goal of effortless swimming

Three Ways To Pay The Price Of Fast Swimming

We all want to swim fast.

Let’s be honest, at the core of your triathlon quest (and your swim quest) is the goal of getting quicker.

But Rory, “I’m just here to have fun.. and for the community.”

I call BULL!

If I offered you a legal “magic pill” that made you a little faster when you woke up tomorrow, you’d take it. You’d love the speed, it would make everything more fun.

You know it would.

Here’s A Promise

Whatever your version of fast looks like, you that you can have it.

But like most things in life, it won’t come for free.

This Is How I Know

I’ve spent nearly 14 years working on pool decks around the world. I have helped athletes of all shapes, sizes, ages and motivations… I’m yet to meet anyone who isn’t capable of their own version of fast, efficient swimming.

And yet, not all of them have achieved their potential.

There is a reason for that:

They Didn’t Pay The Mistress


Yes, that’s what I said; “They didn’t pay the mistress”.

Get your mind out of the gutter or wherever it is you’ve taken that statement.

Let Me Explain

The water is a wicked mistress.

 “A woman in a position of authority or control.”

The water is a woman. This is a fact. She is beautiful. She controls most of what you do with her. She can make your life and your swimming very difficult.

But if you treat her right… If you spend quality time with her… If you follow her rules she’ll reward you with fast times that feel easy.

Disrespect her and you’ll pay with pain and frustration.

“Pay Your Dues”
 “To earn the right to have something because you worked hard.”

Nothing in the water is given, nothing. It’s earned.

We are land based animals and we do not swim instinctively.

The ability to move through the water (which we call “swimming”) is a skill. Like any skill it must be learned and mastered.

You must earn the right to have speed in the water. You pay for your efficiency and the ability to move through the water effortlessly.

If you want to swim well, you must pay your dues. It’s as simple as this:

You Must Pay The Mistress.

Start Right Now

Here are three ways you can start paying right now.

1. Schedule Your Swims.

Open your calendar, your diary or your phone right now and decide which days you will be swimming.

Write down the 3 days you will be swimming and the time of the day that you are going to the pool. Mark it as busy and important and don’t let “life” change that appointment.

If it’s not in your calendar, it’s not going to happen consistently. And you’re not going to get the results you’re looking for.

Pro tip;

– Try to swim on the same days and times each week. This makes it easy for you to follow the pattern and routine

– Some people are evening people and others are morning people. Whichever time works best for you will work best for you.

– Success rates are higher for people who commit to swimming in the morning. Because they get it out of the way first thing and then nothing can jeopardize it later in the day. Having said that, I have seen swimmers create success by training at lunch time or in the evenings.

If fast swimming is important enough, you make it fit your schedule.

2. Make Your Goal Effort And Consistency

With everything else going on in your life you won’t always be able to control exactly how you feel in the water. There are times when you will feel amazing and powerful. And other times when it will feel like you are swimming through syrup.

Regardless of how the water feels each day, commit to giving the same effort every time you get in the water.

You can control how you attack your workout. Give 100% of whatever you have to give.

If you can’t hit your goal times or your pace is off, do the best you can. Focus on giving your best effort today, the results will come from there.

3. Log your progress

I track the progress of all my swimmers. I write their times for every repeat in every session. It gets scribbled down in my book while we’re on the pool deck like this:

And then it gets emailed to them the next morning like this:

With their times logged we can look back and marvel at the progress that has been made.

If you don’t write it down, it’s tough to remember where you’ve come from. There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from seeing your improvements.

Action Step Recap:

1. Schedule your swims

2. Make your goal effort and consistency

3. Log your progress

P.S.  What tactics do you use to help you stay consistent in paying the mistress??

I genuinely want to know. Comment and share below!

Yo Yo Yo Yo Yoga

At the beginning of the summer, Coach Kevin suggested I add yoga to my daily workout routine, I listened with half an ear. What I kind of heard was; "doing yoga will allow you to....... so you can maintain........ which will allow you to...... and your core will be ....... so ......... also your ................" Much like any kid, or college student that has just finished taking his final exams and is ready for the summer, I simply smiled and said yeah, that sounds great. What I should have heard was this formula:

Maintain a better body position in the water once fatigue sets in.

Find a better breathing rhythm.
Have a stronger core allowing for better, stronger rotation.
Simply more flexible


Here's the honest truth, when I first put in the yoga dvd at the beginning of August, I couldn't so much as touch my toes. The natural flexibility I thought I had from my days as a kid who played many different sports had all but disappeared. For a guy who has had two surgeries on his groin and has problems with his hips and lower back I really should have been doing something more than the odd stretch here and there.

Yoga in my speedo, sure why not?

What I didn't know was how much of a difference the yoga actually makes! Over the last month I have put in the Rodney Yee yoga dvd 4 evenings a week performed as instructed (It helps having a projector and a movie room to watch the dvd in, kind of makes it feel like I have my own life size instructor telling me exactly what to do). At first pretty much everything I did made me feel nauseous but slowly, slowly I have improved. I can now put my hands flat on the floor behind my feet. with my head on my knees. I can hold some pretty funky "triangle poses", arch my back further than what looks healthy and no longer need to hold back my last meal.

I am excited to see how this new endeavor of mine carries over into the pool. I'm also looking forward to seeing  how many of the Whitworth swimmers I can get to join me! Watch this space....

Running Is for Athletes That Can't...

Running is for Athletes that can't... can't catch, can't throw, can't hit a ball, can't swim, can't ride a bike... I mean there is no skill involved whatsoever, it's just like walking, only faster... Right? Wrong! Friends, let me share something with you.

  • I am an athlete.
  • I spend multiple hours a day working out in the pool and in the gym.
  • I'm in good shape.
  • I know how to work hard and push through pain.
  • I cried on Wednesday night 3km into a 5km run.

Yep, that's right, 3km into what felt like an all out sprint I could feel the tears rolling down my cheeks and the lasagna I had for lunch rapidly rising. I tried real hard to tell myself in that moment that it was just sweat from my eyeballs, but who am I kidding? If my good friend, housemate, and 2 x Iron Man, Steve hadn't been there yelling at me to stay strong and pick it up, I probably would have laid down on the road and sacrificed my body to a passing car.

Steve is one of the Masters Swimmers that I have coached and tortured a couple of times. He is a great guy and a committed athlete who, when asked to pick it up will do so... Any one that has watched me coach or has been coached by me knows that I ask swimmers to "pick it up" a lot! I probably say the word "faster" more than any other word on deck. Steve always obliges to my request, often leaving him passed out on deck afterward. For this reason, and this reason only when Steve had his moment of revenge, telling me to stay strong and pick it up I did. Although I verbally abused him for doing so, and had I had just a little more energy I probably would have picked up an orange cone and thrown it at his head. I am seriously grateful to Steve for pushing me through it.

The last three Wednesdays in August,  Tri-Fusion Triathlon club has put on a fantastic 5km race called the "Hot Summer Nights Series". The event was incredibly well organized with phenomenal prizes (yeah, I won free pizza for a year in the raffle... Say what!) I ran all three races and it has been an incredible and eye opening experience for me. At the end of my competitive swimming season in July, I decided to help strengthen my legs by running a little bit in August. I started out on my own running every other day. Then went for a couple runs with Steve, and then Steve and Roger Thompson. While these runs were fun and challenging, I now know that you don't have any idea what running is about until you race it. Here's how it went..

Race 1.

I decided I was cool enough to hang with the big boys... for a mile... Then as the big boys disappeared I hung with the fast ladies... for a mile... and as the lead woman left me and my dignity and pride disappeared too I crumbled to a 10 minute final mile to finish in 22.09. Ouch.

Massage from Heaven after Race 1
Carla & I after the 2nd Race

Race 2.

Lesson learned last week. Game plan - cruise the first mile. So I start a little further back in the pack and run along side a 10 year old kid and his dad. We cruise mile 1. Work it on mile 2, and then the dad says "we got to pick it up son".  I can do that I thought, I'll stick with them.... or not as they disappeared into the distance and finished a minute and a half a head of my 21.24. I was happy being 45 seconds faster than the previous week though.

Race 3.

Steve paces me. I run. I "sweat from my eyeballs". I curse him. I finish. 20.42.

Running is hard core people. I have a new found respect for the sport and those that participate in it. You guys are tough and I can tell you now that I will not be fighting you for a place on the road. It's all yours, you can have it, you can keep it. This fish has no place out of water. I'm going back to the pool.

Steve carrying my sorry behind in the 3rd Race

Swimming Blind

I've heard it discussed, that if an individual loses one of their senses, for example sight, their bodies and brains are able to adapt to the loss by heightening one or more of their other four senses in order to compensate for this loss. According to a MSN Health article, until recently, there had been little scientific evidence that blind people really do benefit from sensory compensation. A Doctor at the Montreal Neurological Institute of Canada's, McGill University put popular perceptions to the test. Their results confirmed expectations.

So, what did Kevin Wang, head coach of the Spokane Waves (my club team), decide to do with the first training cycle of the summer?

Make us swim with a blind fold on...

Just kidding, but it feels just like it! Starting two weeks ago, and continuing through next week Saturday there are no watches or clocks on our pool deck. None, nada, zip, zero, nothing. No indication of how fast you are going, no idea of the send off you are actually pushing off on… Fast practice, slow practice, no clue!

Why the madness Kevin? Well, the idea runs along the line of the heightening of the senses and the experiments done to confirm the compensation mentioned above. Kevin's thought process is that by removing the clocks from the pool deck the swimmers and the coaches are forced to compensate by focusing on so many other elements important to good performance that often get ignored in practices that center around send offs and goal times.

For the most part, when we enter into the technique portion of our work outs (usually during or following the warm up) the pace is medium, or done to a build, and time is often not taken into consideration. Yeah, it's great that we are developing our technique, mastering the finer points of the stroke, the only problem is you NEVER race at a medium pace, you race as fast as you can! But when we swim test sets in practice - ones that most resemble race pace, the focus is usually on the clock. We certainly don't forget about technique, but we are more concerned about the times. The coaches are watching the splits and the swimmers are working towards a goal time. We aim for speed and toughness. The odd piece of advice given on "maintaining your posture" or "not breathing off your walls" gets lost in the bark of "Swimmers, 3, 2, ready, GO" or the words (heard in any combination) "FASTER, DESCEND, HARDER, MORE".

When this no-clock news was first mentioned to the team last Monday, I was very doubtful. I felt that swimming was all about the clock. It's all about the pace you hold, the send off you go on. If you don't have the clock you can't push the pace; if you don't push the pace you can't get faster. The clock indicates how well you are doing. You can't train without a clock! Two weeks later I am changing my mind.

One thing is for sure - the pace has not dropped. If anything, it has been increased. I'm pretty sure the intervals we are pushing off on have decreased too. It sounds odd for me to say this, but maybe the clock was limiting us? Is that possible? What is interesting is that despite what feels like the increase in pace of the workouts, the focus on technique has really improved. The coaches are spending the entire practices giving feedback and we as swimmers seem be absorbing a lot more of it than usual. Kevin's idea seems to be working!

We have one more week left in this cycle before the clocks come back. It is going to be interesting to see where we are at in terms of pace when the clocks are turned on again. It's also going to be interesting to see if we, as swimmers are able to maintain the technique improvements we have made this cycle. I'm pretty sure though that this exercise has not been a waste of time - I for one am sure that I will be a better swimmer at the end of this cycle, all thanks to Kevin's creative genius.

Forget the Horse Whisperer! Listen To Your Body!

"You're tired and close to breaking down, lifting heavy 4 times a week will take a toll on your body... Be careful"  my conscience said to me on Sunday last week, to which I calmly and confidently replied "I'm on a roll, I'm making progress! Easing up or taking a day off will just cut this party short, I've got more in me."

Score: Rory: 1 - Rory's Conscience: 0, because at 4.55am on Monday morning I was up and on my way to practice, and it was a solid one, as was Monday afternoon's practice where I ended up going 48 seconds on the last 100 Freestyle repeat of the set, from a push... "See I told you that you had more left in the tank" I said to myself on Monday evening.

I've had this kind of conversation with myself a couple of times in the past, one period in particular stands out... It was back in 2005 just after I moved from Malawi to South Africa to train under one of the South African Junior National Coaches, Ryan

The Ryan Skinner Swimming Academy - 2005

Skinner. I had just finished school and was looking to take my training a little more seriously. I had always been pretty serious about my swimming, but the club I swam for in Malawi was focused on quality rather than quantity and we were only doing singles and averaging about 4000 meters a day, I felt like I needed more... And more I got! Ryan's program had us doing doubles and averaging about 15 - 16 000 meters a day, a cool 4 times as much as I had ever done before! I was motivated though, determined to make it work, so I humbled myself and attempted to keep up with the 13 year old girls in the squad through every practice. Slowly but surely I got fitter and faster, first being able to keep up, then holding my own. I also began to swim more and more breastroke as that was my focus, and well I hate swimming on my back! But as I made progress I could sense my body beginning to feel the effects of the big increase in volume. "You're tired and close to breaking down, going from 4000m a day to 16 000m a day will take a toll on your body... Be careful" my body would say to me. "You are keeping up with the rest of the squad now though, keep it going, the gains you are making are huge!" I replied, and I did. I kept going for a year, "No pain, no gain" after all!

During that year I found myself in more and more pain, but as the pain increased so did my ability to talk myself out of it and carry on pushing. I was beginning to find it hard to walk though and climbing stairs was an absolute nightmare. Then my mom came to visit me.  She noticed that I was walking differently after practice each day and it was obvious that it was uncomfortable. In a very loving way she gave me orders to see a Sports Doctor as soon as possible, which I did.

It turned out that I had what they call "Gilmore's groin". Which  involves a tear of the adductor muscles, usually high up near the attachment to the pubic bone. It is sometimes called the Sportsman's Hernia, but there is not actually a hernia present. It is common in sports were a great deal of strain is placed on the groin and pelvic area. Being a Breastroke swimmer that made sense.

Two surgeries and 13 months later I was allowed to get back into the pool.

Back to Tuesday this past week and I'm working through a set that is challenging but by no means impossible. I can feel my right side beginning to tighten up and at about the half way point in the set I am finding it less painful to hold my breath than to actually breathe! (If you have every trained with me you know how much I enjoy breathing and dislike holding my breath!) "No pain, no gain" though remember so I soldiered on through the set. Steve must have been able to see some of pain on my face because he cut my practice short and sent me to the Athletic Trainers who informed me I had strained an oblique...

Jessica Cickay wrote an article last week for runners that will be competing in this year's Boston Marathon. "Runners need  to be honest with themselves and decide whether an ache is truly a pain" she writes, "listening to your body and its injury cues are major components of what it means to be a successful runner." Although her points are specific to running I felt like I could adapt and apply her 4 questions for determining whether or not I need to back off the throttle a little.

1. Am I adjusting my stroke to ease the pain?
When injured my groin back in 2005 I remember Ryan saying to me on a number of occasions "why are you legs staying so close together in your breastroke kick?" My body had adjusted it's stroke to ease the pain I was feeling in my groin. If your stroke unintentionally looks or feels different you need to assess the possible reasons why.

2. Does the pain get better as I swim and then hurt after?
This often seems to happen with overuse injuries. You feel it before, you feel it after, but while you are working the pain seems to disappear.

3. Am I swimming through pain?
If you feel pain or are waiting for it to come with each stroke it not only promotes and prolongs injury, it zaps the fun out of your swimming.

4. Am I doing this purely for exercise?
Make sure to evaluate your motives and goals. If you are truly training and not merely using swimming for exercise, rest should be a part of your plan.

I should have listened to my body when it told me to ease up last Sunday. I think my lesson has been learned now though. This is no excuse to be soft, but sometimes you need to be smart about your training. Being honest with yourself is the key to knowing when it's time to push through and when you need to ease up. No one knows your body better than you do. It is yours after all.

"Effortless Swimming"

"Effortless Swimming" - that was the main goal I set for myself when I sat down with Whitworth Head Coach Steve Schadt last September to discuss my goals for the year. I wanted the focus of my swimming to switch from going faster, or winning races, to being able to move through the water in a way that looked absolutely effortless to any one standing on the deck watching me swim.

Here's where the idea came from; the paradox of swimming is that the harder you try, the quicker you tier and the slower you go. P.H. Mullen puts it like this in his book, "Gold in the Water"; "A race can often become a contradiction within yourself. The harder you fight the water, the more you lose your streamline, increase your resistance, and slow down. One of the many paradoxes of the sport is that harder swimming does not usually lead to faster times". (If you haven't read this book and want to understand the mind and lives of competitive swimmers this is a very, very good read.)

Great goal! Make it look easy; cool! That was the easy part, how the hell do you do that? There in lies the challenge. I put some thought into how I wanted to go about achieving the goal, and came up with two focus points to work on through the year. These were not by any means the two easiest goals I have ever set for myself.

1. Work with the water, not against it. - The water will never get tired of pushing against my body, I on the other hand will get tired of pushing against the water. The water will always win, so make friends with it, don't fight it.
2. Develop strength and power to the point where I could relax into letting my body do the work. Never force the pace! The quicker you do, "the more you lose your streamline, increase your resistance, and slow down."

I made every effort to stick to these goals as I worked through the college season, I however found it very difficult. With over 40 people training in a 6-lane pool, you are always fighting against someone's wake. Relax for a second and you suck 3/4 of the pool in through your nose and mouth. I had a little more control over the the development of my strength and power, but again, training with a group and when you are in the gym, you do what the group does.

This is my fourth week back at training since Nationals and I am finding that I have a little more control over my two goals now. We are in the "Spring Conditioning" part of the season so the lanes are a little emptier, and I am solely responsible for what I do in the gym. I think the focus I have put into effortless swimming is beginning to pay off...

This last weekend I swam in a club swim meet called "The Triple Pentathlon". It was hosted by the club I coach for, The Spokane

Deep Breaths Before the 200 Freestyle

Waves, and conveniently took place at the Whitworth pool. I thought I would get in some racing practice, and have some fun and see where I am at... Obviously I am a sucker for punishment; this "fun" consisted of 4 x 50's (one of each stroke) and a 100 IM on Friday night, 4 x 100's and a 200 IM on Saturday morning, and 4 x 200's and a 400 IM on Sunday.

Friday night started pretty well... aside from the 50 Freestyle you never get a chance to race any of the 50's in college meets, so it was pretty fun to get up and race some short events. Saturday was also pleasantly good, but I have to be honest and say that by the time Sunday rolled around I was not exactly in the mood for racing! I swam the 400 IM, and then decided to pull out of the 200 Backstroke and 200 Fly and focus on the 200 Free and Breast - I unfortunately took some verbal abuse from the other coaches on the staff for my decision!

I was happy with the way all my swims went throughout the meet. I am particularly pleased with my the way my Freestyle events went - this is where I think I am making gains in my goal to swim effortlessly! Comparing the times to my Conference Champs times in February, a meet I wasn't shaved for, but was a little rested and pretty hyped up, I am very happy with the way I swam. At conference I put up a 21.18 in the 50 Free, I went 21.59 this weekend. I swam a 46.93 leading off the relay in the 100 Free, I went 47.15 this weekend, and I went a 1.42.36 from a relay start in the 200 Free, I was 1.45.85 this weekend from a flat start. These are good indications - I certainly didn't do 4 weight sessions the week before Conference like I did last week. I also managed to set 12 new team records as well as help set a a new 200 Free relay record with some of the other Senior Squad swimmers.

Taking All The Help I Can Get During The 400 IM! I love this picture :-)

Talking with Steve at morning practice on Monday he mentioned how amazing the human body is and how well it adapts to any stimulus you throw at it. It's true, I have put the focus on strength and power in the gym my body has returned favor by reproducing strength and power in the water. Open your mind, honestly challenge your body, and it will respond by stepping up to a new level for you.

I didn't spend the entire weekend focusing on myself though! I was coaching all the way through it too as a lot of the swimmers I coach during the week swam in the meet. I approached coaching them from a new direction this weekend. I push these kids pretty hard and yell at them quite a lot during the week, but I want meets to be fun, a time for celebration! So I didn't watch the clock this weekend, I watched them swim. I gave them the advice I thought they needed, told them to go have fun and then just sat back and watched to see how much of what I yell during the week actually gets absorbed. I must say I was very impressed! They swam very, very well indeed, and I know they all had a lot of fun! I'll leave you with a couple of pictures of them taken by their parents this weekend.

"They are merely atoms, two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. So simple, yet what lies between them… Immeasurable. Only The Water Understands”... I love sharing my passion for the water with these kids.

Sleep, yes please

One of the most important parts of our lives is recovery. Yes, this is particularly important as an athlete, but it's not only athletes that need rest. If you are on the daily 9 - 5 grind, you need rest too! Growing up, my mom and dad were always big advocates of sleep. My brother and I were in bed at 8pm every night of the week until we were about 12. At 13 when the bed time "rule" lost its place a little, not a lot changed, it might not have been 8pm every night all the way through high school but it was very seldom later than 9 or 9.30. A lot of you that know me, know that not a lot has changed. I'm still in bed every night at about 9.30, any later than that and I do not feel good at all the next day. There is a reason for this though. I am not old enough to be a grandfather and I do not belong in a retirement village, so why go to bed so early?

Penny Heyns

I'm not sure where I heard this story, I may have read it in her biography or may have been told the story by my South African coach, Ryan Skinner, but here is a story about Olympian and Gold Medalist Penny Heyns that relates to sleep. Apparently, in her first three years at the University of Nebraska Penny trained as hard as she could, spending many hours working out and developing her skills in the pool with good success at the college level. Going into her senior year however she changed just one thing. The amount of sleep she was getting. Doing the same thing in the pool, with the same coach, living on the same schedule as she had previously, Penny went from good performances on the college stage to setting 14 world records and becoming the first woman in history to sweep both the 100 and 200 Breastroke Gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games... She did the same thing in the pool, she just slept more, recovered better and good things started to happen. Now I am not 100% sure about the accuracy of the story. Penny may have made other changes, there may be more to it, it may have just been her time, but I think I believe that the amount of sleep she was getting had a large part to play in her success... That's enough for me. I don't think I need any more information or motivation to get back into bed! If you do, here is some science...

According to Dr Nicholas Sita "Everyone needs 7 to 10 hours sleep. Children (ages 1 – 10) require at least 10 hours, Adolescents (ages 11 – 22) need an average of 9.25 hours, and adults (23+ years) require 8.25 hours of sleep, on average, each night". Now, I am in a statistics class this semester, and although my attention level is not always at it's highest I have learned that there are averages and people will deviate from those averages blah blah blah. Fair enough. But how wrong would I be if I said that I think more adults get less than 8 hours and 15 mins sleep a night than those that do? I know that very few Adolescents get 9 hours and 15 minutes sleep a night. Dr Sita's research suggests that "only fifteen percent of American adolescents report getting 8 or more hours of sleep. Therefore, 85% of American adolescents are operating at a sleep deficit. The average American adolescent is operating at about a 25 hour deficit."

Now here is what I found interesting... At a 19 hour sleep deficit, athletes perform on cognitive and coordination tests, worst than someone with a .08 blood alcohol level. Just in case you don't know what that means, a .08 blood alcohol level is legally drunk in every country in Europe and in 42 American states. If my Olympic winning, world  record breaking story didn't give you a reason to get to bed earlier or take a nap during the day, maybe those numbers will!

I think the biggest excuse I hear about not getting enough sleep is "I don't have time". If you can look at yourself in the mirror and honestly say that you don't feel like you could watch one less hour of TV a week, or spend 30 minutes less surfing the web, or procrastinate a little less about starting something, then your life must be scheduled to the max and you may need to chill out a little. Haha, but seriously, I think that most of us can find a at least an hour in our day that we waste and could use on some extra sleep.

Sometimes I make sure I get to bed on time but the sleep thing doesn't exactly happen as fast as I would like it to. I lay there, tossing and turning and getting more and more worked up. I have tried most of the popular advice out there about how to fall asleep, I know my flock is too big when I get to 4678 sheep. Last year Ashely "Training Partner" Lecoq (remember her? Check here) introduced me to a natural sleep inducer that I find kills sheep faster than a slaughter house, called Melatonin. Many studies have been done on melatonin's effects on the sleep cycle, most of these studies have shown positive results. People experience very few negative side-effects and have found themselves in a better mood because they were well rested. I really like the stuff. If you have trouble sleeping at night try it out.

Alright, too much sleep talk. I need some. I would hate to show up to my 8am class in the morning "cognitively drunk". Heaven forbid! Before I go, I am now writing for a website called Swim Utopia. Check it out, it's a new site, but is growing quickly and I have a feeling it will be the next big swimming information site. Alright, Ten Four. Over and Out