Top Tips,  Training Sessions

Putting it back together

After a long summer of outdoor swimming it’s easy to accumulate a few stroke flaws as you’ve adapted to conditions in open water. The autumn months provide a useful opportunity to appraise and analyse your swim performance and assess your strengths and weaknesses and to see what (if anything) has changed over the summer. This will enable you to start the winter months with a solid focus. 

The sessions this issue are therefore designed to help you deconstruct your individual swim stroke to help identify areas that are challenging to master and may well be holding you back. Swimmers will also gain confidence in the elements that are consolidated in their stroke and therefore need only a light touch or fine tuning rather than correction. A few weeks spent now on a ‘technical tune up’ will go a long way to building onto another performance level from the improvements you have made this season. It will help you become more specific and targeted in your training rather than trying to cover every possible technical area in your day-to-day sessions and training phase progression.

Session 1 – Deconstruction

Warm up

Aerobic effort as follows: 

• 200m FS

• 2x100m PULL

• 4x50m kick with fins (side, back and front)

• 8x25m FS build pace from easy to fast (60- 90% of maximum effort)

• 200m PULL (rest 5 to10 seconds after each). 

Main set

• 8x50m FS using variable breathing patterns (see technical notes). 10s rest after each 

• 8x25m FS increasing pace by 2-3 sec per 25m. Observe and focus on breathing-in technique, turn head to each side finding the bow wave and maintain ‘split screen’ view with one goggle in and one out of the water. 10s rest after each. 

• 4x200m @ CSS pace alternating FS and PULL and noting times for comparison (see technical notes). 30s rest after each.

• 4x100m as 25m doggy paddle into 75m FS (wear fins or use a pull buoy to focus on catch and pull technique) – observe catch and pull as it passes beneath you each stroke (see technical notes). 

Cool down

• 200-400m continuous freestyle focusing on one technical element on each length to consolidate

Total set distance: 3000m-3200m

Technical notes for Session 1

(1) Use bilateral breathing every 3, 5 or 7 strokes for 50m in total, then move to unilateral 2 , 4 or 6 strokes for 50m (use both sides) and finally breathe following a 3/2/3/2 stroke pattern. Observe and note which breathing patterns allow you to consistently exhale whilst your head is in the water; you will need to adjust your pace and increase stroke rate to accommodate different breathing patterns (e.g. easy or aerobic when taking a large number of strokes between breaths and fast or race pace on the 2,3 or 3/2/3/2 combinations). 

(2) Using the average of your PULL and FS times, deduce whether your kicking technique is efficient. If your PULL times are faster then it is highly likely there are drag issues caused by leg position being lower than the body, inflexible ankles (dorsiflexion) or incorrect kicking (e.g. from the knees, quads and hamstrings rather than maintaining the leg length long and straight, kicking from the hips). Use long, flexible fins to correct when performing rotation and alignment drills.

(3) Note any lateral (sideways) movement that may be created from a thumb-first entry or dropping the wrist instead of initiating the catch. Check your pull is aligned beneath your shoulders and not your mid line, an ‘S-shape’ or wide of the body. Aim to press the water behind you purposefully with every stroke. 

Session 2 – Application

Warm up

Aerobic effort as follows:

• 200m FS – exhalation focus

• 2x100m PULL breathing into bow wave

• 4x50m kick from hips (side, back and front)

• 8x25m FS build pace from easy to fast 60-90% of maximum effort focus on increasing stroke rate

• 200m PULL tapping thighs on hand exit with thumbs, rotate evenly to both sides (rest 5 to10 seconds after each). 

Main set:

4 to 5 x 400m + 60s rest after each, as:

400m rotation and alignment drills with fins alternating drill with FS on each length (see technical notes). 

• 400m FS breathing focus, exhaling consistently. Swim a negative split and vary your breathing patterns every 50m. As pace increases utilise bilateral breathing every 3 strokes or 3/2/3/2 or switch left and right side every length if breathing every 2 strokes towards the end.

• 400m PULL, alternating 25m doggy paddle or sculling with FS (see technical notes).

• 400m FS with fins, alternating 25m sprint with 25m easy (see technical notes)

• 400m FS – consolidate stroke with at least 100m at CSS pace to test out technique under pressure. Allow yourself to think about one technical element only on each length. 

Cool down

• 200-400m easy FS

Total set distance: 3200-3400m

Technical notes for Session 2

(1) Rotation and alignment drills: kick on side with one arm extended aiming to position body at 90 degrees to the floor and breathing into the bow wave beside your head. Look straight down and about 1m forward when exhaling consistently in between. Swap sides, aim for symmetry and evenness on both sides. Rotate 45-60º in FS, contrast with the 90º in the drill to engage hip rotation and ensure long axis of the body is engaged.

(2) In doggy paddle, work on initiating the catch at an appropriate depth beneath the surface and pulling effectively with the forearm engaged to improve use of back and lats. Use doggy paddle to determine correct degree of elbow bend throughout the pull, track beneath your shoulders as you switch into FS each length. 

(3) With fins, engage an effective kicking technique from the hips. Aim to maintain legs long and straight, switching between kicking rhythms to assist to complement the elevation in stroke rate on sprint efforts.

Swim Smooth Squad training and Video Analysis sessions

Triathlon Europe provides weekly Swim Smooth squad training in South West London. The squad enjoy training all year round in fabulous indoor and outdoor 33m pools. Fiona offers 1-2-1 video analysis sessions and stroke correction sessions on weekday mornings and weekend Swim Smooth workshops. Fiona also holds open water sessions at Heron Lake (

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