Friday, October 30, 2020

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 breath 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 bubbles into the water:

What to look for: Less tension in your body and better stamina. Also all those bubbles might be noisier than you are used to!

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 them hit the surface, lane rope or clash with other swimmers.

What to look for: An easy loose 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:

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.

Swim Smooth!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

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 entering 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 in this 'new normal' 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 100m).

- 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" settings for each lane where the leader in the lane is using a Tempo Trainer Pro programmed to CSS plus 10-20 seconds (see settings below). The swimmers will get ahead of the beeper whilst swimming then wait for it to catch up at the end of the swim for their next send-off.

Notice how Seamus has actually sped up the beeper (reducing the beeper cycle time) on the second set of 200s - this is a classic Red Mist session strategy, increasing the pace as the session goes on!

Swim Smooth Suffolk squad enjoying the Dense Mist Session!
Lane 1 enjoying the aftermath of the Dense Mist session! 

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)

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

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

We'd love to hear how you get on with this session! 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:

Swim Smooth!

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

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 offer 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 develop 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 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 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.

Is swim fitness your weakness, not technique?

Swim Smooth!

Friday, October 09, 2020

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 full extension 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?

Check out Olympian Jono Van Hazel's brilliant technique for the answer:

Notice how he has angled his hand to face 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. Another classic example of right feeling wrong.

One more thing to notice, at the rearmost point of this 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 of recovering the arm forwards to get more quickly into another 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.

Swim Smooth!

Friday, October 02, 2020

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):

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.


Swim Smooth