September 25th, 2016

Don’t Set Limits

Simon swimming in Croatia

Simon swimming in Croatia

A big shout out and congratulations to Simon of London, UK. Simon came to Fit&Abel in June this year. At 52 years young he was scared of deep water, not a confident swimmer but most importantly he was uncertain as to whether or not he could ever learn to get comfortable in deep water , let alone open water. This was part of his first e-mail  to us: “At 52, I have never mastered swimming and  nervous to go near deep water. I would be really grateful if I could organise some 1 to 1 coaching to at least teach me the basics and gain the confidence that I lack. I can swim (poorly) a very short distance front crawl.

Simons goal was to go on a swim holiday off a boat. We told him that with some hard work (mental and physical) this was perfectly achievable. To Simons credit he bought in to our belief that a safe, fun, successful swim journey was very much a possibility. Simon bought three 121 lessons to begin. Our focus was on starting with the basics, showing him that he was more than capable and most importantly that even the process of learning and facing ones fear can still be a process that includes some laughter and fun.

Simon started coming more often, over June , July and August he made three lessons a week fairly regularly. We had ups and downs… “ I was frustrated yesterday… but I guess that’s all part of the equation.I know I’ve made good progress and to keep pushing on out of my comfort zone is all part of my progress.” The key was Simon stuck at the process, sometimes he was frustrated but he never gave up. It’s never linear … like any journey there are good days and better days. But as we progressed and the basics became more comfortable we were able to add more to the lessons; we covered the basics of front crawl, efficient body positions in deep water, jumping into and exiting deep water, the art and ‘secret’s of breathing , ‘go to’ positions’ for rest in deep water including sculling, treading water and floating on ones back. We set challenges and goals along the way to tick off and celebrate.

Note that all of this is taking place in Tooting Bec Lido, a ‘natural’ water temperature pool which in June means water temperatures well below 20C. We also completed all of the basics without a wetsuit. As Simon was new to swimming he didn’t know any different.  Sure he got cold to begin but the water temperature became his ‘normal’. As the water temperature naturally heated up he felt that increase and enjoyed it. In late August we added the wetsuit to Simons swim kit. Because he’d learnt the basics without one he was better placed to take advantage of the attributes of the wetsuit … and he certainly had enough experience by now to appreciate them.

After three months Simon had built up enough confidence and experience to take to the open water proper. Sure there were nerves to begin and he took it tentatively to start with – and rightly so, but again with persistence, his new found knowledge, encouragement from friends and family and a great attitude Simon continued to tick off new achievements in his swimming … until it was finally time to take on the ultimate goal… a swim holiday in Croatia. It was a pleasure to get Simons first e-mail while on his swim trip … “ The most freedom and joy …I can’t quite describe..
I was as most definitely as happy as a pig in..!
Thanks for all the incredible coaching you gave me over the 2.5 months. This water is like bath water in comparison to Tooting!”

Some final words from Simon … when we asked him if it was OK to share his journey “if I can give someone the chance to experience the freedom I felt these past few days..then it has to be done!”

And in his words… “What a holiday… I’m bushed… but I’m so glad I went…
It’s been a long time to wait, 53 years to breaking this fear.
Everyone was so supportive of me..  and I only used the wet suit once!


Don’t let a bad experience put you off swimming in the future. For you. For your children perhaps? For your health certainly. For fun and to meet new people … definitely.  The mind will always set limits the body has no idea exist. Swimming … give it go!


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August 1st, 2016

Tracking Your Swim Data

11.5km sessionThe swimmers logbook: provides an ongoing record of training. Some swimmers view them as a waste of time, an annoyance that must be added to daily. Others see the value in being able to review and compare training cycles, sets and repeat times. This can help identify strengths, weakness and opportunities. A logbook entry can record distances, times, heart rates, sleep patterns, success and failures, present and past … and just about anything the author desires in between. They can become quite a personal document recording battles, triumphs, injuries and emotions.  Sure you can get some of this data off a swim watch but a written log can capture much more.

A logbook also helps capture a point in time; a point that can be reflected on, savoured, or grimaced at in future years.  It has been a personal journey of mine opening logbooks now that last saw the light of day as recent as 1999 with some entries dating as far back as 1988. Other entries are too personal to share but some are entertaining as well as enlightening.  Everything from invisible Ink, mutated dog turd, piano factories , sun burn and some crazy sets … Here are just a few snapshots into the journey of a swimmer from way back when …

MontageRecording your swim journey is a personal thing. What you record and when depends on what type of person you are and what you (and your coach) believe will be most helpful as you progress through your season, your career, your life! You may be surprised at what patterns emerge from the data. Not sure how to log your swims? Try something that is custom made for swimmers   Whatever method you choose to record your swim data … if you haven’t done so before do give it a try and be consistent for at least a 6 month period before you make any judgement on whether is helpful for you. What are you waiting for? Get swim logging …


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July 12th, 2016

To Paddle or not to Paddle?

finis-agility-paddles-minThe Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to Swim Paddles

(This article was originally published in and is published with the kind permission of Olivier,

Swim paddles are a staple in just about every swimmer’s training. Here is everything you need to know about making the most of this piece of equipment.

“Fins and paddles!” coach called out.

A chorus of smiles and cheers swiftly followed. Some things are totally universal in our sport, and one of them is the pleasure in getting to Mach-1 while wearing equipment that throws our swimming into hyper-drive.

Paddles are one of those pieces of equipment that are found in just about every swim bag across the world, but have you ever really stopped to think about why we use them?

From how you should use them, the research behind their effectiveness, the shortcomings of their use, and even some links to some of the best rated paddles on the market, we are going to cover everything paddle related.

Here is just about everything you ever wanted to know about swim paddles.

“Please, please, please let us use paddles today coach.”

Swim Paddles: The Research

As an experienced swimmer you have used them so many times that you have never really paused to consider the point of them. But you do know what happens when you strap them on: you swim longer (in terms of distance per stroke) and you swim faster.

The research backs this up:

  • A group of female swimmers strapped on a pair of small hand paddles (116 cm) and over-sized paddles (286 m) and completed a series of 25m sprints. Both swimming speed and distance-per-stroke increased significantly.While DPS went up, the stroke rate went down. Of particular note was that the pulling phase took longer to execute, while the speed of the recovery was unchanged.
  • In what is basically a copy of the previous study, this time a group of male age groupers swam a series of 25m sprints (the oversized paddles were bigger in this trial—311cm). They were instructed to hold a consistent stroke rate via an underwater speaker that helped them it constant. Same results:increased speed and distance per stroke, and handspeed in the push and in-sweep phases were down when wearing paddles.
  • A group of nationally ranked backstrokers performed a bunch of 100s with and without paddles. When the 100s were swum at full max the rate of perceived exertion and blood lactate concentration were lower when swum with paddles compared to without. In other words, the paddles made the swimmers more efficient when they were swimming all-out, but interestingly enough, not when they were swimming at sub-maximal speed (85%).
  • If you’ve swum for even a moderate amount of time you have stumbled upon swimmer’s shoulder, either yourself or in the warnings of others. Swim paddles, as well as other shoulder-bearing exercises, were found to be one of the things that aggravated shoulder injuries when used by swimmers and in this group of 1250+ swimmers from age group to national level.

The Benefits of Swim Paddles

There are generally two main benefits to incorporating paddles into your training: building power and strength in the water, and also to help solidify good technique habits.

Here’s why you should use paddles during swim training:

1. Specific development of power.

In terms of building strength and power this is about as specific as it gets. As long as you are performing the stroke precisely as you normally would (which can be hard with a slower catch and pull as shown in the research above), you are adding resistance to your stroke.

2. Teach you speed and efficiency.

You don’t need me to tell you that swimming with paddles is awesome because you get to go much faster—probably as fast or faster as race pace when going all-out. When swimming at this kind of speed you can really get a feel for how you are most efficient in the water, from keeping a rigid torso, to having an early catch, and so on.

3. Spices up your workout.

For those long, monotonous repeats of 500s or whatever coach is subjecting to you that day, throwing in some paddles is a an easy way to mix things up and keep you fresh mentally.

4. Encourages a better catch.

When you are feeling particularly hardcore use only the middle finger strap. When you don’t engage the early catch the paddle will slip off and you will be feeling like a rank amateur having to put your paddle back on mid-length. (On the bright side it will teach you what not to do.)

5. You’ll know when you aren’t pulling correctly.

Paddles accentuate everything about the pulling motion. Your catch is stronger, the pulling motion is stronger—you will be able to better focus and tune those parts of your stroke.

The Swimmers Guide to Swim Paddles

The Downsides

Everything is not all golden when it comes to your hand paddles, though. If you’ve ever had pain in your shoudlers you know that they tend to exacerbate the tenderness, and while they can encourage some good training habits in some instances they can also open the door to bad ones:

  • Oversized paddles put strain on ligaments and tendons in your arms. If you have weak shoulders, or are experiencing a fresh round of the dreaded swimmers shoulder than large paddle use is probably not for you. Think of paddles like weights: if you have bad, shaky form in the water the potential for injury increases significantly.
  • Leaves you slipping through the water afterwards. While gliding along at a reduced rate of exertion can make you feel like an aquatic superhero, taking them off—especially when rocking out with dinner plate-sized paddles on your hands—can leave you feeling like your hands are trying to catch sand the next time you push off.
  • Paddles can encourage bad training habits. Just as often as they encourage good ones, throwing the dinner plates on your hands can also develop habits you are trying to steer clear of: from spreading the fingers, to having a gallop in the stroke from a slow pull but fast recovery, and so on.

Best Practices for Using Hand Paddles

Start with paddles just larger than your hands.

We all vary in terms of natural hand size and shoulder strength. You might have small hands but boulder-shoulders, and vice versa—so start with paddles that are just a little bit larger than your hands and progress from there.

The tendency is to start with dinner plates right off the bat (guilty!), but if it means that your stroke is unbearably slow or that its straining the tendons in your elbow than the paddles become a moot training tool.

Remove the wrist straps.

The last thing you want to do is throw on some paddles and start ingraining some less-than-rad training habits. By removing the wrist straps you will find out very quickly whether or not you are swimming with good technique, particularly in freestyle.

If you aren’t swimming with your “natural paddle”—the hand to elbow, and going for early vertical forearm at the beginning of the pulling motion, the paddle will slip right off. To be sure it is annoying when it happens, but it will keep you on your game technically.

Mimic natural finger position.

A common occurrence with really big paddles is for swimmers to spread their finger sin order to more evenly apply pressure across the paddle. If you need to do this the paddles are too large.

Similarly, if your fingers extend beyond the edge of the paddles you are going to naturally curl your finger tips around the edge of the paddle for more stability.

The Best Swim Paddles on the Market

Alrighty, so now that we have covered the ups, the downs, the benefits and downsides of using the bad boys, here are my choices for the top three paddles on the market.

1. Speed Power Plus Paddles.

The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to Swim Paddles

I put these bad boys at number one because, well, they are in my swimming bag. The current set I have (the XL) are going on year three of working rather wonderfully.

I have taken the wrist straps in and out a few times with no visible wear or worrying that they would snap.

They would be in better shape if I took them out of my mesh bag once in a while and gave them a rinse, but hey, I’m kinda lazy when I get home after swimming for two hours.

They are available in small to extra large.

Where to Buy:

2. FINIS Agility Hand Paddles

The Swimmer's Ultimate Guide to Training Paddles

When it comes to freestyle, crushing the catch and having a strong early vertical forearm separates the top of the pile from the rest. These paddles–which have no straps–are built specifically to insure that you are catching teh water early and fast.

(These paddles are also usable in other strokes, but as a freestyler myself this has been my experience using them.)

The premise of the Agility paddles is simple: swim with good technique or you are spending half the workout stopping mid-length to put them back on your hands.

Where to Buy

3. MP Michael Phelps Hand Paddle

The Swimmer's Ultimate Guide to Hand Paddes

Since the GOAT and Speedo parted ways a few years ago you got the sense that it was only a matter of time before he came out with a full line of swim gear. His entry into the swim paddle market is a strong one, with a raised contour under the palm, and vents/holes in the paddle to maintain a feel for the water.

His coach Bob Bowman helped in the design, and counts them among his favorite so far:

They give you the feel of the hand and the way it is when swimming because of the raised portion under the palm of your hand. It’s not a flat surface. You’re actually in a much more natural position.”

Bob Bowman

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June 3rd, 2016

Touch or Tumble?

You won't find much need for tumble turns in the open water...

You won’t find much need for tumble turns in the open water…

All advanced swimmers will tumble turn when training in a pool. Most novice swimmers and a great deal of intermediate swimmers will touch and turn.

One of the things open swimmers love most about swimming open water is the ability to get lost in the continuous rhythm of the swim. This Zen like state is less likely to occur when we train in a pool. It is even less likely to occur when we train in a short course pool. *The term ‘Short course’ meaning 25M in length as opposed to long course which is 50M.

A tumble turn, when done well, is an extremely efficient ‘low energy – high return’ way for a swimmer to change directions. It will always be faster than a touch and turn. It is in essence a ‘break’ from the swim stroke. For a novice swimmer it can be a nightmare … judging the distance from the wall, exhaling air out ones nose while upside down, all the while trying to maintain enough air to get to the breakout point!

Should an open water swimmer use tumble turns when training in a pool? Here is our perspective … learning to tumble is not as important as learning to swim freestyle correctly. If you are time limited or simply exhausted from concentrating on technique … focus on the freestyle technique first.  Learning to tumble turn can help get more comfortable and competent in the water . It gets swimmers familiar with unusual attitudes and helps swimmers learn to protect their breathing spaces: by this we mean if you can stop water getting up your nose upside down during a tumble turn you are far more likely to be able to achieve this when swimming in choppy open water as well.

However … you aren’t going to be doing too many tumble turns in your open water swimming ! Therefore although adding tumble turns into your 25M swimming will make you faster and help you beat up on other swimmers in the pool it will be less reflective of the time/pace you will maintain in open water. Do tumble turns by all means if you wish but we also recommend you spend a certain portion of your pool training swims touching and turning – it can end up being much harder than tumble turning! If you gave an elite pool swimmer a ‘touch and turn only’ session they would have a canary. If you are a touch and turn only swimmer and have time and motivation learning to tumble turn is another feather in your cap but we say it isn’t essential for your open water swimming.

Have a question? Ask us


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May 27th, 2016

The Open H20 Swim Journey Continues

Dan Abel in his 'Happy Place'

Dan Abel in his ‘Happy Place’

On Monday FitandAbels Dan Abel will head north to the UK for the Northern Hemisphere season;

“It is time once again leave behind wonderful family and friends and to head north to visit many friends who have become like family.
It’s been amazing this summer to witness and be part of the growth of open water swimming in New Zealand. To all those who have ventured into the open water and achieved on any level – congratulations. To all those who have allowed our team and our crew (Nemo!) to be part of your journey I would like to personally thank you. I leave behind an excellent team in New Zealand (Ollie, Chloe and Mel) who will continue the journey.
I would also like to thank our working partnerships with whom we share a a goal of sharing the excitement, joy, benefits, friendships and adventures of open water swimming with more and more people. We couldn’t do it without them. Please support our partners where you can:
And in the UK
My trips North and South over the last 5 years make for a crazy 12 months each season. I need to be extremely organised and make sacrifices in order to achieve an endless summer. All the partnerships above enable this to occur. Why do it? The UK has been a breeding ground of open water swim ‘fanatics’ over the last 10 plus years. The explosion of open water swimming throughout the UK and Europe has been phenomenal. This means that the amount of learning and development for all things ‘open water swimming’ has been immense. Travelling the globe allows me to keep abreast of the latest and greatest in open water swimming. I am then able to bring this knowledge and enthusiasm back to New Zealand with its small population and endless open water swim opportunities. Teaching adults to swim. Introducing them to the open water. Taking them on RealSwim Adventures. Working to protect our water environment. Working to ensure we are safe in the open water. It is a lot of hours. It is a lot of hard work. But it’s also loads of fun. Sharing in so many individual journeys and experiences is the reward.
Thanks to the people for making it worthwhile. Thanks to the working partnerships for making it possible. See you in the spring all my Kiwi family and friends. See you soon everyone in the UK. Cheers, Dan”
Our New Zealand Summer Launch is 20 September , 6pm

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May 26th, 2016

The Performance Triangle

The Performance Triangle

The Performance Triangle

It is really important to remember in open water swimming that your performance is based on three core ‘foundations’. Athletes regularly fall into the trap of focussing purely on Fitness when there are most often equal or sometimes easier gains to be made in Technique and Open Water Skills. For any program we recommend you make sure that each side of the Performance Triangle ; Fitness, Open Water Skills, Technique are given specific and equal attention to ensure you achieve the best possible gains in your open water swimming.

The key word is ‘specific’. Technique training is a very different approach from Fitness training. And it is very difficult to work on stroke technique in the open water. Make sure you take this into consideration when training and ensure your training venues and approach tick all sides of the Performance Triangle. If you need help please ask ;

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