Archives for the month of: October, 2013

We’ve been through all of the strokes now so we will put them back together and do some Medley swims as part of the sets this week alongside the usual aerobic front crawl.  Remember the key things on each of the strokes that we have been practising:

  • Keeping your head really still on backstroke with a good shoulder rotation
  • Keeping your elbows high on the breast stroke pull and having a good glide
  • Kicking twice on each Butterfly stroke and diving down with each hand entry

This is the last session before Impington closes for two weeks (4th to 16th November inclusive) to replace the air conditioning system so you will need to use the Monday night session at Frank Lea or public sessions to keep your swimming going.  I would recommend doing some slow front crawl swimming if you can get to a public session to really help you think about your technique.

When you do some slow front crawl I would strongly recommend

  • Breathing every 5 and remembering to keep your head flat and looking straight down at the bottom of the pool
  • Thinking about a strong catch with your whole hand and forearm
  • Keeping your stroke count at least two less than your normal stroke count, but achieving this by focusing on a stronger pull rather than cheating and kicking harder or adding any pauses into the stroke

For some front crawl inspiration you could try watching one of the greatest front crawl swimmers of all time – Alexander Popov:

When we get back to Saturday swimming on 23rd November we will be continuing to build on our aerobic swimming base.  This will be mostly front crawl but with some other strokes thrown in for variety and helping you work on being better all round swimmers.  We will then have about a month of training to get ready for the Christmas Swim.

Ideas are welcome for what everyone wants to do for the Christmas Swim this year.  The only suggestion I have had so far is 1,000m Fly, which sounds fun, so if there is anything else you would like to suggest I am very open to ideas!

See you all Saturday,


OK, so we’ve worked on backstroke and breast stroke so now is the time for everyone’s favourite – Butterfly.  Yes, this is the hardest stroke to learn and get right but like many challenges it can be incredibly satisfying when you learn to swim it well.  And swimming Butterfly comes with three key benefits, in my view:

  • It takes the most effort so is a great addition to a swim set to make it a tough workout
  • It really works your core muscles
  • It has a similar catch to front crawl – so is good for practising that strong, hand-lead catch with high elbows

Swimming good Butterfly starts with good timing and using that timing to get an undulating, dolphin-style stroke.  A good way to get the timing right is do single-arm Butterfly, which we will do, and make sure you do two kicks to every arm stroke.  The first kick is when your arm enters the water and the second kick (and bigger one) is at the end of the pull and helps you get your arms out of the water.  Practising this rhythm is really useful and the basis for good Butterfly.

Once we have the timing of the arms and legs together we will work on getting that nice undulating body position.  The best way to do this, in my view, is to think about diving down under the water as your arms enter the water, just as you would when diving in the pool.  Diving down, and throwing your head down quickly if you have just breathed, will bring your hips up (helped by your second leg kick) and make it much easier to get your arms out of the water.  Watch the following video for a really good example of both the two-beat kick as well as the effect of diving under on each stroke:

The alternating left-arm, right-arm, full-stroke drill you see in this video is something we will try out during the Saturday session so take careful note of how it should look.  However, in our version we will do 3 strokes each of left-arm, right-arm and full stroke to give you more time to think about it.

See you all Saturday!


Last week we did back stroke alongside our usual front crawl sets so this week it is the turn of breast stroke.  But this is a waste of time, I hear you cry, as breast stroke is completely different to front crawl.  Breast stroke certainly is very different to front crawl and has more similarities with Butterfly in the way it is swum by top swimmers today.  However, breast stroke does have a very similar catch to front crawl – you just happen to do it with both arms at the same time.

A good breast stroke catch should keep your elbows high and start by pressing down and out with the hands to pull your body over the top of your hands.  The great thing about breast stroke pull is that you are looking forwards at the start of this so have a much better view and impression of what your hands are doing that you do on front crawl when your head is looking down.  After each pull the most important thing to do is glide – in a lovely, streamlined position – and you should be counting to 2 slowly in your head while gliding.  If this is the only thing you remember to do when you do breast stroke this week it is to remember this count of 2 when you glide. Watch a following video for a great example of this breast stroke pull:

See you all Saturday!


This week we will continue to do more swimming aerobic-paced swimming with the vast majority being front crawl but this week, rather than swimming Medleys for different strokes, we will do backstroke.  As many of you haven’t done much backstroke before I thought it would be worth me writing a bit about why I think it is useful to improve your backstroke and how to swim it better.

But before we get onto backstroke please do think about your pacing when you swim at an aerobic pace.  It should feel as relaxed as possible and at a pace you can sustain, with 5-10s or less rest if necessary, for the whole set.  If it doesn’t feel like that then you are probably pushing it too hard and should slow down a bit, even if it means going behind who you usually would swim with.  Even a few seconds slower per 100m can make a lot of difference and give you time to really think about maintaining a good technique to keep your pace rather than just making it a hard workout.  There will be plenty of hard workouts before next season!

Backstroke is the most similar stroke to front crawl in terms of body position and shoulder rotation – you just happen to swim it on your back rather than your front.  The most important thing to focus on, for most people, is getting into, and maintaining, a good body position and this starts with the head.  Your head should be rock-solid and still all the time – looking straight up at the ceiling.

If you lift your head your hips will sink, like on front crawl.  If you nod or swivel your head you will often bounce up and down or start snaking.  So to swim better backstroke really focus on keeping your head really still and let your shoulders rotate about this fixed head position as your arms recover in a nice straight line before entering the water little finger first.  Underwater you should bend your arms for a strong pull but, just like on front crawl, try and make sure your hand leads the pull underwater rather than leading with your elbows and slipping water.  Watch the video of Ryan Lochte for a great example of what a good back stroke looks like and really notice both how still his head is and his hand leading the underwater part of the pull:

See you all Saturday!


Now that the triathlon season is over for most of us I will be changing the Saturday morning swimming sessions over to Winter training.  That means more slower, aerobic paced swimming than we have been doing plus some more time to focus on technique before Christmas.  This year I plan to include more sets that include different strokes to front crawl as I think this can be really beneficial to most people’s swimming.  Doing different strokes usually makes you a better all-round swimmer by helping you get a better feel for the water and doing more variety can also be good fun!

So what do you want to achieve with your swimming over the Winter?  I think the time between now and Christmas is the ideal time to improve your technique.  It takes time to make changes that stick as old habits die hard and you often will go slower initially as you make adjustments that feel strange.  The increased amount of slower paced swimming and technique work we will be doing will give you time to think about any necessary changes and get them bedded in before you try and use them to start swimming faster in the New Year.

So what changes do you want to make to your stroke, if any?  Faster swimmers usually do fewer strokes per length as their streamlining and feel for the water is better than for slower swimmers.  Lane 1 swimmers on Saturday typically do 16-22 strokes per length but Alex, who leads the lane, can put us all to shame by doing 9-10 strokes per length!  You can reduce your stroke count in many different ways – improved body position (especially keeping your head down), stronger catch, not dropping your elbows underwater, etc. – and you can always ask me, or the other coaches, what they think would be best for you.  Watching good swimmers also helps and Youtube is a great source of good examples (Google any of the greats, such as Michael Phelps, Ian Thorpe or Rebecca Adlington).  However, I believe that there is no single, perfect technique that works for everyone – it is a case of finding the technique that is most effective for you and often this involves some trial and error.

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