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Dan Bullock

Where can my training take me?

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When someone asks me ‘do you think I can break x mins for y metres in the pool, in an OpenWater race or in a Triathlon’ I rarely say no. I can help provide the training and stroke improvements to get you there but you need to get to the pool, get your dryland shoulder strengthening done, stay healthy, rest well, eat well, slowly build volume and make sacrifices. By this I mean give stuff up to find time to do what you need to do.  Saying yes to you is the easy part but are you prepared to help answer your own question?

Impressions: I am writing this having just returned from Italy after another training camp. If you have not been on one it is a great mix of people from all walks of life coming together to swim. To swim further and faster then ever before perhaps, with better technique and to gain confidence in Openwater. Nervous laughter is apparent in the welcome meeting, some have not swum openwater before. This is going to take a great deal of courage and commitment for some. I observe and guess if the person is a Triathlete or OW swimmer, newcomer or experienced, masters swimmer or new to the sport. One of our swimmers, a most unassuming, down to earth, softly spoken Gentleman has just told me about his day job. Along with some other Physicists he is working in France to ‘create a magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy based on the same principle that powers our Sun and stars.’ 

Limitations:I am reminded not to judge a swimmer and their abilities from initial introductions and first impressions. I am also reminded not to judge what their limitations might be when it comes to their ambitions in the field of swimming. I am always amazed at how on these camps the lengths people go to finish sets, swim faster and learn more. Pushing themselves well beyond what might seem sensible! In the normal course of swim development and swim improvements what can be achieved? I have seen some amazing feats of endurance and events completed over the years. Levels of achievement from people of apparently limited ability, from people with injuries or disabilities to unfit, overweight, recovering from Stroke, DVT etc etc They have completed Ironman/The Channel and other events of amazing endurance. Working with the London Disability Swim Club leaves me mesmerized daily as to peoples achievements and the ability to keep coming back to the pool for more training. Shoulder pain? We can adapt swim strokes around that to an extent. Missing limbs? I have seen Butterfly swum and not be an issue.  Ironically for some thinking about target times for certain distances and events and whether or not they can achieve x time for a certain distance they don’t actually need to swim any faster then they do now. What I mean by this is for example the Triathlete looking to break an hour for the 3.8km swim. Many can hit the target 100m pace needed as a one off. The hard bit is then repeating this pace for the least energy expenditure and maximum propulsion 38 times. You don’t need to swim faster just avoid slowing down as fatigue sets in and technique starts to fail. You possibly can already swim fast enough to achieve what you want in our chosen event.

Commitment. This really is a two step process. In terms of committing to an event and committing to the training to complete the event. I am always saying get an event entered and the slight pressure that  process creates will help keep getting you to the pool/gym/out the door as appropriate. The hard part is probably typing in that first address/website, getting logged in and making a contract with yourself to then get the training done. Once you have that race date set and committed to, getting to the pool gets a lot easier but that is not the full story. I conducted an experiment this year after several people explained they had issues getting to one of our full swim courses I host. I allowed them the flexibility to drop in and pay per session, not ideal in terms of getting numbers balanced, coaches and lanes booked. This would also then create disruption at start of session as we would have to catch a few people up. They assured me it would be 1-2 sessions missed at the most. All 12 people I offered this to did not make it to a single session. This might have been a coincidence/illness or change of heart but if you also make a financial commitment to attend a course it probably will help. 

Psychology– be positive and attempt to set out and achieve great personal accomplishments. But don’t over achieve to the extent each training session or small race along the way is doomed. Set expectations sensibly. To break a world record, to win an Olympic Gold is to be the best on the Planet. Not just in your County or Nation but the sole single individual on the Planet. Thats asking a lot and I think as adults looking to improve we can put that to one side but I do hear some lofty ambitions being outlined.  Be realistic with what you set out to do or at least set intermediate goals that can be reached and ticked off slowly building a sense of pride and achievement. This time of the year I work with a lot of Triathletes who have entered their first Ironman. The sense of doom where the focus is on the all day event gets a lot of people down and deterred.  So late January or February you possibly are not going to be ready for an Ironman <or long distance swim, choose your event and level of dread here!> taking place in July. Focus on the sessions this week. Get them done, tick them off and focus on resting ahead of next weeks. Don’t let your imagination run away with you to race day too soon and be overwhelmed with how futile it seems now. You are not racing today. 

Training.More does not equal getting faster without appropriate breaks in training to absorb and improve. More does not necessarily mean better due to the technical nature of swimming. A 5mile run for the most part will be of more benefit then a 4mile run but a 2hour swim can easily be made to be less productive then a 1hour swim. Train appropriately, within a schedule that gradually takes you further, challenges you more but allows you to rest and absorb the training load. I can provide this in your quest to get you to your finish line but you will need to uphold the previous points to help me get you there. As a responsible coach I am not going to tell you something is not possible but it would be unfair if I did not point out the possible ramifications of proceeding against medical advice and what that might hold for a future sporting life ie might your career be cut short? Be responsible and sensible, help me to say yes to your objectives and we can work together to achieve them.

Race Start.

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What can go wrong…or right with a little preparation.

A common question as the open water season starts goes along the lines of “where at the start is safe? No where here it would seem! How do I know where to go? Will I get swum over?” It is not easy to answer all of these questions, as the start of a race is an unpredictable chaotic event with 00s or 000s all looking to swim in the same direction to the first buoy but rarely doing so. The more you race, the more will get an idea of how a race start unfolds and where best suits your ability. Even this can go wrong, as a certain race you entered might be a higher standard than previous, and a third of the way up the field this time might have you getting swum over whereas previously you did the swimming over.  A race might be advertised as novice friendly attracting you to enter. If you have a situation where there are a lot of novice Triathletes who were former swimmers trying a Triathlon for the first time, then the swim start can be fast and furious leaving the general pecking order in a mess. If this does not upset you and you do successfully get onto the bike, no doubt you will make back lots of time over those lucky enough having swum lots as a youngster, as you pass them on the bike. 

Navigating through slower swimmers with big kicks is not easy.

A common response is to wait at the back until all the swimmers have gone to ensure the least amount of stress and aggravation. If you are better than you imagined, this can cause issues since, if you as a front crawl swimmer then have to navigate through a wave of swimmers doing Breaststroke, this will be incredibly frustrating. Sometimes changes are made by the race course officials, that do not help. I watched a Standard distance race last year, male and female were going to start together for the 1500m swim. This made sense as faster swimmers (male and female) could assemble at the front. Slower swimmers, regardless of gender could assemble towards the rear of the pack. With 2mins to go, the men were called forwards to start the race, the women would start 2mins behind, the organisers assuming it would be safer to have two smaller groups. For the fast women this made the start very uncomfortable as they swam through the slow men, many who were doing Breaststroke and for the slow men, it could not have been much fun either getting swum over.

Position yourself wide to stay out of the scrum.

I think it is safe to say that no one wants to deliberately hurt anyone during a race but given the tight proximity to each other that shapes the start line, it is inevitable that swimmers will bump and nudge each other. At the start of a Marathon with 000s packed together, the gun goes and for most the first few minutes are spent walking until some space clears before attempting to run. Unfortunately in the water, most relax waiting for the start in a vertical position, treading water until the start of the race sounds and then everyone takes up 5x the room by switching to a horizontal position and boom, it’s chaos in neoprene. You can create room for yourself at the start by holding position horizontally during the countdown and so encourage some space. With limited swim skills and an ability to change pace comfortably, many people usually start too fast in a frantic, losing-control fashion that leads to blows to other swimmers and is misinterpreted as aggression. I hope.

With a clockwise course, staying left might help.

Start line positioning – If you are reasonably confident in the water as a strong pool swimmer, then don’t be surprised if you spend the first 20mins of a Triathlon swim overtaking slower swimmers who have possibly mis-seeded themselves due to inexperience or just not being sure how fast they are. Many people report back frustrated that the middle of the pack was quite slow and it took ages to meander through before clearer water was available. It is hard to give full advice on this area as races and the quality of the depth of field changes, but experience will eventually help you choose an ideal location on the race line. Make your first few races smaller, low key affairs where you can experiment, make adjustments and not be too distressed if things don’t go well. I know of only one person who made an Ironman their very first race and enjoyed it and continues to race. This would seem to be quite the exception.

Watch, observe, listen to others mistakes to help you map the best route.

So much can hinder your swim on race day that it is surprising if it ever goes fully to plan.  Arriving early and allocating time to relax, prepare fully, watch earlier ‘waves’ of competitors, if a multi wave event, will help you be at your best when the race commences. Specific swimming dry land warm up exercises are key to bring the body up to racing temperatures and to get the swimming muscles ready to perform. This will allow you to swim a little faster a lot more comfortably when the gun goes, rather than overload a cold body and feel very uncomfortable when you get to the first buoy. A short swim warm-up if it is not too cold and wetsuit flushing (allow the suit to flood once immersed, exit and squeeze water from it then pull it back up into position) will squeeze air and excess water, vacuum sealing your suit, making it the most invisible to you yet the most helpful in terms of flexibility in the shoulder and assisting body position.

It never fails to amaze me the difference in approach to the start of the masses at a Running Marathon event compared to the frenzy of the start of most large Open Water swims. When starting the Marathon, the masses mostly walk until eventually space develops and then a shuffle/jog can start. Compare to a swim start, and while similarly cramped when the gun goes, what happens? Arms and legs start moving frantically as the smallest gaps are fought over.

Confidence at the start of a race comes from controlling as many areas of the race as possible knowing many will be out of your control. Swimming your best will come from a combination of a well sized and well fitted wetsuit, arms and shoulders mobilised and warm ahead of time, knowing the course, the number of laps, the direction and look out for anyone you recognise from previous races that are fast you can follow or avoid!

Swim of the Week

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

Simon at the Putney sessions just swam 6mins quicker at Mallorca last weekend compared to his best last year so that is not a bad starting point for July. Leslie H just added 45m to her T10 best at London Bridge. Please add your results to the comments below and one will be selected for a prize. Goodluck!

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

current thoughts on swimming, training, technique and racing.

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Now and again I put some thoughts out there on the sport of Swimming, mostly related to Openwater and Triathlon Training. I observe, get involved, read about and chart all aspects of training and racing with great interest. Swimming and especially Triathlon/Openwater has many, many experts, fast swimmers wanting you to mimic them and swim fast like them. Sadly within such a new sport it does not take much to seem worldly when the general knowledge base is still building. What I find interesting is when swimmers who come in for lessons tell me what they were advised when they travelled and participated in a training camp or had prior lessons. Of late, someone has even claimed to have invented a new style of FC <Front Crawl but also known as freestyle.> Think about that for a moment. Your left arm alternates with your right arm to rotate from the shoulder while horizontal in the water with your legs travelling up and down almost vertically behind the body. Millions have done it, been taught it and travelled millions of metres with it. In 2019 you are unlikely to have invented anything new. Within this loose outline of the mechanics is a unique movement to you in terms of your strength, flexibility, fitness and proprioception skills. Don’t mould yourself to a style. Work on improving propulsion, lowering drag and then you can fine tune and decide the stroke rate, the kick to arm ratio, the breathing pattern and head position that suits you.
If a swim guru recommends ‘catch up’ as a stroke to you then keep in mind that is alternating single arm FC. Not fast. If this is your full stroke you will not swim fast. There will be no flow, no coupling of the body from the legs, your kick, through your rotation to your arm pull. It looks pretty and bubble free. But it cannot be fast. There is no anchoring of the lead arm as it moves to a vertical forearm position with fingertips pointing down enabling you to launch the recovering arm forwards as the hip rotates.
If, while on training camp your coach did not tell you about swimming with 3mm of daylight between your fingers, they should have. This has been well documented, scientifically proven and if your tri coach is not up to date then your swimming is suffering.

If you read that Bilateral breathing was best, then yes it is something to aim for in training but not always the case on race day. As you demand more air as your pace increases or the stress of an openwater start kicks in you will probably feel better breathing to one side every 2nd stroke. Wonderful if you can dictate which side that is and that will be made easier if you breathe to both sides in training.

do you have size 14 shoes?

If a swim guru suggests you mimic their technique, check that you are also similar height, have a similar range of motion, as long arm span, similar flexibility, strength & fitness etc better still ask them to improve ‘your’ current technique. What suited them, what they managed to get away with or make use of due to factors particular to them are unlikely to work for you.

Bubble free swimming is pretty and looks great as I demonstrate it during lessons. It is also slow, not practical and hard to sustain. Keep separate the notion of perfect FC and an optimum, useful speed to move at. While excessive bubbles, from technical inaccuracies and splashing create the illusion of speed but rarely deliver. Fast swimming is never bubble free. Keep in mind you are not aiming to swim bubble free.

I once read that an unbalanced FC lacking symmetry is to be strived for in Openwater due to the chaos that OW comprises. Yes there are subtle changes to your technique as conditions outside change. (Stroke tempo, the side you breath to, rate of leg kick, straighter arm recovery might be advisable.) But if one arm pulls wide, pushes down or moves across the centre line while the other performs a nice ‘catch position’ you are unlikely to swim straight. The less you swim straight the more often you need to sight which has drag and energy cost.

SFT does not have a style or method we teach, or even a steps 1-10 we recommend our coaches follow. We work to improve what suits you best and ideally make what you have better. This can, but rarely happens in a one day workshop, it needs time and patience. At best in a lesson we can identify what is holding you back, film the faults and introduce some drills to help you breakthrough. It will take months for this to bed in, feel natural, to have new muscle groups recruited and start to work efficiently. Think of this process more akin to learning a musical instrument or language. I will never forget when a swimmer yelled at me ‘ I learned to swim quicker than this!!’

Drill of the Week, the MFC

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Making the water feel more solid.

A wonderful, but not easy skill to help you work on your underwater pull phase is called the MFC. The momentary fist clenched as that is exactly what it is. A variation one the classic fist drill but the timing shift makes this so much more effective. Swimming with fists makes pulling harder, hoping we offset by using more of the forearm. In this version the effect of opening the hand mid pull suddenly makes the back of the stroke feel more more exaggerated and complete. The water gets heavier, you know it’s right.

When it comes to swimming, I feel the body is a remarkably adaptable piece of ‘machinery.’ If we encourage it into a position of reduced ability where it needs to compensate we then work harder to achieve previously similar levels of ability. The hand slips in its reduced state then slows as it retains it full size. The larger the object the slower it moves in water, the hand shape will suddenly feel very large and slow as the pressure builds from the increased drag around it.

By improving a specific movement having removed or reduced another area that previously was adding propulsion we have seen tremendous improvements achieved.

Here we are reducing the hand from being a paddle to something less than half the size in order to deliberately force the body to adapt your stroke and become more efficient. The shift from small to large helps activate the back of the stroke, reminds you to finish the stroke and helps you feel the water get heavier at the back of the stroke.

Two videos showing slightly different perspective

More details here and some different footage –TRI247

Head Position when Swimming. Further thoughts.

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Head position is key to either helping or hindering your full stroke FC. Too high and like a ‘see saw’ the legs will suffer leaving you swimming uphill as they sink. Imagine sticking your head out of a sunroof in a car, you will ruin the aerodynamics of the car shape. Too low and and it is a long way up to get to the air!

Some coaches associate head position with low legs solely, but poor kicking technique will also sink them. It is not a miracle fix. Legs need to be addressed as well.

Looking at and facing the bottom of the pool is probably the most hydrodamic position for fast racing you can achieve but rarely practical for public lane swimming with peoples feet flailing in front. Openwater also has its own compromises where you need to sight forwards. I would suggest look forwards but not to the extent you are facing forwards which can strain the neck, make turning to breathe trickier and keep the body slightly uphill.

Key points
Keep the head still unless turning to breathe. A central snorkel can help practice this by eliminating the need to turn for air.
Breathe slightly backwards. The assumption will be to lift forwards and up for air but in fact a turn sideways/slightly backwards will create a shallow trough in the water bringing the air nearer. The two swimmers in the pic demo this nicely. Closest swimmer lower head but higher mouth. Furthest swimmer higher head, lower mouth.
Lift the head forwards for air and you meet the waviest water (don’t lift up out of the sunroof!)
Eventually aim to submerge the lower goggle, not easy until the body in general sits higher in the water. Note the pic again.
After inhaling try to get the head back into its neutral position before the recovering arm returns to the water.

Timing the breath – Follow the hand under the body as it pulls you forward, turn sideways into the breath as the hand passes under the body.
Aim for a slow trickle exhale under the water and a fast inhalation when you have access to the air.

Some of the following might be of interest. I wrote for Speedo on the topic of head position in openwater.


Swimming frustrated?

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Had a client get a little upset during his lesson as we revisited an earlier part of the FC swim stroke. ‘But we did the catch a few months ago.’ Don’t be frustrated by the seemingly endless circle of swim drills! It might well seem they are never ending but that is how it should be. Your drills will not end. They are the tools you use to restore your swim to best form. You don’t stop cleaning your bike after the first really good wash you give it? or you should really continue to wash it! sorry if that was a bad example 🙂
In more detail here is an article we prepared for our friends at TRI247 If we can get away from the idea that swim technique breaking down if a bad thing it might help you stay positive about getting back to the pool. Think of it as a reward for training hard. You get tired, the technique starts to fail. The next time you work hard it should ‘fail’ later into the set or at a faster pace. The important thing is that you restore it to its best potential with some technique work and not let it fester too long. I demo’d a paddle balance drill on a recent swim camp at CLS and noticed my legs were kicking out too big. I was sure my nice narrow streamlined kick was hidden behind my trunk. But no, due to some hard work of late, a lack of drills and filming/coaching my tech had not been restored.
Here is a link to some Olympians working their Extension drill Why would Olympians do drills?
They are polishing and restoring their full stroke technique post heavy training blocks.
A nice slow weekly drills session will keep your HR in the lower zones which your tri coach might well be asking you to do. At the least you should be adding drills into your warmups/subsets or swim down.
We never leave drills behind, just modify how many and how often and utilise with a different focus. Initially they will break the stroke into its component parts so there is not an overwhelming amount to focus on. Ideal for those new to the FC technique. Then they might be used to restrict a bad habit or encourage good habits to add some subtle improvements. Eventually as shown by the Auburn Olympians they can repair a broken technique after a period of heavy training.
These images were from a recent swim camp and all were accomplished swimmers needing a little polish after some hard work over winter. Since most of the FC stroke happens behind you it is easy to see how things can go unnoticed.
This is my favourite block of work to swim down with post a heavy training block to help restore the full stroke.
100m FC with fins, paddles and snorkel. Use the swim aids to help body position, to anchor the hands and keep the head still.
100 FC with fins and snorkel. Think about the hand shape, pulling with the forearm & not just the hand
100FC with snorkel. Feel the big toes lightly brushing and a tiny movement at the hip to keep the kick small
100 FC no swim aids, finish with your best possible technique ahead of exiting the pool.

Keeping the head still, help from the central snorkel

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If you have not yet got the hang of swimming with a central snorkel yet then please give it a go. It is one of the most effective swim aids you can invest in <Available here>. Unless very confident in the water or a former scuba diver these seem to work best with a nose clip. Inhaling with the face in the water can really confuse the brain and water can be inhaled through the nose which is horrible!
Before launching into a length of full stroke just get aquainted with the snorkel by putting your face in the water in the shallows and work on easy breathing in and out while static. Then perhaps some legs only with your face immersed. Then work up towards some full stroke. Drills will become more accurate as you focus on your body position and not on when to time the head movement for the breath.
Keeping the head still is a great way to watch what your arms are doing under the body as they pull you forwards. You will spot wide sweeping hand pathways that will drive you from side to side. You will see the palm face down driving you up rather than the palm pushing water backwards to send you forwards. Not turning the head to breathe will also give you a chance to break the dreaded straight arm pushdown issue affecting many.

Have a great week of swimming

Pool speed and Openwater speed

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Why is my Open Water speed not transferring to the Pool?

Many got back to us about the recent ‘Why is my Pool speed not transferring to Open Water’ article and felt they suffered from the opposite phenomenon. Always happy to oblige and point out what might be happening when you make these comparisons and how you might improve them or be less stressed by them. As always before you read too much into this please be sure you are comparing like for like. Are you really faster in Open Water? Did several of you/your teammates accurately measure your last race course/event, river or local lake facility and get a true and fair time for ‘x’ KM? Which then proved to be quicker than your best ‘x’ KM time trial in the pool? Was there a current involved which left you with a flattering result? Strong winds assisting?

I find a 100m in a wetsuit to be approximately 10secs quicker than not in a suit. I am consistently 7-8mins slower over 5km when racing in a swim suit (FINA approved Open Water suit, ankles to neck, textile) compared to a full wetsuit. But 100m of what exactly? We cannot just leave that there. If you were lucky enough to be in a 100m long pool this comparison, depending on the quality of your turns, would be quite different if in a 25m/yards pool with poor turns.

So, for the most part we are going to investigate as if we are in a non-wetsuit OW swim. Saltwater is also a consideration so again in the interest of fairness we should exclude that factor when making comparisons. Floating around drinking coffee in the balmy waters off of Dig Me beach in the run up to Kona can be quite surreal and should be considered when making comparisons between swim performances. So rather than equipment or environment, as best as possible we should just address stroke and mechanics as reasons for the discrepancy.

1  Tempo and turns– To be fair, pool based swimming training and racing is a whole lot more than just swimming now. For instance, the effectiveness of the legal 15m of underwater kick means that often different swimmers win the same events at World Champs in the different length pools used for racing. The 25m ‘short course’ best times are significantly quicker than the 50m best times. Someone with great turns beats the swimmer with average turns in the 25m pool but won’t in the 50m pool length given similar swim speeds. Turns are a huge part of any pool race. Without a fast turn, any swimmer will not be competitive in a race. Equally if your turns are not great then not turning is going to leave your swim velocity unchanged and so keep you swimming significantly faster in OW than in the pool. As mentioned if you could find a 100m long pool you might find your OW pace similar. Perfect your turn and add 15m of dolphin undulation technique and your pool pace will move ahead. Linked to this & probably the most important thing in terms of pure stroke mechanics in OW over the pool is that for most tempo is higher in open water leaving you faster than in the Pool. Higher due to the lack of push offs contributing with fewer opportunities for a brief streamlined push and glide off the wall to take a brief respite. Also, there is likely to be less leg kick as we swim more economically with possibly the bike to consider so we shift more to the arms.

2  Drag and body position– this is artificially helped by the suit and/or sea water when in the open water. If your tight ankles point the toes down just a few degrees or the knee sends the lower leg up creating drag compared to the hip lifting the whole leg straight up then your forward propulsion is going to be seriously hampered. You possibly suspect this as you are faster with a pull buoy. Water punishes us severely when immersed for minor issues with streamlining. Saltwater and or a wetsuit will cover up a multitude of sins. If you do not perfect your technique for the pool then your pace will suffer. If you do improve your technique to improve you pool pace then this will only enhance your OW pace further. Win Win.

3  Mindset–I feel swimmers are braver when it comes to Open Water racing. Not just due to the physical barrier of a wetsuit protecting you and your body but that does offer a sense of invincibility to some. Many feel ready to do battle in the throng of open water. The benefit of a wetsuit might suggest why some swim starts get so aggressive as swimmers feel invincible! Even without a wetsuit though there is a different mindset to Open Water swimming. Standing on the starting block about to race a 1500m in a Long Course 50m pool is quite daunting. Jumping in for the Henley Mile on the River Thames and racing just the 1 length to the mile rather than 30 I attack this from the gun much differently compared to the pool event. It is a very different psychological effect on how you approach your swim. At our Saturday morning lake session which has a 1km loop I notice the difference in attitude and approach. Most of our swimmers who join us for this swim and our pool sessions quite happily knock out 4 laps whereas a 4km ‘session’ in our local 50m pool brings a very different response. Be a little braver when in the pool.

4  Breathing Pattern.I breathe every 3rdto the best of my ability in training. I like it, I like the rhythm, the balance, inspecting the surroundings on both sides of the London Aquatic Centre. Bilateral breathing stops my arms getting lazy and being ‘thrown back’ to the front of the stroke clumsily with my head returning from breathing. I know it builds a better technique that will keep me straighter on race day. Having persevered in training with this, on race day, I drop to every 2nddue to the extra effort. For many this would be the equivalent of another 7-8 breaths over 25m i.e. the difference between breathing every 2ndor 3rdstroke. That is a whole lot more air that you might just make better use of in Open Water compared to your pool swims.

Drafting – so it is possible to benefit from drafting in OW and the pool but unless working Pool Based OW skills you are unlikely to be at the hip or right on the feet of the swimmer in front during a 6x400m mainset. If you are, you are unlikely to be making friends. The benefits of drafting are well documented and if you do it well in open water it is going to have you travel at speeds you would struggle to replicate in the pool. You can be towed at faster paces or left with a lower HR at your usual pace. Either way you will be faster. There is a towing effect in the pool when going behind someone with a 5sec gap (usual protocol) but not nearly as much. I recall sitting in at 3rdor 4thin the lane and coasting to times I would be working hard at when leading. Be careful what you are comparing and how.

Adrenaline of the race experience. At my first IM event in Lake Placid 2003, the National Anthem played as the mist cleared and 2000 people were treading water in anticipation of the day ahead. The hairs were up on the back of my neck, the butterflies churning. It was a spell binding moment. When the race started I was shocked at the pace of the start. It made no sense to be working this hard so soon in the day but for the first 1km of the swim I was amazed how aggressive and how fast the start was. Did it last, no, things calmed down but not until much later. Unless being cheered by a packed gallery before you start your next pool based time trial it is going to be hard to get this excited about a swim.

If you are faster in OW compared to the pool then these are some of reasons but it is not the end of the world. You should be faster on race day in an OW environment, that is what you train for. All of your highly tuned skills coming together delivering your best performance. All aspects of technique, drafting, the possible wetsuit addition, the adrenaline and finely-honed sighting techniques should leave you swimming at your highest swim velocities. There is after all a reason why most world records are set during races.




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.