Is Open Water Swimming a Good Alternative to the Pool?

For swimmers who practice and compete in pools, getting away from the black line on the bottom of the pool might never have crossed their minds.

Over the past several decades, open water swimming (the practice of swimming in oceans, lakes and/or rivers) has gained popularity. The practice officially began in 1810 when Lord Byron swam several miles from the Dardanelles to Asia, and, in 1896, open water swimming made its first appearance in the modern Olympic Games (in Athens) with a 1500m swim. Since 2008, a 10k open water swim has been an officially sanctioned Olympic event


Embraced on a global level, open water-swimming events now take place everywhere from Istanbul to Copenhagen to Lake Zurich. Competition is fierce and swimmers brave a wide range of conditions to compete in events and claim bragging rights. Event distances range from 2.5K to the staggering 193K Eight Bridges Hudson River Swim, and require a great deal of training and planning in order to account for a wide range of possibilities.  


Getting ready for the race in Chicago at Ohio Beach, September 2016. (Photo by Mary Gebhart)


In Chicago, the Big Shoulders Open Water Classic has become a beloved tradition on the first Saturday after Labor Day. Founded in 1991 by the late Bill Mulliken, Olympic Gold Medal winner (’60 Rome breaststroke) as a fundraiser for the University of Illinois at Chicago swim team, Big Shoulders has grown to be one of the premier open-water races in the United States. The race is limited to 1200 registrants (800 for the 5K and 400 for the 2.5K), and every March registration closes earlier as swimmers log on and sign up to swim (in 2017 registration closed in just four hours).  

Most open water swimmers choose freestyle as their stroke because it allows them to sight the buoys or triangulate (looking for two aligned, easily visible objects behind the destination) when the race is a straight swim between start and end. The Big Shoulders swim is set up as a 2.5K course marked by four large buoys so that 5K swimmers take two trips around the course. The swimmers are assigned a swim cap color based on their entry times and are started in waves with the Elite 5K swimmers taking off at 8:00 am and ascending age groups following every four minutes until 8:28 am when the 46 & Over 2.5K swimmers start.

It’s a grueling course and it can be more than some swimmers can handle. Part of the challenge is the water. Lake Michigan temperatures can fluctuate widely and rapidly based on the changes in weather and wind. As a result, the rules for Big Shoulders state that if the water temperature drops to 60 degrees or below, all swimmers are required to wear wetsuits (however, as in competitive pool swimming, wearing a wetsuit disqualifies swimmers from posting any official open water swim times). More often than not, the water is warm enough for swimmers to skip the wetsuit, but occasionally swimmers will still find the water too cold and be unable to finish the race.


On the Big Shoulders Open Swim Classic course. September 2016. (Photo by Mary Gebhart)


This is when the race monitors and lifeguards are essential. Lifeguards are positioned at various points on the course in rowboats to help swimmers stay on course and to pull out anyone who can’t make it to the finish line. The race monitors circle the course in motorized boats ensuring that all swimmers stay outside the buoys, and picking up swimmers that can’t finish and depositing them near the beach.


At the end of the race, organizers award metals to the fastest swimmers in each group and host a huge barbeque on Ohio Beach!


By Mary Gebhart


Do you know how to condition your mind & body ?

When we train, we have to remember that there is more to it than just doing the routine. There are certain aspects of our being aside from our physical body that we have to consider conditioning. Our mind is a very powerful weapon that can be used even in training. Among many things, it controls our feelings, emotions, and perspectives.  Let’s take a look at what can help condition both your mind and body to help you get more out of your training, specifically for swimming.

The Body

While it is true that swimming has a lower impact on your body than other sports, this does not mean that your body needs less attention. Your body still gets tired. Swimming is highly recommended as it works on all aspects of your body but it still adds on a great amount of stress. A lot of athletes push themselves to the limit and use up a lot of that energy by training overtime with heavy workouts, putting themselves on a diet, and sacrificing hours that should be used for a bit of socializing. What do we do to refuel that energy? Refueling your energy and keeping yourself from being “burnt out” takes more than physical needs. What usually comes to mind is food, water and rest. While food can be perceived as a reward for your body, the mind is in control of the discipline. Your mind has to want to keep that discipline or else the urge to have extra junk food will kick in. Once your mind is conditioned for a proper diet you will notice that the cravings for unhealthy food will decrease.  Keeping yourself hydrated is very important. You’d be surprised at how many athletes forget to drink enough water. Water helps maintain strength and a clear mind. Make it a habit to drink water after a few laps until your body gets used to it. Resting is the easiest but not the least important. Without proper rest, it does not matter how good you are at keeping a diet. You have to get ample amount of sleep (usually set at 8 hours a day). Insufficient rest hinders the detoxification and repairing tissue damage in the body and your mind suffers too.  

The Mind

Stress takes a toll on both the mind and the body. Your mind and body tend to go into overdrive when you are stressed. Mental stress is seen having a greater effect on people than physical stress. This is because your mind is your processor. It controls your emotions and then your body reacts to it. Keeping a healthy, happy mind set will help keep you fully functional.  If you don’ beat your record today don’t stress out and train an extra hour. Explore a healthier mental approach. First, clear and ease your mind. Check yourself once in a while to make sure that there is a balance. Keep your mind and body clear from negativity. This way you can focus more on the goal at hand. Attracting negativity will only hinder you from what you want to achieve. Unwind by giving time to social activities. Being around your loved ones nourishes you and calms you on a deeper level. Relaxing is important too, so don’t sacrifice it. When you give yourself a good dose then you may revisit your workout and strategies to improve. Endurance does not come easy. Don’t be too serious about your training all the time. Swimming can also be similar to meditation. Studies show that being around the water has a powerful effect on the brain. It is said to make you happier, healthier, more connected to yourself, and rejuvenates a tired mind.

The Injuries

Being an athlete comes with physical and mental injuries from time to time. When struggling with a physical injury don’t brave it out and use the line “mind over matter”. In this case, if you don’t mind, it does matter. Tend to the pain and rehabilitate before continuing your work out. You might make things worse by ignoring it. Give your body some tender loving care from time to time. Same goes for dealing with problems that life throws at you. Deal with it before it eats you from the inside out.

Balance is the key. Being aware of your needs versus your wants can strengthen you and help you achieve your goal and sometimes even beyond what you expected.

The 50 Freestyle; Optimal Starts and Breathing

The 50 Freestyle is one of the most anticipated races in competition, it is the truest test of speed and puts a microscope on swimmers skills. A slight hesitation on a start, a poor turn or an extra breath can be the difference between gold and mediocrity. Although this is obvious it is unbelievable how many swimmers and coaches still believe a 50 is something you can’t really coach. I have heard coaches state, “It’s just a 50, go bash it out and try not to breathe too much”, and as a former sprinter this annoys me to no end. If you look at some of the truly great sprinters – yes they are over 6 foot, yes they are big and powerful but they are also technically very good swimmers. Anthony Ervin is a fantastic example of this, the Rio Olympic Champion was up against some huge powerful swimmers but stuck to his flawless technique and ultimately bested them when it mattered and at 36 years old no less.

How to calculate your start:

Training for a 50 freestyle exclusively is almost never the case, you will usually swim other events including 100 and 200’s of freestyle but within the training there should be some 50 specific work. Obviously starts are important for all races but for a 50 working in different length sprints and timing each of them can be a great advantage. Within a start there are many different options, how many underwater kicks is the main area I believe should be worked on. Timing splits to 10 and 15 yards with varying kick choices giving the athlete adequate rest between each can tell you how many kicks is optimal for each swimmer. A practice may look like this:
Sufficient warm up
3 x 10 yards with 4 under water kicks
3 x 10 yards with 3 under water kicks
3×15 yards with 4 under water kicks
3 x 15 yards with 3 under water kicks

This is a highly unique area as some swimmers will kick to 15 yards optimally and others it can be two kicks and up into their stroke for the best result, once you know the type of dive and number of kicks it should be practiced and practiced. It should be possible for the swimmer to complete the start, underwater phase, break-out and first few strokes with their eyes closed. Where swimmers fail is they change their start in every practice and then when they get to their races they are still unsure as to how to perform their optimal start. Throughout the season you can revisit this protocol and adapt their starts but until this is done it should remain the same.

Many swimmers through their season of training get reliant on breathing patterns. The most common is a swimmer breathing every stroke but any breathing pattern can become an issue in a 50 freestyle. For the best hand speed possible breathing should be limited yet rotation within the stroke should still be complete and this is where swimmers who rely on a breathing pattern to get that rotation struggle. Longer distance training for sprinters should include a lot of odd pattern breathing so their rotation stays even when breathing becomes limited. 200’s using a 3,5,7,3 or 3,5,7,9 by 50 breathing pattern is a way to include this. On top of this there should be a lot of sprinting preformed with limited breathing. Last season our team adopted 50’s with no breathing on lap 1 and 75’s with only 3 breathes per lap while sprinting and it worked excellently. Our sprinters firstly realized they did not need nearly as many breathes as they thought and also that the oxygen debt they incurred did not catch up to them during the race. This is where a 50 becomes so different, in a 100 free limiting breathing too much on the first half will dramatically affect the finish but a 50 can be completed by the right individual optimally with no breathing. Through my experience one to two breathes is usually optimal for most swimmers but these breathes should be pre planned. For example, one breathe at the flags on lap 1 and one breathe 4 strokes after the break out, after that second breathe the only thing in the swimmers mind should be holding prefect form and swimming through the wall. This can also be practiced even in lower level meets by the athlete, if they take one breathe and still feel gassed at the end they need to add in another somewhere. These are just two facets of the 50 but will help a swimmer feel more confident in what they are doing in this race, having a game-plan is key.

By Kevin Dickson

Are swim coaches allowed to be nice?

The feeling of my swimming bag, stuffed to bursting, hanging off my shoulders is one that still haunts me from time to time. I recallImage result for sad school child carrying backpacks swim walking from school to practice every Friday after I was finished at jazz choir rehearsals, often through a foot of snow, each step causing a feeling of dread to grow inside me. The burden of that bag and the equipment it contained wore on me a lot as a teenager. The sport took a lot from me but gave very little. No matter how hard I trained, I didn’t see results in competition. Our relationship was completely one-sided, and I had a hard time dealing with that. I missed out on having a normal social life, I had difficulty focusing on school work, and let’s face it – my hair will never be the same again.

I was the swimmer that all coaches have trouble with. Not only did I dread practices, I made it well known to my coaches and teammates. I was the type of swimmer that would just do whatever I wanted if I didn’t like the workout the coach had provided. Even worse, I often convinced teammates to join me. If I was feeling particularly disillusioned, I would sit out whole sets on the edge of the pool while my peers worked themselves to the bone. A combination of hindsight and over a decade of coaching have taught me a lot about how to handle this:

Don’t take it personally

A swimmer experiencing disillusionment in the sport will likely say things to coaches or teammates that are inappropriately negative. Keep in mind that these words are not personal, they’re a reflection of the athlete’s feelings about their swimming, not about you as a person.

Allow breaks

Image result for swim clock on wall at poolMost coaches hate this, but I allow my swimmers all the breaks they want. If they need six bathroom breaks just to get through a practice – go for it. I’d rather they take the five minute break to regroup and come back into the set refreshed than pound through every metre and hate every moment of it. Long-term athletes are happy athletes, so give them what they need to feel happy.

Find alternatives

I may have absolutely hated training from 2005-2008, but I have loved coaching from the moment I started in 2004. My coach clearly recognized a desire in me to lead and teach, so I was given the chance to work with our youngest development swimmers. That worked for me, and I‘ve seen other “future swimmers” find their happiness in leading stretching or activation, keeping club records, decorating the team bulletin board, or being responsible for the shared equipment. There is a way to increase engagement in athletes who have a foot out the door – get creative and find it!

Know when to call it

I sometimes reflect on my swimming career and wonder what more it would have taken to get kicked off the team. Part of me even wanted it, just so there was no possibility that I could go back. I quit three or four times in my high school years, but I always missed it, returned, and quit again. As a coach, your number one responsibility is to “Do No Harm.” When you have a swimmer on your team that is so unhappy they start behaving like I did, it’s important to have a conversation with them and their parents to discuss options. If swimming is decreasing an athlete’s quality of life, they need to stop swimming. As much as we all want to retain athletes, we can’t be selfish. Let them go, let them be happy.

I look back on those last few years in the sport with a great deal of regret and guilt. As a coach finishing up my 13th season on deck, I often see in swimmers the same qualities I had, and I feel terrible for having put my coaches through that turmoil. The thing is, I understand completely what they’re going through and I empathise. The coaches I had when I competed were all highly accomplished athletes and had little patience for anyone who didn’t share their passion wholeheartedly. Because I’ve felt the internal struggle that accompanies a decreased interest in swimming, I have been careful in recent years to be Image result for coach and swimmer talkingsupportive of athletes whom I notice are facing similar challenges I did. And for that reason, I advocate for a soft approach in coaching. We hear all the time that “tough love works,” but I know that for me, it didn’t. And so I implore you: BE SOFT.

From Sarah MacDonald

What awesome Life Lessons can you get from Swimming!

Participating in sports is one of the best ways to learn about yourself and life in general. In most sports, you get the chance to learn about teamwork, competition, success, and failure. But, swimming provides so many more lessons that can be used later in life. Unfortunately, these lessons will not help you get into your dream college or help you find that ideal job; but, you can use these lessons to succeed in whatever college you attend and whatever job you get. You can also use them in other areas of your life whether you are in the pool or not.


Patience pays off.

Anyone who is competitive knows that patience is difficult to manage. But, as with anything valuable, patience is important to value. If you want to be good at anything, you need to take time and work hard. The only way to do this is to be patient and move step-by-step through the process. Time can be frustrating, but there is nothing that can be done about it. Not every day will be perfect. Not every lap will be perfect. But, with patience, you can overlook those imperfections, because it is the long term success that matters.


Crawling before you can walk.

Babies do not walk before they roll over or crawl. The same goes for swimmers. You have to learn to maneuver in the pool before you can be a successful competitors. So, if you think you can win big races without taking the necessary steps to be a good swimmer first, you will not succeed. You have to practice paddling, kicking, breathing, turning, finishing, and so much more before you can even get into that first race. Otherwise, without the right practice steps, you cannot expect to do very well. If you are not willing to put in the effort, you will not get the rewards. So, if a baby does not want to learn to walk, he doesn’t have to practice.


Learn how it feels to lose.

This may not sound like a thing that anyone wants to do, but it can be liberating. Many people are afraid to lose and they do not know how to handle losses. But, if you learn how it feels to lose, you know what you never want to do again. There are some outstanding swimmers out there and they might practice more than you do, but once you feel the loss, you can make the decision about the rest of your practices and your effort. You can also learn how to stay calm in situations that hurt. It is so much better to be calm and thoughtful after a lose than to become violent and frustrated. In real life outside of the pool, you might not win everything, so learning to respond calmly to a loss will help you in many ways.


Perfection is impossible.

As humans, we might strive for perfection. But, as humans, we cannot achieve it. We have flaws and they will show up when we least want them – like during an important race. Remember than things will not always go perfectly and in the same way that you have to learn to lose, you have to learn to be imperfect. Because of this, you cannot base your reality on whether you are 100% awesomely perfect. Your self-esteem has to be based on your work ethic, rather than being perfect. Your self-esteem should be based on your goals, rather than the perfection of achieving them.


Being mentally tough is important.

Recovery from set backs, patience during hard work, and staying calm is mental toughness. Having this fortitude will help you succeed in the pool and out of the pool. While the physical fitness that comes with swimming is a fabulous reason to keep swimming, it is the mental toughness that really shows how much you have learned in those hundreds and thousands of hours and laps.


Do you know what the 5th stroke is?

Swimmers tend to think of their sport in simple terms: There are four different strokes, and each of those strokes is a combination of different kicks and pulls. We train the kicks, practice the pulls, and when we race we do them as fast as we can. There is, however, a common thread between the four strokes that is often overlooked: underwater fly kick.


Every push from the wall and every race start is followed by underwater fly kick. Even in breaststroke, swimmers get one underwater fly kick to help maintain speed through to their breakout. Why, then, is this crucial component of swimming left by the wayside? Why are we not spending the same amount of time on underwater fly kick that we are on the other four strokes, considering how often we use it?


Expectation vs. Reality

We fall into habits pretty easily. We snooze our alarms a particular number of times in the morning, we tie our shoes a certain way, and we swim the same way every practice. Habits can be great, but they can also be troublesome, especially if they’ come from a place of laziness. A lazy swimmer may do one or two underwater fly kicks off each wall, if any. They do them because they know they’re supposed to, but they don’t put much thought into it.


This is a problem because it separates expectation from reality. Coaches expect their athletes to perform a particular way in practice. At the beginning of each season, coaches try to get swimmers into good habits, like keeping their water bottle at the side of the pool and leaving their goggles on between sets. Coaches also expect athletes to be doing underwater fly kick off of each wall, but for some reason don’t spend much time teaching them how to do it well.


The reality is that swimmers don’t see underwater fly kick as an equally important part of their training compared to metres spent executing what’s written on the board. When coaches ask for freestyle, swimmers do freestyle. When coaches ask for 10 underwater fly kicks off each wall during a freestyle set, guess what happens? Coaches need to set clearer expectations for swimmers so that they can change the reality of their training.


Creating value for underwater fly kick

There’s no denying the science behind underwater fly kick. In streamline position with both legs kicking small and fast, it’s the quickest way to move through the water. We see this fact evidenced again and again when swimmers like Ryan Lochte and Ryan Hoffer use the skill to their advantage in major competitions like Speedo Junior Championships and the Olympics.


If that’s not enough evidence to get swimmers valuing underwater fly kick, consider that FINA allows 15 metres of underwater swimming in fly, back, and free. In a standard short course training pool, that means swimmers could potentially be underwater fly kicking more than “actually swimming.” If laziness is a component of habit development, this seems like a good way to incorporate it into training habits. Why swim more than you have to?


Finally, swimmers use it all the time! Swimming experts have been calling underwater fly kick “the fifth stroke” for years now because it’s such an important element of the sport. Consider the time and effort toddlers put into learning to walk; they fall, they cry, they get back up and keep going. After a while, walking becomes second nature to them, and they use that newfound skill for the rest of their lives. Underwater fly kick is like walking; swimmers use it to help get from point A to point B even if there’s something else used in the middle (much like walking to your car, driving to work, and walking to your destination from the parking lot).
In short, underwater fly kick is important. Swimmers need to understand its importance so that they appreciate how much it can help them in their training and racing, and coaches need to set clear expectations about how to use it. Athletes: be inspired to use this skill to your advantage, but know that you must train it just as you train your four strokes. Coaches: know that what you ask for is what you get, and ask your athletes to perform the way you want them to.

Why you Should do Strength training in the Off season.

Off season strength training; early season drilling

One of the best things that swimmers can do for themselves in the off-season is build their strength. There are plenty of exercises that can help build lean muscle so swimmers can get more power off of the blocks, length off of the turn, and speed out of each stroke. Since swimming uses all of the major muscle groups, so the suggested training exercises can be done in most gyms.


Warm Up and Get Organised

Prior to doing any type of strength training, it is always a good idea to warm up the body with something simple like riding a stationary bike. It is best to get at least 20 minutes of cardio warm-up in before you start lifting weights. It is also important not to overdue anything so you do not overwork your muscles. You are prepping for swimming, not body building. Many swimmers will use a notebook to keep track of their workouts in the weight room so they can be sure to use appropriate weights and recognise their gains.


Large Muscle Exercises

There are several exercises that are good for swimmers’ bodies. For the legs, some of the best choices include squats, leg presses, extensions, and curls. To get at the lats and other back muscles, rowing exercises like a seated row and the bent row, as well as the basic lat pull down and raise work well. As always, abdominal work with and without weights is always beneficial – especially when you get into the lower abs and obliques, too. For the arms, shoulder and bench presses are helpful and the classic dumbbell curl is a good choice.


Work Out at Home

On those days when you cannot get to the gym, there are several exercises that you can do at home to build strength. Dumbbell curls can always be done with soup cans or other weighted items. Abdominal work can always be done at home and so can any type of push up. You can also do any type of stretch as well as yoga work – since there are plenty of videos available for free online.


Get Back into the Pool

As soon as the early season drills get going, it is a good idea to get back into the pool and leave the weights behind for a while. When you start swimming, it is a good idea to focus on the technique. Since you have been building strength in the gym, you might notice some subtle differences in your stroke. Many swimmers in the early season will use paddles to keep building strength. Just like in the gym, it is always recommended to start with a warm up before you start doing any type of strength training in the pool.


Warm Ups and Start Swimming

 Start with stretches on the pool deck and, if you have a stationary bike nearby, take and 10 to 20 minute ride. Then, get in the pool and swim a few laps in freestyle until your body begins to feel like it is ready to start working harder. Since it is early in the season, it is helpful to take your time in the warm up and not push it too hard. When you first start to swim with paddles, you might enjoy adding fins to the drills. By taking the hard work of the legs out of the situation, you can really focus on the arms and upper body with the paddles. Then, to give the legs a good workout, ditch the fins and the paddles. Get a kick board out and start kicking. Of course, it is important to mindfully kick, noticing how your legs, core, and glutes are working as you move through the water.


Take Your Time in the Pool

Those early season drills should work on getting your strokes under control and getting your body stretched out. In the earliest part of the season, take your time getting back to your full speed in the pool, especially after spending the off-season in the off-season.

6 awesome reasons why you need to do backstroke.

Backstroke is one of the most under appreciated swimming strokes. Most people spend their training sessions working with freestyle because it is the preferred stroke in most races. Freestyle swimming is a good stroke to use to build strength and endurance in the pool. If you specialize in a stroke, like backstroke, breaststroke, or butterfly, you will work on that stroke during your training. But most of your work will still be with freestyle. Interestingly, it is a good idea for every swimmer to include some backstroke work in every training session – even if you never swim backstroke in competitive events.


Avoid Repetitive Use Injuries

One of the most common problems that athletes experience are repetitive use injuries. These happen when athletes only work on one skill. So, athletes who play baseball often develop overuse injuries to their shoulders and elbows because they only throw with one hand. Swimmers who only swim with their faces down in the water can actually develop overuse injuries, too.


Use Complementary Muscles

Backstroke can take care of overuse issues. Because backstroke uses muscles in a different way that freestyle does, overuse gets reversed. When people swim backstroke, the chest muscles get to open up as the back does more work. During backstroke, the shoulders end up in a helpful position for improving posture – the shoulders are back and the belly is engaged. Doing backstroke on a regular basis can also reverse the pain that can develop in the neck and shoulders from arching over a computer screen.


Strengthening the Core

Another benefit of swimming backstroke regularly is the work it does on the core. The slight hip rotation helps to strengthen the core in a way the other strokes do not. The kicks also help with the core because they activate small muscles in the lower back. You might start to notice your oblique muscles getting stronger as you continue to practice this stroke.


Use with Running and High Impact Sports

Cross-training is another way to avoid overuse injuries. For people who do other athletic activities that involve high-impact, swimming will help reduce the negative effects that come from pounding hard into the ground. Runners, especially, can benefit from any type of swimming, but backstroke is the most therapeutic. Swimming backstroke gives the feet a break while focusing on the glutes and legs. The water provides resistance and lets the body heal from all of that impact. Because backstroke is done in such an unconventional way (there are very few exercises that are performed on the back), it is the perfect cross-training option for nearly every athlete.


Build Balance

Balance is the key to success in nearly every exercise routine. No one wants to suffer from overuse pains. Since most swimmers do spend the majority of their time facing down in the pool, backstroke is about the only complementary activity that can help instead of hurt them. Of course, swimmers can add weightlifting and running to their cross-training plan, but backstroke is the only activity that can be done with little-to-no risk of further injury. Mixing up your laps can actually improve your dominant stroke because you work more muscles – especially opposite muscles. If you are unsure of how to add backstroke, try using it as a cool down stroke. Take a slow and steady, so you can really focus on the muscle activity during the stroke.


Develop Different Muscles

You will also notice that backstroke work helps you in other non-swimming exercises. Since many competitive swimmers spend time in the weight room, they will see the benefits of backstroke on their upper body. Backstroke is one of the few strokes where the arm can fully extend. This helps build strength in the upper body and the bicep muscles. You will also see the triceps get stronger, too. You will have more flexibility in the weight room and in your neck and spine.

How to Make Breaststroke Your Best Stroke


Of the four competitive strokes, breaststroke is the most unique. Unlike the other three, it is swum entirely underwater and requires swimmers to break their streamline over and over again to propel themselves forward. By focusing on preserving the streamline through all the phases of the stroke, breaststroke can easily go from being your worst stroke to your best.


Why swim more than you have to? The easiest way to preserve your streamline is during your push-off. Hold your streamline until you begin to lose momentum, then initiate your fly kick and pullout, making sure to keep your body position the same throughout. Hold this final glide until your momentum slows again, then move into your breakout.

How to train it: Double your pullouts off of each wall, and focus on keeping your eyes locked on the bottom of the pool. Prove to yourself that it works by trying a few pullouts wherein you lift or lower your head halfway through the glide and compare results!


A lot of efficiency is lost during the breakout when swimmers recover their arms underwater without thinking about preserving their streamline. Rather than dragging your bent arms through the water beside your torso, sneak your arms underneath your chest by crossing your forearms and pushing your hands forwards into your streamline. Adam Peaty (GBR) was seen doing this during the 2016 Rio Olympics, and we all know how it worked out for him!

How to train it: Do it on deck! Stand in your tallest streamline, pull your arms down to your sides and mime a fly kick, then initiate a breaststroke kick as you “hug” yourself while stretching your arms back up to streamline. Then, go do it in the pool.


Believe it or not, breaststroke kick can be made more efficient. Preserve your streamline by keeping your knees aligned behind your hips; the angle between your torso and thighs should be no less than 120 degrees. Think about bringing your heels up to your buttocks with your ankles flexed and toes outwards, then push back and down to propel your body forwards. This kick is much more narrow, reducing drag and allowing swimmers to maintain a more streamlined position in the water.

How to train it: You’re going to get up close and personal with the wall, that’s how! Get in the water, place your chest and legs against the pool wall and rest your hands on the deck. Practice bring your heels up to your hips without poking your knees into the wall, and kick! To challenge yourself, try to kick hard enough to get your chest out of the water, then finish with a push-up.


Finally, your pull can be a major player in a more efficient breaststroke. A common mistake swimmers make is taking their outsweep wider than their shoulders and pulling their hands underneath their chin before recovering into streamline. Preserving streamline means keeping all motions within the line of the body, so it would serve you better to outsweep to shoulder width, keep the elbows high, and pull the hands down only until they are perpendicular to the pool bottom before recovering into streamline.

How to train it: Sculling. Lots of sculling. Put on your snorkel, stretch your arms out in front of you, and take a look at how wide you sweep your hands outwards. Make sure that you have your arms rotated so that your elbows are at the surface and your fingers are angled downward, then switch to full breaststroke pulls. Palms should face outward during outsweep, towards you during during the pull, and at the bottom during recovery.

There you have it: four simple ways to make breaststroke your best stroke, all by preserving your streamline in every move you make. If any aspect of your stroke feels too wide, it probably is. Breaststroke is all about being as narrow and flat as possible to ensure that all movements produce forward momentum, so think “streamline” all the time.

From Sarah MacDonald

If you want more content like this then sign up for our


featuring articles like these and more

and Email “I’m in” to

Can Two Weeks Off Swimming be Good or Bad?

There are going to be moments when you simply need a break. When you feel like you can’t stand the sight of water or when you can’t stand the smell of chlorine. If you need the time off, take it. But, try not to stay away from the pool for more than two weeks.



Subtle Changes After a Two-Week Holiday

After a two-week hiatus from the pool, you will (hopefully) feel a renewed desire to get back in the water. But, you might notice a few subtle changes. Fortunately, recovery from the two-week break will not take long. The longer you stay away from the pool, the longer it will take to get back to the level of fitness you are accustomed to having.

First, after two weeks, you might find that you get a tired a little faster than usual the first few times you get in the pool. This might make you discouraged. You cannot let that happen. As a swimmer, you know that swimming is a mental and physical exercise. The only way to improve is to just keep swimming.


Time Off Can Help

Even if this sounds discouraging, it can be important to take time off. There are moments when the body really does need to rest, this is why sports have off-seasons. If you are swimming four or more times per week, every week, without a break – you are due for one. The mind also needs a break from all of that work. If you have been swimming that often, your body will not fall apart or get flabby after a two-week break. In fact, you might find that you swim better after the short holiday.



Endurance Weakens Slightly

Some swimmers notice that their aerobic endurance weakens slightly when they return to the pool. If this is the case, just keep swimming because your endurance will pick back up after a few workouts. Some swimmers notice a reduction of endurance up to 20% after two weeks of rest. You might have to start slowly when you get back into the pool, but it won’t take long to get back to where you want to be.


Negligible Strength Differences

On a positive note, your strength will not decrease to a noticeable difference. Younger swimmers will not notice much of a difference in muscle tone, but older swimmers might. Since swimming is an endurance exercise, muscle tone should not change much since most swimmers have lean muscles rather than bulky ones. It should take more than eight weeks away from swimming before any change in muscle tone becomes visibly noticeable. Again, if you feel weak when you first get back into the pool, it’s ok. Your body and mind need to get reacquainted when it comes to swimming and coordination, but the whole process of getting back to your regular strength won’t take very long.


Swimming Will Feel Good Again

If you have been training in the pool for a long time, your will most likely notice that you have taken some time off – but it might not be very evident. If you are not a regular swimmer, you might not notice right away. The big difference will show up in the pool after the hiatus. The fit swimmer will get back to normal quickly, whereas the occasional swimmer will need to swim more to get back to normal. Those losses will plateau and then even out, so the recovery will not take long.


In order to get back to normal, it is helpful to do some high-intensity interval workouts in the pool. With quick bursts and minimal rests, your aerobic endurance will improve dramatically. After two weeks off, it will feel good to get the heart rate going and the water moving. Use paddles, kickboards, and pull-buoys to get the muscles working hard.