The CSS Test Explained

If you don't know already, your CSS (Critical Swim Speed) is your threshold pace when swimming. It's roughly the pace you can swim a flat-out 1500m and is a single number which you can base all your training intensities from.

For instance in our squads in Perth, swimmers in lane 1 have a threshold pace around 1:50-2:00 /100m, lane 2 1:40-1:50 /100m, lane 3 1:25-1:40 /100m and lane 4 1:15-1:25 /100m. You'll find a similar split between the lanes in every Swim Smooth squad around the world.

CSS training: A huge range of speeds but one accurate way of training for everyone.

If you have trained with a power meter on the bike you probably know your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) and running you might be aware of your threshold pace (the pace you can sustain for a race around 10km to 10 miles in length). CSS, FTP and threshold running pace are the equivalent thing in all three sports. Know them and you can train different energy systems accurately and track your progress over time.

So how do you find your CSS pace? Swim a 1500m timetrial? Well you could... but it would be mentally challenging to do and actually there's another way of doing it that gives more insight into your fitness:


The Standard CSS Test

After a thorough warmup and after a few key drills, swim a 400m time-trial. Pace it well and remember this is a flat out effort, you shouldn't finish and think "maybe I could have gone harder"!

If at all possible, have a friend, coach or lifeguard time your first 100m split of the 400m. As we'll come to later this will give you real insight into your pacing abilities. Record your overall time and also your 100m split.

Spend a few minutes recovering with some easy laps of freestyle until you feel you are ready for part 2 - a 200m time-trial. Again, well paced and a good hard effort. Record your time.

Note: if you are in a yard pool, swim 400yd and 200yd time-trials instead.

Swim an easy cool down to recover from your efforts.


Calculating Your CSS Pace

Armed with your times, enter your numbers into the basic CSS calculator here:

http://swimsmooth.com/improve/intermediate/css-training

Or for a much more thorough analysis (including pacing analysis and performance predictions over different distances) use the Guru (Pro subscription required):

https://www.swimsmooth.guru/csstest/

The Guru gives you Swim Smooth's full analysis of your CSS test.

The Guru will use your 100m split from the 400m to assess your pacing abilities - if these are poor then it's critical you address them to make decent headway with your swimming.


Using Your CSS Pace

So how do you control your pace to swim at CSS? The secret is to use a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro set to beep at regular intervals such that you pace things out to be passing every 25m (or 25 yards) when it beeps. For instance, if your CSS pace is 2:00 /100m then set your beeper to 30 seconds. Get ahead of the beep every 25m and you are going to fast, behind the beep and you're travelling too slowly.

The key to CSS training is sustained speed with short recoveries. This is a little different to traditional master's swimming where the swims are faster but with much longer recoveries (sprint training).

An example CSS set is:

3x (100m + 200m + 300m) - all swum at CSS pace with 10 seconds rest after every swim

That's 1800m in total, suitable for swimmers with a CSS pace around 1:30 /100m.
If your CSS pace is around 1:20 /100m, design sets around 2000m in length.
If your CSS pace is around 1:45 /100m we suggest a set around 1600m
If your CSS pace is around 2:00 /100m try 1400m in total

The key to these sets is sustained speed with short recoveries between swims. This will effectively develop your "diesel engine".

Find more information about Tempo Trainers visit our shop here: shop.swimsmooth.com/products/finis-tempo-trainer-pro


CSS Training And The Guru (this is where it gets really good)

With a Pro Guru subscription you can take CSS training to the next level:

- First up there's hundreds of fun and effective training sessions in the Guru for all ability levels. Each uses your CSS pace to set your intensity accurately.

- Whenever you use a Tempo Trainer, the Guru pops up and tells you what to program in (no maths required from you!) to accurately control your training intensity:



- Tell the Guru how your session went and it will automatically adjust your CSS pace up or down for next time. This means it's not necessary to perform the CSS test regularly as the Guru will actually track your CSS pace as you go along. We call this process "CSS tweaking", something that's unique to Swim Smooth:




In Summary

CSS isn't a concept that Swim Smooth invented but we like to think that we have popularised it for swimmers and developed a whole system of focused effective training around it to help you achieve your potential in the water.

In essence it:

- Provides focused training to improve your distance swimming.

- Is quicker to recover from than many other training sets.

- Allows you train scientifically using a Tempo Trainer Pro.

- Inherently develops your pacing skills.

No excuses now - get to work!


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Three Brilliant Paddles From Finis

When it comes to developing your stroke technique, swimming with paddles might not be the first thing that comes to mind. They are normally associated with resistance training and building muscular strength during the pull pathway.

However, here are three unique paddles from Finis that ARE focused on developing your stroke. Yes they increase the resistance a little but that's not their primary purpose. Instead each focuses on a different area of your technique to have you swimming more quickly and effectively.

We use them every day with our squads here in Perth and during our stroke correction sessions:





The Finis Freestyler Paddle

If you've been following Swim Smooth for a while then you've almost certainly come across the Finis Freestyler paddle. It's shaped like an arrow head with a keel on the bottom:



The Freestylers very much fit with the Cause And Effect principle behind our coaching. They help prevent crossing over the midline as you enter the water and extend forwards:



By correcting this 'cause' they remove many of the effects a crossover creates - shoulder injury, scissor kicks and swimming off-course in open water.

These paddles correct cross-over by being quite unstable on your hand. They have only one strap for your middle finger and being shaped like an arrow-head with a unique skeg design on the bottom they straighten themselves up in the water. A bit like the tail on a weather vane keeping it pointing into the wind, the skeg likes to keep the paddle pointing straight up the lane. So, if you cross over the centre line in your stroke technique, the paddle tries to straighten you up and you feel this - instant feedback you are doing something wrong!






The Finis Agility Paddle

Whilst the Freestyler is all about hand entry and extension forwards underwater, the Agility paddle focuses on the next part of the stroke - the catch itself.

The Agility's strapless design is immediately noticeable:
That's not just comfy on the hand, it means you have to keep a light pressure on the paddle during the catch and pull (good technique) or it will literally fall off!

The subtle curvature of the underside of the paddle also helps guide you into a high elbow catch position at the front of the stroke. Perfect for intermediate swimmers looking to develop their catch technique:



Find out more and purchase here: เกมยิงปลา HappyFishingshop.swimsmooth.com/products/finis-agility-paddles





The Finis ISO Paddles

The newest paddle in the Finis line-up and a brilliant paddle for intermediate to advanced swimmers.

The paddle is non-symmetrical, such that it creates an imbalance in the catch and pull phases of the stroke, which forces you to apply more pressure on either side of the paddle in order to maintain an effective pull-through underwater.

The side-blade of the paddle can be on the outside of the hand (yellow paddle on right hand, black on left) which engages the lat muscles during the pull. Or swap hands (yellow paddle on left hand, black on right) and the blade is on the inside, engaging the chest and bicep groups:



You actually don't have to think too much to get the most from these paddles. Swim in both positions, control the pull pathway, then remove the paddles and voilĂ ! - Improved awareness and coordination of your catch and pull.

The ISO paddle is one of those designs that makes you think "damn why didn't I think of that?". A fantastic idea beautifully executed!

Find out more and purchase in our shop here: shop.swimsmooth.com/products/finis-iso-paddles


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Training The Right And Wrong Way For Distance Swimming

First up, don't miss episode 12 of our most recent podcast with THE MAN - 6 time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott: https://anchor.fm/swimsmooth



Dave joins us all the way from Boulder for a passionate discussion on training, racing, nutrition and why your mindset is so important.

Search for Swim Smooth on all major podcasting platforms. Don't miss it!




We receive a lot of emails at Swim Smooth but sometimes you get one you just want to share with every swimmer you meet because they will learn something from it. Here's one such example, Nicolai talking about his swimming and how he's improved it:


Hi Swim Smooth,

Im an elite/pro triathlete from Denmark.

I would like to thank you for writing your book. It really has been an eye-opener to me. Especially why I haven't been able to "evolve" my level of swimming, despite putting a lot of hours in the pool over the last few years.


I started swimming a little over 4 years ago and found out that I was pretty fast over 25/50meters (I still am) but couldn't sustain a fast pace over longer distances.

The last two years I have been swimming with an elite swimming club, thinking that this would help me move my level.

Their main focus was on short anaerobic intervals, which I was very good at. And the rest of the time it was just easy/technique. I got a little faster over 25/50/100m and was able to swim under the minute for 100 freestyle. But in my competitions I still suffered a rather big deficit in the swim, despite being able to swim faster than many of those I race against on shorter distances.

My pace over longer distances still sucked (couldn't break the 20 minute barrier for 1500m free, despite being able to swim 57-58 seconds for 100m freestyle)!

Long story but fast-forward to today. I got your book a few months back. And started swimming after your principles. And I'm already seeing great improvement in the pace I'm able to sustain over longer periods of time. With the swim club I swam around 30-35k a week, and now I swim 15-20k. But I'm still getting faster. Really a testament to doing the right training.

I guess it's a textbook example of how not to train, when you're good at sprinting, but lack the endurance to swim fast over longer distances. It took me 4 years and your book to figure out, that if you want to swim fast in an endurance event... you'll have to work on your endurance... ??

I really look forward to see the effects of this type of training, when the race season comes.

I have a few questions, and I hope you have time to answer them:

1) Currently I'm swimming 5 times every week - would you recommend a different schedule for an elite/pro athlete, than the one in your book? My own thought is to really address my weakness. Which is CSS pace and the pace just under CCS. Therefore, 2x CSS training, 2x Endurance and 1x Technique.

2) Would you recommend your Swim Guru for an elite/pro athlete or am I better of figuring out my own programs according to your book?

Best Regards, Nicolai Wium

PS. Last week, I beat my previous PB’s on 1500m and 800m in the middle of an endurance session ?? So I was just cruising at CSS+4, and it felt easy! Really shows the effects of aerobic development??????


A big thanks to Nicolai for sharing his story with us. This is a classic example of why it's so important to do the right sort of training for the event in which you are participating.

Traditional swim squads for elite or masters swimming (with a few exceptions) are largely focused on preparing you for sprint events - and are fantastically good at doing that. If you swim in such a squad yourself you'll probably be familiar with the theme of swimming very fast over short distances with lots of recovery between swims. You'll swim all four strokes and plenty of medley sets.

Swim Smooth training is focused on preparing you for longer freestyle events, where the focus is on longer sets at a strong pace with shorter recoveries. That trains different energy systems - the ones you need to perform well over longer swims. And as Nicolai has found, the change is usually transformative. You don't need to be swimming (very) quickly like Nicolai to feel this difference, arguably it's even more important for non-elite swimmers.

We're not saying you should never sprint (far from it) but the mainstay sets you perform during your training week shouldn't be sprinting with lots of recovery. They should be about sustained speed over longer swims with short recoveries.

Get to work now with a local Swim Smooth squad: http://www.swimsmooth.com/coaches/find-a-coach

Our extensive training plans (and interactive training tools) in the Guru: https://www.swimsmooth.guru/subsection/b9/training-plans/

Or check out our book (as Nicolai did) here:  https://shop.swimsmooth.com/collections/swim-smooth-products/products/ss-the-complete-coaching-system-for-swimmers-and-triathletes

(And if you are wondering how we responded to Nicolai's questions: We recommended he stick with his routine of swimming 5x week, possibly exchanging one of his CSS or Endurance sessions over to a Red Mist set - and getting in the open water regularly as soon as he is able. We also thoroughly recommended the Guru for him, it very much designed for all levels of swimmer, from beginner right through to elite. If you like our book you'll LOVE the Guru!).

Swim Smooth!
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Our Interviews With 5 Time World Champion Simon Lessing And Coach Matt Koorey

We've just released episodes 10 and 11 of the Swim Smooth Podcast; both are absolute crackers:





Taking top billing is our raw, lengthy (2h 45m!) and insightful interview with Simon Lessing, 5-time ITU World Triathlon Champion and SS Head Coach Paul Newsome's former training partner.

This in-depth chat has been over 18 years in the making as we get down and dirty for a never heard before candid and soul searching discussion of all things life, racing and training.

Many triathletes rate Simon as the greatest of all time and it's been over a decade since he gave his last audio interview, so be ready for something really special!

itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/episode-10-simon-lessing-5-time-world-triathlon-champion/id1441577778?i=1000428531705&mt=2







Then we speak with Coach Matt Koorey about all things swim and triathlon coaching, starting with a deep-dive into the anxieties and phobias many of us have around swimming in the open water but are often too embarrassed to admit to and talk about.

Recorded on Australia Day, this is the perfect discussion with the perfect Australian coach who was inspired by his own father, John Koorey - the first Australian male to swim across the English Channel in 1969 in the brilliant time of 10h 32m.

Working with Matt Koorey isn't a quick fix, it's about consistency and commitment for long-term gain. It won't be easy. He demands focus. He demands excellence. There is no hand-holding. No sugar coating.

Matt spent several years being mentored by Brett Sutton (arguably the most decorated coach in triathlon history with athletes such as Chrissie Wellington, Nicola Spirig and Daniela Ryf to his name). Matt's thirst for knowledge and improving himself as a coach, athlete, Dad and husband come pouring out of this interview, so we really hope you enjoy!

itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/episode-11-matt-koorey-beyond-your-boundaries/id1441577778?i=1000428839959&mt=2




Listen to every episode of the Swim Smooth podcast on your favourite platform here. Don't forget to subscribe! :




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