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.


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.


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.


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.
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.

SWIM TECHNIQUE- Thumbs In, out, in, out, in, out you shake em all about…

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A question I get asked a lot relating to swim technique is whether to swim with thumbs in or out when pulling. I looked into this area of the stroke a few years ago. In particular finger spacing and how finally the sports scientists had caught up and told us that an ideal spacing between the fingers was 3mm. Most elite swimmers have this gap as it improves the size of the usable surface area of the hand and provides a larger, firmer anchor to launch you forwards.

I shifted to this hand shape a few years ago and took 1 stroke off my 25m stroke count feeling less slipping, a firmer hold and a bigger paddle to pull myself forwards with. It was significant. During lectures about the Thumb position when asked due to the lack of research and how so many Elite swimmers have done well with either the thumb in or out I glossed over it and offered that both were ok. I was not going to unteach one over the other or introduce the other as being better! Many great swimmers have done well with both. I continued with my thumb out not actually investigating whether there would be some differences. What is interesting from a little research is how the positioning varies at different stages of the pulling phase.

So this is the issue when it comes to swimming, all we have is to look at the fast guys and watch what they do. Often we forget to ask could they be quicker? Swimming is interesting in that it is incredibly hard to measure in terms of bio mechanics. There are so many fluctuations and deviations with each repeated movement. Unlike a pedal going around in a circle our arms do circle but with so many shifts & deviations from stroke to stroke.

Nathan Adrian, IN at the front, OUT at the back but does fluctuate.

Katie Ledecky – seemed IN throughout. Not ideal footage but I found this to suggest a late OUT right at the back of the stroke!

Ricky Berens, OUT throughout.

Ian Thorpe– predominantly IN at the front and OUT at the back. Interesting variation which was reproduced repeatedly.

Just because some Olympians do it a certain way should not stop us from trying the opposite of our usual. When I tried to close down my thumb space my hold and balance improved. Previously I was a little wide and too much S pull. If you think about this logically it makes sense that to maximise the largest surface area and not allow any water to slip through the thumb should be in.

Previous Thumb Out                                Thumb Now In



Self Discover. Watch, learn, replicate but test and measure, see which is better for you. Some of the subtler, smaller movements might at first seem inconsequential but another stroke per 25 is good free easy gains. It will be pretty easy to get some measurements and decide which is better for you


Contemplating a training camp? a recent interview with Club La Santa.

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SwimForTri coach, Dan Bullock is a frequent host of triathlon training camps here at Club La Santa among others. We caught up with Dan and went through a Q and A to discuss the success of SwimForTri and gain crucial insight into the world of triathlon swimming.

What do you enjoy the most about competing yourself and now that you are teaching?

I was a pool based competitor and raced at the 1988/92 Olympic Trials, I was also fortunate enough to spend 4 years in the US on a College Scholarship. I loved all aspects of training and racing but I was also interested in the techniques of those faster than me so without realising I was also interested in coaching. Now I mostly race Openwater events after 10 years of Triathlon and really enjoy the opportunity to be outdoors competing. Pool racing was very clinical and exact. With Openwater events you are always going to get something very different. Even the same location the following year will be a very different swim. My sister and I set up SwimForTri in 2003, teaching and preparing swimmers for the unexpected and how to be adaptable swimmers given the many conditions of Openwater was the exciting challenge we wanted.

What improvements could someone expect from the week? Can you provide any examples of possible improvements?

We have had people very poor at front crawl managing the 1900m lagoon lap on the last night at the mini race/timetrial. This event completes the week before the final night celebration/awards dinner. Some who were afraid of Openwater are happy to do their first shorter Openwater swims while others are minutes quicker than their previous 1900m times but of course when it comes to Openwater it is not fully scientific so we test in the pool as well. A few images might help illustrate. Given the density and resistance of water compared to air even just a few degrees improvement in body position can yield dramatic improvements.

Do you have timed efforts during the week to allow attendees to see if they have improved?

Early in the week we offer a simple test set where we swim for 10 minutes repeating as many 50m efforts as possible with just 10 seconds rest between each swim. It is not so daunting to the newcomer but gives a fair measure of fitness and technique. In the follow up homework a few weeks later I suggest it is repeated and many people add between 50-100m of distance as fitness improves and people get used to their improved technique. Due to the fatigue build up on camp it is hard to instantly be significantly better by the end of the week, so we suggest some rest and then provide weekly homework to continue the momentum.

How does the Video Analysis work? Can the attendees see before and after?

We film pretty much every day and show the footage in lectures after the days efforts in the Pool or Lagoon. Both underwater and surface angles are used and also the swim drills we perform are filmed. Narrowing the disparity between how you think you swim and what you swim are key to improving. Many perform swim drills for a while and feel they are ok so move onto pure fitness swimming. Once swimmers have seen their drills performed they can see they still have more to practice and it helps them continue with a better balance of fitness and technique.

How important is it to get the swim section right when doing a triathlon and have confidence in your open water swimming?

I recall a question from a Triathlete about an Ironman swim and its lower significance compared to the bike and run. Traditionally most spend much longer on the bike and run so many focus all their attention on those aspects. If you panic in a mass start or don’t swim inside the cut off time at many events then regardless of how fast your bike and run are you will not get to continue so confidence to complete the distance inside a cut off is key. Tolerating being surrounded by many other swimmers in cool conditions with poor clarity can be quite unnerving as well. We work to cover all eventualities.

What do you regard as the most important element of the camp?

We work hard to ensure swimmers/Triathletes have fun and become faster and more confident. Those that attend continue racing and training together and keep in touch via FaceBook . There is an awful lot of exercise available, perhaps equal to a month of normal training back home yet I am always amazed so many attend nearly every session especially as some sessions are quite early in the morning. The temptation of so many other activities at Club La Santa is really appealing so it is important to get enough rest so you can focus on the key elements of the swimcamp. Many come back year on year which is a nice endorsement we are helping.


Booking details here for the Sept 2018 Camp

The 3 Stages of Proper Swim Development

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Originally featured on TrainingPeaks.com

At a recent workshop at Speedo HQ looking at some product development, the conversation turned to the subject of good swim technique.

Amongst the assembled group of designers, scientists and coaches it was not easy fully describing good technique. Each person had a view as to which component was more important, and the best way to inject this into their swim classes.

It was actually easier to describe bad technique, and how if you slowly eliminated examples bad technique one aspect at a time you would be left with something that could be described as good swim technique. The key words such as rhythm, graceful, relaxed, a lack of splash, a lack of effort, symmetry, propulsion and low levels of drag cropped up— but these are all are quite vague descriptions.

The truth about good swim technique is: we know it when we see it. It is highly individual, and we all have an idea as to how we define it. A level of skill is needed to take away the thought process and allow the sequence of swimming actions to unfold naturally without hesitation.

For example, the coordination of the arms and legs, the timing of the breathing, applying just enough force to pull you through the water without slipping in the water.

When a swimmer starts out improving their stroke what I see is a sequence of swimming movements slowly being constructed and processed, hence the hesitations, the slow rigid movements of the body and the mechanical edge to their movements that seem to hold them back.


The big problem for those who are not natural swimmers is the concept of the disparity between what they feel they are doing and what they are actually doing.

For many swimmers, once they see a video of themselves swimming, will still need further convincing that it is actually them up on the screen.

At our weekend workshops where the filming is displayed in a classroom setting shortly after the first swim, often swimmers wait to claim their piece of footage ( i.e. they wait to see if they like what they see).

If it’s wrong and they have identified the wrong person up on the screen, it’s usually an example of somebody swimming better than they do. At this point I diplomatically point out, “Unfortunately sir you are the only gent in today’s group so that has to be you.”

If you come from a sporting background (from any other sport either in or out of the water) and have good hand-eye coordination and good proprioception skills, then the new movements often come easier.

The disparity is narrowed, as people seem to have a more accurate method of allowing them to visualize the movements they are making. I liken this to the idea of the “unconscious incompetence,” which is the first of the Four Stages of Competence, a well-known psychology model that describes how we learn a new skill.


For a swimmer learning proper swim technique, it is not so much that they are unaware of how some of their movements are being performed poorly, it is more that they cannot perceive their own movements as good or bad.

The journey to unconscious competence where it all seems so easy is—not so easy. I feel there are three key stages for an adult swimmer attempting to swim well and most triathletes plateau in the second area not realizing how much time in the water is needed to attain the third (I am trying hard to resist not using the expression enlightenment here!)

The workshop at Speedo HQ touched on why swimming can be so challenging and when I thought about how many repetitions of a certain movement were needed for it to become automatic—for it to become unconscious and competent—I had to agree.

When I thought back to how much repitition must have taken place during my own development years between 1987 and 1994 in order for it to look relaxed and as if I wasn’t trying—it could have easily been in the millions!

How many hours at the steering wheel did you spend driving before you started to not notice the mechanics of the process of driving? I bet it took a while for some to be comfortable enough on the bike to stop looking for the gear and brake levers.

The moment they become an extension of the hands and arms you can then focus on the road around you, the surroundings and traffic, and suddenly you are a much safer cyclist.

Three Key Stages of Swim Development

Initially, when people start out improving their swim technique, it is exhausting due to making use of the incorrect muscles (usually the larger ones of the legs) to perform incorrect movements.

Getting tired more quickly than is necessary while directing yourself in a direction you don’t want to go is a double whammy of a problem. Unfortunately, the sensation of speed is apparent since it all feels so strong and fast—the bubbles, the splashing and the getting out of breath.

The sensations that can deliver such speed on the bike and the run will do nothing but fatigue you in the water due to a lack of streamline, using the wrong muscles to channel water in the wrong directions and not allowing you a healthy window of opportunity to get your air in when breathing.

Fortunately, it does not take too long to move on from this position. Four or five lessons can do it for many people; acquiring the correct movements driven by many of the smaller muscles will soon have you moving into stage two.

Getting faster as the effort levels come down and streamline starts to kick in can happen quite quickly. At this stage, you are unlikely to be purely swimming faster but for longer distances you should be setting improved times as you fatigue less.

Often the big issue at this time is convincing swimmers that they are indeed getting faster. Due to the counterintuitive nature of faster swimming becoming possible with less effort—many people refuse to buy into it.

Constant measuring will help reassure you, whether it is time taken for a distance, strokes taken per length, or distance swum in a certain time. Be fair and time yourself over at least 400m, as a 25m sprint will unlikely to be quicker as you will not be swimming faster in terms of pure swim velocity.

You will still be processing a sequence of swimming movements to create the freestyle stroke, but the direction you channel water will be positive in terms of you moving forward.

You will generally be taught to use the smaller muscle groups to control smaller movements. The energy and oxygen cost per stroke will reduce massively. Linked to the counterintuitive feel, unfortunately, is that these new muscles are not yet familiar with the new movements. So, for six to eight weeks even smaller muscles (now moving correctly) will be more tiring until they adapt to the new overload.

Most will now be in that tricky, in-between stage where you are not reaping the benefits of being faster just yet (more on this later) but since your movements are now contributing to going forward rather then up and down or sideways, faster times are inevitable if you believe and persevere.

Finally, we come to the moment of enlightenment (sorry!) when you feel fast in the water and you are actually moving fast in the water.

Swimming fast with the sensation of speed is a combination of a well streamlined body position, a rhythmical leg kick to hold you in the water and assist your body position, constant rotation to the degree you are streamlined (but not overdoing it so you waste time gliding).

Probably the key benefit is acquiring the feel for the water, at this point you make the water feel more solid around the hand. You can feel the body moving over a stationary hand rather than it slipping under the body.

A secondary part of the feel for the water is how you can sense just how much effort to put into each pulling movement. Too much strength and it is wasted as the fluid water slips around the hand, not enough and you just move slowly.

A strong pull is a combined balance of strength and finesse, allowing the maximum amount of effort to be deployed. The faster you move through the water will add additional benefits, such as the trough of air deepening around the head, meaning you can turn the head less when breathing. Sitting higher in the water carries benefits to the sighting process, and so on.

At this point you will automatically process the freestyle movements without the thought process, meaning you can focus more on pacing and race tactics but it is going to take quite some time to acquire that degree of unconscious competency.

For some this may take a while longer than they hoped, but it is possible. You may need to think in terms of sessions per month rather then sessions per week. What I mean by this is that aiming for four sessions per week is a noble ambition but you are more likely to be content with three. If you aim for between 13 and 16 sessions per month—you will be getting more achieved and hopefully be inspired to achieve more.

Set realistic goals and think about it being a two-year process if you are starting out from a novice level. Acquiring a technically proficient stroke will enable you to be faster, swim easier, be prone to fewer injuries and eventually allow you to enjoy the swim aspect of your race (the pacing, the tactics and the actual racing rather than just mechanically processing the swim movements to help you survive from start to T1). It’s a process, to be sure, but a worthwhile one in the long-term scope of your endurance performance.

Improvements to speed need swim fitness and technique.

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Improvements to speed need swim fitness & technique. The two go hand in hand, stroke in stroke. You do not get to be a faster swimmer if either swim fitness or technique are missing. As part of this equation our swim fitness sessions are full of technical pointers, drills, testing, stroke counting & analysis.

On occasion we can also film which is a great opportunity to narrow the gulf between how you swim and how you think you swim. More on this in my Plateau article from Training Peaks

‘The big problem for those who are not natural swimmers is the concept of the disparity between what they feel they are doing and what they are actually doing. For many swimmers, once they see a video of themselves swimming, they will still need convincing that it is actually them up on the screen.’

If you swam this week at one of our swim fitness sessions then you should find your video footage here –

London Fields

Kings Cross

London Bridge

Mile End




Have a look at some full stroke swum here from multiple angles. Apologies but due to sharing lanes with the public some locations had better opportunities than others. If you feel you need more attention then our new Endless Pool Facility is now offering lessons with multi angle playback.

More details here – Fulham The chance to swim against a current is a great way to learn streamline and feel when you are creating drag. Equally the water moving around the body can help accelerate the learning process.

Breathing ….both sides or single side?

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Bilateral Breathing (alternating to both sides) is not the only solution despite what the text books will keep telling you. Until you have control of the breathing aspect of your FrontCrawl (F.C.) stroke it will also not be possible to relax in the water regardless of how often people keep giving you this advice. How often, for how long and when is one of those grey areas that is quite individual to you. The right and wrongs though would include in through the mouth (only) and out when the head is submerged. Don’t wast time exhaling when the head is turned to the side. The best solution is what is comfortable for you and depends if you are racing or training and at what intensities. Usually on race day that means each second stroke to keep a healthy flow of air coming into the body. In training however it would be good to mix the pattern to stop any bad habits becoming ingrained. This could include alternate lengths swapping sides. If you struggle to breath to a certain side check your technique for balanced and symmetrical rotation.  A lack of rotation to a certain side will impact the heads ability to turn. Try the Torpedo drill to assist here.  If the head only turns to one side repeatedly then there will be negative repercussions to body position and arm movements.  We always try to balance particular movements so that they are not repeated on their own too many times. Keep in mind the head is a large clumsy object that contributes so much more to fast swimming if it does not move. Keep head movements when turning to breathe, small, fast and fluid.

Some coaches will suggest a full exhalation at the last moment before the head turn to keep the body high in the water, others will feel that this added buoyancy to the chest cavity will keep the legs low so to exhale continually. There are arguments for and against both styles but reducing anything that causes tension is desired (so exhale a small amount continually during the face in the water stage) and if you’re legs sit low find out why, there are probably contributing factors.

A breathing pattern (B.P.) alternative I like is the 3.2. Here you take 3 strokes between breaths then 2 so it mixes 2 breaths to the left then 2 to the right. You could think of this as 2 breaths per 5 strokes rather then 6 which is slightly less taxing on the system. I try to encourage bilateral breathing (to both sides) at low intensities in training (warmups and subsets, even cool downs.) A key piece of swim equipment to help is the central snorkel that takes the head movement for air out of the equation altogether meaning you get a chance to focus on body position and arm movements. Getting comfortable with the breathing aspect of FrontCrawl is not easy but once mastered will allow you to relax in the water and start to make some big gains. Early on the stroke will dictate when you get to breathe (compare to the bike and run when you are always in charge) which will never allow you to relax. As stroke mechanics improve you will take charge of when you breathe and so allow the stroke to be performed more relaxed. A more relaxed stroke is less aggressive, more economical, needs less air and the delicate balance of pulling on slippery nothingness gets easier.

One of my favourite blocks of work to reinforce these concepts is as follows. Perform a sensible warmup ahead of starting this more intense block of work. Consider this your main set which should then be followed with a cool down. B.P. – Breathing pattern. A breath every 2nd,3rd, 4th or 5th stroke etc. Rest 25 between each swim. FC – front crawl swimming stroke

500metres (20Lengths in a 25m Pool) F.C. (front crawl), swum with fins, Breathing Pattern 5

400metres (16Lengths) F.C., swum with paddles,       Breathing Pattern 4 (change sides with each length)

300metres (12Lengths)   F.C. pull,                                  Breathing Pattern 3.2

200metres (8Lengths)    F.C. swim,                                Breathing Pattern  2

100metre (4Lengths) F.C. swim, 3-4 breaths per length, your choice where you use them…                                                                                                                                                                        1500m

new to swimming? Technique Swim Tips for Beginners

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Technique Swim Tips for Beginners, some Q&As

  • How important is technique when you are learning to swim? Swim technique is harder to change later in life so the fewer mistakes made earlier when learning the more effective you will be later in your swim career.
  • If you’ve never had swimming lessons/coaching, does this necessarily mean you will have poor technique? Swimming is highly technical and not easy to change even for advanced swimmers. It is illogical and counter intuitive so to get it right without instruction will be very hard
  • Can you teach yourself better swimming technique? Not the easiest since most struggle to imagine what they are doing right and wrong while in the water since it is such an alien environment. You can watch good technique, read good technique even picture good technique in your mind but this is rarely translated into correct movements performed.
  • What are the main benefits of having a coach to help you improve? They will be the eyes you need to guide you and describe the mistakes you make. They will help translate the technical points you might be misinterpreting into fluid swimming movements.
  • Which stroke is the hardest to master and why? They all have their complexities but perhaps Butterfly is most the difficult due to the very specific timing issues. If your timing is out you will struggle to take in air.
  • What are the benefits of good swimming technique? Does it improve fitness as well as performance? Good technique will exhaust you less so you can do more of it at a steadier pace. The fitness benefits are well documented but until the mechanics of your strokes are efficient it will be hard to do much more then a few lengths. You are also less likely to injure yourself if the correct movements are made with the correct muscles.
  • If you’ve never thought about technique before, which stroke should you start with and why? FC and Backstroke are perhaps the two least tiring if done well. Backstroke removes the need to time a head turn allowing for air to be taken when you want so could be considered an easier starting point. FC can create concerns since to do it well you need to put your face in the water. Depending on fitness levels and starting point Breaststroke might appear simple but done well is highly technical. Confidence, the ability to relax and timing of the breath should be early aims regardless of stroke.
  • Are there different techniques you should employ for pool / open water swimming and why? Swim movements do not necessarily need to change due to solely being in OW but you will need to add in a method for sighting and looking where you are going. If you are swimming in a wetsuit this will impact body position so we might take into account this change but legs still kick and arms still pull.
  • What do you think is most important and why: stroke techniques or breathing techniques? Or do you need to have everything working in synch to swim effectively? The two are inextricably linked. Controlled breathing allows you to swim relaxed with a stroke that can be reproduced over and over. Swimming well with good technique allows you to breathe when you want. On dry land, breathing is not an interrupted stop/start function due to only being allowed a short window of opportunity to inhale. In the water until you have better control of your swim technique your stroke will dictate when you get to take a breath and that can only lead to further frustration.
  • What is your top piece of technique advice for,
  • a) a swimming novice, swim more frequently but perhaps for shorter periods. Tremendous gains can be made if you reduce the amount of time ‘unlearning’ between swims
  • b) a swimming enthusiast, work with a coach, huge gains can be made for modest changes to your swim technique.
  • c) an experienced, high level swimmer? Check progress by performing some specific, reproduce able swim sets each 6 weeks or so. Measure if you are getting faster, fitter or swimming further. Add some accountability to your swimming. It might help get you to the pool on those days you are not so keen to go.

Building Endurance in your Swimming

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Building Endurance 

Swimming is almost dull in that to swim faster you need to repeat with great accuracy the same movements repeatedly. The pathways, the same degrees, the same movements at the joints. Timing, breathing patterns, the number of leg kicks. If anything ‘fades’ in terms of no longer holding the same distance travelled with each movement then we slow down. You don’t need to be strong to swim fast but you need the strength to repeat similar movements repeatedly so that you swim a decent speed for longer. A good example of this is when a client comes for a swim analysis and they ask if I think they might be able to swim 1500m in under 25mins. If I watch them swim 25m in 25secs then I offer that at the moment they can swim at the necessary pace required which amazes them but then comes the hard bit. Repeating that pace for 100m, then 200m,400m etc.Due to water being so much denser then air you cannot battle water with strength and fitness alone. You need technique and a kind of endurance that allows repeated movements over and over without creating too much drag or needing too much energy (i.e. when the wrong muscles are employed to drive the stroke.

The following are 3 of my favourite endurance focused sessions to be performed in a 25m pool. Try one a week for 3 weeks at the Novice distances, then a repeated 3 week cycle at the Intermediate level and finally the advanced for 3 weeks. In conjunction with some pure technical work across 2-3 additional swims each week these will really help you handle swimming strong speeds for longer distances.



Perform a 15-20min warm up ahead of these sessions and spend 5-10mins cooling down after you have completed these sets. Try some Arms folded Kick or Glute Kick off each wall to wake up the legs in the warm up.

BP refers to breathing pattern. BP2 means every 2nd stroke to a single side. BP3 means an alternating every 3rd to both sides.

Endurance 1 of 3

TEACHING POINT: Use the easier swims for a technique review. Check length of stroke, count strokes – maintain an even count as the pace increases.

NOVICE 1x the following:

500m FC alternating 1L at 50%, 1L at 70%, rest 30secs (optional pull buoy)

300m FC increase effort by 100m, at 50%, 60%, 70%

INTERMEDIATE 2x the following- 500m FC alternating 1L at 50%, 1L at 70%, rest 30secs, (FINS, paddles and snorkel)

300m FC increase effort by 100m, at 40%, 60%, 80% rest 60 between the 800m blocks

ADVANCED    4x the following – 500m FC alternating 1L at 50%, 1L at 70%, rest 30secs

(fins, paddles & snorkel on the odd 500m swims, pull on the even 500m swims)

300m FC increase effort by 100m, at 40%, 60%, 80% – rest 45secs between the 800m blocks                                                                                                             =========================================================================

Endurance 2 of 3

TEACHING POINT: BP3.2 means take a breath after a 3rd stroke then a 2nd stroke. This keeps the breathing to both sides but is not quite so taxing as pure bilateral breathing.

NOVICE 8×100m, rest 15, swum as 1L BP every 2 to the left, 1L BP every 2 to the right and 2L BP3.2, start each length with a great push off

INTERMEDIATE (5-8) x 200m, rest 20 swum as -2L BP every 2 to the left, 2L BP every 2 to the right and 4L BP3.2

ADVANCED start with the INTER set and then continue into: 3×400m, BP 3 then 5 within each length for 2lengths into BP2 for a length to the right then to the left for a length. Repeat the pattern for 400m


Endurance 3 of 3

TEACHING POINT: A firmer catch and pull, coupled with a better leg kick creates economical speed, not more inefficient strokes.

NOVICE (8-12) x 100m increase effort in blocks of 4, rest 30 between each 100m, rest 60 between blocks of 4. Attempt to drop 5secs per 100 ending up at 80% on No. 4,8,12                     

INTERMEDIATE (6-9) x 200m increase effort in blocks of 3, rest 30 between 200s, rest 60 between blocks of 3. Drop 5 secs per 200, ending up at 80% on No.  3,6,9

ADVANCED 7×400m increase effort in blocks, 1-3 then 1-4, rest 35 between 400s, rest 60 between blocks. Aim to Drop 10 secs per 400, ending up at 80% on No.3 & 7