Tag Archives: triathlon swimming

Beginner Open Water Swim Tips with Ben & Kerry at 9EST/ 6PST

Tonight at 9EST / 6PST Ben & Kerry will be talking about what you need to know as
a beginner triathlete when swimming in the open water.

Open water, in race race settings, can often be intimidating and scary for those
who just starting in the sport.

Ben & Kerry will teaching you all the the thing you need to know and practice so
come race day you are able to perform at your best.

To Ask your questions on swimming in the open water answer them in the box below

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Learning From the Best Swimmers In The World

As we mentioned last week on the blog, we hope you’ve been enjoying the FINA Swimming World Championships from Shanghai. (If the championships haven’t been shown on TV in your country you’ll find most races on YouTube)

The winners of both the men’s and women’s 1500m finals featured totally dominant performances from swimmers with very different stroke styles. Making the headlines in the men’s race was China’s Sun Yang, breaking Grant Hackett’s long standing world record of 10 years in the event. Sun’s strikingly long smooth stroke (taking just 28 strokes per 50m at 62 strokes per minute) perfectly matched his 1.98m tall (6’6″) long-limbed frame. You can watch the race here.

It would be easy to watch Sun’s performance and assume that everyone should aim to swim using this style but in the women’s race Lotte Friis from Denmark put in a fantastic winning performance, finishing just 7 seconds off Kate Zieglers’s world record. Lotte’s stroke has a completely different style from Sun’s, using a straight arm recovery with a much shorter faster stroke. In direct comparison to Sun, Lotte took 43 strokes per 50m at 88 strokes per minute. Still very tall at 1.84m (6’0″), Lotte has chosen and refined a style that works superbly well for her and it might well be best for you too. You can watch her race here. (Incidentally, Kate Zeigler also used this stroke technique, we call it the Swinger style and it’s used by most elite open water swimmers and triathletes)

Let’s analyse these two great performances and draw some important conclusions for your own swimming:

Absence of Gliding

Sun has an amazingly long stroke, perhaps the longest we’ve ever seen in the elite swimming world. It looks like he’s *gliding* down the pool but be very careful – it’s almost entirely an illusion due to the sheer length of his stroke. Here’s some consecutive frames from his video, 0.04 seconds apart:

The gap between one stroke finishing at the rear and the next starting at the front is less than 0.2 of a second – less than a blink of an eye! The truth is he’s hardly gliding at all – to Sun as he swims his strokes will feel very continuous from one side to the other. The same is true for Grant Hackett (the previous world record holder) – we measured the gap between his strokes as 0.15 seconds.

Although these tall smooth swimmers look like they pause in their stroke and glide down the pool, we can see from the frames above that they don’t. What we perceive when we see this footage at full speed is quite different from the reality. Sun has an extremely long stroke by virtue of his huge wingspan and efficient propulsive technique, this long style creates the perception that he is gliding when in fact there’s only a tiny fraction of a second between strokes.

The Swim Smooth team here in Perth perform thousands of sets of video analysis on swimmers every year. If you are a bit of an Overglider and have tried to lengthen things out by adding an active glide to your stroke, we can tell you from experience that your deadspot will be in the range of 0.6 to 1.2 seconds. This means you’ll be decelerating on every stroke which is losing you a lot of efficiency as you have to re-accelerate on the next stroke. This deadspot between strokes is the key difference between a Smooth Swim Type (of which Sun is a classic example) and an Overglider – other than the fact that a Smooth swims more than twice as quickly of course!

Overgliders need to work on the fluidity and timing of their catch to remove the deadspot in their stroke and so become more efficient. Find out how in our Overglider Swim Type Guide here.

As you’d expect with her faster stroke rate style, Lotte Friis has no gap between propulsion phases at all, starting her stroke at the front just as the stroke is finishing at the back:

This continuous propulsion is what makes the Swinger stroke style so dominant in open water, there’s not even a tiny gap in propulsion to become stalled by wake or chop from other swimmers. Although this style can look like hard work, it isn’t when you get it right and if it suits your physiology. It’s a bit like spinning a smaller gear on the bike – she takes more strokes but each stroke is less effort. You could say she’s Lance Armstrong to Sun’s Jan Ullrich.

If you’re looking to lift your stroke rate remember it’s not a matter of shortening your stroke: we can see from the frame above that Lotte’s still finishing the stroke by her hip and not shortening it at all. Instead, the key is to get into your catch at the front just a little sooner by keeping that lead hand in motion, either extending forwards, tipping over or pressing backwards. Never stopping and actively gliding.

Stroke Timing

The stroke timing of Sun’s and Lotte’s stroke is also worth examining. They both use ‘front-quadrant timing’ which is swimming jargon for the hands passing in front of the head:

his is important as it helps keep the stroke long and gives you support when you go to breathe because the lead arm is out in front of you. If your lead arm collapses down then your hands will pass behind your head and will offer you no support to breath, as we can see with this classic Bambino swimmer:

If you take on water when you breathe, try improving your stroke timing to always have one hand in front of your head at all times. Try repeating the mantra ‘one-two-stretch’ as you swim where the ‘one’ and ‘two’ are on a normal stroke and the ‘stretch’ is on the breathing stroke. This will help you focus on keeping that lead hand out in front of you for support as you breathe, making things feel much more comfortable:

Even though Sun has a very long stroke, he doesn’t catch-up with his hand in front of his head as many Overgliders do. This is critical, a full catch-up style stroke is slow and inefficient because of the very long gap between strokes. Here is such an Overglider, swimming around 2:20 per 100m pace. We measured the gap between his strokes during video analysis as 1.0 seconds, so long he nearly comes to a halt between strokes when he swims:

Both Sun and Lotte tip their wrist at the front of the stroke as they initiate the catch prior to bending and maintaining a high elbow, just as we animated Mr Smooth to do. When watching video clips at full speed this is easy to miss but it’s a key to you initiating a good catch in your own stroke:

Catch Initiation

Remember you’re looking for a light rhythmical feeling to the catch at this point, it’s not a solid feeling until underneath your body during the pull phase. It’s quite likely in your stroke that you over-power things here in front of your head. Even though Sun and Lotte are swimming at maximum effort they’re still keeping their catch light and rhythmical. Find out how to develop a great catch yourself in our Catch Masterclass DVD by clicking here.

By SwimSmooth.com

There Are Two Ideal Stroke Styles

Most people assume that the Smooth Swim Type is the ideal stroke style. Very tall swimmers like Grant Hackett, Ian Thorpe and Rebecca Addlington epitomise this style – their long strokes setting world records and winning multiple Olympic gold medals.

But, unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. There is another stroke style that can be just as fast: the refined version of The Swinger. This shorter, punchier style of stroke can be incredibly quick, especially when combined with a two beat kick. Laure Manadou, Kate Ziegler, David Davies and Janet Evans used this style of stroke to win gold medals and set world records in the pool. In fact, at the 2007 World Championships, the women’s 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle were all won by Swingers – proof that they can dominate in the pool.

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Q&A With Swimming Guru Duane Dobko Now Available For Download!

Swimming guru and coach Duane Dobko appeared on live Q&A tonight to answer all your triathlon swimming questions.

Duane Dobko has 17 years of competitive swimming experience and 7 years of triathlon experience. He was a former school record holder for the University of Minnesota in the 100 yard backstroke and was a Canadian National champion in the 50 meter backstroke in 1994. Duane was a 2003 Hawaii Ironman qualifier, finishing 26th in 2002 at Ironman Wisconsin, with the 3rd fastest overall swim split (49:03). Duane is currently swim coaching professional triathlete David Thompson, and competes for the Gear West Elite team out of Minnesota.

Duane has competed and set records in several Minnesota Masters Swimming meets. Duane recently competed at the 2008 USMS Short Course National Championships in Austin Texas where he beat a national record in the 200 Yard Backstroke with a time of 1:49.93.

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Swim Sighting

Sighting – lifting your eyes out of the water to see where you are going – is a very important skill in open water and triathlon swimming. The mistake most swimmers make is to crane their head high out of the water to try and sight and breathe at the same time. This sinks your legs, adding lots of drag (even in a wetsuit) and ruins your stroke rhythm.

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Essential Triathlon Swimming Gear

In this video, Kerry Sullivan tells you everything you need to know about the essential triathlon swimming gear you need as a triathlete. Keep reading to check out the video!
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FIxing your Stroke!

What do all these stroke flaws have in common? :

pushing down and wide

*collapsing arm 


*scissor kick and crossover *scissor kick and over-rotation 


*straight arm push down *crossover

If you said “breathing”, then you’re correct. In fact most stroke flaws happen during or immediately following breathing because you’re simply thinking “give me that air!” and not focusing on the rest of your stroke.

Breathing is such a distraction and interruption to the freestyle stroke that it even disrupts an elite swimmer’s rhythm and efficiency. This is why 50m sprinters minimise the number of breaths they take – often only taking one or two during their 50m dash. As distance swimmers we have to breathe much more often than once or twice per lap but this highlights the significant challenge to our stroke technique when breathing.

What can we do to minimise this problem? Firstly, try and avoid always breathing to the same side every two strokes. If you do this then some very critical areas of your stroke never get any of your attention and are very likely to be major weak points in your technique. For instance, if you breathe only to your right every two strokes then your left hand catch never gets any attention because you’re always breathing simultaneously with it. Such a swimmer will tend to develop bad habits on that side, such as pressing down on the water or dropping their elbow, greatly harming their speed and efficiency in the water.

Switching to breathing every three strokes (bilateral breathing) greatly helps you because two out of three left arm strokes are now non-breathing strokes and can get your full attention. When it comes to the one in three that are during a breath, your stroke will stand a very good chance of holding together nicely:

Bilateral breathing helps Mel perfectly maintain her stroke when breathing

Breathing every three strokes is about the right interval for most swimmers when they’ve developed good exhalation into the water. Very tall swimmers who’ve tried to overly lengthen their stroke may find bilateral breathing a challenge because their stroke rate is simply too slow and the time between breaths too long. Conversely, shorter swimmers with naturally faster stroke rates often settle happily into a pattern of breathing every five strokes.

If you have worked on your exhalation into the water and still find bilateral breathing hard then consider your body roll at this point of the stroke. If you’re flat in the water to your non-dominant side then that will make breathing very challenging. Think about extending and rotating to this off-side and breathing to it will start to feel much easier.

Coaches: have you noticed that a swimmer’s breathing technique often looks much better to the non-dominant side? This is because bad habits such as lifting or over-rotating the head have never developed on that side. If you see this with a swimmer then feed that back to them to give them encouragement to get over the ‘bilateral hump’, which normally lasts about 6 sessions.

Next week on the blog we’re going to look at tactical situations in races when breathing to one side is advantageous, explaining why we see many elite swimmers breathing just to one side on TV.

Swim Smooth!

Check out the swim smooth master catch DVD right here


Head Position When Swimming

have to crane your head up high to reach air? This year we’ve received more questions about this problem than perhaps any other. It can even be a problem for advanced level swimmers when they become tired. Here’s our advice: 

When your head travels through the water it creates a bow-wave around it, with a slight increase in the water height in front of your head but a large drop in height as it passes your head and neck:

When we breathe in freestyle we need to keep our head as low as possible because lifting your head causes your legs to sink. Great breathing technique involves breathing into the trough by the side of your head to keep it as low as possible:

Take a close look at the shape of the bow wave and how it’s dropping quite steeply as it passes your head:

The correct place to aim your mouth is into position A but swimmers who struggle with their breathing are often trying to breathe slightly forwards into position B. The bow wave isn’t very deep or well formed there and it will be a real struggle to reliably take on air:

To get the position of your breathing right it may feel like you’re breathing very slightly behind you – you should just be able to see your arm-pit as you do this. This will only feel like a slight adjustment – you don’t want to breathe too far backwards (position C) as this will twist your body and drag your lead arm across the centre line:

The next time you swim, experiment a little with your breathing position and try and find that sweet-spot where you can reliably find the bow wave trough but not breathe too far behind you and lose your alignment in the water.
Two other quick tips: Aim to keep your lower goggle underwater when you breathe and experiment with angling your mouth towards the surface like Popeye chews his spinach:

Photo taken from swim smooth Box DVD Set
Do you struggle with your breathing when swimming? Have you tried this tip? Let us know how it works for you on the comments section:

Swim Smooth!

For more awesome swim advice check out the the Swim Smooth Box DVD Set


Swim “Spike Set”

Here’s a challenging little set which I like to use from time to time to see how I’m shaping up in the pool from a fitness perspective. It combines elements of both flat-out speed and sustainable endurance. It’s a great set to do at any time of the year and one which will keep you on your toes. As you’re constantly changing pace and watching the clock, the session will fly by. We like to call it the “Spike Set” and we believe the origins of this session can be traced back to Grant Hackett’s coach, Dennis Cottrell.
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