Why is my pool swim speed not transferring to openwater?

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“I can maintain 90secs for 100m with a short rest over and over but am struggling to break 40mins for 1900m in Openwater (OW) Why is my pool speed  not transferring?”

This is a question that comes up a lot in lessons and at the lake. Considering we are not turning each 25m/50m, for most in a wetsuit in openwater we should be significantly quicker than in the pool. If you are not swimming further then what could be going wrong? Distance from zig zaggy swimming is the usual culprit but if your watch reports back that you were a fraction over 3.8km for IM or around 1500m for the Standard what else might be slowing you? If we eliminate the obvious, i.e. distance, since just a little meandering could easily add 200-300m and 3:30-6mins easily to your time, then what remains?

We can divide an OW swim whether it is Tri, Otilo, Aquabike, Aquathon or pure swim into various segments – prerace, the water warmup, the start, mid race, end of swim and exit. Whether you head off onto a bike or run or are finishing in the water with your event we can explore some other key areas to see where else we might be able to improve and report back with a faster swim speed from your events.

In the beginning- Dryland and Warmup are key areas to factor into your ability to swim better on race day. Most pool based sessions will have 20-30mins of swimming ahead of any faster work so the stroke is working nicely in terms of technique and the heart rate

has been elevated sensibly. Prior to getting into a pool based session many coaches will encourage some gentle arm swinging to start to prepare the body for the oncoming harder work. This can be useful if you want a longer mainset but only have a 60min window available. On race day, I appreciate there are 1001 things to prepare and get ready but a dryland warmup would really help. This is especially true since time in the water is limited and often cool making ‘warming up’ harder. Often the warmup area is chaotic and full of random swimmers going in all directions making a sustained swim almost impossible. Most arrive on the start line cold, technically deficient compared to a pool swim and with a poorly fitting wetsuit that is about to hinder rather than help.

Wetsuit, big/small

Your wetsuit can be a source of irritation and loss of speed for a variety of reasons. Too small and the material in the arms and legs will pull away from the body fatiguing you as you stretch against it to kick and pull. The thinner shoulder panels will struggle to sit high on the shoulders and be of use if sitting low on the arms as you did not have time to pull it up high enough. There might be problems breathing due to the constrictions around the chest and if too short in the body will leave you cramped and uncomfortable. If the suit is too big and floods you will fatigue carrying extra water around the race course with you. If you can quite easily get your suit on in under a couple of minutes then I would suspect it is too big and you could try something smaller. A surf wetsuit is neither buoyant or warm and should be avoided if you want a faster swim.

A less obvious wetsuit issue is that of it being too buoyant. There will come a time as your swim tech improves you will no longer need your suit to help keep you afloat. Your swim technique will do that job. If you cannot hold the body in a neutral position it is very hard for the legs to assist your rotation and body position since they will spend a lot of time almost above the surface. If the legs and chest are too buoyant then you possibly will sit with an arch through your back that can make swimming faster harder. You will constantly be held in a head up position feeling like you are continually sighting and putting the brakes on.

Confidence to try harder

Are the pool sessions you are swimming preparing you for a harder swim in OW? Are you challenging yourself over race distance so you know not only are you competent at the distance but also to swim it with some speed? Entering swim only events is a great way of testing swim pacing and strategies. After the excitement of the start it is important to calm things down and start to work well with great technique. But not too much! Nothing beats training in openwater to get an idea of pace and how fast you can swim. In a pool session knowing you are going to finish and be done can leave the gulf between cruise pool speed and OW race speed pretty wide. A hard training swim in a lake or similar OW and then hopping onto your bike might provide some feedback to your limits in the swim. Once in a while perform a swim test that replicate’s the distance and gives you chance to see how hard you can attack the swim. For a 1900m event I would use 3×300, 3×200, 3×100 and 2×50 resting 30/20/10/5 throughout. Not enough rest to recover but some to help you keep the pace high. Build each 3 swims so you are constantly working at a good pace.

To calculate a likely IM swim time to help with seeding at certain races but also to get an idea of pushing the pace and seeing if you cope you might try.

4×400 rest 30, 4×300, rest 20, 4×200 rest 10, 2×100 rest 5. By all means alternate pull/swim

Start a watch as you push off into the first 400 and subtract 4:05 at the end to collect a time that will give you an add up 3.8km time. Try it again in a month and push a little harder. Faster? Too fast? HR too high? A little experience will help you gauge the best pace for you.

Start position on the ‘grid.’

You might be surprised how congested the back of an OW start can be. Adding Breaststrokers to the mix makes overtaking very hard. Experience will assist your decision where to start and by no means if not confident am I suggesting you start near the front but you could be giving away minutes if you are looking for reasons why your swim speed is not better in OW. Given some race experience you will be prepared to contemplate a higher start on the grid where a faster start, more options for drafting and being towed along at a faster pace can be taken advantage of. Starting too high up can also lead to issues if the swim is not your strong point. Being driven off course by packs coming by and needing lots of additional sighting might be slowing you as you head up navigate more frequently. Learning to settle into an effective Mid Race Cruise is essential after the excitement of a swim start. Don’t settle too slow and exit off the pace but equally know when to calm down after the excitement of the start and by how much. Try this mainset after a good warm up –

50FC fast, 250 relaxed, rest 30

100FC fast, 200 slightly quicker pace than the previous 250

150FC fast, 150 quicker than the 200 pace

200FC fast, 100 quicker pace then the 150. Rest 30 throughout. No problem to pull on the steadier MRC <mid race cruise.>

Under and Over kicking

A degree of legkick present will assist your swim speed to a point. Too much will leave you fatigued for the bike. No leg kick will leave the arms doing all the work and have you exit probably slower but equally tired as just the arms get overloaded and fatigue the system. A better balance is to have the full body contribute to your swimming speed but keep more muscles working less hard so you arrive fresher for the bike. You need some legs to assist your rotation and help improve your body position. With a wetsuit and only if, you could get away with 0 kick but at some point, your luck will run out and your wetsuit event will become non.

Buoys

How many? I recall a popular race in the UK that had a busy M shape route with an additional dogleg and exit. Lots of sharp turns needing lots of sighting to avoid adding distance adds up in terms of slowing your progress. Compare to a simple U for instance with a simple entrance and exit and you will have less interfering with your speed. When I raced Tri Standard distance competitively I would try to avoid comparing races but it was helpful looking at an average of a few of them to get an idea if the season was going ok. So, if you are comparing a few OW races to your pool speed check that they have not been slow races i.e. complex courses. It is useful to look at some pro times and mid pack times from race to race to get an idea if everyone is slower.

Drafting –too slow and too fast, easily done and both end with slower OW swims. Going too fast and blowing up is unfortunate and equally annoying drafting someone slow who drags you around to a slow time will leave you frustrated. Drafting well is a skill that needs refining for it to help really well. Swimming on someone’s feet is perhaps the best position to sit for the best streamline and most hydrodynamic gains for your £. Having spent part of the year working on your catch position, feel for the water, hand shape, hold on the water and lowering bubble creation you then spend your races sitting in that bubbly kick water avoiding stabbing people’s heels. No wonder it is tricky deciding if your pace is too fast or too slow. I sit on people’s hips to avoid this so I can look for calmer cleaner water and get a more accurate idea of my swim pace. Too fast let them go, not quick enough, drop them as a faster group go by.

Timing

I teach the concept of trying to be the adaptable swimmer. Being able to change tactics and technique as conditions dictate can be helpful. The stroke, especially tempo, as conditions change, can adapt to take advantage of changing weather or water conditions to assist your swim. Lengthening and stretching out the stroke, lowering stroke count against a slight current will slow you dramatically. Speeding your turnover when the flow is with you might not be the best use of economy of effort. Arriving early, watching earlier waves swim if possible, looking for clues as to the conditions can help your swim. Is there any wildlife floating on the water in a river you are about to race in? how fast is it flowing. Are the ducks struggling to stay stationary? Are you going to work harder against a current or work with it, even if it means swimming further to get to your destination more quickly?

The exit and a few other ideas.

Long run to transition being included in your swim split? Are you Struggling to get your wetsuit off? Is it worth fully removing your suit at the water’s edge if there is a long run? At what point did you stop your watch? Don’t rely on the calculation of Time for Swim to be of use to calculate your swim speed. There might not have been a timing mat at the swim exit so adding minutes to your swim which would be unfair to include in any average swim speed calculation.

Finally

If your pool swims are faster than your openwater racing are you comparing like for like and being fair to yourself? There is a vast difference between a 100m FC repeat in a 50m pool with a good turn, sitting on someone’s feet wearing a fast suit or neoprene shorts compared to 100m in a 25m pool, not drafting with 3 slow turns. What you are you comparing when you say Pool speed? There could be as much as 10sec difference between 100m in those two pool lengths as just described. Over 3.8km that is a big difference so keep in mind it might not be as bad as you thought depending on how you are gauging your pool based swims.

Feeling the Water…

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From time to time this subject comes up and coaches give their insights as to how swimmers really have a feel for the water, how they make it feel more solid and less slippery. More on that later but I wanted to focus more on feeling the water. How it moves you, how you move it and how you can be more in tune with it to make you a better swimmer.

While swimming this morning I had a relative novice in the lane with me. Just the two of us in a 50m pool and we were passing at frequent intervals. What struck me was how quiet, smooth and easy it was to swim through the water until I passed the swimmer going in the opposite direction. Suddenly it was like being in the sea. He was pushing a lot of water sideways and forwards. This would have been costing huge amounts of energy and doing nothing to improve his speed as he attempted to shunt his way through the water rather than hide from it. Slipping through and by unnoticed would be the swimmers mentality. You could call us lazy in that to do it any other way would be harder work, This is how swimmers do more of it for longer and faster. In his book, Ian Thorpe, one of the best swim technicians we have seen described how swimming in the public lanes would literally make his skin crawl as the noise, waves and splash would irritate him.

At 45secs into this floswimvideo notice how some of the lanes are separated out with 3lane ropes dividing the swimmers. The perks of being an Olympian! No, we do not all get to train like this and we certainly do not encounter this in open water but to be aware of your pathway through water is a great way to start to think about how to improve your swim technique. Here are some other considerations to help your swim passage and keep it as smooth as possible.

Focus with fewer distractions. Add a snorkel to further reduce distractions. Keep the head still and face down while still trying to look forwards with the eyes. Not turning to breathe is a great way to enhance your concentration. A few strokes, if safe with your eyes closed also has you feel your swim a lot more.

Swimming in silence.Remove your watch for a part or all of the session. Use your other senses, give them a chance to sharpen up. Listen to your swimming, be aware of the bubbles you are creating, the waves and splashing, imagine the times you are doing, the distances travelled.

 

Holding water, bring the thumb in and allow a few mm of space between the fingers. Sculling is a great way to improve your hold on the water and will make the water feel more solid. The more solid the water feels the easier it will be to hold it and pull the body through it as you anchor the vertical hand and forearm onto it. You work all winter on that ideal catch position, setting an early vertical forearm, pivot early at the elbow, create a great hand shape in ideal conditions and then swim on someone’s feet come race season. I prefer to sit higher up on a swimmer’s hip to avoid the disturbed water at their feet. The catch and drafting are two very odd things in racing, not feeling the water will have you swim slow possibly without realising having drafted someone slower with no concept to your own speed.

Hiding from the water. As I swim I hide my hand behind my fingers as they stretch forwards on entry. My arm behind my hand, try to bring my shoulder into my chin hiding any exposed surface area from the top of the shoulder. Rotating the upper body keeps my hips hidden behind the chest and absolutely key the legs should stay hidden behind. Even aim to hide the toes behind the feet! Once you stretch the arm forward then you break streamline but only with the vertical hand and forearm pivoting at the elbow. As the hand and arm deepen more of the arm is exposed but you are travelling forwards over the hand if you have retained your streamline minimising the exposed surface are of the arm.

Drafting and listening, watching, feeling. Ideally in a 50m pool

A simple subset we do all year round to help keep swimmers in tune with their stroke includes – 6x50m in a single lane in pairs. Rest until the last paid touch the wall then the first pair head out again.

In evenly matched pairs, swim side by side.

Maintain even pace for 25m, then the lead out swimmer can go for it.

One person previously assigned is the lead out swimmer.

2nd swimmer waits, watches, listens & feels for a disturbance in the water, Looking for the assigned swimmer to break for the wall.

2ndswimmer tries to win the swim to the wall by observation and avoiding being taken by surprise.

Change sides in the lane so breathing side adds a further complication.

 

Stop thinking about the water as a barrier to be pushed through and start thinking about all the tiny hydrogen and oxygen components that it comprises and how you might better squeeze yourself through them! It should feel less like you are approaching it like a solid wall. If you attack it with power and strength and no thought to streamline then you will fight it and it will fight back.

 

Don’t leave it too Long – end of season training advice

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As the season possibly winds down and your competitions are over then you should absolutely take a break from swim training. Taking a break from training will refresh the mind and body. Allow you to take stock of strengths and weaknesses and areas to work on in the off season. A break from swimming is two weeks, any more and you really feel the impact as you try to come back. 3months of not swimming is 30+ sessions missed. One session swum per week is 6 days of unlearning before you start again. Imagine 3 months. Rhythm, balance and coordination will all be out of alignment. Breathing will be laboured, feel for the water obliterated and that all-important swim fitness component compromised.

When it comes to the bike you have some alternates that will keep you fit and challenged. A spin class, mountain biking, various new terrains, time trialling. Running offers the chance of a treadmill, cross country, fell running, new terrains and pathways. All suitable replacements to your normal running routines but not so different that you would lose form. In fact, running cross country would probably be a great way to build some strength in your running mechanics. Unfortunately, we do not have that luxury in the pool. You cannot replace the water. You can supplement with a VASA dryland swim bench, and it is a great supplement but you cannot replace it. Sorry to say but swimming is the cruel and most demanding of the 3 and wants your utmost attention.

Missing a few months is the worst thing you can do for your swimming performances next year. There is no real substitute unlike the bike and run where there are cross overs. You can swim and learn the other strokes, improve your swim specific dryland strength & conditioning, compete in masters racing, try water polo but when it comes down to it, swimming up and down a 25m or 50m pool is necessary on a regular basis for your endurance, technique & fitness. This research came to light recently –

‘increases in training volume resulted in faster swimming times, and its effect was more pronounced in older swimmers. We concluded that there was a graded positive relationship between yearly increases in training volume and improved swimming performance’

Stephanie S. Lapierre, Brett D. Baker, Hirofumi Tanaka

I would estimate for each session missed you need at least 2 to come back to bring you back up to speed. From those who regularly miss the Autumn and take a lengthy break it is not until March that we see them come back to form.

i.e. these are the results from one of our weekly fitness sessions. Every few months we test over 10mins and see how far swimmers can swim. It is fairly simplistic but proves a reasonable test of technique and fitness. If the courses do as they say then the swimmer should through a process of improved technique and fitness swim further in the 10mins available. We perform this at the start of a fitness course and the end 10 weeks later. Most of the year we see the courses successful i.e. 70% swim further at the end compared to the start. Xmas throws up a small blip but where the Autumn was not swum it takes months to get back to the bigger numbers. Even if the swimmer does ramp up to an improved March or May notice that those numbers while better than the last, they are not as good as their biggest scores in the Spring of 2017.

 

You cannot substitute or cheat steady year-round progress. One of my swimmers works as a teacher and takes full advantage of the 6-week school summer holiday having prepared and planned for a late Spring race. Fair enough, this is the plan, this is how family dictates what is done with the off season but it is very hard getting her back into the water before xmas due to such a long period of time out. The routine has gone and getting up early or finding the time now is a burden.

There are 40+ free sessions on our website available for download and in the blog. I say this as no doubt you might feel Dan has an ulterior motive ie to line his pockets. Honestly, I want you to help yourself avoid the usual January blues when so many struggle back into the water. Try to minimise the time out of the water in the off season. Stay in the pool, try other strokes, a winter challenge – there are many on the SpeedoON platform or how about a Marathon Swims. You could spend a few weeks improving technique or learning to tumble turn. Stimulate the mind with some new challenge but please don’t stay out of the water!

Leg Kick. Why is a length of kick so exhausting and does that matter?

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Have you ever noticed during your swimming lessons that the fastest kickers in the pool also tend to also be the fastest swimmers? It’s not an exact science, but next time you are at the pool have a look at the people in the faster lanes. For swim coaches with multiple lanes to observe (just like at our London Bridge sessions) it is clear to us that those with the strongest leg kick are usually the fastest swimmers.

It’s all about learning how to train theyourlegs within the stroke, overcome technical issues, get fitter and therefore faster. Your bike will not be impacted if you learn to kick correctly. The misconception is that you work the legs hard for propulsion. But if you look at the pictures, you see that we work the legs to reduce and restrict bad swim habits and avoid issues that create problems. Creating this much drag will slow your bike, because you will simply be exhausted.

First we unlearn the big kick! It’s logical that big and strong kicks should produce more momentum, but not when you’re kicking through water. Progress to the narrow, hidden, fast big toes brushing, small hip range, straight on the upsweep movement, bend on the down beat. Have a good think about the mechanics of your kick this week. If you were swimming head on towards a submerged camera and you reviewed your footage afterwards, your kick should not be visible.

Try some of these to mix up your kick training:
– Single Fin can be useful for the leg flick on the down beat
– Fins pointing down to get a feel for doing it really wrong
– FC full stroke with a small old fashioned flat float to keep kick small at the hips
– Pulling with a pull buoy at the ankles to add some endurance to the ‘core.’
– Static horizontal kicking holding the wall as active recovery between lengths. Feel the toes bubble at the surface.
– Hands on Glutes to think about the correct muscles lifting a straight leg back up to the surface.
– Add dryland to supplement and accelerate your kicking progress.

Why bother with all of this focus on your leg kick? In our experiences coaching swimming we know that a bad kick is devastating in terms of incorrect propulsion and higher energy costs. We know mechanically that the legs do a lot of damage in terms of drag and form. Toes pointing down, excessive two way pivot at the knee, and pedalling through the water all undo the work of your arms as they try to pull you forwards.

Correct your leg kick and  you will certainly find that your swim training  will become a whole lot easier.

 

The London Triathlon, read the instructions….

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It is the London Triathlon this weekend, an event I hold dear since it was my first Triathlon 20years ago exactly. It launched a long and enjoyable career that took me to Ironman Lake Placid and South Africa, World Triathlon AG events in Edmonton and Cancun and then onto pure Openwater swimming events. All of this came together with a desire to coach, help people and contribute to the world of Triathlon and so SwimforTri was born soon after.

There is a lot to this particular event, the unusual exit to the swim, the intimidating high sided walls , the odd taste to the water, grey landscape and the length of the docks. They seem to go on forever, making you feel in your head like you are not making progress. There are enough things that can play out of your control so do your best to be in control of as many controllables as you can. So far this week at lessons with just a few days to go people are still struggling to stop goggles from leaking, wetsuits  from chafing. Stop swapping kit and trying new things <if they work> at this late stage. Start to pay attention to the details now and read the literature available on the website.

Don’t be asking fellow competitors in transition how many laps it is, there are many different race scenarios through the weekend and that friendly neighbour might be telling you his race details which might not be yours. Know the direction you are swimming, any useful sighting vantage points?, how many laps? which colour are the turn buoys? what colour are the ones you travel straight past. Often the corners of a rectangular course are different to the mid point markers helping you not turn early. Might it not be wetsuit? do you need a tow float if that is the case? will it be sunny or overcast? light or dark goggles? should you leave your hat and goggles on your head while you take off your wetsuit? they could get stuck in your wetsuit sleeve while stuffing your suit into the plastic bag they hand out. If you have wetsuit in one hand <in its plastic bag> and hat&goggles in the other are you comfortable running up stairs without holding the bannister? Where did you leave your bike!

This is one of the few races where regardless of the time you arrive you can watch many competitors starting in the waves ahead of you. If you arrive early and give yourself plenty of time. You can see the mistakes being made. Sorry if you are in the first few waves on Saturday, this excludes you and some might be watching so please prove me wrong and get it all done correctly! Watch and learn. A few years ago I was racing the OW champs in Norwich and my uncle came to watch. Bill is a keen fisherman and suggested I avoid a certain stretch that was on the racing line. He offered that due to the ducks and swans feeding there, the weed was high and we might get tangled in it while swimming over it. I watched the earlier waves and sure enough. I swam around it and dropped the swimmers near me on the home stretch.  Watch how others swim around the course, is something leading them astray? a current? a sighting point on the course that is not actually right on the racing line and you might be better staying to the left/right of it. Be careful of those slower swimmers on their second lap as you start your race right right behind them, be careful of your fingers as you overtake especially of those swimming breaststroke. The slightly congested conditions present certain challenges you might not have experienced before. I led out of the water back in 1998 and this I did not expect from my first race and at that point as I then exited Transition minutes behind the new leader I wish I had read some instructions.

What swim style do we teach?

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What swim style do we teach? When a new client enquires about our lessons we often get asked this question. There is an assumption that coaches should follow one of a few talked about styles.

FC Swimming STYLE – ‘Dan, what style of swimming do you teach? Is it the abc method or the xyz?’ I don’t actually teach a style. We never have at SFT. I look at your range of motion, your imperfections, strengths and weaknesses and start to improve your swimming technique. Whatever that technique might be. Good, bad or having just learned to swim, we all perform the mechanics of a swimming style. You might not feel it is pretty but at any level our style can always be improved. Most are surprised when we show Olympians performing drills at workshops. For an elite swimmer, it might be possible within the full stroke FC movement to make corrections but it is not easy. Breaking things down with drills can help, restricting bad habits or encouraging correct movements can help both in the classical sense and the more off beat. Making use of swim toys creatively can help, the pool deck and even other swimmers*. Depending on your ability and current faults a few lengths to show us what is happening and we can then construct a process to help you improve.

*E.g. I love this idea from Goswim to stop the backstroke arms from crossing over with a hard leg workout. Great thinking of how you can restrict a bad habit and encourage stronger legs as you push the static swimmer.

I was taught to swim at a young age and then had several coaches during stints at my local Swim Club, Millfield School and Ohio University. All pool based long distance FC where economy of movement is precious as you save any energy you can, rather than waste with stroke imperfections. After moving to Triathlon 20yrs ago this Summer it has been a long period of trial and error, racing and learning to see what works well in Openwater.  In addition to this trial & error, I have taken coaching qualifications with the ASA, ASCA, the BTF, the World Open Water Swim Association and read up on what the Australians are doing at the Institute of Sport. I am not convinced any one school of thought has all the answers.

What is a style? the moment someone starts to mould you to their favoured style, the method they learned or developed then making your unique style faster is no longer the focus. You might not fit their 10step plan. I prefer to talk about a coaching approach, a logical sequence of steps to take but again this is not always possible. From my work with the London Disability Swim Club there is no one fixed style that suits all and no one way to deliver it even if there was, as we all learn at different rates in different ways. One way to help illustrate this is to think of each body part having some strict rules to adhere to in order to swim faster i.e. to lower drag and increase propulsion. No one won gold at the Olympics with their toes continually pointing the bottom of the pool or pushing water palm down to the bottom of the pool.Then there are some guidelines that need to be played with & manipulated to work out how best they might apply to you. Breathing pattern, stroke rate, kicks to arm cycles and head position to name a few.

The following examples outline more of the process and the detail we need to consider to really help a swimmer individually. We look to lower drag and increase propulsion via the obvious but then we need to start working harder to identify the less obvious. This dawned on me years ago helping one of our Cerebral Palsy swimmers who could not create an ideal fingertip to elbow pulling blade as his wrist was stuck at 90deg. His propulsion was limited but by entering into the water further ahead he could minimize his drag. As rotation reduced so his reach reduced and more of the back of the hand ploughed into the water. With a little more extension over the surface of the water he could just about place his fingertips in first and start to pull. This helped reinforce the idea that all swimmers are different and unique and should be coached as such.

How to improve? Follow the golden rules regarding reducing your profile in the water while maximizing propulsion for the lowest energy cost.  Experiment in the grey areas that are specific to you as the swimmer. Kicks per Arm cycle; Tempo of Arm Pull; Head Position; Breathing to One Side, Both Sides. Be familiar with a longer extension of the arm in front if the water is flowing with you, shorter if against. Be adaptable. Your swimming style needs teaching points and if these are too rigid it’s not going to fit you because you are not a robot you cannot repeat exact swimming movements one hundred percent. Similar degrees at joints, same amount of pressure applied through the hand, same speed of left/right arm & hand shapes are all aims to be worked towards in order to keep you at your straightest in Openwater but impossible to be 100% repeatable. Whereas compared to a pedal, tracking the same path each revolution a swim stroke will vary with each revolution. Even at an elite level due to the chaotic medium that water is, an accurate & exact repetition is not going to be repeatable.  A well-rounded Swim coach with a good swimming background will understand the mechanics of all that is needed and will know that 1 to 10 steps are not going to work. We may need to travel through steps 1 to 7 then hit a stumbling block and pause travelling out to 7 A to7B to 7C and then continuing with step eight. The Swim for Tri style is your style enhanced and made better, travelling through various routes to lower drag, increase propulsion and work with your specific physiology.

Swim of The Month….

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Here at SFT we do love to hear all about your improvements and how your races went. If you could share a race experience with us, a result or an improvement we will be offering a prize for Swim of the Month.

 

Charlotte G swam 22mins quicker at IM Austria last weekend compared to her best last year so that is not a bad starting point for July. Lucy added 90m to her T10 best at London Fields. Please add your results to the comments below and one will be selected for a prize. Goodluck!

 

T10, time trials, races all count. Will need some verification though if done outside of an SFT session. Goodluck

 

Why is my Pool Swim Speed Not Translating to Openwater?

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“I can maintain 90secs for a 100m FC swim with a short rest over and over in the pool but am struggling to break 40mins for 1900m in Openwater (OW) What is happening?”

This is a question that comes up a lot in lessons and at the lake. Considering we are not turning each 25m/50m, for most in a wetsuit in openwater we should be significantly quicker than in the pool. If you are not swimming further then what could be going wrong? Distance from zig zaggy swimming is the usual culprit but if your watch reports back that you were a fraction over 3.8km for IM or around 1500m for the Standard what else might be slowing you? If we eliminate the obvious, i.e. distance, since just a little meandering could easily add 200-300m and 3:30-6mins easily to your time, then what remains?

We can divide an OW swim whether it is Tri, Otilo, Aquabike, Aquathon or pure swim into various segments – prerace, the water warmup, the start, mid race, end of swim and exit. Whether you head off onto a bike or run or are finishing in the water with your event we can explore some other key areas to see where else we might be able to improve and report back with a faster swim speed from your events.

In the beginning

Dryland and Warmup are key areas to factor into your ability to swim better on race day. Most pool based sessions will have 20-30mins of swimming ahead of any faster work so the stroke is working nicely in terms of technique and the heart rate has been elevated sensibly. Prior to getting into a pool based session many coaches will encourage some gentle arm swinging to start to prepare the body for the oncoming harder work. This can be useful if you want a longer mainset but only have a 60min window available. On race day, I appreciate there are 1001 things to prepare and get ready but a dryland warmup would really help. This is especially true since time in the water is limited and often cool making ‘warming up’ harder. Often the warmup area is chaotic and full of random swimmers going in all directions making a sustained swim almost impossible. Most arrive on the start line cold, technically deficient compared to a pool swim and with a poorly fitting wetsuit that is about to hinder rather than help.

Wetsuit, big/small

Your wetsuit can be a source of irritation and loss of speed for a variety of reasons. Too small and the material in the arms and legs will pull away from the body fatiguing you as you stretch against it to kick and pull. The thinner shoulder panels will struggle to sit high on the shoulders and be of use if sitting low on the arms as you did not have time to pull it up high enough. There might be problems breathing due to the constrictions around the chest and if too short in the body will leave you cramped and uncomfortable. If the suit is too big and floods you will fatigue carrying extra water around the race course with you. If you can quite easily get your suit on in under a couple of minutes then I would suspect it is too big and you could try something smaller. A surf wetsuit is neither buoyant or warm and should be avoided if you want a faster swim.

A less obvious wetsuit issue is that of it being too buoyant. There will come a time as your swim tech improves you will no longer need your suit to help keep you afloat. Your swim technique will do that job. If you cannot hold the body in a neutral position it is very hard for the legs to assist your rotation and body position since they will spend a lot of time almost above the surface. If the legs and chest are too buoyant then you possibly will sit with an arch through your back that can make swimming faster harder. You will constantly be held in a head up position feeling like you are continually sighting and putting the brakes on.

Confidence to try harder

Are the pool sessions you are swimming preparing you for a harder swim in OW? Are you challenging yourself over race distance so you know not only are you competent at the distance but also to swim it with some speed? Entering swim only events is a great way of testing swim pacing and strategies. After the excitement of the start it is important to calm things down and start to work well with great technique. But not too much! Nothing beats training in openwater to get an idea of pace and how fast you can swim. In a pool session knowing you are going to finish and be done can leave the gulf between cruise pool speed and OW race speed pretty wide. A hard training swim in a lake or similar OW and then hopping onto your bike might provide some feedback to your limits in the swim. Once in a while perform a swim test that replicate’s the distance and gives you chance to see how hard you can attack the swim. For a 1900m event I would use 3×300, 3×200, 3×100 and 2×50 resting 30/20/10/5 throughout. Not enough rest to recover but some to help you keep the pace high. Build each 3 swims so you are constantly working at a good pace.

To calculate a likely IM swim time to help with seeding at certain races but also to get an idea of pushing the pace and seeing if you cope you might try.

4×400 rest 30, 4×300, rest 20, 4×200 rest 10, 2×100 rest 5. By all means alternate pull/swim

Start a watch as you push off into the first 400 and subtract 4:05 at the end to collect a time that will give you an add up 3.8km time. Try it again in a month and push a little harder. Faster? Too fast? HR too high? A little experience will help you gauge the best pace for you.

Start position on the ‘grid.’

You might be surprised how congested the back of an OW start can be. Adding Breaststrokers to the mix makes overtaking very hard. Experience will assist your decision where to start and by no means if not confident am I suggesting you start near the front but you could be giving away minutes if you are looking for reasons why your swim speed is not better in OW. Given some race experience you will be prepared to contemplate a higher start on the grid where a faster start, more options for drafting and being towed along at a faster pace can be taken advantage of. Starting too high up can also lead to issues if the swim is not your strong point. Being driven off course by packs coming by and needing lots of additional sighting might be slowing you as you head up navigate more frequently. Learning to settle into an effective Mid Race Cruise is essential after the excitement of a swim start. Don’t settle too slow and exit off the pace but equally know when to calm down after the excitement of the start and by how much. Try this mainset after a good warm up –

50FC fast, 250 relaxed, rest 30

100FC fast, 200 slightly quicker pace than previous 250

150FC fast, 150 quicker than the 200 pace

200FC fast, 100 quicker pace then the 100. Rest 30 throughout. No problem to pull on the steadier MRC <mid race cruise.>

Under and Over kicking

A degree of legkick present will assist your swim speed to a point. Too much will leave you fatigued for the bike. No leg kick will leave the arms doing all the work and have you exit probably slower but equally tired as just the arms get overloaded and fatigue the system. A better balance is to have the full body contribute to your swimming speed but keep more muscles working less hard so you arrive fresher for the bike. You need some legs to assist your rotation and help improve your body position. With a wetsuit and only if, you could get away with 0 kick but at some point, your luck will run out and your wetsuit event will become non.

Buoys

How many? I recall a popular race in the UK that had a busy M shape route with an additional dogleg and exit. Lots of sharp turns needing lots of sighting to avoid adding distance adds up in terms of slowing your progress. Compare to a simple U for instance with a simple entrance and exit and you will have less interfering with your speed. When I raced Tri Standard distance competitively I would try to avoid comparing races but it was helpful looking at an average of a few of them to get an idea if the season was going ok. So, if you are comparing a few OW races to your pool speed check that they have not been slow races i.e. complex courses. It is useful to look at some pro times and mid pack times from race to race to get an idea if everyone is slower.

Drafting – too slow and too fast, easily done and both end with slower OW swims. Going too fast and blowing up is unfortunate and equally annoying drafting someone slow who drags you around to a slow time will leave you frustrated. Drafting well is a skill that needs refining for it to help really well. Swimming on someone’s feet is perhaps the best position to sit for the best streamline and most hydrodynamic gains for your £. Having spent part of the year working on your catch position, feel for the water, hand shape, hold on the water and lowering bubble creation you then spend your races sitting in that bubbly kick water avoiding stabbing people’s heels. No wonder it is tricky deciding if your pace is too fast or too slow. I sit on people’s hips to avoid this so I can look for calmer cleaner water and get a more accurate idea of my swim pace. Too fast let them go, not quick enough, drop them as a faster group go by.

Timing

I teach the concept of trying to be the adaptable swimmer. Being able to change tactics and technique as conditions dictate can be helpful. The stroke, especially tempo, as conditions change, can adapt to take advantage of changing weather or water conditions to assist your swim. Lengthening and stretching out the stroke, lowering stroke count against a slight current will slow you dramatically. Speeding your turnover when the flow is with you might not be the best use of economy of effort. Arriving early, watching earlier waves swim if possible, looking for clues as to the conditions can help your swim. Is there any wildlife floating on the water in a river you are about to race in? how fast is it flowing. Are the ducks struggling to stay stationary? Are you going to work harder against a current or work with it, even if it means swimming further to get to your destination more quickly?

The exit and a few other ideas.

Long run to transition being included in your swim split? Are you Struggling to get your wetsuit off? Is it worth fully removing your suit at the waters edge if there is a long run? At what point did you stop your watch? Don’t rely on the calculation of Time for Swim to be of use to calculate your swim speed. There might not have been a timing mat at the swim exit so adding minutes to your swim which would be unfair to include in any average swim speed calculation.

Finally

If your pool swims are faster than your openwater racing are you comparing like for like and being fair to yourself? There is a vast difference between a 100m FC repeat in a 50m pool with a good turn, sitting on someone’s feet wearing a fast suit or neoprene shorts compared to 100m in a 25m pool, not drafting with 3 slow turns. What you are you comparing when you say Pool speed? There could be as much as 10sec difference between 100m in those two pool lengths as just described. Over 3.8km that is a big difference so keep in mind it might not be as bad as you thought depending on how you are gauging your pool based swims.

Linking Swim Drills

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I have been working on the idea of combining swim drills of late. A few well known coaches refer to improving the timing and coordination between the arms and legs as coupling. This concept is key to create a fluid full stroke but I feel that when two drills are linked/coupled together they can have a remarkably improved effect on a swimmers full stroke. The idea is that two areas working together enhance or restrict a movement so that the sum then generates a better full stroke FC when the drills end. The usual process is to take a movement off the wall for 5-10m and then build on it with a separate but linked movement to half way of a 25m pool. The swimmer then finishes the length on fast full stroke as the drills end and the heightened or enhanced stroke is unleashed!
I wrote a while back about hybrid drills but this is different. Hybrid drills integrate two drills to improve or limit a bad habit. Adding a shark fin movement in-between a single arm movement will encourage you to complete your rotation. Coupling two drills together in isolation is slightly different.
During a lesson this week we combined 5m off the wall, ‘Arms folded on top of the head, Legs only.’ This was to wake up the legs which flowed into 5m of fists clenched to build the leg momentum further and introduce a faster turnover from the arms slipping. These two movements combined nicely to leave the last half length strong and high in the water. My swimmer tried 4x25m as a subset, rest 10 with a strong final half length. Two rounds with fins then two without.
Others….
FISTS w Catchup is a nice variation in its own right but first add 10m fins pointed down with normal hands to offset the fists clenched position and encourage more from the arms. Initially you are working hard to pull with the hands and forearms to offset the dragging legs. The legs are then returned but the hands are taken away to heighten the use of the forearm. When the legs and arms are ‘returned’ for the full stroke the legs feel higher, more involved and we feel we can now hold more water.
Legs crossed 5m off the wall will speed the arms into fists clenched for 5m which will wake the legs and continue the momentum of the fast arms.
Legs crossed to stifle the boys rotation as kick and hips will be compromised for 5m into  Torpedo for 5m off the wall to promote your rotation and wake up the legs  to enhance them when you commence full stroke for the final half length.
10Kick Catch Up to slow the arms, improve arm accuracy and wake up the legs into Fists clenched and legs crossed to speed up the arms again beyond normal turnover. Introducing full stroke for the final half of the length will maintain the early accuracy at the faster pace.
Fists Clenched with a pull buoy to engage the forearm more while the body works on improving its compromised body position with the float in the harder position. After 5m open the hands to build on this position and then at halfway let the float go to enhance the body position further with the leg kick.
There are lots of variations to implement, as a general rule the harder drill should be placed first so you can utilise the push off from the wall and assist with some momentum. The second drill should build or enhance the compromised position and help you flow into the full stroke.