Get your hand behind your elbow …

“What are you talking about? Get your hand behind your elbow? What does that even mean?”

A long straight freestyle stroke is much more efficient than lots of short strokes. And long strokes are faster through the water, even though your stroke rate falls.

Freestyle technocrats – swim geeks who focus too much on correct technique (like me)  – have an important, if obscure, rule:

Get your hand behind your elbow as soon as possible and keep it there as long as possible, even in the recovery stage.

Left hand is behind the left elbow, even in the recovery phase

Step by step, that means:

  1. After your hand enters and catches the water, get your forearm vertical as soon as you can, bending from the elbow, using your bicep strength. This brings your hand ‘behind your elbow’ if looking from above.
  2. Keep your elbow high and forward during the pull and push phase of the freestyle stroke and lead with your hand.
  3. Brush your thigh, or hip, with your thumb to ensure that you have long straight freestyle stroke.
  4. At the end of the stroke, as your hand exits the water down near your thigh, lift and pull your elbow (not your hand) to bring it back to the front. Drag your hand forward by pulling with your elbow. Leave your hand behind and let it ‘hang’ off your elbow as you recover your arm to the front to begin the next stroke.
Right hand is ‘behind’ the right elbow

Don’t be a crab. Crabs can’t get their claws behind their little elbows. Their claws are always pointed forward from their elbows and many, many freestylers are a bit like crabs.

As soon as their hands exit the water at the end of their stroke, they lead with their hand and get it back in front of their elbow. This leads to shorter strokes, shoulder injuries and pain in the elbow joint. Also leads to heartache for your coach when watching from the pool deck ☹.

John Travolta Staying Alive (from Saturday Night Fever). This is a great freestyle drill

Try the ‘Stayin Alive’ (John Travolta) drill. Like the Fingerdrag drill, this one is mostly about your elbows – keeping them high and forward and getting your hands behind them.

In the Stayin Alive drill, you get both arms straight at the same time and really push them straight.

One arm is stretched forward to 10 or 11 o’clock and the other arm is stretched back to 4 or 5 o’clock.

It’s an exaggeration of good freestyle (like all drills). It will help you train your brain to tell your body to keep your strokes long and get your hand behind your elbow.

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

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.

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How to train to swim fast – 13 tips that will make you faster

Speed and time is the traditional metric for measuring swimming ability.

Yes, it seems a bit arbitrary but then again, no, it’s not.

Sure, we all want to swim a long way in a relaxed and sustainable fashion and that is great but all that is easier and more obtainable if you have developed the technique to swim fast.

Speed through the water is mostly technique with fitness thrown in as a bonus, not the other way around like many other activities. 

Swimming as a sport and industry has come to appreciate long-distance swimming only in the last 20-odd years. But speed and times have always been number one. A fast swimmer can transition to distance swimming pretty readily. A slow swimmer can easily get in trouble in open water events. 

Anyway, now is the time of year for plenty of events, triathlons, races etc so how do you train to build your speed?

Photo by Jim De Ramos on Pexels.com

13 tips to swim faster 

  1. Go to the pool. Yes, we love swimming in the ocean but it’s not making you quicker. Laps of the pool make you quicker. Interval training makes you quicker.
  2. Train fast to get faster: Don’t train at 50% or even 90% max effort – you can’t get faster doing that. You have to train at 100% effort. You have to swim faster than you have swum before to increase your speed in the water. If you are not pushing yourself to top speed in training, you won’t be able to go fast in a race or event. This might mean you have to swim shorter distances – down to 25m at a go – to really ensure you are pushing yourself to maximum pace. 
  3. Quality of metres, not quantity of metres, is what counts if you want to increase your swim speed. Lots of kilometres, swum relatively slowly is the training you do if you want to swim slowly for a long distance. If you want to increase your speed, do this: swim fast, rest, then swim faster, rest again, repeat. If you want to swim fast for a long distance in the open water, you have to mix things up. Swim fast intervals a couple of times per week at the pool then do one long swim each week. 
  4. Relax to swim fast. All this info is not designed to stress you out. You can’t grit your teeth and pull hard through the water and get faster. Everything has to be fluid. Your technique has to be better than ever before if you want to travel through the water faster than ever before. The water is unforgiving of bad technique. The water loves you if you do things correctly.
  5. Be firm in your core, don’t wiggle and snake through the water. Reach out in front until your elbows are straight. Be long. Develop a feeling of reaching so far with your shoulders and back that you are stretching yourself longer and taller. Maintain a firm spot just under your belly button.
  6. Get narrow and straight. Like a streamlined torpedo. Legs close together. Arms coming straight through under the water and straight back through the air, close to your body. That means high elbows.
  7. Rock, don’t roll. When you reach forward, rock using your abs in your stomach. Your shoulder will move forward and your other shoulder will turn so it’s out of the water, allowing your recovering arm to cleanly get back to the front for the next stroke. Your hips though need to stay fairly stable, not rolling from side to side.
  8. Faster stroke rate? Yes. Shorter stroke length? No. The best way to tire yourself out is to take lots of strokes. Every stroke has to count and be worth the effort you’re making. Don’t give up on your stroke halfway – keep pushing until your thumb flicks past your hip or thigh. 
  9. Your kick has to be pretty good. Keep legs close together, pretty straight and toes pointy. Your legs can undermine all your upper body effort. A good kick can even give you some go-forward speed but the first consideration is to keep them up behind you, at the top of the water. 
  10. Fingers get wider apart – The faster you swim, the wider apart your fingers need to be. You have to be grabbing more water.
  11. Elbows need to be high, forearms vertical really early in your stroke and your hand has to get ‘behind’ your elbow asap.
  12. Breathing – Your head can’t lift up to breathe if you want to go quickly. You need to keep it low and have faith that your speed will make a bow wave and a pocket of air behind it with the top of your head – if your head is low when you breathe in. One goggle in the air and one goggle in the water is the key.
  13. When you start to get it – it all clicks, you rise up just slightly in the water, there’s a bow wave, you can feel the rush of the water and you are superhuman. The water loves you and you will want more of that, it’s addictive. Ian Thorpe said: “Swimming is my art.” This isn’t endorphins flowing from physical activity, recent science has debunked a lot of that anyway. This is a technical masterwork you have created yourself by being relaxed, in control of your physical self and able to spend serious energy without things falling apart. You’re a junky. Be proud.  
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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.

Challenge Yourself to learn open water freestyle

Our entry-level swim class is the 8am Challenge Yourself group.

We learn the basics of breathing, good freestyle stroke and kick, sighting, swimming straight, sustainable relaxed swimming for long distances, group swimming and drafting.

All in shallow water you can stand up in.

Coach Jason teaches Australian AUSTSWIM freestyle with open water skills direct from the coaching manual to you.

Challenge Yourself to swim in the sea

“I have no big new ideas,” says Jason.

“You will learn sustainable, relaxed freestyle in the bay, straight from the textbook.”

“I have been teaching kids and adults for decades and here at Williamstown since 2014. I can teach you to love going for a swim in the sea and make freestyle easier for you.”

“If you want to keep improving, many swimmers move up to the 9am Open Water Swim Skills Group.”

Challenge Yourself Group is very popular, has limited spaces and produces unbelievable results.

Go on, Challenge Yourself, come for a swim in the sea with Coach Jason and the team.

Proof of concept! We can run open water swimming squads for multi class athletes

We didn’t know if this was even possible.

Can we run an open water swim group – in the sea – for multi class and Special Olympics swimmers?

To tell the truth, I was reluctant to find out – but when Hans from Special Olympics persisted and we ventured into this, we discovered a whole new experience to enjoy. And that was swimming with people who don’t get to explore the deep blue sea, the salty water, the sun and the movement.

Yes the movement all around –  waves, chop, windy splashes, currents. I didn’t quite appreciate how that might be the big first impression – and big first hurdle to overcome – for pool swimmers with special needs.

“Why is it moving?”

I’ve got a good answer for that question now. But there were other hurdles. The wetsuits were difficult to put on. There was no actual end to the pool.

Plus there was the feeling of unsteady sand under feet. We expected that might create  uncertainty for our autistic participants but the swim buddies were all great supporters and just essential confidence builders. We got to the water!

Now, after two clinics, we seem to have created a bit of a monster. Most of the participants were so happy with the day out at the beach they have been asking when they can do it again 

No OW swimming for multi class athletes

Multi class and Special Olympics athletes have, up until now, largely missed out on enjoying open water swimming. Supporting swimmers with special needs is a labour-intensive operation requiring competent swimmers to be buddies, other safety volunteers and the coaches to all work together with the athlete, their carers, coach and club.  Insurance, of course, is a consideration and a risk assessment approach is required.

There has been no multi class categories in open water events in Victoria until 2016. And no way for pool squads to train in the open water.

Now some open water events, like the WOW Challenge / VOWC and a few other public participation open water swims in Melbourne recognise and support multi class swimmers. We think eventually every event will need to buy more medals for multi class athletes and think seriously about how they need to support access for all swimmers.

Bringing it all together

Hans and I first talked this idea through with Liz Gosper from Inclusive Sports Training six months before anyone got near the water. We got great support from Special Olympics (thanks Simon!) and the volunteer lifesavers at WSLSC. Nothing would have been possible without the swim buddies from The Mussels and Swimming Victoria backed us up as well. We could not have put this on without all of these organisations chipping in.

The stars aligned for us at Williamstown to bring this project together. Our first two open water clinics were a huge success.

What actually happened

At our November and December 2017 clinics, swimmers from Special Olympics Victoria looked tentatively at the sea from the safety of the Lifesaving Club’s front lawn. Looking at Mum, Dad and the coaches for assurance, these swimmers were introduced to their ‘swim buddies’ from WSLSC’s Ocean Swimming Club “The Mussels.” 

The buddies helped swimmers put on some donated wetsuits (thanks Inclusive Sports) and we met on the beach for dryland exercises. We stood in a circle and joked around a bit. 

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A couple of swimmers found the feeling of the shifting sand under their feet stressful. We hadn’t yet got to the water. I may have been concerned at that point how this was going to turn out.

But the buddies did a great job, sticking close to the swimmers and with our three WSLSC volunteers on rescue boards we leapt into the sea. Well some didn’t quite leap. More of a slow amble. 

We practised high elbows and body position in the open water and sighting before breathing. We played touch the toes and had fun drafting and trying to swim straight. By the end of the hour we had swum more than 1.5km in deep water and no one had returned to shore.

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For me the enjoyment of the participants and the look of new confidence on faces proved the concept. The icing on cake has been the medals and podium finishes at open water events by participants from our clinics. These are strong pool swimmers who have rarely before ventured into the open water.

kurt ben etc wow

The volunteers who helped all had a great time as well, as did Hans and I, so yeah, we’ll be doing it again!

Supported Open water swimming squad is back! 

Saturday 11 February 2018 12 Noon – 1pm

Saturday 17 February 2018 12 Noon – 1pm (with Inclusive Sports Training) 

Saturday 24 March 2018 12 Noon – 1pm

Contact Jason for more info.

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