A mystery….

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“I’m trying to solve a mystery… Been doing some swimming drills and I feel like my standalone kick is quite fast relative to other people.. .i.e. just did a 6x200m set – the 3rd 200m was arms only and then final 200m was full stroke. Granted I was more tired in the last one but still, my time for both was identical. Just puzzled as to why – if my kick is good – it’s not making much/ any difference to overall speed??? “

Even for the best swimmers the legs only add about 5%-7% to the total compared to 93+ from the arms.
Depending on size of feet, ankle mobility this varies a little.

For short distances perhaps you would be a lot quicker swimming with arms and legs compared to arms only as you can really work them <but at a high energy cost which cannot last.>

Times for longer distances tend to narrow as the legs provide balance and assist rotation but not really propulsion. The energy needed is too much. You should be a little faster swimming full stroke FC rather than pulling, if not it might indicate there is an issue with the kick mechanics.

“So I guess the answer is to get a stronger upper body?”

Yes to an extent, it is more about endurance ie a little stronger for longer so that the stroke does not shorten and get hurried. Paddle work can help, more swimming will help, adding the other strokes (so you X train a bit). Gym work can help, a swim bench will help. Dryland shoulder strengthening will help. Pool based swimming specific strength movements will also help. But none will help if the legs and body position are not streamlined and kept parallel to the surface. As a swimmer I would always take a perfect streamlined body position over a fantastic arm pull. Strong arms will eventually tire of pulling dragging legs.


Remember if you pull too hard the water will slip so we can never sacrifice technique.

The long silly swim at Christmas

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The Swimming Silly Season – on the 87th 100m of Christmas my Swim Coach gave to me. 7 breaths per length….4 kicks per arm cycle, 25 strokes over 25m and a pullbouy between my ankles…. you get the idea…

I called this article ‘Silly Season’ since it is the time of year when overly long swimming sets seem to take place and swimmers are challenged above and beyond their usual sessions. Christmas Day Hyde Park, Moonlight & Midnight, New Year’s Day, long, cold & open water dips. There are Championships in unheated Lidos and of course Xmas day Sea Swims. If you want to travel and swim then there is probably something to suit you somewhere. This list while a few years old is pretty comprehensive. Outdoor Swim Society.  One of my favourite pools, Hampton Lido is open 365 days of the year and you can book in a moonlight swim. This pool is heated so if you are looking to continue your training over the Xmas period, head SW out of London past Richmond and you will find it.

In particular though I wanted to touch on the Xmas themed 100x 100 challenge that for some reason pops up at this time. I first stumbled into this during my College years in Ohio. Coach Hammond had a fondness for a big final 10km mainset during our December Winter training periods when there was no studying to be done so we could swim even more. From the chart below you can see his fondness for distance in December!


A few days before Xmas we would usually be allowed to leave campus but not before a morning 3-hour swim that included a 10km mainset. (50x 200, 10×1000, straight 10km in 1992.) My last year he went with the C X C  as we arrived and were greeted with the cryptic message on the chalkboard.

100 x 100m Long Course meaning in the 50m length pool rather than the 25yards we trained and raced in the collegiate system. Odd were off 1:25, even swims a very generous 1:30! Having got my pacing wrong I don’t recall the last 12 as I blew up spectacularly. These were the days before gels and energy drinks.

More recently we now swim this at Charlton Lido in December to remember Steve, a local legend who first came to Tenerife with us on a training camp. Steve and some friends started this in 2015 and now his friends continue it to raise money for Kent Air Ambulance while remembering Steve after we sadly lost him in a bike accident while out training.

On 20th December 2015, a group of 6 keen swimmers assembled at Charlton Lido’s 50m outdoor pool to swim a classic set of 100 x 100m off 2 minutes to get ourselves fitter and front-run the turkey over the festive period.Sadly one of our group is no longer with us. During the Easter weekend in 2016 , Steve Wand was fatally injured while out training on his bike and the world lost one of the fittest athletes of his age group.

I look forward to this poignant swim and have finished it twice now. It is a great legacy for Steve and a lovely morning of swimming as friends gather and recreate something Steve enjoyed. Whether for charity or remembering someone, as a fitting memorial the added weight of a good reason to finish will help you finish as the going gets tough. Which it will. NO matter how steady you start, how fit or how well you fuel this is a long way and it will test you. Perhaps that is a good place to start; with the ‘why’ would you swim 10km. Well there are now lots of Open water 10km swims so it might make sense to see if you can hit the distance now. If you don’t make it there is plenty of time to alter your training and revaluate for the Spring or Summer. Contemplating the Marathon Swim 10km next year? A good way to break down the 10 x 1km blocks they offer is to further sub divide to 100 x 100m swims. Often the rest period on these 100 x 100 swims is 15-20secs so you get a feel for the distance without too much of a chance to recover.

For whatever reason you might get caught up in one of these challenges, over distance training is one reason to give them a go as we rarely venture this far in our usual training.  Since so many people are now chasing the 14km Thames Marathon, the 10km Dart event, the Jubilee swims, Lock to Lock and Chillswim Lake Coniston this long distance challenge has relevance. Being able to replicate the race distances this early can be encouraging. Equally if you only make 75x 100 then you know the additional work needed to be successful. Steven Munatones, in his book ‘Openwater Water Swimming,’ recommends being able to swim past your distance by as much as 30% to use as a buffer if conditions, temperature and tides get bad. Not a bad thing to have that much more in the tank just in case when it comes to an Ironman or the Swimathon at 5km. Being able to do double or just over now is quite the reassuring safety blanket regarding your preparation. Perhaps then you can focus more on your weaker run leg knowing the swim should be ok. But of course, don’t neglect the swim completely.

Do these types of long swims help? confidence, mental toughness and tenacity are all tested along with the physical demands. Do you have to do it to swim an Ironman? No of course not. Will you feel like you can comfortably swim the distance next year, then bike and run? Yes, I think you should be very positive. I love the challenge of long distance events. Often taking you beyond your current limits and exploring what you may or may not thought possible. 3+ hours in the pools is also a nice long time to be working on stroke defects and allowing you a good amount of time to refine and perfect a certain element of your stroke that might have been causing issues.

Key points to Success.

Stay injury free. This is critical and my main fear when we give these big distances a go while underprepared. Be careful. If I suddenly up my distance significantly then usually my elbows get irritated with some kind of inflammation. I was recommended wrist curls by a Physio to help reduce the effect.

Preparation, it is getting a little late for one of the big Xmas themed swims to suddenly increase your swim distances dramatically but adding Dryland to strengthen the shoulders and reduce the likelihood of issues can help. I swear by prehab to keep my shoulders healthy now. Work on scapular, posture and strengthening the small muscles of the shoulders to counterbalance the FC effect. Rowing I feel helps with a reverse motion as does double arm backstroke.

Leading up to the event. Rest from a few days out leaving your last big swim or hard effort on the Wednesday if performing at the weekend. This is a big training event so it should not impact your regular training significantly but to turn up tired will hinder your chances of completion and enjoyment. Don’t forget to be familiar with and own several pairs of comfortable goggles. Losing a swim hat to a split is unlikely to spoil the day but goggles leaking will.

Nutrition- trial and error, now is a great time to see what works and what does not in the relative safety of a pool event. If it goes wrong in terms of what sits nicely and digests well then it is better here than half way across lake Coniston. I like the Hydro Gels as they are easy to carry in a wetsuit <by the shin.> and don’t need water to help them go down when I am racing long OW events so I usually stick with these on long pool swims. Jelly beans, crisps, pasta, bananas have all been spotted on poolside. Like I said, trial and error. Sometimes the nutrition component is ignored while the brain needs some motivation and excitement during the 60-70 block of 100m swims where fatigue is kicking in but you still have at a long way to go. Keep drinking and keep water bottles stocked up with electrolytes and energy drinks.

Counting  – Last year we set an interval of 1:45 and swam blocks of 10. This meant each block took 17:30 so we rounded it up to 18mins. 10 blocks of 18mins was spot on 3hours.

Some used watches, some used the clock, a nice 55 or 05 setting will help your counting. ie 10 swims off 1:55 means you might start on the red top of the clock and finish your 10 when the red hands sweeps around as follows.

0, 1:55, 3:50, 5:45, 7:40, 9:35, 11:30, 13:25, 15:20, 17:15 finishing at the 19:10

Rest an extra 50secs to start again on the 20mins. 10 rounds at 20mins having started at 9am you will be done by 12:20. Have fun with the numbers, it will help pass the time. Don’t solely rely on your watch, you never can tell if it will be 100% accurate.

Keeping going. As mentioned, with a charity and completing the swim for £ looming over you, these are great ways to keep going. Swimming in a pool in a group with teammate encouragement, the energy and positivity created means it is much harder to exit than a solo effort. If you are injured, unwell then of course be sensible about this, there is no point making things worse. Equally, I wonder at the wisdom of swimming through a big event, especially an optional one if under the weather. Whether your cold has gone from head to lungs or not. If it is optional reconsider.

Be careful in the later stages with your push offs, cramping will be highly likely as fatigue, dehydration and lack of fuel kick in. Performing a streamlined push off will position the legs in exactly the ideal cramping position. Keep the ankles loose with simple rotations while resting and frequently stretch the calf muscles.

Plan ahead and have friends/family to help with driving after the event. Dehydration and fatigue can take their toll. One year at Charlton the boilers were stuck on high and we boiled in 29deg pool water. Dehydration headaches made driving really dangerous. As soon as you finish and feel ready, food, massage and stretching will all aid your recovery so don’t hold back and be sure to bask in the glory. Good luck and well done!

Swim of the Year.

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Here at SFT we do love to hear all about your improvements and how your races, training and events went. If you could share a swim experience with us, a result or an improvement we will be offering a prize for Swim of the Year. If you did enter in the summer for swim of the month then by all means submit again. Think of this as a chance to enter if you missed out or raced since the end of the Summer.

Glenda went off to Kona, some of you headed to IM Mexico, it was a great Autumn for further racing. Some of you tried pool racing in the Masters arena and Otilo continued. It was indeed a big year for swimming. Fortunately we are going to exclude what Ross and Lewis did for this 🙂

T10, time trials, races all count. Not necessarily the fastest or ur furthest. We are looking for overcoming insurmountable odds, a breakthrough, conquering fears etc Will need some verification though if done outside of an SFT session. Goodluck

Swim Drill of the week – NOV 19th

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If you follow us on Social Media you might have already spotted this great drill. I am going to share something Technical & of use each Monday that you can hopefully incorporate into your training.

Drill of the week- Single Arm Enhanced!  If you are on our fitness classes we will add this into the subset to build rotation and keep the stroke narrow. Often with the single arm drill the catch <pulling arm> sets a nice position and the kick& hips bring the upper shoulder through to the chin but not always does the submerged shoulder then reappear above the surface as the rotation completes.

If the trail shoulder does not resurface you can see here how you will struggle to breathe to left side. The opportunity to breathe is blocked. By elevating the trail arm it will remind you to finish your rotation and keep the kick and hips involved.

 It is also a great drill to use between blocks of the mainsheet as we use it to polish and restore our best full stroke ahead of the next block of harder work. Keep practicing the Advanced Single Arm so your foundation is strong for the original drill. If this drill is weak then this natural progression will struggle


I would always try this drill with fins. It is a tough one! Take a breath when the arms have stopped moving, perhaps take a single arm then the shark fin then breathe.  You can always take 2 breaths to help remain composed. The purpose of the shark fin is to help you breathe by popping the trail shoulder back up above the surface. It is an insurance policy to ensure your body position remains strong and never flattens.


Single Arm with a Sharkfin. A great progression from the advanced single arm. Add the shark fin to ensure you finish your rotation. The trail arm can also elevate straight to 12oclock if you straight arm recover. The key issue I see with this drill is people not finishing their rotation. If the ’trail’ shoulder is left flat you will struggle to breathe.


By elevating the trail arm it is a nice reminder to finish your rotation and allow the opportunity to breathe to the side easier.Try it in the early stages with a central snorkel to get a feel for it but progress to trying without. The body rotation can remain flat  with the snorkel and you will struggle to know how well you are rotating.

Think of this new combination as a cross between –

Single Arm

Clock drill

Enjoy and please practice this one ! Drop me a line with any questions – dan@swimfortri.com

Guest Blog – Charlie’s swim progress.

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Charlie’s SwimProgress – from 2017 onwards.

Charlie swam with us back in 2017 and swam well, making great progress to swim a 1:15 at IM Switzerland, her first attempt at Ironman. I recall a keen swimmer willing to train hard with more than a few technical issues to iron out, but her enthusiasm for training was infectious and I could see this would take her far. Her basic pace was around 2mins per 100m in the 50m pool we use at London Fields and she went onto to race well to record just under this pace with a wetsuit.

After a break Charlie has been back swimming with us since the Spring, 2018, and I wanted to share all that has happened recently as she has demonstrated some remarkable progress that might well see her break 60mins at IM in 2019. Of late she has had no problems hitting low 1:40 per 100m with not much rest. Her most recent blocks of recorded swims suggest a cruise wetsuit swim speed of 1:35. At this pace a sub 3.8km IM swim is possible if the course is true and fair.


Leading and Following– swimming between the steadier lane 1 at our London Fields session and the faster lane 2 has been a useful but simple training stimulus. Lead the slower lane1, work harder pulling the other swimmers. Slot in at the back of lane 2 and work harder getting a feel for faster repeat times and faster intervals. Sometimes it works and she was there with the group, other times it was a bit fast and we added fins. Undeterred, Charlie would bounce back with a smile and attack the set regardless.


Fitnessadding a 90min session and aiming towards 4km has been a great aim. With a 60min session we are limited in that you cannot reduce the warmup ahead of peak performance. Drills need time to be swum well. A 90min session allows a good warmup, time for technical aspects to be worked on and then still have 50mins + available for a solid mainset which could be 2500m or more.

Technical Aspects-These are a few of the issues we have slowly been working on in 2018. Head position– was very high causing issues to streamline, to breathing and lowering the legs as the body swam uphill.

Kick– the kick has started to contribute and not just tag along for the ride.

Arms, crossing over slightly on entry while performing a very short stroke due to the lack of rotation as the legs did not help drive the hips in turn helping rotation.  Rotation was limited so surface recovery was low & wide with the arms having the potential to cross over when fatigued. As the kick has improved, the upper body rotation now delivers a smoother higher arm recovery which can travel forwards aiding momentum.

Bottom line is you cannot beat regular training and adding a regular 90min fitness session with tech pointers has really helped. In her own words….

“Jumping into an outdoor pool at 06.45 whilst the mornings are getting darker and the temperature is most certainly dropping does sound mad and I would be lying if sometimes the thought of the freezing cold mad dash from the changing room to the pool and back again make it hard to leave my bed, but my Tuesday SFT sessions have become a very important part of my week. 


 Since my IM last year I had retained basic swimming fitness, occasionally going to the pool with friends, but I knew my technique had got rusty.  I started back with the gang in the Spring, settling into the steady lane prepared to work.  Week after week, working on various drills and taking on board little tweaks here and there, my confidence grew and strangely I started to enjoy the sprint sets and the challenges given.  I could feel I was getting faster which was then confirmed when I was asked to join the faster lane.  Working with STF and having them be able to pin point the weaker elements of my stroke has helped no end. 

The faster lane includes a strong group of swimmers but SFT has bought together a wonderful community of like minded people who are extremely supportive of one another and they continue to help push and encourage me to keep plugging away and sometimes even put them through their paces. The sessions are tough and tying up my hair post swim is usually difficult but my Tuesday mornings are invaluable to my swimming progression and secretly I absolutely love it!”






A few thoughts on swimming progress.

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My current thoughts on Swimming given that for many we are a few weeks into the harder winter training,  post race season. Even if you aren’t you should still find them relevant and helpful. I get to watch a lot of swimming during the week of all levels. Elite, Disability, Adults learning to swim, learning how to swim faster. Common mistakes crop up time and time again at all levels. Wherever you are in your swim career I think mulling these over might help your training this week.
1           Don’t mistake swimming getting easier for getting slower. Great swimming at a reasonable pace once you have eliminated a lot of drag should feel easier.
2           Don’t pull the hand under the body, try to pull the body past the hand. Not easy as logic says push or pull harder to go faster in most cases (dryland.) Water not being solid behaves differently.
3            You can take 2,3 even 4 breaths between drill movements to help stay relaxed, no one ever said the relationship was 1 brth then a hurried 1 drill movement. Accurate drills swum need focus and concentration. Turn off your watch, you don’t need the stress you might add of ‘only swimming a few hundred metres.’
4          Symmetry is key to interrupt a dominant one sided movement and restore balance. That does not mean to say bilateral breathing is the only option. Most likely you will race breathing every 2nd but it is of use to choose which side that is rather than your stroke dictate your only option.
5         Short bursts of a few drill movements midpool work well as you prepare and anticipate for the drill rather then push off into a drill on auto pilot with less focus.
6         A good legkick will not tire your legs for the bike and run as a good legkick is more about the hips and glutes. Granted these are also key for bike and run but reduce the negative (drag) elements to your kick and it will stop tiring you.
7           If the stroke suddenly feels wobbly, mechanical or clumsy these are not necessarily bad things. They are the stroke changing and trying to convince you to stop as the body wants to go back to its old lazy, easier habits.
        Take a moment between lengths of technical swimming as you attempt to improve a movement. Close your eyes, focus and replay the correct movement.
9          White water, bubbles and turbulence are for the back of the stroke (legkick) not the front when the hands enter
10         Slow swimming (really slow) with very large paddles can help shape the hand and arm pathways under the body the final 10% towards perfection as long as they are 90% correct initially. Don’t use otherwise.

Marathon Swims

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Marathon Swims

With just a few weeks to go, now the key thing is not to panic. Your brain will be demanding to know if you feel you have done enough training. Your body is unlikely to be able to answer such an unknown since for most, a 10km swim will be a giant leap. Most will not have felt they have done enough training. Most will not have done enough but such is life. Family and work will have taken their toll and got in the way. The good thing is the excitement of the event, family, friends, supporting and cheering and perhaps swimming in the Olympic pool for the first time will all help a huge amount. The buzz surrounding the event will carry you the rest of the way when the training and energy in the tank start to dwindle hopefully late into your swim.

Now is the time to start checking out the event again, the format and rules. Are you are really happy with your goggles and perhaps investing a similar spare pair. Happy that your swim suit will not chafe? Thought about a lubricant to help? This is one of the best I have found. Spare swim hat? They do break and work loose. Happy about the side you breathe to <if single sided?> and the direction of the lanes? On the plus, if you only breathe to one side you will change sides with respect to the side of the building you face naturally with each shift in lane across the pool.
Have you thought about on the day nutrition for your marathon swim? do you need to plan breakfast earlier? Gels/energy bars during the event? Your hydration strategy? Where possible plan to be self-sufficient. There is a water fountain as you enter the shower area before coming onto pool deck so don’t panic if you forget your water bottle. Don’t eat or drink anything new on race day, have a trial run in the weeks leading up and see if those new super gels/beetroot juice/energy drink actually sit well and do not upset your stomach.

Walking out regardless of the Marathon Swims event taking place can leave you with shivers. It does to me most mornings when I walk out to coach and train. It is a vast auditorium and the pool deck surrounding the water is big. The thought that you are now treading on the ground of champions, swimming in the lanes shared by Phelps et al. It can be a bit overwhelming. Deep breath and focus on your event. Family and friends are supporting you, the many lengths completed in training are now needed. The good thing is everyone wants you to do well and succeed. The burden of not letting anyone down should not be overwhelming, we all want to do well but do not let it overburden. There is always next year if the day does not go well.

Checked travel routes? We all know how unprepared London Transport can be for your big day. Think through as many scenarios as you can so you have some options. Rest the last few days heading into the event. A little extra sleep would help. With a week to go a lot more training is not going to help you finish or finish quicker. It will leave you tired and uninspired for the big day.


RACE DAY                                                                                                    

Food and nutrition should be prepared and planned for. Know what you are having when.

Great streamlines off each wall. With 100 opportunities to push off the wall for 5m each time you could save yourself 200m of swimming!

Spare goggles? Get used to them with plenty of time.

Swim suit good?Bring a spare. Cream if you know your shoulders/armpits chaffed during the practice long distance sets.

Be considerate of all in the water as you pass people. Allow people to pass you easily.

Practice exiting and returning to the water in your training at frequent opportunities as this can leave you light headed if new to you. Start steady, 5-10km is a long way.

Count strokes at frequent intervals to amuse and engage the brain, aim for 1metre with each arm pull i.e. 50 strokes or less.

Run a technique diagnosticat the start of each 1km, think about small kick, fingertips pointing down and so palms pushing water towards the feet, head still unless turning to breathe, push and exit the hands past the hips.


Why is my pool swim speed not transferring to openwater?

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

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

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

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

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

Wetsuit, big/small

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

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

Confidence to try harder

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

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

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

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

Start position on the ‘grid.’

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

50FC fast, 250 relaxed, rest 30

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

150FC fast, 150 quicker than the 200 pace

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

Under and Over kicking

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


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 water’s edge if there is a long run? At what point did you stop your watch? Don’t rely on the calculation of Time for Swim to be of use to calculate your swim speed. There might not have been a timing mat at the swim exit so adding minutes to your swim which would be unfair to include in any average swim speed calculation.


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

Feeling the Water…

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

In evenly matched pairs, swim side by side.

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

One person previously assigned is the lead out swimmer.

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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