Friday, August 28, 2020

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 Old 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:

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. 

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:

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

Access the full post here: 

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:

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:

And access the full post here:

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:

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

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, August 20, 2020

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:

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!

Swim Smooth!

Swingers have more fun!

When you think of elite swimmers, the likes of Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps come to mind. They have the classic long, smooth stroke style that many swimmers aspire to. You may have spent hours at the pool trying to recreate this particular stroke style, but it tends to require a tall swimmer with a powerful leg kick to get the most out of it. 

Ian Thorpe has the classic long, smooth stroke style, but it is not for everyone!

Could you actually be better suited to another stroke style? In fact, there are two stroke styles that elite swimmers use. This second stroke style is used by many shorter, elite swimmers and nearly all elite triathletes and open water swimmers - the "swinger" style. To the onlooker, it can appear a bit scrappy and unorthodox due to the fast, punchy stroke style, but it is incredibly efficient. This stroke may suit you much better and have you swimming much faster and more efficiently, so why not give it a go? Try moving in that direction with your stroke technique for a few weeks and see how it feels.

Run through each key element to experiment with:

  • Recover the arms higher over the water using a slightly straighter arm. This arm positioning is ideal for tackling choppy, open water swim conditions.

  • Get more quickly into your catch at the front and develop a better sense of rhythm. Try lifting stroke rate by 4-8 SPM using a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro. This continuous momentum at the front of the stroke means that one arm starts at the front of the stroke before the other arm has finished at the back. 


Fundamentally, the "swinger" stroke style is about using a slightly shorter stroke with a faster turnover (equivalent to spinning a smaller gear in cycling). Don't overdo it but introduce some of these elements to your stroke and see how they feel. Persevere for a few sessions and see the impact that this has on your speed and efficiency in the water.  Find out if you have more fun as a swinger!

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Understanding PACE - The Key To Improving Your Swimming

*Pace* is a really important concept in swimming. Here's why:

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 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, 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 swimming 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 encourage you to monitor your pace whilst you are swimming. 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 know you swim about 2:00 per 100m then try setting it to 0:30 - if you swim at 2:00 /100m in a 25m pool, it will beep once per length (start swimming on a beep to get "in sync" so it beeps as you turn).

You'll soon start discovering if you set off too fast over the first few lengths and 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.

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 of swimming. By swimming at CSS pace you will make some really big jumps in fitness over a short period of time, especially if you've never done so 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:

Or enter your results into our more advanced analysis in the Swim Smooth Guru here (subscription required):

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:

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

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Five Things To Try In Open Water

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:

Swim Smooth!