Beautiful Weather (For Open Water Swimming?)

Over the last week or so Europe has been experiencing an amazing warm and sunny period that is scarcely believable for March. We've heard from many of you who are digging out your wetsuits and going for the first swim of the season at your local open water swimming venue. It's great to be able to do this so early in the year but watch out because the water's still very chilly and this can be a bit of a shock to the system.

If you're a little anxious in open water then the number one thing to remember to do is to exhale into the water continuously with a big long stream of bubbles 'brrrrrrr'! Our natural reaction is to hold our breath when feeling anxious, building up CO2 in the body. This further heightens feelings of anxiety and so creates a vicious circle leading to the possibility of a panic attack.

It's only March but swimmers are already enjoying
open water swimming in the Lake District in the UK
Splash some cold water on your face for 10-15 seconds before getting in and when you start swimming simply focus on blowing those bubbles into the water. If you're breathing every three strokes you can use our famous mantra bubble-bubble-breathe to help you tune into this technique.

This sounds like very basic advice but focusing your mind on something as simple as exhalation is powerful. Blowing bubbles is directly under your control so that you start to settle down and feel more relaxed after a few minutes. Worrying about things not under your control (e.g. waves, the cold, what else might be in the water) will make you more anxious, so focus on something that is under your control (blowing bubbles) and block everything else out.

Have fun out there and be sure to swim at a safe venue with other swimmers and proper life saving support.

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Better Wetsuit Design For Women

Most women's triathlon and open water swimming wetsuits are simply men's suits cut to the female form, which we think is a pretty underwhelming approach to their design. With the new Huub Aura we started from a clean sheet of paper and designed a bespoke suit for women that is getting rave reviews from all the girls who have tested it (e.g. here).

Most women feel unbalanced in their wetsuit. This is caused by too much buoyancy in the hips and legs, which lifts them out of the water at the rear and leaves them bobbing around like a cork with very little stability. This happens because women as a rule women are much more buoyant than men and this buoyancy is distributed differently around the body, with more in the hips and legs.

Many women also like to use their kick when they swim and being brought too high at the rear by their wetsuit means they start to kick into the air, which is very ineffective and disconcerting.

A third difference is that women find wetsuits more restricting around the shoulders than men and suffer to a far greater extent from shoulder fatigue than their male counterparts.

What's the solution? We sat down with the new team at Huub and designed a special low buoyancy suit that is ultra flexible, particularly in the chest, upper back and shoulders. We named it the 'Aura' and it is incredibly effective for women who have a naturally high body position in the water.

One additional benefit of this design is that the thinner neoprene creates a suit that is much easier to put on and take off, and because it is thinner it doesn't make your legs look like tree trunks!

So girls, when selecting a new wetsuit choose carefully and find a suit that matches your natural buoyancy and body position in the water. In doing so, make sure you take a good look at the new Huub Aura, you won't believe how nice it feels in the water and how well you swim in it. For more information see the Huub website and brochure.

For men reading this, if you are in the opposite situation and have sinky legs in the water then check out the Huub 3:5 profile suits - you will never have experienced a leg-lifting effect like it!

All Huub wetsuits have been designed by Swim Smooth and renowned sports science Professor Huub Toussaint to match the stroke characteristics of individual swimmers for maximum comfort and performance. The new range goes on sale in April.

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To Draft Or Not To Draft?

Drafting another swimmer (see the two ways here) can save you up to 38% of your energy expenditure. With such large savings on offer, swimming in a good draft can feel very easy despite you moving at a decent pace.

In a race situation this creates a common dilemma, should you stay in an easy draft or swim around and go on your own? In this situation how do you know what's right to do? At the moment we're half way through our clinic series in the UK and in the section on open water skills this is the most common question we've been asked by the swimmers. Here's our answer:

Pace Awareness When Drafting

To know whether you are really moving too slowly when drafting, you need to practise this in the controlled environment of the pool to learn how it feels. Grab a buddy who is a slightly better swimmer than you and have him or her swim at your target race pace for around 200-400m while you draft them. Settle into the draft and get into the rhythm of swimming - you'll soon gain an appreciation of how this target pace feels - it may surprise you how easy it is!

Pacing skills are a very important part of being a good swimmer but as a triathlete or open water swimmer you also need pace judgement when drafting so that you can make tactical decisions like this in a race. There's only one way to develop your drafting pace judgement and that's with practise. For that reason we strongly recommend you work on your drafting skills (and also your sighting and navigation skills) all year round in the pool. It's great fun and will really help you achieve your potential come the open water season.

Drafting skills are important for any swimmer
to master, whatever their ability level
In fact, Swim Smooth's philosophy is that stroke technique, swimming fitness and open water skills are equally important and should all be given equal priority in your training. Our new UK Certified Coaches follow this philosophy in their squad sessions by including regular open water skills sessions.

Don't Like Drafting?

Many swimmers say that they dislike drafting and that's only natural, the concentration required is higher and the hustle and bustle of swimming close to other swimmers can feel a little disconcerting at first. However, like with anything, with practise you can become familiar and comfortable with it and the performance improvements on offer are too large to ignore. Drafting well can easily be worth two minutes per km swum!

Always remember the number one rule of drafting: PRACTISE MAKES PERFECT

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Overgliding, Inefficiency And The Overgliderometer

You might have noticed on some of our recent videos how we've included a 'time between strokes' measurement in seconds. This is the time delay between one stroke finishing at the back and the next one starting at the front:


It turns out that this is a very interesting measurement because it's a good indication of how much someone glides within their stroke. Some swimmers have a slight overlap, with the front stroke starting before the rear finishes and we indicate this with a negative number.

We have some clever video analysis software that lets us easily measure the time between strokes from video clips of swimmers and we recently spent a happy Sunday afternoon analysing hundreds of swimmers of all ability levels. As we were just interested in studying the effect of gliding on speed as closely as possible, we removed all the swimmers who were fighting the water (e.g. those with a large crossover in front of the head or a large scissor kick) from the dataset. They would have been in Region A below:
Included on the graph are famous swimmers such as Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps, Rebecca Adlington, Sun Yang (1), Alex Popov, Grant Hackett, Lotte Friis (2) and Ross Davenport. It also includes professional triathletes (3) and most of the popular swimming demonstration clips on Youtube, as well as data from normal swimmers of all ability levels.

The relationship between gliding and efficiency is really striking isn't it? Wherever you are on the graph, if you introduce too much glide to your stroke you will slide down the relationship and lose chunks of speed and efficiency. In fact once a swimmer is over 0.7 seconds of glide (we catagorise this as 'Extreme Overgliding') they have become so inefficient they normally have to stop and take a significant rest every 50m:
Notice that there is a complete absence of swimmers in Region B, a region where fast swimmers with a significant glide would sit if there were any :
Many swimmers (and some coaches) believe that elite swimmers do have a significant glide in their timing but this is an illusion caused by the sheer length of their strokes - when you study the footage and take the measurements you find that there is hardly any gap between strokes at all. Their freestyle is continuous, transitioning smoothly from one to the other without any dead-spots or pauses.

Even though elite swimmers have a very small gap between strokes or even a slight overlap between them, this still gives a front quadrant stroke with the arms passing in front of the head (one over the water, one underneath). This is because the recovering arm travels quickly forwards over the surface as the stroking arm catches and pulls relatively slowly under the water.

Note that if you are going to study footage in this manner yourself, it's best to study clips where the swimmer has already swum 50m or further before taking the measurements. All swimmers can sustain a lower stroke count and swim quicker for the first 25m or 50m swum before settling down. You may have noticed this drop-off yourself if you've ever counted your strokes over several lengths.

Introducing The Overgliderometer!

Our graphics team had a little fun here but we hope the Overgliderometer makes a serious point, highlighting the transitions between stroke styles for different lengths of glide:


The Smooth Swim Type (e.g. Ian Thorpe or Sun Yang) have a very small gap between strokes of 0.1 to 0.2 seconds. The Swinger (elite open water swimmers and triathletes) have an overlap or tiny gap between -0.1 and 0.1 seconds, this stroke style is ideal for open water swimming where rhythm and momentum are key. The Classic Overglider (already losing a lot of efficiency) is in the range 0.4 to 0.7 seconds and Extreme Overgliders (very slow and inefficient) glide for 0.7 seconds or more.

Overgliders

In an effort to make their stroke as long as is physically possible, many swimmers have placed a heavy emphasis on gliding with scant regard for the rhythm of their stroke. Just like we teach that short scrappy strokes can be inefficient as the swimmer fights the water, so too is an overly long freestyle stroke detrimental to performance.

Some swimmers say that they like this 'mini rest' between strokes but given that water is over 800 times more dense than air, pausing and gliding only results in deceleration. Each new stroke then has to re-accelerate the body in the water and this becomes very wasteful of your energy. It's also very common to see swimmers add a strange 'kick-start' action with the legs to re-start the stalled stroke. This adds drag and further harms your efficiency.

The term 'Glide' has long been used by swim coaches and is well meant to describe a smooth, efficient, unhurried freestyle stroke. Unfortunately it has also been misinterpreted to mean pause, stop and do nothing momentarily. At Swim Smooth we avoid using the term glide as it is so easily misinterpreted to mean pause and do nothing.

Long Stroke Styles

Many swimmers aspire to have a long smooth freestyle stroke and that is fine for pool swimming as long as you create it in the right way and it doesn't become overly long. There are three ways to make your stroke longer:

1) Reduce your drag so that you slip through the water more easily
2) Increase your propulsion so each stroke pushes you further
3) Artificially elongate the stroke by deliberately pausing and gliding between strokes

Reducing your drag and increasing your propulsion (1 & 2) are clearly good things and will make you faster and more efficient. But as we have seen in the data, trying to make your stroke longer by introducing a significant glide is putting the cart before the horse and only makes you less efficient. If you've tried Overgliding yourself, you'll know that it ultimately leads to frustration for this reason.

Be careful, there are still plenty of proponents of Overgliding on the internet today. If a long smooth stroke style appeals to you then like any swimmer you should work on reducing your drag, improving your propulsive technique and create a smooth rhythmical stroke without any dead-spots or pauses - just like elite swimmers do. This will naturally result in the optimal stroke length for you without chasing an artificially low stroke count by introducing a 'pause and glide' into your stroke.

If Long Doesn't Suit You

Depending on your individual make-up, a really long stroke style may simply not suit you. That's perfectly fine because a slightly shorter stroke can be just as efficient when drag is low and propulsive technique is good. However, what will make your stroke style unique is that you need a greater emphasis on stroke rhythm, perfect for punching through waves and chop in open water swimming. This is the refined Swinger style of stroke.

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Introducing Five Swim Smooth Coaches (Permanently In The UK!)

Today we are very excited to announce the new SS Certified Coach Programme with five newly qualified Swim Smooth Coaches permanently coaching in the UK. Each coach has been hand picked by us, highly trained for over 12 months (including special intensive training with us in Perth, Australia) and are now ready and waiting to give you the very highest quality of swim coaching available in the world. Their services include:

Certified Coach Training In Perth, 2011
- One to one consultations including Advanced Video Analysis to transform your stroke technique

- Swim Smooth squad sessions for all ability levels featuring the perfect mix of technique work, training and open water skills sessions


- Open water skills sessions to make sure you transfer your pool abilities across to the open water (don't underestimate the importance of this)

- Swim Smooth's unique individual approach to swim coaching

Welcome to the Swim Smooth team Fiona Ford, Steve Casson, Steve Bailey, Martin Hill and Julian Nagi! For full information on the coaches and their locations, please visit: www.swimsmooth.com/certifiedcoaches

(Just like our clinics, these guys are going to be extremely popular - so please don't delay in booking your consultation with them or enquiring about joining their squad.)


The Triathlon Show This Weekend

Don't forget that Swim Smooth will be at the Triathlon Show in London this weekend. Paul Newsome will be there and we'll be running swimming seminars on both Saturday and Sunday (see here).

The newly certified coaches will also be there to meet you - please come and say hi. Also, if you bring along video of your stroke on a memory stick or DVD we'll take a look at your footage and give you an instant analysis of what you're doing wrong at the moment and how to improve your swimming!

Sorry For the Wait

Julian, Fiona and Paul Newsome share a joke with
our squad swimmers in Perth
We know that many of you have been frustrated that you could not get onto one of our International Clinics when we have travelled over from Australia. This has been a problem for us over the last two to three years as demand for our coaching has sky rocketed, in the last twelve months alone we've had over 1500 direct enquiries from swimmers about attending our clinics.

To meet this demand our intention has always been to seek out the very best coaching talent, carefully train and mentor each coach individually and give them huge experience in using Swim Smooth's methods. Thanks for being so patient while we went through this process, this is not something you can hurry or inevitably standards will slip. Rest assured, Julian, Martin, Steve, Steve and Fiona now represent the very best swim coaching available to you in the UK - and the world for that matter.

It only remains for us to congratulate the guys on the great achievement of becoming a full Swim Smooth coach. We've pushed you very hard over the last twelve months of your training but you've come through every test with flying colours. Paul Newsome, Adam Young and the rest of the SS team are very proud of you and your abilities.

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