Making Friends Through Triathlon

One of the things I LOVE about triathlon and swimming is that it enables you to travel to places that you may never have known about and to meet some of the most interesting people.

A few weeks ago, I got an opportunity to meet a super interesting guy, Nils, who runs a great race in Sweden each summer.

Nils connected with me through Instagram while out on vacation in Dubai(check out his Instagram here).

We spent a morning together talking swimming and doing a workout. What could be more awesome?

I wanted to share a quick 5 minute video he put together while we talked about:

  • The benefits of training in Dubai (at 0:00)
  • The first mistake wannabe triathletes make when they start out swimming (at 0:47)
  • The highest priority every triathlon swimmer should be focused on (at 1:38)
  • The popularity of triathlon in Dubai (at 2:48)
  • How I got into coaching swimming (at 3:33)

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Are you going to be traveling to Dubai? Want to chat swimming? Send me an email and lets connect.

stroke technique changes

Swim Technique: 5 Ways To Change Your Swim Technique Like a Pro

Swim Technique: 5 Ways To Change Your Swim Technique Like a Pro

Swim technique will set the limit on where your fitness will take you. We talk about this in the first section of the Fundamentals of Triathlon Swimming Guide. You can train harder and get fitter to shave mere seconds off your best times. Or you can improve your technique and save minutes.

When you change your swim technique so it’s efficient and effective the sky’s the limit on where you can take your swim fitness and speed. Making good changes to your swim technique is important in reaching your full potential as a swimmer.

● But what if you have bad habits that you want to correct but you can’t seem to make the change permanent?
● What if you know what you should be doing but you can’t get it right when you’re actually mid way through a lap?
● What if your technique goes out the window as soon as you get tired? Or even worse, you changed your swim technique and ended up slower?

stroke technique changes

I want to give you the strategies and mindset you need to change your swim technique permanently and effectively.

Before we get into those strategies, I need to give you a little bit of context on how our brains go about learning. There are 4 stages to learning anything new. These don’t only apply to swimming, they apply to any skill you want to learn.

Stage 1:

Unconscious Incompetence
The “You don’t know what you don’t know” stage

At this stage in the learning process you aren’t even aware of the things you don’t know. You don’t even know the skill exists. You can’t change your swim technique until you know it needs to be changed! It’s not until you read or have someone teach you something that you will have an “aha” moment of awareness. When you become aware of the skill you move on to Stage 2.

Stage 2:

Conscious Incompetence
The “You know what you don’t know” stage

At this stage in the learning process you know that there is something to learn. But the problem is you do not understand it or do not know how to do it. You know what to do to change your swim technique, but you don’t know how. This stage can be really frustrating to work through. So you begin to gather information. You read the Fundamentals of Swimming Guide. Watch Youtube videos or hire a coach and you begin to get an understanding of how to do it. This is when you move to Stage 3.

Stage 3:

Conscious Competence
The “You know what you know” stage

In Stage 3 you’ve learned how to change your swim technique, but actually doing it takes a lot of concentration. When your attention is focused on the skill you’re trying to master you get it right. The moment your attention wanders or some other external factor comes into the equation (like breathing or fatigue) you are no longer able to do it right.

Stage 4:

Unconscious Competence
The “You don’t know what you know” stage

With enough repetition and time spent in Stage 3 you will start to find that the skill becomes second nature and can be performed easily. Welcome to stage 4! When you reach stage 4 you’re able to go onto autopilot while you perform the skill. This is our ultimate goal.

stroke technique changes

If you are reading this blog you are very likely in Stage 2 or Stage 3 on your swimming journey.

These are the most challenging stages in the learning process. This is where most people will give up. That is NOT what I want for you! So here are 5 way to approach changing your swim technique like a pro.

1. Be Prepared To Screw Up (a lot)

Stage 2 in particular can be really frustrating for triathletes in the water. Making mistakes and screwing up is critically important to progressing through this stage. If you aren’t comfortable with screwing up, you’ll struggle to move onto stage 3.

There are very few people that ever hit a homerun on their first attempt at something. You are going to screw up. It’s going to look like a train wreck. It’s going to feel horrible and it may even make you slower to start with.

That is 100% ok. The more ok you can be with that, the faster you will learn. Mistakes and failures aren’t final, they are simply feedback. Get comfortable with making mistakes and you’re technique will improve much faster!

2. Break It Up Into Smaller Pieces

Everything you do in Stage 3 requires a lot of focus. It’s much easier (and more effective) to focus on one thing at a time. This is why we use drills to help us make stroke changes. Good drills are essentially small pieces of a deconstructed swim stroke. They allow us to isolate one particular piece of your perfect stroke or put you in a specific position. They then give you the opportunity to practice that particular piece over and over again.

Using a good drill will give you only one or two things to think about. Instead of trying to concentrate on the whole stroke at one time your attention and focus can be channel.

Using training tools like fins or a center mounted snorkel will also help you through stage 3. The fins keep the effort level low and keep you moving through the water. This gives you more opportunity to concentrate on your specific stroke piece.

The center mounted snorkel eliminates the constant thoughts on breathing. When you aren’t thinking about the next breath you can isolate your thinking to the stroke element you are working on.

3. Stay Consistent

Repetition is the secret weapon to making stroke changes through both Stage 2 and Stage 3. If you only practice something once or twice it’s unlikely that any change will take effect. Many competitive swimmers will spend 20-30 hours a week in the pool training. This volume isn’t entirely related to getting fitter. A lot of that time is spent on developing great movement patterns that come about through endless repetition.

You don’t need to be swimming that much. But I do want you to understand that doing a drill once is unlikely to bring about any permanent change in your stroke. Consistently working at it will.

4. Don’t Force It

If you’re like me with my A-Type personality you want to make sure you are doing your drills or stroke exactly right. This A-Type mindset can be very beneficial to making a stroke change permanent. But it can also stall the process.

There is a fine line between focus and force.

One of my triathletes, Jennifer felt this on Saturday. The more she focused on her rotation the more mechanical the movement got. The more she tried the more tense she became. She knew what she was supposed to be doing, but she just couldn’t get it right.

Half way through the drill set I asked Jennifer what she got for her birthday last year.

She couldn’t remember off the top of her head so I asked her to think about it while she did the next 50m drill.

Boom. Perfect rotation.

Distracted by trying to remember what her husband gave her as a gift she stopped forcing the rotation and it began to flow effortlessly. Hello Stage 4!

4. Don’t Force It

Most stroke changes take time to become permanent. If you are willing to:

● Make mistakes
● Focus on one thing at a time but not force it
● Stay consistent

You will see progress and begin to feel your improvements. Feeling faster is nice, but we also want to test if we truly are faster.

I like to use a set of 4 x 50 Descending to test the impact of a change. Once you’ve finished your drill set, do 4 x 50 Freestyle as follows:

● First 50 easy
● Second 50 medium
● Third 50 at your Olympic or ½ IM race pace
● Fourth 50 sprint fast.

If your times are improving your stroke changes are effective.

💁🏽‍♂️ What Technique Change Are You Trying To Make?

Don’t allow the slow rate of change to demotivate you from making progress.

Comment below with a technique change you are working on making right now. Tell me what exactly you are trying to change and why you want to make the adjustment to your stroke.

If you leave a comment, I will email you in two weeks time and again in a month to check in and see how well you’re making progress.

Swim Endurance Tip: How Technique Will Only Carry You So Far

Swim Endurance Tip:
How Technique Will Only Carry You So Far

I failed.

I got into the pool for the first time in a very long time to do an actual swim workout.

And I suffered badly.

I get into the water from time to time to test drills and progressions or a piece of a set to make sure they work for my athletes. But the truth is I don’t actually workout in the pool anymore.

Until three weeks ago.

A local Tri coach who’s following the SwimFaster Program challenged me to do one of the workouts after sending me his times.

The test was a 750m time trial.

Knowing I have done no swim training I guessed I’d be able to go somewhere in the region of 9.30ish for the 750m. That sounded reasonable and achievable.

Full of confidence I pushed off after warming up and doing my drills.

The first 450m felt like chocolate.

Smooth, long and efficient.

And then someone dropped a Grand Piano on my back.

My shoulder, lats and abs started to BURN. My breathing shortened up and so did my reach and the finish of my stroke. My kick slowed and my head started to creep higher out of the water for each breath.

It all fell apart.

I was was eternally grateful to get my hand on the wall on the last length! Stop the watch, pull off the goggles, taste some fresh, sweet O2, and look down at the time…


What the actual hell?

I got back in the pool the next day.

And again the day after that.

And have continued to swim three times a week until that time changes.

Here Are 4 Endurance Tips About Fitness & Technique You Can Learn From My Sufferfest:

1. Great technique will only carry you through about 400m before you need fitness.

You already know this. Technique will set the limit on where your fitness will take you. But technique on it’s own will only carry you through 4-5 minutes of swimming. After that you better be fit or you’re going to suffer. 

2. Consistency is the key to success in swimming

It’s been close to 4 years since I followed a regimented training program in the pool. And I felt every day off I’ve taken during that 750m.

The water is a wicked mistress if you don’t pay your respects to her on a very regular basis. The more you get in, the faster you will get. I wish it wasn’t the truth, but it is.

3. If your shoulders burn when you swim, you don’t need strength work, you need to swim more

I’ve done nothing but strength work for the last couple of years. No swimming, just strength. When I hit 450m the fire that consumed my arms and shoulders was like nothing I remember. Strength work won’t take that burn away, more swimming will.  

4. Accept where you are right now

After reporting my time back to the Tri coach that challenged me, he asked “Are you happy or not?”

The answer is no, but, it is what it is and I need to do something about it.

That time isn’t good or bad. It’s the starting point.

You may look at me and say “yeah but your pace is worlds ahead, if I swam like that I’d be happy”.

To which I will reply; “there are people just starting out their swimming journey that say the same thing about your stroke and the times you swim”.

Where you are right now is just the starting point for what’s to come. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is.

My time will change in the coming weeks and months, it’ll either get faster, or it won’t. Whichever way it swings, the responsibility lies firmly on my shoulders. Just as the responsibility for your times lies with you.

💁🏽‍♂️ Did You Just Learn Something Your Friends Don’t Know?

If you shared your new found knowledge with your friends, you could become their swimming master. And I think you are a legend for helping fix their biggest struggles. Click on one of the magic icons below to share this knowledge with them.

The Freestyle Breath: How To Keep Your Head Low

The Freestyle Breath: How To Keep Your Head Low

Many triathletes I work with complain about taking on a mouth full of water during the freestyle breath. Especially when I have asked them to keep their head low during the movement. If they do manage to keep their head low, many feel like they don’t get a good breath in and get winded and run out of air too fast.

As a result they lift their head up for the breath or over rotate and look up to the sky as they breathe. Both of which result in slowing them down.

Learning to stay low to the water during the freestyle breath will ensure that you carry your momentum from stroke to stroke. When you don’t slow down each time you take a breath you’ll be able to sustain your pace with less effort. You’ll also find you can hold your speed for longer periods of time.

By keeping your head low to the water you are able to limit the amount of resistance you work against. The lower your head can stay the less you will slow down as you take a breath.

But keeping your head low to the water is a challenge!

So here are 4 ways to help you with the freestyle breath. Especially if you’re lifting your head or over rotating to breathe and struggle to stay low to the water like this☝🏼triathlete .

1. Get Your Hips Up

If your hips sit too deep beneath the surface when you try to stay low during the breath your mouth won’t get out the water.

Watch me nearly drown as I attempt to demonstrate this in this video:

Raising your hips up to the surface will level your body out. That means as you rotate for the breathe your mouth will clear the water and you’ll breathe in fresh air!

2. Make The Breath Faster

You’ll struggle to hold your low breathing position if you are taking too long to inhale. You have a very short window of time to get that breath in. You want to use that window to inhale only. To do this, make sure you have sufficiently exhaled while your face is in the water. That way when your face comes out the water you only have to inhale (as opposed to exhaling first then inhaling) before it can return back down.

3. Start The Breath Earlier

Breathing late in the stroke will cause you to rush the breath and lead you to feel winded very quickly.

Your head should start to turn for the breath just after your fingers have entered the water. You rotate from the neck first and then the rotation of your shoulders will take over. As your arm extends out in front of your shoulder and your body rolls to the side your mouth will clear the water. Breathe in and then return your head down before you begin to pull back with the extended arm.

Freestyle Breath - Keep Your Head Low

Staying low to the water as you breathe will ensure that you carry your momentum from stroke to stroke. You’ll no longer take on water and you’ll stop feeling winded when you get the rhythm, timing and position of the breath right.

Have You Grabbed My Breathe Easy Guide? 

Put an end to your extreme urge to breathe – even if you can’t swim more than a lap right now...

Get The Guide Here

How To Use Your Arms To Swim More Efficiently

There’s one similarity that both you and the fastest swimmers in the world share.

A common factor that you, an Age Group Triathlete and the greatest Olympians have to deal with… Want to know what it is?

The speed and efficiency of your freestyle stroke is directly related to the length of your body.

Let Me Explain

The longer or taller you can make your body the better you will move through the water. Think of your body like a boat; long, narrow yachts move quicker than short wide barges. Right?

Let’s think about that for a minute… Who would win in a race, the yacht or the barge?

If the barge captain fires all his engines. Burns every bit of fuel he’s got, and gets a head start he might have a shot at beating the yacht. At least over a short distance. But if he’s using that much energy to generate speed, it’s not going to last long. Sooner or later the yacht’s efficiency will win.

Now ask yourself; when you hit the water in your next race, would you rather be a barge or a yacht?


The length of your body through the water plays a significant role in your speed and efficiency.

So how do we use this idea to help you swim faster for longer and still have the reserves to smash the bike and run?

Make Yourself Taller 

I admit, there’s not a whole lot you can do to change your actual height. But you can make a couple of small adjustments and cheat a little to make yourself tall and long in the water. Here’s how:

Swimming with good posture is your first priority.

Just like your middle school teacher used to harp on, posture is important. Standing with good posture vs slouching is better for your health and your appearance! As it does on land, lengthening your torso and straightening your back will make you taller in the water.

And once you have good posture?

You can cheat by including your arms! Make yourself taller in the water by lengthening the time your arms spend extended out in front of you.

How Do I Do That? 

I’m 187cm (6ft2) tall.

But if I raise my hands up above my head I add an extra 70cm+ to my total height.

If you add the length of your arms above your head you’re a longer, taller body moving through the water.

If your arms are not extended out in front of you, you are only as long or tall as your hight. So the longer you keep an arm extended above you as you swim the taller you are.

This Is Why Some Coaches Use Catch Up Drill

If you’ve been to a swim lesson or spent any time on YouTube no doubt you’re familiar with this drill. It is used to help teach you extend out in front.

To swim Catch Up Drill, you must wait for the recovering hand to touch the extended hand. Only once they touch can you pull through for your next stroke.

Touching your hand on every stroke gives you a physical cue telling your hand when to start the next stroke. This makes it easy to learn how to keep the arm extended out in front as well as the timing of when to pull through. Just wait until your hands touch!

While the drill teaches you to stay extended (which is what we want) it’s not a great way to swim freestyle. Why?

Because the wait disrupts the continuity of your stroke. It halts forward momentum.

While your lead arm waits for the recovering arm to enter and touch you STOP moving forward. This means you have to re-generate your speed from scratch with every pull.

You end up moving-stopping-moving-stopping-moving… Not economical at all.

It’s like city driving gas consumption in your car vs highway consumption. The stop-start driving in the city results in higher fuel consumption than continuous driving on the highway. Similarly the stop-start movement of catch up drill results in higher energy consumption.

This higher fuel consumption may come back to haunt you later in your race.

You may have better length length in your stroke by swimming with a catch up style. But if you have to re-generate your speed from scratch with every stroke you’ll be burning too much energy. It’s going to hurt more than it helps.

This is why I do not use Catch Up Drill unless we’re in extreme circumstances!

So How Do You Achieve That Long Stroke?

Enter Front Quadrant Freestyle.

Front Quadrant Freestyle takes the benefits of the Catch Up Drill without killing your momentum.

To swim Front Quadrant Freestyle; wait until the recovering arm has passed the line of your head before you start your pull.

You could say that Front Quadrant Freestyle is 3/4 Catch Up Stroke. Instead of waiting for your hands to touch before you pull back, you start when the recovering arm has just passed your head.

If filmed from above we want to see one hand/arm extended out in front of your head at any time in the stroke cycle. You must make sure the lead arm stays extended out front during the recovery of the other arm.


Notice how the lead arm disappears past the head before the recovering arm enters the water. This shortens the length of your body through the water and will slow you down.

Front Quadrant Freestyle

3/4 Is A Rough Guide

You can adjust the length of time you keep the lead arm extended based on:

  • The distance you’re swimming
  • Your speed
  • The water/weather conditions.

Long distance / Slow speed / Flat calm water = More Extension

Short distance / High Speed / Rough Water = Less Extension

In the pool, you have the opportunity to be patient with that lead arm. You can keep it extended and ride your line as long as it doesn’t kill your momentum.

What About Open Water?

In rough open water, the length of time you leave that arm extended out is potentially shorter.

Turnover is generally higher in rough water so you’re not going to have the same length to your stroke. You will spend less time in the extended position and pull through into your catch a little earlier.

Some Degree of Front Quadrant Freestyle

With the types of distances you will be swimming, you should always have an element of Front Quadrant Freestyle in your stroke. Regardless of the situation (distance/speed/conditions) you always want some part of one hand or arm extended out in front of your head at all times in the stroke.

It may not be the full arm, but some part of it should be stretched out to make you longer.

If it’s not you’re shortening your length slowing yourself down and risking shoulder injuries.

To help you conceptualize what I’m talking about, here is an exaggerated example of Front Quadrant Freestyle.

For demonstration purposes, it’s swum very slowly to help you pick up on exactly how I get more length.

This is not the speed at which I would train or race. But it does give you a good idea of how you can lengthen your body for better efficiency!

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