Clock Watching

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Making timekeeping and length counting easy


The big round thing at the end of the pool?

Maybe to the side of the pool?

Do you see it?

Usually decorated with a blue/red bar across the middle? The bar usually moves in circles, through 360degrees. Maybe now? Divided up into 5sec increments around the edges from 0 at the top?

The Clock! Yes that’s the one and it is there to help your Training. It can tell you more then just how fast you covered that last 100m and how long until you start your next swim. With some ingenuity you can use it without the need for a clumsy watch at your wrist to count the number of repeats you have completed and also present a reasonably accurate Heart Rate measurement.


Clock Management

We will start with an easy exercise first to get the hang of some of the basics. We will also need to get familiar with some basic swim training terminology as well.

Try 5x100m FC off 2:15, basically 5 times 100m (4 lengths in a 25m pool) and you rest until 2:15 expires when we start repeat No2. If we start on the Red 0 then we will start the next repeat on the red 15, the third on the Red 30 and so on.


Start on:

RED 0;        swim 1st repeat inside of 2:15; rest until & depart on:

RED 15;       swim 2nd repeat inside of 2:15; rest until & depart on:

RED 30;       swim 3rd repeat inside of 2:15;  rest until & depart on:

RED 45;       swim 4th repeat inside of 2:15; rest until & depart on:

RED 0;        swim the last swim inside of 2:15


If we have an approximate idea of our best 100m (i.e. 1:40) then you will possibly come in on the RED 50 (1:50 for 100m) after the first swim. It is unlikely you will suddenly swim 2:20 or 1:20 so we should be able to avoid Red/Blue confusion. We get 25secs rest so we will we go again on the RED 15. Perhaps next swim we return on the RED 3 so we have swum 1:48. We rest until the RED 30 and commence with 3rd 100m repeat. Noting the time it takes to complete the 100m is often just a case of subtracting or adding positions on the clock. RED 15 to RED 3 is 48secs. From the earlier assumption you can also deduce it will be 1:48 rather then 2:18 or 1:18.


Another way to look at this is to think about how the interval patterns move around the clock. To swim 50metres choosing an interval of 1:10 for instance. If you start on the BLUE 0, finish your 2lengths of the 25m pool on the BLUE 50 then we get to rest 20secs before commencing the second 50m on the BLUE 10. i.e.


BLUE 0;       swim 1st repeat inside of 1:10; target of 50;

rest until & depart on;

BLUE 10;     swim 2nd repeat inside of 1:10; rest until & depart on;

BLUE 20;     swim 3rd repeat inside of 1:10;  rest until & depart on;

BLUE 40;     swim 4th repeat inside of 1:10; rest until & depart on;

BLUE 50;     swim 5th repeat inside of 1:10; rest until & depart on;

BLUE 0;       swim the last swim inside of 1:10


Another 50sec swim will have you finish on the BLUE 0 before we set out again on the 20.

With 12 x 5sec increments marked on the clock 6x50s will have us finish on the 0 again having worked our way around the clock, starting each 50m 10secs later. The last will see us push off on the 50. No7 would have started on the 0 again for a second block if necessary.

For intervals over 60secs we move clockwise around the clock face (Consider this a positive interval). You could move anti clockwise if you chose a tougher interval of 55secs for instance. 12x50metres of FC off 55 sec would have us depart on the RED 0 and then depart after our rest period (possibly not much now!) on the RED 55, then the RED 50. The 12th 50m would start on the RED 5 and have us again complete the set by the RED 0. No13 would have seen us depart on the RED 0 again.

Intervals of 40 or 1:20 (for 25metres or 75metres possibly depending on ability) would see us either move around the clock anti clockwise or clockwise using the 0,20 and 40 as our departure points.


Counting lengths & Pace Control

The clock can help count the number of lengths we have swum during longer swims if you keep on eye on it. Suppose we set ourselves a swim of 400m (16lengths in our 25m pool.) You might already have an idea of your best 400m time, but it is not so important if you do not have an accurate best time. If we start on the RED 0 it is helpful to check the 2length split but not essential. If I see the RED 50 as I touch at 50m then if I have not gone out too hard I should be approx 1:45 (RED 45) at the 4length marker.

  • If you are turning and the clock is at the other end of the pool then this is an ideal opportunity to practice looking up to sight the clock. I would start these swims at the opposite end to the clock for least disruption to your stroke and rhythms since the sighting movement will be most natural.
  • If the clock is to one side then a breath to the side out of the turn will enable a quick snapshot.


Pace control helps and this regular checking of time will guide you. At length 6 we should be seeing RED 40, then RED 35 for a 3mins 35secs 200metre split. The pattern of subtracting 10initially then 5secs with each swim will have us move anti clockwise around the clock. If you lose track as I usually do at around lengths 10 or 12 then we can just check the clock position for an update. Sighting the RED 25 tells me, providing I am swimming similar stroke counts and keeping my HR consistent then I am highly likely to be at 12lengths. Another 4lengths and I will finish on the 15 for a 7:15 swim, which was nicely even splitted off of the 3:35 halfway point. The very first two lengths are generally a fraction quicker due to the more accurate streamlined push and glide, the lower fatigue having just come off a rest and general sensation of easy speed. The key thing to recall is which top you started on!


Above example summarized.

Starting on:

RED 0;        swim 1st 50m in 50sec and turn on:

RED 50;       swim 2nd 50m in 55sec and turn on:

RED 45;       swim 3rd 50m in 55sec and turn on:

RED 40;       swim 4th 50m in 55sec and turn on:

RED 35;       200m split = 3:35;   swim 5th 50m in 55sec and turn on:

RED 30;       swim 6th 50m in 55sec and turn on:

RED 25;       swim 7th 50m in 55sec and turn on:

RED 20;       swim 8th and last 50m in 55sec and finish on:

RED 15;       Total time 7:15, with 2nd 200m split of 3:40


At this point you might be feeling surely it is easier to wear a watch or rely on the person in front to do all the counting for you. Keeping a track of your own splits and lengths brings ‘interest and variety’ to your swim, keeping you occupied. It will help with pacing and along with counting strokes provides an almost instant assessment of swim efficiency. It might even keep your mind off the drudgery of a less then exciting swim. Swimming with a watch regardless of size, to me still feels clumsy. Most would avoid wearing their key from a locker at a public pool around their wrist. Both occupy space at a critical part of the arm that needs to feel clean as it enters the water and strong as it sets up an ideal hand, wrist, and forearm position for the pull phase.


Useful swim sets

A useful clock agility set to try is as follows. You can see patterns emerge as you arrive and judge your rest and calculate your departure time. The following could equally work with 25m, 33m or 50m swims depending on your ability. First we will demonstrate this with a positive interval and work from the 0 down to the 30. We will then repeat with a negative interval.


SET1: Start on:

RED 0;        swim 1 repeat inside of 70secs;         rest until & depart on:

RED 10;       swim 1 repeat inside of 60secs; rest until & depart on:

RED 10;       swim 1 repeat inside of 70secs; rest until & depart on:

RED 20;       swim 1 repeat inside of 60secs; rest until & depart on:

RED 20;       swim 1 repeat inside of 70secs; rest until & depart on:

RED 30;       swim 1 repeat inside of 60secs; rest until & depart on:

RED 30;       swim 1 repeat inside of 70secs and finish.


SET2: Start on:

BLUE 0;       swim 1 repeat inside of 60secs, rest until & depart on;

BLUE 0;       swim 1 repeat inside of 50secs, rest until & depart on;

BLUE 50;     swim 1 repeat inside of 60secs, rest until & depart on;

BLUE 50;     swim 1 repeat inside of 50secs, rest until & depart on;

BLUE 40;     swim 1 repeat inside of 60secs, rest until & depart on;

BLUE 40;     swim 1 repeat inside of 50secs, rest until & depart on;

BLUE 30;     swim 1 repeat inside of 60secs and finish.



To further help you keep track of your swims we could set an interval that would help perform the counting for us. Choose a top (BLUE or RED usually) and stick with it. Again depending on ability this might work for 25m, 33m, 50m or even 75m. We swim each repeat within 61 secs.


SET3: Start on:

RED 0;        swim 1 repeat inside of 61secs; rest until & depart on;

RED 1;        swim 1 repeat inside of 61secs; rest until & depart on;

RED 2;        swim 1 repeat inside of 61secs; rest until & depart on;

RED 3;        swim 1 repeat inside of 61secs; rest until & depart on;



RED 19;       swim 1 repeat inside of 61secs and finish for 20 swims.


For a more dramatic climax you could always count the number of repeats down. Start a set of 15x100s off 2:01 on the RED 45. With each swim we get one notch on the clock closer to the top. Its just psychological but we usually get better performances in the pool when we count down from 45 rather then up to 15!


If appropriate to your ability you could again attempt a very tough set of 15x100s of 2:01. Again we use the clock to keep track of the number of repeats we have swum. The added sting to this one is to attempt to get back before the clock hits a certain point. For instance attempt to always finish by the BLUE 0,

starting on the:

RED 0;        swim 100m, finish by the BLUE 0, target 1:30; depart on:

RED 1;        swim 100m, finish by the BLUE 0, target 1:29; depart on:

RED 2;        swim 100m, finish by the BLUE 0, target 1:28; depart on:

For those stronger swimmers the start of this set will be not too challenging but once we are into double figures then suddenly it gets very tough. i.e.

RED 11;       swim 100m, finish by the BLUE 0, target 1:19; depart on:

RED 12;       swim 100m, finish by the BLUE 0, target 1:18; depart on:

RED 13;       swim 100m, finish by the BLUE 0, target 1:17; depart on:

RED 14;       swim 100m, finish by the BLUE 0, target 1:16

Finish 15 swims.




A slightly less intense session that offers a challenge to all, is to swim 20x50m off a 91sec interval. This gets a little trickier. There are 2 ways to do this.

  1. Alternate the interval between RED and BLUE clock hand, thus starting on RED 0, BLUE 1, RED 2, BLUE 3 etc. to finish with RED 18, BLUE 19 for the 19th and 20th repeats
  2. Keep to one colour. RED 0, RED 31, Red 2, RED 33 etc. finish with RED 18, RED 49 for the 19th and 20th repeats


The session starts deceptively easy for most and I almost had a few moans about too much rest but once we were into double figures it started to take its toll. Especially when coupled with the idea of getting back before the RED/BLUE 0 (Option 1) with each swim. So break a minute on the first swim, then 59, 58 as you leave later but come back on the same time. At numbers 17+ you are in the low 40s and it will be challenging!


Heart rate

Another use for the big mostly redundant circle on the wall enables you to do away with taking another item to the pool. Without a Trisuit on covering the belt and stopping it flapping around when swimming I find a traditional HR monitor quite intrusive and distracting. Swim Club coaches often use the Equine Hand Paddle option to quickly get a reading of their swimmers efforts. In a squad situation this might make some sense but you could consider an easier if slightly less accurate option if on your own. As soon as you finish your repeat find the strong pulse in the neck, the Carotid Artery and press with the fingers. Use the clock to count the number of beats in 10 secs and multiply this by 6. Not exactly NASA high tech accuracy but not a bad guide to your training intensity. With frequent use it will act as a benchmark and to see similar times maintained as the HR falls or the HR maintained as you get faster will be a good indicator of improved fitness.


Future technology

At some point, sensors around a pool will measure your speed, laps swum, calculate distance and efficiency making for possibly a reason to mentally switch off from using the Wall Clock. Swim Tag has this right now but you still need to wear a large Tag and the information is not presented in realtime. A download later reveals how far you swam. Not much use if you were 50m away from a new max. Goggles with head up displays are on their way but still more focused on Heart Rate – from the Instabeat website –

“We are building a connected accessory for swimming goggles
that captures real-time heart rate, stroke type, and laps.
Instant heart rate information is fed into the swimmers’ eyes
and presented in a mobile app.”
This product has been floating around for a few years now but is still struggling to take off so for now how about giving our old friend on the wall a chance?!




Can’t we all just get along? Lane Etiquette

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Can’t we all get just along?


As you pay anything from between £4-£6 for a public swim you get to rent a space in the pool for a certain period of time. For your entry fee you get to displace a similar amount of water to me, other Triathletes, the slow Breaststroker, the Olde English Backstroker and even the Sidestroker. Unfortunately, this amount of £ does not get you your own lane and somehow we all have to get along. I don’t think we are at the stage of the cyclist/car user and that whole debate but we do have a quite different array of abilities, arriving differently equipped (wanting to use different equipment at least) and needing to share a common lane space.


I have been moaned at for swimming too fast in the fast lane with Stuart Hayes since a regular fast ‘laner’ was now not quite fast enough to jump in and hang on. I’ve swum with & witnessed James Beckinsale and Gill Sanders being moaned at during her Olympic preparations for being too fast in the usual fast lane. There is a lot of common sense that gets left in the changing rooms by all (and I mean all of us) when it comes to public swimming and we are all guilty. Public session means exactly that and those slower and faster then you or I have paid to be there and while irritating as that might be they have as much right as you or I. When those goggles/blinkers go on and the reps start accumulating though the last thing you want is someone ruining that one good effort when it was all falling into place. An OW swimmer did not hesitate to moan at me for swimming a length of legs only in a warm up so they had to overtake me recently. Should I have moved lanes for a single length? Could the OW swimmer have been more tolerant? If I had been kicking Breaststroke and so becoming an obstacle and inconvenience to his swim I think fair point. I should have moved but more importantly I would have moved. All pools should have a Breaststroke lane for safety reasons.


Some pools are now offering double width lanes so that overtaking is easier and safer. There may be some logic to this but usually this large channel in the middle stays quite empty and we have one big lane operating at a certain pace. Since many pools are 6-8 lanes wide to offer double width reduces the number of lanes available. With more single lanes more ‘abilities’ could be catered for. In the larger 8 lanes pools with singles lanes set aside for perhaps half the pool even other strokes would now have a safe harbour. A slow, medium, fast and strokes lane would help cater for more swim abilities. But what is a slow lane? A fast lane? It varies doesn’t it? At masters Swim Meets in the warm-ups they are usually segregated by times, lane1 is for those usually repeating 75secs per 50m and advancing across the 8lanes of the pool to 40secs per 50m. Slow, medium and fast demarcations at the end of the lanes don’t help, as the unfortunate regular ‘fast lane’ swimmers found out when we encroached on their space. As conditions dictate, some days you might only be a medium swimmer. Maybe those Slow, Med and Fast signs should have some average times on them to help people figure out where they should be. For the new Speedo On platform we spent hours figuring out Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced paces for Adult swimmers not from a swim club background. It took days!


I have had discussions with pool operators pointing some of these findings out since I often hire pool time, a few lanes at a time, during public sessions and witness the carnage that goes on. Lifeguards could act if it does not take too much away from the important duties of observing the pool and help move swimmers up and down lanes to keep the harmony but its never caught on. Most lifeguards spend most of the day cleaning. Ultimately though my business is to help people swim faster which is why I hire lanes. If you are serious about your swim improvements please consider a Tri club, a Masters Team, a coaching organization with hired lanes. Discipline, protocol, a conductor at the end of the lanes orchestrating your fitness in a controlled and safe environment in a social and competitive arena (when appropriate) has to be worth the extra money. These sessions usually work out to be no more then double the cost of a regular pool entry so given how good a supervised swim session should be and how much of a waste of your time a public session could be budgeting for structured sessions is something to add to your annual Fitness Budget. If you work shifts or odd hours and structured team sessions just are not going to work, then here are some guidelines as to what kind of session might just work a little more effectively in a public session and how.


  • Either avoid single lengths on a strict interval or swim them to a more relaxed interval, perhaps use the rest needed waiting for space to dictate the pace of the next length. If you get caught and need to wait for some space pick up the pace on the next and aim to ‘catch up’ the swimmer in front. Really give them some space though, remember a good streamline off the wall will shut down a large gap on an average swimmer. If 3-4 are in front having just pushed off in succession while you rest and coming into the wall are 3-4 more then take that spot and swim steady to recover on this repeat. Too much rest will make the set redundant and leave you possibly cold while you wait around too long as the next group go by.


  • Use HR to measure recovery rather then time so the set is not quite so regimented to the clock, which is where a lot of frustration creeps in. You can be sure that the second you want to get going on a certain interval a chain of swimmers will appear from no where and disrupt your swim. Choose an appropriate distance/main set of repeats and allow your HR to recover by 30-40 BPM between swims or as appropriate to the training effect your coach is trying to create.


  • Avoid drills for part of any length and stick to a main set of full lengths of full stroke. Abrupt changes of pace within a busy lane really make you unpopular. If you have drills to do, change lanes and group them together at a later convenient time in your session. I like the idea, in an ideal swim environment, of starting lengths with a short block of technique work and finishing the remainder of a length with full stroke but this is not ideal in a busy lane. Similarly choose fast drills if you must to keep your average pace constant such as single fist clenched or 6 strokes with both clenched/6 normal hands to avoid abrupt changes in pace


  • Fartlek training is highly adaptable to the pool and can help create a long distance block of multi paced/multi effort swimming. Runners use it and there is no reason why it will not translate into a swimming main set. You can make use of a distance to swim steady and a shorted distance to swim fast or you could choose a number of strokes to swim strongly before doubling that number for an easy block. A water proof MP3 player with play list could also be set up to create different length tempos. Random up-tempo pace sections are good fun when you need to overtake, read on for more details on how to overtake safely. A strong fast overtaking maneuver will really spike the HR and allow a good training effect.


  • No wall open turns are on option to stay out of trouble at the wall. Rather then get caught up in the mass of bodies resting along the wall you could if it is clear & no one is about to push off perform a roll turn into the wall but not touch it and swim away from it. This will avoid the temptation to stop, rest, chat, moan or procrastinate the rest of the session with the others hanging around.


  • Avoid paddles as they invariably will clip someone accidentally and lead to some kind of argument or if necessary keep to the small so that they do not protrude from outside of the hand too much. The soft mitts many manufacturers offer are of use at this time despite performing a much different swimming sensation, they are a lot safer to use in a busy public session.


  • Get your kick set done in a lower lane at the end of your session to keep clear of other swimmers and avoid Breaststroke kick. Breaststroke kick is the most violent and powerful of all the kicks. Most people do not realize how wide their kick is on Breaststroke, which leads to many issues.



The following will also apply to a structured team session and help everyone stay safe and keep the lane harmony to its fullest if some or all could be incorporated.


  1. Never suddenly stop in midstream unless it’s an emergency, it’s extremely disturbing for anyone immediately behind you. If you do suffer from cramp or lose your goggles, try to turn sideways and move to one side of the lane quickly so that anyone behind can still continue to swim past you without interference. The swimmer behind you can only base their swim movements (i.e. plans to overtake etc) on what they expect you to do and where they expect you to be. Sudden deviations from this will cause problems and lead to crashes.


  1. Overtaking: just like in a car always check behind you before pulling out to make sure you are not inconveniencing anyone who might also be trying to overtake you. Pick your spot for overtaking carefully, if we divide the length of the pool into thirds I would suggest the following:


Overtaking in the first two thirds of the length: you should move into the middle of the lane checking there are no oncoming swimmers in front. After a gentle and polite tap of the person’s feet in front move around them quickly. It is your responsibility to get around the person in front safely and quickly the swimmer in front should not have to change their swim to accommodate you. Slowing down a fraction if it is you being overtaken I am sure would be appreciated from the person doing the overtaking. With this in mind, as mentioned, the person in front should not attempt to help the person behind by moving around or getting out of the way. The person behind cannot anticipate these unexpected movements.


Overtaking into the wall, i.e. the last 3rd of the length: It should be a natural movement for any swimmer to move towards to the centre of the lane as they approach the wall from about the flags in to execute their turn centrally. This will aid a smooth movement to the opposite side of the pool for the next length. From this you can see overtaking at this point can be quite hazardous. If you plan to overtake someone in this area it is best to ease back a fraction, allow them the centre line and you should stay towards the side of the lane that you had been swimming up. As they move to the centre and push off to the opposite lane side you will turn and push off into the centre of the lane immediately setting you up to remain centre of the lane for your overtaking attempt in the first third of the next length. At this point you can see it’s important to check behind to be sure no one is attempting to overtake you.


  1. Intervals: 5second gaps are designed to allow you to swim your own swim without immediately gaining a tow from the swimmer in front if you push off too soon. Please be accurate with this, don’t be a drag queen. 10 sec gaps if possible would ensure you get your best-unaided swim with no draft from the person in front. If you do swim on someone’s feet you really are not putting in an individual effort. You would be vilified on the bike for doing this for too long so try not to let it become a habit in the pool. Leading a lane means you are working harder then those following. You get more out of the session than those following and will reap more from the time put into the session.


  1. If lane one swims clockwise, then lane two should swim anti clockwise and so on across the pool. This way you both lanes travel in the same direction when you are closest to each other side by side. This will help reduce crashing arms from any oncoming swimmers in the next lane whose hand trajectory is a little lower and wide. Not adhered to on the continent but crammed into our small 25m pools compared to the multitude of 50m pools there with our narrower lanes perhaps it is a good thing that we are a little more careful. Regardless of swimming clockwise or anticlockwise stay over to the side of the lane, keep the ‘middle’ lane of the lane free for overtaking.


6 Finish at the wall. Stopping short 2metres at the end of each set in the shallow end due to someone being in the way is a lot of missed distance each year. Swim through the offending gutter clutter blocking your swim finish, they will soon get the message. (Be careful/polite in those public sessions) Even if just one metre is lost with each finish it could be 30-40m each session. Try not to be one of those resting too long on the wall. Hanging on the wall at either end cluttering up people’s space to turn wins no friends


Being courteous to your fellow swimmers will go a long way. Also to your coach – If late, it is polite to get in at the back of the lane and proceed with the current set, slowly getting warmed up until you are ready to resume your normal position further up the lane. Ask your coach what the set is rather then jump in sneakily and follow hoping to figure it out. It is courteous and will stop you swimming into the back of the person in front when they start to unexpectedly kick and you did not notice. Bring two sets of goggles with you so that if there are any leaks, then swap them. Try not to sit there for 10 minutes fixing them. This infuriates coaches. Shower ahead of time; wear Flip-flops on poolside and swim hats in the water. This would be a great help to allow pool operators to start using fewer chemicals. We would all benefit from this and you’re more than likely going to race in a swim cap anyway aren’t you.






Henley Classic 2.1km swim

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Week in week out I lecture on how in openwater there is nothing to help keep you swimming straight apart from your stroke. Only a balanced, symmetrical movement with limbs creating equal movements should be relied upon, the alternative is lots of sighting!  You might have read this a few months ago as i discussed how many Triathletes effectively swim single armed –

Single Arm Swimming

Well finally all that goes out the window in the Henley Classic Swim as you swim on part of the rowing course that is a 2.1km straight stretch of the river which has two solid lane ropes either side to keep you penned in! Fantastic I hear you say. Well, this comes at a price, alarm goes at 3:05, yes Gatwick o’clock! The swimmers need to be out before the rowers get in and finishing a race before 5:30am does take some adjusting to. It feels like lunchtime but you need breakfast and a nap!

It is quite surreal seeing all the booms and barriers in the water to keep the rowing lanes separate and then there are the officials huts that seem to float on water. It is has a race course feel to it. The guys at Henley always put on a good show. Jeremy came for some lessons about 12 yrs ago and having swum the Bridge to Bridge and a few other events I have no qualms endorsing the races and the organisation. Bags ready when you exit, flip-flops in the right place, large buoys, lots of safety cover, hot chocolate & kayaks everywhere. And glorious Henley.

The stats above show a slow 2.2km but that included a near 4min pre start as I got in for a warmup. I won my AG in 28:28 so that was ok considering I am in quite heavy training for Geneva and the rest of the summer.

Camping was quite fun and it helped to be on site when the alarm went and bag check closed at 3:45. A parade of rubber down the river bank to the start under the amazing Lazer that outlines the straight course and before you know it, it is 4:30am and it is time to swim to the start. A mix of Triathletes and Openwater swimmers combine to make it quite a fast race with many categories including Non Wetsuits.

The water was warm and crystal clear, just idyllic conditions and you swim past some amazing sights, houses and boats and use the clock tower in Henley to sight once it is just light enough to see! It has been two years since the Bridge to Bridge for me <now the Thames Marathon> and I might just have to check dates for that again.

I mentioned we taught Jeremy all those years ago well it was lovely at the finish to have a few people in the water come over and say thanks for helping x,y,z many years ago with lessons and how they were enjoying their swimming. Matt M was a popular & fast swimmer at Putney Fitness not that long ago <now with Reading SC>  and great to be on a podium with him. Amazing progress. As  a coach and teacher there is nothing better then sharing a finish line with those you have helped.




Keep calm and keep calmer…

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Highly recommended. The Swim Oxford lock 2 lock series just outside of Oxford is a beautiful part of the Thames. We raced over 4 km on Sunday morning & it really is just a beautiful stretch of river. It was my first OW swim race of the year so always a little nervous thinking about all the little things that can happen and are you prepared for them.

For the first time since 2002 my goggles were split across the nose bridge by a wayward heel. It occurred during an unexpected fast start from a few of the local swim club youngsters I had been watching warm up on the start line. I started Polo drill to keep my face out and all I could think of was ‘Don’t panic.’ Another voice was saying ‘game over. Let’s go home! remember 2002? you won’t fix this.’ For safety I tried to move left to the edge of the scrum and let the pack come by. Once I was  out on the edge I recalled how my Speedo Elites did have the style of nose bridge I should be able to reattach if all the pieces were still intact. If I had not put the goggles on under my swim hat I doubt I would have them so that was encouraging. They snapped back into position and I was able to get them back onto my head. Maybe a few minutes lost and it was like f1 starting at the back of the grid. No pressure just weave my way through and enjoy a nice 4km training session. Panic over, just swim. Well done for keeping calm and fixing the problem. I was quite pleased with myself, I actually listened to some of my own advice and it paid off. In 2002 I had the old style of Swedish Goggles with a string nose bridge and once that was snapped that really was a big problem. I felt ok so just started swimming and stretching out carefully weaving through the pack that had now got in front.

Maybe about 1km into the event I noticed a stand up paddle board and wondered if it might be the lead? I passed 2 more swimmers and felt it was then just me and the lead. Being Fathers Day, the swim then took on a different  note. I started to spot fisherman along the bank and that was my Dads sport. I could hear him cheering just as he had many years ago at swim galas.

The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful and I held the lead for a very pleasant remaining 3km’ish. I will be back for the 6 or 8km that the organisers host. I have started to use a watch for recording stats as we help test the new Speedo On website so have a look at the map and times below.

I was very pleased with the result and my current level of fitness. I had used a swim thin so not the greatest amount of buoyancy but a great alternative if the water is warm. Henley next week and not long now until Lake Genava. So the moral of the story? when you think it’s all over, just double check, it might not be….and even if adversity strikes you might still get the result you want. You might have to work a little harder but I have not enjoyed or basked in the efforts quite as much as winning this one.

Catch Up…..

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Catch up is a drill. A good basic all round drill that gets utilised a lot in warm ups and general swimming since we all know about it. Sometimes when learning to swim some go too far and it becomes their swim technique. Think about it – alternating single arms. One arm at a time, one stroke at a time. Not good for swimming fast. Mikey suffered from this and we chatted at the Olympic Pool last night about overcoming how his swim style was now a slow drill. If the arms can work together, one anchoring with a good pull on the water the other can be launched forwards with the hips involved. Swimming completely with the hands at 180deg to each other is going to be the fastest ‘stroke’ but can be pretty exhausting. A compromise can be reached.

Timing more info here –

Have a look at the FreeFly drill for help -The FreeFly drill is great for helping with this issue. Also think about catching up to the elbow rather then the wrist as that compromise in timing.
The extension/Superman drill is also useful with a slight twist. ie we aim to keep the hands at 180deg to each other.
Pause in Extension, take an isolated breath, get the head back to ‘neutral’ and only once the head is back release the arms simultaneously. ie we aim to keep them at 180deg to each other. One breath of drill into one stroke with the hands constantly kept at opposites
See how these go, I have more if it needs further work along the lines of –
at 18mins with the legend Popov
Good luck


Olympic Ideals and Ideas…

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I had the good fortune to work with Susie Rogers last week. She often drops into the occasional London Disability Swim Club session that Michelle and I host. Post Gold in Rio Susie has announced her retirement but is still keeping fit and we have discussed wetsuits for maybe some OW swimming.

It was interesting as she swam and asked about the session, quizzed me about her swimming, asked for input and details on progress. She was checking times, counting strokes, remembering to drink. Working on pacing, checking heart rate and keeping an eye on many relevant stats. He attention to detail was a level above the other guys in the lane. I am sure people have made it to the Olympics with less attention to detail but it was interesting what else she did to help get the most from her training session. All the small things were done, exactly, helping her extract more from it. Maybe this was her approach but I have met a few Elite Sportspeople now and there are some common traits to be seen.

I recall offering a chance of a 100m easy swim at our Mile End session ahead of the mainset <or a quick toilet break.> Most hung around chatting but one Kona qualifier went to the deep end to do some extra Tricep extensions ahead of the mainset. There are those who talk about Kona and wish for it and there are those who make it happen.

It is quite easy to get 3km or more swum in a Long distance focused training session. 120 lengths. 60 shallow ends to glide into and miss the last 2m. 3 swims per week for 50weeks and that could be 18km of missed swimming. Or if you had not glided in that is 6 sessions you could have missed and rested!

As a coach one thing that I despair of is a swimmer not having a full selection of swim toys to get the most from a session. I know it is not the easiest of things to lug around but they will really help you get the most from a session. You do sweat when swimming, gross I know but fact. Bring a drink, it might help reduce some cramping. Start a dryland warm up ahead of getting in. If you are waiting for a class to end and have a few mins put them to good use. Shoulder prehab work? 4mins of simple arm movements, 12mins per week that is 10hrs of extra training a year. You can talk and swing arms if you do want to chat and catch up! It might just save £200 in physio bills as well!

In accuracies in your stroke? not being able to breathe to both sides? all take a toll on your performance and demand a price that needs paying. Whether it is more air, slowing you as the head moves more than is necessary, a higher heart rate or fatigue being introduced sooner rather than keeping it at bay. No matter what level swimmer we all fight against fatigue and a shortening of the stroke as we tire. In simple terms drills help lengthen things back out, reintroduce streamline and keep the window for breathing open longer.

So have a think about your training this week. Are you getting the most from it? is your time out of the water and then in it being maximised? Could you do more? I hope the answer is no.


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Good luck if you are racing this weekend, hope it goes well.

Arrive early. Actually perhaps even earlier.
Take your time putting a wetsuit on. Try not to work up a sweat, they get harder to put on.

Flush and ensure your wetsuit is comfortable.
Don’t forget body glide.
Read all literature, know the course, know how many laps, know the difference betrwen clock and anti clock!
If your velcro flap that covers the top of the zip has the rough layer on the flap ensure it beds down flush and does not overlap onto skin causing irritation.
Dryland warm up, get some blood flow into key swimming areas so you are good to go when the gun goes.
Depending on water temperature <cool?> and chaos of start area a water based warmup might not be that beneficial. Observe and make a decision.
Start sensibly from a sensible position. You could ruin your race at this point if something happens.
If possible keep the head low, but eyes high as you sight. ie look for larger objects in line with buoys.
Get the head back down as quick as you can.
Only swim the race course distance to save time 🙂
Come practice your OW with us and get this all right well ahead of time!

some more swim articles

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We have been in the press a lot recently! did you catch all of these?

Training Peaks
Article of the month –the other strokes…
Openwater Swim
Featured training plan – Training Plan
Coaching Mag – SWOLF 
Featured Coach <lead coach> SpeedoOn training system – In progress, testing
Steve and I’s book sold more in Yr2 then Yr1

Swim Serp Announced as official training partners for the mass participation event in HydePark Sept

the other strokes

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The Others….


There are many reasons for learning and developing your ability to swim the 3 other competitive strokes within your swim training. If you are well versed with the FC technique and looking for new ways to spice up your training this might help. Just like the Flip Turn article from last month, this does not suit all and many will not need it as FC tech continues to develop. I am sure many people will baulk at the idea while still struggling with FC, so this is not for all. A little time spent in the ‘off season’ working on the other strokes (Backstroke, Breaststroke and Butterfly) will help your training, your enjoyment of training and its usefulness immensely. With the other strokes at your disposal, training sets will become infinitely more variable and interesting. These are of use during a post main set swim down to help relax the shoulders through a different range of motion after a big FC block. Obviously this is not for all. For some who have needed to ease the FC burden of tired shoulders or struggled to get HR up during regular FC swim training, it offers some other movements to aid your swimming.


Contemplate how the following version of our old friend the 400m swim is broken up with some added variety. Incorporating the other strokes really helps pass the time compared to swimming straight 400m swims, as it keeps you concentrating as to when you insert the other stroke at the right time. It will also elevate your HR as you switch between muscle groups and focus on maintaining forwards propulsion through different pathways of the hands. Finding propulsion through other similar hand pathways can heighten your overall feel for the water during FC swimming.


(25m pool).

1L FLY or TRIFLY (FC arms with FLY legs see below for how to), 3L FC



1L fast FC into 3L FC to finish

(400m).  Rest between 100m blocks if necessary but ideally swim it straight.


Your overall feel for the water will improve as you work on new pathways of the hands when attempting the other strokes. The risk of overuse injuries will also reduce as new movements from the other strokes redistribute the workload of the arms and shoulders. Adding Backstroke at the very least would be a great addition to your stroke repertoire. Backstroke is a natural stroke to use to help unwind the shoulders from the vast amounts of FC we swim as triathletes.  It also helps build lots of aerobic fitness, very useful if you are still getting the timing and breathing patterns in place on your FC. Swimming alternate 25m lengths within a 200 as FC and Backstroke will generate a natural Fartlek swim as you are able to relax a little more on the FC but naturally work a little harder performing backstroke (the kick and core work a little harder as they tend to drag more due to the position of the head and lungs compared to FC.)


For a few years now we have been using the other ‘stroke variations’ to our TRI fitness swim sessions for those at the right stage of their swimming. These Medley Alternates are promoted as a kind of X-training which has helped our swimmers come on very quickly. The following are derived from the other strokes but you will not have to completely learn the other strokes to take advantage of how they can help your FC swimming. They are listed easiest too hardest.


Medley Alternate Swims:


1          Breaststroke Arms with FC legs is a nice variation for practicing a continuous leg kick. The first part of a Breaststroke Pull is also not too dissimilar to the way we scull the hand into the FC catch. Optional fins.

2          Double Arm backstroke with a pull buoy. A great way to stretch the shoulders and chest muscles through a different range of motion after a lot of FC.

3          FC arms with FLY legs, (at SWIMFORTRI call it TRIFLY) a tough one to perfect that takes a lot of concentration due to the way it affects your timing and co-ordination.



The other strokes when combined into the Olympic race sequence is known as The Individual Medley. This Ironman event of the pool made famous by the duals between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte starts with Butterfly, transfers into Backstroke, before turning onto Breaststroke and then finishing with FC. The 400IM is perhaps the hardest pool event due to the positioning of the lung busting underwater Breaststroke pullouts on the 3rd 100. We can introduce this to your workouts a little easier as follows:


Sprint Distance Competitors:

Odd 100m swims

1L FLY (or TRIFLY) 1L Backstroke, 1L Breaststroke, 1L FC. Rest 40sec

Even 100m swims

100m FC PULL, rest 20s

Repeat for 8x100m. 800m main set



Mid Distance Competitors:

25m FLY (or TRIFLY)   50m FC, 15s rest

50m FLY (or TRIFLY)   75m FC, 30s rest

75m FLY (or TRIFLY)   100m FC.  40s rest


Swim 4 sets of this 375m set. The first is Fly as above then add back, breast and FC for 1500m.



Ironman competitors:

8 x 250m swum as follows:

ODD 250m are 25m TRIFLY, 50m BACK, 75m BR, 100m FC

EVEN 250m FC. Rest 30s in between each 250m

Total distance =2000m


If you don’t have time to commit to learning how to do the other strokes, then you can use the Medley Alternates as some further options and alternatives to FC. To be able to add Medley Sets to your sessions will suddenly add great variety and interest to otherwise fairly mundane swim sessions. I promise you your time in the water will pass a whole lot more quickly as you need to start counting more accurately for the ‘changeover’ and to keep in mind the new techniques needed. For a guaranteed HR elevator as you mix different muscle groups and affect the timing as to when you can breathe, I guarantee you will feel hard work like you have never experienced on FC alone. The added benefit of reducing the amount of FC stress to your shoulders should also be factored in and considered well worth the effort of adding these new strokes as we lower the risk of injury.







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I was at the London Marathon Medical Seminar ahead of the big race and it was quite fascinating. A big revelation for me but it kind of makes sense if you think about it…..there was  research on how people while training improved performance if they smiled & frowned less. The lecturer even felt botox might become the next big performance enhancer.
Even just being flashed subliminal smiling faces in biking videos while they turbo’d was enough to improve results. Enhanced mood meant better results this was clear from some big samples.  At a certain session there is one particular swimmer who never seems happy. I have witnessed this for some time and wondered about mood etc I awarded him a swim hat for some vague reason a few weeks back and he smiled and then went on to have a great session.
In terms of recovery from sessions the sports scientists offered quite a bit….
Cherry Juice, Massage, Ice baths, compression etc are all being peer reviewed and investigated further. This has been of interest the past few years that more studies are now available and can be collated. Overall views are now being taken from the sum of the studies .
All were of use and showed on the whole small gains but there are so many variables ie ice bath, at what temp? how long? more effect if lying down or standing in a wheelie bin! Is it significantly better than warmer water?There is so much to investigate. Compression it was felt was not compressing enough to be of much use so buy a size down !
Massage was quite revealing, a rugby team were massaged by familiar males masseurs after a hard week and then tested on 40m sprints the day after. A control group were not massaged.
Those massaged did improve more then those not.
Another group were massaged by non familiar masseurs. The improvements in 40m times were better but not so much as the first group.
A third group were massaged by unfamiliar unqualified pretty young ladies and 40m times were almost as good as the first group ! So in all of this there is a lot of placebo and belief as to whether or not things work. Sports scientists seemed concerned as they want to know why and how things work, at odds with coaches as they just want to know if it works!