Podcast, Swimming

Swim training structure the Swim Smooth way with Paul Newsome (part 2) | EP#133

 June 14, 2018

By  Mikael Eriksson

Swim training structure the Swim Smooth way with Paul Newsome (part 2) | EP#133

TTS133 - Swim training structure the Swim Smooth way with Paul Newsome (part 2)

Paul Newsome coaches thousands of triathletes and open water swimmers every year through his company Swim Smooth with its local squad in Perth, through international courses and clinics, and as a coach education consultant for British Triathlon. This is part 2 of 2 of my interview with Paul.

Discuss this episode!

  • Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments at the bottom of the shownotes. Join the discussion here!

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • What types of swim workouts triathletes should include in their swim training.
  • What a typical weekly swim training structure might look like for triathletes.
  • The case for focusing on your threshold speed/Critical Swim Speed (CSS). 
  • Progression over periodisation.
  • Swim technique: different strokes for different folks.
  • Swim training equipment and toys you should be using. 

Sponsored by:

Precision Hydration

Precision Hydration
One size doesn't fit all when it comes to hydration. Take PH's free Triathlon Sweat Test to get personalised hydration advice tailored to what you're training for. Use the promo code THATTRIATHLONSHOW to get your first box or tube of electrolyte product for free!


About Paul Newsome

  • Paul is the founder of Swim Smooth.
  • He coaches thousands of people every year through Swim Smooth by means of his local squad in Perth, Australia, as well as international courses and clinics.
  • Paul is also a coach education consultant for British Triathlon. 
  • Paul is British but lives in Perth, Australia for most of the year. 
  • He has also written a brilliant book called "Swim Smooth - The Complete Coaching System For Swimmers And Triathletes"

Swimming ability level impact

3:51 -

  • Ability does have an impact on the sessions we prescribe. 
  • Our philosophy has three keys to triathlon performance:
    • Pure technique work.
    • Applying yourself to the right kind of training.
    • Adapting to open water work. 
  • I often hear people say they'll apply themselves to the right kind of training once their technique is perfect. 
    • There is no such thing as perfect freestyle swim stroke. 
    • A lot of people get held back by focusing just on their technique. 
  • We have a lady in the squad who started with a CSS pace of 2:12/100m.
    • Technically she had a reasonable stroke, she was just very slow. 
    • We did some work on the tempo of the stroke, and general tidying up.
    • I didn't discourage her from coming along and giving the CSS or Red Mist sessions a go. 
    • It's not effective swimming if you have a pretty stroke but can't maintain speed.
  • I encourage everybody I coach to think about all three keys and not shy away from them. 
  • I coached a lady who I think still holds the age group world record for the swim in Kona - Catherine Faux. 
    • She came for a video analysis session, wanting to knock off 7-8 minutes of her Ironman swim time. 
    • We looked at her stroke technically and it looked really good - so I couldn't really change it from the analysis. 
    • We had a chat about training and again she was following all the advice I'd recommend. 
    • So we talked about open water, and she said she only does it when she races.
      • There's the problem! 
      • The ability to draft better and position yourself in the field will be worth 3-4 minutes in an Ironman swim.
  • If you for example want a six minute improvement in an Ironman swim, don't think about taking 6 minutes from technique work alone. 
    • Maybe two minutes from technique, 2 minutes from training and 2 minutes from the type of open water adaptation you've got. 
  • A lot of the sessions prescribed are based on threshold pace or slightly below.
    • This allows you to combine technique and fitness training together.
  • You can sustain good technique and develop good pacing when working at CSS pace. 

" A lot of people get held back by focusing just on their technique."

Open water sessions

9:51 -

  • It will depend where you are situated in the world. 
    • Here in Perth you can swim year round in the open water, so I encourage athletes to do that. 
    • In the Northern hemisphere, many lakes will be frozen during winter. 
  • Once it comes to race season, I'd recommend getting in open water at least once a week.
  • If you don't have access to open water, you can do open water specific training in the pool.
    • E.g. take out the lane ropes, put in some buoys, swim closely together as a group. 
  • Some people do say that they like swimming in the open water but they drift off and it's not focused training 
    • Not in 2018! 
    • We have things like Garmins that track distance.
    • We also use a product called the Marlin which talks to you whilst you're swimming.
      • You can do really structured training in the open water now.
  • Prior to the Marlin, if I wanted to do 400m in 5:20 in open water I'd set my tempo trainer to beep at 5.20 in one ear, and my Garmin to beep at 400m on the wrist.  
    • For me it's made open water swim training a lot more enjoyable. 
  • Myself and Andy Blow, years ago in 1996 we did lots of open water training ahead of the National Junior Championships in the UK.
    • Then in the race, neither of us swam that well.
    • One of the reasons was doing all the swimming in the open water but not at the right intensity or structure.
    • These days it's easy to keep the structure. 
  • The Marlin can tell you your pace as you are swimming which keeps you on track.

Mistakes triathletes make in swim training structure

13:33 - 

  • Making sure you know where your CSS pace is and use tools like a Tempo Trainer. 
    • You can make fine adjustments as you start to improve to ensure you don't plateau.
    • It may be small changes but over time they make a big difference.
  • A lot of triathletes have too much focus on drills, and not enough on the type of training they're doing. 
    • The idea of the three keys: technique, fitness training and open water, can help develop and nicely balance your swim training program.  

Next steps to improvements 

15:45 - 

  • Have a video analysis done.
    • We have over 50 coaches dotted around the world who can do this for you. 
    • Having the stroke analysed above and below the water can give you direction on what you need to focus on in technique work.
  • Go and work out what your CSS pace is at the moment.
    • Take that data and apply it to some of the sessions we described earlier. 
  • Implement an appropriate training programme.
    • If you're swimming three times a week: technique, Red Mist, CSS development. 
  • Make sure you're training regularly in the open water, in a structured manner.
    • Go in with a purpose, incorporate intervals and do structured work. 

Different strokes for different people

17:30 - 

" There are no style points in triathlon. It's about who is most effective."

  • We have a system at Swim Smooth which we call 'swim types'. 
  • I've been doing video analysis for 20 years and I've seen tens of thousands of people over that time. 
  • In the old days people used to say everyone should swim like Ian Thorpe. 
    • He looked long and smooth, very efficient. 
    • But we're not all 6ft6, weighing 100kg and have massive pecs. 
  • When you look at the Brownlee brothers, who are the best of the best, they don't swim like that at all. 
  • As part of our type paradigm, we recognise 6 different types of swimmers.
    • The Arnie - someone who is fighting the water with low sinking legs. 
    • The Bambino - someone who is nervous and anxious in the water and struggles with breathing. 
    • The Kicktastic - someone who sits very horizontal in the water with a strong powerful leg kick. 
    • The Overglider - someone who might gravitate more towards drills, tends to swim at a stroke rate that is too low.
    • The Smooth - First of the top two. Needs no introduction, it's someone like Ian Thorpe. 
    • The Swinger is the second of the top two. 
  • I know Alistair Brownlee, and I know he doesn't think his stroke is very good. 
    • It's effective but not as aesthetically pleasing. 
  • We need to look beyond aesthetics, there are no style points in triathlon. It's about who is most effective. 
  • The Brownlee's swim with a brilliant stroke for open water swimmer.
    • Straighter arm recovery, which is different to the classic high elbow recovery. 
    • The stroke tends to be shorter and the stroke rate tends to be quite a bit higher. 
    • This accounts for people swimming around them, and waves and chops. 
  • It's a cue to look at swimming a bit more holistically. 
    • How you look in the water isn't necessarily connected to how efficient and fast you are swimming. 
  • Develop your strengths. 
  • We ran a blog recently called 'Different strokes for different folks'.
    • One of the coaches here is 198cm tall - so you'd think he has the perfect physique for pure pool swimming. 
    • Another guy on the course was 172cm.
    • When they did the CSS, they were exactly the same speed. 
    • The tall guy was swimming with the smooth stroke, which worked perfectly for him.
    • Whereas the shorter guy was swimming with a classic swinger stroke. 
    • If the tall guy tried to swim like the shorter guy, it would be a disfavour for him. And equally the other way around. 
  • The take home point for the taller swimmers - the 'smooths' of the world:
    • Don't change your stroke, but you might need to adapt it a little for open water. 
    • These are swimmers doing 1:30 per 100, and they may need extra skills for open water. 
    • Embrace a little of what the swingers do well in the water, without fundamentally changing your stroke. 
  • It's important to differentiate truly swimming smooth from overgliding. 

Stroke rate

24:30 - 

  • Ian Thorpe used to swim with a stroke rate of 76.
    • For most swimmers, this is quite quick. 
    • It looks slow for Ian Thorpe because he has such a long stroke. 
    • In his book he discusses the idea that he could swim down the pool in 20-24 strokes if he wanted to.
    • However if he did he'd simply be gliding and not swimming efficiently. 
    • Even one of the worlds most glidey swimmers separates glide from efficiency!
  • Over the years people have focused on the length of the stroke not the rate of the stroke. 
  • It's like riding a bike:
    • You wouldn't say we all need to ride 53/12. It's only one part of the perspective. 
  • Working out what this is for you is very important. 
    • We have a chart where we look at speed and stroke rate.
    • There's a range of effective stroke rates. 
  • If somebody was swimming 2:10/100m, but were stroking at 70 strokes per minute, potentially that would be too quick for them. 
  • Equally, the average triathlete swimming at 1:40-1:45/100m and they're overgliding so swimming 42 strokes per minute:
    • They're going to be in the 'blue zone' where they're stopping and stalling between zones. 
  • On the chart, there's a red zone, a white zone in the middle and a blue zone. 
    • You want to try and get yourself into the white zone.
  • There are no critical number, it's about looking at your speed, height and build, and what works well for the stroke. 
  • A good swim coach can look at your stroke and know if the rate is appropriate. 
  • You can do a ​stroke rate ramp test:
    • You work out what stroke rate you're swimming at currently. 
    • Then back it off by 6-8 strokes per minute and do a series of 50 metres. 
    • With each 50, use a Tempo Trainer to make the stroke rate a little faster. 
    • You can get a friend on the side to count how many strokes you're doing, how long it takes to do each lap, and how you feel after each. 
    • You can plot this out and very quickly find an efficient spot for yourself.
      • You'll be swimming at an appropriate rate for you. 
      • You'll be getting good times and also feeling good. 

Swim toys and tools

28:50 -

  • All of my squad swimmers have a pair of flippers.
    • We don't do any kick work with a kick board. 
    • However we do plenty of drills with the fins on to promote ankle flexibility and kicking efficiently. 
    • This allows us to focus on key aspects of the front end of the stroke too. 
  • I strongly steer people away from the short, stubby fins.
    • Especially triathletes whose ankles are already stiff and inflexible. 
    • Finis make a good pair of flippers called the 'floating fins' which are nice and flexible. 
  • Pull buoy is a must, especially for sculling and doggy paddle. 
  • We use a range of paddles.
    • I mentioned the Finis freestyler earlier which are really good for hand entry. 
    • There's also a pair called the Finis Agility paddles that don't have straps, just a hole for the thumb. 
      • These will only stay on your hand if you're only pulling through correctly.
      • They are super effective and improving catch and pull through. 
  • The Tempo Trainer is also key. We use the Finis tempo trainer. 
  • I might throw in some bands too. 
  • As long as you know what you're using them for and you use them in a structured manner, they really start to play benefits in improving your swimming. 
  • The Red Mist endurance session is a pure endurance session, so no bits of equipment at all. 
    • Occasionally, in between the 10x400m we might do 6x50m as a recovery swim. 
    • I'll give the swimmers the option of using pull buoy and paddles during this section, but it's always an option. 
  • A lot of triathletes will wear a wetsuit during the red mist session to get used to it. 
  • I try to steer people away from using equipment during the main sets in any of the sessions.
    • We're trying to stimulate what it's going to be like swimming without that equipment. 
  • Swimming isn't limited by strength really.
    • If you consider the amount of revolutions in your arms in an hour, the relative force is very low. 

Strength training

34:03 - 

  • Going to the gym and getting big and strong isn't necessarily a prerequisite for good freestyle swimming.
  • I do get my athletes to spend plenty of time with therabands and foam rollers. 
    • This promotes range of movement and flexibility. 
  • You might not have time to go to the gym, but you can do it while watching the TV at the end of the day. 
  • I generally stay away from pure strength training.
  • If I do get someone to go into the gym, I'll get them to think about what exercise most stimulates swimming. 
  • People often do bench press, peck deck, work on shoulders etc. 
    • In actual fact, you need to do the reverse of that. 
  • If you are going to the gym, you need to be doing seated upright rowing, lat pull-downs etc. 
    • Anything that will draw your shoulders together and back to avoid the rounded posture. 
  • This would mainly be for prehab as opposed to building pure strength. 

Rapid fire questions

35:47 - 

  • What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to triathlon or swimming?
    • It's got to be this one! You've put so many of my old colleagues and friends on here recently and it's been great. 
    • Also the Rich Roll podcast. 
  • What's your favourite piece of gear or equipment?
    • My Marlin GPS unit. 
  • What's a personal habit that has helped you achieve success?
    • Routine! When I have a routine established and have a goal I feel like I'm in a better place and much more efficient. 

Key takeaway

  • The weekly structure that Paul mentioned for triathletes:
    • One technique session, one endurance plus technique session, one red mist endurance session and one CSS development session. 
    • They also had a mixed session with open water skill building as an extra. 
    • If you can only do 2-3, do the CSS development, the endurance plus technique, and the Red Mist endurance.
  • Different strokes for different folks!
    • You don't always need to look like a smooth pool swimmer.
    • Most of the worlds greatest triathlon swimmers are 'swingers'. 
    • They have a high stroke rate, which is effective in variable open water conditions. 
    • Check out the Swim Smooth website to learn more about the archetypes. 
    • Make sure you're adapting the style to your build. 
  • Focus on progression rather than periodisation.
    • Trying to make too intricate periodisation patterns won't make the training any more effective. 
    • Follow a pattern and progress through that. 

Links, resources and contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with Paul Newsome 

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

I sincerely want you to contact me to

  • Send me feedback
  • Give constructive critic​ism 
  • Request topics and guests for the podcast
  • Send me your triathlon-related questions 
  • Tell me that you've rated and reviewed That Triathlon Show so I can give you a shout-out on the show and tell you how much it means to me!
Subscribe to That Triathlon Show and never miss an episode!


Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments below. I'll be here to reply and take an active part in the conversation, so don't be shy! 

Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

  • I am a first time triathlete, training for a Sprint. My CSS is over 2 minutes. I want to build endurance and swim more efficiently, but there is no way I can do 10 x400s for a workout. How should I modify the Red Mist workout to build up for a Sprint or Olympic distance? (I e. Should I do 200s or 300s instead, or do fewer 400s?)

  • In Red Mist workout, you talk about going at CSS plus 5 (for ex.) And another set at CSS plus 4. How do you learn to control your pace that precisely? That doesn’t seem like much difference. Is stroke rate a good way to learn to control pace?

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    Explore our products and services