swimming.

Dan said...

Could you talk more about the different widths of the pull phase and how they impact the stroke? i find myself to have a very wide pull. You mentioned briefly that a wide pull may help provide stability in the open water?

I've noticed swimmers in the ITU front pack having both wide pulls and more traditional hand-in-line-with-armpit pulls. The brownlees, polyansky, some french guys for instance have a very wide pull whereas Gomez and Varga half their hand more underneath.

In your experience is one better than the other? What sort of trends have you seen?


Paul said...

Hi Dan

It's true, we do see a variety of "widths" of the pull through relative to a baseline of the hand being directly under the same shoulder but with the elbow bent to 100-120 degrees. The commonality is the magnitude of flexion at the elbow, the difference being the width. Personally I swim with the hand more under the shoulder than out wide, but when very rough will often take the hand a little wider for traction / stability. I suspect this is what some of the elite ITU guys are doing as well.


Dan said...

Hi Paul, Thanks for your response!

I have seen myself swim and my pull seems pretty wide. I know it's probably just a minor thing but I'm trying to get my swim under 20 min for the mile, so I need to get detailed.

I have messed around with trying to bring the hand closer, more underneath the armpit and it does give a different feel, at least in the pool. Not real sure what it's like in the open water. I find it easier to achieve a high stroke rate with a wider pull.

What do you mean by stability? Stability in the sense of your rotation? I could see how maybe having a wider catch could help you not get tossed about in choppy conditions. Like a tightrope walker. Do you find the wider pull helps your stroke rate?

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