Is Your Personality Holding Your Swimming Back?

Last weekend in Loughborough we ran one of our highly sought after 3 Day Coach Education Courses for the 14 coaches selected from the UK, Spain, Belgium, USA and Yorkshire. Competition to attend was fierce with over 100 applicants for the course.

One of the most interesting narratives during the weekend was on the personality traits of each of the six Swim Types and how those traits impact on their swimming:

Paul's video analysis session with the 14 swimmers and 14 coaches.

The coaches show us a bit of their own personality!

It's fair to say that some of the coaches who were less familiar with the swim types were initially a bit unsure about whether such a connection could be made at all. However on the third day of the course we brought in 14 real swimmers who we'd never met before to run a full Swim Smooth clinic. Chatting to them when we met up and then seeing them in the water really brought the personality angle into focus. To quote coach Filip from Belgium:

I was initially a little sceptical on the story that the different swim types were linked to a person's personality but I had to admit that on the 14 athletes initially presenting themselves, I could already define the swim type on 10 of them without seeing them in the water.
(You can read the rest of Filip's report here)

Once you get into the Swim Type system as a coach, you soon find that the personality insight it brings is just as powerful as the stroke insight itself. After all, great coaching is not only about the technical aspects but also making a real connection with your swimmer and understanding what is holding them back inside their head.

So whether you're a swimmer or coach, what one tip can we give you for each type to help from a personality perspective? (For the step by step guide to technically improving each type, see our full Swim Type guides: here)

'Taming The Arnie'

Arnies are intense and driven people who want results yesterday! The biggest single thing holding them back technically is low sinking legs in the water, creating a huge amount of drag and slowing them dramatically. Combined with their tenacious nature this can lead to a lot of frustration.

Arnies: Unfortunately there's no one silver bullet to lift your legs higher in the water, it requires persistent work on a variety of areas in the stroke to bring the legs up. How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time! The message here is whilst it can be done, it does require patience. Where to start? See these notes for some suggestions:

'Boosting The Bambino'

Bambinos are normally quite new to swimming freestyle and suffer from a lack of confidence in the water which is holding them back. Technically, the lead arm often drops or slips through the water when they go to take a breath which further heightens this sense of panic. They also have a tendency to be too slow and gentle in the stroke - almost as if they are afraid of hurting the water!

One of the key steps to improving a Bambino's swimming is to develop a 'go for it' attitude and to add a little oomph and rhythm to the stroke. You might think this would make swimming feel harder but for the Bambino it normally does the opposite - it actually makes it feel easier as they develop a better feel for the water from it.

Bambinos: Forget your worries and just go for it! From our experience, you're nearly always a better swimming than you think!

'Curing The Overglider'

Overgliders are famous for their analytical personalities and are the swimmers who love their graphs, spreadsheets and equations! In fact statistics have shown that 89.42% are likely to be from an engineering or science based background. Unfortunately this does mean that sometimes they tend to spend more time thinking about swimming than actually doing it, which can really hold them back.

An overtly intellectual approach can also cause them to lose touch with the feelings and natural rhythm of good freestyle.

Overgliders: Take a leaf out of the Swinger's book, just get in the water, swim on feel and try developing your swimming intuition! Your analytical approach will ultimately help you understand what you need to do to improve but try not to let it overshadow developing your kinaesthetic feel for the water.

'Inspiring The Kicktastic'

Kicktastics tend to be self-contained people who are very organised and diligent with their approach to swimming. However they have a tendency to stick to what they know and persevere with what they've always done since swimming as a child.

Kicktastics: Challenge yourself and work on some different areas of your stroke, don't be afraid to experiment and try something a little different, such as catch development drills and experimenting with a further looking head position to optimise your individual balance in the water:

'Supporting The Swinger'

Swingers have normally been swimming for a long time and have a decent level of performance, notably in open water swimming. Whilst they're confident in their abilities they may have a low opinion of their stroke having been told over the years by swimming coaches who subscribe to the 'longer is better' mindset that they don't have a good technique or they need a longer stroke.

The danger here is that Swingers often give up on their stroke technique as a lost cause when in reality there are nearly always areas they can work on on to improve significantly, without fundamentally changing their stroke style. Common areas to address are any cross-overs in the stroke, sweeping of the hand underneath the body or a tendency to over-rev the stroke rate at the start of an event.

Swingers: Appreciate that you are in fact succeeding because of your stroke technique, not despite it. Be confident in what you do well (swim with rhythm and purpose) and simply tune up a small few areas in your stroke that need work with a rounded set of drills.

'Motivating The Smooth'

Whilst Smooths look brilliant in the water and are the envy of the pool, they are not without their problems, most commonly a lack of motivation to train. Having spent years and years training and racing they've very much 'been there and done it' and commonly suffer from black line fever.

Smooths have all the talent in the world, it's very much a matter of firing them up and getting them swimming proper sets in the water on a regular basis again.

Smooths: Set yourself some new goals and challenges, ideally something you've never done before to get those competitive juices flowing again. Open water races would be a great choice and gives you the opportunity to work on some sighting, drafting and navigation skills you might have never tried before which really keeps things interesting.

Swim Smooth!


Hugo said...

Thanks for the blog, guys. I was interested to read that the smooth swimmers have a habit of lacking motivation. That has been my problem lately and I fall into the smooth category. I have managed to increase my motivation levels by entering 'Swim Coniston' held in September by Chillswim. It will be a new experience for me both in distance and the fact I'm doing it without a wetsuit. I was inspired by the stories of Paul's swims across the Channel and his MIMS victory, which were both phenomenal achievements especially the Channel crossing given the weather that day. I also find that planning my sessions weeks in advance gives me extra motivation as I don't want to fall behind with my goals and I know exactly what I need to fit in each week. Cheers. Hugo.

Jonas said...

Of course, personality and swim style are connected. But personality is something connected with everything. So that's not a big finding.
I am an Overglider turning into a Smooth. Smooth is the style I prefer. I don't like the Swinger style at all. Swim Smooth advocates both Smooth and Swinger styles as efficient stroke styles. I feel, though, that Swingers are not relaxed in the water, they are too competitive: I don't know if they are capable of slowing down their stroke rate, of relaxing in the water. It is a stressful style; a good illustration of this was the 1500 freestyle men final in Barcelona last summer.

Mike A said...

"89.42% are likely to be from an engineering or science based background."
"88.2% of Statistics are made up on the spot" - Vic Reeves.

Unknown said...

"14 coaches selected from the UK...........and Yorkshire"

LOL - the campaign for Yorkshire independence starts here :-)

Steve said...

I'm hoping that the USA-based coach is on the West Coast...

Alias said...

My personality fits the overglider well. Engineer, analytical, et c. Don't know which swim type I am, but not the overglider.

Paulo Neves said...

Let me tell you I think I have a bit of every type! Is that really possible?
1 - Arnie
Well, I definitely have low, sinking legs. I am considerably faster when I swim with a pull-buoy than when I swim complete freestyle (kicking my legs 6 times every complete arm stroke cycle) and, yes, I want results yesterday!
2 - Bambino
That's me! I have been trying hard to improve my freestyle for the last 5 years (since I started practicing triathlon) but being 47 means I am still quite new to swimming freestyle. And, yes, my lead arm often drops and slips through the water when I breathe to the right hand side. Not so much when I breathe to the left. I also have a tendency to be slow and gentle in the water. My arm stroke does not produce any bubbles.
3 - Overglider
I am an engineer and love my graphs and spreadsheets and I spend more time thinking about swimming than actually swimming, that's the reason why I am writing this comment after all! I am convinced I lack arm stroke rythm, feel of the water and arm/leg coordination. I think I do not overglide, though!
4 - Kicktastic
I consider myself self-contained and organised (nobody else agrees with me though) and I am definitely the fastest in my master squad when doing leg-kicking drills (being it with or without fins)!
5 - Swinger
I am also a bit of a swinger. I have a decent level of performance in open water and my swimming coaches are always telling me to try and make my arm stroke longer, to hold that lead hand and to keep elbows high!
6 - Smooth
Well, that's also me! I tend to think I look brilliant in the water (a few of the other swimmers think the same way) and many times I lack motivation. Lately I have been getting slower both in short races and long distance open water events...

Can you help?

Overgliding Bambino said...

This is crack up - Yes I am a scientist, yes I diligently record my times and sets on a spreadsheet and I plot graphs and yes, I'm an overglider extraordinaire (having recently eclipsed my bambino status) according to the swim type questionnaire. But I do jump into the pool feet first now and wear flash togs in the hope I can pick up some smooth traits :)

Adam Young said...

Hi Hugo, Coniston sounds great, it sure is a beautiful place to swim! Keep mixing up the training and introduce some fun open water skills and I'm sure the motivation will stay with you nicely!

Jonas, glad it was all obvious to you! I guess it's not the overall idea that's interesting but the specific details of how the stroke develops from personality that are interesting. Actually Swingers are perfectly relaxed when they swim and have a real talent to switch their brain off and go with the rhythm of the stroke. Many say they find swimming extremely relaxing and just get one with it whereas it's the Smooths who tend to get stressed about it to be honest!

Mike A and Mike S - :D

Steve, the coaches on the course weren't actually there for certification. However we do have some great guys in the pipeline for the US who we know you're going to love!

Alias, tell us a bit more about your swimming then. What speed are you swimming at? What do you feel is holding you back?

Paulo, are you kidding us? It's sounds like you're fast, slow, long short, confident and nervous all at the same time then! Do you have any video of your stroke to see? Well worth getting it as it sounds like there's a lot of things going round your head. :)

Overgliding Bambino, sounds good - keep up the great work! Two quick tips: don't neglect the training side and keep working on the rhythm of the stroke too.

Cheers! Adam

Adam Young said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matthew @ My Little Eye Surgery said...

I feel silly while swimming...

Paulo Neves said...

Adam, no kidding :) My videos were filmed a year ago but my freestyle has not evolved since then.

Adam Young said...

Hi Paulo, OK interesting. You're on the way to being a swinger but I would do a little work on your catch whilst breathing (the lead arm has a tendency to collapse down when breathing) and also to back off the effort going into the kick for longer distances. Experimenting with stroke rate using a beeper to find a good sweet spot in your stroke could really help:


Paulo Neves said...

Hi Adam, thank you very much for your suggestions! I do have a beeper! I usually have it in "pace control mode" but I will definitely try it in "stroke rate mode" for the "ramptest". On longer distances I do not apply so much effort on the kick but I don't manage to slow it down... The rythm is always the same. Cheers.

Adam Young said...

Hi Paulo,

> On longer distances I do not apply so much effort on the kick but I don't manage to slow it down...

That's finel, just keep it as a light flutter with a smaller amplitude.



Alias said...


Swim speed is about 1:45/100 but can probably do 1:30/100 if swimming at max. Don't know what's holding me back. Think it's a number of things. Pull not so efficient. Not so great body position. Am trying to be more relaxed, not lift the head, take longer strokes, bend the elbow et c. Am a bit lopsided, so I'm trying to be more symmetrical but still breathe to one side.

Cyndy@swimsmooth said...

Hi Alias,

Sounds like a general tune up of your technique and some targeted CSS training will really help. Beware of the 'longer strokes' plague, it definitely doesn't suit every swim type- check out our ramp test:

Alias said...


Will do the ramp test. I haven't used my Wetronome in quite a while since it's not working as it should. Have to turn it on and off a few times Before it works properly. (May get a Tempo trainer instead.) Did a ramp test some year ago. Felt that I had a fairly small window where I could comfortably swim. Low rate/fast rate was difficult.

Those who have seen me swim comment on my non-symmetric recovery. Left arm very different to right arm, especially when I get tired. I should probably try to learn bilateral breathing.

Cyndy@swimsmooth said...

Hi Alias,

Give the ramp test a go again- you've probably made some considerable improvement in your swimming since you last tested- you might be surprised!

Definitely try learning to bilateral breathe- even if its just every 3-2-3-2 to begin with, you'll start to notice your stroke feeling so much more symmetrical- a definite benefit if you plan on racing open water!

Caryl Anne said...

What an interesting and insightful post! I love how you broke down the different types showing their pros and cons. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

Hi Caryl Anne,

You're welcome, glad you enjoyed it!

Unknown said...

When you have a campus in China, let me know! You should be there earlier.

Unknown said...

We'll be sure to shout it from the roof tops!

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