We look at a 2:00/100m swimmer and discover why his breathing, head position, and stroke rate are holding back from getting under 2min pace. We talk about how he can improve each of these things over the next 2-3 months.


If you’re trying to put too much effort into this part of the stroke, so from when you’re at full extension, down to when you finish the catch here, if you’re trying to put effort into that, the only direction that you’re really going to be pressing is downwards.

Welcome to Feedback Friday and today’s episode we have a swimmer who’s at the 2-minute mark per hundred, so for his 400-time trial, he did 8:08. You can see here if we were looking from the side, the first thing that I like to look at is the breathing, and that’s the first thing that we’d be looking to adjust here. You can see that there’s a little bit of exhalation through his nose, but not much at all. What that can often mean is it can just be like holding your breath and trying to swim, which will cause the heart rate to come up, or it will limit the effort and the output that you can have.

So what I’d be aiming for here is to have a little bit more exhalation through preferably the nose, and then just before he turns his head to breathe, exhale a lot more. So we want this big puff of air out the nose, or out the mouth, right now, so that by the time the mouth comes out of the water, you’ve got empty lungs, then you can just naturally inhale, it’s like just naturally fill up, and that’s a great way to then be able to either keep the heart rate down as you’re putting more into the stroke, more effort in, and it’s a way to just keep the breathing a bit more natural as well.

Because if you think about it as let’s say you’re running 100 meters and you’re sprinting, if you try and hold your breath while you do that, you’re going to really limit how much you can put into it. So you can just see there, not enough exhalation. So the way to think about it is light exhale through the nose, then just before you turn your head, right now, a big puff of air out through the mouth and nose, then you can naturally get that breath, very quickly, and come straight back down. That’s the first thing.

The second thing we’d be looking to adjust here is the head position. You can see that the head’s all the way under the water, and what happens when we’re in that position is you then need to lift the head above the water to be able to get the breath. It’s much better if you can just keep the crown of your head, so this top part of your head, out of the water as you are just swimming, at all times, and then you can just turn your head to the side, and this little bough wave will get created around your mouth, and you can get that breath easily and quickly again. So that’d be the second thing.

Kind of related to that breathing too is you can see that with his head down so low, being pushed down, we’ve got the spine there, so we’ve got that sort of angle. What that will create is it will in a way, it will block the airways through here. So if the chin’s tucked into the chest too much, then you’re going to be restricting the airways, which again can just change how easy it makes the breathing. So if we were to look at that in terms of posture, the way we like to talk about it is either swimming tall and proud, so that means, sort of chest out, shoulders back a little bit, having the head up a little bit higher, or think of it as lifting the sternum. All right? So lifting the sternum up, which kind of gets the chest out, and it will avoid ducking the head down quite so deep.

Now a lot of swimmers push their head down deep because they’re told that in order to bring the hips up and the legs up, you need to have your head down, and yes, that’s true to a certain extent. If you’re trying to keep your head up super high, obviously the legs will drop, but like anything, you can go too far with it. So if you’re trying to push your head down too deep, then it’s actually going to put you in the wrong position there. So that’s the first and second things that we’d look to work on.

After that, with the stoke rate, that’d kind of be the next thing that we’d just want to adjust slightly. So with this stroke rate, his around 50 strokes per minute, at the moment, maybe a little bit slower towards the end here. For this athlete I’d be aiming for at least a 55, possibly 60 strokes a minute as he’s going at race pace, or when he’s swimming fast, because if your stroke rate’s too slow, then you don’t quite get enough momentum through the stroke to be able to keep the hips up and the legs up. If we increase it by 10 or 15%, that’ll give him a better chance of keeping a more horizontal body position, which is going to increase his speed just by reducing the overall drag through the body there. So that would kind of be the next thing. He could use a tempo trainer for it, or if he doesn’t have one, he could just try and increase the rating ever so slightly.

Now, I just want to show you another view here in a moment, which will actually look at the catch and the pull. When we’re working with swimmers, I wouldn’t often go through as much as this, I’d just want to fix those first two things, or sorry, first three things, off the bat, and then in a couple of weeks time, once he’s locked in those changes, then work on the next few things, but I’ll talk about this other one right now for those that might already have the right head position and the right breathing.

Now you can see with his hands and forearms as he’s going through here, it does look a little bit too tense through the forearms and the hands there. You can actually sort of see it looks like there’s quite a bit of tension within the forearm there, and there’s a bit too much bend in the wrist. So in one of the recent videos, we talked about how should you keep your hands, and a great way to think about it is keeping soft hands. That just means having enough tension through the hands to keep the form and the shape, but then relaxing from there. It just looks like there’s probably a bit too much tension through his first part of the entry and extension, so I’d be looking to keep the hands a little bit softer.

Now what that should help this swimmer to do is it would make it easier to improve the catch phase of the stroke and get towards a high elbow catch position. So you can see if we look at, “Is he in a high elbow position?” The way we determine it is when he finishes the catch, which is right here, from the shoulder to the hand, if that elbow sits above that straight line, it’s a high elbow, if it sits below it’s a dropped elbow. So that just means at the moment, he’s dropping the elbow, so a high elbow position would be a little something like that, with the arm.

Now it’s easier said than done. It really takes some time and some drills, and a few different things to get towards that position, but the first thing we’d probably need to change there, is just the tension through the hands and the forearms, that would allow him to improve that part of the stroke there, and again you can see this one’s just in that slightly dropped elbow position.

Now, kind of related to that too, with the tension, one of these things you really need to do with the catch is be well, patient in it, but use it as the setup. So if you’re trying to put too much effort into this part of the stroke, so from when you’re at full extension, down to when you finish the catch here, if you’re trying to put effort into that, the only direction that you’re really going to be pressing is downwards. All right, so let’s imagine that you’re going hard early on in this part of the stroke, then the direction is all going to be facing downwards, and the only thing that’s going to do is put your chest up and drop your legs. So a way to think of the catch is use that as the set-up to get towards a high elbow position. So we’re not going for effort or power here, just to get to a high elbow catch position, which would look a little bit something like this, then once you’re in that position, we can start to put a bit of effort and power into the stroke, because the hand and the forearm is then set up to press back behind you, and that’s going to move you forwards. So that’s what we’d primarily be looking to do.

So let’s have a look at that with another swimmer, so if we look at Clayton Fettell, who’s a professional triathlete, very, very good swimmer, you can see that… Let’s just play it through actually. You can see with he’s catch that he’s not trying to put much power into it, at all, he’s just aiming to get his fingertips pointing down, getting towards that high elbow position, and then he starts to put some effort into it. So you can see it here from there, fingers point down, no effort going into the catch, then here he starts to apply a bit of pressure and power, and that is one of the main differences that you see with those top swimmers. So it’s a good way to approach the catch.

Now let’s have, well one look at the final thing, which is a front view of this swimmer. Now let’s assume that the swimmer makes a change with his breathing and his head position, and getting the stroke rate up by 10 to 15%. One of the things that we may look to work on over time, once he’s got that, is the catch and the pull through. If we look at that from the front view here, you can actually see that the path of the hand is a little bit wide through the last half of it. So where we want to start is right here, in line with the shoulder. Let’s just zoom in on that. So in line with the shoulder. That’s great. Then the hand will come just outside the width of the shoulder slightly, right here, just going probably a little bit too wide with it, but from here to here, you can see that the hand is a long way out from the body, and the path of maximum propulsion.

So where you can basically get the most power, the most propulsion out of the stroke in coordination with the body, is if the hand comes in and gets a lot closer towards the hip through that last half there. You can just see it stays quite wide, and in this last part the hand actually sort of comes in towards the hip, like that, so where he’s actually pressing is in that direction. So to be more effective with it, we just want to have the hand come out a little bit at the start, then finish off next to the hip there. So that’s on the right side. Similar on the left. Starts really nicely here in line with the shoulder, then it comes away from the center a bit, but right now it’s just going too wide, too wide, and you can actually see how the palm of the hand is turned into the body, so it’s really missing that propulsion through the last half of the stroke. So one thing this swimmer could do would be to work on the path of the hand. He could use something like a single-arm freestyle drill for that, where he’s just focused purely on the path of the hand. He could use that top-to-bottom scale that we showed in some of the more recent videos, but that would be another thing to work on.

But whenever you’re improving you’re swimming, keep it really simple. One or two things at a time, get that right, then move onto the next thing, and the way that we want to approach it is we want to do it in the right order. So if we were to just work on the catch straight away, it’s not going to change how he’s breathing, and the effort that he can put in, and if he’s stroke rate’s still at 50, then he’s going to be really limited by that. So work on it in the right order, and if you are looking for advice and help on what that right order is, then I’d recommend putting your email below, into our waiting list for the new membership that’ll be opening soon, and that’s where I’m going to detail the exact process that we go through to get continual improvement in the stroke. So make sure that you’re following the right order when you’re doing that.

Posted in Feedback Friday