Swimming with dolphins at Williamstown Beach, Melbourne

There have been more dolphins at Williamstown Beach this autumn and winter than I have seen before. And what happened yesterday has never happened to me before.

So what has happened was – Rick and I were swimming quite quickly when I saw a little dolphin swim underneath us – the tail was flat not a vertical sharky tail.

I looked around and saw a couple of big dolphins bobbing up and down next to us. As soon as I got near a no-boating marker, I stood up on its ledge to look around. Then it became clear that we were surrounded by dolphins. There were about 20 and they wanted to say hello. So I cleaned the goggles and tried to duck dive underwater and swim around with the dolphins.

They were in no hurry to leave us and it all happened very close to shore.

Dolphins in Port Phillip Bay are a separate species called Burrunan Dolphins and are under threat. There’s said to be about 120 left in the bay and a smaller number in Gippsland Lakes.

Burrunan dolphins have white markings on their tummy.

Wakey wakey – are you a snaky swimmer?

“I’m raising awareness about Swim Self-Delusion-itis. You could have it now and not even realise.”

You might not even realise that you’re snaking your way down the pool or through the open water. This is one of those bad technique habits you can get into without even knowing you’re doing it. 

Is everything just a bit difficult? Are you looking up at the sky when you turn to inhale? Are you swimming off in an unpredictable direction in the open water? Are you trying really hard but not really improving as much as you’d like? Is there lots of splashing and moving and not enough gliding and sliding through the water?

Right now, you’re probably saying: NO this doesn’t apply to me. But how would you know?

You most probably don’t even know that you’re rolling around too far and not keeping your hips steady. You might be bringing your arms under your body in an S-shaped pull and that will lead to over correcting, sinking and not enough strength pushing you forward.  

You might be creating a lot of resistance through the water and don’t even realise how good it can feel when you get things right.

You’re probably also be doing a big scissor kick if you are a snaky swimmer, especially on the stroke when you are turning to inhale.  This is part of the over-correction and balancing act that snaky swimmers have to perform to stay traveling in a straight direction. 

Video is the best friend of the snaky swimmer and the enemy of Swim Self-Delusion-itis, a serious condition impacting millions of people around the world. I’m raising awareness about Swim Self-Delusion-itis because this huge problem can affect even the most confident swimmers. You may not know you have it right now.

So please, get it checked out. A friend watching on poolside might be able to tell you, or show you with a simple video on their phone. A coach is best placed (of course) to give you advice and analyse your technique. But left undiagnosed, this condition can worsen so don’t put your head in the sand and pretend that it can’t affect you.

Being a rolly and snaky swimmer is best diagnosed with video because, when told about it, most swimmers flatly deny it..  

“I am staying firm in my core.” 

“I am reaching out straight, I’m pulling through straight.” 

“My legs are straight and my kick is small and steady.” 

Sure. Sure. sure. Let’s fix you up Snaky. 

First: Swim down the centre of a pool lane with the line underneath you. Make sure you keep your hands well wide of the line through the entire 360-degree cycle of each arm stroke. That means your hand will never break your view of the line. 

Your hands need to point to 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock upon entry. Your shoulders are wider you’re your eyes so you might think you are reaching straight in front of you when you are clearly coming in close to your body’s centre line. 

Second: Do some kicking practice. This is important but you probably don’t want to hear it. I don’t like saying it. You don’t need a board, just kick for a few laps. Keep your kicks small, and your legs straight from the hips down to the toes. Practice a fast furious kick and a slower more deliberate kick that still keeps you moving forward. 

Third: Buy borrow or steal a swimmer’s training snorkel – This will really help you develop a nice balanced stroke technique.  

Try these drills: 

The Swordfish – kicking for three strokes on each side is a good one for this. Like all drills it exaggerates the movements we need to develop the good steady core technique that stops snaking. 

The John Travolta Stayin Alive drill – that means both your arms should be straight at one point in the stroke cycle. One arm reaching forward to 11 o’clock and one arm reaching back, down near your hips pointing at 5 o’clock. 

One arm freestyle – Hold one arm out in front perfectly straight and complete a whole lap of freestyle with one arm. This helps you develop balance and core strength when you need it – during the pull phase. You should be able to swim straight even using just one arm.

Ten tips to build your aerobic capacity

Do you lose your breath and get ‘puffed out’ after swimming just a short distance?  Do you want to be able to go further than you have gone before – not just while swimming but during all physical activities?

Or maybe, like a lot of athletes, you can run or bike for an hour, non-stop, but you can’t swim for more than a minute or two without needing a rest?  You’re not actually tired, you don’t have muscle burn, you’re just ‘puffed out.’ 

More than other sports and physical activities, you need to develop excellent aerobic / lung capacity for endurance swimming. And using swimming to develop aerobic capacity – the ability of the lungs and body to absorb oxygen and transport it to your muscles quickly – will help in other activities.

You build aerobic capacity by swimming long distances but this is difficult when you have to keep stopping. Swimming only works as a fitness activity when you have developed good aerobic capacity. You can speed up the process by trying these ten aerobic training tips. Some may not apply to you but at least some will definitely be worthwhile thinking about and trying: 

  1. First – go back to basics. Every now and then playa round in the water, diving down, blowing bubbles. Forget about inhaling. Your body knows how to do it without thinking. Just make sure you are breathing in deeply and quickly when you do emerge to get air.
  2. Exhale and relax – You only need to consciously think about getting your exhale correct. But are you actually thinking about it? Or are you focused on: ‘When am I breathing in again?’ Sit on the bottom of the pool or sea and exhale. When you have no air left in your lungs, stay down for a few seconds before coming up – to reprogram your body to not to be impatient about inhaling. 
  3. Once you can breathe out a steady stream of small bubbles for ten seconds, then make sure you can emerge to quickly breathe in and submerge again and repeat the ten second exhale. Just because you can do it once doesn’t really count. You have to be able to come up for air and go back down again, sit on the bottom again and make your exhale last ten seconds again. And again. And again.  
  4. Master bi-lateral breathing. Breathing on both sides means you have more control, more confidence and more choice about when you breathe. There’s no reason why you can’t inhale on both sides of your body while swimming, except in your head. Your head controls your body and all its movements. Take control.
  5. Keep your head down and exhale for three freestyle strokes for four full 25m laps. Then try going for five strokes, then seven strokes. This is difficult. Try swimming a whole 25m lap with no inhaling. The longer you can go without breathing in the better you are getting at using the oxygen you have in your lungs already. Don’t overdo this. Don’t get light-headed. 
  6. Even when you are doing a lot of strokes without inhaling, avoid holding your breath as much as possible. When your head is in the water, you need to be exhaling as much as possible – so a long slow steady stream of bubbles from your nose (mainly) is the key to all this. 
  7. In the open water the general rule is we inhale more often than in the pool but we need to be more confident about our aerobic capacity in the choppy sea than in the flat calm pool. If you want to swim in the open water, these skills are twice as important for you. Don’t breathe everything out, keep a little air in your lungs when swimming in the open water. But be able to keep your head down if needed.
  8. Swimming fast in intervals with an elevated heart rate will build your aerobic capacity a lot faster than long slow swims – but you won’t feel it initially because you’ll be having interval breaks. Keep an eye on the timing clock – improvement is incremental so may not notice without checking your times. But most importantly, occasionally go for a long swim – longer than you think you can manage and you will surprise yourself. You may have developed good aerobic capacity without really testing it out. Then you’ll really be getting fit, feeling the muscle burn because you’re at the edge of your aerobic system’s ability to supply the muscles and your anaerobic system is taking over. 
  9. There’s a wall in swimming similar to The Wall you hit when going for a long run. It can be harder to just push through it in swimming (without stopping) because, you know, you’re in the water and you want to keep moving and not drown. That wall will dissipate (have faith in yourself) and keep going. When you are puffed out, your anaerobic system is ready to take over.  
  10. The better you get at all this, the better you’ll be at all aerobic sports and activities, not just swimming. Developing your lung capacity with these swimming exercises will make you a better runner, cyclist, sportsperson and human person. Swimming is the best way to build your aerobic capacity. Once that’s done your body starts to build strength and anaerobic ability itself when you workout. All sportspeople, footy players, netballers, runners, cyclists, couch potatoes, armchair experts etc, should be going for a regular swim and they will, after the Coach Jason revolution, when it will be mandatory.

I swim a lot … but I’m not getting faster …?

Ten tips to beat The Swimmer’s Plateau

Do you swim a lot but have stopped improving? You’re no longer getting faster?

This is a common issue for swimmers of all levels of ability – learners, people who are training for an event and elite competitive swimmer – and is called The Plateau.

Even elite swimmers can hit The Plateau and despite training for hours each day, they are not recording faster times, sometimes they are even getting slower times than they have done in the past.

The solution is not training more. The solution is to train differently, even just small changes can bust The Plateau and get you improving again.

If you aren’t getting fast anymore, despite lots of swimming metres and hours, think about these ten tips to beat The Plateau:

  1. Make sure you are having fun: Swimming is fun, that’s just science. Swimming only works if you’re having fun. Moving fast through the water, diving in, feeling strong in the water. These are all 100% enjoyable. If you have hit The Plateau go back to doing the stuff that drew you to the water in the first place and have a bit of fun every time you dive in. Don’t get out of the water if you’re not smiling and feeling amazing.
  2. Ask someone to watch you: A coach or an experienced swimmer may be able to see something small that you can improve to help you through The Plateau. You might be making a small mistake, every stroke that is keeping you from improving. The trick then is to act on the advice and feel the difference.
  3. Change things: Change the way you train. Go to a different venue. Complete a different set of reps. Swim for longer reps, or shorter sprints. Do more backstroke, breaststroke or some stroke that you rarely use.
  4. Be Patient: Think positively and stay conscious and in charge of your body every single stroke. If you are just going through the motions, you are not maximising your potential to swim well and swim effectively. Every single movement of every part of your body is important. Feel your way through and stay attuned to how your body is moving through the water.
  5. Go to the physio: If you have aches and pains and niggling little shoulder injuries, go and get help, get a massage, get fixed up. Little aches and pains might disappear from your conscious mind when you’re swimming but they don’t go away and could be impacting on how you move.
  6. Do some dryland training: Change things up a bit and move your body in different ways. This can help you get out of the rut and break through The Plateau. Go running, cycling or head to the gym.
  7. Use some swim gear – Fins (flippers, paddles, snorkel) to get you moving differently and using your systems more effectively. What is really happening is you are focussed and making more of an effort with specific muscle systems.
  8. Just do sprints – Do some sessions of short sharp superfast sprinting. Maybe you have adjusted t the hard endurance training and the long-distance reps. Break through The Plateau by just going flat out.
  9. Swim with friends: Ask a friend to come train with you or find a group to swim with. Sometimes we hit The Plateau because we have made our swimming a isolated, lonely activity. Make it a social exercise and don’t be concerned if you are not as fast as other people.
  10. Take a rest: have a rest week away from the pool or the open water and get recharged and reenergised. Maybe you’ve been pushing it too hard. During your week off, do plenty of stretching and other activities.
Photo by Jennifer Polanco on Pexels.com

Living, and swimming, with MS (Multiple Sclerosis)

By Belinda Rogers

I have been living with Multiple Sclerosis for nearly 20 years now and although it has been life changing, I’ve made sure it hasn’t been life destroying.

My life is happy and active, even though I am now a full-time wheelchair user. I find it is less the MS that restricts me and more the obstacles that our society throws in my way that makes my life difficult. With the right equipment and support and true accessibility in our communities there is very little that I can’t do and enjoy.

And this is where MS Australia does so much excellent work in supporting people living with the disease, their carers and supporters, and in doing amazing research into the disease. Without MS working tirelessly on our behalf educating and advocating for us, life would be much harder for me and all the many others living with MS.

LINK: What is MS?


I love swimming and heading to the beach for the day. With more and more beaches rolling out accessible wheelchair beach matting and having beach wheelchairs available for use, this is easier and easier for me to do.

Accessible Beaches Australia has a directory of beaches near you that wheelchair users and people living with mobility challenges can access.

With the right wheelchair I can go bushwalking and spend the day out and about exploring with my dog. I have a wheelchair modified vehicle so I can retain my independence and make the most of going to new places.

Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels.com


Just before Covid hit I was fortunate enough to win one of the MS Go For Gold Scholarships which enabled me to achieve a long held dream and do a self drive holiday for a month through the UK. And it was through the generosity of sponsors of the MS Mega Swim, amongst other fund raisers, that the Scholarship is made possible to so many of us each year.

MS hasn’t ruined my life, but it isn’t all adventures and excitement either. There are many days when I am laid low by crippling fatigue and pain, unable to move because of agonising muscle spasms or even unable to eat because of lancing facial nerve pain.

And there are the indignities of bladder problems as well to deal with. But again, MS Australia is invaluable in the support they offer with their MS Connect phone service. Any time you ring, you’re able to speak with a knowledgeable and compassionate person to guide you through the tougher times.

The MS Employment team is also available with excellent advice to help you navigate your rights at work and to help you keep working as long as you want to. I worked continuously from the time of diagnosis until retirement a couple of months ago.

Without the organisation behind me, the last twenty years would have been so much harder. But with MS working in partnership with me on my journey,  living with the disease has been less devastating than it could have been.

Please, consider making a small (or not so small) donation to our MS Mega Swim fundraiser. Our club, Melbourne Open Water Swimming Club, is participating in the MS Mega Swim 18-19 February 2022 to raise $$ and awareness to assist people like Belinda who are living with MS.

Click through to our MS Mega Swim page and give a little so people with MS can fully participate in activities many people take for granted…

Swimming – It’s a brain exercise

Sometimes swimming can make me feel really dumb. We think swimming is a great physical exercise and will make us really fit, right? But yes and no to that idea….

Because only people who can do it fairly well can get fit from swimming. The rest can’t get their breathing and rhythm together long enough to get fit.

Freestyle swimming (and the other strokes) is a brain exercise, a mental puzzle that you FAIL if you don’t stay focused and consciously thinking all the time. 

The puzzle is that your body must be in the high floating buoyant position to start with – that’s takes skill and an experience of your own centre of buoyancy. Then you have to master your breathing. Then all your body’s limbs and levers have to do what you tell them, when they’re told and while you monitor how they are doing it and you must be able to adjust with small movements and modifications as necessary. 

Even experienced swimmers can fall into the trap of ‘going through the motions’ and not concentrating on what they are doing. That’s when they FAIL at swimming.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

You need to mentally solve the puzzle to make it work for you. So here’s some mental tricks – some questions to ask yourself – that will change the way you manage your own body when you’re swimming. Get back in charge by thinking your way through it. 

  1. Freestyle is not arm strokes 

You might have heard the freestyle swim style called ‘overarm’ or ‘crawl.’ 

Stop thinking of freestyle as a cycle of arms – stroke after arm stroke. Just think about the stretch forward. Think about freestyle as just a stretch and pull. Forget about strokes and think stretch forward while you pull back with the other arm. 

Look forward to that reach forward because this is the fun gliding part of swimming freestyle, the rest is work. If you think of freestyle as an endless process of one arm stroke then next arm stroke etc you risk losing focus. Then you will run out breath for sure. 

  1. You don’t need air 

Breathing is important but try forgetting about it and you’ll swim easier. Think of it as unimportant, even though. in distance freestyle, you actually need more air so you probably will inhale every stroke cycle – so every right arm or every left arm and that’s OK.

BUT you can’t let it dominate your thinking. You have be confident both in your ability to breathe and confident in your ability to go for a few seconds without breathing. 

So – focus on exhaling. Forget about inhaling. Get your exhale long, steady and in control, then your inhaling will largely look after itself. The best way to exhale is via a steady stream of small bubbles out of your nose. The best way to inhale while swimming is via a large, deep, quick breath in through your mouth. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
  1. Breathing and bubbles.  

If you are losing your timing or losing your breath, choose one side to be your favoured side for breathing and stick to it. Then look at your hands and label one hand the hand you move when breathing and the other hand is the hand that is stroking while blow bubbles. One hand/arm for breathing and one for bubbles. Breathing and bubbles. When you’re getting anxious or really pushing yourself in a swim, you fall back to calling your hands Breathing and Bubbles. This reminds your brain that you are soon going to inhale and to stop worrying. 

  1. Kick or don’t kick, make up your mind. 

I’ve written about kicking a lot over the years and I’ve coached a lot of swimmers with a bad kick and plenty with great ability to kick. Good swimmers can either kick very well, probably from a childhood spent in swim squad, or they hardly kick at all. Bad swimmers always think they are kicking but are probably just wriggling their legs around or making a cycling type of motion. That means a lot of splashing and movement without getting much go-forward at all.  

Kicking is a cardio activity so use it sparingly or not at all if you want to conserve energy over a long distance. Don’t fool yourself, if you don’t have a good kick, stop moving your legs around. Can you actually stop kicking? Do you have control over your legs or are they just moving out of habit? 

  1. It’s your body, so take control. 

Can you order your arms to do what you want them to do? And when to do it? What about your legs? Really?

Many swimming drills, like catch-up, 1-arm freestyle and others, are mostly about making you, your brain, take control of your body, your legs, your arms. If you can’t do the full range of swimming drills and skill exercises you are not in full control of your body. Everyone is either left or right brained. Everyone is better at controlling and working on the right or the left side of their body. But in swimming everything has to be balanced. You have to be able do exactly the same movements with the same strength on both left and right side.  

That’s one part of it but there’s more. You have to be able to tell your body when to move and when not to move. Sounds easy right? Most people can’t do it. Swimmers can do it. A good swimmer’s arms and legs never fall into an automatic cycle of actions, they are always in active control. 

Did you know that your arms and legs don’t have their own brains? Yes it’s true, that’s just science so they can’t be trusted with ‘muscle memory’ to get the job done correctly every time without you in control. 

Do exercises like catch-up, fingerdrag and one-arm freestyle regularly as a way of telling your body that you are in charge.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Yes children can learn to swim in the sea

What is old is new again and there’s nothing older than kids learning to swim in the open water. For generations parents have taken their kids to the local pool for swimming lessons. Now the outside open air, the space, social distance and the healthy salt water are appealing to parents looking for swim lessons for their kids.

And the kids are loving it.

Children who learn to swim in the sea are not fazed by the smallest wave, seaweed or jellyfish. They learn to love the outdoors and be a just a bit more resilient to the challenges of the natural environment. Very soon, after just a few lessons, the kids are asking when can we go back to the beach for swimming?

Learning swim skills in the open water

Relaxing and enjoying yourself is the number one item on the learn to swim agenda. Swimming only really works when you aren’t freaking out, scared or panicking. So learning to love the beach and all the flora and fauna is important.

Human bodies float just a bit easier in the salt water so getting that all-important high horizontal body position is just a bit quicker for the children swimming in the sea. You have to be able to float before you can swim so this step is achieved faster in the ocean than in a pool.

Blowing bubbles under the water is the next step and this means learning to live with a bit of water occasionally getting in the nose and mouth. For kids who are sensitive to chemicals like chlorine this can be an issue. But the salt water is healthy and getting used to sea water in and around your face is important for water safety. If you fall off a boat or jetty, you want to be confident of being able to swim back, not in shock from the strange feeling of water on your face.

At Williamstown Beach we set up floating marker buoys for the kids to swim around, so we can do ‘laps’ just like at the pool.

In addition to freestyle we teach breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, survival backstroke, sidestroke, swimming under the water and treading water.

But more than that – in the sea we can teach straight swimming and group swimming more easily from the beginning, while kids are still developing their stroke technique. We also teach sighting, surfing, diving under waves and dealing with the chop and rough water. Kids learn about currents, rips, tides and sea creatures.

In just a few classes kids who have never before been comfortable in the open water are loving the whole experience and they are already showing signs of more resilience.

Even small kids learning the basics can do it in the sea. We are teaching kids as young as 6 in groups at the beach. These kids will enjoy the water for a lifetime. They are learning to love the great outdoors and be safe at the beach.

If you are interested in your kids learning to swim at the beach, follow this link to our booking page for information about our Junior Dolphins for under 10s and Junior Dolphins LEVEL UP for Over 10s groups.

How to swim in rough water

This post is five tips for swimming in rough water

by Coach of Open Water Swimmers Jason Bryce

You can swim in the pool but when you get to the sea, woah! It’s a different story. You look out from the beach and there are waves, it’s choppy, you can see the wind is pushing the water into currents and you wonder how you’re going to be able to deal with that. If you don’t think these things, then you’re in danger of being just way too overconfident and ignoring the reality of swimming in the sea.

It’s harder, challenging,  more of a workout, there’s risk – and it’s heaps more fun when you get confident.

First of all everything you learn about good freestyle and practice at the pool is tested in the open water but everything you learn about freestyle has to be put into practice in the sea.

When the water is moving around and the waves are crashing into your face, yes things are going to be messy but the more you can keep your technique tight, the better, faster and easier things will be.

Here are five things to work on to make open water swimming in the rough water a bit more manageable:

9am OWS Skills group
  1. Some stretching before you dive in is advisable because you may have to deal with forces that push and pull you around in ways that you don’t normally deal with. You’re going to be arching your back more than usual to see where you’re going and you may have to lift your head higher to breathe in, so stretch your back and move your neck around a bit. Your elbows need to higher in the rough water to clear the waves, so stretch those arms behind your back or hold your elbow behind your head.
  2. You need a higher stroke rate than normal. And you need to kick more than you might otherwise in smooth calm conditions. An you have to make sure that you never, ever stop kicking. You have to keep moving forward and in charge of your own direction. Keep your speed up and don’t settle for bobbing around in the water like a cork because that means a loss of control and could make you a bit seasick as well. So yes, when you start an open water swim in rough conditions you know you are going to be getting more of a workout and you’ll be using more energy.
  3. Focus on your technique and trying to do everything (as much as possible) correctly. Sometimes swimmers say things like: “You just have to crash and bash your way through.” But that is understating what they themselves are doing. They are staying strong in their core and maintaining a stable platform for their levers to operate effectively. Yes sometimes you will crash through a wave and sometimes the wave will roll over you completely but whatever happens you have to remain long, straight and ready to start your next stroke and keep kicking. Keep your legs close together while kicking, don’t do big kicks, keep them relatively small and fast. Hold your body as still as possible. The idea is to cut through the water, the chop and the waves, not get thrown around by them. So that means a you need a nice tight straight body position, not a loose core that’s not supporting your arm movements and kick.
  4. Each arm stroke needs to enter the water with intent. Your arm recovery (when it is in the air moving back to the front) has to be quick, real quick. Spear your fingers in first, followed by your arm and grab the water nice and high, way out in front of you. A faster stroke rate doesn’t mean missing out on a powerful catch at the start of every stroke. This is the most important part of the freestyle. You need to be powerful at the front of every freestyle arm stroke, Push forward with hand after entering the water then use plenty of effort to grab the water with your wrist, hold your elbow high and pull through with real muscle strength from biceps, back, shoulders and triceps.
  5. Breathe in more often, even every arm stroke. You don’t want to be worried about your breathing and you don’t want to left with no air so breathe more often. You can make this part of a really strong freestyle if you focus on pulling hard and straight with the arm that strokes while your head is down. As long as you keep things even, balanced and straight,  this galloping style of freestyle can work for you in the sea.

How to train for open water swimming events

How do you train for an open water swimming event or the swim leg of a triathlon?

There is a lot of similarities in training for open water swimming and training for distance freestyle like 800m or 1500m events but, of course, we are adding on the challenges of the ocean or a lake. 

So first, you need to take it seriously (and still have fun taking it seriously).

That means you go for a swim, in the pool or open water, no less than three times per week. And you should be working up to swimming at least 2km each time you swim. And that’s 2km of quality swimming, pushing yourself and raising your heartbeat. If your heart rate is not elevated, you are not training, you’re just moving your body (which is good) but you’re not getting much stronger, fitter and ready for a big event.

Second: Training for distance doesn’t mean just going for a long swim. Do intervals of fast swimming as well as a long weekly swim. A good schedule might be two hard training sessions plus one long swim per week (minimum). And of course this is a minimum, the more swimming you do the better.

Here is a sample pool training program for distance freestyle and open water swimming:


Warm Up – 20 secs rest between reps

400m slow mixed
3 x 100m fly / back / 50 free
50m breast
3 x 100m fly / breast / 50 free
50m back

Skills

Pool buoy: 2 x 200m pull FAST (thighs) 20 sec rest
100m kick – free kick / back kick  
200m 1-arm backstroke / 1-arm freestyle  

Main Set

6 x 100m free @ 1.55
             

Cool Down

8 x 25m @ 45 sec
200m SLOW
 

What are the differences between open water freestyle and pool freestyle?

Now you’re doing all that, you can start thinking about what open water freestyle is about. It’s different to sprint freestyle for the pool. You could be doing thousands of strokes in a distance event so your technique is much more important.

A small inefficiency will be repeated thousands of times, so great distance swimmers are often the swimmers that get everything right. Here are the main elements to a good distance freestyle technique for the open water:

  1. Use a slightly higher arm recovery when swimming long distance and in the open water. Stretch out at the front and catch the water. Get your forearm vertical as soon as possible.
  2. Maintain a long, straight body position and use long strokes. In distance freestyle, minimise the number of strokes, longer the better. Measure your SWOLF (Swimming Golf) score which is your time in seconds plus your strokes over a set distance – lower the SWOLF score the better.
  3. Keep a high elbow position when swimming. That includes during the pull (under the water) and the recovery (out of the water).
  4. Use a two-beat kick for long-distance swimming. Fast kicking is not needed and tires you out. Two beat kick means two kicks per stroke cycle. Don’t worry too much about counting kicks, just slow it down and don’t too many.
  5. Learn correct breathing technique. Keep head low, don’t turn from neck, turn from abs. Hold yourself up with your front hand. You need to breathe more in the open water and distance freestyle events so get it right. Keep your head low even when inhaling.
  6. Maintain a neutral (straight and low) head position. This is important. Your head is heavy. Keep it low and your neck and spine straight.
  7. Keep fingers slightly open and hands relaxed. Tension will wear you out and you won’t last to the finish.
  8. Practice sighting – Lift your head slightly and look forward while you are still exhaling and before you turn to breathe in. This is very important – Look BEFORE you breathe in, while you are still exhaling bubbles from your nose (mainly). Don’t lift your head to look around and breathe in at the same time.
  9. Practice swimming straight – When your arm enters the water it needs to stretch and point to where you are going, then come back in a straight line until your thumb flicks your thigh or hip upon exiting the water. Do not do an S-shaped stroke under the water – this will send you off in the wrong direction.
  10. Get acclimatised to the water you will be swimming in. Ocean water is often colder than the pool so get used to the colder water temperatures, even if that means just taking a cold shower in the morning.
  11. Swim with a buddy or in a group and practice drafting behind or next to another swimmer. If you can position yourself behind the feet of a swimmer or next to their hips, you are inside their bow wave and will benefit from their wake of moving water that trails behind them.

When swimming long distances, every stroke needs to keep your momentum up and not be a wasted effort. Here is a great video of Mack Horton recording one of the fastest 1500m ever swum. Every stroke is long, powerful and deliberate. He is thinking his way through the race. From the surface, he looks slow, but under the water you can see how his technique is catching a lot of water and pulling it a long way. He doesn’t need to raise his head when breathing, he knows there is a pocket of air behind his bow wave.

Breathing for open water swimming:

Many distance swimmers breathe every stroke. They get into a rhythm and use their front arm to hold them up as they inhale. In the open water you need to inhale more often than you might in the pool. 

HOWEVER: When training you still need to use bilateral breathing and spread out your breathing-in to one every three or four strokes, at least some of the time. This helps you develop a balanced stroke and manage your breathing so you have an easy, long exhale. 

Come for a Pier to Pub training sesh or record a Virtual Pier to Pub time with us at Williamstown on 3rd January. Book here by selecting the 10am 3rd Jan Swim Around the Poles group.

Check out the Open Water Swim Calendar for Victoria.

Cold water swim group in Melbourne

From Saturday 1 May 2021, there is just one supported swim group at Williamstown Beach each week – the 9am Saturday Cool Water Winter Swim Group.

This is not a class or lesson, you set your own distance, pace and time in the water. I set up a 600-700m swim course in the no-boating zone and provide on-water support with a boardy or kayaker keeping an eye on you and the conditions around you.

The course will be a big square or triangle stretching from the shallows to the deep water around the yellow poles at Williamstown. You can swim the entire course any number of times or stick to the shallows.

Cold water winter swimming in Melbourne at Williamstown Beach

When you get out there will be hot tea and watermelon. Please BYO snacks for a picnic. You can’t leave and drive away straight after getting out of the cool water. There are warm showers nearby.

Why would anyone want to swim in the cool water?

Because this is an amazing experience that will make you healthier, happier and smarter! Seriously. The cold water improves your circulation, your immune system, gets blood flowing through your brain and boosts your endorphin production and mood. This thing is addictive.

And it’s particularly good for you if you are at an age where you are saying things like “age doesn’t matter, it’s just a number” and “I’m young at heart.” 

Here is my guide to cold water swimming from last year. There’s plenty of science about cold water swimming and articles to read about how good it is for you but yes there’s risk and you should not try it by yourself.

Also you nbeed to start early – in Autumn before the temperature gets too low and keep it up at least once per week in order to get acclimatised to the cold. Your body will change, your white fat will change to brown fat, you will possibly lose weight and you won’t need a jumper quite so often. You won’t be turning the heater on quite as much.

So this is the need-to-know information for our cold water swimming group:

1) Meet near carpark behind WSLSC by 8.45am
2) You can hire a wetsuit from me for $20 if you need one.
3) I also have booties, swim gloves and thermal caps.
4) Maximum swim time is 60 minutes at the moment because the water is 16 -17C and this time will be reduced to 45 minutes when the water is 12 -13 C.
5) For people not wearing a wetsuit, the maximum swim time is 45 minutes.
6) You can’t leave straight after swimming. You definitely can’t drive a car straight after swimming in cold water.
7) You can share my tea (BYO cup) and watermelon and/or bring some snacks for yourself or our picnic table.
8) Bring a warm towel (or two) or even a blanket, maybe a chair, but standing in the sun, or going for a run is the best way to get your body temp back towards normal.
9) I have thermal blankets if necessary, there are warm council showers if you feel like it.
10) You can tell your friends and family you have found a new healthy drug called cool water swimming, you’re getting addicted and you don’t need rehab….