Looking to start swimming? Return to swimming and improve? We have provided an easy-to-follow 2-week training plan that will help your fitness and technique. Drill demonstrations are included. Just watch, print and take to the pool. One of the best things you can do is take a session to the pool to help you accomplish more, swim further, and feel like you completed something worthwhile.
How important is technique when you are learning to swim?
Swim technique is harder to change later in life so the fewer mistakes made earlier when learning, the more effective you will be later in your swim career.
If you've never had swimming lessons/coaching, does this necessarily mean you will have poor technique?
Swimming is highly technical and not easy to change, even for advanced swimmers. It is actually an illogical and counter-intuitive movement and we naturally want to fight the water, so to get proper swimming technique right without instruction can be very hard. Some people are naturals but it is rare. On the upside, this means there is lots of scope for big improvements with some guidance.
Can you teach yourself better swimming technique?
This is not the easiest since most people struggle to imagine what they are doing right and wrong while in the water since it is such an alien environment. You can watch good technique, read good technique, even picture good technique in your mind but this is rarely translated into correct movements performed. Most of your swimming stroke happens behind you so you can see how hard it is to get it right. Video analysis can be a great help to narrow the disparity between what you think you are doing and what you are actually doing.
What are the main benefits of having a coach to help you improve?
They will be the eyes you need to guide you and describe the mistakes you make. They will help translate the technical points you might be misinterpreting into fluid swimming movements.
Which stroke is the hardest to master and why?
They all have their complexities but perhaps Butterfly is the most difficult due to the very specific timing issues; if your timing is out, you will struggle to take in air. There is also no slow option for Butterfly such as there is with the other strokes. An amount of momentum is needed for it to work and this can be tiring.
What are the benefits of good swimming technique? Does it improve fitness as well as performance?
Good technique will exhaust you less than swimming with poor technique, so you can do more of it at a steadier pace. The fitness benefits are well documented but until the mechanics of your strokes are efficient, it will be hard to do much more then a few lengths. You are also less likely to injure yourself if the correct movements are made with the correct muscles.
If you've never thought about technique before, which stroke should you start with and why?
Front crawl and Backstroke are perhaps the two least tiring if done well. Backstroke removes the need to time a head turn, allowing for air to be taken when you want so could be considered an easier starting point. Front crawl can create concerns since to do it well you need to put your face in the water. Depending on fitness levels and starting point, Breaststroke might appear simple but done well is highly technical. Confidence, the ability to relax, and timing of the breath should be early aims regardless of stroke.
Are there different techniques you should employ for pool swimming versus open water swimming and why?
Swim movements do not necessarily need to change due to being in open water, but you will need to add in a method for sighting and looking where you are going. If you are swimming in a wetsuit, this will impact body position so we might take into account this change but legs still kick and arms still pull.
What do you think is most important and why: stroke technique or breathing technique? Or do you need to have everything working together to swim effectively?
The two are inextricably linked. Controlled breathing allows you to swim relaxed with a stroke that can be reproduced over and over again. Swimming well with good technique allows you to breathe when you want. On dry land, breathing is not an interrupted stop/start function due to only being allowed a short window of opportunity to inhale when swimming. In the water, until you have better control of your swim technique, your stroke will dictate when you get to take a breath and that can only lead to further frustration.
What is your top technique advice for:
A swimming novice: Swim more frequently but perhaps for shorter periods. Tremendous gains can be made if you reduce the amount of time ‘unlearning’ between swims.
A swimming enthusiast: Work with a coach. Huge gains can be made for modest changes to your swim technique.
An experienced, high level swimmer: Check progress by performing some specific, reproducible swim sets each 6 weeks or so. Measure if you are getting faster, fitter or swimming further. Add some accountability to your swimming. It might help get you to the pool on those days you are not so keen to go.
Tips for breast stroke
- A symmetrical leg kick is important as propulsion comes from the legs returning together and pushing water backwards.
- Tuck the chin into the chest, head down, as you drive the hands forwards to keep narrow and streamlined
Tips for front crawl
- Arms pulling with the palms facing the bottom of the pool send you upwards not forwards. Check the palms are facing the wall you are swimming away from.
- 90% of the people I see need to reduce the size of their leg kick. It is a far smaller movement at the hips than most imagine.
Tips for back stroke
- Your head must remain still with your chin kept high, otherwise you will snake down the lane with your hips sinking (if your chin is low).
- This stroke needs a stronger leg kick than most imagine, helping support the body and keeping the body position high.
Tips for butterfly
- Breathe as low as possible to the water when the head lifts. The mouth just needs to be clearing the water when the head comes up for air. Excess height sinks the legs.
- Attempt 2 kicks to one arm cycle, most ‘general butterfly’ in public sessions involves 1 kick to 1 pull which usually has you swimming ‘uphill.’
About the author: Dan Bullock has been coaching since 1990, holding qualifications with the ASA, BTF, ASCA and the World Open Water Swim Association. Dan’s accolades include being National Masters Open Water Champion frequently since 2008, Former British AG Record Holder for 800m Front crawl and a European & World Masters medalist.
Have you ever wondered why your friends can dance so much better than you? Or why you sometimes trip over your own feet? Do they throw you things and you always drop them? It's most likely because you have reduced proprioception.
Proprioception is your awareness of your own body and movements. Improving your proprioception can help improve your balance, coordination, and make every day tasks easier. It could even improve your confidence and mental health as you will feel more at home in your own body and more in control of your life.
So do you want to be able to execute an awesome catch when your friend throws you something or move with more confidence? Try the following exercises to improve your proprioception and see if it could help improve other areas of your life too.
Perform exercises and daily tasks with your eyes closed
Have you ever noticed that balancing on one leg is much harder when you close your eyes? When you close your eyes, you lose the visual cues that your brain is used to so it has to work harder to balance. With your eyes closed, you are forced to become more attuned to your surroundings and you will be able to practise controlling your body and your movements.
If you practise daily tasks with your eyes closed (sensible options only please, no cutting or chopping with sharp knives in the kitchen!) you will find that your brain can connect more closely to your muscles and you will be able to improve your coordination and proprioception.
Learn a dance routine or try a group exercise class
Dancing is one of the best ways to improve your coordination and proprioception because it involves the entire body and requires the brain to coordinate every muscle group at once in a required sequence. If you think you have two left feet, try learning and practising a specific dance routine every day – you'll be surprised how quickly you improve!
Similarly, participating in a group exercise class can have a similar effect as you will be copying what the instructor is doing and commanding your body to move in the same way. This is great practice for improving your coordination and you'll be getting super fit at the same time!
Practise catching with one hand
We all have a dominant and less dominant side. It can be useful to improve the coordination and abilities of the less dominant side, such as practising catching with your left hand if your right-handed (and vice versa). Catching a ball with one hand specifically improves your hand-eye coordination which refers to the way your hands react to what your eyes see. If you miss the ball, it might be because you are closing your fingers too fast or not fast enough. By practising this exercise, you can train your hands and eyes to work together better and in turn improve your proprioception and hand-eye coordination.
Taking care of your sportswear is very important, especially if it has special active technology and was expensive to buy. Follow this guide so that you never ruin another pair of cycling shorts again!
Get A Mesh Laundry Bag
Especially when it comes to pro bib shorts, parts getting caught in the machine is definitely something you want to avoid. Putting your cycling gear in a mesh laundry bag will mean it won't get caught on the spindle, and it also means that the zip on your jersey won't cause any damage either. Always wash your cycling gear separately from your other laundry. If you don't have the time or means to get a mesh laundry bag, a pillow case does the job too.
Make sure you wash your Lycra gear on a cool setting of 30 degrees or below. Most machines will have a button where you can change the temperature. Also make sure the spin cycle isn't too aggressive and that it doesn't go on for too long. An extra rinse can help to make sure the material stays fresh, and an extra spin at the end will speed up the drying process. I recommend a temperature of 30 degrees, spin cycle of 1000, and duration of 30-40 minutes.
Never put your Lycra cycling gear in a dryer! Hang it up and let nature take its course. It shouldn't take too long to dry, and this will ensure it stays premium quality for as long as possible.
Cycling is something that can improve your life in a number of ways from helping you ditch the car to saving money and getting fit. This guide will answer all your questions and give you all the information you need to get into cycling.
This guide is for people who already know how to ride a bike and want to take this to the next step by cycling more seriously, cycling in organised rides, and cycling to work etc.
Buying a bike
If you're ready to get into cycling, the first thing you'll need to do is buy yourself a new bike. A clunky old city bike or your childhood mountain bike unfortunately won't do the job so you're best off investing in a reasonably priced road bike. Road bikes have a slightly different geometry to a mountain bike and will allow you to naturally ride faster and more efficiently, therefore allowing you to ride further with less effort and get more out of your rides.
Where to buy a bike
You can buy a reasonably good quality road bike for around £500/$650 and they are well worth the investment. Stick with the big brands such as:
- Giant (or Liv for women)
You can either buy your bike online and have it delivered or you can go to your local bike shop to pick one out and try before you buy. You would also benefit from expert advice if you go into the shop. However, remember that you'll need to be able to get it home so you'll either need a large car or a bike rack. Make sure you organise this before you go to pick up your new bike.
Getting a bike fit
Once you've bought your bike, it's paramount you tweak the adjustments so that it fits you properly. You will need to adjust the height of the saddle and handlebars so that you're comfortable. Riding an ill-fitting bike can cause excruciating pain so do your research and pay special attention to this before you do any riding.
If you want, you can get a professional bike fit from most bike shops. It might cost money or it might be free so it's worth checking first.
Buying bicycle clothing
Once you've bought your bike, you're ready to ride! However, if you're going to be riding any real distance, it's well worth investing in proper cycling clothing. Bicycle clothing is designed to be streamlined to help you ride faster as well as keep you safe as you won't have any baggy clothing getting caught in the mechanics of the bike. Perhaps most importantly, proper cycling gear is designed to keep you comfortable mile after mile as a road bike saddle can be notoriously uncomfortable, especially after being in it for over an hour.
Most cycling jerseys feature large pockets to the back so that you can store your valuables easily and don't have to worry about taking a bag with you when you ride. The basics that you'll need are a couple of cycling jerseys and a pair of bib shorts. Bib shorts have suspenders that go over your shoulders to keep them secure and locked in place so that the waistband doesn't roll down and become uncomfortable while you're cycling. There are numerous other pieces of cycling clothing and accessories that you can buy, but these are the basics for you to start with.
Read our guides below for a full rundown of all bicycle clothing and why you might need it.
Read more: Cycle Gear Buying Guide
Read more: What Kit Do You Need For Cycling
Read more: How To Wash Lycra Cycling Kit
Also make sure you buy a good quality bicycle helmet, read our Guide To Buying A Cycle Helmet for full information.
Learning to ride a road bike
Once you've bought your road bike and got it home, you might be surprised to find it's much trickier to ride than what you're used to. A road bike has different geometry to a mountain bike meaning you lean further over the handlebars and this has a big effect on your body. Also, all road bikes have a high bar between the saddle and handlebars, so if you're used to riding a city bike and swinging your leg through the middle, you will need to learn to stop doing that!
The best way to get used to riding your new road bike is taking it out for a spin and seeing what challenges you face. You will need to figure out the gears as there is a big cog and a small cog and two paddle shifters on each side of the handlebars. Also take some time to test out the brakes as they may well be sharper than what you're used to!
The best way to get used to it is with practise. Leaning over the handlebars puts a lot of pressure on your hands, wrists, and shoulders so these parts of your body will take time to get used to this and might ache a lot at first but this is perfectly normal. It will certainly hurt at first, but don't give up, because you will soon get stronger and your body will get used to the position.
To help your muscles stop aching so much, make sure to do lots of strength training at the gym and core workouts to strengthen your abs as they will be holding you up a lot of the time and using more of your core muscles will allow you to take pressure off your hands and wrists.
Cycling on the road
Once you've mastered the art of riding a road bike, you're ready to get out on the road. Cycling on the road can be very scary and daunting for anyone so don't worry if you feel nervous or scared, this is perfectly normal. Cyclists get a bit of a bad rap from motorists so take care and cycle cautiously. Some motorists will be fine but others may drive too closely to you so it's important to be aware of your surroundings. You might want to invest in a helmet cycling camera to give you peace of mind and capture any incidents that may occur.
Start off by riding on quiet roads and cycle paths until you have more confidence. Cycling on a Sunday is the best time when you're just starting out as traffic is always lighter, especially early in the morning. You will need to be confident enough to take one hand off the handlebars so that you can indicate.
As with everything, gaining confidence riding on the road comes with practise. You might find that riding in a organised sportive that's ridden on open roads will help with your confidence because you'll have lots of other cyclists around you and feel the safety in numbers.
Commuting by bike
Commuting by bike has lots of benefits such as saving you money, helping you get fit, as well as the fact that cycling to work is a great way to make your work day more eco-friendly. Cycling to work is fairly different to going out for a training ride at the weekend and as such you will need to make adjustments. You might need to add panniers to your bike so that you can transport your belongings with you and you will at the very least need to take a change of clothes with you.
If you're going to commute by bike, you'll need to be confident cycling on the road and being surrounded by traffic. Make sure your bike handling skills are up to scratch so that you can indicate with your arms and follow the highway code.
It's best to take it easy when cycling to work otherwise you'll be hot and bothered when you get there. Don't overdo it and enjoy the ride. There are steps you can take when you get to work in order to freshen up but getting changed will be the main thing.
Read more: How To Freshen Up After Cycling To Work
Cycling in organised bike rides
The final hurdle to overcome once you've become an established cyclist is taking part in an organised ride or 'sportive' as they are known in cycling circles. The Tour de France is perhaps the world's most famous sportive, but if you don't think you'll be joining the king of the mountains at next year's event, there are plenty of other organised group rides all over the world.
Cycling in organised bike rides can be a great way of exploring on your bike without having to worry about getting lost or forging your own path. Enjoy the benefit and support of marshals and rest stops and find a true passion for cycling.
Read more: How To Get Faster At Cycling
Further reading and sportives in the UK
It took me over two years to be able to run a 10k with no problems from shin splints. When I was trying to get to the bottom of the issue I read every website, visited several physiotherapists, and went to no less than 3 running coaches for video analysis. But what fixed the problem was working with my body and listening to what it was telling me.
My fitness through cycling is good, and it is disproportionately balanced with my running capabilities. Fitness-wise, I could run a lot further and a lot faster than my legs will actually allow me. To this day I feel like I could run quicker but always hold something back. Most of the reading I did said to only add 10% extra distance or speed a week, to build up slowly, and to take it easy. And I think this really is the best advice. Along with changing running techniques.
Top Tips For Preventing Shin Splints
Running in appropriate shoes.
As I was running neutral style I went through several types of trainers trying to find ones that offered appropriate protection. Barefoot shoes, as much as I love them, are not right for me.
This is probably the single best change to my running training; running up and down countless flights of stairs. It doesn't load my shins at all and means I can really work on my core fitness and build my leg muscles whilst letting my shins rest. I can't recommend step training enough.
Where I couldn't run I tried to work on the muscles that supported running like the calf muscles.
I have been working on this for several years and I know if I push it too hard I will be back to square one. This year I completed two half marathons and although my shins did hurt afterwards, it was only for a few days.
Good luck and post below if you have any other tips.