How swimming video analysis can knock minutes off your triathlon swim personal best.

Seeing yourself swim can make a huge difference

I’ve always known that watching your own swim on video is the best way to improve, but the message really hit home lately when Triathlon Plus and triradar.com editor Elizabeth Hufton went on a video swim day.

Over the last few months she’s been diligently hitting the local pool at lunch times, putting in the miles in a bid to overcome her weakest triathlon discipline. Her rate of improvement was slow, but then she went on a video analysis day and within a week she cut her 400m personal best by over a minute. In one day she accomplished what several months of swimming four or five times per week couldn’t achieve. Seeing herself on video, combined with the expert help of a coach made all the difference. In this feature I’m going to show you how you can do the same.

The first step is to get yourself filmed. It might sound like a hassle, but it’s nothing compared to all the hours you spend swimming, driving to the pool, and getting changed. Don’t be frightened off either; I bet your stroke’s not as bad as you imagine. Seeing it on film might give you a confidence boost and help you visualise exactly what you’re doing right and wrong. It’ll even help you understand what a coach tells you. For example, you may get told to ‘get your elbow up’, but until you’ve seen yourself on screen it’s hard to know what it means. Once you’ve seen your stroke it all starts clicking into place. You’ll have a clear picture in your mind’s eye, that’ll help you every time you swim. There are two ways to go about it:

ATTEND A VIDEO SWIMMING LESSON
Attending a video swimming lesson is the smartest option. They’re normally group sessions where everyone gets filmed, and a coach identifies areas for improvement and recommends suitable drills to help. You’ll probably get a take-home DVD of your swim too. Alternatively, you can get one-to-one sessions in an Endless Pool (swimming’s version of a treadmill) if there’s one near you. Video swim lessons are great, but their time and expense is a factor to consider. As a result, they may end up being a once-a-year experience, even though you’re far better off getting videoed every month.

VIDEO YOURSELF
To overcome this you could try recording your own swim. You just need a digital camera or mobile phone that records video, and a waterproof camera bag. These underwater bags are guaranteed against leakage and cost around £20 from most camera shops. Then you need a swimming pool where you won’t get in trouble for filming. Some public pools allow you to take pictures if you fill in a form first. I tend to use the pool at my local private gym at quiet times when it’s practically empty. If there are one or two other swimmers I ask their permission and nobody ever seems to mind. Alternatively you could do it in a triathlon club swim session.

I get a friend to film me from three different angles. The first is from above, with the camera person walking along poolside. The second is from the front, where I swim towards the camera, and the third is from the side, with the camera just below the surface.

Once you’ve been filmed you need to watch the footage several times, and in slow motion if possible. You should freeze-frame it at different stages and note the position of your arms, legs, body and head.

You should also compare your stroke by watching underwater videos of famous swimmers like Michael Phelps to see what they do differently. That way, you’ll have two images in your head, one of you, and one of the perfect stroke. Another great tool is Mr Smooth, a free application that’s been developed by a swim coaching company called Swim Smooth (www.swimsmooth.com), the company that helped our editor. It gives you a 3-D representation of a perfect freestyle swimmer that you can view from all angles and speeds. This means that you’ll be able to compare your stroke directly with Mr Smooth to get an idea of what you’re doing right and wrong at each individual phase of your stroke.

Filming your own swim isn’t the answer to everything but if you combine it with regular swim coaching and the occasional video swimming lesson it could soon be you who’s knocking a minute off your swim PB.

If you want to go down the professional route, there are video swim facilities all over the country. These three should get you started:
www.swimtherapy.co.uk (Leicester)
www.trisportuk.org (Camberley)
www.royles.biz (Cheshire)

This article was first published in Triathlon Plus magazine – click here to subscribe.

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