Could A Straighter Arm Recovery Be Right For You?

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A few years ago on one of our coach education courses, we asked: What is the most important part of the freestyle stroke? One of the assembled coaches immediately put up his hand and said "High elbows, you've got to get the elbows high over the water!".

Do we agree? Not really! Many swimmers are better off using a slightly straighter arm recovery if it is the right thing to do for their natural style, for their level of shoulder flexibility and for the environment in which they are swimming - particularly if they are swimming in open water:

A high elbow arm recovery certainly looks elegant and has been used by many swimming greats such as Sun Yang and Katie Ledecky. Here Paul Newsome demonstrating it in open water:

Classic high elbow arm recovery (half speed)

If you're trying to use this style of recovery in a wetsuit you will quite likely end up with shoulder or arm fatigue as a result. Even in the most flexible wetsuits in the world (e.g. a slinky HUUB!) a controlled high elbow recovery is resisted by the suit's neoprene, working the shoulder and bicep muscles harder than they need to.

This is one of the reasons why most professional triathletes and open water swimmers use a more open arm recovery style:

Straighter Arm recovery style (half speed)

The straighter arm reduces the stretching of the neoprene around the back of your elbow and it uses the momentum of the recovery to reduce the work done by the shoulders. The result? Much more efficient open water swimming!

Old-school swimming coaches brought up on pool swimming may frown upon straighter arm recoveries but all the evidence shows this style is just as valid as a high elbow recovery. Aside from wetsuit swimming, there are many other potential benefits:

- A straighter arm allows much great clearance over the water's surface so your hand doesn't get caught by waves and chop.

- It allows you to swim closer to other swimmers without clashing arms with them, giving greater opportunities to draft.

- If you are quite inflexible in the shoulders then it may be impossible to swim with a classic high elbow without reaching the limits of your flexibility. This is a classic problem for Arnies and some Bambinos.

- If your natural stroke style is quite punchy a straighter arm recovery will probably just 'feel right' for you (aka The Swinger).

Take a little time in training to experiment with a slightly straighter arm recovery over the top of the water to see how it works for you. You don't need to go completely straight at the elbow, just open out the angle a little to create a higher recovery as we see professional triathlete Richard Varga do here (first out of the water at the Olympic Games):


Remember to keep the recovery smooth and loose in the shoulders - it's not a ballistic action. And as with any change to your stroke, expect it to feel a little odd at first but give it at least 3-4 sessions before judging whether it is right for you.

Swim Smooth!

PS. Don't confuse this with a high elbow stroke technique during the underwater portion of the stroke. Whatever you do over the surface of the water it's essential to bend the elbow underwater and press the water back behind you, to send yourself efficiently forwards. See here, here and here.
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Your Ripple Effect




Upcoming Swim Smooth Clinics / Camps:


Prague Junior Swim Club
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All year round
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This week on the blog SS Coach Emma Brunning reflects on her weekend past:

It is Tuesday morning on the 17th June 2014 and I feel absolutely inspired, proud and amazed at what I witnessed over this weekend.

I spent the weekend commentating at the Great North Swim, where 10,000 swimmers took to Windermere over a 3 day period, all challenging themselves in different events from 750m up to the 5km elite event on Sunday.

Standing at the finish, I got to see every finisher cross the line and witness first hand the amazing smiles and sense of achievement on people's faces. Most people had never actually swam their race distance in the open water before and others were swimming for a cause close to their hearts.




Whatever the reason you take to the water, the Ripple Effect of talking about how well you did and celebrating your achievements is enormous on those around you. You are truly inspirational!

Talking about your success allows others to take that step and challenge themselves too... You can not underestimate the power your passion and commitment can have on others:
If you have been considering something - just do it.
If you are worried you may fail - its worth a try.
If you need support - ask someone.

We live one life and it is important we make the most of it and take on the things that challenge us. Keep healthy, happy and surround yourself by good people along the way.

Wherever you are in the world and whatever you are doing, remember anything is possible, just believe in yourself. 




So sending you all a MASSIVE well done and congratulations to every single person that took to the water this weekend, wherever you are in the world. Celebrate well and keep creating those ripples!

SS Coach Emma Brunning
www.activeblu.co.uk



After publishing this post, we were very saddened to hear about the death of Colin Pringle at the Great North Swim, our thoughts go out to his family and friends at this very difficult time.
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Announcing July Swim Smooth Clinics Near Oxford And A Free Open Water Skills Evening At JB Trust Triathlon

Announcing Two Swim Smooth Clinics In Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Paul will be leaving the winter in Perth and bringing
his formidable video analysis skills to Oxfordshire.
The core Swim Smooth team lead by Head Coach Paul Newsome will be running two special Video Analysis And Stroke Correction Clinics in Abingdon, Oxfordshire UK on Thursday 10th and Sunday 20th July.

Each one day clinic features full video analysis and is strictly limited to 14 swimmers -  perfect for any swimmer or triathlete looking to improve their speed and efficiency in the water.

Places on these clinics will fill up VERY quickly (the last series filled up in less than an hour!) so please sign-up right now if you'd like Paul to personally work on improving your swimming:

swimsmooth.com/clinics-july2014.html

Open Water Skills Evening At JB Trust Triathlon

Also during our trip to the UK, Paul will be running a special Open Water Skills evening on Friday 11th July at Luton Hoo House, exclusively for entrants to the Jenson Button Trust Triathlon which takes place the following day.

The session will run from approximately 6:30-7:30pm with you spending about 30 minutes in the lake. We won't tire you out before your race but work on some critical skills to use the next day and improve your times!

For more information on this fabulous race or to signup see:

eventdesq.imgstg.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=main&EventDesqID=6620&OrgID=2106

After signup details of the Open Water session will be sent out to you shortly afterwards.

Paul, Adam, Annie and rest of the SS team look forward to meeting you in July.

Swim Smooth!
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Swimming Down A Narrow Corridor




Upcoming Swim Smooth Clinics / Camps:


Prague Junior Swim Club
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Acton Video Analysis
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Richmond SS Squad
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Mallorca SS Camps 2014
Full information: here

Loughborough SS Clinics
Full information: here

Swim/Tri Camps Alicante
All year round
Full information: here

Salisbury 1to1 Analysis
Full information here

Ringwood/Totton Squads
Full information here

Twickenham Video Analysis
Full information here

Lancaster SS Squad
Full information here

Lancaster UK, Video
Analysis Consultations

Full information here

Loughborough SS Squad
Full information here

Richmond/Wimbledon Workshops
Full information here



For more info on SS Certified Coaches see here
One of the most common stroke flaws under the body is pulling out wide with too straight an arm:
When this happens, it normally occurs more on one side of the stroke than the other and it is often related to breathing patterns - if you only breathe left you are more likely to do this with your right arm (and vice versa).

A good rule of thumb is that the hand should pull through directly under the shoulder, as we saw in our classic blog post 'Bend It Like Becky' featuring Olympic Gold Medallist Rebecca Adlington:


A good visualisation to improve this is to imagine you are swimming down a narrow corridor:


Your elbows are allowed to brush the sides of this corridor but not your hands, as Paul explains to a swimmer in this short video clip:


Here's Becky again showing us how it should be done with just her elbow brushing the corridor wall:


Pulling straight and wide like this often only happens on a breathing stroke as you press downwards and outwards to lift your head clear of the water. As well as correcting the arm pull itself, work on keeping your head lower when you breathe using the bow wave trough - that will reduce the need to press down at the front of the stroke.

So try this corridor visualisation the next time you swim, maintaining a focus on keeping your hands away from the walls - even when breathing. If you feel like your pull through becomes smoother or easier you will know you've made an improvement!

Swim Smooth!
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The Art Of Chasing Speed

In the last of our mini-series on training, Head Coach Paul Newsome gives us his take on training appropriately and progressively to become a faster swimmer - aka 'Chasing Speed':

One of the great things about using the Finis Tempo Trainer Pro as a training tool is that it is programmable in increments of 1/100th of a second, allowing very precise time targets to be set during your fitness training sessions. Once you have ascertained your baseline CSS pace (approximately the speed you would maintain for 1500m continuously) you can go about systematically chipping away at your times each week. This is a very motivating approach, ensuring you are always moving forwards and never stuck on a plateau.

This method of training is especially powerful because it allows you to maintain your stroke technique as you go along. The pace is carefully controlled and progression is very gradual, so whilst you're working hard you can still maintain control of your stroke technique - not thrashing or fighting the water.

This is precisely how Mega Megan has improved so much (see posts here and here) - each week training just a little bit faster than the week before, gradually accumulating over many months. These increments are barely noticeable as you go along, as your times decrease by 0.3 to 1 second per 100m per week.

Over the last two years Megan has shaved off 40 seconds per 100m (!) using this gradual progression, even though she never set herself that huge target to begin with - like most of us she just wanted to be a better swimmer. This is "Aggregation Of Marginal Gains" in action (a method famously described by British Cycling and Team Sky Manager Sir Dave Brailsford).

Move Your Foundations Closer To Your Ceiling

Your current CSS pace is a simple but fundamental reference point to your swim fitness, if you increase your CSS pace through your training then you can be assured that for any distance you race over 400m, you will be quicker. What you're doing is moving your threshold speed (which is very trainable) closer towards your maximum speed (something much harder to train). In elite distance swimmers these two points are very close together - you might only be able to sustain CSS for 1000 or 1500m but elite open water swimmers will be very close to this level of effort over 5 or even 10km!


Rhys Mainstone motoring during Swim Smooth Video Analysis

In fact two time Australian 10km Champion Rhys Mainstone from Perth can swim 1:05 /100m for 10km continuously including (very quick) drink stops. Incredible! Rhys has worked hard to push his CSS pace as high as possible but it all started from knowing this point and then training at that pace to gradually and progressively push it upwards: "Slowly Chasing Speed"

Know Thyself

Five weeks ago on the blog we discussed getting your swimming mojo back by finding your CSS pace and then gradually moving forwards from that point, whatever it is. I recently started my own personal training comeback after spinal surgery in December. Since 14th April I've been swimming 5 times per week, completing 36 sessions so far.

On that very first session I bit the bullet and timed myself over 400m to see how much I'd lost and ensure that I was starting my program at the right intensity. The result was a lifetime worst 5:40. Being the competitive guy I am I was shocked as I've never swum slower than 5:00 in my whole life! My CSS pace was 1:28 /100m (a full 18 seconds per 100m slower than when I won the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 10 months earlier). This is the point I started training at and moved forwards from there, telling myself "it's only a benchmark" and "it is what it is".
Get your training progression right and you'll feel this good!

In years gone by my head and body would have battled each other at the start of a program - my head telling me "You're still as good as you used to be!" but my body screaming "No you're not! You can't be - you haven't done the work yet!". And that's exactly the point of the article, you have to do the work - there is no magic pill or easy way. Thankfully though, there is a right way to do the work.

Getting Started

I am sure many of you more experienced swimmers will have felt the same at some point. You have good intentions and want to get back into the flow of your training but for that initial 2-3 week period it feels so difficult to gain traction. Training feels hard. You beat yourself up for the time you have had off and your times are very disappointing.

There's a tendency to over-estimate your ability at this time and push too hard too soon - blowing up during sessions and struggling to finish as planned. But what if you set your target pace a little lower, at your true current ability level? Swallowing your pride, perform a CSS test and then setting your Tempo Trainer Pro at your current fitness level is a much quicker approach to getting your fitness back, even if it means dropping down a lane in your squad. Suck it up, accept where you're at, get the sessions done and you'll soon be back to where you want to be, proud of what you've pushed through.

In our Perth squads we have four talented Ironman and 70.3 athletes working hard to prepare for some major international events, including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship in October. Jono, the two Marks and Andy have all suffered a few false start in the last couple of months but by slowing them down and getting them to complete some endurance sessions at their current level of fitness - not where they think they should be - they have started to push through and their confidence is now blossoming.

By not starting too fast, blowing up and pulling the pin on the session, they've become much better at understanding the benefits of pacing too, a skill which is entirely learnable if you have the patience for it.

1 Second Per 100m Faster Each Week
The 10x 400m Red Mist Set on the squad board

My key session over the last 8 weeks has been a 10x 400m "Red Mist" set which looks like this:

4 x 400m at CSS +6s /100m
3 x 400m at CSS +5s /100m
2 x 400m at CSS +4s /100m
1 x 400m at CSS +3s /100m

Between each 400m take a quick 20 seconds rest - just enough time to take on a little fluid.

(If you're attempting this set for the first time you can reduce it to 10x 300m or even 10x 200m for very new swimmers).

It's not rocket science but this is precisely what I have done over the last 8 weeks at 5:30am on Monday morning without fail. Reducing the beeper by 0.25 seconds per 25m (1 second per 100m) per week - gradually (and precisely!) chasing speed.

Being slower than threshold pace makes for a very aerobic endurance set regardless of your ability - as long as your CSS pace is accurate. In the first four intervals you'll feel like you're being held back, settling into a rhythm in the next three intervals, suddenly feeling some effort in the penultimate set and having to really push on in the final interval.

It's not the most interesting session by any stretch but it's a really good chance to find your rhythm, build some endurance and most importantly measure your progression objectively as the weeks go by. You're also testing your ability to concentrate on maintaining great form and technique in a challenging session where you're not quite sure if you're going to achieve the target on all ten intervals.

It's much harder and much more representative of real world racing (maintaining your technique under pressure) than endless sessions of single-length technique work, hoping for the speed to one day magically come to you.

Each week I simply made each interval 1s /100m faster with the caveat that to do that I have to have completed all ten intervals on the target times on the previous week. I started at 1:28 descending down to 1:25 /100m and progressed really well for the first six weeks as planned. On week seven (1:22 descending to 1:19 /100m) I just missed my times by a few seconds on the last two 400s so repeated the same goal times again this week - made them comfortably - and will forge on again next week.

Of course it feels disappointing when that happens but the reality is after a while progress has to slow slightly otherwise we'll all be qualifying for Rio 2016! When that happens you'll have to make your margin of improvement smaller each week but that is where the precision of the Tempo Trainer Pro comes into full effect - we can reduce things by as little as 0.04 seconds/100m per week if we wish!

I hope you find these 'real world' example of Chasing Speed in action useful. This is how Megan did it, how the entire SS Perth Squad is doing it and how I'm doing it too. So why not give it a try yourself too?

Cheers, Paul

PS. Now I'm back below 1:15 /100m CSS pace I shaved off my beard as a reward! :




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