Are You Shanghai Surprised?

Have you been watching the swimming world championships from Shanghai? We're sure you'll agree it's been fantastic racing and the underwater and close-up video footage is amazing to watch.

Have you been surprised at the range of strokes on show? Some swimmers using straight arm recoveries, some with super-high stroke rates, some slower two beat kicks and others powerful six beat kicks? It just goes to show that a variety of stroke styles can be fast and efficient depending on the build of the swimmer, the distance they are racing and the environment (pool or open water).

When watching the racing take a look for the similarities in all their strokes, the things that are essential for an efficient stroke technique:
Photo from Shanghai courtesy Dr Jim Miller

- Very high body position
- Good rotation to both sides
- Great alignment of the body and arm extension
- Great catch mechanics - pressing water backwards at all times, not down or to the sides
- Efficient kick technique with a relatively straight leg (with the possible exception of the sprints where all-out kick power is needed)

Aspects that vary significantly amongst elite swimmers are:

- Arm recovery style (traditional high elbow vs. straighter arm recovery)
- Head position (looking down to looking almost straight forwards)
- Stroke length (taking anywhere from 30 to 55 strokes per 50m)
- Stroke rates (up to 110 Strokes Per Minute in open water, 75-90 SPM during pool events)
- Kick timing (two beat combined with a faster stroke rate, six beat combined with a longer smoother stroke)

Clearly, if these aspects vary significantly between elite swimmers they are not fundamental to an efficient freestyle stroke.

Non-Elite Examples From Perth

Sue came to us for a video analysis session a few weeks ago looking to improve her swimming. She fits our Swinger Swim Type and has a naturally high stroke rate. She found that by lowering her stroke rate using a Wetronome and stretching out her stroke she became less efficient and 'it felt harder' as a result. As we lifted her stroke rate again she told us it 'felt much easier' and 'more natural' once more. This sounds counter-intuitive to many swimmers but for Sue a higher stroke rate style suits her perfectly and matches her natural two beat kick.

Guy is a classic tall Smooth swimmer with long arms and a natural 6 beat flutter kick. During our stroke correction session with him we worked on improving his catch mechanics as he had a tendency to press the water down at the front of the stroke. By improving his catch he became quicker and his stroke rate lifted slightly in line with this, however when we elevated his stroke rate too far things felt 'really tough' and 'ragged' to him. Guy's long smooth stroke fits his individual make-up perfectly.

Keep an open mind when making improvements to your stroke and take a leaf out of an elite swimmer's book and experiment with different aspects of your stroke technique. There really is no 'perfect way to swim'. If something feels promising then try it for a few sessions and see if it makes you faster and more efficient - you may be surprised by the results!

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Are You Sure You're Putting On Your Wetsuit Right? The Human Shoehorn

There is a bit of a secret method to getting in your wetsuit properly, we call it the "human shoehorn". You'll need some help from a friend to use this technique but it will make your suit a lot more loose and flexible around the shoulders.

The first step is to make sure that you pull enough loose material up the arms and legs. Use a plastic bag over your hand or foot as you slide them into the suit, this helps the suit slip on. At the ankles and wrist pull your suit up 5cm (2 inches) more than you might normally do:


Work this material up your legs to the groin area and up your arms to the shoulders:


Now have your friend slide their hand inside the suit down towards your tricep and with their other hand work the material up the arm and round from the chest on both sides. This is the "human shoehorn" :


Take care not to over-stress the suit doing this as you might tear it. You're just trying to position the suit nicely on your body, not stretch it. The last thing you want to do is rip your suit immediately before a race!

Without using this method you will have a wide gap across your back between the zip and when you do up your suit it will compresses your shoulders and makes things very tight. After Human Shoehorning your suit will sit quite differently with the zip almost together on your back, which can be easily done up:


Now your shoulders will be much more free and loose, ready for a great swim split!

One last tip, as you get in the water pull the neck open a touch and let some water in. This helps lubricate the suit and the water acts as an additional layer of insulation once warmed up.

Have a great race and let us know how you go on the blog comments here.

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Are You Slower In A Wetsuit?

It's frustrating isn't it? You spend many hundreds of dollars or pounds on a beautiful well fitting wetsuit but when you swim in it you're no faster, or even slower, than you are without it. You might feel awkward and unbalanced in it too.

If you have this problem don't worry, you're not alone. Many triathletes suffer in this way - particularly females with a swimming background as a child. The reason is that when swimming without a wetsuit you already have a very good body position with the legs sitting up very high in the water. The extra buoyancy from your suit actually takes your legs too high leaving you feeling very unbalanced in the water.

If you already have a fantastic body position, a wetsuit can
leave you feeling unbalanced in the water.
Nearly all Kicktastics (often female with a swimming background) suffer from this problem - your strong leg kick gives you a fantastic high body position which is a major asset in your stroke. The added buoyancy of a wetsuit starts to lift your legs out of the water and you lose power and the stability provided from your leg kick.

An important adaptation for Kicktastics is to lift your head higher and look further forward when you swim in your wetsuit. This lifts you slightly at the front and brings your legs down a touch, redressing the balance in your stroke. Experiment with a range of head angles, from looking 1-2 meters in front to looking right ahead with the goggles just beneath the surface.

Pro Example: Kate Bevilaqua

Paul Newsome is coaching double Ironman winner Kate Bevilaqua who also suffers from this frustrating problem in the water. Prior to working with Kate she swam around 62 minutes for 3.8km. Our first breakthrough was a 58 minute swim at IM New Zealand in March this year, followed by a 53 minute swim at IM Lanzarote in May. Paul worked on two aspects of her stroke:

The Kicktastic:
- Strong 6-beat kick
- Often female
- Long limbs
- Hates wetsuits!
1) Kate was originally coached and led to believe that all swimmers should look straight down at the bottom of the pool or ocean to bring their bum and legs up. This is totally wrong for some swimmers and was terrible advice for Kate. Despite her lean muscular build, Kate has a very good natural body position in the water and maintaining this head position with a wetsuit or pull buoy was causing her legs to sit too high, leaving her feeling very unbalanced as a result. Paul raised her head a touch by looking forward in the water by around two meters and she immediately felt better.

The better view forwards also helped Kate's drafting which is something we worked heavily on in April. Given that this can save her up to 38% of her energy expenditure if performed well, or allow her to sit with the faster age-group men, this is a major benefit that is essential for her to exploit.

2) Kate often complained of tired shoulders when using her wetsuit. She was coached to maintain a very high elbow during the recovery phase but inevitably the suit's resistance lead to premature fatigue at the start of her races. To improve this, Paul worked with Kate to swim with a straighter arm recovery which led to more hand clearance over the water (ideal for rougher swims) and also allowed her to tap into her ability to maintain high stroke rates in excess of 85 SPM (strokes per minute). This change gives her rhythm and purpose in a tightly packed open water swim.

If you are slower or feel unbalanced in your wetsuit then don't despair, try the the changes above and we're sure you'll instantly feel a lot more comfortable in your wetsuit and faster too. Let us know on the comments section of this blog how you go! You will also find plenty more specific advice to improve your stroke in the Kicktastic Swim Type Guide here.

If you are a swimmer who loves their wetsuit and you gain significant speed from the buoyancy, then you may find this hard to believe. It just shows how different we all are and why modern swim coaching is moving away from traditional one-size-fits-all methods to an individual approach.

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Over-Thinking And Under-Achieving ?

Many swimmers, particularly Overgliders, have a tendency to over-think and over-analyse when they swim. They feel a strong urge to focus on every single stroke of every single lap of every single session in case their stroke falls apart or somehow they will not achieve their potential in the water.

Of course it's important to work on areas of your stroke that are holding you back - preferably in a targeted way using coach feedback or video analysis. However, obsessively thinking about the same areas of your technique over and over again soon leads to you hitting a plateau. If you've experienced this you'll know that this 'analysis paralysis' is extremely frustrating!

Over-Thinking

An important part of developing your swimming is the ability to simply switch off sometimes and feel your stroke rhythm. Over-thinking adds a noticeable pause within your stroke as you analyse you previous stroke and plan your next which kills your natural rhythm and timing. Also, all that mental pressure makes you tense and rigid as you try to be perfect, which only gets worse as you become more frustrated!

Faced with the prospect of 10hr+ English Channel crossings, SS Head Coach Paul Newsome and the rest of the Channel Dare Team know all about the dangers of thinking too much, which would be to the detriment of that key ingredient for distance swimming: rhythm. It's hard to explain what a channel swimmer really focuses on for ultra-endurance swim sessions, other than simply getting into a good groove and holding a nice rhythm for a prolonged period.

When you get into this zone you enjoy the experience and feel the natural rhythm of your stroke. In doing so you'll often find an area of your stroke starts to click or you become aware of something that was holding you back. Interestingly, Swingers like to switch off like this and are very good at it, so much so that they dislike technique sets for the disruption to the rhythm and momentum of the session.

Example 'Brain-Off' Set

Try this neat little set and see what happens, repeat it anywhere between three and five times through in your next session:
4x 50m drill with 10 seconds rest between each 50m. Choose a single drill for each set of four 50s which you know will target a specific aspect of your stroke, for example you might choose sculling, kicking on your side or unco. Restrict yourself to only thinking about that one aspect as you drill for each 50m but then:

200m continuous steady freestyle with the brain switched off - just feel the rhythm! Let the previous drill just do it's work and naturally filter into your stroke.

What If I Can't Switch Off? - The Split Screen View

At Monday morning's technique session here in Perth we tried this set with our squad and it was very well received by the swimmers. However, not everyone managed to find that rhythmical place in their stroke straight away, the place where they felt they were on auto-pilot.

One swimmer was struggling to find his flow during the 200m swims so we asked him to simply look at (and enjoy) the image of the water rushing past his face as he breathed. His goal was to see if he could keep one eye looking above the water and one eye under in a sort of "split-screen" view:


By giving this swimmer a visualisation which wasn't a direct technique focus (but still emphasised good breathing technique), he was able to improve the single biggest thing holding him back: sinky leg syndrome. He improved his efficiency in the water without having to think overly hard about anything, which normally makes him tense and rigid especially when he's frustrated and feels he's "not getting it".

If you struggle to switch off, try using the visualisation above and enjoy the motion of the water around you which will make it much easier to find that flow and rhythm. Before you know it you've crossed the Channel and are standing on the beach in France... well, nearly! ;-)

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We're Swimming The English Channel!

Swim Smooth Head Coach Paul Newsome and seven other members of our Perth squads have been busy training to swim the English Channel this northern hemisphere summer. In fact last Sunday the entire team successfully completed their six hour qualification swim in 15°C water and are now officially qualified for this tough 34km solo crossing - fantastic job guys!
L-R: Andrew, Geoff, Paul D, Ceinwen, Paul N and Wayne
still smiling after their 6 hour qualification swim!

The combination of the long distance, strong tides, potentially rough conditions and the cold water make the English Channel one of the hardest swims in the world. So hard in fact that fewer people have swum the English Channel than climbed Everest! Today on the blog we're going to let the Channel Team members update you on their preparations, find out how the qualification swim went and hear about their fund raising for a very important cause.

To find out even more, the team have a dedicated website here: www.channeldare.com


Wayne, Ceinwen, Paul N and Paul D
The Channel Team Swimmers

Andrew: "Our team of eight swimmers are Paul Newsome, Paul Downie, Wayne Morris, Ceinwen Williams, Lisa Delaurentis, Geoff Wilson, Carrol Wannell and me. There's a range of speeds in the group (Paul N and Ceinwen being the super-fish!) but it's well known that depending on conditions on the day, stamina and mental strength can greatly outweigh pure speed!

Every one of us has our own boat and skipper (known as a "pilot") who will guide us through the strong channel tides from England to France some time in our 5-7 day tidal windows. When the weather conditions are set fair for the following day we'll receive a call from our pilot telling us we're off in the morning (cue big rush of adrenaline!).


Paul N and Ceinwen
training hard!
Each of us will make the long journey from Australia to England for our slot this northern hemisphere summer:

Geoff: 21st to 29th July 2011
Lisa: 25th to 31st July 2011
Ceinwen: 6th to 13th August 2011
Wayne: 6th to 13th August 2011
Carrol: 20th to 26th August 2011
Andrew: 5th to 10th September 2011
Paul D: 5th to 10th September 2011
Paul N: 5th to 10th September 2011


Cold Water Adaptation

Andrew getting a hot drink down during training
Paul D: "A large part of the challenge of swimming the English Channel is the cold conditions with water temperatures in the 15-17°C range. The Channel Swim Association's rules are very strict and we're only allowed to wear normal bathers and a swim cap - strictly no speedsuits or wetsuits!

Swimmers often take 12 to 16 hours to complete their crossing and obviously this is a very long time in such cold water.

Adapting to the cold and deliberately adding a few kilograms of insulation to our muscular physiques (!) are a major part of the preparation to swim this mighty event. We've been swimming regularly in the Swan River here in Perth which is a perfect 15°C for training and we've been rewarding ourselves with plenty of (ahem) "high quality nutrition" to make sure we have enough insulation for our crossings. Trying to gain weight can be a real challenge when you're swimming 50km per week!"



Training... And Yet More Training!
Training in the Swan River, Perth

Ceinwen: "The great thing about having eight of us training as a team is the shared camaraderie to get through the long and challenging sessions. Each of our training weeks will peak in the 50-60km range, with at least 25 to 30km of that in cold open water.

Our staple training has become long endurance swims but we've kept some threshold sets to maintain speed together with some technique sets to keep our stroke form. Open water techniques are key to a successful swim so we're doing lots of sighting and navigation practise. Being able to breathe bilaterally is important too as our support boats will move around us depending on the direction of the swell and good communication needs to be maintained with the boat at all times.


Andrew and Paul D in action
"Due to the tides, many English Channel swims start before dawn in total darkness so night swims have been part of our preparation as well. Swimming in total darkness is extremely disorientating as you lose perception of where the water ends and air begins - very freaky at first but thankfully you do get used to this!

Experience and expertise of this event is so important that we've employed the services of 7-times World Marathon Swimming Champion Shelley Taylor Smith, herself a channel veteran. We're very lucky to have Shelley local to us in Perth, thanks for all your help Shelley!"

Geoff getting greased up by Shelley before
his qualification swim


A Six Hour Qualification Swim

To even attempt a channel swim crossing you must have completed a six hour qualification swim in 16°C water or colder. Last Sunday the entire team completed this swim in the Swan River here in Perth using a 2km loop - perfect for the support crews to keep a close eye on them in case of hypothermia. The jetty was also the perfect as a feed station.

Geoff and Andrew coming in for a feed
Paul Newsome: "I swam with my trusty Garmin GPS monitor which showed that in 5h 59'09" that I had swum a total distance of 24.52km at an average pace of 14'38"/km (including drink stops). My actual swim speed was just under 13'40"/km, or the equivalent of doing 245x 100m intervals, hitting 1'22" for every 100m, leaving every 1'27" - now that would be a proper threshold / CSS set!

The conditions whilst cold were perfectly flat and with no obvious current so it's hard to draw comparisons accurately against my previous Rottnest Channel swims but I went through 19.7km in exactly 4:45 or 37 minutes faster than I have ever swum the race. This is a massive confidence boost and a good sign that all the hard work has been paying off. I certainly felt good and held a stroke rate of 80±2 SPM (strokes per minute) throughout.

Swim Smooth Head Coach Paul Newsome
was stoked with his qualification swim
I'm not even going to hypothesise what I could do across to France if I held this pace, as this has been the pitfall of many a previous swimmer, ignoring just how much the elements can play against you. However, I am confident that I have found my rhythm and that I have been doing everything I possibly can to get myself in the best possible shape for this challenge - and yes, that includes the 12kg I've put on to keep myself warm - I'm now a hefty 78kg!! I used to race triathlon at 62.5kg if you can imagine that, LOL!

Now I'm just looking forward to another good block of training and getting on with the task at hand."


Raising Money For Breast Cancer Care
Shelley and Leith keep things organised on the jetty

Lisa: "We are swimming for Breast Cancer Care WA who provide financial and emotional support to breast cancer victims and their families. In case we were not taking this part seriously enough, not long ago a member of our group told us of a beautiful 35 year old mother of two who is facing terminal cancer after breast cancer has returned to haunt her for the second time. I can only imagine what she and her family are experiencing.

It saddens me to think about my selfishness of complaining about the cold water when there are people like this in our community fighting to live. Whilst I can not guarantee the success of making it to France I know I will fight with such spirit. I'm sure you have all experienced something very close to this in your lives and watched others hurt, so please help and donate to Breast Cancer Care. Please give generously here:

www.channeldare.com/?page_id=23

So far we've raised over $25,000 dollars but we know we can raise a lot more with your help - please show your support for what we're doing!"


The Support Crews

Wayne: "It's truly amazing just how many people need to be involved in the preparation for an English Channel crossing. A special thanks from us to all the family, friends and coaches who have given up their time, energy and beauty sleep to help us qualify.


Over thirty people were involved in supporting the qualification swim and many of them will be travelling to the UK to support us during our attempts. Thanks so much - we simply couldn't do it without you guys regardless of how much training we put in!"



Here on the blog we'll keep you up to date with the team's training and how each crossing goes, including special coverage of Paul Newsome's swim on the day he crosses in September. We hope you enjoyed the update and perhaps feel a little inspired yourself!

In the meantime, if you have any messages or questions for the team then please post them in the comments sections on the bottom of the blog here.

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