Swim Smooth Podcast Episode 26 - Paolo Swims 300km in 30 days

Swim Smooth Dubai coach Paolo Mangilinan is coming to the end of his 30 day Dubai Fitness Challenge - he's been swimming an incredible 10km every day for the past 30 days! We wanted to catch up with him towards the end of the challenge to hear how he has been getting on and we thought the very best way to do that was to get him onto the podcast. :)

Day 29 - Dubai to world island then back!

Check out Episode 26 of the Swim Smooth Podcast to hear what makes Paolo tick, the highs and lows, what inspired him and who he in turn hopes to inspire as part of this conquest. Listen here:

Apple: podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/swim-smooth/id1441577778#episodeGuid=90577a47-ccc3-451d-b6ad-da56248fec59

Anchor: anchor.fm/swimsmooth/episodes/Episode-26---Inspiring-Coach-Paolo-swims-300km-in-30-days-en0fqv

We really enjoyed chatting to Paolo and hope you get inspired for your own challenges in 2021!

Paolo contemplating another 10K


Here's wishing Paolo good luck for the final few swims! You can stay up to date with his progress over the last few days on his Instagram and Facebook pages to get the latest pictures. 


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Improve Your Swimming With Five Of Our Best YouTube Videos

Whether you are in lockdown or not, there's never a bad time to learn something new and improve your understanding of swimming.

With that in mind we've delved into our YouTube archives over the last 10 years and pulled out five classic videos that you might have missed the first time around. Need advice, a good visual or motivation? Tune right in:

Is Your Elbow Really Dropped Or Is It Just That Your Hand Is Too High?



Tried to improve your catch but struggled to make any progress? Maybe you're thinking about it in the wrong way - Swim Smooth Head Coach, Paul Newsome explains all.

Swimming Technique: Jodie Swallow World Triathlon Champion

www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiNkAMU8syI

One of our oldest clips dating back to 2009, check out the epic stroke of Triathlon World Champion, Jodie Swallow. Yes the footage is low-definition but the stroke is high revving and full of energy. Do you need a bit of Jodie's style in your own stroke?

Anna-Karin Turns To The Dark Side


Beautifully shot in open water, check out Swim Smooth Coach Anna Karin's silky smooth Swinger style. You may not like the idea of lifting high over the water, shortening your stroke and upping your stroke rate but AK shows us that it can be done with elegance and style.

The Amazing Stephanie Dixon

www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCCykBPqgUo

In need of some Swimspiration? Meet the amazing Stephanie Dixon, 19-time Paralympic swimming champion! Here we feature our exclusive close-up footage of Stephanie's stroke taken at our 3 Day Coaching Course at Nike World HQ.

Swimmers Going Off Course

www.youtube.com/watch?v=N42wl2IzPQo

Why is it so important to work on swimming straight in open water? All we need to do is show you a bit of footage at the beach and speed it up.


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Paolo's Marathon Swim x30 Day Challenge

Swim Smooth Dubai coach, Paolo Mangilinan is currently on day 14 of his 30 day marathon swim challenge. He's swimming a whopping 10km swim every day for 30 days running! The magnitude of this challenge is incredible and we have been diligently checking in on his daily progress.

In the midst of his busy schedule of coaching, dad duties and 10km swims every day, we managed to have a quick catch up with him to hear how he has been getting on. Paolo shares his inspiration for the swim and his training and nutrition schedule for his swim below - it's a great read.

Man or machine? Meet Swim Smooth Dubai Coach, Paolo Mangilinan


What is the 30 day challenge? 

Paolo: It has been going on for 4 years in Dubai and was started by the Crown Prince of Dubai. The aim is to complete 30 mins of exercise for 30 days. 2 years ago, someone did a marathon every day for 30 days and this really inspired me to do something similar. This is the first year I have done it. Instead of doing a marathon, I decided to do a marathon swim every day. It has been in my head for the past year and this year was the year I decided to go ahead with it. Especially with all Ironman events being cancelled, this year is perfect because it allows me to focus on swimming. I am a triathlete really, but I love swimming and this has allowed me to focus on just that.



Have you noticed a change in your fitness during the challenge? 

Paolo: I haven't noticed a great change in my swim fitness, on day 14 the distance still doesn't feel easier, but my mindset has changed. Getting in the water on day 1, I felt apprehensive about whether I would complete the 10k distance, but now when you say a 10k swim, I can do it. I get in the water confident.

This has been helped by the incredible support from my squad swimmers. They have been instrumental in keeping me going for these past few weeks. Every day, I have different squad swimmers offering to swim 2k, 5k or even 8k with me, their support has been pretty overwhelming. This swim feels like a team effort rather than a solo race, I find this really inspiring - this is what Swim Smooth squads are all about!




How have you prepared for the race? 

Paolo: This idea has been brewing for the past year and my preparation officially started in January 2020. When I visited Perth for the Swim Smooth Coaches Certification Course in February my CSS was 1:27min/100m. Obviously, it was great to get the coach mentoring from Paul Newsome, but swimming with the Perth squad really spurred me on with my training. The video analysis sessions from the course taught me a lot about my swim stroke, Paul's pointers on my technique were invaluable and really motivated me to train and become more efficient. 

When I got back to Dubai, my training was going really well, but then we were put into lockdown and I was no longer able to get to the pool. I did a lot of cardio and stretch cord work to work on my fitness, this definitely kept me going and allowed me to return to the pool as prepared as I could be.

Coming out of lockdown, I followed the Swim Smooth Guru 10km training plan, but added a few more long distance training swims. I also asked my wife to film me swimming in the open water just after lockdown, I looked like I wasn't moving, my stroke rate was roughly 64 SPM. Improving my cadence became one area that I wanted to focus on. The following months, once or twice a week I worked on gradually increasing my stroke rate by 2SPM using the Tempo Trainer Pro. I started with 4 x 400m swims at an increased stroke rate and gradually increased the stroke rate. I'm now swimming at 74 SPM and I'm not straining myself holding this stroke rate, my swim fitness has adapted to be able to deal with this. I love the feeling of the higher stroke rate!

In the 3-4 weeks before the challenge I was swimming around 40-50km every week and have got my CSS down to 1:21min/100m. And I actually feel great, yes, I can feel my arms now but I feel ready to get back in the water tomorrow.



How are you managing your nutrition and hydration? 

Paolo: I'm completing the swims early in the morning at 6:30am to try and beat the heat in Dubai. Even at that time the water temperature is 28 degrees celsius. My swim time is about 2:45 - 3hrs so I finish about 11am. I normally have a couple of bananas before the swim and water as and when I need it. I have a kayak with me so I have gels and protein bars on there, but not too much. We need the space on the kayak to carry vaseline! I don't really measure everything accurately, but stop every 3km to take on water and a bit of food before I start to feel hungry. 

During the swims I am burning 1800 calories so after that I make sure I load a lot in the afternoons and evenings. I don't want to swim with a heavy tummy, especially with the salt water.



What has been the most difficult thing about the challenge? 

Paolo: The sleep! I am still coaching and I have a 5 month old baby to look after so balancing my day is a challenge. I try to get 8hrs - 11hrs of sleep a night. If I get that, I am sure that I will have a good swim.

Getting my nutrition and sleep right is important to make sure that I don't get injured or ill - this is my biggest priority.

What are your 3 top tips for someone thinking about this challenge? 

- Be prepared to prepare - give yourself enough time to prepare sufficiently for the challenge.

- Know your body - know your diet, know your body's capabilities, make sure you get enough sleep.

- Make sure you get the mileage in!

Thanks Paolo and enjoy the rest of your challenge - we'll be watching from around the world.

You can keep up to date with the rest of Paolo's 30 day challenge by following @swimsmoothdubai on Instagram and Facebook.

Are you thinking of doing a challenge like this? We'd love to hear about it! Email us on hello@swimsmooth.com or message us on Instagram or Facebook


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Become The Best Version Of Your Swimming Self

When you look at elite swimmers in action you see incredible variation in how they move through the water. Here's five areas of stroke technique where there's almost no consistency in how elite swimmers swim* :

Kick power - varying between a powerful 6 beat kick, continuous gentle flutter or 2 beat switch kick.

Head position - looking forwards, straight down at the bottom of the pool or anywhere in-between.

Length of stroke - ranging from 28 to 60 strokes per 50m!

Stroke rate (cadence) - ranging from 60 to 120 strokes per minute!

Arm recovery style - a low hand with a classical high elbow, high-and-swinging arm or anywhere in between.

It's not just elite swimmers though, if you watch the better swimmers in your local pool you'll also see the same variation.

Many coaches have a preferred stroke style that they like the look of and try to guide all their swimmers in that direction. Often (but not always) they are aiming for a high elbow arm recovery, powerful kick and a long stroke. But if you've tried that and are frustrated at your progress then likely it's just not right for you.

The fact is that a coach's aesthetic preference is actually pretty irrelevant. And in a sense, your own preference is too. Your individual height, strength, build, flexibility, experience and even personality combine to create the swimmer you are and for the most part you can't change that.


Your goal shouldn't be to try and become something you're not. Instead use Swim Smooth coaching to work on areas of your stroke technique that always matter:

- Sitting high in the water.

- Using a straight legged kick with a slight softness at the knee.

- A strong smooth exhalation under the water.

- Pressing the water straight back behind you from the front to the rear of the stroke.

- Developing rhythm and purpose.

Do that and you will naturally evolve to become the best version of your swimming self.


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Five *Super Simple* Tips To Develop Your Freestyle

If you are new to swimming freestyle (or front crawl) everything can seem a bit overwhelming with so many things to think about. For that reason it's really important to keep things super-simple when developing your stroke.

Here's five basic Swim Smooth visualisations to try, each focusing on a different part of the stroke.

Remember, only focus on one thing at once to see how it feels before moving on to the next:


Blow Those Bubbles!

When you are swimming face down it's important to continuously blow out into the water between breaths to the side. This gets rid of the CO2 build up in your system and it means when you rotate to the side to breathe you only have to inhale in the short window available, not exhale and then inhale.

Visualise a smooth long exhalation through either the nose or mouth (whichever feels more natural). Here's Olympian Jono Van Hazel blowing those bubbles into the water as he swims:


What to look for: Less tension in your body and better stamina. Blowing bubbles is quite noisy too!


Straight Legs And Brush Your Toes

A gentle leg kick will help lift you high in the water but it's easy to burn a lot of energy and create a lot of drag with poor kicking technique.

To counter this think about keeping your legs straight as you swim. Point your toes as you kick gently and tap your big toes together as they pass.

What to look for: Less oxygen demand and more easy progress through the water.


Good Clearance Over The Surface

How you should recover your arms over the surface of the water is a debate that has rumbled on between swim coaches for decades. But the most important thing to remember is to keep that forward carry nice and relaxed, and try to get good clearance between your hand and the surface. If your hand and elbow are too low you might notice they hit the surface, lane rope or clash with other swimmers.


What to look for: An easy movement over the water, you might notice this challenging your range of motion in your chest, shoulder and lats.


Press Water Straight Backwards To The Wall Behind You

OK, now we're talking about creating forward propulsion through the water. From the very front of your arm stroke to the very back we're fundamentally trying to press the water backwards in order to push ourselves forwards. Push down, up or to the side and you are just wasting effort.

Visualise having a smiley face drawn on the palm of your hand and as you swim keep focused on it facing to the wall behind you:


More on this in our previous blog post: feelforthewater.com/2020/07/use-smiley-face-to-improve-your-swimming.html

What to look for: An easy and direct feeling to your pull through.


Keep A Sense Of Rhythm

Sometimes when we are working on our swimming we can get quite robotic in our movements as we're concentrating so hard. But fundamentally swimming should be fluid and rhythmical.

Try and swim with a sense of purpose and rhythm, perhaps turning your arms over a little faster than you might be used to. If your cadence is normally a bit on the slow side then speeding it up slightly can feel easier, not harder (counter-intuitive we know).

The ultimate tool to work on your rhythm is a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro in mode 3. Just place under your swim cap and swim to the beep (a bit like a metronome for musicians).

What to look for: An enjoyable connection with the water and a sensation of moving quicker without any additional effort.


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Introducing the 45 minute "Dense Mist" Session

During the pandemic many pools around the world are operating on an hourly rotation, giving you 45-50 minutes in the water then emptying the pool and ushering you out of the changing rooms before the end of the hour. This allows a clean break between groups of swimmers in the pool, which is clearly a good idea to limit the spread of Covid19. However it does also limit the training time you have available in the water.

Seamus Bennet, our coach in Suffolk in the UK would normally run a highly popular Red Mist session every week for his swimmers, taking somewhere between 60 and 80 minutes. With his squad limited to this 45 minute turnaround he wanted to get as much of the training benefits of Red Mist as he could in this much shorter time slot.

His solution was to invent the "Dense Mist" session, here's the key elements:

- Get into the water as quickly as possible and swim "gun to tape" making the most of the allowable time.

- No drills or unnecessary equipment - get straight into the action.

- Given that the session is shorter you can swim a little quicker than a Red Mist session, around CSS pace. (Red Mist pace is normally CSS + 3-5 seconds per 100).

- Just like Red Mist, keep recovery times really short to maximise time swimming.

Since Tuesday's date was 20-10-20 he designed the session to be a series of 200s, then 100s, then back to the 200s. Here's the whiteboard for each of the 6 lanes:


Note the "TT" turnaround times for each lane. This is the turnaround time for each of the swims before setting off for the next one - set according the lane's ability level so they get between 10 and 20 seconds rest.

Notice how Seamus has actually reduced the turn-around time on the second set of 200s - this is a classic Red Mist session strategy, increasing the pace as the session goes on!

We know many of you are facing similar challenges with pool space and session timings, so we wanted to share this simple, no equipment session with you. So why not give it a go? We're certain you'll enjoy it as much as the Swim Smooth Suffolk squad. 

Here's the basic session:

3 x 200m (target CSS pace + 20s recovery)

10 x 100m (target CSS pace + 15s recovery)

3 x 200m (target CSS pace + 10s recovery)

We'd love to hear how you get on! Be sure to tag @swimsmooth and @swim_smooth_suffolk

To find our more about Seamus or to hear more about Swim Smooth Suffolk's sessions, head to their website: swimsmooth-suffolk.co.uk


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This Diesel Engine Is Just Getting Started

Have you noticed that most swim sessions are very stop-start in nature? They tend to include lots of short swims with significant recovery between each? Swim-rest-swim-rest-swim-rest. Stopping every 100m is fine in training if you are only racing over 50 or 100m but how about if you are a distance swimmer, an open water swimmer or triathlete?

Can you imagine preparing for a half marathon with every workout consisting of running for 45-90 seconds and then stopping for a rest? You could probably run pretty quickly like this but come race day you would have very little endurance and badly under-perform as a result. And yet traditional swim coaching offers this approach to everyone.

At Swim Smooth we often talk about your fitness as like either a petrol engine or a diesel engine. A petrol engine is high revving and able to put out a lot of power over a short period of time. With this sort of fitness you would be able to sprint well over short distances but quickly slow once you are beyond 400m.

Rory proudly wears our Diesel Swimming
Engine shirt after swimming the
mighty 19.7km Rottnest Channel
On the other hand someone who is a diesel engine can't sprint so quickly (in fact they may have trouble sprinting at all) but they are able to sustain a strong pace over a long distance. Clearly this is the sort of fitness you need for distance and open water swimming.

If you think about it this difference has to exist otherwise Usain Bolt (a classic petrol engine) would also hold the marathon world record. In fact, although Usain is an incredible athlete and the greatest sprinter who ever lived, he'd be a very average marathon runner at best.

Of course everyone has a genetic predisposition somewhere on the petrol-diesel spectrum. You might be a natural petrol engine or natural diesel or somewhere in between but the point is that you can develop either fitness type by focusing on it with the right sort of training.


Starting Up Your Diesel Engine

Training for swimming events of 400m or longer requires you to train like a distance athlete. This is especially true if you are only swimming two or three times a week, which is typical for a triathlete. With so "little" time swimming, your training sets need to be entirely focused on developing your diesel engine with very little time spent swimming above threshold pace.

Compared to traditional swim sessions, training that develops your diesel engine requires longer swims with less recovery between. Of course you won't be sustaining the same speeds as you would over short distances but don't worry you'll still be working hard and feeling the burn.

Swim Smooth has two main types of session aimed at developing your diesel engine - CSS sessions and Red Mist sessions.

CSS sessions (you can find an entire library of them in the Guru here) focus on your ability to sustain a strong pace over events from 800m to 3 km. They are intense and require mental focus to swim at a strong sustained pace without blowing up and slowing down.

Red Mist sessions (library in the Guru here) focus on your ability to swim 4km and further at a strong pace. Perfect for longer events these session often get progressively faster through the session to challenge you mentally as well as physically. This highlights that a key component of a diesel engine is your mental fortitude to sustain hard work, which is just as important to train as the capacity of your aerobic system.

If you are swimming up to 3 times per week then choose either a CSS or Red Mist session as your main fitness workout of the week. If you swim 4 times or more then you have time to swim one of each per week, just space them at least 2 days apart to recover between.


Technique, Fitness And Your Stroke "Falling Apart"

If your diesel fitness is at a very low level then you may feel like your stroke starts to fall apart once you swim further than 100 or 200m. It might feel like you have a problem controlling your movements and so assume this is a coordination problem. It isn't. In fact you are simply experiencing fatigue at the speed at which you are swimming. As fatigue comes in you struggle to complete each stroke, so your stroke shortens, so your body roll reduces and you start to fight the water.

The solution here isn't more short technique swims to practise your technique. The solution is to slow down slightly, swim further and keep your recoveries short. After a few weeks you will find you can sustain your stroke technique over progressively longer and longer distances. In fact if you build an extremely strong diesel engine then you won't feel like you are really getting started until 1000m or more!

Of course stroke technique is important (and much of Swim Smooth's coaching philosophy is dedicated to stroke development) but equally important is fitness, and the right sort of the fitness at that.

It forces us to ask the question: is swim fitness your weakness, not technique?


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When Wrong Feels Right - Part 2

Back in 2016 we posted our classic blog Why A Good Catch Is So Elusive: Wrong Can Feel Right - if you missed it first time around it's well worth a read, it's one of those posts we refer swimmers back to time and time again.

The post discusses the front of your stroke during the catch and explains why searching too hard for a "solid" attachment to the water can lead to you pressing down, to the side or even forwards on the water when you should be aiming to press it backwards:


That's the front of your stroke but in a similar way we need to be careful at the back too.

If you have tried to lengthen out your stroke then you might have put a lot of emphasis on finishing the stroke strongly with a big push on the water at the rear. Certainly if your stroke is too short and lacking rotation then a little more emphasis on finishing at the rear might be a good thing, however like anything in stroke technique, it's possible to over-do this.

The goal with your arm stroke under the water is to press the water back to the wall behind you in order to propel you forwards. That's true at all points in the underwater stroke: be it at the front, under your shoulders, body or at the rear by your hips. 

As your hand finishes the stroke at the rear it is actually very difficult to apply a lot of pressure on the water with your hand. This is because biomechanically you are reaching the end of your range of motion and it's difficult to match the speed of the water as you move through it.

If you are trying to feel a solid push on the water then very likely you are pressing the water upwards at the rear:



This is wasteful because pressing up does nothing to propel you forwards but worse than that it acts to push your legs downwards. As a result either your legs sink (creating a huge amount of drag) or you must kick very hard to keep your legs up (wasting huge amounts of energy).

So we definitely don't want to be pressing up, but how should we finish the underwater stroke?

For the answer, check out Olympian Jono Van Hazel's brilliant technique:





Notice how he has angled his hand so the palm faces directly backwards, then as he reaches the end of his travel he turns the palm inwards to neatly complete the stroke. In this way he has maximised his press backwards without pressing upwards at all.

This is great technique but it actually creates *less* pressure on the palm than pressing upwards. Make this change in your own stroke and it might actually feel wrong because of the reduction in pressure.

One more thing to notice, at the rearmost point of his stroke Jono's elbow is still slightly bent:


That's because there's almost nothing to gain from those last few centimetres of his stroke - he's better off recovering the arm forwards to get more quickly into the next stroke. Plus reaching as far backwards as possible would involve locking the elbow out straight which puts a lot of stress on the joint, commonly leading to medial epicondylitis (tennis elbow) in swimmers.

So the next time you swim, by all means focus on the rear of your stroke but instead of maximising your push, focus on the palm facing the wall behind you before neatly turning the hand in to finish. Do that smoothly and continuously and you should feel a nice sense of rhythm and speed developing in your stroke.


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What To Do In A Quick Lunchtime Swim

As much as we'd all love limitless training time, the reality is that you might just need to squeeze in a quick swim as and when you can around your busy life.

Covid has made that even more the case as many pools now strictly limit your allocated time slot in the water and that could be as short as 30 minutes.

With that in mind Swim Smooth have created 6 super-simple sessions in the Swim Smooth Guru designed to give maximum results in the shortest time possible. Each is around 2000m in length and cuts straight to the action with minimum drills and equipment.

Check them out in the Guru here (subscription required):

www.swimsmooth.guru/sequence/cOP/quick-n-easy-lunchtime-swims/


Let's get in and going - no messing

Sure a quick swim is not going to transform your fitness quite like a ripping Red Mist set but if it's the choice between a quick session and sitting at your computer over your lunch break, this is certainly going to be the better option!

And we've got a feeling you'll enjoy the simplicity of these sets in contrast with some of the more detailed fitness and technique sessions you might have been swimming.

Enjoy!

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Why Do Sprinters Use A Straighter Arm Pull?

Noa Markou just asked us a great question on Instagram:

I read your article (www.feelforthewater.com/2012/08/bent-it-like-becky.html) and would greatly value your opinion on the following. It states that an elbow bend of around 110° offers the most propulsion. If that is the case, why do sprinters who need maximum propulsion catch with straight arms? Thank you for any feedback...

That's a great question thanks Noa! Let's unpack:

Firstly, you are right to say that we recommend a bend at the elbow of between 100 and 120° to give you the most effective propulsion. Here's double Olympic Gold Medallist Rebecca Adlington demonstrating this position, her stroke being right in the sweet-spot with an elbow bend of 110°:


Becky is a distance swimmer specialising in longer distance events such as 800m.

As you point out though, often sprinters focusing on short races such as 50 and 100m pull through with a slightly straighter arm than that (although not completely straight as your question suggests). Here's Mr Smooth himself Jono Van Hazel showing that slightly deeper "sprinter" pull through:


Why does he do that and what's right for your own swimming?

One reason sprinters such as Jono pull through with a straighter arm is so that by doing so they can produce high levels of propulsion whilst moving extremely quickly through the water at 50 seconds per 100m pace or quicker. The straighter arm is like using a bigger gear on the bike, for a given movement at the shoulder the forearm and hand moves more quickly to keep up with the high speed of the water moving past the swimmer.

Although this straighter pull technique can produce more propulsion that doesn't make it better. Inevitably it involves pressing down more on the water at the front of the stroke (see below) which wastes a lot of effort. It also dramatically increases the load on the shoulders meaning you have to be extremely strong in the shoulder muscle groups - so much so that even elite athletes struggle to sustain a deep powerful pull through for more than 100m of swimming.

But there's another related benefit of a deep pull to sprinters we should mention. To get quickly into this position involves moving the hand quickly downwards through the water from the front of the stroke:


That press downwards creates lift, bringing the front of the swimmer higher in the water. Normally we say that's a bad thing because lifting you up at the front sinks you at the rear, creating lots of drag. But over short distances sprinters are able to combine this with an incredibly powerful leg kick which overcomes that downward pressure on the legs to the extent that the rear also lifts high, bringing the whole body higher in the water.

That might sound awesome but don't deliberately introduce this to your own swimming unless you are a sprinter yourself. If you are typical adult swimmer - or high level distance swimmer - you simply won't be able to kick powerfully enough for long enough to employ this technique. And you'll use an incredibly large amount of energy trying to do so.

So why do Swim Smooth recommend a slightly shallower pull through at 100 to 120° of elbow bend? The first reason is that biomechanically it takes the load off your shoulders so that you engage your chest, lats and other back muscles. These are some of the largest muscle groups in the body such that they can sustain the effort over a longer period of time.

Secondly, bending the elbow earlier in the stroke means a much smaller press downwards on the water, meaning less lift at the front and so less sinking of the legs at the rear. The result - much lower drag.

Bear in mind that this is still a very powerful way to pull through the water, the best distance swimmers can sustain 55 to 60 seconds per 100m pace over long distances using this technique and moderate kick power. That's the sort of speed most of us can only dream of!

So to answer Noa's question in a nutshell: although a deeper pull can give more propulsion over 50 to 100m, by using a little more elbow bend you will be able to produce plenty of propulsion over long distances.

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Should You Rotate *Less* When You Breathe?

One of our coaching maxims at Swim Smooth is if something's going to go wrong in your stroke it will go wrong when you breathe.

Here's a common example of that (so common in fact it's very likely to be present in your own stroke to a greater or lesser extent):

The correct amount of rotation in the freestyle stroke is 45-60 degrees through the shoulders and hips:



Here's Eben doing just that:



Unless you have been focusing developing a lot of rotation in your stroke*, it’s unlikely you’ll be rotating much more than 45 degrees, at least on a normal stroke.

Now see what happens to Eben's rotation as he goes to breathe:



Immediately his rotation has increased to around 66 degrees - beyond our recommended maximum of 60 degrees and enough for him to start to lose balance in the water. This over-rotation is caused by his strong desire to stretch to inhale a clear breath of air.

One problem with this over-rotation is that it causes you to unconsciously part your legs to stop yourself flipping onto your back, creating a large scissor kick at the rear of the stroke:



Another is that since it takes slightly longer to rotate further into this position it also adds a delay into your stroke timing, harming your rhythm. You probably won't appreciate this loss of timing but you will feel the improvement once you reduce your breathing rotation.


Try Rotating Less When Breathing

So the next time you swim run a small experiment and focus on rotating slightly less than normal when you go to breathe. Become aware of what your shoulders and hips are doing on breathing and non-breathing strokes, and try and keep the amount of roll about the same.

*Through the 1980s and 90s swim coaches put a lot of emphasis on increasing the rotation in the stroke as much as possible, on every single stroke. If you swam through this era (or have read any swimming books heralding back to that time) then you may be over-rotating on every stroke, not just breathing strokes. As you can see above that's clearly a bad thing for your swimming - in modern swim coaching we teach you to rotate enough (45-60 degrees) but no further!


Think "Sneaky" Breathing

You may notice that rotating less far on a breathing stroke means you have less time to inhale. In fact you might only have time for a "sneaky" breath between strokes. Embrace this - it's how good breathing technique should feel: a long smooth exhalation into the water and then a sneaky inhalation to the side.


Unilateral Breathers

If you only ever breathe to one side when you swim ("unilateral" breathing) then over-rotation is extremely likely to have developed on your breathing side. If you feel the benefits from reducing your rotation when breathing then you know you're onto something good - so make introducing bilateral breathing a priority to help balance out your stroke.


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Meet The World's First All Female Channel Medley Relay Team

Last week, Swim Smooth Manchester coach Lucy Lloyd-Roach and her team broke the world record as the first ever all female English Channel Medley Relay Team. Lucy, Mel, Claire and Sarah started out from Dover at 11pm on 31st August and completed their channel swim in 12 hours and 17 minutes - an incredible effort. Each member of the team completed 60 mins of either, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly or freestyle, had 3 hours of "rest" on the boat and then got back in the water to do it all again. 

When we heard about this fantastic achievement, we couldn't wait to catch up with Lucy. In episode 25 of the Swim Smooth podcast, we hear from this awesome foursome about their training, channel crossing and recovery from such an incredible challenge:

Claire, Mel, Lucy and Sarah - The World's First All-Female Medley Channel Relay Team


Listen on Apple podcasts here: podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/swim-smooth/id1441577778

Or other platforms here: anchor.fm/swimsmooth

We hope you enjoy listening to their journey as much as we did!


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Do You Need To Train To Train?

Here's a good way to think about your training, particularly if you're getting back into your swimming (or any other sort of exercise) after a lockdown lay-off:

We all want to get to a fitness level we've not hit before, to set some big fat PBs. To get to that level you're going to have to do some hard training - executing some great sets and sessions consistently over a solid training block (of perhaps 8-10 weeks).

The thing is, you're not fit enough to execute that training right now and even if you could somehow do each session you'd never recover well enough to absorb the work and for your body to make those adaptations you are looking for. You'd be in pure survival mode.

So, you should be thinking: What training do I need to do to get myself to the level of fitness I need to execute that training block successfully?

Call it "training-to-train".

Keep focused on what you can do right now

Of course if you are coming back from a long break from training (say a pandemic lockdown) then right now you might not even be able to swim a training set without breaking down. So you might need three of even four levels of preparation:

I need 4-6 weeks training to swim proper sets again. Then 8-10 weeks of full sessions to get to a decent base level. Then 8-10 weeks training to build to PB fitness. 

That is "training-to-train-to-train".

This way of thinking means you are really clear on what you are trying to achieve at any moment in time. It gives you both a short term goal (keeping you "in the now") and a long term objective (which is very motivating).

In the good old days coaches used to lay out a periodised plan with a base phase (lots of low intensity work), then build phase (increasing intensity), then event specific work (focused on race pace).

Training-to-train is similar but we're not talking about dramatically changing the types of sessions along the way as you would in a base -> build -> race progression. You can perform very similar sessions for each phase but gradually the sessions get longer and the paces increase slightly with your fitness level. In a way you're always in a "build" phase with the ideal mix of training and technique work to improve as quickly as possible.

See our extensive training plans in the Swim Smooth Guru for the perfect mix of sessions and tools to track your fitness accurately: www.swimsmooth.guru


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Get Inspired (Like We Do) From Swim Smooth's Instagram

It's hard to believe but it's been over 15 years since Swim Smooth started! We've managed to pack a lot in over the years, travelling around the globe many times running swim clinics and coach education courses, competing in open water swimming events and meeting amazing people from the entire spectrum of the swimming world. It's been a blast!

Our inspiration to keep pushing swim coaching forwards comes from everyone in our swimming community. It has been an honour to meet and hear from so many inspirational people on their swimming journey.

Many of these individuals and experiences have been documented on our Swim Smooth Instagram ( @swimsmooth) - here's a quick selection of our favourite posts:


"Super Sue" Trains To Be The Oldest Person To Swim The English Channel

In 2014 in Perth, Sue Oldham was building up to win back her record of being the oldest woman (at 68) to swim the English Channel. The fact that Sue didn't quite complete her crossing is no issue to us - she's a complete inspiration for all who meet her, showing us the age is no barrier to following your dreams.


Access the full post here:  https://www.instagram.com/p/BYKkdLxgeeY/


A True Passion For Swimming And Coaching

Feel the need to upgrade your knowledge and develop your coaching skills? You need to attend our 3 Day Coach Education Course which we operate all around the world.
Mallorca has been a fantastic location for this course the last few years - here's some of the class of 201# showing their true passion for swimming by jumping in the Mediterranean for 2km at dawn before a long day on the pool deck. 


View the full post here:  https://www.instagram.com/p/BUizsenAKa-/


The World Famous Mega Megan!

Mega Megan's has been an inspiration to many with her epic speed improvements training with the Swim Smooth squads in Perth. Check out how she improved in our previous blog post:  www.feelforthewater.com/2014/05/mega-megan-going-from-212-to-132-100m.html

She's still hard at work improving her stroke both in the pool and open water:


Access the full post here:  https://www.instagram.com/p/BetwCbNg2HX/ 


Nike Smooth

This was a definite highlight of our many travels around the world! The 3 day Coach Education Course at the Nike Headquarters in Portland, Oregon for 20 budding swim coaches.
And 5 of our USA Swim Smooth Certified Coaches joined us - a true reflection of their dedication to swimming coaching: 


Access the full post here:  https://www.instagram.com/p/Bv7BRsuDD1a/


Witnessing THAT Breakthrough Feeling!

All our swimmers deserve to get the same feeling that Swim Smooth coach Linda Bostic's swimmer had in her first 1-2-1 video analysis session in Jupiter Florida:


Find your local Swim Smooth coach and achieve your own breakthrough feeling here:  swimsmooth.com/coaches/find-a-coach

And access the full post here:  https://www.instagram.com/p/BzHgrgGhRpH/


Conquering The Channel With Type 1 Diabetes

Bec Johnson swam the 20km Rottnest Channel Swim followed by the Port To Pub swim to raise money for the Type 1 Family Centre in Perth, Australia. She is a regular swimmer in our Perth squad and suffers from Type 1 diabetes herself.

Paul Newsome was honoured to be asked to paddle for Bec during the 20km Rottnest Channel Swim and support her with nutrition and sugar levels for a successful swim. Bec completed the swim in a fantastic time of 6 hours 43 minutes:


Access the full post here:  https://www.instagram.com/p/B82aXoEBx_m/



Want to join and hear more from our swimming community? Like our @swimsmooth instagram page to meet more amazing people like this. 


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Experimenting With Becoming A Swinger

Have you ever watched the swimming at the Olympics or World Championships and noticed how no two strokes are alike? How can some swimmers win their event with a seemingly beautiful "picture perfect" display of technique and finesse, whereas others seem to power on despite their ungainly style? And why do pool swimmers often look so much more elegant than their open water swimming counterparts?

At Swim Smooth we recognise and celebrate two fundamentally different stroke styles in elite swimming - The Smooth and The Swinger.

At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Mack Horton (Australia) took the gold medal in the 400m freestyle and Gregorio Paltrinieri (Italy) took the gold in the 1500m freestyle. Both swimmers are 1.90m in stature but Horton at 88kg is 16kg heavier than than Paltrinieri and covers each 50m pool length in 12 fewer strokes:

Paltrinieri (left) and Horton at the Hamilton Island swim in 2017

At a stroke rate of 66 SPM Horton powers his long, smooth stroke with a very strong 6-beat leg kick. Paltrinieri’s races at 97 SPM and uses a seemingly "lazy" 2-beat kick.

This leads to two wildly different looking strokes, which is made all the more surreal given that they are also best mates! Paltrinieri epitomises the "Swinger" style and Horton the "Smooth".

So, who has the better technique?

Watching both Horton and Paltrinieri swim side by side (as they did in the 1500m where the Italian took gold ahead of Horton in 5th), it would be very easy to admire the seemingly effortless style of Horton and conclude that he was more efficient and that this should be the way that everyone should swim:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttNdDJqCQCQ

However, the 1500m distance arguably provides a truer measure of efficiency in which Paltrinieri was triumphant, despite his stroke looking less elegant. Both swimmers have very effective stroke technique, but swim in ways which suit their own unique make-up.

Experimenting With Becoming A Swinger

We are always taught that to swim well we need excellent technique but could it be that good technique varies from person to person based on such things as your height, your build, your gender, your past swimming experience, your natural physiology and even your personality?

If you've been try to emulate the long smooth stroke style used by Mack Horton but perhaps you are not very tall or maybe you don't have a powerful leg kick then why not introduce a little "Swinger" into the mix and see if it benefits you.

Here's 4 elements to experiment with:

Arm Recovery

Swingers tend to use a more open arm recovery taking their hands higher over the water's surface:

Jonny and Alistair Brownlee recover over the water using a high open style

This is in contrast to the classical high elbow used by Smooths such as Horton. Going higher and more open with your arm recovery will feel a little strange at first so give it a few weeks to "bed in" before judging whether it's working for you.

Catch Timing

Swingers tend to get into their catch quicker than Smooths at the front of the stroke. This makes their propulsion more continuous leaving them less reliant on their leg kick for propulsion (see below).

You don't want to hurry the catch but try to keep the hand always moving at the front of the stroke, either extending, catching the water or pressing backwards. Done right you don't need to apply any more pressure on the water than you normally would.

Stroke Rate

By getting in to your catch more quickly you should find your stroke rate naturally lifts by 3 to 6 SPM. You can try re-enforcing this change using a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro. If you normally swim at 53 SPM then try lifting into the 56-59 SPM range.

You might have quite a lot of "headroom" in your stroke to lift your stroke rate significantly but don't go too high too soon. Make small changes and adjust to them over 4-6 sessions.

Kick Power

Most Swingers use a less powerful kick than Smooths, something they can achieve because their faster stroke rate gives them more continuous propulsion.

Leg kick is a less efficient form or propulsion than the arm stroke, giving the Swinger a key efficiency advantage. However you still need to kick hard enough to keep your legs high in the water or any gain in propulsive efficiency will be overwhelmed by increased drag!


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Understanding PACE - The Key To Improving Your Swimming

 *Pace* is a really important concept to understand in swimming:

A swimming pool is a very controlled environment. Every lap is exactly the same length, there are no hills or head winds and water conditions are very constant. That means, unlike many other sports, that in pool swimming your pace directly relates to the intensity at which you are working.

So by understanding pace and controlling it accurately you can train very precisely, easily see your progress and make some big improvements.

In this blog post we'll dig into this a little deeper and show you some ideas on how Swim Smooth uses pace to fast track your progress.

Understanding Pace

At its most simple level pace is just the speed at which you are swimming. We don't have speedos or GPS in the pool but we know the length of the pool and we have watches and clocks so we measure pace as a time over a given distance.

The convention in swimming is to quote your pace per 100m swam. For instance, 2:00 per 100m pace means you take 2 minutes to swim 100m or 4 minutes per 200m or 20 minutes to swim 1000m. This isn't quite as intuitive as kph or mph but it works really well when you get the hang of it.

Of course the faster you swim, the lower your time is per 100m. So a very strong age group triathlete/swimmer might swim 1500m in 20 minutes - that works out as 1:20 per 100m pace.

Knowing Your Pace

The first thing you need to do is get familiar with your own pace - i.e. your own times per 100m.

These days you can use a smart watch such as a Garmin, Fitbit or Apple Watch to measure your pace for you and look at the numbers afterwards but we'd also encourage you to monitor your pace during your swim sessions. You can do that using the pace clock on the end of the pool which turns over once per 60 seconds:


For instance, time yourself over 50m and double the number to get pace per 100m.

Also examine your pace by swimming with a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro. This is a gadget you set to beep at regular intervals and you wear under your swim cap so you can hear it beep whilst you swim. If you swim in a 25m pool and swim about 2:00 per 100m then try setting it to 0:30 - it will beep once per length (start swimming on a beep to get "in sync" so it beeps as you turn).

The learning begins straight away. If you set off too fast over the first few lengths you will get ahead of the beeper, before slowing down and the beeper catching you back up again. Most swimmers do that and it really harms the quality of your training.

You'll also find it's easy to sustain a fast pace over short distances like 100 or 200m but it's much much harder over 800 or 1500m! So appreciating what pace you can hold over different distances is really useful to know.

Take the time to learn about
your pace when you swim.

Critical Swim Speed

OK so that's the basics but how should you use pace to train effectively for distance swimming?

For that we use something called Critical Swim Speed (CSS for short). If you come from a sport like cycling or running you might be familiar with something called "threshold" and that's exactly what CSS is for swimming.

Simply put, CSS is the fastest pace you can swim for 1500m given your current level of fitness. So if you swim 1500m in 40 minutes, your CSS pace is 2:40 per 100m. Your CSS is a really useful number to know because you should perform swim sets targeting that pace.

At Swim Smooth we also treat CSS as a reference point, setting your training intensity "zones" relative to it. So CSS +5 seconds per 100m would be a relatively steady/aerobic level of intensity. Whilst CSS -3 seconds per 100m would be VO2max pace.

By swimming at or around CSS pace in a structured manner you will make some really big jumps in fitness over a short period of time, especially if you've never trained in this way before. It's not unusual for new swimmers to be 10 seconds faster per 100m after just 4-6 weeks of CSS training.

Finding Your Pace

To get started with CSS training you first need to determine your individual CSS pace. You can do that using the CSS test here: swimsmooth.com/improve/intermediate/css-training

Or enter your results into our more advanced analysis in the Swim Smooth Guru here (subscription required): www.swimsmooth.guru/csstest/

From your results the Guru will predict your times over different events and race distances.

Dial CSS pace into your Tempo Trainer for the first time and you might initially think it feels quite slow! Don't be fooled - it's only slow for the first 100m or so. Swim at CSS pace for sets totalling 1200 to 2000m and you'll feel the burn.

Training With Your CSS

Once you have your CSS pace you are ready to start training with it! Here's some basic sets to try:

6x 200m with 20 seconds recovery between each 200m

3x 400m with 45 seconds recovery between each 400m

12x 100m with 10 seconds recovery between each 100m

For more creative (and fun) sets check out the extensive session library and training plans in the Guru:

www.swimsmooth.guru/subsection/gC/principles/

The Guru also tracks your fitness over time and adjusts your CSS pace for best results, session by session. Genius!


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Five Things To Make Open Water Swimming Easier

Wherever you are in the world you might well be in the situation where your pool is shut but you have access to some safe open water swimming. If you are new to swimming in open water you will find it's a very different environment with a different set of challenges to swimming in the pool.


With that in mind, here's five practical things you can try to help ease that transition from the pool to swimming in the great outdoors. Give them a try next time you swim!



1. Experiment With A Straighter Arm Recovery


If you watch elite open water swimmers and triathletes at work, you'll see that nearly all use a straighter arm recovery to a greater or lesser extent. In a wetsuit this takes the load off the shoulder muscles and when swimming in disturbed water (created by a field of swimmers) a straighter arm gives you more clearance and stops the hand catching on chop.


The arm doesn't need to be bolt straight - opening it out a little at the elbow can make all the difference. Carolyn demonstrates here:




2. Experiment With A Higher Stroke Rate


Swimming with a faster cadence is especially useful in disturbed water as it helps you punch through waves and chop more efficiently. This needn't be harder work - it's a bit like spinning a smaller gear on the bike - each stroke is less effort but you take more of them.


Think about getting into your catch a little quicker at the front of the stroke to lift your rate. This is quite subtle (it's easy to lift things too high and start fighting the water) so we recommend using a Tempo Trainer Pro in stroke rate mode and experiment with lifting your stroke rate by 5-6 SPM in a controlled way.


The best open water swimmers is the world mix up their stroke rate when racing, lengthening out their stroke in flat conditions and shortening the stroke subtly when things get a bit rougher.



3. Breathe Bilaterally


Oh god really? Yes! Breathing to both sides can make a huge difference to the symmetry of your stroke - and stroke symmetry means swimming straighter!


You can work on your swim fitness and stroke technique to the cows come home but if you can't swim straight in open water you will throw all your gains and much more besides. We know from GPS tracking and drone footage that age group triathletes can easily swim 10% or even 20% too far by swimming off course. Even if you are a few seconds per 100m slower breathing bilaterally you can gain this back and much more from swimming straighter.


It's so important to be adaptable in open water. For instance have you noticed how most open water swims and triathlon courses are anti-clockwise courses? If you can't breathe to the left then you're going to have a lot of trouble judging your position against the line of the buoys.



4. Focus On Your Exhalation


Most of us experience some level of anxiety when swimming in open water, it's only natural. That obviously makes open water swimming less enjoyable in itself but anxiety also leads us to instinctively hold our breath underwater.


Holding your breath causes CO2 to build up in your system, that feels uncomfortable and can easily trigger a panic attack. The solution to this viscous circle? For the first 5 to 10 minutes of your swim simply focus on blowing out smoothly underwater between breaths. CO2 levels will drop and you'll soon have things back under control again: breath-bubble-bubble-breath! 


Just like your best yoga-breathing technique, a smooth controlled exhalation will calm your sympathetic nervous system and bring the pleasure back into swimming outdoors.



5. Include A little Sighting Practise


Getting good at sighting is important - the key is to be able to look forwards comfortably without undue effort and without interrupting the flow of your stroke. The very best way to develop this technique is in the pool, sighting forwards regularly when you swim. Try sighting once per length at a random distance down the pool, picking out an object like a clock to read the time.


The key to good sighting technique is to not lift your head too high above the surface, just lift the eyes above the surface...



...and then immediately rotate to breathe to the side.


Read our dedicated post on this technique here: www.feelforthewater.com/2011/06/how-to-sight-correctly-in-open-water.html



Bringing It All Together


For one brilliant demonstration of how to bring all these elements together check out Swim Smooth Coach Anna-Karin's beautiful open water stroke:


Watch the full clip here:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LDbps7O5Ps

This is a brilliant clip to watch just before you head into open water. Picture her stroke as you swim and feel yourself moving smoothly through the water.


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Get An *Online* Swim Smooth Video Analysis Of Your Swimming

Need help with your stroke technique? Did you know you can now beat the lockdown and book in for an Online Video Analysis with a Swim Smooth Certified Coach of your choice. This full analysis includes a 30 minute Zoom call with your coach!

Find our exactly what's holding you back in the water, whatever your ability level.


Follow these four simple steps to get world-class feedback on your stroke technique from one of our 50 coaches around the world, who are ready and waiting to help you out: 


STEP 1 - Find/Take Video Footage of Your Swimming

If you have access to a pool or open water, head down there to get some footage of your swimming (see here to see angles needed). If you are unable to get to the pool, but have previous footage of your swimming, send it in to our coaches and you'll be amazed at how much they can help you with your stroke.


STEP 2 - Upload Your Video To Our Online Video Analysis Website

Follow the link here, to upload your video footage to our website. If you have taken multiple angles/videos you will need to use the software we recommend on our website to splice them together.


STEP 3 -  Choose Your Coach And Send Off Your Video

Select the coach that is nearest to you and then select a suitable time for the analysis to take place. Choosing a coach that is near will make it easier to find a time that suits both of you as there will be less of a time difference. The coach will then take a look through your video and prepare for the full analysis using a zoom call with you.


STEP 4 - Introduce The Changes Recommended By Your Coach

The next time you're back in the water starting working on the improvements to your stroke technique recommended by your coach and take some large strides forwards in speed and efficiency:


As part of this service your coach will talk you through performing specific drills
to focus on important elements of your individual stroke technique.




Questions about this service? Let us know on customerservice@swimsmooth.com and we'll get right back to you.


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