The Art of Swimming

finis tempo trainer

March 13, 2014 | Posted in Swimming | By

After reviewing my swim metrics after last weeks Swim LT-Test I discovered a number of things. One, when I am swimming  am completely oblivious to what I am doing in the sense of technique, stroke rate, balance, head position etc. I just swim andstop the clock when I’m done. Two, my stroke rate per minute is down at 30 on the Garmin site which I have found out is pitifully slow. And Three, I know not very much about swimming at all even though I have been doing it consistently for 3 years now, have had lessons and countless coached drills sessions.Time to consult the experts I think…

First, from the point of view of technique and what you should be looking for and thinking about when swimming from a website by a guy called Jesse Kropelnicki who can be found at Below is Coach Kropelnicki’s overview of swimming and the most common issues that most swimmer encounter:

Developing World class Swim Mechanics

Of the three disciplines in triathlon, swimming is the most difficult AND critical to master the mechanics of. Much of the confusion is born from pool-trained swimmers or coaches, focusing on a longer glide phase and lower stroke count. Open water swimming, in choppy waters, requires a strong back end of the stroke, with a follow-through that pushes beyond the hips. Athletes having a long glide phase in their stroke, tend to be slowed by open water chop while in this portion of the stroke, being re-propelled with each pull phase. Unfortunately, a long glide phase typically results in a slow turnover and, therefore, fewer pull phases per minute. Fewer pull phases mean fewer opportunities at forward motion, because of not being re-propelled through the water. Based on these facts, rough open water swims require a higher turnover than their pool-based counterparts.

The above can be evidenced by pool swimmers who see a major de-couple, relatively speaking, between their pool and open water swim times. Although their graceful glide and strong front-end propulsion results in fast and efficient pool swimming, once offered to the unrelenting chop of the open water, these attributes are quickly minimized. This can be especially frustrating for those who race at the Professional level, come from a swimming background, and typically crush their competition in the pool. Come race day, with mass starts, and bodies in front, behind, on either side, and sometimes on top of you, the front end is the first part of the swim stroke that gets lost in the flurry. With people and feet occupying the space where a nice, long, and gliding swim stroke might occur, it becomes nearly impossible to get a strong catch and pull within the front quadrant of the stroke. This leaves the mid to back end of the stroke as the critical piece for maintaining any forward momentum. Since the back end of the stroke and follow-through are protected, no matter how crowded the swim is, it only makes sense to apply a strong focus of our attention here, for top-level triathlon swimming.

These two points explain why pool-born swimmers can be very graceful and fast in the pool, but may have a good deal of difficulty translating this in-pool speed to the open water. It is the front-end focused swimmers, having a long glide, strong catch, and low turnover/cadence who are most efficient in calm, smooth, non-crowded waters. However, this same group is often out swim, time and time again in the open water by the high turnover crowd, who thrashes through the water with a strong back end to their stroke.

One of the most frustrating aspects for swimmers with poor mechanics is that many spend countless hours in the pool, swimming hard, 5,000 meter workouts with masters groups, but fail to make any significant progress in their open water swim speed. This equates to a misappropriation of the athlete’s “stress budget”, because a good deal of stress is utilized with little or no return on the investment. In a case like this, the stress spent on swimming is likely better spent cycling and/or running, where speed is less dependent upon mechanics, and gains in fitness are much more likely to directly impact race speed. As such, the athlete may be able to consider backing off on swim intensity, to focus on the mechanical issues that are impeding gains in speed on race day.

Using the above points as a backdrop, let’s discuss some of the most common issues that can be seen in the swimming mechanics of triathletes. We will discuss these in the order of importance, with the numbers in brackets indicating the approximate percentage of athletes who can be seen exhibiting the issue.

Poor Balance [20%]

This issue is indicated by hips that drop, causing the swimmer to become increasingly vertical in the water. This creates a significant amount of frontal area and hydrodynamic resistance, both of which must be overcome, before the body can make any forward motion. It is very similar to riding your TT bike down the Queen K, in the upright position. This resistance is so large that it is really not worth working on propulsion, or even fitness, until this body position is addressed! A good test, to determine if this is an issue for you, is to swim without doing any kicking, at all. If you struggle to make it through 50 yards, then you likely have some balance issues that are worth addressing. The key to working on balance, for open water swimming, is that once you have improved your in-water balance, stop doing the balance drill sets! These sets tend to reduce stroke cadence, increase glide, and create front-end swimming.

Missed Catch [90%]

It is estimated that only about five percent of triathletes actually have a true catch in their stroke! The catch allows the creation of an anchor for your arm and hand (the paddle), before engaging the lats, in any significant way, to create forward propulsion. Without the catch, engaging the lats and rotating at the shoulder tends to push the water downward and body upward. This exacerbates any existing balance issues, and creates small forward propulsion. This issue can be a double whammy, because it increases resistance AND decreases propulsion.

Poor Timing and/or Low Swim Cadence [50%]

Ideally, your leading arm should be leaving the front quadrant, just as the fingertips of your trailing arm are entering the water. This sort of timing creates more constant propulsion, forward momentum, and leads to an appropriate swim cadence. Swim cadence, refers to strokes per minute, NOT strokes per length. The ideal swim cadence is very dependent upon your height and swim speed. Typically, at a pace of 1:50 per 100 yards, an athlete will take between 55 and 65 strokes per minute. At 1:20 pace, we are looking at about 65 to 80 strokes per minute. In each of these, taller athletes should fall at the lower end of these ranges.

Upward Glide/Extension [40%]

Upon entry into the water, the leading arm is extended with an upward glide. This not only increases frontal area, but it also inserts a delay into the swim stroke. This delay can allow the trailing arm to catch up to the leading arm, which creates a timing issue similar to that discussed above. This delay also reduces the number of propulsive phases per minute, and therefore reduces forward momentum in a rough open water swim.

Straight Arm Recovery [20%]

Many coaches say that they don’t care what the recovery of their athletes’ strokes look like. However, this can adversely effect timing, entry, and extension! Unfortunately, this is almost always the case! A straight-armed recovery often results in a straight-armed entry, with the shoulder entering the water first, followed by the elbow, and THEN the hand. As a result, there is a tremendous amount of resistance created, as the arm “rolls” into the water. The time required for this type of recovery often results in the leading arm getting much further along in its stroke, much too soon. This can create a timing issue that is the exact opposite of front quadrant swimming, wasting energy, because maximum propulsion is created as the body is thrust into a flat position.

Weak Back End [80%]

This is quite specific to triathlon, or open water swimming, versus pool swimming. A good back end of the stroke should see the wrist crack, just as the elbow becomes aligned with the body. This is done in an effort to maintain a perpendicular bearing between the palm and the body as the hand moves along the body and completes its follow through. This effectively increases the length of the “propulsive zone” during by maximizing the back end of the stroke. Many swimmers do not crack their wrist, instead pushing upwards on the water with the back of their hand, thus missing an opportunity for continued propulsion.

Cross-Over [30%]

Many swimmers develop a cross-over at some point during their stroke. This will typically occur at either entry/extension, or during mid pull. At entry/extension the forearm is the first thing presented to the water, causing an increase in hydrodynamic resistance. This also tends to produce a zig-zag effect as swimmers move through the water like a snake, again increasing frontal area and hydrodynamic resistance. When viewed from the front, entry and extension should occur directly in front of the shoulder with the index finger and thumb entering first. The palm should then be rotated to horizontal (vs. outward), creating space for the remainder of the body to rotate into.

On the other hand, a cross-over at mid pull reduces the swimmer’s effective paddle area, reducing the strength of the pull. Swimmers with this issue tend to either have relatively weak shoulders, or are suffering a cognitive disconnect with the proper mechanics. At mid pull, the palm should be vertical, below the armpit, or just slightly outside of that position.

Over Rotating When Taking a Breath [70%]

Swimmers who show their entire face, when taking a breath, tend to do so by over rotating their head. This is very closely related to a weak back end, as discussed just above. You will often see the palm drive outward, searching for an anchor that the body can use to “push” off of to get that big breath. Rotation of the head should be just enough to gain that breath by biting at the air, with no more than a single goggle lens breaking the water’s surface.

Disconnected Shoulders and Hips [15%]

While this issue tends to be less common, it certainly does rear its ugly head now and again. This often presents itself with the hips rotating well before the shoulders. This decreases the body’s ability to be well streamlined. From a side-looking view, the shoulders and hips should be connected, as if one. When the hips rotate, so too should the shoulders. When the shoulders rotate, so too should the hips. They are all interconnected!

Strength Limiters [15%]

Relatively low BMI athletes run the risk of being strength limited, in the water, from both a propulsive and mechanics standpoint. Many swimmers struggle to produce an appropriate cadence, because they lack the lat strength to pull through the water quickly enough. It can also be the case that weak shoulders will prevent the athlete from holding a good arm position at mid pull, creating the cross-over effect discussed above.

I would make a point of checking out the video below which bring together a lot of the points made above.

Another site that I found is one called which is a very very popular site within the world or swimming and swim technique in particular. There is a great page ( in which you can enter you strokes per minute and pace and ascertain where you sit within the correct pace (remember if you have a garmin you need to double to SPM as the device only counts one arm). You can see mine below:

My Swim Stroke Rate

The site gives you great tips on how to increase your speed depending upon where you sit within the graph. I am somewhere in the middle but will be concentrating on the slower swim stroke advice in the short term. You can find both below.

Developing your swim if you have a high stroke rate:

Developing your if you have a low stroke rate:

Thanks again



Tri-Ripped Ironman UK Training Programme Week 5


February 10, 2014 | Posted in General, Injury Prevention, Swimming, Training Plans | By

In case you don’t get to the bottom the page I am doing the Ironman UK 2014 for Scope. You can sponsor me at

Well the fifth week of my following of the Ben Greenfield Tri-Ripped programme is complete. I had actually gained weight during the previous week which I’m hoping is due to a little muscle gain on my legs due to the intensity I am training at. I am continuing to adopt the low-carb diet as described in my previous post Paleo / Low Carb diet for Ironman UK Training and genuinely am feeling the benefit. I will not be tracking nutrition this week as I want to see if I can maintain smart food choices without being ‘aided’ by the myfitnesspal tracker on my iPhone.

I maintained the one session per day rule for 6 days out of 7 (I had to travel from my hills session to the gym and stopped at home for some lunch in-between sessions) whilst maintain a ‘recovery strategy’ as described in my article by a guy called Sami Inkinen (I will update this post this week!) Again, I feel that I am continuing to progress and as strange as it sounds I feel fitter now than I was at the start of the Ironman UK last year. However, my knee started to feel uncomfortable during hill running and has been swollen ever since (I will need to keep and my on this and will choose recovery wherever required).

Weight: 15st 3lb / 213lb / 97kg
Hours Sleep: 7:54
Planned Training: Tri-Ripped Workout : “Stability”
Actual Training:
– Tri-Ripped “Stability” – 4 circuits of 10 reps of Stability Ball Pushups, Stability Ball Squats,  Stability Ball Dumbbell Rows, Stability Ball Single Leg Squats, Stability Ball Knee-Ups, Stability Ball Leg Curls each with 100 Jumping Jacks.
– Run – 5.09 miles, Z3 HR, 9:14 min/miles.
I have not tracked my nutrition for the week as I want to see if I can make smart food choices throughout the week and will gauge my weight at the beginning of next week.

Today was good day following the principles of the Low-Carb Diet.

A good night’s sleep started the week off in the right fashion. I also managed to complete my first Stability Tri-Ripped session which I found a lot my difficult than I expected. The Stability Ball (or Swiss as I know it) really puts the focus on balance and puts the onus on your core. Flexibility also comes into play here and I find that I cannot get all of way down on the squat exercises which I think is due to tight hip flexors? If anyone has a comment or advise here it would be much appreciated. Run was a bit of catch-up from the weekend and I felt good the whole route. I’m happy with the average pace which is not going to get me to Kona but is steady away for me.

Anyway a good start to the week regards rest, training and perceived nutritional choices. One purchase I have made over the weekend and will be implementing is the habit of Drinking Casein Proteing Powder before bed, this aide’s fat loss and promotes muscle growth (or muscle recovery in my case). I have opted for the Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard variety.

Hours Sleep: 8:16
Planned Training: Swim Workout: “Balance Two”, Bike Workout: “Muscular Endurance”
Actual Training:
– Indoor Rowing
2532m in 10 minutes.
Bike Workout: “Muscular Endurance”
Long muscular endurance intervals. Warm-up 10 minutes (with rower above), then perform 4 x 20 minute Zone 3 efforts, with short 4 minute Zone 2 recoveries between each.
Today was good day following the principles of the Low-Carb Diet .

Good nights sleep again and I can definitely feel the benefit. All being told it has been another good day of training incorporating my two session into one using the rower session as a warm up and utilizing the Wattbike to undertake the Muscular Endurance sets. The weeks training going well so far.

Hours Sleep: 7:57
Planned Training: Run – A-B-C’s
Warm-up for 10 minutes, 2-5 rounds of the following; 20 yards ‘A’s’ Marching, 20 yards ‘B’s’ Skipping, 20 yards ’C’s’ butt-kicks, 100 yards running at 85% with relaxed cadence.
Actual Training: Run – A-B-C’s
Training undertaken as planned.
Today was good day following the principles of the Low-Carb Diet .

Sleep time is good again, hopefully I can keep this up! For consecutive weeks now I continue to feel quicker when running. This was also shown in the previous days run as I usually average around the 10 min/mile mark for Z3.

Hours Sleep: 8:06
Planned Training: Bike workout: “Hill Strength”, Swim Workout: “Force Play”
Actual Training:
– Bike Workout 2: “Hill Strength”
Warm-up well, then climb 8 x 4 minute hills at a steady but slow pace, with a slow cadence of 55-70, focusing on strength and force application. This is like a strength training workout, not a sprint. Full, easy recovery spin “downhill” after each hill repeat, done on the WattBike.
– Swimming Coach Drill Sessions
1 hour coached sessions with warm up, drills (leg kick, swordfish, paddles) and 300m repeats with 20 secs rest completed totaling 2,350m in total
Today was good day following the principles of the Low-Carb Diet .

Sleep was were it should be again by going to bed earlier than usual. As last week I didn’t complete my training to programme I undertook the training that I had planned to undertake and I am still trying to work out an alternative to TrainingPeaks without having to pay out the extortionate (in my opinion) price of the TP premium package.

I have been asked what equipment I use at the Swimming Drills sessions. I use Kick Board, Pull Buoy, Fins, Ankle Strap and Hand Paddles that call all the found here.

Hours Sleep: 7:16
Planned Training: Day Off
Actual Training:
Day Off
Today was a day of two halves. I had a good “day” following the principles of the Low-Carb Diet but during the night a went out for a couple of pints to watch the Rugby League (Huddersfield beating Wigan L) and ate a subway (footlong Steak and Cheese with all the trimmings before getting a taxi home.

First day of the week that I have not been at or around the 8 hour mark. However, I am still quite pleased with this as I made myself go home early from a night out and made myself get up early to go hill running in the morning. All in all I think that this is a decent compromise.

Hours Sleep: 7:10
Planned Training: Run Workout: “Lydiard Hills”, Tri-Ripped Workout: “Fighting Cables 2”
Actual Training:
– Run Workout: “Hills”
Running up a local hill in wigan (Plantation Gates if you know the area). 2 x bottom to top (circa 1min each), 4 x part way up (circa 25secs each), 6 x sprints (circa 10 secs each). I have done these now for the last 4 or 5 weeks and have improved every week. The only downside to this week is that my left knee gave out on the sprints and immediately swollen up afterwards.
– Tri-Ripped Workout : “Fighting Cables 2”
Completed the following exercises circuits 4 times through for 12 reps; Cable Lat Pulldowns, Cable Flies, Med Ball Woodchopper per side, Cable Single Arm Row per side and 500m max effort Row

Again during the “day” my diet was really good. I did however to go another 30th Birthday Party in the evening (driving and not drinking again I might add!) which involved a ‘carbathon’ of a buffet with pies, pasties, sandwiches, sausage rolls, pasta etc in abundance. Again, I am pretty please that I didn’t drink so will call it a win.

I have done the hills now for the last 4 or 5 weeks and have improved every week. The only downside to this week is that my left knee gave out on the sprints and immediately swollen up afterwards. I was still able to complete my Tri-Ripped session but decided that I would take Sunday, and maybe Monday off to let my knee settle down as even the usually effective Voltarol Gel didn’t seem to get the swelling down.

Hours Sleep: 7:30
Planned Training: Tri-Ripped Machine Muscle
Actual Training: Day Off
Today was my official “Cheat Day” as prescribed in the Low-Carb Diet and I ate and drank whatever I wanted during the day.

Not really too much to say again on Sunday. As the weeks progress I expect this day to be one of the busiest but I really like the structure of the Tri-Ripped Training Programme as I am feeling feel of energy and actually faster and feel that I am on track for a PB at the Ironman UK 2014.

All told I am happy with another good week of training, again volume is lower than you would expect when training for an Ironman; I trained for a total of 6 hours again this with the continued increased intensity.

Summarising the week, I have followed the training from the above Ben Greenfield training plan (only missing the Sunday session) whilst maintaining the ‘one-session’ per day rule by combining the Tri-Ripped weight sessions with running and biking where possible. [One thing of note that I have just picked up on is that that TrainingPeak plan as dropped one of the Bike sessions that is actually within the Training Manual; I will need to keep an eye on this and forces this issue that I need to sort an alternative method of planning my sessions].

As ever, I will continue to provide these updates as they really help me to focus in on my training, nutrition and recovery. If some of the info in here is a waste of time or there is something that you really want to see let me know and I’ll incorporate the changes.

All the best

I am doing the Ironman UK 2014 for Scope. You can sponsor me at



Cross training – Concept2 Indoor Rower

December 3, 2013 | Posted in Cross Training, Indoor Training, Swimming, Uncategorized | By

I was having a discussion with a friend over the weekend that is also doing the Ironman UK in 2014 about the training that we are currently doing. My friend mentioned that she is not doing any swimming, cycling or running over the winter months and will only start to concentrate on these about 20 weeks out from the Ironman itself. This has obviously got me to thinking about my own training.

I am currently concentrating on running and swimming with the odd ride out on my mountain bike. This is due somewhat to my road bike currently being out of action as mentioned in my previous post but also due to running generally being the best way for me to keep the weight off over during the upcoming Xmas period. I am going to continue down this route in the short term anyway but I did find one article of interest after following up what my friend had said around using an indoor rower as part of her weekly training plan.

The article titled The Amazing Benefits Of Training For A Full Ironman On The Indoor Rowing Machine And Indoor Cycling Bike is from a website called which run indoor rowing classes in Long Beach, Los Angeles so, of course, if heavily biased toward rowing and its training benefits. However, within the article an US Olympic Rower, Jack Nuun (who also happens to own the owner of the fitness centre) describes his career from Olympic Rower to two-times Ironman finisher siting that 90% of his training was done on a Concept2 Rowing Machine and indoor cycle.

One of the big advantages that seem to be had by using the indoor rower, other than its cardio benefits and low impact nature, is that ‘the muscles used in rowing and the muscle endurance in the latissimus muscles from rowing Jack was never tired while swimming and pulled his way through the swim in just over an hour’. This is something that I have never considered before and something that I am going to take on board.

I current plan to undertaken two swimming sessions per week. One session which is a coached ‘drills’ session which incorporates warming up, followed by numerous drills and repeat sets of various distances as the weeks progress. The other session is usually one that is aimed at the endurance side of swimming in which longer intervals or one long distance swim is undertaken. I don’t think that I will totally replace the second endurance type session but if I am struggling for time to get to the gym to hit the pool I can substitute this by using the rowing machine in the local gym close by to work on my way home!

I will not be adapting the 90% use of indoor cycling or rowing but will definitely be doing a lot more of this over the winter months and will continue to use the rower right through the session to hopefully gain the endurance benefits in the water. Jack finishes the article with his three top indoor rowing sessions which I have summarised below.

Happy rowing


Top 3 indoor rowing workouts:

1) The ’30/30/30′ listed as :”30 / :30” on the custom list on the monitor. Described as rowing for 30 seconds on, then 30 seconds off, times 30 intervals. Row as hard as you can with the best technique you can at 28-32 stroke rate rating. Rest, drink, get ready and repeat!

2) The ‘Pryamid Workout’ listed as “V 1:00 1:00 … 7” is approx. a 32 minute workout. The machine is pre-programmed to begin with 1 min on and 1 min off of rowing going up to 4 min and then back down to one minute seeing how many meters you can row in each segment.

3) The ’140/20 Workout’ listed as “1:40 :20 … 9” is a rowing workout that provides a maximum amount of time to row with minimal rest in order to produce the ultimate effect in High Interval Training and give your heartrate and endurance an amazing challenge. This workout is 20 minutes and has 9 intervals with a 2:00 minute rest after 5 intervals. A good goal could be to hold an average Watt output of double your bodyweight.

You can find more on indoor rowing in The Complete Guide to Indoor Rowing.

Concept2 Indoor Rower

Concept2 Indoor Rower will be used weekly in preparation for IMUK 2014