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Lifeboat Swim Wk 18: Donkey Rides and Water Slides

16 Feb

The two rules of procrastination: 1) Do it today. 2) Tomorrow will be today tomorrow.


I scream for ice cream! (by Weelakeo)

(Ah, dear blog – I thought I’d lost you down the back of the sofa.)

Here we are then in the ‘big year’ – the inspiration for my challenge target. And it seems we have a lot of news to catch up on…

Xmas in our household was most pleasant indeed and didn’t have too much of an impact on the swimming, even if I did spend the first 2 weeks of 2012 catching up on those missed 4 days of laps. I ended up catching a stinking cold later in January and was back in the same boat playing catch-up – that was worse though as I had to really allow my body to continue it’s recovery on those first few swims back.

My sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew bought me an excellent book for Xmas: Complete Conditioning for Swimming by Dave Salo (available on Amazon). It contains many exercises for general body strengthening, injury prevention, core strength, stretching and stroke specific conditioning, as well as information on diet, and structured routines. Since getting the book I’ve acquired a Swiss Ball, Medicine Ball and stretch cords that are required for a lot of the exercises. For the past few weeks I’ve been following some of the set routines, twice a week for about an hour each time, and I’m really starting to notice the difference. Some exercises, that to begin with I couldn’t do many reps on, are now much easier and some moves I’ve moved to higher resistance cords.

Champion is obviously a biter (by Pondspider)

In the last quarter of 2011 I’d been focussing a lot on building endurance through critical swim speed (CSS) sets, but decided to shift some focus back on technique. As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of times before I swim I watch a short video of Jono Van Hazel from the SwimSmooth Catch Masterclass dvd, but realised that his is not the only technique out there – since not everyone swims the, same perhaps I should be looking at other swimmers too! So yes, it was back to good ol’ Youtube. It was when watching some videos of Grant Hackett and a few other Olympic freestylers I noticed that they all show a particular way of completing the catch/pull – it’s called Early Vertical Forearm (EVF). I’d avoided this before as it’s considered a bit of an advanced technique due to a higher risk of injury if done wrong. Thankfully there are a lot of videos on the net with clear demonstrations and drills for building the stroke up. I should point out that some swimmers use a very extreme version of EVF where the elbows remain almost at the water’s surface – I think this is only possible if you have incredible flexibility, hence why I use a much shallower version. The supposed (I say supposed because once upon a time the ‘S Pull’ was considered to be correct and has since been debunked) benefits are that there is less surface area to create drag (the upper arm is much higher in the water) and also that it allows more force to be exerted. I’ve certainly found that it’s allowed me to make one of those ‘quantum leaps’ in technique level. My sprint times have dropped, quite dramatically in some instances. At the end of last year my 100m PB was 1:26 – now it’s 1:21. My 200m was around 2:58 – that’s down to 2:53. Not only that, but I’m quite consistently swimming 3:04 for my steady 200m. I’m sure that all the core and general body exercises I’ve been doing have contributed greatly too -I really feel like I’m gliding through the water now.


The management at my local pool were kind enough to allow David and I to take a bit of film footage for something charity related I’m putting together for work. You know how you can close your eyes and picture yourself doing an action, then when you see yourself on video you realise you look nothing like that? Well yeah, I watched the footage and I didn’t like what I saw. In my mind’s eye I was Van Hazel, Hackett, Thorpe, etc. In reality I was like Moussambani. Ok, maybe not that bad. My main beef was with that stupid little whip-kick that I thought I’d stopped doing months ago. Cue daily kick drills with the Finis float. I made a lot of progress, but just couldn’t get the timing of a 4/6 beat kick right – I’d always felt that a 2 beat kick felt more natural for me, but never really gave it much attention. For the last week I’ve actually been doing it pretty consistently (making sure to point those toes!) and much like the EVF, it seems to have made quite a difference – I’m now gliding along even more. Obviously there’s still pleeenty of room for improvement, but I’m hopeful that with a bit more CSS training I can break the 6 min barrier for 400m within a week or two. I haven’t swum a mile in a while, but I’m confident that I can beat my previous 25:46 time – my aim is to get into the 24s by the Great London Swim at the end of May.

As you can see from the route map and progress board from last Friday, I’m still well on track for my challenge – I may have to pop into Great Yarmouth for a 99 with a flake very soon. I’ve only got 8 more swims to do to reach 100 miles – I might have to have a mini-celebration when I do (or perhaps another 99).

I’ve got plenty more to write, so stay tuned!

UPDATE:  Yesterday I hit 6000 lengths!  That’s 150,000m.  Nearly half way…


Lifeboat Swim – Week 10: The Big 50 & Bigger 25!

19 Dec


Season’s Greetings!

The mulled wine may be flowing and mince pies a’going (?!), but all is still on track here at ‘Lifeboat Olympic Swim Challenge’ HQ. In fact, just last Friday I reached a significant milestone, as you can see from my progress board. That’s right, 50 miles completed! On my virtual swim route that means I’ve so far made it down the coast from Grimsby and all the way across the Wash. However, the past few weeks have thrown up a few hurdles (just swim under them!).

For two weeks out of the past four I’ve only been able to fit in three days swimming, having been on training courses and a short holiday. Thanks to some planning ahead this hasn’t been a problem as I’ve been able to pick up the slack the week before and after. As it turns out, one of the training courses was of significant benefit to my swimming. The course was about building confidence and I learnt that if you believe you can do something, there will be subconscious changes in your body and behaviour that will assist you. This is all part of the ‘ideomotor response’. The popular example is if you hold a key on a piece of string if front of you and will it to move, it will. This isn’t magic, it’s your subconscious making slight movements in your hand to make the key swing. So, how does this help with swimming? Well, often before I swim I watch a short clip of Olympic swimmer Jono Van Hazel (Mr Smooth!) on my phone, then when I’m swimming I imagine that I’m him in the clip. I’ve found that through this visualization, my conscious and subconscious are able to pick up on the obvious, but also the more subtle movements he makes. I find this area of psychology fascinating (as the amount of books I’ve bought on the subject recently testify to).

Oh yes, there’s another piece of news to tell. Quite a big one in fact. I have a new PB for a mile…


Yes, just last Thursday I achieved my goal of breaking into the 25s by xmas! I was very surprised considering I’ve been getting over the lurgey recently. My plan of attack was to set my tempo trainer on 24.5s a length, rather than the 24.3ish time that, if kept consistent, would result in a sub-26 time. My reasoning was that I tend to go off well, struggle in the middle, then pick up pace towards the last third. If I was on 24.3s, I knew I’d end up being behind the beep midway and start struggling to catch up again. It seemed better in my head to be ahead of the beep, drop back to being on it, then see how far ahead of it I could get. In terms of pacing this is probably not the best approach, but it seems realistic considering my history of mid-mile slump. I’d be interested to hear what any fellow swimmers think about this.

Anyway, it’s been a great way to end the year, particularly considering how modest my goals at the start of the year now seem.

Merry xmas to you all and here’s to more PBs in 2012!

Lifeboat Olympic Challenge – Week 6

21 Nov

imageDon’t worry people, despite my lack of an update last week I’m still swimming towards my target!

First off, big thank yous to Ros, Peter and David for their generous donations – total is now up to £175!

I realised a very valuable thing just this week – sometimes you need to take a step back to move a few steps forward. I’ve been very focussed on interval training (typically I’ll do 8 x 200m, with ~25sec rests) and the odd non-stop mile, but little to no technique work. As we know, swimming is a very technique based sport so it’s really important to maintain that.

On Wednesday I decided to just swim an easy mile without my Tempo Trainer, focussing entirely on technique (drills work just as well here). The main thing I found was that I’d slipped back into not rolling enough to be able to utilise my larger pecs and lats for the pull. If you’re not using these then you’re using smaller muscles that just won’t give you enough power or last as long.

Sure enough, once I’d refreshed that part of my technique the times I’d been struggling with the week before were easy. In my interval set on Friday I had my tempo set on 24.25 secs a length, but was actually able to do 24 secs consistently for the 8 sets. Here’s the thing – if I can manage 24.25 secs over 64 lengths, I’ll be into the 25 mins. Pretty crazy considering my goal this year was to complete a mile in under 30mins (open water admittedly)!!

So what do you think – into the 25s by Xmas?

Break on through to the other side!

7 Oct

Photo by B5160-R

I could have been king. But in my own way, I *am* king.” Ash

Ok, so I may be exaggerating the enormity of my latest achievement a *teensie* bit, but to me it’s a pretty big one.

My long standing 100m PB of 1.31 has fallen. So long sucka. Hellooo 1.26 🙂

Truth be told, I haven’t really been working on my sprints much since that 1.31 back in March. Still, given all the endurance and technique training I’ve been doing you’d have expected that to drop a bit. Once again, it seems like my recent improvements are to thank. And I think I’ve figured out what they are…

I believe there are 3 aspects that have contributed to my recent PBs:

  • Eliminating any glide before the catch and not applying pressure during it
  • Timing my strokes so that my recovering arm has entered the water and is spearing forward as my stroking arm is starting the pull (almost like a flying Superman pose?)
  • Keeping my core strong and stretching tall

What do all these have in common? That’s right, it’s all about reducing drag! I’ve also found that my stroke rate has increased quite naturally too. It’s all still a bit rough, but I think the basic principles are there.

(200m times are also down from around 3.26 to 3.04 over the last 3 weeks – which I still don’t quite believe yet)

So to sum up, I wanted to highlight once again the importance of swimming smarter. What’s the point of putting all that effort in if you’re gonna be a draaaag?!

I felt the neeed… and I had the speeed! (Event: RNLI Long Swim @ Dorney Lake 25 Sept 2011)

3 Oct

When I go out to race, I’m not trying to beat opponents, I’m trying to beat what I have done …to beat myself, basically“.  Ian Thorpe

Despite some of the faces, it was a pleasant 18°C-ish

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I swam my last open water event of the season at Dorney Lake last weekend.  Only 3 weeks before then I’d set a personal best for a mile with a 29.25 – I was pretty pleased with that as it was over 20 secs faster than my previous best, although I made a few mistakes and lost about 10 – 15 secs.  With all the improvements I’d made in the pool the week before Dorney I was quietly confident (but nervous) that I could maybe dip under 29 mins and beat my PB.  What I wasn’t expecting was to absolutely smash it…

Prior to the race I was much calmer than I’d been at previous events – perhaps it was knowing that I was certain to swim under 30 mins, which, after all, was my actual goal for the season.  Once all the race preparations were done and we were waiting for the start I was surprised by how calm I actually was – no excessive fiddling with my goggles at all (my main sign of nervousness).  This was a floating start and since there were only 48 other swimmers it wasn’t too crowded (compared to the 3.8km race, which had 175 competitors setting off at the same time!).  Dorney Lake is predominantly a rowing venue, so there were lane buoys all along the course, however it was pretty easy to spot and avoid by the anchor rope along the bottom.  The 1 mile course was simple enough, set out in a triangle – one large orange buoy out, back to a smaller white one, back across to the start and repeat.  As with some of the other smaller events the finish wasn’t very well marked.  Whilst I’m talking about the event itself, it appears someone had made quite a balls-up of the registration process – I was down as being a female doing the 3.8km swim.  The people both in front of me and behind also had the wrong details.  Also, for an event that was sponsored by RNLI, there was not a single tent, flag, poster to promote them.  Nothing.  Pretty strange for a charity really?

1 mile and 3.8km courses

One thing I need to remedy for next season is my goggles – every pair I’ve had have fogged up shortly after the start.  For this event I used some Aquasphere spray 30mins beforehand, and whilst that did seem to work, about 50m in I was back in Cloud City.  With each event I’ve done my sighting skill seems to have improved, but there was no way I was going to spot anything with the goggles as they were.  So I had to make a decision: press on and hope for the best, or stop and do something about it.  I decided on the latter – better to lose 5 secs now and see properly the rest of the way I figured.  So I made like an otter, rolled onto my back, stuck a finger in one lens and rubbed.  Hey presto, I could now see!  The rest of the swim was pretty straightforward so I just go into the zone and ploughed on.  In fact, I even had the presence of mind to consider the Swim Smooth blog post published the Friday before, which talked about the catch.

A look of confusion if ever there was one

I checked my watch as I exited the water – 27.05.  Surely that can’t be right?!  I spotted my folks and told them, but they thought I’d been in the water longer than that.  Much like the Henley swim, I was able to check my time instantly on the provided timing computer.  There it was confirmed – official time of 27.09!  Hmm, perhaps the course was actually shorter than I thought.  I checked with two officials who confirmed the distance as 1600m.

So how on earth did I drop 2.15 over 3 weeks?!  I spent most of the journey home that day trying to calculate and justify my time and decided that based on the pool times I was doing during the week before, it was entirely plausible.  In the pool I’d been doing between 3.10 – 3.20 for 200m, so an average split of 3.23 for a mile seems about right.  When you combine that with my improved sighting and being much calmer pre-race, it all just seemed to come together.  At previous events I think my relatively poorer technique and mistakes had negated any benefit gained from wearing a wetsuit, but it seemed to have actually helped this time.

So what lessons can I take from this into the winter training?  Firstly, I need to continue doing pilates.  The key areas of strengthening the core and stretching tall have really helped in my opinion.  After all, reducing drag should be our main focus.  Secondly, more catch work.  ‘Feel for the water’ still seems the most elusive part of the freestyle stroke.  But it seems I’m heading in the right direction!

The Five Most Common Stroke Flaws – And A Drill To Help Fix Each

27 Sep
shoulder injury

A Swim Coaching Article By Swim Smooth

Reproduced with permission (see here)

As you might already know, swimming is a sport limited by stroke technique not strength or brute force. Great swimmers have fantastic stroke technique which minimises their drag and maximises their propulsion, moving them quickly and efficiently through the water.

If you are a beginner or intermediate level freestyle swimmer you will have some flaws in your stroke technique that are holding you back, making you slower and less efficient than you could be. At Swim Smooth we have individually coached thousands of swimmers and in this time we see five stroke problems come up time and time again, at least one is in place in nearly every swimmer.

We’re going to take a look at each of these “Five Most Common Flaws” in turn and dip into Swim Smooth’s methodology to give you a drill or visualisation to help improve each. You might already have a good idea which of these problems exists in your stroke but if not then ask a friend, coach or lifeguard to watch you swim and feed back to you.

Classic Flaw 1: Holding Your Breath Underwater

If you stood at the side of your pool and watched everyone swim, breath holding is probably the most common flaw you will see. Holding onto your breath underwater increases the buoyancy in your chest and acts to sink your legs. If you suffer from sinky legs in the water then this is the first thing to get right in your stroke to improve your body position. Holding your breath also makes things feel much more tense as the CO2 builds up in your system.

How to fix it: During freestyle you should be exhaling whenever your face is in the water. At first it can feel very unnatural to do this and it can take some getting used to. Go to the deep end of your pool and tread water, take a breath in and then exhale which allows you to sink underwater. If you have trouble sinking, this is a sign you’re used to holding onto your breath! Keep practising exhaling more smoothly until you are able to sink down to the bottom. It can be surprising how much air is in there and how you might have only been breathing with the top of your lungs before:


When you start to swim again afterwards, focus on exhaling smoothly into the water between breaths. You should feel more relaxed straight away and also feel it helps keep your legs higher in the water.

Classic Flaw 2: Crossing Over In Front Of The Head

When you swim freestyle, your hands should never cross the centre line. Crossing over like this might happen only on one side or only when you go to breathe. A crossover causes you to snake down the pool adding drag and it harms your catch on the water, reducing your propulsion:


How to fix it: The temptation here is to simply think about going wider with your arm stroke, the problem with this approach is that you end up being very flat in the water with little body rotation. Instead of taking your arm wider, think about drawing your shoulder blades together and back – this will straighten out your arm stroke. The perfect way to practise this is kicking on the side with some fins (flippers) on:

kick on side

As you do this be aware of the position of your lead hand, you will probably find it wants to cross over in this position too! To straighten it, draw your shoulder blades together and back “shoulders back chest forwards”. You’ll become aware that it’s a slumping of the shoulders forward that is causing the crossover and the fix is to draw your shoulders back as you swim.

As you start swimming the full stroke again simply think about the middle finger on each hand and pointing that gun-barrel straight down the pool as you swim. This is a very simple visualisation which helps transfer better alignment into your full stroke.

Classic Flaw 3: Scissor Kick

A scissor kick is a horizontal parting of the legs in the water which causes a large amount of drag. This normally happens during or immediately after breathing and can be very quick – watch carefully or you might miss it:

scissor kick

In nearly all cases, the cause of a scissor kick relates to a crossover in the stroke (see flaw 1). The cross-over causes a loss of balance which results in a scissor kick shortly after to stabilise yourself. It’s normally an unconscious reaction – you probably don’t even know you’re doing it!

How to fix it: The first thing to do is remove the crossover (see flaw 1), very often this is enough to remove the scissor all by itself. To help re-enforce a better kicking action, as you swim gently brush your big toes together as they pass: tap tap tap. When you go to breathe, instead of thinking about the breath keep your attention on your toes and keeping the tapping constant – a big gap between taps is probably a big parting of the legs!

Classic Flaw 4: Kicking From The Knee

If you have a running or cycling background you’re at high risk from this one! A good freestyle leg kick is performed with a nearly straight leg, with only a slight relaxed flex at the knee in time with the kick. The kicking action should predominantly be from the hip not the knee:

bent knee kickstraight leg kick

As soon as you bend your knee you present your thigh as a blunt object to the water and you push against the flow creating huge amounts of drag.

How to fix it: To reprogram your leg kick, practise some torpedo push-offs from the wall with a very strong kick. Do this for about 10-15 meters using a strong kick and then swim easy pace to the end of the pool, lightly tapping your toes as mentioned in flaw 3. Do several of these in succession:

– First time focusing simply on keeping your legs straight and kicking form the hip.

– Second time imagine you have a coin between your butt cheeks and you’ve got to keep it there as you kick by lightly clenching your glutes.

– Third time stretch through your core as tall and straight as you can in the water.

Kicking hard like this with good technique helps your nervous system learn a better kicking action.

Classic Flaw 5: Over-reaching and putting on the brakes

If you have been working on your stroke length, trying to make you stroke more efficient you might have fallen foul of this. Many swimmers trying to lengthen out as much as possible end up dropping their wrists and showing the palm of their hand forwards. This just applies the brakes to your stroke:

dropped wrist

How to fix it: Practice kicking on the side with fins again and become aware of the position of your lead hand. Is the wrist dropped and pointing forwards? Work on correcting this, actually tipping your wrist slightly the other way so your fingers are angled a few degrees downwards. This slight tipping of the wrist immediately sets you up for a much better catch and pull through.

As you introduce this change into your full stroke you may find your stroke rate (cadence) lifts slightly, that’s a good thing, it shows you’re not artificially slowing your stroke!

Improve your swimming with Swim Smooth!

Swim Smooth is an innovative swimming coaching company famed for its straightforward approach to stroke correction. Visit our website for plenty more fascinating articles to improve your swimming. Don’t miss our amazing new DVD Catch Masterclass featuring incredible underwater video of champion swimmers in action. Also see our other swimming DVDs, training plans and training tools. Last but not least don’t miss our animated swimmer “Mr Smooth” showing you a great freestyle stroke in super-high detail:

mr smooth

Swim Smooth!

Article © Swim Smooth 2011

We’re heading for Venus (Venus)

24 Sep


Banana… Check.  Bodyglide… Check.  Morrison’s carrier bag… Check.  Ok, drag your mind out of the gutter, I’m not preparing for some kinky sexy-time session here. No, it’s my last open water swim event of the season tomorrow!

Hosted by Votwo Events, it’s the final of the RNLI Long Swim Series. The venue is Dorney Lake at Eton College in Buckinghamshire, UK. It’s a manmade lake built specifically for rowing and will be used next year in the Olympics for said event.

It’s another mile event (although there’s also 750m and 3.8km distances), so i’ve got a few others I can compare times with this year.  Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on increasing my aerobic threshold, but just this week some piece of technique seems to have clicked. I’ve still to define exactly what that is, but I’ve gone from a 3.27 for 200m to a 3.20, then a 3.10 on Thursday. Over a week and a half that seems to me like a huge improvement!

Of course rather than giving me the belief that I can get a PB tomorrow, I’m actually putting pressure on myself because I’ll be disappointed if I don’t. I guess this is where we start to get into the psychological aspects of sport – something I think will definitely be interesting to revisit at a later date.

Whatever happens, I’ve had a great season and have achieved a lot more than I thought I could. Here’s to the end of the season!

Oh, and a big Happy Birthday to my big sis for tomorrow – love ya!

Your starter for 10: Open water swimming tips? Here are mine.

22 Sep

Photo by Stuart Grout

Over the events I’ve done there are little tips that I’ve picked up, some more obvious than others, but I thought it worth mentioning here in case it helps anyone else (it’s certainly not an exhaustive list):

  • The Morrison’s bag trick – to help get your hands/feet into your wetsuit more easily put a carrier bag over them first
  • Don’t tuck your timing chip under your wetsuit – it might stop it working properly
  • Allow plenty of time to put your wetsuit on – better to be ready early than in a panic
  • Use Bodyglide on your neck – it’ll stop your wetsuit giving you an owie (as Ralphie would say)
  • The best way to acclimatise to the water is to splash it on your face (or bob under) for 10 seconds
  • If you’re wearing your goggles over your cap, make sure the edges of the cap aren’t caught under them – it’s easily done
  • Be in the right part of your wave – faster swimmers at the front, slower one’s are best at the back and to the sides – trust me, you don’t want to get swum over!
  • Look at the course beforehand and count the number of buoys – this will help if you’re not as good at sighting (like me!)
  • Take it easy at the start!  There’s plenty of time to speed up
  • When you’re coming to the finish, put a bit more into your kick – it’ll help the blood flow to your legs and prevent you staggering like a complete drunkard at the finish
  • Enjoy it and plan your next one!!

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

I hope these have been of some use and you have a great swim!

Feel For The Water!

21 Sep

Feel For the Water!

Feel For The Water! Advice & Tips to Improve Your Swimming..

A few posts ago I mentioned Swim Smooth, the Perth based swim coaching company.  Well, not only do they have an invaluable website, they also have an awesome blog, published every Friday.

Make sure you check it out!

Swim.. like an avocado!?

21 Sep

Pilates Reformer - Photo by FitnessOrlando

Why an avocado?  Well, because they have a hard centre with a smooth exterior.

In freestyle swimming we should be aiming to have a strong core (ie, torso) but relaxed arms and legs. The main reasons are that it helps you be more streamlined in the water, helps with body roll and also better connects your arms to the rest of your body, so you can use your whole body to power you.

Pilates is a great way to strengthen your core, and in fact a lot of other muscles involved in swimming. It’s a body conditioning routine that helps to not only build flexibility, but also strength, endurance, and coordination in the legs, abdominals, arms and back.  My wife and I have recently started lessons under the expert tuition of Claire Wray at Equilibrium Health in Leeds. We’re only a couple of lessons in, but already I can see how it will benefit my swimming, for performance, but also injury prevention (shoulders in particular). There’s a lot more to learn, and I’m looking forward to seeing more improvements!