Open Water Swimmer: "Improving My Technique" in the Endless Pool

a swim coaching session in the Endless Pool at Swim Canary Wharf

Patrick Smith is a PR executive and family man who has been documenting his fitness and weight-loss efforts on his 1,000 kms to Windermere blog. Named for his twin goals -- completing 1,000 km of combined exercise per year, and swimming the UK's Lake Windermere -- the blog continues now that he's achieved both! This recent post covers his swim progress with Coach Ray Gibbs in the Endless Pool® at Swim Canary Wharf. Our thanks to Patrick for permitting us to re-run this and to Ray for the video.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve started to see a technique coach who will hopefully make me a smoother and stronger (and therefore quicker) swimmer. My plan is to focus on technique over the winter, plus running, so I can come back in the summer as a better swimmer.

I’m using the excellent Ray Gibbs of Swim Canary Wharf to help me, and I had my first session a couple of weeks ago. Ray is great as he is really enthusiastic, very knowledgeable, but yet able to deliver the information in an easy-to-understand way. You swim in his Endless Pool®, and he films you swimming from a number of different angles – highlighting areas you can work on. He then gives you drills that will help you to work on those areas, and you need to go away and practice them yourself.

My biggest issue was dropping my right shoulder and arm (using them as a lever to help me breath – even though I didn’t need to do it, my brain and body are still struggling with it). So, despite not being able to use my fins, I’ve worked on the drill Ray gave me for the last few weeks. It’s hard work, but I think I can feel myself getting better.

Well this morning I had two strong pieces of evidence that suggest that it’s working and I am getting better.

The first was a comment from another user of the pool I swim in. We chat quite regularly and there are a few swimmers there who take a real interest in what I’m doing and the challenges I’m setting myself. We also have Adam Walker (an Ocean 7 swimmer) who occasionally swims in our pool, so I’m the other open water swimmer.

Anyway, this morning, as she got into the lane I was swimming in, she said:

“You’ve got a really lovely stroke. I was watching you from the side, and it’s really got better over the last few months.”

She’s not just another plodder, she’s actually a swimming teacher for kids at the pool, so (and I don’t think she’ll be offended by this) while she may not be in Ray’s league, she knows her stuff. It was lovely to hear her say it.

The second reason is that after the technique work, I decided to do a quick ‘sprint’ burst. I’m not very quick, and I don’t try to kill myself; instead, what I want to do is swim at a ‘comfortable’ capacity and then keep it up. I do:

  • 100m at 1:50
  • 200m at 3:45
  • 400m at 7:35
  • 200m at 3:45
  • 100m at 1:50

It’s a nice 1km ladder, and it gets me working hard. For those of you that don’t understand the terminology (and I didn’t until recently) this means that I swim 100m, and when that’s done, I rest for a few seconds, but 1 minute 50 seconds after I started the 100m, I set off to swim 200m; 3 minutes and 45 seconds after I started the 200m (or 5 minutes and 35 seconds after I started the 100m) I set off for the 400m. And so on. I hope that makes sense.

Anyway, the point of this is to say that in the middle of this, I did the 400m in 7 minutes and 5 seconds.

It’s not a blistering pace, but it’s pretty quick for me. But best of all – I was knackered from the weekend and it didn’t feel that tough. So I’m pretty sure it wasn’t about me muscling the water out of the way, it was down to a better technique. Yay!

This [video above] is what I looked like before working on the technique. Both videos shot by Ray at Swim Canary Wharf.

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