Wow - The Swim Smooth Blog Is 10 Years Old!

Yes, time has flown but the Swim Smooth blog (Feel For The Water) is 10 years old this week! Way back on July 15th 2009 we launched the blog and posted for the first time and have carried on doing so religiously every Friday ever since, bringing you Swim Smooth's very best hints, tips and advice to improve your swimming direct to your inbox.

We hope you've enjoyed being a subscriber - the blog readership has steadily built until it's become the biggest swimming blog in the world with over 120,000 subscribers!

To celebrate this anniversary we've picked out some of our favourite posts from the last 10 years to look back on. As you can imagine, choosing from over 520 is very hard indeed but our chosen ones are those that we find have "stood the test of time". Over the years each continues to resonate with swimmers and we keep referring back and pointing swimmers to them time and time again.

Some here's a trip back down memory lane (in no particular order) :

January 2014: Like Mixing Hot And Cold Water In The Bath
This post presents a super-simple concept that is so effective for newer swimmers. Make sure you read this if you're a newer swimmer working on the basics of the stroke:

April 2015: But What If You Can't Swim Freestyle Continuously?
We get an email like this every week - I get a should be doing this with my arm and this with my legs but what if I can only do it for one length before having to rest?? This must-read post has our full answer on overcoming the continuous freestyle challenge:

May 2014: Mega Megan, Going From 2:12 to 1:32 / 100m
The ultimate case study into Swim Smooth's coaching is the progress made by the amazing "Mega" Megan. SS Head Coach Paul Newsome spills the beans on her amazing swimming journey, what can you learn and apply yourself?:

May 2013: The Gradual Crescendo
What's the most common mistake people make when they swim? Holding their breath? Crossing in front of the head? Actually we think it's probably poor pacing. See what Alistair Brownlee can teach us on the subject:

June 2010: Why A Good Catch Is So Elusive - Wrong Can Feel Right
The hardest part of the stroke to develop is the catch and pull, here's a big reason why it's so elusive for so many swimmers:

August 2012: Bend It Like Becky
One of our most famous and most read posts on developing your catch and feel for the water. The great Rebecca Adlington shows us how it's done:

March 2012: Overgliding Inefficiency And The Overgliderometer
Way back in 2011 we coined the phrase Overglider to encapsulate the sort of swimmer who's deliberating trying to pause and glide at the front of their stroke. Been down this route yourself with your own swimming or want to understand why it's such a massive mistake for a swimmer to make? :

September 2011: A Simple Stretch To Reduce Drag
Sometimes the simplest posts are the best. Here's a simple stretch that's hugely beneficial for any swimmer with low-lying legs:

February 2013: The Four Classic Causes Of Shoulder Pain
Most swimmers experience some level of shoulder pain or injury in their swimming lives. Do you? Even if you don't you need to read this to avoid problems further down the line:

April 2014: CSS Training For Absolute Beginners
Heard of CSS training but need to understand what it is? This highly popular post explains everything you need to know to get started and see your times coming down:

February 2014: Should You Be Using A Two Beat Kick?
Another super-common question we get asked by swimmers time and time again. Flutter (6 beat) or switch (2 beat) ? The answer might surprise you:

April 2014: The Great Bilateral Breathing Controversy
Our most commented, re-posted and discussed blog. Bilateral breathing remains such a controversial subject in swimming, here's our definitive post on the subject:

November 2011: Fingers Together Or Apart?
One of our personal favourites and another common question from swimmers - should you try and swim with your fingers slightly apart as many have been told?

June 2013: Paul Newsome's Winning Manhattan Race Report: "Stroke-Stroke-Breathe" Cut & Paste x 12,000
Inspiring race/event reports always make for great blog posts. Paul's raced at a very high level in the name of Swim Smooth over the years but here's perhaps his greatest achievement. The behind the scenes story of his 2013 46km (!) Manhattan Island Marathon Swim win:

A big thanks from everyone at Swim Smooth for following the blog every week. So what do the next 10 years have in store for us? Well you'll be pleased to know we've been very busy working on a next generation swimming product that will help us deliver the magic of the Swim Smooth system to you much more effectively.

We'll tell you more in the autumn but for now... Swim Smooth!

Hannah - A "Normal" Swimmer With 813,703 Views On YouTube

If you are quite new to swimming it can be a bit intimidating watching elite swimmers on YouTube. How can you relate to someone who's super tall, super strong, super flexible and was born with a set of gills? Sometimes it seems pointless watching someone like that when they're such a league apart from your own swimming?

With that in mind, almost exactly 9 years ago to the day, we released the following video of Hannah swimming on Youtube. Hannah's doesn't have an elite swimming background but has got a nice (but not perfect) stroke that is well worth studying. If you haven't seen this clip before then take a watch and see what you can learn:

In terms of Swim Type, Hannah very much started life as a Bambino but has developed her swimming over time under SS Head Coach Paul Newsome's guidance in Perth. In the years after filming this clip she went on to swim the 19.7km Rottnest Channel Swim and the 22km Cook Strait! Amazing achievements for someone with very little swimming experience.

Obviously developing her stroke technique and swim fitness (you need a lot of fitness to swim 20km through rough waters!) is absolutely key to her achievements. But it's also worth nothing how much fun Hannah has in the water whenever she swims (clearly visible at the beginning and end of the footage).

Don't neglect this side of your swimming. Being in the water should bring a sense of joy, a release from the pressures of daily life. That positive attitude brings the consistency to your swim training which is absolutely key to improving.

Want to swim like Hannah? You too need one of our hand picked, super-friendly, highly experienced and extensively trained Swim Smooth Coaches. Find your nearest coach here:

OK Han, can you swim for the camera now please?

Swim Smooth!

Addicted To Your Pull Buoy? OK Let's Strike You A Deal

Yeah we hear from guys like you all the time: I'm much faster with a pull buoy and I find myself reaching for it all the time. Is this a problem? I hate swimming without it and I'll be racing in my wetsuit which also brings my legs up.
Do you never go to the pool without it?

To which we reply: Yes you should ween yourself off it because it's just masking a poor body position. To get your legs up you need to develop your leg kick technique and you can't do that while using a pull-buoy. Also, swimming with it is so much easier you can de-condition aerobically.

But we know that many of you ignore that advice and continue to reach for your pull buoy whenever things get challenging. If that's you, let's strike a deal with you:

Here's the new rule:

Whenever you swim with your pull-buoy you have to breathe bilaterally (either every 3, 5 or 7 strokes).

Given the type of swimmers who are addicted to pull-buoys, it's unlikely you would breathe bilaterally out of choice. But the pull buoy makes bilateral easier for any swimmer, so that's the compromise we'll make with you.

Bilateral is good for your swimming because:

- It helps you develop even body rotation to both sides.
- It helps you develop your catch because you are only breathing 1 in 3 strokes on each arm.
- It reduces the likelihood of a crossover in front of your head, particularly when breathing.
- It reduces the likelihood of a scissor kick developing.
- It helps you develop a better exhalation technique underwater.
- You will swim straighter in open water.

More on why bilateral is so beneficial here:

So if you find yourself reaching for that pull-buoy when the going gets tough, tell yourself "OK foam friend, bilateral it is". That's the deal.

Some further thoughts:

- A pull buoy makes bilateral easier but so does a wetsuit (even more so in fact) so make sure you breathe bilaterally in open water too.

- Is you get used to it with the pull buoy, introduce bilateral in your normal (non-pull buoy) swimming too, the more you can do this the better.

- Keep trying to ween yourself off the pull-buoy for all the reasons we mentioned above. As your swimming improves, swimming without it will get progressively easier.

- Consider using buoyancy shorts as an alternative to swimming with a pull-buoy. They are a little harder to put on and take off but buoyancy shorts allow you to swim with your full stroke, develop your leg kick and keep aerobic condition in your kicking muscles. We discussed this previously here:

Swim Smooth!

Special Offer - Get A Free SS Cap With Every Swim Smooth Beach Towel!

Summer is here in the northern hemisphere so make sure you're looking your smoothest with our Swim Smooth branded beach towel available in our swim shop:

Royal blue and 100% woven cotton, it's the perfect size to take to the pool, beach or lay out proudly in transition.

Until Friday 5th July you receive a free Swim Smooth Cap of your choice with every towel ordered!

Just add one of each to the cart and you'll see the promotion automatically applied:

Order now, only while stocks last!

Why Not Choose One Of Our Unique Reversible “Mood” Caps?

Choose one of our conventional swim caps with your beach towel, or select our brand new invention - the reversible "mood" cap!

This is a unique cap that can be worn inside or out depending on how you feel.

Feeling good and ready to lead your lane? Wear the blue side out to: "Get your Game Face On!"

A little fatigued or saving yourself for another session? Wear the orange side out, after all: "A Race Day. Every Day. Is Not!"

Developed for our squad swimmers in Perth to let Head Coach Paul Newsome know how they're feeling and now available to you wherever you are in the world!

Buy yours here:

Swim Smooth!

Swim *Smooth* - What's In A Name?

At the very core of Swim Smooth's coaching lies two fundamental tenets:

- There's no universal best stroke style that everyone should swim with.

- To reach your potential in the water, you need an individual approach that takes into account what works for you personally.

There's no better example of this philosophy in action than Swim Smooth's recognition that there are two classic stroke styles (not one) used by elite swimmers - the "Swinger" and the "Smooth".

However, this potentially brings us to a position of slight conflict... Does the name Swim Smooth suggest that you should exclusively aim to swim with the Smooth stroke style? We hope not but agree it could be confusing at first sight.

Let's clarify!

A great "Smooth", such as Jono Van Hazel certainly looks pleasing on the eye:

(click video to see full clip)

Looking past the aesthetics, notice the strong sense of rhythm in his stroke, something that is absolutely key to moving him through the water effectively.

Now take a look at a classic Swinger stroke - performed here by SS Coach Anna-Karin Lundin:

(click video to see full clip)

Anna-Karin's a phenomenal swimmer who went to the 1988 Olympic Games. Despite being a Swinger and using that straighter arm recovery style combined with a shorter stroke and a faster turnover, all her movements are still inherently *smooth*.

This fluid, continuous (and yes smooth) movement is deep at the core of how all great swimmers progress through the water - whether of the Swinger or Smooth type. We see no conflict - look past the aesthetics and both styles have inherent smoothness when performed well.

So can you "Swing Smooth"? - yes absolutely you can! When performed well the Swinger style has just as much fluidity and smoothness as the Smooth type - even though it might not be the first thing that immediately strikes you about the stroke.

Swim Smooth!

What Should You Think About During Your Big Race?

Trust in your plan to settle your pre-race nerves
It's the middle of June and if you are living in the northern hemisphere then you're likely to be building up to your key race of the season sometime in the coming weeks.

You've been preparing diligently, working on your stroke technique, you swim fitness and open water skills. But come race day and the gun going off, what should you actually think about whilst you swim to perform at your very best?

We suggest you make a (very) short list of one, two or three things to rotate through in your mind during the race. Pre-plan this list and you can be confident going to the start line about what you are going to do and think. Don't choose more than three!

Remember to only think about one thing at a time - if you have several items on your list then rotate through them in turn, spending about 10 seconds on each for the duration of the event.

Here's some ideas you might want to choose from and why each might be right for you :

- Breathe-bubble-bubble-breathe... Most people are nervous at the start of any race (and particularly an open water swim) so what's the first thing they instinctively do? Hold their breath! Holding your breath builds up excess CO2 in your system which can easily lead to a panic attack. Make sure you exhale smoothly and continuously into the water from the very start of the race and combine it with bilateral breathing timing using Swim Smooth's most famous mantra: Breathe-bubble-bubble-breathe.

- Straight-bubble-bubble-straight. A variation of breathe-bubble-bubble-breathe but instead of thinking "breathe" when breathing, think "straight" to keep focus on what that lead arm is doing as it enters and extends forwards underwater. Choose this if you know you have a crossover in your stroke when your breathe. The mantra will help reduce the crossover and in turn help you swim straighter.

A "crossover" is where the lead arm crosses the centre line in front of the head

- Tap Your Big Toes. This is perfect for anyone with a scissor kick or any issue with their kicking technique. As you swim brush your big toes lightly as they pass each other - make sure this is a continuous and regular tap-tap-tap-tap. Any gap in the taps (especially when you breathe) indicates a scissor kick!

A scissor kick is like opening a parachute behind you!
It most commonly happens when you breathe.

- Am I going too fast? Nearly everyone starts their race too fast and then slows down progressively through the race losing more time overall than they ever gained at the start. Especially in the first half of the swim, continuously ask yourself if you are going too fast and if you can realistically sustain this pace. If you missed it first time around, check out our classic The Gradual Crescendo blog post on this subject.

- Think: Rhythm, Range, Relax... Rhythm, Range, Relax... This is a nice mantra for stronger swimmers who may feel a little frantic at the start of a race, or when encountering choppy conditions which are throwing them off their game. Rhythm is absolutely key to great open water swimming. Keep the Range in your stroke from extension out front to finishing at the thigh. And stay Relaxed even when working hard.

Remember less is more when picking your list. Choose the items that will make the biggest difference to you and remember the golden rule: only ever think about one thing at a time.

Have an awesome race!

Swim Smooth!

Let's Get Real - You're Not Ian Thorpe

If you've been following Swim Smooth for a while you'll know that the great Ian Thorpe is one of our favourite swimmers.

The Pride of Australia: The great Ian Thorpe
winning the 200m freestyle at the Athens Olympics
Here's a fascinating quote from Thorpie's autobiography This Is Me, where he talks about counting his strokes in a 50m pool:

I also aim to reduce the stroke count (during technique sessions). I've got it down to 24 per lap which is about as low as I want it to get. I could reduce it by another four strokes but the danger is that I'd get to the point where I'm gliding rather than swimming efficiently.

Ian's talking about deliberately taking fewer strokes per length during a technique set but simultaneously warning us about the dangers of gliding.

But here's the really interesting point: When racing, Ian actually took 30-32 strokes per 50m. From the quote above we know that's a full 10-12 strokes more than he could do if he wanted to. Here he is winning the 200m at the Athens Olympics (wearing the black suit):

So whilst Thorpie has an exceptionally long smooth stroke, it isn't anywhere near as long as he could make it if he wanted to. The right stroke length for him is a full 10-12 strokes more than his minimum!

From the underwater view you get a real impression of the power and positivity he's putting into his stroke:

If you have been watching swimmers like Thorpe and thinking that the secret to better swimming is to make your stroke as long as possible then sit up and take notice. Just like Ian, your optimal point of swimming when you are at your fastest and most effective is not your minimum stroke count, it's a place a little shorter when you have strong rhythm and purpose to your stroke.

One Secret Is The Kick - The Fins Test

Try swimming 50m normally and count your strokes. Now don a large pair of fins and swim 50m again. How many fewer strokes did you take? You'll be anywhere from 3 to 12 fewer!

Did you know that Ian could kick 100m (with a kickboard) in under 70 seconds? That's almost certainly faster than you could whilst wearing those large fins. Try it if you like!

So one of the reasons Ian's got such a long stroke is that his kick is super-powerful, way stronger than 99% of age group swimmers, even if they are wearing fins. Having size 17 feet makes buying shoes difficult but is epic when it comes to swimming!

But it's not just his kick of course... Are you 1.95m (6'5") tall? Do you have super long arms? Hands like paddles? Do you have the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast to stretch into extreme positions? Do you swim 12 times per week?

Only if you can answer yes to all those questions (and you can kick 100m without fins in 70 seconds) should you reasonably expect to match Thorpie and take 30-32 strokes per 50m.

Of course, the further you are away from having Ian Thorpe like attributes, the shorter your optimum stroke is going to be. That doesn't mean you can't swim very well yourself - far from it - but you need to swim at the optimal stroke length for yourself, which like Ian is significantly shorter than your minimum stroke count.

Swim Smooth!

Experiential Learning With Scull #1

Hello from sunny Mallorca where Paul Newsome, Adam Young and the rest of the Swim Smooth team are running two editions of our 3 Day Coach Education Course, with twenty coaches on each course.

Here's the group shot from the first course:

Perhaps the hardest area of freestyle technique to coach is developing a swimmer's catch technique. With that in mind, we have the coaches spend some time in the water working through some key drills and exercises focusing on developing a swimmer's propulsive technique.

One of these drills is the Scull #1 drill, an excellent exercise to develop your feel for the water at the front of the stroke. Check out the following short clip of the coaches trying this and under Paul's guidance experimenting with different stroke flaws (which might be present in your own stroke) to feel the effect:

View here:

The next time you swim try this same sequence yourself (outlined below) but first make sure you've mastered the basic Scull #1 drill:

The Scull #1 Drill

Use a Pull Buoy (make sure you don't kick) and have your chin on the surface:

If you have sinky legs you might need a larger pull-buoy such as a HUUB Big Buoy to keep your legs up in this position.

Lightly scull the water left and right in front of your head. Move your hands down in the water so that your elbow is higher than your wrist and the wrist is higher than your fingertips.

The key is to angle (pitch) the hand so that your hand is angled slightly inwards when sculling in and angled outwards when sculling outwards:

Get this right and you should move slowly through the water. Remember only to scull left and right - don't scoop backwards, that's breaststroke and definitely cheating!

Finally (and importantly for the experimentation below) keep your fingers together and hold the fingers and hand flat with a little firmness or "tone". About the same level of tone as you would use during a handshake - that's a "regular gentleman's handshake" not a "bone-crusher"!

You can see a quick video of Scull #1 here:

And if you are a Guru subscriber, watch our full drill video with complete coaching points here:

Experimenting With Scull #1

Now we get to the experiment the coaches ran. Give this sequence a try the next time you swim:

- Perform 5 meters of regular Scull #1

- Keep sculling but spread your fingers wide on both hands - what happens? Do you lose feel for the water and speed?

- Perform 5 meters of regular Scull #1

- Let your hand and fingers go limp - again do you lose feel for the water and speed? Some coaching programs actually teach you to hold your hands loosely - this exercises proves why you need to keep some tone and hold the hand flat without cupping.

Perform 5 meters of regular Scull #1

- Still sculling, bring your fingertips up and show the palm forwards. Many people (particularly Overgliders) try to overly lengthen their stroke and get into this position when they swim:

What happens now? Moving backwards? Feel your legs dropping?

You Can't Beat Experiential Learning

Sculling is a fantastic drill for developing your catch and feel for the water but it also allows you to experiment and find out what moves you forwards and what keeps you high in the water.

Remember everything you discover performing the drill will have the same effect on your full freestyle stroke too - so make those corrections to improve the effectiveness of your freestyle.

Swim Smooth!

Do You Love The Smell Of Chlorine In The Morning?

Here's a quick fact that may surprise you. Despite training consistently and diligently, less than half the swimmers in the Swim Smooth Squads in Perth race competitively, either in the pool or open water:

It's not easy getting to the pool at 5:30am in winter for a hard 4km set and yet they do:

These guys don't need a specific goal to motivate themselves, they just enjoy being in the water and swimming with their friends in a structured, motivating, fun environment:

That doesn't mean they don't train hard (in fact they train incredibly hard) and they are all achieving a high level of swimming.

Sure it's important to keep fit and healthy through the great sport of swimming but actually for these swimmers it goes much deeper than that. It's time out from the daily pressures of work and supporting the family for a while. In short, swimming "keeps them sane".

If you recognise yourself in this bracket then huge kudos to you. You are part of a growing number of people who swim just because they love it and what the pleasure of training brings. Life, after all, is a journey not a destination.

Let's keep smelling that chlorine and doing what we love!

Swim Smooth!

Get Inspired By The Amazing Stephanie Dixon!

What an interview we have lined up for you today! SS Head Coaches Paul and Adam chat with Stephanie Dixon, 19-time Paralympic swimming medallist and world record holder from Canada, who recently attended our 3-day Coach Education Course in Portland at Nike World HQ:

Stephanie (second from right) with SS Coaches Mike Jotautas, Adam Young, Paul Newsome and Mary Jessey

This wonderfully warm, open and charismatic athlete will teach us all more than a few things about living a life of balance, acceptance and making the absolute most with what you've got. Stephanie's motto is to recognise that we are all "enough" with whatever we've been born with, to whomever our parents and environment might be, it's what you make of that that really counts.

Despite missing her right leg from birth, her body has developed a balanced, streamlined and symmetrical swimming stroke which in Steph's words, allows her to "swim like a mermaid":

You can see the full footage of Steph's stroke and hear Adam and Paul's thoughts on it here:

And listen to the interview in Episode 16 of the SS Podcast on your favourite platform:

The first 2 minute intro is well worth re-listening to at any time you're feeling a little low and need a little lift and perspective in your life! We hope you really enjoy this cracking interview!

Swim Smooth!

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