Friday, May 28, 2010

Are You A Swinger?

Do you know the type of swimmer in the fast lane of your squad with the not-so pretty but very effective stroke? He's the guy or girl who breaks all the 'rules' of swimming - they have a short stroke and a fast turnover, sometimes they seem to fight the water and yet they swim very quickly indeed. Much quicker than many of the middle lane swimmers trying to glide along. Somehow they seem to keep this up for longer and go further - without complaint - than much more stylish swimmers! How can this be?

We call this type of swimmer a 'Swinger' - because fundamental to their stroke is less body roll than someone with a classical long smooth stroke. This means their arms have to swing more around the side rather than over the top.

Other characteristics of a classic Swinger are:

- Often a quite asymmetrical (lopsided) stroke
- A high stroke rate with lots of rhythm
- No deadspots or pauses
- A slightly rushed catch, often hindered by a thumb first entry
- A high head position looking forwards
- A tendency to cross over at the front of their stroke
- Minimal leg kick - the legs often seem to just trail behind being towed along
- Likes to get on with it and swim fast all the time
- Goes very well in open water
- Often has an outgoing, easygoing, personality

Important: don't confuse Swingers with some of the guys and girls who share many of the same 'flaws' in their stroke but are much slower and less proficient. This is a different type of swimmer.

The fascinating thing about Swingers is how amazingly fast they can become. Many of the world's best open water swimmers have a refined version of this stroke and even some of the best pool swimmers do too. The vast majority of pro-triathletes are Swingers also (sometimes not that refined!).

To become quicker, a Swinger shouldn't lengthen out and glide in their stroke, that would be throwing away their fundamental strength - the rhythm and momentum in their stroke. By gliding they would end up being less efficient and slower as a result. Instead, the unrefined Swinger should work on improving their alignment to remove that crossover and set themselves up for a better catch and pull. Taking a fraction longer over the catch - and not rushing through it - will improve their hold on the water. They might also like to formalise their kick a little into a more rhythmical, defined, two-beat action.

At Swim Smooth we believe that everyone's different and when we swim we are different again. To this end we've been beavering away on a new project to explain your individuality. It explains why some swimmers respond to slowing down and lengthening out their strokes whilst for others it's entirely the wrong thing to do. It shows you why some swimmers are quicker in a wetsuit while others are slower - and how to fix that. In every instance it shows you have to improve whether you're struggling to swim a lap or if you already swim like Mr Smooth  And, of course, it explains how Swingers do what they do and whether you have the make-up to consider throwing your keys into that particular pot.

Don't worry, in true Swim Smooth style we've worked hard to make things easy to understand and easy to act on. We're very excited about how it will help your swimming and can't wait to properly launch the system to you very soon. Damn we feel quite emotional!

Swim Smooth!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Swimming Faster And Straighter In Open Water

We're going to follow on this week from last week's interesting data about just how far off course it is possible to swim in open water race.

We know from all your emails, posts and forum questions how fascinating you found the article. This week we're going to give you some pointers on how to swim much faster in open water but first some more GPS data from another swimmer also in the Busselton Half Ironman. As you can see, a much straighter swim than Dan managed - 330m shorter in fact, over a 1900m straight-line swim :

For this swimmer, 330m equates to approximately five minutes!


1) Learn To Put Your Wetsuit On Properly

Sounds simple but most swimmers don't put on their wetsuit properly. Watch this demonstration video of how to do it - by shoe-horning plenty of material up the limbs towards the body. This dramatically reduces the restriction around the shoulders, reducing effort and freeing up your stroke.

2) Overcome Anxiety

Anxiety in open-water is normally caused by extrinsic factors in the watery environment around you - depth, cold, not being able to see far (if at all!) and having other swimmers in close proximity to you. All of these factors lead to the same physical response - holding your breath.

Holding your breath immediately increases the anxiety further, things start to feel out of control and you may even feel a sense of panic. For many triathletes, their race is off to a very bad start - or even finishes there and then.

Focus on intrinsic factors that you can control, the most important of which is remembering to exhale into the water. Check this throughout your next open water race, particularly if you're feeling anxious or panicky out there.

3 Swim Straight

To swim straight you need a symmetrical stroke and the natural way to become symmetrical is with bilateral breathing in training. Quite possibly not what you wanted to hear if you struggle to breathe bilaterally!

The straighter you can swim naturally, the less you will veer off course and the less often you will have to sight. That's good because every time you sight it requires an increase in effort and a loss efficiency.

Learn how to conquer bilateral breathing here:

4 Master The Art Of Sighting

You may think that sighting is as simple as lifting your head to look forward and see where you are going but it needs a great deal of skill to do it well. The world's best triathletes and open-water swimmers can sight without disrupting the rhythm of their stroke or their body position in the water, and this is key.

Here's the correct technique: Time your sighting to happen just before you're going to take a breath. Lift your eyes out of the water by pressing down lightly on the water with your lead arm (in this example your right). Only lift up enough to get your eyes just out of the water. Your left arm will have now started recovering over the water, as it does so, turn your head to the right with your body to breathe. As you do so, let your head drop down in the water to a normal breathing position. See a video clip of Ceinwen Williams using this technique to great effect here.

You can of course master this technique in the pool. Make it more race-realistic by practising in your quality swim sets when your heart rate and effort levels are high!

5 Draft Better

Drafting is swimming directly behind, or to the side and slightly behind, another swimmer. Studies show this saves 18 to 25% of the energy expenditure of swimming. In a race it makes perfect sense to capitalize on this source of free speed.

When it comes to drafting, once again practise makes perfect. If you want to become good at drafting then you need to devote training time to it. Look at drafting either as a way of swimming faster than normal by sitting on the toes of someone faster than yourself. Or, by swimming behind someone of the same speed as you, leaving yourself super-fresh for the bike and run.

Get together with some training buddies and take turns leading and drafting behind and to the side. Again, harder swims are a great way to simulate race stresses. In our squad sessions in Perth we regularly organise swimmers into groups of three or four of similar speed. Rotating the group every 100m or so, it's the lead swimmer's job to try and drop the guys behind - great for your skill development and great fun too! (of course, if you hire some lanes you can have even more fun)

These points are a summary of our full article: 5 Tips To Swim Better In Triathlon And Open Water

Swim Smooth!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What's The Easiest Way To Take Ten Minutes Out Of Your Swim Split?

Here's some fascinating GPS data from one of our Perth squad members, Daniel Tarborsky. Dan's raced with his Garmin GPS under his swim cap for three of his major races this season just gone, recording the exact path he took. Let's see how he got on!

Busselton Half Ironman, May 2010:


  • Distance travelled from Garmin (inc run in & out): 2.33km
  • Straight line distance (inc run in & out): 1.98km
  • Distance extra swam: 0.35km
  • Percentage extra swam: 18%
  • Calculated time lost from swimming extra distance: 10 minutes exactly!

Port MacQuarie Ironman Australia, April 2010:

  • Distance travelled from Garmin (inc run in & out): 4.13km
  • Straight line distance (inc run in & out): 3.84km
  • Distance extra swam: 0.29km
  • Percentage extra swam: 8%

Hillary's Sprint Triathlon, April 2010:


  • Distance travelled from Garmin (inc run in & out): 1.02km
  • Straight line distance (inc run in & out): 0.82km
  • Distance extra swam: 0.20km
  • Percentage extra swam: 24%

It's easy to see the huge scope for losing time from poor navigation in triathlon and open water swim races. Whilst some of the extra distances measured by the GPS may be due to swell motion and currents, it's clear that most of it is from straying off course. We know that because the pro athlete splits for these races were exactly the pace you'd expect them to swim.

Food for thought? If we wrote a Blog post about how we could improve your stroke technique and take ten minutes out of your swim split you'd hang off our every word! And yet, most triathletes never develop or practise their navigation and sighting skills. Until now we've never been able to accurately track how a swimmer travels in open water - and this probably explains the lack of focus on open water skills. A swimmer can measure their 100m time or count their strokes per length and so spends a lot of focus on these metrics - "what gets measured gets done!".

We're now rapidly approaching the northern hemisphere race season. If you are looking to get the best out of yourself in the water we strongly recommend you devote one of your weekly swims towards open water skills. The ideal way to do this is to train in open water in a group, however you can work on your sighting and drafting skills in the pool too.

A special thanks to Dan for being a great sport and sharing his data with us.

Swim Smooth!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Announcing Swim Smooth UK Clinics: June 2010

Swim Smooth are excited to announce seven UK clinics in Birmingham, Stirling, Bolton and Maidenhead in June. We are currently finalising a venue for a further clinic in the North East. If you are a swimmer or triathlete looking to improve your speed and efficiency in the water, book your place now:

** Our previous clinic series in January filled up in 48 hours - please don't hesitate to book your place! **

A Swim Smooth clinic is a full day of focused development of your individual stroke technique with Swim Smooth coaches Paul Newsome and Adam Young.

Each clinic includes:

- Detailed video footage of your stroke above and below the water which you will take away with you on DVD.

- A full analysis of your stroke by Head Coach Paul Newsome. You'll come away with a clear understanding of what's currently holding you back and exactly what you need to do to improve your swimming speed and efficiency.

- Unique interactive classroom sessions that explain the fundamentals of the freestyle stroke, exactly why common problems occur and how to fix them. We'll cross reference this to your own stroke and in doing so explain how to adapt your individual technique for best performance in open water.

- How to develop a swimming program to suit your needs and how to get the most out of your pool time.

- Two practical swimming sessions focusing on developing your stroke. Paul and Adam will show you exactly how to fix the problem areas of your technique. You'll be given all the drills, methods and visualisations you need specific to your individual stroke, which you'll practice under our guidance.

- A mini squad session showing you how to implement our unique technique methods into a 'normal' training session.

The clinics are suitable for any ability of swimmer who can swim 200m of freestyle continuously; from beginner up to advanced level. Each clinic is strictly limited to twelve swimmers to ensure you get plenty of individual attention to your stroke needs.

Demand is expected to be very high - please don't delay in booking your place:

We hope to meet you in person in June.


Swim Smooth!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Interview With Wetronome User: Olympic Coach Ben Titley

We're very pleased to bring you a bit of insight from the elite swimming world this week. Our interview below is with British Olympic Swimming Coach Ben Titley. We quizzed him about his philosophies, training methods and if he had any tips for more modest level swimmers:

SS: Hi Ben, welcome to Swim Smooth, we're very glad you could join us today.

BT: My pleasure, thanks for having me on!

SS: Ben, your coaching credentials are very impressive for such a young coach - you've coached many of Britain's finest swimmers. Could you give us a brief résumé?

BT: Sure! My swimmers have included: Liam Tancock (World Champion, WR Holder, C'wealth Champion, European Medallist), James Gibson (World, C'wealth & European Champion, European Record Holder), Melanie Marshall (World, European & C'wealth Medallist, European Record Holder), Francesca Halsall (World, European & C'wealth Medallist, European Record Holder), Elizabeth Simmonds (World, European Medallist, European Record Holder), Caitlin McClatchey (World, European Medallist, Double C'wealth Champion), Therese Alshammar (World Record Holder, World Champion), Ross Brett (World, European, C'wealth Medallist), Kate Haywood (World, European and C'wealth Medallist), Julia Beckett (World, European, C'wealth Medallist), Ross Davenport (World, European Medallist, C'wealth Champion), Matt Bowe (European & C'wealth Medallist), Sara Hopkins (European Medallist), Karen Lee (Olympian), Emma Robinson (Olympian)

In total have coached 11 Olympians and a total of over 300 national records broken.

Coached on 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 World LC Championships
Coached on 1998, 2002, 2006 (& 2010) C'wealth games
Coached on 2004 & 2008 Olympic Games (Head Coach in 2008)
Coached on 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005 World University Games

SS: Ben, that's hugely impressive - how do you find time to sleep?!

BT: Thats easy, I get pretty tired!

SS: Being part of the High Performance Centre at the Loughborough University you have access to some of the world's finest coaching and sports science support. Can you tell us a little bit about your application of sports science and how you feel this helps your swimmers work towards their goals?

BT: We have a great support system here with Physio, video analysis, nutrition, strength & conditioning etc. I like to know a bit about them all as I feel it is important for me to be involved in a holistic approach to improving my athletes. However, I am smart enough to know that we have people who know way more than me in these areas and so I usually go with what they say! I would also say that i am far more a believer in 'practical or thinking' sports science. I put my faith far more in people's current and future views than I do of 'book' sports science...we need to be forward thinking.

SS: Can you tell us one thing that you do with your coaching to keep the spark, interest and fun there for you and your swimmers? Your swimmers are doing a huge volume of weekly hours so presumably you do something to spice things up and keep it entertaining?

BT: Everything is performance focussed and as specific to the individual as possible, we don't do lots of meters if it doesn't suit the athlete and we use quite a lot of kit to keep challenging the athlete's engagement and thought processes, its real important they think!

SS: You seem to really enjoy innovation within coaching and admire new ideas and ways of thinking inspired by other coaches around the world. Can you give us a sneaky-peek into some of the innovative techniques you apply within your program on a regular basis?

BT: No big secrets... treat the athlete as an individual, be specific with regards to performance, and make them think for themselves.

SS: (Aside) Last year British Swimming purchased 60 Wetronomes for their elite swim program, as did Australian Swimming. These little guys help a swimmer work on developing their stroke rates by setting an audible beep that the swimmer can follow. The coach or swimmer can then change this rate as they see fit and depending upon their objectives.

Ben, can you tell us a little bit about the work you have done with your elite swimmers with respect to their stroke rates? How important is it as a coach for you to monitor and develop this aspect of their swimming?

BT: We use it for Liam Tancock with regard to targeting specific points of his race, i.e. rate of 57 (114 SPM) for the 1st 25m, rate of 54 (108 SPM) for the 2nd 50m. We also use it for reduced rate work, focussing on DPS (Distance Per Stroke) at sub maximal rates, kind of like they do in rowing.

SS: And how well tuned do your athletes feel to their stroke rate and how this affects their economy?

BT: The athletes get very good at 'feeling' their stroke rates and get a good idea of where a comfortable rate is for them. About 9 months ago I did a set with Francesca Halsall where we changed the rate on a set of pace work... she felt most comfortable at speed with a rate of 57 (114 SPM), this correlated with what her target first 25m section of her 100 free is.

SS: What role does 'Distance Per Stroke' play within an elite swim program?

BT: Distance per stroke is super important. Most of my athletes tend to be higher rating athletes, so it is super important that we keep a focus on the length also, its a balancing act.

SS: Do you find any noticeable difference between stroke rates in a short course (SC) 25m pool compared to in a 50m pool for the same swimmer, doing the same stroke, over the same distance?

BT: Swimmers would usually be able to maintain a higher stroke rate SC as the added speed off the walls allows them to keep a bit more momentum, also they probably swim in reality quite a bit less!

SS: How about the open water? Care to share any thoughts and ideas on how working with stroke rate may help our triathlete and open water swimming community out there?

BT: Not really my speciality but I would say that finding a comfortable tempo which you can sustain would be a very economical way of swimming for longer distances. I would think it is probably one of the main areas these athletes should work on.

SS: Have you had chance to check out the Wetronome's new lap interval function yet which is great for accurate pace judgement for distance swimmers in particular? Have any of your swimmers found they typically set-off too fast in harder sets and time trials like our swimmers do?

BT: This is something we constantly work on, and I'm sure for athletes training longer distances this would be very useful. For me personally my athletes need to be a little bit more precise (i.e. 25.6 sec then 27.2 sec) so we haven't really used this function too much as of yet but I'm sure in the future we will for longer, sub maximal repeats.

SS: Can you tell us a little bit about your ideas on developing individuals from a stroke technique perspective? How important do you believe it to be to work on a swimmer's strengths without necessarily feeling like you have to mould them to a norm?

BT: All I can say is treat athletes as individuals. Always have 'performance' as the first thought in your mind when training or coaching and know that it is normal for people to not be 'normal'! What works for one athlete, or what motivates a certain athlete, could be the complete opposite for the next one through your door! Hold on to your principles but understand the world is changing before our eyes.

SS: Ben, thanks so much for your time - best of luck with everything, especially the Commonwealth Games and then London 2012. I'm sure all our UK readers will be eagerly watching the progress of your swimmers, especially in London!

BT: No problem, thanks again for having me on and good luck to all those aquatic athletes out there.

--- Interview Ends ---

You can find out more about the Wetronome here:

Swim Smooth!