Tag Archives: technique

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

I posted the other week about going From the Sublime to the Ridiculous as I returned from swimming in the lovely, warm waters around Crete to swim in the less lovely and certainly less warm waters of Salford Quays.

This post charts a journey in the opposite direction.

One of the things that the SwimTrek holidays do is a video analysis of your swimming stroke – which tips and pointers about how you can improve. When I first had this done in April 2014 it was the first time I had ever seen myself swim. To be honest I didn’t know what I was looking for, so I couldn’t really spot all the faults.

However, revisiting it, it’s clear that I over-rotate on one side, and hardly rotate on the other; that I have a ‘limpy’, single-side breathing stroke; that my catch is weak; that I lift my hands in the reach. In short, it’s a clip of someone that can swim, but it’s not a great, technical stroke.

I can’t be too disappointed with it though – it got me down the length of Windermere, on two occasions.

Since that second Windermere swim I’ve had some proper coaching of my stroke by the brilliant Ray at SwimCanaryWharf. Part of Ray’s method is to film your stroke, so I’ve seen a lot of it since the film above, but it was still good to see it again, in situ when I was filmed in Crete.

Of course I could spot some faults and get picky about it, but in truth the difference is like night and day. Previously I looked like someone that could swim, now I look like a swimmer!

I still have a tendency to lift my left hand so my palm is facing forwards, I don’t kick enough and I am too slow on each breath – and so I’m going to keep working on those elements. But equally, I’m delighted with the improvements.


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Thanks Ray

I’m sure I’ll write plenty more over the next few days / weeks about the swim, but I did want to say a huge thank you to Ray at SwimCanaryWharf. I swam 24 miles over the weekend and not once did my stroke break down and cause my swimming to suffer. There is no way I would have survived without Ray’s help and work on my stroke.

In recognition of that I wore my SwimCanaryWharf swim hat for the last mile.

Setting off for mile 24

Setting off for mile 24

Finishing. 24 miles completed!

Finishing. 24 miles completed!

If you have any doubts about your swimming, or you’ve got some big swims coming up, then I strongly advise you to seek him out.

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It’s working

Something clicked today, with both my mind and understanding of what I should be doing with my stroke – and also my time.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been working on my technique under the watchful eye of Ray from SwimCanaryWharf. I go to see Ray once a month and then work on the drills he gives me between sessions.

This morning, towards the end of my drills, something clicked in my mind about the stroke and how Ray wants me work on it. I’m not saying that I’ve cracked it, more that I’ve got over a mental barrier that I hadn’t realised was there. There’s still a lot of work to do to train the body to actually *do* it, but I feel that I now instinctively, rather than theoretically, know what *it* is.

So after 2k of warm up and drills I finished the session off with a timed 400m – something I do fairly regularly just to see how I’m getting on. The result was my fastest 400m yet.

6:43. My fastest ever 400m.

6:43. My fastest ever 400m.

I’m really pleased with that. Not least because I wasn’t feeling it this morning and had to drag myself to the pool, and the pool was busy, so it wasn’t an easy and smooth 400m, I had to fight through a bit of traffic.

However, perhaps the most pleasing this is that this wasn’t an *effort* time, it was a *technique* time. You know what I mean, we can all smash a time that is good and quick, but we’ve put so much effort into it that we can’t speak properly for five minutes afterwards. This wasn’t one of those. I was focused on getting on with it, but wasn’t racing and certainly wasn’t smashing it.

I obviously don’t really care about an individual 400m. What I want to be doing is putting together 20, 40 or ultimately 88 of those in succession. But to do an individual 400m quicker, smoother and easier* than I ever have before is a big leap forward and gives me the confidence that it is starting to work.

*It’s not easy and has taken 4 months of drills to get to this point.

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Bilateral Breathing

When I first got back into swimming in 2012 my plan was always to train myself up to be able to breathe bilaterally. I always considered that to be part of what constitutes a ‘proper’ swimmer.

So I’d try – and I would really try – but I just couldn’t master it.

It wasn’t so much the breathing part – I could always technically breathe to both sides, it’s just that when I breathed to the right I couldn’t seem to swim at the same time. I seemed to lose all momentum and power and as much as I worked on it I just wasn’t getting any better. So after a couple of weeks of diligently working on it I’d give up again.

Then when I did the Channel Relay I noticed that all the swimmers in my team only breathed to one side during that swim (even Mike Read, the king of the Channel). My attitude then was ‘bugger bilateral’.

Until now that is.

Unfortunately during the first technique session with Ray from SwimCanaryWharf there was a misunderstanding and I thought that he had said that bilateral wasn’t important. However, during the second session he was disappointed that I wasn’t breathing bilaterally during normal swims (ie when not working on the specific drills). So this morning (the first chance I’ve had to swim since I saw him last week) I committed to breathing bilaterally.

And I can do it!!

With just two coaching sessions (and me working on some drills myself) I can do it. It was clearly all to do with the way I would ‘lean’ on my right arm as I was swimming and now that this is better (but by no means perfect yet) it has freed me up to be able to breathe bilaterally.

Not only that, but this morning’s swim felt wonderful and relaxed and I swam with a sense of perpetual motion and not a ‘limpy’ hard working stroke.

I’m feeling really confident about the changes this will make to my swimming overall.

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Improving my technique

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve started to see a technique coach who will hopefully make me a smoother and stronger (and therefore quicker) swimmer. My plan is to focus on technique over the winter, plus running, so I can come back in the summer as a better swimmer.

I’m using the excellent Ray Gibbs of Swim Canary Wharf to help me and I had my first session a couple of weeks ago. Ray is great as he is really enthusiastic, very knowledgeable, but yet able to deliver the information in an easy-to-understand way. You swim in his endless pool and he films you swimming from a number of different angles – highlighting areas you can work on. He then gives you drills that will help you to work on those areas and you need to go away and practice them yourself.

My biggest issue was dropping my right shoulder and arm (using them as a lever to help me breath – even though I didn’t need to do it, my brain & body are still struggling with it). So, despite not being able to use my fins, I’ve worked on the drill Ray gave me for the last few weeks. It’s hard work, but I *think* I can feel myself getting better.

Well this morning I had two strong pieces of evidence that suggest that it’s working and I am getting better.

The first was a comment from another user of the pool I swim in. We chat quite regularly and there are a few swimmers there who take a real interest in what I’m doing and the challenges I’m setting myself. We also have Adam Walker (an Ocean 7s swimmer) who occasionally swims in our pool, so I’m the other open water swimmer.

Anyway, this morning, as she got into the lane I was swimming in, she said:

“You’ve got a really lovely stroke. I was watching you from the side and it’s really got better over the last few months.”

She’s not just another plodder, she’s actually a swimming teacher for kids at the pool, so (and I don’t think she’ll be offended by this) while she may not be in Ray’s league, she knows her stuff. It was lovely to hear her say it.

The second reason is that after the technique work I decided to do a quick ‘sprint’ burst. I’m not very quick and I don’t try to kill myself, instead what I want to do is swim at a ‘comfortable’ capacity and then keep it up. I do:

– 100m at 1:50
– 200m at 3:45
– 400m at 7:35
– 200m at 3:45
– 100m at 1:50

It’s a nice 1km ladder and it gets me working hard. For those of you that don’t understand the terminology (and I didn’t until recently) this means that I swim 100m and when that’s done I rest for a few seconds, but 1 minute 50 seconds after I started the 100m, I set off to swim 200m; 3 minutes and 45 seconds after I started the 200m (or 5 minutes and 35 seconds after I started the 100m) I set off for the 400m. And so on. I hope that makes sense.

Anyway, the point of this is to say that in the middle of this I did the 400m in 7 minutes and 5 seconds.

It’s not a blistering pace, but it’s pretty quick for me. But best of all – I was knackered from the weekend and it didn’t feel *that* tough. So I’m pretty sure it wasn’t about me muscling the water out of the way, it was down to a better technique. Yay!

This is what I looked like before working on the technique. Both videos shot by Ray at Swim Canary Wharf.


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Wet pants

After my swim this morning I did something that many swimmers must be familiar with. Instead of effortlessly stepping into my boxer shorts I got my toe caught, lost balance, had to put my foot on the [wet] floor and therefore now have wet pants!

Such a shame. because I’d had a great swim.

At the moment, under the instruction of my technique coach Ray (who is great) I’m working primarily on my technique. The plan is to become a better swimmer during the winter months, so that it is easier to become a quicker and longer swimmer once we get back into the open water.

The main technical flaw that Ray spotted was that I use my right arm as a lever to help me breath to my left (I only breath to my left). This means that at best I only have half the available catch on the right arm. So, again at best, I’m only using 3/4 of my possible catch – an obvious inefficiency.

The drill I’m doing at the moment is to swim on my side, arm extended, looking down the length of my arm, then to breath to the relevant side without moving my extended arm – it’s to teach my brain that I don’t need the help of that arm as a lever.

This morning’s swim was as follows:

– 200m warm-up freestyle
– 200m drills (right arm up, left arm back)
– 100m relax
– 200m drills
– 100m relax
– 200m drills
– 200m cool-down freestyle

It may not sound like much, but it’s bloody hard work, especially as I can’t use the fins (Grrr). I’ll go to see Ray again in a couple of weeks – so hopefully he’s noticing a difference.

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Big lad love

I went to a friend’s wedding a few years ago and I was honoured to be asked to be an usher. As the other usher was the bride’s brother I was then included as part of the wedding party and wore the ‘outfit’ – you know the morning suit and hat etc.

It was a lovely wedding and a lovely day for everyone.

However, it was a bit confusing for the wedding photographer.

After the service he wanted to get lots of photos in front of the church, so in his slightly camp South Yorkshire accent he organised everyone:

“Right then, let’s have the bride here – doesn’t she look lovely everyone? And the groom can stand next to her.
Ok, let’s have the bridesmaids around them… oooh gorgeous.
Now then, the parents and the brothers and sisters… ah beautiful”

And then he looked round to make sure he’d got everyone and he saw me. I was wearing the outfit, I was clearly part of the wedding party, but he had no idea who I was. A slight panic crossed his mind. I probably needed to be in the photo, but how did he ask me to join the group.

“And you… erm… big lad love, you go and stand at the back.”

By a certain group of friends I’m still occasionally known as big lad love.

I mention all of this because last week I went to get some swim coaching. I want to use the winter to work on my technique so that I can reap the rewards as I start to swim outdoors again next summer. I went to a great guy down in Canary Wharf and we had an hour of assessment and filming and drills in the endless pool. But at one stage, early on in the session, while watching a video of me swim from a head-on position he said to me, “you’re a big lad, but that’s a small hole in the water.”

It immediately reminded me of a camp wedding photographer in Doncaster.


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