• Triathlon Swimming: How to make the rough like the smooth

    Posted in swimming on July 26, 2013

    Triathlon and strength and conditioning expert Roland Kemp talks us through what for many is the most intimidating part of triathlon –  the swim. And, even more intimidating than that, swimming in rough open water!



    We all hope for calm water, but you never know what conditions will be like. Open water swimming is challenging but racing in rough waters is even more so. Although I may not have the best swimming technique, I am able to keep my cool and so can you! Here are some tips that will help you out in the open water and make your experience a little nicer…

    1. Dive under the waves going out, not over them. Unless they are small waves, below your waist, pushing off the bottom and diving through the wave will prevent you from getting pushed backwards.
    2. Take the out side. The small amount of time you will save trying to swim inside with the pack before getting to the first buoy is not worth it. Taking the outside path will save you from getting punched, swallowing water, having your feet grabbed, etc. Some of this will happen at the crowded start anyway, but you can cut down on it by not going with the pack.
    3. Take wide turns around the buoys. While everyone else is trying to come as close to the buoy as possible around a turn, take the road less travelled and go wide. Again, cutting inside is not going to save you much time and you will have more clear water in the outside.
    4. Breathe only to one side to avoid swallowing water. If you can see the waves coming towards you on one side, breathe to the other side until you can get around the next buoy. I learned this the hard way and ended up with a few pints of salt water in my belly!
    5. Avoid too much sighting. It is tempting to lift your head up in rough conditions. However, you are still better off keeping your stroke long and your head down. Ideally, you will find someone to follow, and you will not have to lift your head up as much (unless they steer you in the wrong direction!).
    6. Before the race starts, pick out an obvious marker on the shore that you can swim towards to the finish (a flag, building,  a tall tree on land) this will stop the embarrassment of having to run up the beach/lake to the swim exit point!


    Of course, we would probably all like to have calm water that does not give us these challenges. However, if you come prepared, you can use rough water conditions to your advantage!

    Practicing swimming in a group and doing some race simulations will also help – much better to take a hit from a friend than on race day!

    I hope that’s helpful – good luck!

    You can find out more about Roland’s triathlon coaching here.

  • Swimming Drills – 3 Golden Rules

    Posted in swimming on May 9, 2013

    Expert swim coach Glenn Shepherd talks as through how to get the most out of you training drills.

    As a swimming coach, a previous competitive swimmer, and spectator of the sport, I see many coaches and swimmers regularly use drills in their training sessions.

    I am a firm believer of practising drills in most if not all sessions, as it promotes skill resilience, which refers to one’s ability to maintain correct stroke technique during pressurised or fatigued conditions. Furthermore, regularly practicing drills can allow a swimmer/coach to identify different areas in the stroke technique that may need tweaking, such as:

    Body position, balance, coordination, and proprioception (feel of the water).

    – Weaknesses in the entry, catch, and recovery arm phases

    – Strength of the kick

    – Timing of the breathing

    – Muscular strength imbalances (affecting stroke mechanics)

    – Flexibility weaknesses

    All these areas will subsequently affect the overall efficiency of stroke mechanics and technical ability, and as I’m sure most of you will agree, drill repetition should be recognised as an important part of swimming training.

    Choosing what drills to use, however, can be difficult and needs to take into account age, ability and experience.

    Nevertheless, there are 3 Golden Rules that can help as a guide to the best drills. These are:

    RULE 1

    The drill aims to improve propulsion

    RULE 2

    The drill aims to reduce drag

    RULE 3

    The drill aims to increase overall efficiency 

    So next time you are thinking about a drill set, see if your chosen drills satisfy at least 2 of the above conditions. If not, they could be cowboy drills, and not worth bothering with.

    To help get you started here are some Front Crawl Drill examples that use a minimum of 2 out of the 3 golden rules:

    Shark Fin – reduces frontal drag via a better body position, which will improve overall efficiency of the stroke.

    Hold a high elbow position in the recovery phase for a second and then continue with arm stroke.

    Finger Drag – reduces drag through better body and hand entry positions, improving overall stroke efficiency:

    Lightly let the finger tips drag through the water during the recovery phase.

    Fist drill – improves propulsion via forcing correct forearm positioning (and improved feel for the water), improving overall efficiency of every stroke pull.

    Clench your fists gently and maintain this position throughout the entire stroke phase.


    “Drill for Skill not just to Thrill!”


    For more expert advice and guidance, you can book a training session with Glenn here.

  • 5 Static Stretches Every Swimmer Needs

    Posted in swimming on

    Post-training static stretching should be part of every workout, but has been known to ‘slip through the net’ for some of us. Swimming pools, particularly when a lot of clubs are training, can be hectic environments. Finding the space after to perform your static stretches may prove difficult.

    Expert swim coach Glenn Shepherd has put together a short routine that can be done anywhere, and incorporates just 5 simple stretches.

    The stretches target the large muscles used in competitive swimming, and areas that are prone to injury and each stretch should be performed for a minimum of 30 seconds and repeated twice on every body part!

    But before you begin your post-session stretch routine, allow your tendons and muscles to relax with an all-body shake down by lightly swinging and rotating your arms, trunk, and legs. Providing you didn’t experience any pain in the shake down, you are now ready to stretch:

    The Pectorals, Anterior Deltoid & Serratus Anterior Stretch

    There are many variations of this type of stretch but keeping it simple is what it’s all about.

    To perform correctly, stand with your chosen arm extended to the side or rear of your body, parallel to the ground. Hold onto a stable object and turn your shoulders and body away from the outstretched arm.

    You should feel this stretch in the upper corner of the chest, which connects to the front of your shoulder.

    The Latissimus Dorsi and Teres Major Stretch

    Similar to the chest stretch above, there are many variations to the back stretch. The image shown here represents a safe and effective way to stretch out those big muscles in your back.

    Simply stand and raise your arms above your head. Cross your arms at the wrist and hold in a semi-streamlined position. Reach up as high as you can and then over to one side. Make sure you lean to the side and not forward as this will reduce the stretch acting on the muscles in your back.

    You should feel this stretch from the side of your upper torso, just underneath your shoulder, right through to the top of your arm.

    The Triceps Bracii Stretch

    This exercise tends to isolate the triceps brachii so be careful not to overdo it. To perform this stretch correctly, stand tall, with your head looking forward. Raise the arm you want to stretch up above your head and bend it at the elbow, placing your palm just below your neck. With the opposite arm, place your hand on the bent elbow and gently force the stretching arm downwards.

    You should feel this stretch on the back of your upper arm.

    The Hamstrings Stretch

    One of the most prone areas to injury and definitely an area you will want to avoid muscle stiffness. As mentioned with the tricep brachii stretch, this exercise will isolate the hamstrings so pay close attention to your pain threshold during this stretch!

    To perform, Sit on the floor with one leg outstretched in front of you and the other leg bent with the sole of the foot placed against the thigh of the outstretched leg. Slowly slide one arm down the outstretched leg and try to touch your toes. Change legs when necessary. You should feel this stretch down the back of your outstretched leg.
    To increase this stretch, raise your outstretched leg up off the floor supported by a pillow or step underneath your heel.

    The Iliopsoas and Quadriceps Stretch

    This stretch requires some balance so to start stay close to a wall or chair for support. Kneel down on one foot and the other knee. Make sure your forward leg creates a 90˚ angle and that your torso is perpendicular to the ground to start. Once in the position, gently push your hips forward stretching your iliopsoas, shown in Part 1. Gently maneuver into Part 2 by raising your foot up to your hip and hold the position with your hands, stretching the quadriceps.

    You should feel this stretch along the front of your hip and thigh.

    So there you go! It’s easy, it’s important, and it’s beneficial not just for your posture but also your performance. Be sure to let us know how you are enjoying the new found flexibility for the season ahead.

    For more expert advice, whether you are a beginner or aiming to become a winning competitor,  you can contact Glenn to arrange a training session here.


  • An introduction to open water swimming with Dan Bullock from Swim For Tri

    Posted in swimming on November 2, 2012

    Dan Bullock has been coaching since 1990 and set up Swim For Tri in 2003. He has helped thousands to get fit and fast for adventures from their first novice triathlon to the Channel. Dan’s accolades include being National Masters Swim Champion (Pool & Openwater 2008-12), a British Age Group Record Holder (800m), European & World Masters Medallist and he has finished several Iron Man races. Recently, he wrote British Swimming’s first Open Water (OW) Continuing Professional Development module (CPD).

    We asked Dan a few questions about getting into open water, training and keeping motivated over the winter months.

    I enjoy pool swimming, but want to make the transition into open water. Where do I start?

    OW is a very different discipline to pool-based swimming. Some might describe OW racing as submerged cage fighting, in light of the group starts which can feel crowded and aggressive.

    Getting crowded heading out to the start of a race

    Like most activities the more you train and prepare, the more you will be able to cope with situations that might upset you. The fitter and more confident you become in OW, the more you will enjoy race day. I set up SFT to offer swim technique lessons to triathletes. We realised early on that unless we took our swimmers outdoors, they were missing a key part in their preparation.

    If your swimming is not strong then you need to build good technique first before focusing on stamina or endurance. The density of water punishes inaccurate movements, causing you to fatigue sooner. I have known 2hr 40 marathon runners feel unfit in the water in just a few lengths due to not using the correct muscle groups to create the correct propulsive movements. Swimming can be quite cruel in that hours of inaccurate practice will yield few benefits whereas going for any kind of run or bike ride will deliver some benefits.

    What equipment do I need?

    Depending on where and when you start, you will need at least: a swim hat, goggles, a pair of trunks or swim suit and a wetsuit. Due to the buoyancy afforded in the wetsuit, most races insist on them. They also offer tremendous warmth so effectively lengthen our race season.

    If you are racing early in the year (generally OW racing starts from May onwards) and need to start training early, a neoprene hat, boots and gloves can help with the cold. However, boots and gloves can also make your swimming feel clumsy. Outdoor (unheated) lidos can be a great place for early training in your wetsuit and to help you acclimatise.

    What’s the ideal front crawl (FC) technique for OW?

    This is a vast subject.  Here’s a clip to demonstrate and focuses on the ‘Catch’ element of the stroke.

    A major fault of adults improving their swimming later in life is how they push water down to the bottom of the pool with a straight arm. They don’t catch and hold any water. This happens especially when breathing, the straight arm push down acts to stabilise the head. Rather than pivot at the shoulder and push water straight down you should try to pivot at the elbow, point the fingertips downwards and use the hand and forearm to push water back towards the wall you are swimming away from.

    Racing season is over. It’s tempting to go into hibernation. Do you have tips on keeping motivated during the winter?

    Join a tri team or a masters club. Having a coach will mean you have a plan in the pool and the social aspect of club swimming will help with the winter drudgery that swimming alone can become.

    Set goals and get some races entered. As the winter weather and dark nights come in it is easy to get second thoughts, but a little ‘race looming’ pressure will help you get to the pool. Also contemplate some pool based races in the off season. They are no longer the preserve of masters swimmers. triathletes and OW swimmers are starting to appear in the start lists.

    Is there any cross training I can do that will benefit my swimming?

    There is no real replacement to just getting into the water, feeling the coordination of your arms and legs, body rotation and breathing. You might even have to overcome anxiety about putting your face in the water. High levels of general fitness from other sports will not help if the swim movements you perform are not helping you move economically and efficiently in the water.

    There is a pilates movement called ‘The Swimmer’ that will help you get a feel for a good FC leg kick. There’s also some specific swim equipment you can purchase, such as the VASA swim bench and Stretchcordz. But good swim technique needs to be in place before these can help your swim fitness.

    Dan coaching

    I have a really busy job, how many times a week do I need to train in order to make a real difference?

    Unfortunately a few lessons are not going to solve all the issues. Consider swimming like learning a language. The more you do, the better you become.

    I had a pilot almost scream at me that he learned to fly quicker than the rate of progress his swimming made. This did not surprise me. If you have been swimming incorrectly for many years, there can be a lot of unlearning to do, which can slow the process.

    The more frequently you train, the greater the improvement and the more you will enjoy and do it. Once a week, no matter how long the session, will, unfortunately, leave 6 days of unlearning from that one session and be difficult to build upon in the next session.

    How was your first OW race?

    My first OW swim was the London Tri back in the 90s and I was quite blasé regarding my preparation assuming I would ‘just swim it’.

    This seemed logical as I was an experienced swimmer, what could I possibly have to worry about? Keeping straight, sighting, the rugby scrum at the start, lack of clarity and the cooler temperature were just a few things! I wish I’d had the opportunity to practice in open water ahead of race day.


  • Open water swimming: A personal view

    Posted in swimming on October 5, 2012

    Beijing 2008 and Keri-Anne Payne put open water swimming on the map, and, like triathlon, the sport has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity. We at upmysport are pretty psyched about it too!

    Do I just put a swimming costume on and jump in then?  Well yes, that’s definitely how to start (if you can already swim) and that’s what we love about it.

    We asked Alice Gartland, our friend, journalist and escaped lawyer, to tell us how she got into open water swimming.

    These three people have just been swimming – look how happy they are!

    In summer 2010 I was well out of condition, recovering from a broken leg, had been told I couldn’t run again, and hobbling around looking for a leg friendly sport to get me fit. The answer was… Swimming!

    I had a couple of one to one lessons which lifted my swim stroke out of the 1980s and introduced me to open water technique (my coach, Alex, was brilliant);  I bought a (second-hand) wetsuit; and followed this up with an open water swimming course with the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) at the Serpentine in Hyde Park (home to the Serpentine Swimming Club who are lovely too).  

    That summer, with the help of the OSS, I went from doing my first one mile swim in Lake Coniston with Epic Events , to completing the inaugral OSS Dart 10k, a beautiful 10km swim from Totnes to Dittisham down the River Dart in Devon.  It’s a really special event, run by OSS volunteers and the emphasis is on enjoying being out there in the water rather than racing. I was stunned that I could do it and needless to say I was hooked!

    Finishing my first 1 mile swim race at Lake Coniston – loved it!

    Last week I finished my third OSS Dart 10k. Hundreds of ‘leisurely’ to ‘elite’ paced swimmers took part. Colder and choppier than the previous years, it was a good reminder of the importance of effective year-round training (I’ve been a bit slack, unlike my mate Anna who has been doing a lot of training with Lido Mike at Brockwell Lido), the variety and challenge you can find in one stretch of water, and the impact of the cold on performance. I also now fully appreciate the importance of nappy rash cream and vaseline in the battle against chafing.

    Mobot start at the Dart 10k 2012

    For me the swim also signalled that it was time for me to move up a notch and look at longer distances, sea swimming and consider ditching my ‘wetsuit as standard’ approach.

    This weekend, my mate Cat (recently returned from an attempt at the Gibraltar Straits) kindly gave me my first introduction to sea swimming at Brighton Swimming Club.  Sea swimming “sorts the men from the boys” explained Cat and I have to say, I think she is right.

    Before you set out you need to understand the tide, weather conditions, water temperature etc and prepare accordingly.

    It’s getting chillier so we took a moment to ease into the water and get used to it and make sure our breathing was regular before heading off. This is really important as uneven breathing in lots of cold water has the potential to send you into a bit of a panic.

    Dart 10k finish 2010

    The sea was pretty smooth on the way out but the return leg quickly became choppy and I was bouncing around in the waves which was pretty disorientating (but fun)!

    Sighting felt even more important and I really had to focus on my breathing. I usually breathe every three strokes on my left and right, but in the sea I had to breathe every four, turning my head towards the shore in order to avoid inhaling the waves rolling towards me on the other side – sea water makes you retch.

    Add to that the collection of seagulls flocking overhead – which as any child of the Jaws generation knows is a sure sign they are feeding on the carcus of the standard prey of all great white sharks- a female swimmer – and you appreciate that sea swimming can give you a lot to think about.

    Cat’s screensaver is Jaws. She says it helps. I am not convinced. 

    What I think might happen, but I wouldn’t be smiling or wearing trainers…

    I loved it though and a big thank you to Cat who was an excellent guide – bobbing up out of the waves every now and again to give me hints and tips and steering me clear of the sea wall and my fellow swimmers. Good skills.

    Even when exiting and finally out of the water you still need your wits about you. You don’t want to get caught up in the washing cycle of a crashing wave and hypothermia is a genuine risk.

    Swimming regularly in cold temperatures helps the body adapt, wearing two swimming hats, ear plugs, swim socks, a rash vest, visualisation and wrapping up so warm that you are overheating before a swim can also help. Having warm clothes and a long, warm (not piping hot) shower once out of the water is also a good plan!

    Post pier to pier adventure – thanks Cat!

    Suffice to say, if you are thinking about trying open water – go for it!

    It’s accessible, liberating, fun, and as hardcore or not as you want it to be. Add to that I have made some great friends and I look forward to many more adventures (water and pub based) with them soon. Wicked!