Friday, May 31, 2019

Experimenting 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.

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. Try this sequence 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 shouldn't!

Perform 5 meters of regular Scull #1

- Now bring your fingertips up and show the palm forwards. Many people (particularly overgliders) try to overly lengthen their stroke and do this 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 you full freestyle stroke.

Swim Smooth!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

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, fun environment:

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

Sure it's great to keep fit and healthy through the great sport of swimming but actually for these swimmers it goes much bigger 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 kudos from us to you - you are the real passionate swimmers who do the sport because you love it and it's where you want to be.

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

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

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 champion 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 open, warm 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!

Thursday, May 09, 2019

SS Podcast Episode 15 - David Davies, Britain's Olympic medallist In The Pool And Open Water!

Yes Adam and Paul are back with episode 15 of the Swim Smooth Podcast! This week our special guest is no other than David Davies, Britain's only male Olympic medallist in the pool and open water.

Despite Dave appearing to swim with (in his words) a "spider" stroke, his childhood coach Dave Haller recognised that this was the way that Dave was meant to swim - changing this would be detrimental to his performance.

Dave competes in the 1500m at the 2012 British Gas Swimming Championships

Paul and Adam are speaking to you from
Perth, Australia and Cambridge, UK

It's only when faced with his third Olympic Games in his home country and the prospect of going from Bronze to Silver to (hopefully) Gold was Dave tempted to alter his stroke and approach... What happened? Dave discusses this in a very candid manner which you will find super interesting.

Dave is one of the nicest blokes you're ever likely to speak to, so it was a great privilege to speak with him on this show - we hope you enjoy!

Listen to the podcast on your favourite platform:

Please give us a rating on iTunes if you enjoy the show!

Swim Smooth!

And Now The Case For Bilateral Breathing

Last week on the blog we took a detailed look at the "Classic Unilateral Breather Stroke" having the following faults:

- Over-rotation on the breathing side
- Leading to a crossover at the front of the stroke
- Leading to a scissor kick at the rear
- Very poor catch when breathing
- Under rotation to the never-breathing side

Here it is in action again:

This pattern of over-rotation when breathing and the consequential crossover, scissor kick and poor catch are incredibly common to see with single sided breathers in swimming pools around the world. This lack of symmetry in the stroke also means the swimmer will veer off course in open water losing them yet more time.

A big thanks to the 100+ of you who emailed/tweeted/commented to say this is a cycle that you're stuck in with your own swimming and that you don't know how to break out of it. Today's blog is dedicated to you and getting you out of that "rut" for good!

The Case For Bilateral Breathing

You could continue to only ever breathe to your favoured side and work on directly correcting that list of faults you have developed... That is tempting as it feels like the easier way but it actually isn't - without removing the fundamental cause of your stroke issues (unilateral breathing) these faults are going to be extremely hard to address and will keep coming back over time.

Instead our strong recommendation to you is that you work on developing your breathing pattern such that you regularly swap breathing sides. There are various breathing patterns you can use to achieve that but for most swimmers we suggest classical bilateral breathing (breathing every 3 strokes).

Of course, not every unilateral breather has these faults and if you are a talented swimmer who has come through a strong swimming program as a junior then you might well be swimming well despite only ever breathing to one side. We would still encourage you to make the change to bilateral in your training even if you choose to single-sided breathe when racing -  it will help you maintain and refine your stroke over your lifetime of swimming and that can only be a good thing.

What might a swimmer look like who has really mastered this in the swimming? Look no further than our very own Jono van Hazel with his mesmerising stroke:

The balance and symmetry in Jono's stroke is stunning! You can watch his full footage here: and see him underwater in the Guru (subscription required) :

What does Jono himself say about bilateral breathing? We had a quick chat with him about that right after filming:

Paul: How do you keep your stroke so smooth? We noticed you breathing bilaterally all the time. Is that something you regularly do in training?

Jono: Yes definitely I find that as long as you can keep both sides of the body as even as possible, sometimes you might breathe twice on one side and then take three strokes and then twice on the other. You keep that feeling of evenness in mind it tends to help smooth out the stroke.

That's awesome but to be honest we're not focusing on elite swimmers here, we are discussing normal adult swimmers like yourself that make up 99% of the swimming population. For you, only ever breathing to one side will be seriously holding you back.

Unlocking Bilateral Breathing

OK, we're through the pre-amble, let's get to central point here. You understand the potential benefits of bilateral breathing but you've tried it, found it too hard and given up. So how do you crack it?

Here's three key elements you need in place to unlock bilateral breathing:

1. Good Exhalation Technique Is Essential

Breathing in water is fundamentally different from breathing on land because you have to overcome the water pressure when you exhale. You'll hear it said "breathe every 2 strokes because you need the oxygen!" but the truth is that the hard thing isn't getting in oxygen but getting CO2 out.

If you breathe every two strokes then the period of time you have to exhale is small - by the time you've overcome the water and got your exhalation going you're out of time and are rotating to breathe in again. This means you never exhale properly and are always breathing on the top of your lungs, building up the CO2 levels in your system, which makes you feel short of air and even panicky.

The key is to give yourself time to exhale and for most swimmers breathing every 3 strokes is about the right amount of time. Learn to exhale continuously and smoothly into the water (it should feel like sighing) and your breathing becomes much more efficient. When you do inhale you'll get a decent breath in with plenty of oxygen to keep you swimming.

Blow them bubbles... it'll be the end of your troubles.

2. Avoid An Overly Long Slow Stroke

After poor exhalation, the second big reason why swimmers struggle to develop bilateral breathing is that their stroke rate is very slow and so it's a long time between 3 strokes to breathe. If your stroke rate is around 53 SPM or lower then this is likely to be an issue for you.

The Overglider Swim Type exhibits such low stroke rates and is particularly prone to this. If you fall into this category then by developing your catch technique, not only will you gain better propulsion but your stroke rate will naturally lift making bilateral breathing possible again.

Swimming is a cyclical motion and should be conducted with a sense of rhythm and purpose - it turns out this helps your breathing too!

3. Rotating Better To Your Non-Dominant Side

As we discussed last week, if you only ever breathe to one side then rotation to that side becomes greater and greater, and rotation to your non-breathing side becomes less and less.

You should be rotating your shoulders and hips to 45-60 degrees on both sides on every stroke and when you do that you can simply turn your head into the bow wave to breathe:

However, if you under-rotate because you never normally breathe to that side then you have to twist your neck a long way to find that pocket of air. Imagine trying to twist your head from this position to the surface and how awkward that would feel:

To develop more rotation, as you rotate to your "bad" side to breathe, think about rotating your hips a little more. You could try repeating the mantra to yourself as you swim: one-two-roll-one-two-roll... stroking on the one and two and breathing on the roll.

Get this right and breathing to your "bad" side will feel much less awkward. Plus as your rotation starts to develop to that side, your recovering arm will come less round the side and more up and over the top, meaning its momentum is less likely to cause a crossover in front of your head. And no crossover means no corresponding scissor kick either - all without you having to think about it. That's the power of bilateral!

Getting Past Strange - The 6 Week Bilateral Breathing Hump

Any new movement pattern will take a while to learn and you have to recognise that and be a little persistent. If you swim 3 or 4 times per week this period of "strangeness" will last about 6 weeks, we call that the 6 Week Bilateral breathing Hump. Get past the hump and breathing to your bad side will start to feel much much more natural.

The good news is that although that feeling of strangeness can take a little while to get through, the gains you receive can be immediate. Last week on the blog we mentioned how pro triathlete Sam Warriner found she was 3-4 seconds per 100m quicker breathing to her bad side! Also check this blog with pro athlete Joel Jameson who found the exact same thing:

Be committed and persistent for 6 weeks (18 swims) and you'll get the gains.

Use The Power Of The Guru

Swim Smooth's amazing virtual coach is called The Guru - if you don't have access to a local Swim Smooth coach in your area then it's the perfect way to develop your swimming. You can use the Guru to correct any stroke fault and as you'd expect it contains our full process for developing bilateral breathing, including all the drills, visualisations and sessions you need to crack it:

Subscribers can jump right to the bilateral process here:

Fault fixers, training plans, learn-to-swim program and our famous individual approach - if you haven't tried the Guru yet, now is the time! For more information and to signup visit:

Beyond Classical Stroke Technique - Creating A Truly Versatile Swimmer

We came into this post promoting bilateral breathing to you as a way of improving your basic stroke mechanics. But the ability to breathe comfortably to both sides and being able to switch sides at will is much more than that, it's also about versatility.

A versatile breather can strategically:

- Switch breathing sides to keep an eye on a key competitor or to draft effectively to the side of them.
- Switch breathing sides to avoid looking into a blinding sun.
- Switch breathing sides to avoid breathing towards a side swell in open water.
- Breathe bilaterally to maintain perfect symmetry and swim arrow-straight in open water.

There's no better example of the importance of this versatility than the famous "Race Of The Century" at the 2004 Athens Olympics where Ian Thorpe defeated Pieter van den Hoogenband and and Michael Phelps in the 200m freestyle. Watch it here:

Thorpie celebrates - you see breathing to both sides can make you happy!

Throughout the race Thorpe swaps breathing sides, always breathing towards his arch rival van den Hoogenband to keep a close eye on him and judge his position to him. He judges his effort perfectly and over the last 50m he overtakes van den Hoogenband to win the race. There's absolutely no way that Thorpie could have done that without regularly practising breathing to both sides in training.

At Swim Smooth we believe that beyond having great basic stroke mechanics and being fast through the water, one of your goals as a swimmer should be to create versatility in your swimming such that whatever environment or strategic situation you are in, you are able to adapt and excel in it.

There will also be a time in your swimming life when that versatility will move you up the field, converting second pack to first pack, or even a silver medal to a gold.

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, May 02, 2019

The Case Against Breathing Every Two Strokes

Sam with Paul (left) and Adam on
the Sydney 3 Day Coach Ed Course
First up, you'll be very pleased to know that the Swim Smooth Podcast is back!

We released our brand new interview with Pro Triathlete Sam Bradley (formerly Warriner) yesterday to your favourite blogging platform:


Sam gives us her insight into her coaching philosophy and what made the biggest difference to her as an athlete at the highest level of the sport, culminating in World Cup wins and a Commonwealth Games silver medal.

A great listen!

The Case Against Breathing Every Two To One Side Only

Do you always breathe to the same side every 2 strokes? If you do then you have multiple challenges developing your swimming.

Over time the act of rotating to breathe to one side tends to develop more and more rotation of your shoulders and hips to that side. Without any non-breathing strokes to help counter-balance this, you tend to over-rotate to your breathing side, way beyond the recommended 45-60 degrees of rotation:

This over-rotation causes a loss of balance in the stroke and your legs to scissor kick apart to regain that balance, in turn creating huge drag at the back of the stroke:

Conversely on the non-breathing side your rotation never develops properly and you become very flat:

That makes the recovering arm swing around the side and have a strong tendency to cross-over the centre line on hand entry, causing you to snake down the pool:

But the bad news doesn't end there! Whilst you are breathing your focus tends to be heavily on making sure you get that breath in so by breathing every two you never provide any focus on the catch from the lead arm at that point in the stroke. As we can see here that means the catch never properly develops, in this case collapsing downwards without any real purchase on the water:

If you were breathing every three strokes then two out of three strokes on that arm would be on non-breathing strokes so you would have a good opportunity to develop your catch technique so that when you breathe to that side it holds nicely.

All That Because You Only Ever Breathe To One Side!

This sequence of cause-and-effect stroke flaws is incredibly common with unilateral breathers.

So common in fact that we refer to the stroke pattern as the "Classic Unilateral Breather Stroke". Next time you're at the pool take a few minutes to sit in the stands and watch some of the swimmers - you'll see this pattern of flaws everywhere.

How do you fix this? Ideally by learning to breathe every 3 strokes to balance out your symmetry and give yourself a decent chance of improving these technical aspects of your stroke.

Many swimmers have tried bilateral breathing and failed to conquer it, simply finding it too hard or difficult to sustain. If that's you then don't miss next week's post - we're going to look at the key reasons why swimmers find bilateral breathing hard and how to overcome them.

There's definitely some initial challenges with learning to breathe every three but as you can see above, the benefits of doing so are huge. More on that next week!

Swim Smooth!