Strength, fitness and technique

Swimming is a technical sport. Our champions have all of the above but they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have optimum technique.
Technique is critically important!
That’s why this years fastest men’s 100 is held by 19 year old Aussie James Magnussen at 48.29. Thorpies best time was 48.56 and his new coach, the legendary Gennadi Touretski [read Alex Popov, Klimmy etc.] says “[Magnussen’s] physique is only 80% of full adult maturity.” [read strength, but you’re not going to be a world record holder!]. This article is from The Australian newspaper’s expert swim journalist Nicole Jeffery, respected throughout the swimming world.
So what has strength and fitness to do with the average adult swimmer?
1. you don’t need either strength or fitness to ENJOY swimming, but you need good technique, otherwise you will be frustrated and likely to give up.
2. For example many, I’d say most, triathletes have swimming as their ‘weakest leg’. They are good runners and bikies which are activities natural to the human body, but swimming isn’t! It’s like putting snow skiing at the start of a triathlon! So they are fit and strong, but lack swim technique. This means that they waste energy in the swim and have less reserve for the rest.
3. Why? Because strength and fitness are less important than technique. Good swimmers can be fat and lazy. They’re relaxed, only using the necessary muscles which are the lats, the pecs and the triceps. Do gym work to strengthen these muscles for swimming.

While swimming exercises the whole body, it’s only the above muscles that get a solid workout. That’s why I say “if you don’t run or bike, your legs won’t get a workout so stick on some flippers and do kicking. A kickboard stresses my neck and shoulders so I do it on my back, arms forward so I don’t bump into people and walls.
If you get stressed in the upper back and deltoids, you are doing one or both things wrong.
1. you are looking forward underwater which not only stresses your neck, but many back muscles down to your feet! You’re a tug boat rether than a Thorpedo.
2. in an attempt to rotate more [a must!] you are jacking the upper elbow behind your shoulder line. Instead, rotate your body first and then your arm will come out of the water loosely. Try lying down on a carpet on your side with the lower arm extended forward, and the upper arm resting on your thigh. This is your breathing position if your face is sideways or your exhaling position if your nose is on the carpet. Now throw the upper arm forward without getting off your side. When your fingers touch the carpet that is your entry and from there you start rotating to the other side. Keep your upper arm loose with your hand lower than your elbow.

It doesn’t take any energy does it? In the water thats your arm ‘recovery’ above the surface.

Let’s get things into perspective!

Two of the world’s most dominant female swimmers in the last decade are Libby [Lenton] Tricket and USA’s Natalie Coughlin. Both are about 172cm tall and both have size 7 feet! Libby is a bit shorter but has powerful shoulders while Natalie is not the strongest member of her team. Don’t forget that Thorpie goes 8% slower with pullbuoy despite having the greatest kick in the world. So what’s it all about?

Two technical things, apart from their fitness and talent separate us from elite champions.

1. Streamlining. They rotate on a straight axis from the crown of their head to their toes. This comes with lots of focus when working out. Arms move ‘forward and backward’ rather than up/down/around.

2. Their ‘hold’ on the water. This is the rubber on the road. I have instructed seriously big and powerful South Sydney Rabitohs, and their pull rips a hole in the water like wheelspin in a powerful car. Champions hands hold a piece of water and don’t go backwards much relative to the side of the pool, a bit like oar blades in rowing.

So the bottom line is technique. How many powerful golf champions are there?


Importance of stroke correction


Humans aren’t built for swimming.
We can’t breathe at anytime we want to and there’s nothing firm to hold on to.
This leads to the “fight/flight” part of our brain sending out danger signals when we get into water. Brain surgeons from St Vincent’s Sydney at one of my Clinics told me it’s in the amygdala part of our brain. It’s involuntary and very powerful because it’s function is nothing short of survival of the human race [or the lions, elephants, dogs race for that matter.
I surprise people by stating than the sport most comparable to swimming is snow skiing!
Why? Well, you have limited goggle vision, cold and above all, anxiety! Grant doesn’t want to get a drop of water down his throat from a swimmer he’s overtaken in a 1500. It’s not fun to cough when you’re buggered!
So everybody has varying degrees of anxiety. I’m a mug skier but when I’m told to ‘lean into the valley’ I think “hell no, thats death down there!” so I lean into the mountain, lose my edges and fall.
Swimming has similar paradoxes. Our involuntary brain thinks ‘it’s warm up there, there are sharks down there!! and it’s colder. Salvation is up there’ and we aquaplane upwards.


Due to the above, and breathing being the most important thing we do, the most frequent error among all swimmers is to press down too soon on the hand opposite to the breathing side.
So we lift to breathe rather than roll to breathe.
This leads to several inefficiencies;
– the biggest one is losing power on the off side, because your body rotation hasn’t started yet in that direction so you’re only using muscle. See “Catch up” below in early newsletters.
– you lose streamlining as your head raises above your body axis.
– as a result of the above you have less time to breathe in, losing oxygen, because your arms are going faster [but you’re swimming slower].
– Ocean swimmers lift the head “to breathe better”. Nonsense! The mouth is down there, and lifting the head means lifting about 5kg’s above the surface without getting the breathing part up! So lift your chin rather than the top of your head. Rotate more and look at the sky when breathing in choppy water. Der…. check out shots of Keiren and Grant!

Hey, I know because as I get older this is my primary fault so I tell myself “practice what you preach Konrads!”

SPECIAL NOTE. If you have my DVD or even the older video, contact me direct for any questions or advice. Mobile 0407 560 568 [Sunshine Coast] or

Happy Swimming!  John

New swim clinic programs

  • CONTACT ME VIA EMAIL or CALL ME DIRECT 0407 560 568 for further information.

I have just launched new programs:

  • Private lessons, including teenagers and competent children.
  • Special deals for Clubs or Groups, such as Master swimmers, adult squads etc., or simply your swim friends.
  • Triathlon groups. Most tri-athletes are challenged by the swim. Why?
  • Including: my “Swim Easy – Swim Fast DVD valued at $50 retail, underwater video playback of each swimmer and written notes on your technique.
  • PLUS; $60 off my Swim Easy Clinics, as an introduction due to my move to the Sunshine Coast. 

Why? Because I am passionate to hear about how well you’ve done after my instruction!


I will come to the pool of your choice, including home pools to instruct adults, teenagers and children, and apply my methods helping you to achieve your objectives, e.g. ocean swimming, school carnivals, etc. All strokes, starts and tumble turns can be included. The minimum length of the pool is governed by my philosophy of: “3 good strokes are better than 10 bad ones” but indicative pool lengths and needs are:

  • 10m. for children/young teenagers
  • 15m. for adults/competent teenagers
  • 25m. maximum required
  • a nearby space for video playback and presentation. I bring the required equipment.


These can include a bunch of friends who simply swim together, Aussi Masters, Ocean Swim folks, and Triathletes.

My methods are based on eliminating wasted energy and applying it to speed and endurance. Our elite swimmers are coached with the same objectives. This applies particularly to triathletes because you are fit, usually good at the run and bike, and often find the swim leg the biggest challenge. Swimming is a different sport and good technique is paramount. I’ll teach you to complete the swim leg with a 150 heart rate!


These can be negotiable depending on circumstances and the number of customers. Importantly, I can take more people if their competency is similar. Obviously, more than my standard limit of 8 swimmers will get less individual attention. I avoid giving attention to one or two at the expense of others. However if this happens, my ‘money back guarantee’ applies and the persons can observe while the program continues, and we set up another date.

  • For private lessons, a minimum of 2 hours [or 2×1 hour] at $200 for 1 or 2 people of  the same family, including 1 DVD.
  • For Groups etc. $200 minimum for 2 people for 2 hours plus $80 for each additional swimmer, including 1 DVD.
  • Any venue costs are shared by customers.
  • No travel expenses apply within Sunshine Coast. Beyond this Municipality, car costs are $50 per additional hour return. Interstate clinics can be arranged with economic fares from Sunshine Coast airport, and for example, no accommodation costs in Sydney or Melbourne as I stay with friends.


I have moved to the Sunshine Coast

Earlier this year I moved to Sunrise Beach, near Noosa. I’ve been coming here on family holidays for some 30 years, [as well as for business when I was with Ansett ’88 to ’91,]. It’s a rewarding lifestyle and now I don’t need to go on holidays anymore!!!

Swim Clinics.

I’m therefore running my Swim Easy Clinics regularly in southeast Queensland. So far I’ve been supplying demand and look forward to announcing fixed times and venues in the near future. Meanwhile email me or call/sms me direct on 0407 560 568. Starting off in a new region, I can conduct clinics for less or more than 8 swimmers and do a special deal regarding fees. I may need you to line up the venue. So get your group or team together and contact me!

Springtime = Technique time.

If your technique is not as good as it could be, you are practicing mistakes every time you work out. So your inefficiency will be reinforced. This is the time to establish good technique because it takes time to “rewire’ your style. After all, you’ve been doing what you’re doing for a long time now, and any change can feel awkward at first but the rewards are great! As my old company L’Oreal has been saying since the ’70’s “Youre worth it!

Watch the big swim meets on TV.

Regarding technique, there is absolutely no difference in our objectives and those of the great champions! Why? Because they and their coaches strive for efficiency, i.e. saving wasted energy from inefficient actions, and applying it to speed.

Nicole Stephenson’s technical commentary at the recent Pan Pacs was great. She spoke about ‘white water’ which means creating splash above the surface and bubbles below. The winners had little white water compared to the also ran’s. It’s simple. Creating splash and bubbles requires energy. That’s why submarines go faster than surface ships with the same power. [Think Thorpedo!] I love walking into the water rather than running in at ocean swim starts. I’m the ‘old bull’, if you’ve heard the joke, unlike the excited young bull. I see clouds of bubbles, each containing a bit of wasted energy, and I think “I’m going to pass those swimmers later.” And mostly I do! 

How do you get speed? The two most important things have nothing to do with Thorpie’s feet, he went 8% slower with a pullbuoy! These are;

1. Streamlining: watch those swimmers with such a straight axis from the crown of their head to between their feet. This axis is parallel to the surface in freestyle and backstroke.  NO AQUAPLANING upwards, you’re not a water-skier with a powerful engine up front! I once asked Libby’s coach whether there was aquaplaning when she set the 50m world record, he said ” a little bit but it’s unintended, it’s the shape of her body.” By the way Libby has size 7 feet, as does Natalie Coughlin!

2. Your grip on the water. This is the ‘rubber on the road’. Too much power, like NRL players I have had in my clinics, and you get ‘wheelspin’, too little and you go slower. The best analogy is the ‘underwater ladder’ which is just at your pulling depth. You latch on to it ahead of your head and you propel yourself forward with a ‘feel’ of your grip on the water which is developed from practice. By the way, Thorpie grabs one or two rungs further forward as do the current champions, male or female.

So don’t rush in the springtime, get your basic technical principles installed. Develop awareness about how your skin feels in relationship with the water. Are you feeling water pressure on your chest? This means you’re aquaplaning. Are there lots of bubbles coming off your hands after entering the water in front? You’re not bending your arms in the air [i.e. your arm is crashing down] or you are reaching too far forward in the air before your hand enters after the elbow [i.e. aquaplaning with your forward arm]. Check out your entry by looking forward underwater, then relax your neck, which means looking downwards. Read your body! Feel your affinity with the water!

Happy swimming!   John

Noosa Blue Water Swim

This is one of the most beautiful ocean swims in the world and recently the hot shot swimmers felt inferior alongside a pod of porpoises!

I have been doing this swim for 6 years now and as announced in my January newsletter I have moved here (see below). Registration is through

Noosa Swim Easy Clinics. Special Offer!
My Clinics are on Friday 21st May and at a special price of $100 per person for the full package, reduced to $80 if you have my DVD. Because you are competent swimmers, the time has been reduced to 3 hours allowing a lower fee, but we’ll still have a coffee break poolside at Noosa Blue Resort! We’ll have a muffin with a candle because it’s my 68th birthday! The Clinics are 2-5pm and depending on demand I’ll do one 9-12 noon. To book email me at . Easy payment by cheque or cash on the day.

Noosa Blue Accommodation Special
Noosa Blue Resort is just 5 mins. walk from the main beach with 4 ½ stars. Visit have negotiated packages starting from around $100 per person per night twin share, for my swimming friends and website customers. Book direct with Noosa Blue, mention my name to get the discount or email me.

About freestyle technique
I’m a right hand breather for the last 50 years or so, and I can breathe on my left but it still feels awkward. My legendary sister Ilsa, breathed on the left and we’re both right handed. No worries because Grant swam his last 1500 constantly breathing on the right. The most common weakness for swimmers is pulling too soon on the hand opposite to the breathing side. This is because your subconscious brain signals ‘get me a good breath because I’m tired’ so you leverage down on your opposite hand to lift your head for a secure breath. This leads to two mistakes; first you are lifting the wrong part because your mouth is at the bottom of your head not the top which you’re lifting! Secondly you pull too early on your opposite hand and loose the power from your body rotation. So rotate more, look up at the sky and get your ‘mouthpiece’ up, both goggles above the surface but don’t lift!

To avoid pulling too soon, reach far forward after your hand enters [but don’t ‘aquaplane’]. Think of stretching forward until you feel your lats stretch all the way down to your waist. Apart from correcting the early pull there are other benefits. You’ll rotate more, leading to a more powerful pull, have more time to breathe and lower your stroke count. Thorpie and Grant broke their first world records with stroke counts of 34-35 per 50m. Grant’s last WR was at 31 and Ian’s last was at 29! It’s not strength, it is great technique, applicable to ladies and kids as well.

Happy Swimming,

The freestyle kick

This month’s swimming tip: ‘The freestyle kick’

The kick is inherently an inefficient movement because you’re trying to make fishtails of your feet and they’re not built like fishtails!

Only about 1% of swimmers have a good kick and that’s because they trained as kids and have flexible ankles. They get about 5% of propulsion from the legs, and 95% from the upper body.

If you tie Thorpies legs up he goes 8% slower and he, as well as Alex Popov could do 50m kick under 29 seconds. I remember standing next to Ian, and being a bit too eager, I said “I heard you did 28.6 seconds for 50m kicking, was that with a dive and underwater dolphin? He looked down at me and with a slight edge on his voice said “No, it was with a kickboard and a push-off!” Libby Trickett and Natalie Coughlin have size 7 feet!

Kicking on a kickboard is a pain in the…..butt. Many of my Swim Easy Clinic customers book by phone saying, “I get puffed out after 50 or 100m.” and I say “you’re kicking too hard”. I’ve only been wrong once in 10 years.

So unless you’re in the 1% group, just drag your legs, because it isn’t

Comprehensive detail of this technique is on John’s Swim Easy DVD.

The ‘Catch Up’

This month’s swimming tip: The ‘Catch Up’

All good swimmers use the catch up technique which delivers a more efficient, gliding stroke. Probably a better description would be “delayed pull” because catch up suggests rushing the stroke, which is bad.

The swimmer delays the “pull” phase of the stroke till the other hand enters the water in front, so momentarily there are two hands forward of the head.

Why is this faster, smoother, while using less energy? Because by delaying the pull there is optimum combination of arm pull and body rotation, in other words you are using your body weight behind your pull, like in every other sport. Imagine tennis without body rotation!

John still uses the old ‘catch up’ drill which he calls “thumb touch”, taking one stroke at a time and touching thumbs in front. “I’ve tried other variations of this drill” says John “but when you see Libby and Keiren using it, it’s good enough for my customers!”

Comprehensive detail of this technique is on John’s Swim Easy DVD.