Friday, November 25, 2011

The Two Classic Mistakes Swimmers Make When Swim Training

As an open water swimmer or a triathlete you should be training as a distance swimmer, looking to develop your fitness for best performance over distances of 800m and longer. There are two classic mistakes swimmers make with respect to this:

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1) In their training sets swimmers perform short very fast swims with lots of recovery - this sort of set is commonly used by masters squads, a set might be 15x 100m with 45 seconds recovery. This is good training if you are a sprinter looking for best performances in races up to 200m in length. However as a distance swimmer this sort of training is too fast with too much recovery.

2) Swimmers do not train at all believing that stroke technique is all important. Whist stroke technique is very important in swimming you also need to be able to sustain your technique over longer distances and also develop a stroke technique that is sustainable (i.e. does not over-use the shoulder muscles which quickly fatigue - a real danger if you only ever swim 50m or 100m at a time). Without swim-specific-fitness your stroke will soon shorten as you swim and you will feel as if your stroke technique is falling apart after a few hundred meters (or sometimes less!).

If you are a triathlete won't your fitness carry across from cycling and running? Unfortunately not - ask an strong runner or cyclist what happened when they first tried swimming a lap of freestyle! A large part of your aerobic system lies in the vein, capillary networks and cells in the specific muscle groups used in a sport. For swimming you need to develop these systems by focused and consistent swim training - this is especially the case for triathletes as the main propulsive muscle groups in swimming are completely different from cycling and running.

There is an extremely important principle is sports science called 'specificity' which backs this up. It says that the for maximum effect, training needs to be specific to the sport, pace and environment in which you shall race.

How You Should Train

As a distance swimmer, when you perform your quality training sets you need to train at a pace that is close to your lactate threshold. Compared to those short and fast masters sets, a lactate threshold set is a slightly slower pace but with much shorter recoveries. The pace won't feel too hard for the first 200m or so but will gradually build to a crescendo by the end of the set:

At Swim Smooth we like to use something called CSS to help you with this training - CSS (Critical Swim Speed) is essentially the same thing as lactate threshold but is easier to find. Two example sets are:

8x 200m with 20 seconds recovery between each
16x 100m with 10 seconds recovery between each

Notice the short recoveries between repetitions - such a set might best be described as 'relentless'! Another good example of a CSS set is the Goldilocks Set here.

The benefit of CSS training is that it targets the development of your aerobic system so that you can swim faster for longer in your races. Make the switch away from short fast swims with lots of recovery towards more sustained CSS training and your distance swimming will rapidly improve. For more information and more example sets to follow see:

One last tip: The consistency of how you train is a make or break factor here. Perform these sets religiously week in week out and your swimming with consistently improve but miss sessions here and there and your progress will be much much slower.

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Switching Off The Negative Voice Inside Your Head

Have you ever noticed that voice inside your head? That internal dialogue you have with yourself when you're nervous or doubting yourself? Thoughts like "Oh god, I'm not looking forward to this", "What if I go home now and forget this" or "Oh no, I'm really so bad at swimming, why am I doing this?".

Contrast that with when you are happy and confident doing something you love. In that situation you calmly and confidently go about the activity and the voice in your head is quiet.

This negative internal dialogue is really just your fight-or-flight mechanism telling you not to do something and run. By listening to it you are giving it a voice, which amplifies your feelings, giving you an even greater surge of anxiety. Its like a feedback loop running round and round your head creating more self doubt and heightened anxiety.

The next time you hear the voice, take control and tell it "I know what you are, be quiet!". Do this any time you are feeling nervous: when you are thinking about tomorrow's squad session, getting in your wetsuit on the beach or half way down a lap of swimming. Realising what that voice really is - and that it is only a small part of you, not all of you - is very empowering indeed.

Switch off the voice, walk onto the pool deck tall and proud and your confidence will build and build. Soon you won't hear that voice any more.

Swim Smooth!

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Story Of Dramatically Improved Efficiency

At Swim Smooth we receive a lot of emails giving us feedback about how your swimming is improving. Lee (a Kiwi living in London) wrote in and his experience really struck a chord with us - it's so typical of the stories we hear from Overgliders. Thanks for allowing us to share Lee!

Dear Swim Smooth team

I just had to write to send a huge thank you to all of you for an amazing transformation that your website has unlocked in my swimming. 

I am, as I discovered from your website, a 100% classic 'glider' swim type, with a stroke per minute figure somewhere around 36 to 38 (as I know now, very slow) with a huge dead zone between hand entry and catch commencement.  My absolute fastest possible 50m split was about 54 seconds, in a 25m pool.  Well, last night after discovering your website, I headed down to the pool with the goal of just seeing what 60 strokes per minute felt like.  After visualising strokes at one per second at the pool edge using just the seconds hand on my watch, I set off.  First go: 45 seconds!  I just dropped 9 seconds off my fastest ever PB; I couldn't believe it could be that simple.  It didn't even feel like it was all that hard. 

I figure that has got to be the best swimming tip I have ever received bar none, in 5 years of trying to get faster in the water.  I can't wait to get back in the pool again - I'm sure there's another 5 seconds in there somewhere on your website!  So ... um ... THANK YOU!!!

Kind regards

Lee Berry

The next day we heard from Lee again, as he took off another three seconds from his 50m time! The fact he's now swimming 24 seconds per 100m quicker without much or any increase in effort really highlights how inefficient Overgliding with a big deadspot in the stroke is. As you can see from Lee's email, he did this by visualising better rhythm (simply from looking at the second hand on his watch!) which is exactly what Overgliders need to be working on.

If we look at our Stroke Rate Chart we can see that Lee's moved out of the blue zone (signifying too slow a stroke rate) up into the white zone. This is why he's been able to make such a big step forward with his efficiency. Of course if he went too far he'd end up fighting the water by moving into the red zone :

(for more information and an interactive version of this chart see here)

If you're an Overglider, as you swim work on keeping your lead hand constantly in motion: either extending forwards, tipping the hand at the wrist to initiate the catch, bending the elbow or pressing the water backwards - never stopping and gliding! A smooth and continuous catch technique will lift up your stroke rate with little if any increase in effort and you'll regain a real sense of rhythm to your stroke. All the details on how to do this are in our Swim Type guides:

Overgliding has become an epidemic in our sport over the last two decades: we sell 41% of Swim Type guides to frustrated Overgliders, many more than any of the other five Swim Types! Lee's experience is quite an extreme example and we can't promise every Overglider can improve quite so dramatically in just 48 hours but you too stand to make some big steps forward in your stroke efficiency by removing the pause from your stroke.

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

How To Check The Timing Of Your Breathing

The timing of rotating to take a breath is something that is often overlooked by coaches and swimmers but can make a lot of difference to your ability to get a clear breath and your level of relaxation in the water. When a swimmer rotates to breathe, the head should rotate and slightly lead the body rotation. Here's Jono Van Hazel from our Catch Masterclass DVD demonstrating this:

Many swimmers breathe late and rotate their head slightly after their body rotation, from the pool deck you can see this as a flicking movement of the head as the swimmer has to suddenly rotate their head in a hurry. Breathing late leaves you with a much shorter window to breathe in and you will still be trying to breathe as your recovering arm enters the water - which you might feel hitting your nose! :

Even advanced and elite swimmers can suffer from this problem and is something they can work on. A good visualisation to develop correct timing is to think about 'turning your head away from your hand' :

As your recovering arm and hand enters the water, turn your head away from it to breathe, as if you are trying to avoid seeing it. By doing this you will find you are in a breathing position much earlier giving you plenty of time to inhale smoothly. Of course, you should also make sure that you're exhaling into the water between breaths so that you only have to inhale, not exhale and inhale in that short window! See here.

One other observation: If you have a strong preference for breathing to one side then it's much more likely your breathing will be late on that side. On your non-preferred side you won't have any bad habits in place and your breathing timing is normally much better: As you swim compare the two sides and see if you are indeed breathing late to your preferred side.

Swim Smooth!