Tag Archive: technique


Yesterday I wrote about what it took to get back into the pool.the next step was to get back to actual training. Like many things, it’s far more productive to have someone telling you what to do, to push you further that you will on your own, and to pick up things that you might not notice yourself.

Lately the 4SEASons coaches had devised a plan for something different – a Sunday long session solely dedicated to specific technique training.

I emailed in advance to check on whether they thought it would be possible for me to do the session, and to make sure that I wouldn’t be disruptive to other people doing the session. Luckily, I have some of the most awesome coaches in the world and they assured me it would all work and encouraged me to come along.

The session was on a sunny but chilly Sunday morning. The session was held at the brand-spanking-new Prince Alfred Park pool, which I have to say is a pretty nice pool with great facilities…and has free entry until the 12th of November.

I had to switch out a couple of the drills, but it did give me the opportunity to play with one of my favourite pieces of kit – hand paddles.

I love training with hand paddles, and they are the perfect piece of kit for winter. There are two benefits to training with paddles. The first is that they increase the surface area of your hands, and therefore increase the resistance against the water. This is good for building extra strength in your arms…and feeling like you’re swimming really fast!

The second use of paddles is what I was focussing on during the technique day. They really exaggerate any technical flaws in your stroke. For example, if your hand entry isn’t fingers first, if it’s out by a little bit (think like making a “stop” signal with your hand” you’ll know about it…from the bottom edge of the paddles catching and kicking up water. The idea of the paddles is to help identify these little flaws, and to practice and embed the correct behaviours for a bit before taking them off. I certainly found myself with a couple of things to focus on about my hand entry.

Another thing that was great about the longer session, and running it on a Sunday (rather than racing against the clock of when the pool is closing on a weeknight) was that once we had finished the technique session, we took the time to do a 1km swim, no pressure around speed or times, just focussing on excellent technique and embedding the things we had learned at the session.

Then we had lunch and coffee at the cute little cafe there at the pool in the sun! It really was so nice to be back training, to be back hanging out with swimming friends, and to be able to enjoy a post swim coffee!

Ah Wednesday night technique sets. Nothing gives me more insight into what I’m doing to make things more difficult for myself. Luckily there’s also nothing wrong with the idea of getting faster, or better, or being able to swim further with no extra input of energy.

This Wednesday we were focussing on kicking.

I don’t know if I’ve done much on here about kicking. As a general rule, in endurance swimming, kicking isn’t a major component of our swim technique. If you watch shorter distance sprinters swim, you’ll see some crazy 6- and 8-beat kick rhythms that really are part of propelling the swimmer through the water. With endurance event, though, we tend to aim for a 2-beat kick. The reason for this, as I understand it, is that the muscles we use in our legs to kick are large, and therefore use a lot of energy compared to the amount of propulsion you get in return. Your arms, in contrast, have a much better return on investment of energy. In a sprint this is OK, but for endurance events, it just means you wear out quicker.

That being said, bad kicking technique can have implications for other parts of your stroke. And I stand up and am the first to admit that I have bad kick technique.

In fact, I use the photo below as my Facebook cover photo. It’s a great photo, which is why I use it, but I have to confess that every time I look at it I cringe a little at my bent knee…I’ve added lines in to show what I’m talking about….

knee bend

Ideally, that knee should be pretty much straight. More like the lovely example below…

Much Better

The good news is, that there are some really good drills you can do to work on your kick. We did one before we even got in the water. There was a set of stairs leading up from the pool to the grassed sitting area, and we did some practice of good kicking technique with one leg standing on the step sideways, and the other swinging clear. This was great for the coaches to be able to check technique and for us to feel what good kicking feels like (engaging the glutes!).

We did various other drills in the pool using fins, and focussing on pointing our toes and not bending our knees. I did feel like it really helped improve my kicking technique (although it will take some time to embed that as a good habit), and as an added bonus, I found that the improved kick helped with my biggest technical challenge -my body position in the water. I tend to have to fight very hard to keep my legs and lower body from sinking down below the surface, and therefore creating unnecessary drag. Working on my kick noticeably improved that, so it’s doubly useful!

Wow, I do tend towards the complimentary on here, I admit it. I love this whole ocean-swimming kit and caboodle, and I tend to get a bit excited.

This Saturday, though, It was a touch overcast, and I was tempted to stay in bed, but I try to think particularly of the Saturday ocean sessions as my non-negotiable staples.

So I got out of bed and I did the Saturday double. And I’m so glad I did. Even if I was to exaggerate it wouldn’t be enough to explain just how mind-bogglingly amazing it was out there.

The first session was a swim safari around the south end to McKenzies. Not the point, the inlet around they way. It’s about half way to Tamarama without the difficult an and/or out. There were plenty of fish around and lots to see, but the real highlight was this guy:

Object larger than it appears in this photo!

Object larger than it appears in this photo!

He swam directly underneath me, and he was pretty damn big. Because of his size I originally thought he was an eagle ray, but a bit of research seems to indicate he was probably a big common sting ray. Regardless, he was amazing. So graceful and quicker than you would think!

As the second session began, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. Perfect for a journey swim to the North end! How lucky am I to get to do both swims in the same day?

Well, if I thought the massive ray and all the fish were spectacular, the north end was something else agin. The water was literally swarming with all manner of fish. It almost felt like swimming with the schools. There were so many of them and they were all moving so fast that they were impossible to photograph properly, but this horrible picture gives at least some concept of how many little fishies were letting us share their space.

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Glorious!

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Finally. Finally!  Made it back to a weekday pool training session. It kind of feels like it’s been forever.

Funnily enough I did the same thing about the same time last year, for different reasons (tore an intercostal muscle….very difficult to swim with that. Or you know, breathe!) , but I kind of think for me it’s that same end-of-season thing where I’ve been pushing my body and getting up earlier on weekends than I do during the week for work for just long enough that I’m a bit worn out. Sometimes I need to be a bit kind to myself and stop putting quite so much pressure on (even though I still have the big goal swim to worry about) and take a bit of time to restore my energy.

The good news is, it worked! I’m feeling great and loving swimming and feeling like I want to do more again, instead of less.

It did get me thinking, though, about how much I need  to train.

It’s an interesting question. How much do I need to train for what exactly? To keep improving? To prepare for a big event? To maintain my current form? To keep from getting slower? To keep from forgetting how to swim altogether? To keep my love of the sport? To keep from going completely insane?*

The answer is as complicated as the question.

I have a couple (or quite a lot) of general rules that work for me….

  1. Three times a week is pretty much a bare minimum.
  2. Twice a week…I’ll be going backwards in terms of form and times, but pretty slowly.
  3. Once a week is better than nothing, but I will be going backwards nonetheless.
  4. 4-6 times a week and I’ll be making good progress and improving. More sessions=more progress.
  5. Sometimes other things happen. Guilt trips don’t do me any good. I like to aim for a certain number of training sessions per week, and (provided it’s more than 3) I give myself a “cheat” day I can use if I need for any session.
  6. Training has a seasonal aspect to it. I work on different things during the winter than the race season. I probably don’t need to train 6 times a week in winter…and should probably be focussing on different stuff.
  7. If I’m hurt or sick…forcing myself to go to training isn’t helping me get better. Appropriate treatment, and recognising the right time to get back to it is key.
  8. I’m allowed to forgive myself and move on if I’ve gotten a bit more sidetracked than I’d like. The important thing isn’t worrying about what I’ve missed, but getting on with it, and not feeling too daunted to get back to it.
  9. This is supposed to be FUN! I try to remember that.
  10. I’m not, nor will I ever be, an elite athlete in this (or any other) sport. My only competition is with myself. My only goals are my own. I need to figure out a good balance so that I can do this, and maintain the love and passion that will keep me doing this til a) I kick the bucket, b) they stop letting me enter (unlikely given the 85-year-old who swam at Cronulla on the weekend), or c)
  11. I try to remember, particularly on the tough days, that I pretty much never regret going to training. Being tired is not an excuse…I have more energy after training on a Saturday morning than I ever did the morning after Friday night drinks! All other dodgy excuses go pretty much down that same line of thinking if it really comes down to it.
  12. MOST IMPORTANT…training should be a habit not a choice. If there’s no good reason not to go, I go. And I mean a good reason. My mind plays tricks on me and tries to give me crappy excuses all the time. This rule, above all else, gets me there.

So ir you’re looking for an upshot, or a pithy conclusion…I’m not sure I have one. Except maybe…”find something you love, and do it as much as makes you happy”.

Actually, that’s not bad. I’m going into edit mode an gonna put that in the title.

*Swimming helps, but there are definitely no guarantees for my sanity. Not now, not ever.

Another beautiful Saturday morning rolled around with sunshine and balmy water. For a bit of a change, coach Zoe conducted the session from a paddle board.

A group doing lifeguard training conveniently had a couple of cans out, so we mainly worked on sighting for the session. It all seems so easy. In theory.

In practice, however, when you’re only head-high out of the water, and if there’s a bit of a swell, those things can look tiny and be impossible to find.

The photos below were from the beach,and even from that perspective you can see just how small those suckers look!

DSCN0448 DSCN0449
You can only imagine how much ore difficult it can be on a rough day. However sighting well and therefore swimming straight can really make a lot of difference on race day, so we tend to seize any opportunity to practice the skills needed.

With a coach on a board it was the perfect opportunity to do the exercise where we swim towards a moving target. It’s a lot of fun, and feels just like being in a school of fish changing direction as a whole!

Last Wednesday was technique training again. As we did the drills I was concentrating on each part of the drill and making sure I was focussed on the individual skills and movements involved.

Then coach Kingy picked up that I was not following my catch all the way through to my leg. Remember that resolution from a short 3 weeks ago? About operation thumbs up? I was totally not doing that.

It’s pretty tough, getting your stroke right. When you really break it down there so many different ways you can do every part of your stroke and it’s just not possible to focus on all of them at the same time, let alone while you’re trying to keep your swimming relaxed!

So how do you improve then? I personally feel it’s a a case of embedding. You do something over and over again, in this case using the drills to focus on one little thing at a time. Eventually you’re doing things more the correct way than the incorrect way, and then that becomes the habit or the muscle memory.

I’ve been pretty happy with my times improving recently, and I know that this embedding is a big part of why consistent training works…that, and increased fitness. You need to keep doing things the right way in training until they just become the way you naturally do them all the time!

Sounds simple, right? well I guess I have to keep up the practice on operation thumbs up because it’s clearly not yet part of my natural stroke. More embedding on the horizon for me!

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I’ve mentioned the 3-5-7 breathing drill in a couple of posts. It’s actually a bit of a favourite of mine…one I can do, but that you can keep pushing yourself on if you’re feeling motivated.

It’s one of the simplest drills to do. You start swimming. Do 3 strokes and then breathe. Next do 5 strokes and then breathe. Next do 7 strokes and then breathe. Then start again with 3 strokes…5 strokes…7 strokes. You get the picture. If you’re really feeling like challenging yourself you can add a 9 on the end of each cycle…and I suppose theoretically you could go higher.

I personally find the drill gets harder the longer you do it for. The first couple of cycles and you’re going fine, but as your body fatigues it starts wanting more oxygen and you start going for great gasps on each breathe.

There is a trick to this drill, as with all of them. The thing to remember with all questions of breathing, is that it’s generally better to exhale, than to hold your breath. If you hold your breath you get a build up of carbon-dioxide in your system. When that happens you start to get that uncomfortable kind of panicky feeling. Instead, it’s far better to smoothly exhale as you swim.

When most people do this drill for the first time, they tend to try to swim really fast on the 7-stroke part of the drill, to try to get to that breathe sooner. In fact, it’s an awful lot easier of you focus on slowing down your stroke and swimmingly smoothly and efficiently. If you’re thrashing in the water all you do is use up your oxygen faster!

So why do we do this drill? Well, there are a couple of different reasons.

  • It’s good for developing lung capacity.
  • It’s good for learning not to hold your breath.
  • It’s good to know what running out of air feels like and how to not panic when that happens (useful in big surf).

This is an easy one to do on your own as it’s pretty self-explanatory, doesn’t take any special kit and doesn’t involve any special technique, so by all means give it a go!

Wow, I haven’t been to a 4SEASons Wednesday session since 24th October.

It’s not like I’ve done it on purpose, but my Can Too Mentor group was the ABC pool on Wednesdays, and they’ve been kind of the most awesome thing ever.

That being said, it was kind of nice to get back to a proper technique session. Even though i’m totally out of practice with these things and completely forgot my pullbuoy and fins.

Regardless of my forgetfulness, I managed to get a really lot out of this session.

As I mentioned about last week’s endurance set, I seem to have suddenly gotten a little faster. Somehow, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that that seems to have happened pretty much while I’ve been focussed on a change to the timing of my stroke. In fact, in my experience, a change to technique is the only thing that will give you a step change in times. Anything else, like general fitness, will give gradual improvements, but they won’t be as marked or as sudden.

Not to undervalue that other stuff…technique improvements tend to be less frequent, and after a while those sudden things are harder and harder to find as you get better at everything and learn more.

But for this season, the tick of holding just a fraction longer seems to have made a huge difference….I think something to do with making me rotate more (always a challenge for me).

The thing is, though, you can never get too comfortable with your swimming. You might improve (note I don’t say “master”) one thing, but that’s just as likely to highlight something else you can improve. To keep it in perspective I try to remember that even the top swimmers have coaches and work on this stuff down to the tiniest degrees forever. And ever amen.

Interestingly, I have been letting myself fall into this trap, and been a bit chuffed with myself and my decreasing times. Seems a technique session was just what I needed to jolt myself out of it and remember that this is a game of continuous improvement.

One thing we can use to measure our improvement in the pool, is a stroke count. The number of strokes it takes for you to swim 50m is a pretty good indication of how efficiently you are swimming. My count is pretty atrocious and a very good indicator of just how much I rely on strength, stubbornness and good old-fashioned moxie to get me through. Bad enough I don’t want to admit it and quote numbers on here.

Thing is, though, we did a few different drills. And then switched to one in particular that gave me what we call in my (corporate) job and “ah-ha!” moment. (I think they used to be called “light bulb” moments before we all switched to compact flouros).

The drill was a very simple one that involved swimming as normal, but ticking your thumbs out and making sure they brushed each hip at the end of each catch. Lo and behold, something finally clicked in my head and I realised I’ve been focussing so much on the front quadrant of my stroke, that I’ve been completely neglecting to make sure I follow all the way through with my catch. All that energy to get there and I’m wasting all that energy that’s just stored up and ready to go.

Well, not only did I manage to drop a substantial number of strokes per 50m….I now know what my next real technique focus is going to be.

Wish me luck as I embark on Operation “thumbs”!

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Whew, what a scorcher! The weekend here was forecast to be a heat wave, and the first official day of summer didn’t disappoint.

It was actually kind of strange, overcast, threatening to rain, but hot and humid. It made the water seem cooler and it was kind of weird to stand up out of the water and feel like you were emerging in front of a hairdryer!

I swam with the intermediate group to keep an eye on as many of my mentees as possible. It’s pretty amazing to see how far some of them have come already. From finally having the confidence to ditch the wetsuit, to diving in without panicking, to really getting in and starting to swim faster, to working out how to swim in a group with arms and legs flailing everywhere. Sadly (for me…good for them) I’m starting see some of the naturals taking off and already swimming faster than me!

As a consequence we’re starting to swim further and faster at training and it’s definitely starting to feel like a workout! We did the “chase the board-rider” sighting drill again this week, herded like a school of fish!

Unfortunately no photos this week after the Pentax leakage debacle of Friday night. Luckily Saturday afternoon consisted of a trip to the camera store and a bit of a new purchase, so there are plenty more photos in the future.

Finally! We had some amazing weather for the Can Too beach session this week. Just glorious. So good that I’m going to put the photos up first!

 

What a day! Clear water, small rolling waves and sunshine!!! It was great to see such big smiles and people finally getting the idea of how glorious ocean swimming can be!

I swam with the intermediate group and we were focussed on sighting and swimming straight. Definitely something I still struggle with and that can make such a big difference to a swim. For my personal hints and tips on this topic, I did write a two-parter post on this exact thing recently. You can find part one here and part 2 here.

We finished up with an exercise that I think is really fun as well as a good for developing sighting skills. For this to really work, it’s best to have a board paddler and one of our amazing water safety volunteers (who are awesome, btw) took up the challenge.

The point of the exercise is to swim towards the board. Sounds simple? Well it would be if the paddler didn’t keep moving around! It ends up being quite fun and feels a lot like being part of a school of fish as we zig and zag and collectively change direction in the water! I’m reasonably certain the paddlers have a bit of fun doing it too, herding the swimmers around in circles like sheep!

It was a little chaotic…but isn’t that one of the joys of swimming in the ocean instead of the pool??

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