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.

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:

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!


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!

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.

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:

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.

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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