Win A Free Entry To The Jenson Button Trust Triathlon On July 12th!

Swim Smooth have teamed up with the fantastic Jenson Button Trust Triathlon to bring you, our blog readers, a special chance to win one of 10 free race entries to the event worth £120 each! The race will be held in the beautiful private grounds of the Luton Hoo Hotel in Bedfordshire on July 12th 2014.

To enter the competition, simply email us at with your name and phone number, telling us you'd love to attend. Entries strictly close on Sunday 4th May, with the ten lucky winners picked out of a hat!

Formula 1 driver Jenson Button will be racing the event himself (he's a great triathlete in his own right) so this is your chance to toe-the-line next to one of the fastest drivers on the planet and rub shoulders with him in the event village too!

Swim Smooth's Head Coach Paul Newsome will be flying in from Australia for the event, with himself and the rest of the SS team running some special activities to help you develop your swimming during the day. It's going to be a lot of fun!

The race has a unique and special format with each competitor racing twice, the first time completing a heat consisting of a 300m lake swim, 9km bike ride and 2.5km run. The top performers will then go on to the final (750m swim, 15km bike ride, 5km run) with the runners up entering the 'wooden spoon' race.

You can find more information on the race format and enter directly here:

Last year's race was a huge success:

The day is a lot of fun, combining the competition of the races with a relaxed festival atmosphere. It has a true family feel with a buzzing event village, post race party with prizes presented by Jenson, live music and a barbecue. Perfect to bring the kids along to for the day whilst you race!

To enter, just send us an email including your name and phone number to:

We very much look forward to meeting you for a fantastic day's racing in Bedfordshire in July. :)

Swim Smooth!

The Great Bilateral Breathing Controversy

One of the hottest debates in the swimming and triathlon world is whether you should breathe bilaterally when you swim. If you have a look around the internet you'll soon find some swim coaches arguing that you are best off not bothering and should just breathe to one side instead. This is a tempting argument to subscribe to if you find bilateral breathing hard - as many swimmers do!

At Swim Smooth we think quite differently. Breathing regularly to both sides is such a powerful way to develop and maintain good stroke technique, and offers such a strategic advantage in races, that it would be unwise to ignore it.

In fact, your breathing pattern is so important to your swimming that a huge number of common stroke flaws have a strong tendency to develop when you only breathe to one side. These include crossovers, scissor kicks, timing problems, poor catch technique and even possible shoulder injury!

Bilateral breathing is where you swap breathing sides regularly when you swim. The most common way to do this is to breathe every 3 strokes (or 5 or 7) which means you swap sides every time you breathe. However, breathing two or three times in a row to one side before swapping to the other is also bilateral breathing.

The key thing is that you regularly swap sides and you get practised breathing to both. For instance, many coaches consider that breathing left for a full length of the pool before swapping to the right for the next length is effectively bilateral breathing. By doing that you will certainly get most of the benefits as swapping more regularly.

So to court the controversy, let's take a look at those common reasons given for not bothering with bilateral breathing and our counter-perspective on each:

Reason 1. Elite swimmers never bilaterally breathe - so neither should you.

Actually elite swimmers do frequently breathe bilaterally, especially during training to develop a symmetrical stroke. The great Ian Thorpe used bilateral breathing to great effect to win 'The Race Of The Century' - the 200m freestyle at the Athens Olympics. Thorpie swapped sides every lap to breathe towards his main rival Peter van den Hoogenband to always keep him in his sights.

You see, bilateral breathing can make you happy!

Other swimming legends have been quoted as blaming the fact that they didn't breathe bilaterally as the reason they didn't win an event, e.g. Grant Hackett in the final of the men’s 400m freestyle at the 2007 World Championships - Hackett breathed away from the competition in the final 50m and dropped from 1st to 3rd, reputably because he couldn't see what was happening in the race.

Reason 2. You will run out of oxygen, especially during a race.

Only if you're doing it wrong! Usually the reason people run low on oxygen is because they're not exhaling well enough underneath the water - improve this aspect of your swimming and you'll unlock the ability to breathe bilaterally. Plus when you have a side chop or swell in open water (or like Thorpie need to breathe to one side to keep an eye on a competitor) unilateral breathing will feel very easy.

The challenge with breathing in swimming isn't getting the air in - it's actually getting it out! Improve your exhalation technique and getting enough oxygen in becomes easy, even when breathing bilaterally.

The secret is to get the air out under the water between breaths.

Reason 3. If breathing to one side causes you to swim off course in open water, just sight forwards more frequently to compensate.

The problem with this argument is that the more you sight forwards, the more your legs will drop low and create drag, even in a wetsuit. This happens for any swimmer, even for elite open water swimmers and triathletes. Plus, constantly coming off course because your stroke is lopsided and then correcting your course is hard work all by itself.

Breathing bilaterally in training helps you develop a nice symmetrical stroke technique so you swim inherently straighter, meaning you have to sight less frequently to swim straight and make far fewer corrections. This is something we should all work towards (see this video clip for a great example of why).

Reason 4. Old dogs can’t learn new tricks.

Actually they can - but only if they're willing to try. Many swimmers have it so ingrained in their head that "I can't" quickly becomes "I won't"! If you are thinking "Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before" then be very careful, could just breathing to one side be the one thing that’s always held you back with your swimming?

It's far too easy to give up on bilateral breathing before giving it a decent try and discovering the benefits. If you didn't see this blog post at the time, check out how professional triathlete Joel Jameson made some big strides forwards with his swimming by swapping breathing sides:

How about you decide to break through the "bilateral breathing hump" now? Not tomorrow, not next week, not in the off-season, but now. Here's a truly objective set to try which shows you the potential bilateral breathing can offer you:

Swim 3 sets of 5x 100m. Take 15 seconds rest between each 100m and 45 seconds rest between each set of 5. Swim the first set only breathing to your left (preferably every 4 strokes), the second set to your right (preferably every 4 strokes) and the third set bilaterally (every 3). Monitor your times through the set.

Are you faster than you thought to your least favourite side? Could this be due to the bad habits on your favoured side simply not existing on your 'bad' side. Could that be worth working on and improving yet further? Yes, it could!

Reason 5. Your neck will become sore if you try breathing to the other side.

When you breathe, your body needs to rotate along the long axis of your spine. You do this quite naturally to your favourite breathing side but probably less so to your least favourite side.

To improve your rotation to your poor breathing side, think about rotating your
hip out of the way as your hand completes the push phase as the back of the stroke.

Trying to breathe to your least favourite side without adequate rotation (aim for 45-60ยบ and now more) will see you twisting your neck and lifting your head, and yes this will soon make your neck sore. Develop better rotation (and timing) to that least favourite side and this will no longer be an issue.

Reason 6. There’s no way you'll ever be as good breathing to your least favourite side as to your good side, so don't even bother.

We've performed many thousands of stroke correction sessions at Swim Smooth and we can tell you for a fact that most swimmers actually breathe with better technique on their least favourite side when they are encouraged to try it. It may feel awkward because you're not used to it but it's very likely your timing is better and you keep your head in a much better position when you breathe because you don't have any bad habits on that side.

Reason 7. You’ll fish-tail down the pool if you try to breath bilaterally.

Actually, exactly the opposite is true. If you develop your body rotation equally to both sides you will develop a much more symmetrical stroke and be well on your way to eradicating cross-overs and asymmetries which cause fish-tailing. It is actually unilateral breathers that suffer much more from fish-tailing than bilateral breathers.

Snaking through the water wastes a lot of energy.

Reason 8. You haven’t got time to learn yet another skill.

Learning to breath bilaterally doesn't need to occupy your every waking moment, really it shouldn't take any additional training time to learn. At first you can just include it in your warm-up and cool-down before progressively adding it into other parts of your sessions.

Your ability to breathe equally well to both sides will pay huge dividends in open water as there are many occasions when you need to breathe to one side strategically. This could be breathing away from side waves or chop, or breathing towards a competitor to draft them effectively to their side and match their stroke rate.

The ability to swap breathing sides is a huge advantage when arrow head drafting.

The successful open water swimmer and triathlete is one who is adaptable enough to "roll with the punches" (or waves) when required - sometimes literally!

Reason 9. You’ll never get comfortable with it and will always feel under stress when doing it.

First and foremost the secret to breathing bilaterally is all about a smooth, constant exhalation in the water. In some parts of the world swimmers are taught to hold onto their breath to improve buoyancy - but the only place this will add buoyancy is in the chest region and so sink the legs even further.

You'd never hold onto your breath when you cycle or run, so why do it when you swim? Doing so only turns an aerobic activity into a much more anaerobic activity and that's bound to make anyone fatigued and stressed regardless of which side they breathe.

From statistics we've collected on our clinics, if we took a group of swimmers at random over 80% will be holding onto their breath for at least a second under the water. A second might not sound like a lot, but if you are only breathing every 2 strokes that's almost the entire time your face is under the water. Learn to "let it go" and your transition to bilateral breathing will become much easier.

Reason 10. If you already find breathing every 2 hard, imagine how hard breathing every 3 will be!

As well as holding your breath underwater, another classic reason for finding breathing every 3 strokes hard is when swimmers have tried to over-lengthen their strokes and added a pause-and-glide into their timing. This makes your stroke turnover (stroke rate) very slow and dramatically increases the time between breaths.

If you recognise yourself as a bit of an Overglider then working on the rhythm of your stroke will also make bilateral breathing much easier as the time between breaths reduces. In fact it's very rare to see classic Overgliders being able to continuously breathe bilaterally for this reason. This is a shame because generally Overgliders understand the benefits of bilateral breathing, it is just that their stroke style will not allow them to do it.

So in fact the argument to breathe regularly to both sides is a very strong one. In a nutshell:

- Bilateral breathing helps to improve your symmetry and balance in the water, reducing your drag, having you swim straighter and reducing the chances of shoulder injury.

- Bilateral breathing lets you keep your options open when swimming in open water, specifically breathing away from side swell and chop, and drafting close to other swimmers to the side.

- Bilateral breathing gives you a tactical advantage in pool races as you are able to monitor your competitors and respond to any moves they make.

It's so easy to say that bilateral breathing is too hard and give up on it but are you truly doing your swimming any favours with this outlook? Take on the "Bilateral Breathing Challenge" and see if you can crack it once and for all... today!

Swim Smooth!

Our New iPad / iPhone App - Miss Swinger vs. Mr Smooth

Please click to download
** Please note, the Android version of this app is coming soon! **

You've been asking for it and here it is (at last)! Our extremely cool new iPhone and iPad animation app is now in the App Store:

Miss Swinger shows you the Swinger stroke style in detail:

Forward and rewind frame by frame using the jog wheel.

Using a straighter arm recovery and two beat kick, this is the style used by most elite triathletes and open water swimmers. Study Miss Swinger's brilliant catch and pull-through, and notice how she creates all that rhythm whilst still using the full range of her stroke.

And of course we also feature Mr Smooth, who you know and love. He shows you the classic long Smooth stroke style used by Olympic Champions such as Ian Thorpe and Rebecca Adlington. The animation has been extensively updated with much improved water effects and lane motion:

You can use the pop-up jog wheel to adjust the stroke rate from 10 strokes per minute (super-slow motion) up to a full-on race pace of 90 strokes per minute. When the animation is paused the jog wheel lets you move forwards and backwards frame by frame.

If the water's obscuring your view you can even remove the water from the shot too:

What's more, every view is synchronised so if you pause the animation you can move around the angles to get a full appreciation of any position in the stroke:

To complete this brilliant coaching tool we've included several articles in the app comparing the stroke techniques of both animations and how to use them to develop your own swimming:

It's a must have for your swimming - download today!

And yes we have an Android version in the pipeline too... :)

Swim Smooth!

CSS Training For Absolute Beginners

When it comes to becoming a better swimmer, your stroke technique is very important but so too is your fitness. Without a good level of swimming fitness you won't be able to sustain your stroke technique over distance, leading to that horrible feeling of your stroke 'falling apart'.

The key to developing fitness specific to swimming is to introduce the right sort of training so that you can simultaneously improve your stroke technique and fitness at the same time. And the best way to do that is using something called Critical Swim Speed (CSS) training which we're going to explain in this blog post.

CSS sets can be swum in a squad but equally you can do them
by yourself or with a few friends.

Even if you are relatively new to swimming freestyle, don't be afraid to introduce some CSS sets into your swimming routine, your swimming will come on leaps and bounds!

Your Swimming Week

If you are swimming three times per week a good way to structure things is to focus each of your sessions in the following way:

Session 1. Stroke Technique Development
Session 2. Open Water Skills (see here)
Session 3. Threshold / CSS Training

CSS training is Swim Smooth's preferred form of fitness training set for distance swimmers and triathletes. It gives you the biggest bang for your training buck and also has a strong focus on developing your pacing skills - which are critical to swimming as fast and efficiently as possible.

Swimmers moving from conventional masters training to CSS sets normally see improvements in their distance performances after just a few weeks, which is very motivating in its own right.

What Is CSS Training?

CSS training focuses on developing something called your lactate threshold, which is a physiological marker which indicates when your body is at the limit of its aerobic system. CSS training has you swimming at lactate threshold speed ('CSS pace') in order to get faster at that intensity. If we can improve your lactate threshold speed then you are pretty much guaranteed to swim faster in your races.

Don't worry if that previous paragraph read like mumbo-jumbo, simply perform the CSS test below, try the training sessions and notice how you get progressively faster as the weeks go by!

CSS training focuses on your ability to sustain a strong pace
over your race distance.

The CSS Test

The first thing you need to do is find your CSS pace using the CSS test:

1) Perform a thorough warmup, progressively bringing your heart rate up.

2) Time yourself over a 400m swim, swimming as quickly as you can. Make sure you pace it out well but go as hard as you can - this is a time-trial!

3) Then take 5 to 10 minutes to recover, swimming some very easy laps to help flush waste products from your muscles.

4) Now time yourself over another time-trial, this time 200m. Go as hard as you can again!

5) Swim an easy cool-down to recover before hitting the showers.

Finding Your CSS Pace

The first thing to check is that you swam the 200m at a faster time per 100m than the 400m. This should always be the case as it is a shorter distance. This is essential or the calculation will not work!

Then take your 200m and 400m times and use the free calculator here to find your CSS pace:

Or use SS Coach Steve Casson's excellent Swimulator+ iOS app:

Both of these will give you your CSS pace per 100m which you then need to train at. If you're using a Tempo Trainer Pro to help set this pace accurately (see below), also take note of the time per lap the calculator gives you so you can set that in the beeper.

Simply put your 200m and 400m times into the The Swimulator+ app and
it spits out the CSS pace to go in your tempo trainer - neat!

We recommend you re-test yourself every 4 to 6 weeks to see how you're improving. Improvements of 1 or 2 seconds per 100m are significant in well trained swimmers but for those new to fitness training, taking off 5 or 10 seconds per 100m is quite normal (or in some cases even more than that).

Using A Finis Tempo Trainer Pro

At Swim Smooth we're big fans of using a Tempo Trainer Pro to help pace you accurately through CSS sessions. You simply set it to your target pace per lap, pop it under your swim cap and then stay with the beep as you swim.
Simply take the time per length from
the calculator and set it in the beeper.

For example if you want to target 2:00/100m in a 25m pool you set it to beep every 30 seconds, then simply set off on a beep and make sure you turn and push-off on each beep. Stay with it and you're guaranteed to accurately swim at 2:00/100m with perfect pacing.

You can also use it to time your recovery between swims. To do that finish a swim and touch the wall on the beep, then wait until the next beep and immediately set off again on the next swim. We call that 'one beep recovery'.

Tempo Trainers are brilliant training partners and a lot simpler than using the pace clock! More information here: Finis Tempo Trainer Pro

The Goldilocks Set

There's plenty of examples of CSS sets to follow in the Swim Smooth Book and our Waterproof Training Plans but here's a good first session to try, the classic Goldilocks Set.

After a thorough warmup, swim the following straight through, all at your CSS pace:

Baby Bear
2x 100m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)*
1x 200m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)

Mama Bear
2x 100m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)*
1 x 300m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)

Papa Bear
2x 100m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)*
1 x 400m + 20 seconds rest (or 1 beep)

* to create a longer set, increase to 3 or 4x 100m.

You may find CSS pace quite easy at first but stick with it, it will get harder and you should be feeling the pace over the 300m and 400m swims! Don't go faster than CSS pace on the 100s - the temptation will be there - but control your pace instead and in doing so develop your pace judgement skills.

If you find you cannot sustain the pace for the whole set then rather than taking additional rest, swim very slightly slower to keep things manageable. Don't take things too easy though, you should be working really hard in the second half of the set!

CSS vs. Traditional Masters Training

Compared to traditional master swim sets, CSS training involves swimming at a slightly (only slightly!) slower pace but with much shorter recoveries between each swim. This keeps things focused on developing your aerobic system, which is what you need to become a better distance swimmer.

The problem with sprinting hard and then recovering is that it focuses much more on your anaerobic system, which is great for sprinters but far from ideal for distance swimmers and triathletes.

For more information see our classic blog post Becoming A Diesel Engine and the main CSS article on the Swim Smooth website:

Meet Mega Megan!

She looks innocent enough but Mega Megan's rapidly
become a swimming machine... and she's not done yet.
As a great example of what CSS training can do, watch out for a forthcoming blog we're writing featuring SS Perth squad swimmer Megan Surrette.

Over the past 18 months Megan has gone from a complete beginner in the pool to swimming the mighty 19.7km Rottnest Channel swim!

The mainstay of her training? Consistent CSS training sets week in, week out which have increased her CSS pace from 2:18/100m to 1:36/100m. A fantastic level of improvement!

18 months ago she would never have considered this sort of training thinking it 'too advanced' for her but quite the opposite was true, she needed consistent CSS training to build her swimming engine - which for her was even more important than for an established swimmer.

More about Megan's experiences and exploits are coming in a few weeks time...

Swim Smooth!

The Fundamental Link Between Gliding And A Poor Catch

At Swim Smooth we call an Overglider someone who has focused on trying to reduce the number of strokes they take per length to an absolute minimum, believing that a reduced number of strokes is the key measure of efficiency in freestyle swimming. Many have also been taught that by pausing and gliding as long as possible on their side they will be conserving energy.

The truth is though that swimming like this is very energy sapping. Water is 800 times more dense than air meaning that any significant pause at the front of the stroke will cause the swimmer to stall before having to re-accelerate on the next stroke. This accelerate-decelerate-accelerate-decelerate action is very inefficient.

Under the water at the front of their stroke, nearly all Overgliders drop their elbow and show the palm forwards. We call this 'putting on the brakes' :

(you can see many more Overgliders doing this here:

But why does this enter into their stroke? The simple answer would be to say they are trying to reach as far forwards as possible and this is bringing the fingertips upwards but actually there's an even more fundamental reason than that.

If we look back to our blog post from a few months ago, we can see the position you should be in as you enter into the water and extend forwards, with the elbow slightly higher than the wrist and the wrist slightly higher than the fingertips:

Half the battle with developing a good catch technique is about getting into this position in the first place, the rest naturally follows on afterwards... and that's really the point. Once you are extended in this position the water flow over your hand and arm actively encourages you to initiate the catch - it's very difficult to pause here and not start the catch:


So the Overglider has a problem, the water is pushing them into starting the stroke but they don't want to. The only thing they can really do is disrupt position 1 and so they learn to drop the wrist and push against the water - literally stalling the stroke. Of course this isn't intentional, it just progressively creeps in as they 'learn how to glide'.

This fundamental link between gliding and harming the catch is one of the key reasons why you should never try to introduce glide to your stroke, even (especially!) when you're learning the stroke. Use your full range of motion but keep things smooth and continuous, flowing from one stroke to the next.

Elite Swimmers

Over the last few years we've managed to start shifting the perception in the swimming world about whether great swimmers actually glide down the pool. The fact is when you carefully study elite swimmers with a classically long smooth freestyle stroke, the gap between one stroke finishing at the rear and the next starting at the front is tiny - less than 0.2 second. When we watch them swim, they appear to be gliding but this is actually an optical illusion, in reality they transition smoothly from one stroke to the next without any pauses in their stroke at all.

As a quick example of this, the great Ian Thorpe is famous for having a beautifully long smooth stroke taking around 32 strokes in a 50m pool. That's certainly a long stroke but in his autobiography This Is Mehe says that if he wants to he can drop down to 24 strokes per 50m - or even 20!

So Ian doesn't try to swim with as few strokes as possible, in fact he was fastest and most efficient taking 12 more strokes than his absolute minimum. Other Olympic Gold medallists have taken many more strokes again, some over 50 strokes per 50m, highlighting the fact that swimming well isn't about taking as few strokes as possible but about swimming with great technique and great rhythm.

Curing Overgliding

If you are a bit of an Overglider yourself but have had trouble removing the pause from your stroke timing, then you might be able to see why now. The key isn't to consciously turn your arms over faster because if you are still pushing forwards against the water that will feel very hard to do. Instead simply work on entering and extending forwards straight into position 1 above, when you do that your stroke rate will naturally lift and you will instantly become a faster and more efficient swimmer.

We go into that process in detail (and lots more besides) in our best selling Catch Masterclass DVD.

Swim Smooth!

Subscribe to Feel For The Water
And receive the amazing Mr Smooth animation as your optional free gift.
Find out more: here

* required
I consent to receiving tips to improve my swimming and occasional information about our products and services from Swim Smooth. You can unsubscribe at any time. See our Privacy Policy
Powered by Blogger.


Blog Archive

Recent Posts