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Dec 4, 2014

Last Minute Gift Ideas for Swimmers and Triathletes

With the busy schedule, we all have, I often do not have much time to do an extensive research online to buy a present, so I look for pre-compiled lists to give me an idea of what to give to the person in question.

Be it Christmas, birthday, anniversary or whatever other holiday or celebration, a good gift should be something useful or unique which will not be sitting in the back of the closet for the rest of its days and should cause a visibly positive reaction on the person's face.

This being a swimming blog, I've put together a list of some ideas for anybody trying to improve their swimming. So, if you have someone in your life who deserves a gift from you and is an avid open water swimmer, just a beginner trying to make a dent into a swimming career, a wannabe triathlete with his/her mind set on the next Ironman competition, or simply someone who loves to swim, this list of swimming gift ideas is for you.

1) Exer-Genie - this is a great compact little gadget which let's you have a full body workout wherever you are.

More importantly though, in terms of swimming, it is very useful for practicing your high elbow catch (early vertical forearm) without the hassle of worrying about other aspects of your stroke.

It works in a similar way like stretch cords, with the difference that you can maintain a constant tension and you can practice the actual freestyle stroke pattern one arm at a time.

In my opinion, every serious swimmer or a triathlete should have one of these and incorporate them into their workouts and off-season training. Exer-Genie falls into the very practical and useful category as far as gifts go.

2) ShinFin Leg fins - these fins have been on the market for a while and I have mentioned them before in one of my Christmas swimming gadget ideas posts, but they don't get the press they should, so here I go again, trying to make a case. 

If you struggle with learning the proper flutter (freestyle) kicking technique, by wearing these fins, I guarantee you that you will grasp the concept and change your technique in just a few sessions.

I've used them on many occasion with beginner swimmers and the results were just astonishing. After one or two lessons, the kicking propulsion improved drastically and most of them are able to kick out of the hip rather than the knee. I just love it when products just work :).

With this gift, you are definitely going to relieve some frustration and stress for the person who will use them.

3) Corsuit - having a strong core is a must for a successful swimming advancement. Why not have a little help with this swim gadget. 

The Corsuit serves as a sort of a casket for your midsection. It gives you a constant real-time feedback on your body posture in the water and helps you, for example, maintain a flatter back, so your streamline is as smooth as it can be.

The Corsuit will be one of those gifts which will cause a bit of a stir as it is quite unique and not very well known on the market.

keeping the core engaged

4) Palm Paddles - are probably the world's smallest paddles, but also one of the most useful.

Their contour desensitizes your palm, so you do not grab so much water and are more focused on using your forearm, therefore making the front quadrant of your stroke much more effective. Palm Paddles would make a very useful, but also a cute little gift :).

Paddle fits into your palm

5) Aquaviz mask - this multipurpose prescription lens is so universal, you can use the same lens in your swimming goggles, skiing or snowboarding mask, sunglasses, paintball mask, snowmobile mask etc. etc. You name it and you can use it for it.

If you are not into wearing contacts or don't want to buy expensive custom prescription mask/goggles/glasses for every single sports activity you do, Aquaviz is for you.

So, go out there and find out the prescription values of your loved one and get them an Aquaviz, so they can see clearly wherever they go.

The prescription lenses wizard - the Aquaviz

6) Pebble Smartwatch - with its smart capabilities, you will no longer have to connect your watch to a computer to upload your swim data, it does it by itself through syncing with your Android phone on your way home from the pool.

So by the time you get to your cosy destination to sit on the sofa and to check your stats, they are already there. With already ready integration to many exercise platforms such as this Swimming training and workout service from Swim.com, it makes it a perfect gift for any avid swimmer. The modern gift for a modern swimmer.

7) Xmetrics computer - if you want to go a one step further, Xmetrics is the device of the future.

The device has a new take on what a swimming computer should be like.

It can provide an audio feedback in real-time. Apart from the usual stats, it can, for example, tell you how fast your turns are and I am sure that is just the beginning.

If you ever wanted to give a cutting-edge technology gift, this is it. Let's start the "swimming without a watch" revolution together.

8) 360swim SaferSwimmer - I love this product because it has all the things that a good product should have. 

Quality and thoughtful design, it is useful and practical, well priced and it helps people stay safer in the open water. 

If the person you are buying a gift for swims in open water (be it a lake, sea, pond), with this gift you show them you care about their safety, but you also are thoughtful enough to get them something that they will actually use.

You might just save a life with this gift or open new horizons or someone who is afraid to go the open water swimming route on their own.

360swim SaferSwimmer

Alright, there you have my list of the gift ideas for your fellow swimmers or triathletes.

If you do have some experiences with any of these, please do share them in the comments below, Facebook or on other social channels, so others can also benefit from your experience.

Have a great holiday season, Christmas, birthday, anniversary or whatever special occasion you are going to celebrate. And don't forget, keep on swimming :).

Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

Oct 14, 2014

Xmetrics: A New Swimming Wearable Which Will Make You Swim Faster

"All you have to do is swim." That is a promising bold claim made by a technology company with a new swimming wearable gadget soon to be released to the swimming and triathlon communities. This new swimming computer goes under the name of Xmetrics and with its sleek design and a long list of features looks like a very ambitious and useful addition to the swim tech world.

Slick design meats real-time audio feedback
Why should you care? Do we really need another swimming tracker wearable and an app to go along with it. Isn't there enough? Actually, there are really not that many good options for improving your swimming when you are after getting some real feedback from the computer and not just counting your laps with your Pebble watch or you don't want to wear ankle and hand bracelets. The refreshing part about Xmetrics is that it is not a watch and is able to provide real-time audio feedback while you swim (not even your coach can do that). Like the recently hyped Instabeat it attaches on your goggles, but it hopes to give you much more feedback in terms of your swimming. And if you ask me, in a much better form via headphones rather than your eye.  Even though, bone conduction would be even better. The world seems to be crazy about wearable bracelets and computer watches to measure all aspects of every day lives and exercises, but for swimming this is just not the right way to go, so I believe Xmetrics is onto something.

Small enough to fit under the swim cap
Here are a few reasons why watches are mere translation rather than localization when it comes to going from land to water:
  • Imagine how many strokes you take in a month or a year. If you swim frequently, it will be in 100s of thousands. Now, add a watch to your hand and only keep it on one of them without switching sides. Is swimming still a sport which works both sides of your body the same? The shoulder might suddenly not feel so good, especially if you have a flawed stroke to begin with. If you are a runner or a cyclist, would you weigh one shoe or paddle more than the other? Doubtful.
  • Checking your watch for real-time data is just stupid as you cannot look at it while you swim and by the time you get to the wall, the moment to make a correction is over ;)
  • You end up spending more time messing with the settings on your watch than actually swimming
  • The metrics the standard swimming watches provide make swimmers focus on the wrong data at the wrong time when it comes to efficiency improvements. When you come home to review the historical data, you will hardly remember what has happened during the swim workout and even if you have a good memory, you are less likely to fix the problem as you will not know if you are doing it correctly the next time around.
  • Watch just adds drag to your streamline
  • Finally, who still wears a watch in this century. In my opinion, the wearable wristbands are just a quick over-marketed transition before something that will be a more permanent part of you.
Upload your data and analyze at later time on Android, iOS and Windows mobile devices
Since I outlined why a watch might not be the best design to use in the pool, how about elaborating a bit more about which of the basic swimming data is actually interesting to look at in terms of improving your swimming fitness:
  • how many laps I have swam - this is a totally useless metric - focus on quality and not the quantity of what you do, so when you find yourself bragging I swam 30K this month, stop and think what that actually means. It tells everyone, you have no clue what you are doing and are competing with the wrong data.
  • how many strokes I took per lap - this one is a bit more useful, but still does not tell you the whole story unless you are able to interpolate it with the time it took you to swim the lap, so don't let this be your only focus (check out SWOLF score - luckily most top watches have this)
  • how many calories I burned - hmm, useless, no comment
  • how fast I swim and what is my pace - sure this one is a classic and you can't do it without it, so start learning to read the pace clock around your swimming wall or get yourself your very own simple PaceWatch.
  • what is my heart rate - this metric has its place, but many swimmers do not use it the right way (for example: it should also be used during recovery purposes to get your heart rate down back to normal level before starting a new set, especially if you are not such a good swimmer). Many triathletes try to monitor their heart rates in the same way they do in running or cycling (just keep it in the greenzone). The problem here is that more than likely you get enough of this type of exercise on the road while you bike or cycle and should focus on your technique instead of where you heart rate is. Of course, the more experienced swimmer you are, the more heart rate monitoring can help you judge how you are doing.
  • drill logging - how is this helpful, except maybe making sure you at least do some drills in your workouts and can eliminate drill from your workout pace times? I think they just came up with this one to have some more stats to track. If the metric would be how efficient your drills are, then you have a golden ticket. I'd really like to know what a swimmer does with this information.
  • breathing pattern measure - that's an interesting one, but only if it slaps you on the head when you breathe only to one side and breathe in and out of the walls.
Now to the features of Xmetrics. The Italian creators claim that it is able to give you real-time audio feedback not only on biomechanical data such as the usual stroke count, number of laps, efficiency, metronome stroke frequency etc. but also biological data like heart rate or blood oxygen saturation. It is also able to tell you your turn speed or your acceleration power in real-time, so imagine how huge of a motivator that could be for trying to focus on improving that turn speed or your catch. There is really no excuse not to improve with Xmetrics. The device should be also individually programmable, so you can adjust what you want to hear from your virtual swim coach.

Looks like something from the future. Wait.. IT IS :).
So, bottom line is, if you are into sport wearable gadgets and would like to improve parts of your swimming, Xmetrics might just be the swim computer for you to keep an eye out for and to consider donating to their Indiegogo campaign. Just with the real-time feedback itself, my guess is you will spend a lot less time chasing that historical data during your sleepless nights and maybe spend a bit more time with your kids. I guess, we'll have to wait and see if the guys at Xmetrics can deliver on their promise. I hope they do as I will be lining up to get one for a review as soon as I can. We are still waiting for Instabeat Robocop goggle attachment to hit the market :(.

How Xmetrics is positioned among its competitors

Lastly, some food for thought, what would be very cool is to create sort of a hive of Xmetrics devices inside the pool and have them share the metrics with each other in real-time, so you can for example have a competition with your fellow lap swimmers on who can make the fastest turn or lap etc. How much fun would that be? Welcome to a truly digitized social swimming world.

Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start

May 12, 2014

How to Become a Swimming Superhero

It is a well known fact that every superhero has to have a special suit, a cape or a mask to be taken seriously. At the same time he or she has to have a certain set of extraordinary skills which often are enhanced by their attire. Think Batman and his winged cape or his belt which never ceases to produce a McGyver like gadget to help him escape from a peculiar situation. What does this all have to do with the sport of swimming though? Well, what if I were to tell you that you can also have your own superhero gadget which will improve your special swimming skills that you probably didn’t even know you had. Meet the amazing "BluCore Corsuit". When you put it on, you will be able to improve your swimming body position and reduce your drag which in turn will make you a faster swimmer with lesser effort. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

corsuit and the blucore bag
Before I dive into this mysterious superhero swimming costume, let’s talk about what it takes to learn to swim. Learning to swim can be broken down into 5 high level parts. Of course, swimming by itself composes of a series of very complex and highly coordinated movements in an environment that humans weren’t meant to be in, so there is much more to it then the list of five I mention below. However, on the way to some sort of swimming ability these basic principles apply. First, before you attempt anything remotely resembling swimming, you will have to learn to be comfortable in the water. Many of us learn this when we are young, so we usually skip this phase during our adult age and take it for granted. Second, you should learn how your body balances and behaves in the water in different positions at the same time you learn to kick, so you can actually go somewhere. Third, you need to learn how to breathe, so your journey is not limited by your ability to hold your breath and you can fully learn how to relax in the water. The breathing step is really accompanying all the steps, but wanted to listed here as it is equally important. Fourth, you will discover how to use your arms as propellers and fifth, the most complicated part is to put it all together. One common theme in all of those phases (maybe not the first one) is the ability to hold your body in a buoyant horizontal position and this is where your superhero corsuit comes into play. In simple terms it allows you to get an instant feedback on your posture and alignment while you perform one exercise from the never ending list of swimming drills.

Who should use the corsuit and how does it work?

If you suffer from sinking legs, the corsuit allows you to have a tangible surface to press your lower back against to help with leveling you out.

If you swim like a snake from side to side, the long axis of the corsuit will give you a sensory feeling on your spine that you are not swimming straight.

If you train for short sprint events, you can use the corsuit for getting a constant feedback about your hip position, so you can keep them nice and flat and eliminate your kick loosing power to the sides.

If you swim butterfly over the water instead of through the water, in other words, you come up too high, the top end of the corsuit will give you a bit of a pressure on your spine to help you move your hole body instead of just raising your upper body from the water.

If you are into breaststroke, it helps to limit the arc in your back and improves your up and over motion to keep you focused on forward motion with your hips high at the surface.

If you swim and are just looking for something new to spice up your workouts, the corsuit is a wonderful tool for that. It keeps you thinking about your body position and it is something different, so all in all a good fun :).

Made out of flexible and comfortable material

How to put it on?

Corsuit - The Underwater Brace :)
All you have to do is slip the suit through your legs onto you mid section of your body with the large cross piece on the back and the flat piece on your stomach. Then snap the buckle, so it is nice and snug and does not move during your swims. On the bottom of the front piece, there is a small half circle shaped opening which should fit exactly where your belly button is, so it serves as a guideline to how high on your back to put it. On the back side, there is a spacious ridge into which your spine will fit, so you don't have to worry about the corsuit hurting your vertebrates. I've been wearing it for the past six months and have to say that have not felt any discomfort at all, so well done to the inventor.

I’ve found that if you have a naturally more curved lower back, you can have it lower on your back to help you with the problem, but as long as you have an initial gap between your lower back and the corsuit, you are good to go and can strive to make your back flat against it. My suggestion would be to not spend too much time with the initial fitting of the coresuit, but adjust it as you see fit during your swims. After a while you will discover the position which brings you the most benefit.

I swim with the suit a few hundred meters at a time, trying to keep my body nicely aligned, then take it off and attempt to mimic the same feeling that I had while wearing it. Of course, you can keep it on for longer, but I would not recommend it as you do not want to start relying on the suit. It should only serve as a check up tool to make sure you are doing the right thing.

Here is the belly button outline + large buckles to attach it

Sample corsuit workouts

Here is a short list of swimming sets you could incorporate into your corsuit training to get the most use out of the tool.

8x100 free (20 sec rest - just enough to get it off and on)
- odd - with corsuit (at your own speed while you maintain good body position)
- even - without (mimic the correct posture)

4x200 free (same as before - you can change the distance as you'd like)

6x25 free sprints with corsuit - focus on the flat hips (long rest - 3-4 mins)
6x25 free without

Don't be afraid to dive, the corsuit will not hinder you a bit.

8x25 fly with corsuit (20 sec rest)
cycle between - head under water (no breath stroke), only goggles out (no breath stroke), breath close to surface
4x25 fly without corsuit

These are just examples to get you started. Be creative and make your own sets. If you have one in particular that you like, please do share it below in the comments, so others can also benefit from it.

In addition to swimming workout routines, since the corsuit is wore around your waist, it can totally be used in a gym during your core body workouts to keep your posture true even when out of the pool.

Feeling like a superhero with the corsuit
So in summary, I have to give this product big thumbs up. It is unique in its own way and it tries to address one of the biggest challenges of improving in swimming which is the lack of real-time feedback. When you have a coach on the pool deck, you get some initial instruction and then you are left alone to execute it, then after a bit you might get more instruction etc. etc. This is a very slow process. If you have a tool with you that is constantly giving you tactile impulses which tell you if you are doing something right or wrong, it is priceless. Of course, I am not insinuating that the corsuit replaces your coach :), but it is a big plus to have the ability to adjust your stroke while you swim. To learn more about the corsuit, check out this user guide which also has some useful drills to practice your body alignment.

Safer Swimmer - the must have swim safety device for all open water swimmers

Mar 5, 2014

11 Ways To Enjoy Swimming in a Crowded Lane

It is one of those days. The swimming lane I am about to plunge into is overcrowded and even though it is marked with the clearly distinctive letters "FAST SWIMMERS", the lane is plagued with leisurely swimming head up breaststrokers and wannabe swimmers standing by the wall and discussing the latest political issues (whatever they may be).

Argh, this sucks and my day's mood is just ruined. Or is it?

Calm before the storm :)

I’ve long ago realized that it is a lost battle to try to educate every single person about the etiquette of public pool lane swimming.

Instead of joining the online rants about how people should get a clue about what it means to swim in a fast lane, how lifeguards should enforce certain rules and be angry half the time, I decided to make the pool my playground.

After all, people are people and always going to be people.

Some are ignorant, some don't manage their expectations very well and some just don't know any better or don't realize that they are doing something out of the ordinary when entering the dangerous waters of the fast swimmer lane :).

Read on and I will show you how you can have an effective workout without the added stress of dealing with human nature.

Next time you feel like slapping someone on the back of their head to school them about their invasion of the fast lane, try the following tips instead and I guarantee you will enjoy your swim more.

And as an added bonus, you will actually improve in your swimming, so time is not wasted.

1) Slow Swimming - I've mentioned swimming slowly in a few of my previous posts here and here. A crowded lane is a perfect venue for this.

Slow down, relax and only engage the muscles that need to be engaged (example: are your fingers relaxed when your arm is out of the water or are they tight?).

Believe it or not, you will learn more by swimming faster than you can imagine. And if you have a hard time swimming slow, for example, your legs sink, then you are not doing it right :) and you should click on one of the links at the start of this paragraph.

2) One Arm Drills - if I'd have to pick one drill that should be done every day, it is one arm swimming.

This is the king of kings when it comes to working on your body roll, arm entry, front catch, breathing and maintaining great body position and the list goes on. One arm swimming is the ultimate technique training drill.

You can try it with arms down or bottom arm extended, but most importantly make sure that you roll to both sides equally. Do not just gallop through the water skipping the full rotation to the side where you move your arm.

3) Dive Under - when you approach the annoying obstacle swimmer in your lane, just dive under and take it as a sprint underwater kick exercise. Keep a tight streamline to minimize the drag and just kick along the bottom underneath the swimmer until you get passed them.

While you are passing them from down under, give them a wave or just show them your funny face to keep it fun.

This is great for building your breath control and also for improving your kicking (bread and butter of swimming fast). If you are not a great kicker, grab a pair of fins to help you with the underwaters. It might seem hard at the start, but the more you do it, the more fun it becomes.

Streamlined underwater kick with zoomers

4) Backwards Swimming - now this one is tricky, but if you stick with it, you’ll get better at it and soon you will not feel like you are drowning.

The idea is that you will be quite slow so you won’t have the need to pass anyone, thus fitting right in without problems. Backward swimming is a great way to get more versatile in the water and to learn to better control your body position and movements. Check out the video below to get an idea what I mean.

5) Fists and Finger Drills - the opposite of swimming with paddles is to use your fists or just a few fingers to swim.

The idea here is that you work on catching the water with your forearms or to get a faster cadence into your stroke as you won't require as much power for the arm to move through the water.

Remember keep those fists relaxed, you are not angry and not punching the water, just caress it, feel its contour and enjoy. If fists swimming is not your forte, grab a pair of palm or anti paddles or just a simple tennis ball and have fun.

6) Sculling - if you are not sure what sculling is, you are missing out.

In order to swim fast, you need to find support in water and sculling is a very good way to improve your water perception.

There are many positions you can scull in: arms forward, arms back, one arm forward, arms in scarecrow position (windshield wiper) etc. etc. etc. Remember, it is not a breaststroke movement, it is sculling (from side to side in a very small figure eight like motion).

Try to stay away from kicking while you scull, use a pullbuoy if you cannot resist the kick on your own :).

Butterfly sculling drill

7) Flags to Flags swim - to skip the world's best debaters at the pool wall, just swim from flags to flags doing fast tuck flip turns and fast breakouts from them.

What I mean is, when you approach the flag line, just do a flip keeping your body as small as possible to make it fast and efficient.

Then since you have no wall to push off from, you will have to work extra hard to get back to your original swimming speed, so dig in with the leg kick and the arm stroke to get back to speed.

If you are not up the flag to flag swim, you can do a variation where you will do a 360 somersault in the middle of the pool where your tuck is as small as possible and you do not use your hands. This should slow you down a little to not have to pass anyone (if you are still too fast, just do 2 flips).

8) Open Water Training - why not take the passing of slow people as training for open water races.

You can draft a bit, then closely pass them when the opportunity arises. And at the same time, you can sight if someone is coming in the other direction. It does not get more challenging in the pool than this.

An overcrowded lane is a perfect playground to mimic the mass starts during your triathlon and open water races, so take advantage of it and practice it:).

Don't be afraid of touching or bumping into the other people, they will survive and as a side effect, they might actually get the hint and go to a slower lane. Open water and triathlon swims also have very brisk speed variations and you can fully incorporate those in the crowded lane. Sprint to the next person, pass them as a recovery time and sprint to the next or vice-versa etc.

9) Medley Swimming - maybe if you'd switch to another stroke than freestyle, suddenly the slow swimmers might not be so slow anymore, so explore it. Don't be afraid.

The more strokes you swim, the more enjoyable your workouts will get and you will soon find that you are more comfortable and better aware of your body in the water. For example, backstroke follows very much the same principles as freestyle, so get on your back once in a while.

10) Simply Kick - a lot of power in swimming is from legs, so don't be negligent in this department. A crowded slow pace lane is a good reason to get on with the kick and improve your chances of success.

Of course, you can kick with a kickboard, but I'd suggest to leave your kickboard at home and stick with just your body. You can do variations of head lead side kick (arms at side), arm lead side kicks (bottom arm extended) or 360 streamline kick rotation etc. etc. Let your mind go wild and be creative.

Head lead side kick drill - keep that spine straight

11) Water Floorball - yes, you read it right. Grab a floorball or a wiffle ball (if it has holes, it is a go:)) and have fun. Do one arm swimming with the ball to see if both of your arm pulls feel the same. My bet is that they do not.

Do a catch-up swimming where you switch the ball from hand to hand in the front. Do sculling with it to strengthen those tiniest muscles in your shoulders. The holes in the ball will cause your small muscles to work a bit harder when you try to keep the ball from going too crazy out of your movement's control. It is fun, try it.

There you have it. I am sure you can think of other ways to make the crowded lane workout more interesting (don't be shy about sharing them in comments below - let's keep the list growing:).

The list above will hopefully give you some inspiration when all hope is lost and your anger gets the better of you.

Get creative and let the lane and its occupants be your playground. And if you have a friend who suffers from the crowded lane anger, share this article with him or her so they can be a happier and faster swimmer :).

Learning to swim is priceless and SwimSmooth Learn to Swim DVD is a great start