A Request From Swim Smooth - Can You Help Us?

Happy Friday! We have a request - would you assist us by answering a few super-quick questions about you and your swimming?

You can do that for us using the Google Form here: https://forms.gle/b8UbLUpKpWykeWPf6

If you've been following Swim Smooth for a while you will know that our coaching takes account of your individuality - whether you are tall, short, sinky, buoyant, young or less young! Your data will let us give you the right coaching advice and ensure that you get the very most from your time in the water, improving at the fastest rate possible.

By answering this short survey you will be helping us fine-tune some new coaching tools for 2020 which you will be able to put to work on your own swimming to keep those improvements coming.

We can't wait to share those tools with you but in the meantime your data will be super-useful in developing them.

Janine and Neil demonstrate how different we all are. Janine's actually a faster swimmer, so if you
have shorter arms yourself don't despair, it's just about swimming in the right way for your individual makeup.

Here's that form again!

Thank you for all your help with this week's blog Swim Smoothers!
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The Mini Goldilocks Set - Your First Proper Training Set?

A post this week for our new Swim Smooth Community Manager - Myffy - who has a background in several sports but is new to swimming herself.

If you are learning to swim freestyle and working on the basics of the stroke then check out the "Mini Goldilocks" set here and give it a go yourself. If you normally just get in and swim lengths then this might be your first ever structured training session. Mini Goldilocks is perfect for that!

Over to Myffy:

Starting out on Day 1 at Swim Smooth HQ was exciting enough, but my excitement soared when within 10 minutes I was presented with a party bag of Swim Smooth essentials! As I delved into the bag and fully investigated the contents, there were towels, books, manuals and swimming hats for every day of the week:



But I quickly came across some items I had no idea how to use - a Tempo Trainer Pro, Fins and Paddles were among them. Having been busy with other sports and only ever swum occasionally I was excited to get down to the pool and test out all of these new goodies!

With the kit bag in tow, I quickly made my way down to the pool to try out swimming the Swim Smooth way. SS Head UK Coach Adam Young was keen for me to test out a classic Swim Smooth Set - "Goldilocks" - but adapted it slightly to suit my ability level. To maintain the pace throughout this whole set, I got to use my first piece of equipment - the Tempo Trainer! 

Here's the set:

Mini Goldilocks Set

3 x 50m + 1 beep rest
1 x 100m (Baby Bear)

3 x 50m  + 1 beep rest
1 x 200m (Mama Bear) 

3 x 50m  + 1 beep rest
1 x 300m (Papa Bear)


Ideally this session should be swum with a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro in mode 1 or mode 2 so that it beeps once per length to you in a 25m/yd pool or twice per length in a 50m pool.

The goal is to stay with the beep so that it paces you through the swim at constant speed. This should feel quite easy during the 50s but get harder over the 100, 200 and 300! After each of the 50s, stop and wait for the next beep - we call this "one beep rest".


In preparation for the new role, I made sure I was well read on all things Swim Smooth and put the book, Swim Smooth, The Complete Coaching System for Swimmers and Triathletes first on my holiday reading list! Armed with all the theory behind the freestyle stroke, I was now faced with the challenge of recreating this in the pool.
Beep beep!

The book highlighted the importance of getting your breathing technique right, so to feel a bit more comfortable in the water I made sure I started off with a few sink downs. Spending a long time bobbing at the top of the water made me quickly realise that I needed a much stronger exhale to get me to the bottom of the pool more easily. With the stronger exhale I sunk down to the bottom with ease so thought I was ready to set the Finis Tempo Trainer to 0:27s for a 25m pool and started the first 50m of the 'Baby Goldilocks Set'.

[Adam: With more experienced swimmers we use something called the CSS Test to determine your pace per length but if you are new to swimming, take an initial guess (perhaps 35 seconds per 25m in mode 2) and swim a few lengths and try and stay with the Tempo Trainer Pro beep. Too fast or too slow? Adjust the beeper until it feels like you are swimming at a good level of effort but not sprinting to keep up.]

I placed the Tempo Trainer underneath my swimming cap, a device you set to your estimated time for one length of the pool. Start the length on the beep and aim to reach the other end of the pool by the second beep. Feeling very smug with myself that I managed to set the Tempo Trainer to the right mode, I set off for my first lap with a strong push off from the wall. So strong that the Tempo Trainer was forced out of swimming hat and I was left having to swim the wrong way in the lane to retrieve it!

After the minor delay I quickly got back to the set, I was feeling good after the 'Baby Bear' and found focusing on my breathing helped to keep my breathing strong and body position up in the water. Despite this, the longer swims in the set provided me with a real challenge. Trying to keep my breathing strong, arm straight out in front on the breathing stroke and staying in time with the beeper proved to be a bit of a struggle and did lead to a sense of panic, so I decided to skip a beep in Daddy Bear to stay on time.

Even though the final swim was tough, it did not take away from the enjoyment of the swim and my eagerness to return to the water. And I've learnt several valuable lessons for my next session! Don't push off too hard from the wall! Stay calm and breathe - focusing on my breathing was a great way to switch off from everything outside of the pool. Don't be too harsh on yourself if you don't quite manage to complete what you set out to do, the way you wanted to do it. Being consistent with your training is key and you will still see improvements!

If, like me, you are new to the world of swimming, the Swim Smooth Guru has some great programmes to help you out. Try our Learn2Swim programme or the 'Boosting the Bambino' programme and experience the joys of life in the water:





Bye for now,

Myffy


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What Can A Swim Smooth Coach Do For Your Swimming?

At Swim Smooth our mission is to help everyone of any level swim better, wherever they are in the world. In a nutshell the world needs better swimming!

But what make a Swim Smooth coach different from other swim coach? Why should you be seeking one out?

Our founder Paul Newsome started Swim Smooth in Perth, Australia in 2004 based around two key elements which still hold true today:

- Innovative video analysis and stroke correction methods focusing on the needs of individual swimmers - coaching the swimmer not the stroke.

- A fun, motivating squad environment based around effective training methods for distance swimming, triathlon and open water.

15 years later, the "mothership" Swim Smooth squad still remains strong in Perth, but the innovative Swim Smooth vision and techniques have extended to all corners of the world via our heavily trained SS Certified Coaches.

Here's the class of 2015 training in Perth:




We currently have nearly 50 coaches worldwide with Swim Smooth certification ready to make ground-breaking improvements to your swimming. Every Swim Smooth coach has been hand selected and heavily trained by the core Swim Smooth team, a process that takes around a year for an already experienced coach. This culminates in two weeks intensive training in Perth with the oracle himself Paul Newsome.

Each coach specialises in providing an individualised approach to your stroke correction that makes it truly effective whatever your height, build, natural ability or experience level:

Many swim coaches would ask Liz to swim with a long smooth stroke style like Chris.
That would be a disaster for her swimming.
Not only that but every Swim Smooth coach also runs group training focused around developing your swim specific fitness for distance swimming and open water skills. You'll notice a huge benefit from these sessions if you swim well over short distances but underperform over longer, or if you struggle in open water.

Find your nearest coach here: https://swimsmooth.com/coaches/find-a-coach

Want your own Swim Smooth Coach to help you with your swimming? What can our coaches offer you? There are three main ways you can interact with our coaches around the world: 1-to-1 video analysis sessions, group training sessions (squads) and clinics and camps:

1-to-1 Video Analysis Sessions

Our 1-to-1 video analysis gives you the ability to see your stroke from every conceivable angle, above and below the water. Expertly filmed by your SS coach, this footage system gives you incredible insight into your swimming:

SS Coach Mary Jessey filming her swimmer in Calgary
Following filming, your coach will use their in depth analysis skills to show you what you are doing in the water and clearly explain what is currently holding you back:

SS Johanesburg coach Jana Schoeman analysing a swimmer's footage during training.
Don't worry about forgetting anything from this analysis as you will take home a recording of the footage and feedback, so you can review it again whenever suits you.

Your coach will then have you back in the water for the stroke correction portion of the session, taking you through the processes and drills you need to tune up your stroke in just the right way:

SS Alicante Coach Enrique Plannes Marcos - working on correcting a swimmer's stroke in a chilly London pool!

Swim Smooth Squads

Join other swimmers just like you in one of our Swim Smooth squads all around the world. Our coaches run a number of sessions every week, using our Swim Smooth principles to improve your swimming technique, fitness and open water skills. We pride ourselves in providing a welcoming, inclusive and positive atmosphere in all of our squads - so come along today!

If you are quite new to swimming don't be put off by the word "squad" - it's just a group of like minded individuals like yourself working on improving their swimming in a structured environment. You don't need to swim like a fish or look like an underwear model to join either - we come in all sorts of speed ranges, shapes and sizes.



In addition, all our squad members will have free access to the Swim Smooth Guru so they watch all the drills for the upcoming sessions and access all the other resources, such as our elite swimmer studies, drill library and fault fixer plans.

Swim Smooth Clinics, Camps and Workshops

Unable to attend our Swim Smooth squad regularly? No problem! Our coaches offer one-off half/whole day clinics and workshops for swimmers to improve their stroke and swimming technique. They will use our innovative video analysis and unique drill set to provide you with an in depth analysis of your stroke and action plan for improvement. This allows you to go back to your own pool and practice all the skills you have learned!

SS Coach Cyndy fine tunes her swimmer's catch.
See the feedback below from Coach Laura Ansell's recent trip to Barbados to deliver 1-to-1 clinics and workshops to local swimmers:

vimeo.com/369814149

Want to find your nearest Swim Smooth Coach? Head to our website to find the best coach for you to take your swimming to the next level: www.swimsmooth.com/coaches


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Why Do You Get A Sore Neck From Swimming?

Do you experience neck pain during or after swim sessions? What can you do about it? Neck pain is not often talked about in swimming but is very common issue and can be annoyingly persistent, especially for those quite new to the sport.

Fortunately the reasons for this discomfort are easy to understand and the fix is pretty straightforward. Combine the simple visualisations below with a little perseverance on your part and you will be sliding through the water pain free in no time!

Why Do I Get Neck Pain?

One of our favourite sayings at Swim Smooth is: If something's going to go wrong in your stroke, it'll go wrong when you breathe. And that's definitely true when it comes to the cause of neck pain!

When you go to breathe, you should keep your head low in the water, looking across the surface of the pool (more on this below) but if you are not too confident about taking a clear breath of air, the tendency is to lift your face further and further towards the sky:




For this swimmer twisting the head like this places a large strain on the neck which over time leads to soreness in the neck and the trapezius muscles.

As well as this, the lead arm will have a tendency to drop down in the water, giving you little support and only adding to the anxiety of not being able to breathe. A classic problem for all you Bambinos out there:




If this sounds familiar to you then what can you do to stop your head looking towards the sky as you breathe?

Use The Bow Wave!

As you move through the water a bow wave develops around you, lowering the depth of the surface around the side of your head. This creates a trough providing you with the perfect position to take a breath without altering your body position in the water too much. Physics at its finest:

Notice the shape of the bow wave created around your head, aim to breathe into the trough at position A. 

When you breathe you simply rotate your body and head to position A, and take a breath. We often get our swimmers to imagine they are breathing out of the side of their mouth like Popeye (as seen in the picture below) to encourage them to keep their head even lower in the water. This keeps the head better in line with the body reducing stress on the neck:

Swim Smooth Coach, Steve Bailey, perfectly demonstrating his 'Popeye Breathing' technique. 





Grasping this concept can be a real challenge for many swimmers especially if they experience anxiety when their head is underneath the water. Here's a great exercise to help:

Ask a friend or coach to walk alongside you on the pool deck as you are swimming. As you turn to breathe look towards your coach/friend's feet, it will help keep your head low in the water and gives you something to focus on whilst you are swimming.

Looking for your coach's feet when taking a breath is a great drill to keep your head in the right position

Note this only works in a flush-deck pool where the deck is at the same level as the surface!

As you can see in the video, the swimmer's head remains low in the water and dramatically reduces the twist and strain on their neck. Practise this a few times and once you get the hang of it, simply imagine your friend's feet walking on water alongside you whenever you need a reminder.

Don't forget we have plenty of other drills to help with your breathing technique in the fault fixers section of our Swim Smooth Guru. In fact there's a proven step-by-step process to follow for every classic stroke fault:




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Lasers & Tempo Trainers - What Can We Learn From Eliud Kipchoge's Stunning Sub 2-hr Marathon?

#Nohumanislimited is the motto of Kenyan born Eliud Kipchoge, who most definitely pushed himself to the limit to become the first man in history to run a sub 2 hour marathon. Last weekend in Vienna, the 34 year old completed the marathon in a jaw dropping time of 1hr 59mins 40.2s, smashing the 2 hour barrier! But what was the key to his stunning achievement?



Exercise Physiologist Dr Michael Joyner first predicted that a sub 2 hour marathon was possible in his 1991 research paper. Using statistical models he anticipated that it was possible to complete a marathon in 1hr 57mins 58s in perfect conditions. For over 25 years, long distance athletes edged ever closer to this 2 hour mark, with Eliud's first direct attempt in 2018 setting 2hr 01min 39s, but until this week no one has achieved a sub 2 hour time.

But what can we learn From Eliud's stunning performance to maximise our own personal sporting endeavours - including your own swimming?

The one thing we would highlight was how incredibly well *paced* his run was. With every km (but the last) set between 2mins 48s and 2mins 52s. His run was so well paced that he had a little left in the tank to complete the final km in 2mins 40s and complete the final 400m in 65s! 

With all his experience, discipline and talent, we have no doubt that Eliud has excellent pace judgement in his own right but just to make absolutely sure of perfect pacing, you might have noticed that the electric pace vehicle shone a laser on the road to set a precise running speed:



This laser set an exact pace of 1:59:50 to follow (giving him 10 seconds spare in case he stumbled on the run-in to the finish).

Pacing isn't "sexy" like a cool pair of running shoes or a fancy swim-skin but the fact is that every world record in any distance event has been set using even pacing or a slight negative split, where the second half is running slightly quicker than the first. If you want your best times in training or in races then you too should aim for precise pacing - it's absolutely essential.

So good pacing is important but what can you use as a guide if you don't have a budget running into millions giving you laser guiding technology? Actually in pool swimming it's really easy to achieve the same thing as the lasers gave Eliud - significantly easier than in running, cycling or almost any other endurance sport.

The solution is a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro. This small yellow beeper sits under your cap and sets a perfectly even pace for you to swim:

Set it and pop it under your cap by your ear!
Get yours here: shop.swimsmooth.com/products/finis-tempo-trainer-pro

If you are in a 25m pool and want to swim at 2 minutes per 100m (which could be your own personal equivalent of 2 hour marathon pace!) then you set the Tempo Trainer to beep every 30 seconds. Swim at 1:30 /100m? Easy, program it to 22.5 seconds.

Using it is a cinch: Wait for the beep, start swimming and pace your effort so you turn and push off the wall when the beep goes. The first time you use one you'll immediately realise how easy it is to go off too fast and then consequently how hard it is to stay with beeper over longer distances! If Eliud had done that he would have fallen well short of the record with all the world's media watching him.

The important thing to appreciate with a Tempo Trainer Pro is that it gives you real time feedback as you swim. Reviewing your splits back retrospectively on your watch is far less valuable as it's way too late to do anything about your pacing after the session!

Beneficial To Training Not Just Racing

Here's another thing - although pacing is super important in races for best performance, it's arguably even more important in training. That's because well paced training sets give you much more fitness improvements than sets where you start too fast and then tail off.

This is why we use Tempo Trainer Pros so extensively at Swim Smooth. In the SS Guru (our virtual swim coach) we determine the pace you should be swimming for any given training session based on your own individual level of fitness at that moment in time. Then the Guru tells you the number to put in the Tempo Trainer to achieve this pace. Place it under your swimming cap and voila!, you have pacing as good as Eliud Kipchoge:



You can think of this system like a virtual training partner, not only does it set the pace for you but it keeps you honest and motivated throughout the swim - genius!

For pacing as good as Eliud Kipchoge, add the Finis Tempo Trainer to your swim bag now and follow one of our pacing sessions on the Guru to nail your pacing for your next swim.


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Is Photoshop Harming Your Stroke Technique?

Manufacturers of swim suits, goggles, wetsuits and swimming gadgets love to show us great underwater images of their products in action:






And here's a fantastic promo shot of one of our favourite swimmers Becky Adlington:




Shots like these are beautiful and remind us how lucky we are to do a sport where we get to spend quality time in a wonderfully different environment. But is there something wrong with these shots, something that actually harms our own swimming?

Take a look at this shot of Becky when she's actually going about her business of winning Olympic Gold Medals:




What difference do you notice? That's right - bubbles! Lots of bubbles! Particularly bubbles exiting from the nose or mouth.

Of course when selling products, photographers and marketers are looking for the cleanest images possible so naturally select shots without any air bubbles in the shot. And if necessary they will resort to Photoshop to get rid of any pesky air from an otherwise perfect shot.

The problem here is that by seeing these images you might consciously or unconsciously decide this is how you should aim to swim and end up holding your breath underwater.

At Swim Smooth we understand that good exhalation technique is the single most important aspect of freestyle swimming. Failing to exhale at all or only exhaling partially holds huge numbers of swimmers back:

Holding your breath causes CO2 to build up in your blood stream which quickly becomes uncomfortable and makes you feel short of air. How often do you hold your breath cycling or running? Never hopefully! Try it and you'll find how much harder it makes the activity.

[Aside: If you get a headache when you swim it's quite possibly a CO2 headache!]

Further, holding your breath underwater increases the buoyancy in your chest. This will cause your chest and upper body to rise in the water and the legs to sink. If you have sinky legs when you swim (most male adult swimmers do) then the easiest way to bring them higher (and so reduce drag) is to simply develop a better exhalation technique.

We love this short of Becky at full speed: A dynamic stroke with great exhalation

Developing Good Exhalation Technique

Need to improve your exhalation in the water? Here's a simple exercise to develop a better technique called "sink downs". This is the perfect drill to perform at the start of a session during your warm up to improve your confidence in the water and get used to exhaling smoothly and continuously.

As long as you are confident being out of your depth, start in the deep end of the pool. Move away from the wall and treading water take a smooth relaxed breath in and then start exhaling, bringing your arms down by your side. Exhale through either your mouth or nose, whichever feels more natural. In fact we recommend you try both and see which works best for you.

The goal here is to sink straight down to the bottom of the pool. If you find yourself hanging around by the surface then you need to relax a little more and let go of the air a little quicker. Keep exhaling and you should find you drop down from the surface towards the bottom.

Once you feel you have got rid of most of the air in your lungs, push off from the bottom and return to the surface. Repeat this exercise several times through, the more relaxed and confident you are the better:



Now it's time to bring that better exhalation into your freestyle stroke and to do that we recommend using our all time favourite Mantra: Breathe-Bubble-Bubble-Breathe...

Push off from the wall into your freestyle and literally say 'Bubble' into the water every stroke - speaking the word will make you exhale as you do so! Repeat Breathe-Bubble-Bubble-Breathe... and rotate to inhale on the 'Breathe'.  You'll notice the mantra has you breathing every 3 strokes - great technique in its own right as it gives you enough time to exhale properly between inhales and also helps you develop a nice symmetrical stroke.

You can watch our full coaching videos to perfect these two exercises in the Swim Smooth Guru here (subscription required):

www.swimsmooth.guru/streamvideo/cZF/if/breathe-bubble-bubble-breathe/

and

www.swimsmooth.guru/streamvideo/cZF/h5/sink-down-drill/


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Treading Water: Staying In The Game During Your Off Season

Competed in an event and unsure what to do next? Deciding whether to take a break from training or keep pushing on? If you are a triathlete, should you be focussing on your swimming, running or cycling in your recovery?

A good training program is expertly tailored to gradually increase training intensity and duration to prepare you for your big event. But when the event is over, you are often left to your own devices. What should you be doing to maintain your fitness and stay in the game until you decide on your next goal?



There are two training principles that we need to consider when looking at post-event training: overtraining and reversibility. We need to get the right balance between these two principles to ensure we maintain our fitness to keep us in the game whilst ensuring our bodies have enough time to rest and recover.

Following a well designed training programme should gradually increase your training load up until your event, to ensure peak performance is achieved on race day. However, it is unrealistic to expect our bodies to continue training at this intensity for a prolonged period of time after the event.

Continuing to train your body at high intensity post event will lead to overtraining. Your body needs time to rest and recuperate following the increased stress that was placed on it before your event. Pushing on after the event can make your body more susceptible to injuries, having a longer term impact on future training and performance.

Other signs of overtraining may be elevated resting heart rate, poor sleep quality, muscle soreness and even a decrease in performance. Therefore, when considering your training programme post event, ensure that you allow sufficient time for rest to allow your body to physically recover from the stress of race day and take a mental break too. But should you stop training completely?

This is where the second training principle of 'reversibility' comes into play and explains why it is not normally wise to completely stop training at the end of your season. Reversibility says that any fitness gained can also be lost and will start to be lost as soon as you stop training. As a very rough rule of thumb, your fitness is lost at three times the rate at which it is gained. That means if you have been training for 9 months for your event you could pretty much be back to square one if you stop training for 3 months!

Keep training in your off season but keep it light and fun!

But there are some subtleties to this. Certainly if you have been training in a sport for many years you do seem to retain more fitness and get it back more quickly again. If you are a triathlete with a long background in one or two of the three disciplines, this is something to consider for your off-season.

UK Head Coach Adam Young: I know from my own experience as an athlete how this is the case. As a child I used to run cross country competitively and then a little later got into cycling, riding through school and university. I'm now well into my 40s but if I stop bike or run training for a while I always seem to retain some residual fitness, and quite quickly get back up to speed when I start training again. But with swimming it feels very different. I didn't swim at all as a child and only properly started swim training when I got into triathlon aged 26. If I stop swim training now, my fitness very quickly drops down to nearly zero and it takes a long period of consistent swimming to build it back up again. For me it's really important to keep some swimming training going at all times, even if ticking over at a low level in the off season.

Adam competing at Ironman France

So when considering your training plan post triathlon season, you might want to back off your strongest disciplines where you have the most training background but keep a little more going in your weaker event. This gives you a physical and mental break but leaves you best placed to start training again for next season.


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Another Great Stretch To Bring Your Body Position Up In The Water

How often do you make time in your schedule for stretching sessions? Daily, weekly, monthly or even less? When delicately juggling the balance between work, family and your exercise routine, stretching sessions are normally the first to drop to the bottom of your priority list. Most people state lack of time as the main reason for not including stretching sessions in their exercise programmes. But the question is, what impact is this having on your swimming?

Check out this image of five time Olympic Gold medallist Ian Thorpe:




You can see the full extent of the "body bend" that is required to extend the lead arm forwards in front of him while still keeping his hips and legs high near the surface. This is all down to the large degree of flexibility that Ian has in his upper and lower back, shoulders and lats.

Note when you try and get into this position yourself, you are not consciously thinking about bending through the body (or you could easily end up snaking laterally through the water). Instead you are simply aiming to extend forwards beneath the surface whilst keeping the legs high.

Without good flexibility, when extending forwards into this position with the lead arm, your body and legs will be pushed lower into the water:




As adult swimmers it's unlikely we'll ever get to the level of flexibility that elite swimmers such as Ian have in their upper body but even small improvements will bring the legs higher and so give you significant gains in speed and efficiency.

Way back in 2011 we posted here about a simple hip flexor stretch to bring your legs higher in the water: www.feelforthewater.com/2011/09/simple-stretch-to-reduce-drag.html and in this post we're going to introduce another key stretch to bring you similar results:


The Mermaid Stretch 

For our variation of the Mermaid stretch you will need to sit on the floor and position your legs such that the sole of one foot rest above the knee of the other leg:




If you find this leg position uncomfortable then release the knee and let it slide up the other calf a little.




Hold a towel, or even better a theraband in both your hands and raise above your head. Apply a light tension to the towel or band and lean over towards your outer foot, as demonstrated here by our new Community Manager Myffy (welcome to the team!!):




You should feel the stretch run all the way down your tricep, through your lat, your side and down to your hip. Take long, controlled breaths during the stretch.

This is a powerful stretch so only apply gentle pressure and stop right away if you experience any back or shoulder pain.

If you are nice and flexible (like Myffy above), then you can increase the power of the stretch by pressing the arms further apart, applying more tension to the band.

Without moving your legs, also stretch to the side away from your legs. This will feel significantly easier:




Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat two or three times to each side.

Whilst we can’t promise this stretch will have you swimming as fast as Ian Thorpe, we can promise that an improvement in flexibility will definitely improve your freestyle stroke!

Also see our dry land training programmes in the Swim Smooth Guru to increase your flexibility and further finesse your freestyle stroke:







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Sarah Thomas' Incredible Feat of Endurance

You've probably read in the news about an incredible swim that took place this week:

Starting in the early hours of Sunday morning, Sarah Thomas from Colorado battled through the harsh currents, weather and cold water to break a new world record by swimming four times non-stop across the English Channel! That's 209km, 54 hours and (only!) 1 jellyfish sting - a truly astounding achievement!




Considering your own long distance swim? Would just like to improve your stamina a bit in the pool? Distance swimming is both physically and mentally demanding. Sarah Thomas claimed that ‘every length had something hard about it’. Therefore, both physical and mental preparation is key to ensuring success in these type of events.




You can read Sarah's full race report here.

The English Channel did not make life easy for Sarah with each lap presenting a new challenge to overcome. In the first and second lap, nausea set in and eventually led to sickness. Despite this, Sarah's mental strength shone through. Her goal, in the darkness of the second lap was to keep swimming and 'make it through until daylight'. After the turnaround, the sickness escalated and was now a certainty after every feed. The crew on the boat were instructed that if the sickness didn't subside, Sarah would have to be pulled out of the water. Unaware of the severity of the situation, Sarah was given anti-sickness tablets in her next feed and carried on swimming, 'daydreaming about being dry, warm and asleep'!

With the sickness under control, the final challenge (if there wasn't enough already!) in lap four presented itself - the early change of tides. Sarah was instructed by her pilot to crab across the current with the hopes of breaking free to the other side. As you would expect from Sarah, she did it, but at the cost of a huge time delay. Fortunately, she had support in the water from her friends, Craig, Elaine and Karl, in the final 4 hours of the challenge. She even managed to sprint to the finish and was welcomed on the shores by crowds, champagne and M & Ms! Sarah describes it as one of the hardest mental challenges she has ever overcome - "I wanted to quit - and had good reason to do so. Yet, somehow, my crew gave me the strength to keep going!" Her focus, determination and perseverance throughout the swim is incredibly inspiring and highlights the importance of mental control during long distance events.

Sarah Thomas had her crew supporting her the whole way - even at the end!

Swim Smooth’s Paul Newsome has first hand experience of the mental challenge of long distance swimming as he took on the challenge of swimming the channel himself in 2011 and since then has completed several other long distance swimming events. How did Paul prepare for this and keep motivated during the whole event?

Paul immediately before starting his channel crossing in 2011.

Paul: I think the most important thing about a long distance marathon swim is to break it down into much smaller component parts. Whilst Sarah had the goal of swimming 4 laps of the Channel (unprecedented in the history of the sport), on the day, I’m very doubtful if she would have allowed herself to think that far ahead.

If you’ve ever swum for 1hr continuously you’ll know how daunting and challenging that is. Imagine getting to the 1hr mark and someone telling you you still have another 53h10m to go! Psychologically that would be hugely difficult to deal with, but if the goal were just to swim for another 30 minutes until your next feed, then suddenly that starts to become more manageable, such that, rather than thinking too much about the stress and strain of what your imminent future holds, you can try to remain in the present and even break it down so granular as to just visualise keeping each stroke balanced smooth and efficient in that particular moment.

Whenever I’ve personally thought too far ahead I’d get daunted by the challenge and start to lose motivation, but I can specifically recall when swimming 46km or 28.5 miles around New York (where I am right now), all I was saying to myself was “bubble-bubble-breathe” (seriously!) and eventually this became “just focus, stay focused now, concentrate, concentrate, concentrate” when I eventually took the lead at 2.5hrs in and went on to win the race.
It gets very lumpy in the middle of the channel!

Giving yourself or your swimmers something simple to focus on here and now in the present is absolutely essential to stop that drift of focus into the “what if” future. When we swam around Manhattan, Adam clocked my initial stroke rate as 88-90spm which I knew in training wasn’t sustainable, but I knew 81spm was. As soon as he fed me back this data, the next 30 minutes was all about falling back into this predetermined feeling and gaining confidence that, whatever happens to the other competitors, I know that this is what I can personally sustain. So I doubled down on that and eventually it all came good.



Sarah's swim from her GPS data: England -> France -> England -> France -> England!

I would imagine that Sarah knew exactly what pace she could hold and dialled into that. This is evidenced by the fact that, acknowledging her favourable conditions on the day, the first 3 GPS traces describe a very similar sine curve pathway, indicating that she was getting pushed equally left and right (east and west) with the changing of the tides as she progressed forwards. In lap 4 (which no one has ever done before), she starts to drift a lot more left and right with the tide indicating that her speed has dropped considerably, but when you turn around for your 4th lap after 37hrs and face the impossible or literally the final frontier where no person has gone before (for you Star Trek fans) then this is to be expected. She’s essentially been swimming for 2 continuous days at this point without sleep and so it’s no wonder that she would slow down. The point is that she made it through and it was all that savvy pacing, focus and will power in the first 3 crossings that enabled the impossible to become possible. Truly amazing stuff!

If you are interested in completing your own long distance challenge (in the pool or open water) head to our Long Aerobic Interval sessions on the SwimSmooth Guru, designed specifically to physically and mentally prepare you for long distance open swims.

If your goals are a little bit more modest then what can we take from Sarah's stunning achievement? Well perhaps take inspiration from this extreme display of endurance and push your own regular swim sessions a little bit longer. Swimming 2km right now? How about a 4km challenge this weekend? If that's too easy, perhaps even 6 or 7km? Sometimes the barriers in place are more mental than physical - give it a shot and when you're feeling a little tired, stay in the moment, ask yourself can I do one more stroke, and then one more lap, and then one more 100...?


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Why Do Elite Swimmers Recover Over The Water Like This?

If you've watched elite swimmers in the pool you might well have noticed they often recover over the surface of the water and angle their hands back behind them like this:





In fact our freestyle animation Mr Smooth also does the same as he swims:




If you noticed this you might have wondered why and if you should try and do the same?

The reason elite swimmers get their hand in this position (either consciously or unconsciously) is that they have been coached to swim using a classical high elbow arm recovery over the surface of the water:




This certainly looks pretty but with the forearm becoming so vertical, they run the risk of the hand hitting the surface of the water as they swim (as if performing old-school finger-trail drill). The backward angle of the hand gives them more clearance so they don't drag on the surface.

A high elbow recovery could be the right thing for you in the pool if your upper back and shoulders are flexible enough to achieve it. However in open water, where the water is much more disturbed, you run the risk of catching your hand, which would slow you down:




Far better in open water to use a slightly straighter arm recovery and bring the hand up and over more. This is why you see elite swimmers and triathletes swimming like this:





Even if you swim in a perfectly flat lake, the surface very quickly gets disturbed by other swimmers. In fact you can see this in both images above, the swimmers are moving through quite flat water but immediately around them it's turned to mush.

So, if you are a triathlete or open water swimmer, don't focus on developing a classical high elbow recovery because it will be a major hindrance when you are in open water. A loose relaxed high recovery is better, as we can see demonstrated by super-fish elite triathlete Richard Varga here:



You can study Richard's stroke in full in the Swim Smooth Guru here (subscription required): https://www.swimsmooth.guru/video/mb/richard-varga/


As you'd expect, our Miss Swinger animation shows this higher open water recovery style:



So should you swim this way all the time? All year round? In a word - yes! It's the right habit to get into for open water and it works perfectly well for pool swimming too. And, if like many adults you are a little tight in the upper back or shoulders, you'll find it makes for a more relaxed recovery that feels easier to perform.

Here's Swim Smooth Coach Fiona Ford practising this with her London triathlon squad:




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