Why do some swimmers slip back into old habits after working on their technique for months? These are the 5 most common things that I see causing it to happen.


If we train those bad habits, we start to form those bad habits, and it’s probably going to happen in a race.

Hey, Brenton here. In today’s video, we’re going to look at the five things that will stop you from making the technique changes in your stroke permanent. If you’ve been working on your technique, and you find that it just wants to go back to the old habits, then these are the five most common things that I see stopping people from making those technique changes permanent. So let’s take a look at what they are, and what you can do to make them permanent, so that when it comes to race time, you can maintain that new technique under pressure, under fatigue, and also when there’s a lot of other people around, if you’re swimming in open water. Your technique is a little bit like a rubber band. When you go to stretch it, it always wants to come back to its original form, those old habits. So it takes a lot of time and practice to be able to make those changes in your stroke that you want to make, permanent.

Now, the way to do it is intentional practice. And I’m going to talk a little bit about that. But when it comes to improving your swimming, it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to happen quickly. You’ve got to have the time and the patience to be able to make these changes. When I started coaching, I thought that people should be able to just know what they wanted to do, like make the change, and just do it straight away. But it’s not the case. There are motor patterns that, when we want to try and develop those in the stroke, you’re not going to be able to do it the first time. And you’re probably not going to be able to do a lot of these things second time either. It really takes time and practice to be able to develop them. So if you’re going in with the longterm approach, that is going to be a much better approach, than thinking you can just pick these things up straight away. It’s just not the case. That’s not how people learn.

I think of it as … I’ve got a young … a one-year-old son and he’s learning to talk, and he can string a few words together. But it’s really taken me him a couple of months to be able to form these words and to be able to say them clearly. And I shouldn’t expect him to be able to say them clearly straight away. And it’s just like with your swimming, you’re not going to be completely nailing your technique two months into swimming. That’s not how it works. It really takes time. So go in longterm approach.

Now, the first thing that I see stopping people from making technique changes permanent, is they’re not swimming enough. My general rule of thumb is, you should be in the water three times a week. That is what will see you improve. Now, four, five or six swims are obviously going to be better than three, but three is really the minimum that you need to be in the water. If you’re swimming once, probably might be changing your stroke much. It’s just not enough to develop that feel for the water, and it’s just not quite enough practice to really form these habits, and make them happen quickly. So, the first thing is minimum three times a week. Now, two swims a week, you can generally maintain what you’ve got. But if you go in three times a week, if you’re used to doing two, you’ll probably notice a big difference there. Getting in the water consistently and regularly enough is going to be the first thing.

The second thing they can stop you from making these technique changes permanent is focusing on the wrong thing. The way that I like to a technique improvement is looking at the Five Core Principles of Fast Freestyle. Have looked at the link below, I’ve got those in more detail there. Now, following those five core principles is generally the approach that most people should take. So we start off with the first core principle, which is breathe deep and relax. So we just want to get the breathing right, we want to be able to relax in the water. Then we move on to the second, third, fourth, and fifth. Now, it doesn’t always happen that way, but it generally takes that kind of approach. Now, the reason it takes that approach is because, if we’re trying to let’s say, work on your catch and pull, like your early phase of stroke under the water, but you’re crossing way over your head, and you’re trying to get a high elbow catch, it’s just not going to happen for you. It’s a very difficult place to get a good catch because it’s an awkward position for the shoulder.

So, in order to be able to get that better catch, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the alignment right, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the right amount of rotation. You need to be working on things in the right order, otherwise, you’re just going to be banging your head against the wall, because you’re not going to be able to make these changes in certain aspects of your stroke if there are not other things in place. So, what we’d like to do is take the right approach, and the five core principles are generally what most people should be doing. So have a look at that link below for more details on those five core principles, and that will explain it in a bit more detail. But, it’s like this domino effect that it has down the stroke. Let’s say that you are crossing over. So you’re entering, and coming way across the head. Once you get your hands in line with the shoulders when you enter and reach forwards, that can often have this flow and effect, where not only does your catch and pull improve, but you minimize the drag, your rotation can improve as well.

We just want to make sure we work on things in the right order. So, that is the second thing, make sure you’re working on the right things. Now, if you’re not sure what they are, check out those five core principles. But if you haven’t ever recorded yourself swimming, one of the best things you can do is get a camera out, get a phone out, record yourself from the front, and from the side. If you’ve got an underwater camera, even better. But have a look at what you’re doing when you’re swimming. And you’ve probably seen our Feedback Friday videos, we go into quite a bit of detail with those. And you’ll have a pretty good sense of the things that you should be achieving in your stroke based on those Feedback Friday videos. So, get a camera out, record yourself, and that is the best way to know what you should be doing. Now, if you don’t know how to do that yourself, if you’re not sure what … you don’t know how to analyze the stroke yourself, we offer that as a service. Check that out in the video membership, that’s where you can get that done.

Now, the third thing that can stop you from making technique changes permanent, is not having the right approach to making these changes. When it comes to how do we want to work on our technique, what we generally suggest is somewhere in your warm-up, every time you swim, or almost every time you swim, do some drills or do some technique-focus swimming, that is specific to the things that you want to change. Now, it’s so much better doing that on a regular basis rather than say, one technique session, or focusing on your technique once every three weeks. It’s just not going to happen for you in that way. You need to be constantly thinking about your stroke, and you need to generally do some drills or some technique work, that’s specific to the things that you want to try and change, as part of your warmup. For example, let’s say you were crossing over, really simple thing you can do, for 300 meters of your warmup, you might go 25 meters front kick drill, and then 25 meters of swim. And your only focus is making sure that those hands enter, and extend in line with your shoulders.

Now, often the perception of what you’re doing can be very different than the actual reality. So what we normally recommend in that case is, do your front kick drill, look forwards occasionally, make sure that you’re not crossing over, or coming in too close. Then when you go into the swim, you’re still focused on the alignment, on where you enter and extend, but you’re going to look forwards every now and then, just to check that you are in the right position, because that’s really one of the things where what you think you’re doing can be very different. There’s a good chance that if you are crossing over a lot, and you’re trying to change that alignment, a good chance that you need to really exaggerate it, in order to do it. Just checking in with those technique changes that you’re looking to make, is the best way to do it, because if you haven’t got someone who can give you that feedback automatically or instantly, then there’s a good chance you may not be making the changes that you want. So that can be a really simple way to approach it, 300 meters, 400 meters of some drill swim work as part of your warm up.

Now, the reason I like to do drill swim work is because, if you do the drill, it should be focused, or it should be working on the thing that you’re trying to change, it should be developing a new motor pattern, it should be developing a new movement or a different movement compared to what you’re used to doing. So that’s really the purpose of drills. Now, the reason we’d like to do some swim after those drills is you can make the connection from the drill to the swim stroke. I’m not generally a big fan of doing just a big block of drills with that, then linking that to the swim. When we run clinics, when I’m coaching people online, I’ll typically give them something like 200 to 400 meters of some drill swim stuff in between, and as they go into that swim, they’re focused on that specific thing that they were trying to do within the drills. So, that is the third thing, make sure that you are doing it every session, or nearly every session.

The fourth thing is training bad habits. Now, when you get tired, when your mind starts to wander, and you start to think about what’s for breakfast or what’s for lunch, and you start to think about, “When is this session going to be over?” That is typically when your stroke will start to fall apart, and those technique changes you’ve been trying to make, and you’ve been developing, will start to fall away, and you’ll fall back into those old habits. What we want to try and do … and I did a podcast with Michael Andrew, who’s a US Swimmer. He talked about training … making sure that you are forming good habits when you’re training. So, not training with bad technique. Now, I get it, if you’re doing long distance or longer distance swimming, more aerobic work, you’re burning up, and doing some big swims, then yeah, you’re probably going to fall into some bad habits, particularly in those longer training sessions.

But as best as you can, try and maintain a really good technique for the majority of your session. And the reason for that is if we train those bad habits, and we start to form those bad habits, and it’s probably going to happen in a race. If you’ve got the time, there’s nothing wrong with almost starting from scratch, and building up from there, if you’ve got the time. For example, I was talking with an Olympic swimmer this weekend, and he’s just resetting his technique. There’s a lot of things that he developed over the years, that he wanted to change, because he didn’t look at his stroke enough, and now he wants to rebuild his technique. And the way that he’s gone about it, is he’s given himself about … what is it? 18 months, to be able to build that up and to be able to race with that new technique. And he’s really taken that longterm approach.

That’s really the way to go, is to make sure that you train with good technique, even when you start to fatigue. Now, if you’re in a squad, yeah, it can be hard to manage that. But if you train on your own, a good way to do it is, as you start to fall apart … and you know when to fall apart, you know when your technique is really going out the window. There’s nothing wrong with taking a short 15-, 20-second rest, reset, get your heart rate back down, refocus, and then you can get back into it. So if you feel like your technique has just completely fallen apart, yeah, you might get some fitness benefit, but you’re not forming the right habits. So that’s a good way to make sure that you do form those good habits.

The fifth thing is playing it safe. And what I mean by that is, when we go to try to change our stroke, it doesn’t matter if you’re an Olympian, whether you’re brand new. The things that you want to do in your stroke if you have been filmed, and you know the things that you want to change, more times than not, you’re going to have to overdo or exaggerate those things by a factor of 10, in order to change them. So when you try and change things by just a little bit, then they only don’t change it all. And there’s nothing more evident than that, than actually getting filmed, and having that immediate feedback. And it doesn’t matter what level of swimmer you are, everyone has the same issue, where they try and change their stroke a little bit, and nothing happens. So, don’t play it safe with a lot of the technique changes that we want to make.

It’s okay to have it feel really strange and really weird. That is a feeling that you want to move towards if you know the right things that you’re trying to change in your stroke. Now, the reason it feels a little bit weird and uncomfortable is that it’s not familiar. And it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing, it’s just that it’s not familiar. So it is okay to really go to the extremes with some of the things you’re trying to achieve. Now, if you do go too far with it, it is okay to come back, it’s a lot easier to come back. For example, let’s come back to that alignment, the way that the train track position when you enter and extend forwards. A lot of times I’ll tell people, “I want you to make it feel so ridiculously wide, that it’s just … you wouldn’t believe it would be right.” Now, if you go too wide, you can always bring it back, but we want to stretch those boundaries.

If you try and just change a little bit, and it doesn’t change at all, then it’s like, well, okay, you’re going to have to exaggerate it. But you’ll probably always start to come back from that exaggerated position. So know that it is okay to go too far with things. And if you do go too far, you’ll be able to fix it. But a lot of people play it too safe with some of the changes that they’re looking to make. Now, the sort of caveat there is to make sure it’s the right things. So if you haven’t got any footage of yourself swimming, you haven’t had someone look at it, and you don’t really know those things that you’re trying to do, then you may not want to overdo or exaggerate something that might be correct. So it is good to be able to film yourself or get someone else to film you, and know that the things that you’re working on, are the correct things there. So there are the five things that we often see as stopping people from making their technique changes permanent.

Now, if you’re looking for a step-by-step plan to improve your swimming, swim faster and more efficiently, then our video membership has all of our video courses in there, the Virtual Freestyle Clinic, our Effortless Freestyle program, and the Art of Triathlon Swimming, along with the Five Core Principles of Fast Freestyle. And that is really a really simple way to break down the stroke, and also build it up. So if you’re wondering, “I don’t know what I need to work on,” the five core principles is generally a pretty good way for most people to be able to improve their swimming. It not only gets you in a better body position, but it can also really keep your heart rate down, it can lay to develop your catch and your pull, so that pretty much every single stroke, you’re holding more water, and you’re doing it for a lot less effort. So if one of the problems that you have is that your heart rate is way up high, and you feel like your fitness should be a lot better than what it is when you’re in the water, then that is a really good program to follow.

So go and check that out. I’ll put the link below to the video membership, and we’re constantly adding more videos there, more drills and more content. So go and check that out below. Thanks for watching. Don’t forget to like and subscribe, and I’ll see you next week.


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Brenton and Mitch were great to work with at the clinic, Good to get video analysis to work on straight away, practice some new drills and go home knowing what you need to work on.

Alex McFadyen