A Swim for Tri Session Breakdown

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This is a lighthearted look at a coach/swimmer dialogue during one of our fitness sessions. Most days we add a mainset to social media that we may have swum at one of our fitness sessions. You can find these at #weswam on FBInstaor twitter. The following should help you read the swim sets.

Listen carefully! I will say this only once!

 Coach Dan– ‘Ok swimmers your warm up is 200m swim, 150m pull, 100m drill, 50m kick, that’s 8 lengths, 6, 4 and then finish with 2 if you prefer to work the old fashioned way as we are in a 25m pool. The pattern is SPDK, swim, pull, drill, and kick if you need help remembering. SPDK. I am here on poolside if your stroke feels a little out of sorts, let me know before the drill option and I will cast a quick glance and offer a relevant drill. Once you make it through this 500m we follow a similar pattern but lose a little distance. Lets go 150m Swim, 100m Pull, 50m Drill so that’s Swim, Pull, Drill you know the pattern by now, SPD, but a new drill please. Can’t think of two drills then ask me? Finish that and its 100m, 50m Swim; Pull finishing with another 50 Swim. I want you fully warmed up before today’s main set.’

But that’s a 1000m warm-up coach, 40lengths if you still like to swim the old fashioned way. If I make that including that huge 50m of kick what chance of coping with the main set do I have? Where do you want the pull buoy when it comes to the pulling? Normal position or down between the ankles like I remember you mentioned recently? Engage the core more was it? Sounds tough. Can I suggest a 3rdchoice as to where I would like you to stick it. He won’t notice if I sneak those fins on for the kick will he?


Coach Dan– ‘Next up we are going to swim 12x25m on the black line down the centre of each lane. I would like to see 10m of great speed as you depart each wall and then 15m of great FC tech as you reduce speed and swim to the wall. First swimmer pushes off when the last swimmer in the lane arrives. LIFO. We will get the HR up and get you ready for the main set. Can I see evidence of a leg kick please soon after a great streamline off each wall? Squeeze those ears with the upper arms, squeeze the legs together, point the toes. Push off looking like a starfish and you will swim like one. Take advantage of the option to swim down the middle. Watch where the hands are sending you when you set up your pull, sweep too wide in either direction and the hands will not be helping you travel forwards. Pull the hand backwards in a relatively straight line and you will go forwards.’

Ah yes my most favourite aspect of Tri swim training, the opportunity to swim continually at one speed and get yelled at for not changing pace. How about if I just kick my legs harder, make some splash yet not necessarily go any faster but just look it. I wonder if that will fool him? If I streamline long enough hopefully I will get halfway down the pool and then won’t have to swim that hard, he won’t have thought of that will he! What does it even matter if I am on the black line or not, there won’t be one on the bottom of the Serpentine.

Coach Dan– ‘Close those eyes for a few strokes, then reopen are you still over that black line? Is your stroke keeping you straight? When it comes to racing all you have to keep you straight is your stroke or excessive sighting. Your stroke should keep you straight; sighting should keep you on course. What happens when we lift the head too often? The hips sink and you will slow down. Yes even in a wetsuit this happens I am sorry to say. Two swimmers racing at similar paces? The one that sights more often will be slower.’

Its like he can read my mind, I guess he will see though the splashy leg idea as well so I perhaps had better try to up the tempo a little. You know just to keep him quiet a bit. Now was it more strokes for more speed? Spin them a little faster? That seems to be helping, its certainly tiring but I am not getting any quicker down this length, those other two guys either side of me are pulling away. How about accelerating the hand under the water after a good strong anchoring in position, hold the water then pull the body over it. If that works then I guess the over the water bit kind of happens regardless. How do I hold it? Ah yes that’s better, fingertips down, palm facing the wall I’m swimming away from. Now I can feel the back and shoulders getting involved.

As hard or as easy as you like

Coach Dan– ‘Our main set is going to be one of those nice long FC swims that you can make as easy or as hard as you like. I am not going to suggest a pace or a target all I am looking for is even swimming throughout. Let me suggest you do in fact start out nice and easy. The increase in swim volume and limited rest will feel quite testing in the latter stages of this swim. In the opposite fashion to the warm-up we are going to add 50m with each swim to a starting point of 50m. The rest period is only 15secs rest and as you increase each distance the aim is to remain at the same pace. Swim 50secs for the first 50m and you then rest 15 and depart on 1:05. The next distance is 100m with an aim of 1:40 and an interval of 1:55. 150m of FC then follows with a target of 2:30, interval of 2:55. This pattern repeats to a final swim of 500m for a total main set of 2750m. Note at what point you start to slip from the 50sec per 50m and keep that in mind or note it down post session so we aim to go beyond that next time.’

This sounds like a trick, start out nice and easy, who is he kidding. How will he let me off with that? I wonder just how slow I could go. OK it seems that first 50 was not as slow as I would like. Been holding 55secs throughout so far, and am now at 3:40 for the 200m. Oh I just wish there was more rest. How can I keep on this pace yet make it easier? What was some of that crap he’s been lecturing me about? Ok well I am pushing off each wall gasping so perhaps I could streamline that a little more? Stop breathing upward to the ceiling, as I know that left arm is pushing straight down to the bottom. Come on, get those fingertips down and push backwards. Oh yes that’s it, pivot at the elbow and suddenly that’s easier. Great, hit 4:30 for the 250 that’s a little bit quicker then that 55 pace and my HR dropped a fraction.

Coach Dan– ‘Well done that one was quicker, don’t let it slide now, you still have quite a few swims left and they are getting longer, make each turn count, make each pull count, every breath, get that air out underwater, get that head turn into the breath a little more quickly and get the head back to neutral as soon as you can. If your head is moving unnecessarily then the body is following. Keep the shoulders submerged waiting in the shallow end as soon as you finish the next swim, keep drinking, get your rest, I know it is not much but conserve. It’s the 300 next, we are hoping for 5:30 next swim or better. This is sub 70min IM pace if you do want to start thinking about how this might relate to OW next year.’

Sub 70min eh? That wouldn’t be too bad I could live with that, maybe even sneak a 65 with a wetsuit, that would get me out in the top…. whoa what the what’s up with my legs, oh stretch, stretch, stretch please cramp go away not now I am on pace for something special. Please calf, please release and let me go. I promise I won’t run before swim practice next time.

Coach Dan– ‘What’s up? Twinges in the leg? Calf or arch of foot? Wriggle it, stretch it out continually in these rest periods, and try to stop it from getting any worse. Be gentle with those push offs from the wall, you are streamlining nicely but it is putting that region of the leg under some stress. If it goes again then pick up the pull buoy and try to continue. Keep up with the fluids, you are unlikely to be dehydrated but remember you will be sweating in the water during this type of set. Did you run to the pool today?’

Ok that calf is under control and I am back on it, just the 450 and 500 to go, good grief it’s getting harder. How much further? Come on now, keep that breathing under control, I’m trying to breathe to both sides but the air just isn’t coming quickly enough. If I stick to one side though that bloody arm collapses and pushes down. How about if I breathe to one side for one length then swap? Surely that will keep him happy? The arm feels better at least. Oh that’s slower, stop daydreaming and focus, I need to get back on track. If that arm pushes down then that leg kicks out. Keep the kick small, how many times does he have to say that for it to stick? Ok I can get back on track with the second half of this swim; there we go that was a 55, can I hit 8:15 for the 450?

add paddles

Coach Dan– ‘Great main set ladies and gentlemen, nicely worked, please can we start a cool down as 300 FC swim nice and easy. I would like to see the first 100 with paddles, fins and snorkel into 100 with fins and snorkel finishing with a final 100 with snorkel. Rebuild the FC tech if it is has deteriorated during that tremendous main set. Chances are it will, that is the idea, put the stroke under some pressure and see how long it holds together. It will not remain perfect at some of those intensity levels you will have been striving for.’

So tell me how do I rebuild my stroke? It feels like it has been dragged through a hedge backwards. Ok the fins are helping, the paddle is making it easier to hold onto the water and I can feel the body travelling forwards and over. Thank goodness for that central snorkel, I need that air. So I let these toys do some of the work and artificially prop me up. Ok that makes sense. I guess it make sense to get back to where it was so that I carry it into the next session. I can feel that paddle helping the hand anchor into the water, the fins helping drive the body over the hand. The snorkel allows me to keep the head still, that’s useful I can actually watch the hands, feel the rotation all without that constant interruption.

well done…

Coach Dan– ‘Well done squad that was just got over the 4km done, see you next time. Get your rest, get your recovery and look forward to the next session. Don’t leave it too long before I see you again.’

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.


The student who made me want to coach

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At the age of 10 I was taken to my first early morning swim training session (a whole 3 minutes away!) by my parents.

I was woken with a cup of tea and I remember moaning about how early it was. Dad was great, and reminded me this is what champions needed to do. He was going to drop me off on the way to work and then Mum would pick me up afterwards with a mad dash to get ready for school. It was no real hardship and having learned to swim many years earlier it was a natural progression.

Fast forward many years and many medals later – coaching did not immediately appeal. As I retired and thought about what was next, after a wonderful 4 years of swimming in a US college, a scholarship to a private sports school and the opportunity to race around the world, poolside with kids at swim club did not appeal. Via the sport of Triathlon and the opportunity to help adults learn to swim faster a new challenge was presenting itself. Kids were a different entity and did not appeal, as was adults learn to swim. Adults learning to swim faster was not really an easy option and not many had explored this area.  Keeley and I started SFT for exactly this.

February 2018 and a young adult by the name of Eid approached me to help him learn to swim faster. Without knowing his full story I was intrigued that already he was pretty quick having only learned to swim a few months earlier. In fact so intrigued I double checked with some local swim teachers to see if I was being told the full story. A rate of progress from 0 – 3km in 4 months seemed fanciful. Apparently it was true – and then Eid’s full story unfolded. Not only had he only just learned to swim, he had to overcome the harrowing journey of fleeing his home country on a flimsy boat knowing that he could not swim if something went wrong.

Most mornings Eid gets to swim practice on a bus in the depths of winter. My swim upbringing could not have been more different, and my journey made easy by supportive parents. We have been happy to support Eid as best we can writing letters to the Team GB and the IOC, asking for sponsors, swimming and racing with other groups to give him the best chance. Last year the IOC announced there would be an IOC refugee status team in Tokyo.
For more information on Eid’s story you can watch more here:

United Nations website
Ch4 reported on his progress last month
ITV London last Friday

We hope Team GB supports Eid, since no British-based refugees were put forward for Rio 2016 and the IOC refugee status team. It is not a simple process, and despite the United Nations UK division getting involved we are not sure what might happen. There are no strict qualifying times. At the moment all we have to go on is what we have learned from a few websites and the results in Rio. From Wikipedia we learn that a number of universality places are awarded to what appears to be nations not strong in swimming (–_Qualification)

‘NOCs may also permit swimmers regardless of time (1 per gender) under a Universality place, as long as they have no swimmers reaching either the standard entry time.[1] 

From some of the early preliminary rounds Eid will get close to what some of these other people were swimming in Rio. It is unclear if the IOC ROT status team falls under this guideline?

Sub 30secs is our objective and with a solid winter of training I see that happening Spring 2019. Sub 28secs is possible in 12months if Eids current rate of progress is maintained. Just to confirm 12 months ago he could barely manage a length of FC. It is a remarkable rate of progress. Currently, Eid is swimming approximately 34secs for 50m.

Good luck Eid!

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.

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