Swim Like A Cyclist – But You Can’t Buy Speed! #SwimTechTues

Some athletes spend so much money on shiny kit, trying to get us as aero as possible on the bike. You might know a few who are always upgrading their bike(s)! How much did you pay for your bike (frame, aerobars, wheels, accessories, fittings, etc…)? There are plenty of articles and an abundance of research out there that can detail out for you the cost per second you save on each upgrade to your cycling kit. For example, upgrading from a regular road frame to a TT frame saves about 2-2.5 min on a 40km time trial (www.aerosportsresearch.com). Based on what the average triathlete purchases, seconds on the bike are valuable!

When it comes to swimming there is very little time that you can “buy.”  On the other hand, just like in cycling, there is a lot of time to be saved without necessarily increasing effort (power output).  Alternatively, you could swim the same speed but much easier, a reduction in power required.

Things To Consider:

  • Water is 784 times denser than air.  Fun fact, dirt is only 2.5 times denser than water!  
  • Your drag coefficient while swimming is always changing; you need to be aware of your body position at every point in your stroke and the water around you.
  • How often do you watch yourself swim? You’ve probably seen yourself on the bike, maybe on the turbo.
  • A good swim saves you energy for the rest of your race. Becoming a more proficient swimmer does not just save you a few seconds on the swim but it will improve your bike and run performance.
  • Doing something over and over again without feedback creates habits.  Are you creating good or bad habits?

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein.

Thinking Of Swimming Like A Cyclist:

  • Good body tension = A nice stiff frame
    • You would never use full suspension shocks on your TT-bike because you don’t want those precious watts being absorbed by the shocks.  Keeping good tension throughout your body creates a stiffness to transfer the power generated by your arms and legs into forward motion.
  • Body position or alignment = Aero (Frame, Wheels, Helmet, etc..)
    • Your body position at each point in the in the stoke is your TT frame, aero-helmet, race wheels etc..,  If you have a soft inactive core, over bending knees, over lifting of the head, then you are not riding an aero frame you are riding a mountain bike with a parachute dragging behind you.
  • Catch/engagement with the water = Gears or chain ring
    • Are you pushing a “38 tooth chain ring” next to someone who is pushing a “53”? Keeping your hand and wrist in vertical alignment with your forearm as long as possible throughout the pull will maximize your leverage on the water.

Unfortunately you can’t walk into your local swim shop, swipe your credit card, and come out a faster swimmer. However, with proper feedback and a systematic approach you can greatly improve your swim this season!

If you want to work on your “hydro” check out our swim coaching or video swim analysis packages.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

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Slow Down To Speed Up, Take Your Time #SwimTechTues

Do you find that if you try to swim faster, you end up moving the same speed or slower – for more effort?

Slow down, take your time

If this is you, you may find that you need to slow things down a touch.

Have you noticed that the best athletes in their respective sports look like they have all the time in the world?

The two examples above show this perfectly.

With Heather Stanning and Helen Glover, most of the race they are rowing at around 40 strokes per minute; not that it looks like it! To stroke at that rate, it takes timing and control.

When you watch Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal, he has time to catch the ball, look at the posts and score the drop goal – even with players running at him to charge him down. But he keeps his eye on the ball and doesn’t snatch at the action; if he had, he may well have dropped the pass all together.

 

Less Haste, More Speed

Taking your time does not mean that you have to move slowly. Especially when it comes to racing, cadence makes a difference to how quickly you move through the water. That said, just throwing your arms round and round is not going to be any assistance to you at all!

When trying to take faster strokes, think about what effect that is having on the rest of your body. A more unstable body means the water is less stable too.

Rowing is a perfect example: when the blade is out of the water the rowers are smooth, relaxed and controlled. The speed of the oars cannot physically increase the speed of the boat. In fact if Helen and Heather were to throw the blade in faster, it would destabilise and slow them down. Once the blade goes into the water however, both rowers are forcing the oar against the water with as much force as they can. This accelerates the boat forward with every stroke.

In this regard, swimming is exactly like rowing. When your arm is out of the water, it is not positively influencing your body’s speed or momentum. Rushing and throwing it forward will destabilise you, and make it more difficult to connect with the water at the front end of your stroke. With a calmer, smoother entry, you will create less bubbles, you will be more in control of your arm AND the water. Once your hand is in the water you can look to accelerate the water backwards, and your body forwards.

If your hand/arm is accelerated back quickly enough, it will come out and recover over the water fast enough without needing to be forced or thrown forwards. This is where the example of Jonny Wilkinson is appropriate; not needing to force your action, or rush. If you are putting the work and effort in in the right places (i.e. once you have engaged with the water), then being calm and controlled and trusting in your skills is key.

Put It Into Practise

Try it out in training – remember, if your body position is good then you don’t require too much action to generate forward momentum. You should focus on generating force underwater and being relaxed in your recovery.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Stroke Length – How Long Is Too Long #SwimTechTues

For many years people have strived for a longer stroke length through the water. In many endurance sports a key focus is longer distance for each stroke or stride. But at what point does stroke length become TOO long?

The answer really is “IT DEPENDS“.

This comes down to reach/arm span, shoulder control/flexibility, strength, and your kinaesthetic or body awareness.

What Is Stroke Length

Stroke length is the distance that you travel for each arm “pull” on the water. Because of water’s density, your upper limit of stroke length is your arm span.

Arm span stroke length

The Vitruvian Swimmer!

In reality though, most people don’t have the control of the water, or the strength to get near this.

What most end up doing is reaching as far forward as they can – to maximise the length that the arm can pull through. This can have more of a negative effect than a positive, as it results in less efficient or less useful body positions.

Stroke length over reach

This swimmer is overreaching and as a result his elbow is below both wrist and shoulder

As you can see in the image above, at the point where the swimmer is at his longest – ie with the arm stretched forward – his elbow is below his hand. This is going to make it very difficult to do anything more with his pull than drag his elbow backward, not making the use of his forearms as a paddle, or being able to use so much of the larger muscles in his back. It will also likely cause him to stall at the front and make life harder to keep that constant motion of his stroke – so slowing him down.

What To Do

When you overreach, you have less control over your arm, and that point will come at different stages depending on how flexible you are through your shoulders.

Try this: stand up straight and lift your arm above your head. It should feel reasonably comfortable (hopefully!). Now if you reach up as high as you can, see where the rest of your body ends up. For most people shoulders end up around ears and the body starts to arch to one side. From this, when you are swimming focus on reaching forward (without stretching) from your hips rather than your shoulder – it should help maintain that core control, keep your stroke straighter and prevent your elbow from dropping down. It may help also to aim for a point 3-4 inches below the surface to make sure that your hand is always slightly below your elbow.

If you’re swimming drills, try catch up. With both arms out in front you can make sure that they are level and below the surface. You could do 6 kicks to 1 pull (6-1-6) to practise maintaining a straight line from hip to hand. Or you could do an entry point scull – again with a focus on relaxed shoulders. Whatever drill you do, make sure that it feels comfortable; it’s about finding the position that works for you.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Improve Your Speed By Changing Your Freestyle Hand Shape #SwimTechTues

Freestyle Hand Shape

The biggest element that makes a difference to how far/fast you travel for each stroke is how much water you can engage or “feel” with your hands. I regularly get asked how you should keep your freestyle hand shape, and if there is a best way to keep your hands.freestyle hand shape

Recently in the Netherlands, scientists have investigated which hand position is more effective in the water. They looked at spread fingers and raking the water or closed fingers using the hand as a flat paddle.

At issue is the question of how you should hold your fingers when swimming. Even though seemingly minor, it appears that finger position can make a big difference in how much water you control. Many swimmers have been coached to swim with closed fingers, or even with cupped hands.

Researchers measured force under five different conditions of finger spread. Measurement began with the closed position of 0° (all digits pressed together) and fingers spread progressively wider through 5° intervals to a maximum of 20° of spread.

They took measurements on various spread conditions in both the wind tunnel and through numeric modelling. Because air and water both behave as fluids, they chose a wind tunnel to model freestyle hand shape in water.

Compared to a closed-paddle hand position, even the smallest spread-finger position of 5° enhanced the drag coefficient by 2% in the numerical simulation, and by 5% in the wind tunnel experiment.

Freestyle Hand shape while swimming

Basically, keeping your hands relaxed and slightly loose is the best way to improve your hold on the water. That said, if you’re busy thinking about other parts of your stroke, it’s probably best to keep your fingers together. You can practise this with sculling in different places: out in front at entry point; at midpoint under your elbows but in front of your shoulders; or back by your thighs. Play around with your hands in different shapes, work out where you feel like you gain a little more resistance.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

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Skill Aquisition, Deliberate Practise #SwimTechTues

Deliberate practise is a conscious focus, awareness, and adjustment of your movements with the goal of perfecting the movement. It is a continuous cycle of evaluation, modification, adjustments, reflecting, evaluating and making further refinements.

Once you have mastered one flaw, you move on to the next. Sounds like what we do with our swim stroke right?

Deliberate Practise

Deliberate Practise in Swimming

Obviously we need deliberate practice.

We need to analyse our swimming with coaches or using video to see what our body is doing in the water; there needs to be conscious of our balance in the water, rotation, and high elbow; we need to control our effort and paces. Especially for beginners, your stroke needs constant analysis and refinement. As you swim, you need to think about your stroke and hold it in the forefront of your mind.

Deliberate practice though can be exhausting and overwhelming, so we also need flow in our swimming–where we just let go of everything analytical and just be with our stroke.

Deliberate Practise

Being able to flow with your stroke is where it becomes more natural

From Deliberate Practise to Flow

Sometimes you just need to “swim”, and forget about all the little bits and pieces that you’ve been thinking about to correct your stroke. This is where I like to get athletes doing 50s, 100s or other distance reps, starting with a drill and then finishing on full stroke. On the full stroke, I don’t actually want you to think too much. The idea is that hopefully the drill exaggerates a part of your stroke enough that the technique resides in the subconscious part of your brain for you to feel it when you swim on the following length.

Try this – for thinking about rotation in your stroke from the hips – do 25 metres kick as rotator kick then do 75 normal easy full stroke, and just swim without concentrating on anything. For thinking about getting hold of the water and a good solid engagement/catch, you could do half a length scull, 1 and a half lengths swim. In each case, the drill gives you your deliberate practise. You focus on one element of your swim. In then doing the full stroke you can aim for that easy flow and relax into your technique.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Textbook Technique And Why It Doesn’t Exist #SwimTechTues

It’s not lost on me that the title of this post will raise some eyebrows. The title shouldn’t be taken too literally; I do feel there are ideal approaches, methodologies, and “rules” to consider when coaching any part of your swim stroke

I do believe there are some universal tenets to coaching body postion, good kick or a powerful pull that will not only allow a client or athlete to enjoy all its benefits, but to do so in a fashion that won’t increase their likelihood of injury.

I’m interested in making people fast and strong, but I’m also interested in the long-game. It wouldn’t bode well for business (or my reputation) if all of my client’s swim strokes looked like this:

aid160540-728px-swim-a-50-yard-freestyle-step-6

 

To that end, with regards to universal tenets for freestyle – and swimming as a whole:

Get the body high in the water – preferably with a straight back

Keep the legs long and hidden behind the body
If you’re following these two golden rules, you’re doing a better job than most. It’s sad, but true.

However, golden rules aside, there are many intricate, more nuanced things to consider person to person. One’s comfort and happiness in the water comes to mind. We can’t hold someone who’s scared of the water to the same standard as someone who’s been a competitive swimmer for 17 years.

Likewise, someone with a vast and delicate history of shoulder or back issues is not going to take the same path as someone with a “clean” health history. And, of course, other factors come into play such as goal(s), movement quality, and anatomical/structural differences between individuals.

There are many, many fantastic resources out there that help to break down anatomy, assessment, biomechanics, joint positions, and what’s considered ideal swim technique. I have my biases as to what I feel is correct – as does everyone – but it’s important to take every resource with a grain of salt, because…

Textbook technique, in the real world, is every bit as much of a myth as barefoot running being the answer to all your running problems, or buying a £10,000 bike being the reason you WILL ride like a pro cyclist.

What we read or deem as “ideal” on paper, while often a great starting point for many people, doesn’t always translate to real-life. As coaches it’s important to understand this. Anytime we corner ourselves into one-train of thought or that any one thing applies to everybody, we’re doing the industry – and our athletes – a disservice.

A Real-Life Example

A few months ago I started working with a guy who had real shoulder issues and swimming was aggravating them. He was frustrated because no matter what he did (or who he worked with), his shoulders got sore.

When people are starting a session, I like to be a fly on the wall. I want to see what their default movement patterns are. I let the athlete do a 100m warm up at his own pace, and while his stroke wasn’t the worst that I had seen, I could see why his shoulders were bothering him.

We established that his range of movement and flexibility around the shoulders wasn’t great – and yet he was trying to keep his elbows super high while reaching so far that his elbows and shoulders were collapsing into the water. Added to this the athlete was rolling all the way round onto his side to try and get air in, breathing every third stroke.

2 of the things this gentleman was doing are things that many people will read/hear and try to emulate; the long stretched out stroke and the high elbow recovery. Bilateral breathing also requires more oxygen/relaxation than many athletes can maintain.

However non of those things ABSOLUTELY HAS TO HAPPEN. Just because Michael Phelps or Ian Thorpe have high recovering elbows and long loping strokes, doesn’t mean that you should. Instead, work within the bounds of what you as an athlete – or the athlete in front of you can do.

With the athlete above, I got him to engage his core. This helped keep his whole body high in the water requiring less rotation to try and breath. I had him take straight arm recoveries meaning that his arms were far more relaxed. Equally it helped to stop over reaching meaning that he maintained control and forward momentum, without stressing his shoulders.

Takeaway

I hope people can appreciate the narrow-mindedness of this type of thinking. To expect everyone to fit into the same scheme or way of doing things because that’s what YOU prefer to do (or because a textbook told you to do so) is about as narrow-minded as it comes.

No one has to breathe bilaterally.

Likewise…

No one has to swim with a high elbow recovery.

No one has to kick 2 beat kick even though they are a triathlete.

And no one has to start watching Planet Earth on BBC. Except, yes you do.

I’d argue a “good” coach understands and respects that everyone is different, and that he or she will be humble enough to put their own personal biases in their back pocket and appreciate there is no ONE way to perform any stroke or part of the stroke. Cater the style to the athlete, and not vice versa.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

We Don’t Want To Glide #SwimTechTues

Glide is a word that is synonymous with swimming, especially swimming effortlessly. Athletes always say that they want to glide through the water, talking about making their swimming easier. But actually gliding might not be such good thing when you want to swim faster and stronger.

Glide freestyle

What Does The Word Glide Mean?

The word glide means to move smoothly and continuously along, as if without effort or resistance. The problem with swimming is that you are always going to have resistance (even if you reduce it as far as humanly possible), so the moment you stop providing propulsion – or more likely have stops or pauses in you stroke – then you will be slowing down.

If your body slows down as you move through the water (rather than maintaining steady momentum) you have two issues; firstly your body will sink in the water slightly – adding resistance and also making it more difficult to breath. Secondly, if you are slowing down it takes more effort, power and control to generate the extra speed. This tends to cause issues like dropping your elbows, or grabbing at the water

Instead, you should focus on keeping your hands and arms moving at all times. That doesn’t mean that they need to be moving fast, but constant motion (with a good hold on the water) should lead to constant movement in your swimming. I like to think of a freestyle (or backstroke or butterfly too) pull as similar to that of a cam mechanism – the wheel is always turning, but the movement of the mechanism comes at different speeds depending on the part of the cycle.

 

If your hold on the water is good, then think about placing your hand in the water “softly”, displacing and splashing as little water as possible. From here you can engage automatically with the water, get your elbow high and wide and then accelerate the water back toward your hips. The smoother you go through this action, the less hard you have to work and the better propulsion you get.

Takeaway

To feel like you’re gliding through the water is good. But unless you are swimming breaststroke then you don’t really want to glide while swimming each individual stroke. Think about constant movement, even if your hands move a little slower around the entry point of your stroke.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Posture – It’s Not Just For Running #RunFormFriday

The main thing I look to assist with when I look at athletes running styles is their posture while running. Good posture will help keep you injury free (apart from over training…!). It will also provide you with more power.

 

However running is only a small part of your week. On the assumption that you might run 3 times a week, and that your runs take a total of around 2-3 hours, that still leaves you with 165 hours in the week. 165 hours where your posture might not be quite so strong!

Good posture stems from not just having a strong core – the muscles from your torso and glutes, front and back of your body – but actually using it as well. One of the things many of us do when we relax and aren’t thinking so much is we have our pelvis in “anterior tilt”. This means that the top of your pelvis/hip structure is tilted forward. If you imagine your pelvis like a bowl of water it might help you visualise this.

 

pelvic tilt bowl of water

To level off that bowl of water that is your pelvis, while standing squeeze your glutes slightly. At the same time draw your belly button toward your spine. You might feel your spine lengthen when you do this!

Good posture standing

If you find feeling this difficult you can try standing against a wall or even lying flat on your back. Either way, the aim is to eliminate space between your lower (lumbar) spine and the surface.

Once you can feel that “core” engage, try walking with it. The main key here is to keep that belly button drawn in slightly. Every now and again just let everything switch off and see how different that feels.

Good posture walking

You can take all of this in to your running as well, and by keeping your pelvis tilted correctly under your spine you should stay more stable as well as limiting chances of injury.

Because we as humans spend a lot of time sitting, it’s worth occasionally thinking about good posture while sat at a desk too

Good posture sitting

Of course no-one is going to remember to keep good posture all of the time. And things like heels on shoes – even small heel raise – can affect how you stand. But a couple of seconds thought a few times a day can have a big impact on your body. It can also influence your well being and even your confidence.

Send us a message or leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions! We all have our own thoughts on the matter, and we all have something different that suits us.

See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Should You Learn Bilateral Breathing? #SwimTechTues

Have you been told or read that you should learn bilateral breathing? Do you know what bilateral breathing is?!

bilateral breathing

What Is Bilateral Breathing?

Bilateral breathing is breathing to both sides. It normally equates to breathing on an odd number of strokes – 3, 5, 7 etc. It CAN be really useful in keeping your stroke even and help you maintain a straight line as you swim. Additionally the swimmers who tend to get shoulder/neck injuries and problems tend to be the swimmers who only breath to one side – a feature of poorer posture and reliance on one side doing the majority of the work.

However I’d argue that breathing bilaterally is not a necessity and could potentially hold athletes back in the water. Especially with (but not confined to) new swimmers, there are so many things to try and focus on that breath control becomes really difficult, and trying to hold on to breathing every third stroke results in very quick fatigue.

In most sports, we don’t have to work very hard to get oxygen. But in swimming, specifically in freestyle , we have to turn our head to get air.

bilateral breathing

Maintaining good posture and a straight spine will keep your stroke as smooth as possible while breathing.

Cycling or running at maximal exertion requires between 50 and 60 breaths per minute. If you are swimming anywhere from 400 metres to 2.4 miles, chances are your stroke rate is 50 to 60 strokes per minute. If you are an alternate breather, breathing every third stroke (1:3 ratio), your respiratory rate is only 20 breaths per minute. A swimmer taking 60 strokes per minute and breathing to one side on every stroke cycle (1:2 ratio) takes only 30 breaths per minute, far below the body’s chosen rate.

So it’s not surprising that maintaining bilateral breathing can potentially be a challenge!

When coaching I prefer to focus on making sure that the swimmer in front of me has a balanced stroke – that both the left side and right side are doing the same thing, that the core and spine are staying straight and not bending round to one side or another. From there you can ensure that general breathing technique is good. The next step is to make sure that when breathing, you don’t let your hand cross under your body. My favourite drill is to swim with out breathing, and slowly reduce the number of strokes between breaths. Try to maintain the smoothness as you add in more breaths per length!

Obviously it is a great asset to be able to breath to both sides; specially in open water where waves, wind or bright sunshine could make breathing one way more difficult.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Get Over The Fear Of The Tumble Turn #SwimTechTues

Have you watched people effortlessly swimming up and down, and gracefully flipping over at the wall, bouncing off and swimming the opposite direction? Have you ever wondered how people do it? Or do you watch in fear of trying something like that?! Here’s how you can get over the fear of the tumble turn!

First and foremost, doing tumble turns aren’t a necessity; they aren’t even important. They can be useful though, if you do them well. A well executed tumble turn, as well as looking cool, slick and fast can give you power and speed off the wall as well as saving you lots of time. That said, a poor tumble turn could be slower than what you do now, so practice is required!

Learning to tumble turn

1.  Practice doing somersaults in the water. Do them from standing to help give you the power and propulsion to get over. Don’t forget to tuck up tight! The tighter you tuck up, the quicker you will spin over.

  • If you find water goes up your nose, blow out hard. If air is coming out, water can’t go in!
  • Not going over straight? Push off both feet, and tuck both your knees tight against your chest.

2.  Swim a couple of strokes and somersault. Try swimming a length and do a tumble every 5-6 strokes. The key with this is to make sure your last pull is strong, then drive your head and shoulders down and tuck your knees into your chest.

  • Don’t worry if you get a little disoriented the first couple of times! As you get more used to the skill, you’ll get more comfortable and be able to carry on.

Tumble Turn entry3.  Swim a length (with or without somersaults) and as you head over the T at the end of the length, do a somersault so you can finish with your feet flat against the wall – hopefully level with your head!

  • Ideally you want to be less than a metre from the wall, but this will come with practice and experience as to what works for you. Use the T as your guide, and adjust once you get a feel.
  • Maintain some speed into the wall. It’s counter intuitive, but if you slow down it makes it harder to tumble, there is less momentum. That speed and momentum gets carried round in the circle for you to push off – whereas if you slow down, you actually travel closer to the wall. It’s another example of speed being your friend!
Tumble Turn tuck

4.  Swim a length front crawl and somersault into the wall as above. Then push off on your back. Simple!

  • If you find yourself pushing down toward the bottom of the pool think about staying tucked up for a fraction longer. It’ll make waiting a lot shorter!
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5.  Once you have mastered the skill of planting your feet on the wall and pushing off level – and not downwards – you can take on the last part, getting onto your front. There are two ways to do this. My favoured way is to plant your feet pointing upwards, but with one foot slightly above the other. This means that when you push off you will roll on to your side – and be ready to take that first stroke on your front. Alternatively you can plant both feet together then twist both together by about 45 degrees.

  • If you find your feet slipping off the wall, focus on planting your feet first before trying to twist them.
Tumble Turn push

 

Take your time with learning this – as with any skill. The point is that drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!