Triathlon

Hollie Llanelli Race Report

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British Triathlon are currently making a few changes to try to develop the way our youth and junior athletes race and are selected to race in Europe. One area that has been developed in the gateway events, this gives the best young athletes in the country a chance to show where they are and if good enough, to then race in Europe. Llanelli in Wales was the first of super series races in 2016 and Hollie Hindley has given her thoughts on her race.

Llanelli Race report

For me this was my first big triathlon of the season and I was excited to see how I could perform. The event was in (sunny for once) Wales where I had competed the previous year so I knew what to expect from the course. I had just received a new wetsuit from Zone 3 and a new tri-suit from Kiwami so I was looking forward to testing out the new kit. This coupled with the fact that I had recently been having a good few weeks in training and racing I was enthusiastic and full of nervous energy.

The swim course had changed slightly with the addition of a beach start and consisted of 2 laps where you had to come out after the first lap much like the set up seen in ITU races which added to the excitement. Anticipating a better swim than usual, as I had been swimming well in the week and I hoped I had improved from last season, I wasn't too happy with my swim coming out around mid pack. I could see I was around the normal swimmers I come out with so I would have liked to come out a bit further ahead. This was not the case for my teammate Archie as he led the swim the whole way and came out with a 4 second lead which was a massive improvement to his 33rd out the water last year!  Despite the swim I was in a focused mindset so I put it to the back of my head, a slick transition in my new wetsuit and I knew I had to have a strong bike to catch some girls up the road.

Almost immediately a group of about 3 of us formed, we worked together for a while and dropped a few girls from the swim. Throughout the bike we caught lots of riders to form a group of about 12 by lap 4, with one more lap to go. The course was quite technical with 3 dead turns per lap, which I made sure I positioned myself at the front of the group for which worked to my advantage, as the corners were fairly dodgy in the pack. I felt strong on the bike, felt I had rode well and by the end of the bike there were just 6 girls up the road, which put me in a good position for the run.

Not really knowing what to expect from the run I went off at a steady pace out of transition and a few girls came past me. However once I had found a nice rhythm I was able to pass them again. Looking back now I don’t feel I truly pushed myself out of my comfort zone on the run so this is something I know I need to work on in my next races. I was gradually gaining on one runner who I managed to pass about 100m before the end.

I broke away slightly but seemed to slow down a bit so she managed to stay on my heels which led to me being pipped to the finish line in a sprint finish. I came home in 8th place, which secured me a place in Kitzbuhel Junior European Cup!

Overall I was happy with my performance and enjoyed the day racing and supporting many of my teammates from Optima Racing Team and the London Academy who all finished in very respectable positions.

 

Juniors

Jess-22nd

Archie-6th, Jake-11th, Aurel-27th.

Youth

Freya, Alice-8th, Issy-11th, Jenny-17th.

Greg-5th, Reef-7th, Zak-10th, Abel-18th, Michael-22nd.

 

Pre-Hab for Triathletes

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Do you like being injured? Do you look after the little things as well as you could? Massage, nutrition, sleep, relaxation, balanced lifestyle etc?

One of the key areas outside of training & sleeping to enhanced performance for me is something called ‘Pre-Hab’.

What is Pre-Hab?

Pre-Hab (Pre Habilitation or doing things to prevent injury) is often low down the list of priorities for most people trying to balance training with the rest of their lives.

This is normal; we have jobs, families, and lives and are simultaneously trying to get better at three disciplines (and transitions). However, as a coach one of the most difficult scenarios I come across is the athlete struggling mentally due to long-term and sometimes short-term injuries.

Numbers

One of the biggest problem areas for triathletes is the lower limb; calves, shins, Achilles and feet. Why?

Because our lower limbs are the only weight bearing area we have in triathlon (ignoring saddle sores for Ironman athletes!). A 75kg athlete will have 13,500kg (180 steps per min x 75kg) coming down through their legs every minute, so if it takes them 40mins to run 10km that’s 540,000kg going through the lower limbs. The numbers get significantly bigger over the Ironman marathon, of course.

SSC

Some of the body’s natural counters to this force coming down through your limbs are the fascia, muscle, tendons and ligaments throughout the body. These amazing structures provide elasticity to our running and will generate nearly half the energy required to provide your next foot strike. This is called the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC) and you will see this in action with most elite runners/ triathletes.

Running well

https://www.jamesbeckinsale.co.uk/2011/02/23/the-secret-to-performance-running-2/

Progression and overload

One of the other key training principals for lowering injury rates is the correct progression and overload used throughout the year. For example if you are new to running and you chose to go out and run every day for the first month due to your new found love of running, it’s highly likely you will get injured. At the other end of the spectrum, if you are an elite athlete and you decide to take your running from 100kms per week up to 130kms per week without progressing slowly with around 10% increments per week, again guess what?

Running surface

The type of running surface can also make a massive difference to the lower limb injury rate of athletes. I don’t know how many runners I have spoken to who swear by the cross-country season ‘strengthening’ their running for the summer. I agree with this, however not only does it strengthen them, it also enhances their proprioception (your sense of where you are in the world) and balance as they struggle in the mud, up and down hills and through wood/ forests etc. Importantly keeping them off hard running tracks, roads and paths and on softer fields and grass areas.

If you can get to it sand is also a great surface to run on

https://www.jamesbeckinsale.co.uk/2016/02/29/sand-running-why/

Clodhoppers

The type of training shoe can also increase your risk of injury not only through turning an ankle if you are wearing thick/ cushioned trainers (clodhoppers!), but this type of training shoe also lowers your feeling for the ground and reduces your proprioception. If you run well, some more natural shoes or light racing flats will enhance your feel for the ground and improve your running.

Importantly, they are not overly cushioned so don’t allow you to slam your heel into the ground when you run. Heel striking sends masses of force through your bones, not through the ligament, tendons, fascia and muscles as it naturally should.

Weak signals

Weak signals are things like that tight calf you had the other day after your run, but you didn’t think it was bad enough to stop and it felt ok the next day so you didn’t get it treated… sound familiar?

MET’s

Muscle Energy Techniques describes a broad class of manual therapy techniques directed at improving musculoskeletal function or joint function, and improving pain. These are simple techniques that can be applied by a therapist/ physio or can be done as self treatment or by a coach/ parent.

https://www.jamesbeckinsale.co.uk/2016/05/13/release-tight-calfs-triathletes-coaches-parents/

Rolling

Foam rollers are a great addition to your pre-hab routine, but in my opinion the effect is not as specific as using the MET’s especially on the calf area. Moreover, I feel very uneasy when I see athletes rolling up and down a muscle because we know that veins have valves to stop back flow of blood and this rolling back and forth could cause damage to the valve.

Stop stretching (so much)

It was always my routine years ago; back from a run, spend 20mins stretching and not just regular stretching but ‘developmental’ stretching i.e. taking the muscle group to its fullest range and holding the stretch for 30 seconds+. This form of stretching can take functionality/ elasticity away from the muscles. Therefore if you run again the next day or more importantly if you do static stretching pre-event/ workout this could lead to muscle damage or injury as you start to run.

I am not saying DON’T do stretching but it needs to be strategically placed into your training week and 100% doing more ballistic movements pre event/ workout will help lower your risk of injury.

Flushing

I have been working with flushing since the early 2000’s and there are two key benefits to flushing.

  1. It gently puts the muscle fibers under tension for four to six seconds around three times, to ensure they are elongated and re-aligned (muscle soreness arising from micro tears).
  2. Putting the circulatory system, for that particular muscle group, say hamstrings, through vasoconstriction/ vasodilation. The thinking behind this is to increase the blood flow into that specific muscle group, thus increasing healing properties (new blood).

Importantly flushing is all done while walking back to your car/ home after a hard session and so you are never static/ still getting cold in winter or reducing your time to post-event fuelling.

https://www.jamesbeckinsale.co.uk/run-triathlon-training-videos/

Happy training

Done in an hour: Run

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The third in our series of “Done in an hour” articles is looking to give you three run sessions specifically targeting skills and technique, technique and aerobic capacity and finally lactate tolerance and strength.


Running is by far the predominant area in which triathletes pick up most of their injuries and this can be caused by poor technique, over training (as it is the only weight-bearing discipline) or conducting brick type sessions thus running tired off the bike (again poor technique/ poor economy of motion).

It is also the area where if you are not strong physically or mentally, you will always end your triathlon experience on a low.  How nice would it be to be coming in off the bike thinking “I have worked hard on my running over winter, I can’t wait to get on the run and put it into practice” That said, if you have just hammered the bike to try and get a good time, thus worked above your functional power threshold, no amount of run training is going to save you from the pain!

Before we start, remember we are not runners, we are triathletes.  Therefore, we ride before we run and when we ride we rely heavily on our quads, they (our quads) then become very tired, so we do not want to over use them on the run.  Instead we want to utilise our hamstrings and only use our quads as stabilisers.

Session one

I find the introduction of a treadmill really speeds up the learning process when coaching athletes. You see when you increase the incline, the athlete naturally has to run with soft knees and as you increase the speed the athlete is forced into recruiting the running muscles in the correct pattern (with some coaching!). I have seen some dramatic results using this technique and it negates the need of long sessions on the track trying to teach athletes (especially juniors) optimum economy of motion.

Skill/technique: the aim is to improve the neural firing patterns of your running muscles.

Equipment required: skipping rope, treadmill, mirror, video camera (use your mobile phone), friend/ partner.

Warm up: Skipping for 5mins (you can build this until you can skip for the time it will take you to run 10km), do not increase duration of skip by more than 10% each week and use single leg skipping not just double feet. (Time 5mins)

Main set: Put the treadmill up to about 10-12% and at a speed that is around your 10km race pace.  Straddle the treadmill, test the pace of the treadmill with one foot, keep holding onto the side and the jump on. Keep hold of the sides until you are comfortable running then let go.

Set 1 = 4 x 1min with 3mins recovery between (jump off treadmill once finished first run and just walk around) Set 2 = 4 x 30 secs (increase speed + 1km per hour, ie if on 10kph go to 11kph) with 3mins recovery between each rep. Set 3 = 2 x 15 secs increase incline by 2% and increase speed by 2kph with 3mins recovery between each rep. (Time 43mins)

Cool down: 5mins easy spin on bike. (Time 5mins)

(Total session time 53mins)

Ask a friend to video your running so you can let your coach see it or try to do some self analysis. Here are some points to focus on while watching.

A Stay tall and lift the chest. Limit the twisting of the shoulders and arms crossing the midline. Drive arms forward and back like a sprinter (not such big movements!).
B Centre of gravity constantly moves forward stabilised by glutes, quads and trunk muscles. Body has a very slight forward lean.
C High heel lift uses hamstrings (which are not so tired off the bike!) to accentuate recovery and flow. Watch Tim Don running to see how well he does this!
D Knee does not so much lift as drive through/ forward with a mid/ forefoot strike. Skipping will help to strengthen this stance. This optimises the stretch/shortening cycle. Foot does not go forward of the knee prior to strike which reduces the load on the quads to a stabilisation process - they are tired after the bike.
E Legs cycle in a continuous flow under the hips. Lift the heel and the knee at the same time.

NB: It takes the mind and body (neural pathways) around six weeks to develop/ learn a new skill, so persevere; you’ll soon be injury free and flying!

Session two

Technique/aerobic aim: to develop running skills while developing aerobic capacity

Equipment required: running track, HR monitor, video

Warm up: 10mins easy jogging (Time 10mins)

Drills: about 5mins of different running type drills, ballistic stretch (ask someone if you don’t understand this term) (Time 5mins)

Main set: 6 x 1mile reps at 10k race pace (ie off the bike run pace) – on laps 2 and 4 focus on the above running skill points and on laps 1 and 3 ensure you maintain the correct pace. Take 90 seconds to 3mins (depending on fitness) recovery between each rep but do not just stand around go through running drills. This is not a stressful session and as you complete the reps think “could I maintain this pace in a race”? If you work too hard you will not be able to focus on good form on laps 2 and 4. (Time 30/ 35 mins)

Again try to get a friend to record what your running is looking like; visual feedback can paint a thousand words.

Cool down: 5 – 10mins easy jog and static stretch (Time 5 mins)

(Total session time 55 mins)

Session three – SUPER-SET

Lactate tolerance strength aim: to increase the rate of lactate dissipation from cells and increase run specific strength.

Equipment required: strong heart and mind, track, HR monitor

Warm up: do four laps of the track: first is easy, second medium, third is building from medium to hard and finish with one lap as pick up’s (50 hard 100 easy etc) then do some ballistic stretching (ask someone!) (Time 10 mins)

Main set: this set is done at maximum effort throughout. As you go through 200m into 400m the build up of pyruvate and proton accumulation at cell level ensures you will not be able to keep up the 200m pace and it's the same for the 1km. This is a fantastic session to increase the mental strength of the athlete, as they have to hold onto form as they endure the pain, it makes running off the bike a doddle!

Start with a 200m run, straight into a 400m run then straight into 1km. There is no rest between each distance. Recovery is waiting until HR drops below 120 bpm or for around 90 secs to 3mins depending on fitness. Repeat this 1 to 6 times (Time 30 – 35 mins)

Depending on your fitness you will start to get jelly legs as you head into the second half of the 400m phase (600m) and it is at this point you will need to be mentally strong to hold good form (the first 2 to 600m is where you will develop run specific strength). As you get into the 1km part, you will not be running fast, but just trying to hold good form and a moderate pace. It is during this phase you are training the body to dissipate the lactate from the cells. As you improve your fitness/ strength you will be able to run the last km at closer and closer to race pace.

Don’t worry so much about the times you take to run each segment, just try and keep working at your maximum intensity for the specific distance.

One of the main limiting factors of white (as opposed to African endurance runners is their lack of strength endurance, improve your specific run strength and watch your run times tumble.

Cool down: do at least 10 mins of easy jogging – when you get home do hot and cold contrast on your legs; get in a shower (or bath with ice in) and run cold water over your legs for about 5mins – then put it to hot and repeat the process (try and cover all of the major muscles from the hips down) repeat x 3 to 6. (Time 10 mins)

(Total training time 55 mins)

Done in an hour: Bike

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Done in an hour: Bike You know, and I know, there is no substitute for putting in the miles when it comes to cycling, the more revolutions done in training the easier the racing!

However, some of us work upwards of 40 hours per week and therefore can’t afford to just jump on our bikes and do 3 – 5 hour rides three or four days a week. So, what sessions are going to benefit you the most given our intention that you can get to your bike/gym and be done and dusted in under an hour?

There are three areas we are going to look at:

  1. Technique
  2. Force
  3. Sustained power

Session One: Technique

It’s funny how when people first talk about triathlon they focus so much on how technical the swim is, but the bike… “Oh, I will just jump on and ride, I used to ride to the office etc”. However, cycling effectively (economy of motion) is a very technically demanding skill and that skill starts with the correct fit.

Bike set-up

Have you ever thought what you might have in common with a down-hill skier? Take the triathlete off their bike and look at the perfect TT set up (have a go at it, is this how you feel on your bike, with the weight coming down through your glutes, quads and feet?), then fit the bike to the triathlete.

If your centre of gravity (feel that optimum force coming down through your bum, quads and feet) is not in the most efficient position on the bike you could be loosing 50 – 80 watts (you can test optimum set up on a power type turbo or through a mobile power meter). Even the pro riders are continuously jigging around with their bike set up and remember


A road geometry frame is not designed for full on time trial (TT) bars, unless you have a TT bike (steeper seat angle) you are better off with a little pair of short tri bars that don’t pull you too far forward.


Cadence

Ever wondered why you find it difficult to run well off the bike? One area you may want to look at is your cadence. There have been a number studies done on cadence and all sorts of numbers are banded about. So, just to simplify things a little, if you want to ride 40km at an average cadence of 80-85rpm, this means you have to produce much more force than a rider who is cycling at 105rpm. Or, in weight lifting terms, rider one/ weight lifter one, is picking up 100kgs and trying to lift it continuously for 1 hour against rider two (weight lifter two!) who is lifting 60kg (a little faster) over the same time period.


Cyclists may choose a cadence they are happy with, but the triathlete must go with a higher cadence so as not to fatigue their legs prior to the run. Triathletes are not cyclists, we are a different animal!


So long as rider two has trained at this higher cadence (so his neural pathways are used to it) his legs will not have recruited as many muscle fibres as rider one, thus will be able to run off the bike at a high optimum cadence (above 90 steps per min), not over-striding, thus breaking as he steps forward.

Equipment needed for this session is your bike or a gym bike, clip in bike shoes or straps on pedals and a means of measuring cadence (cycle computer with cadence unit or just use your watch and count, but a very worthwhile investment for your bike).

Warm up (15 minutes): Aim is to increase neural firing of cycling muscles

  • 5 mins @ 95 rpm easy gear to start
  • 1 min @ 100 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 105 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 110 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 115 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 120 rpm same gear
  • 5 mins @ 100rpm building to 70% max HR

Main set (16 minutes): Aim is as for the warm-up and to increase power balance in individual legs

Unclip your right foot and position your leg safely out of the way of the cranks and the wheels. Pedal for 1 min with the left leg and then switch and pedal with the right leg.

Repeat the one-leg drills decreasing by 5 seconds each time: 55 secs left and 55 secs right, then 50, 45, 40 and 35.

Now change up 1 gear (harder) and continue decreasing by 5 seconds each time as follows: 30 secs left, 30 secs both feet, 30 secs right then 25 secs left, 35 secs both, 25 secs right and so on until you are down to 10 seconds per foot. Now got into the cool down. Although I have never had anyone injure themselves doing this session, for safety reasons do not go beyond 10 secs of power on SLD.

Cool down for 5 – 10 minutes of easy spin or run off the bike for 5 – 10 minutes.

Session Two: Force

For this session (54 minutes) you will need: rollers, a heart rate monitor and a mirror.

Rollers, not many people use these now as turbos have taken over in the “home entertainment” department! However, what the turbo does not teach is balance through your pedalling action as you ride (also, try riding with no hands up a slight incline … safely!).

When I talk about force, I am referring to the amount of pressure applied to the pedal at a slow cadence (power is referred to as the amount of force applied at high cadence).

Warm up (15 minutes): The aim is to increase neural firing of cycling muscles

  • 5 mins @ 95 rpm easy gear to start
  • 1 min @ 100 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 105 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 110 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 115 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 120 rpm same gear
  • 5 mins @ 100rpm building to 70% max HR

Main set part 1 (16 mins): The aim is to increase force output to cycling muscles and increase balance of left and right legs. Four sets of 3 mins with 1 min recovery spin between each repetition.

NB; your goal is to keep the bike on a straight line (too much force from left or right leg could spell trouble!) while maintaining 65 – 75rpm in your aero position (as this is the position you will want to produce the power in later!).

Finish with 3 mins recovery spin @ 100 rpm

Main set part 2 (10mins): Now apply a smooth pedalling action at your normal rpm in a relatively easy gear. 10 mins in aero position @ 100rpm around 65/75% max HR. This time can be increased to up to 1 hour if you have lots of time.

Cooldown for 5 – 10mins easy spin.

Session three: Sustained power

This is the meat and veg of your triathlon cycling performance training routine. As coaches we can come up with all kinds of fan-tangled sessions, with work and recovery of all different times, but the crux of the situation is: you need to be able to sit in your aero position at your optimum functional (power) threshold. The more power you can produce over the bike course and then run effectively off the bike, the better your result.

For this 50 to 60 minute session you’ll need: a power meter showing watts (ideally this will be a proper meter as the ones on turbos and gym bikes are generally not accurate but they will give an indication), a heart rate monitor, a cadence sensor and either a flat(ish) bike route or a turbo/rollers.


If you don’t have a mobile power meter (Ergomo, Power Tap or SRM), you are at a slight disadvantage when it comes to triathlon, as bike speed itself is irrelevant to triathlon performance. (More to follow on power meters soon).


Warm up (17 minutes): Start with 10 mins at over 100rpm, building to 65 - 75% max HR (so you are working but not breathing too heavy). Now do 7 mins of pick ups and recovery (either 20 secs max out or 1 min at 90%, make sure you are ready for the hard 20 mins, but don’t kill yourself!) and 3 mins recovery spin prior to the start.

Main set: Work for 20 mins at over 100 rpm, as hard as you can sustain for 20 mins. (You need to be highly motivated to do this type of session, don’t go off too hard as you will blow up)

Cool down for 10 – 20mins easy recovery spin.

(10 - 20mins)

Thinking…

The aim of this last session is to find out where your functional power threshold is. Once we have this data we can work out what power output you need to complete a standard or Ironman distance course. You could also find out what your average heart rate (HR) is, but the heart will start to lie over a longer duration event (HR drift phenomena) and, therefore, is not as reliable an indicator as once thought.

Working it out: If your average watts for the 20 mins of the last session was, say, 300 you calculate your functional threshold by multiplying this by 0.05 (300 x 0.05 = 15) and then subtract this from the 300 (300 - 15 = 285). Your functional threshold (what you could maintain for 1 hour) is 285 watts. This is now the "magic number" you need to see improving as you become a better cyclist.

Power to weight ratio: It is reported that prior to the start of each of Mr Armstrong’s Tour de France wins he would look to achieve his magic 6.7 watts per kg (I think he weighed about 71 kg at the time). The higher your power to weight ratio, the stronger rider you are, this is another very important number to get to know and, again, improve on, by either increasing your power or reducing your weight.


Each person has an optimum power to weight ratio. One does not want to lose so much weight that you become weak and ineffective.


For example, if you weigh 90kg and produce 350 watts climbing a hill, a rider weighing 56 kg and only producing 218 watts will climb at the same rate as you -- they have the same power to weight ratio. Once you know your functional threshold you can divide this by your weight and get your own power to weight ratio. For example, a 75kg ride averaging 300 watts for 20 minutes has a functional threshold of 285 and a power to weight ratio of 3.8 w/kg.

Done in an Hour: Swim

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Done in an Hour: Swim This is the start of a series which is intended for all of us who are constrained in the amount of time that we can devote to our training. The series title, "Done in an Hour…" formed the basis of the brief -- come up with a selection of workouts for the swim, bike and run that can be done in an hour, the sort of time we can squeeze in before work, as a long lunch or after work but before we have to deal with all the family stuff.

The first of his articles, James looks at three swim sessions that are designed to improve your technique, your race preparation and your open water swimming. All of these can be fitted into that magic hour as long as you focus on the task in hand.


Session 1: Technique Swim

In order to identify your weaknesses you first need to complete a basic time trial so you have a benchmark that you can judge your improvements against. This timed swim needs to be long enough for your weakness to reveal itself, but not too long that you totally lose the plot! I find the double distance 400m swim very effective for this as it gets longer as you become more efficient.

Double distance 400m Time Trial

Every four to eight weeks you should complete a good warm up session and then swim 400m. Get a friend to time the swim (you will need each 100m split and the total time) and to record your stroke count on every fourth length. In an ideal world, a bit of video so you can see what you look like swimming would not go amiss either.

Each time you do the test just add another 400m so the first is 400m, the second 800m, the third is 1,200m and the fourth (your last-preseason one) is 1,600m. This should be done approximately six weeks out from your first A-priority race.

What are you looking for?

I'm sure that you have a time in your head in which you would like to complete your Standard (1,500m) distance swim in? Remember, triathlon is three disciplines and you need to get out of the water relatively relaxed and strong; it always amazes me when coaches or athletes claim they where first out of the Bla Bla swim or had the fastest bike at Wotsit! Well done, I say, but what was your actual triathlon time? That's what counts…

Olympic distance target times and their 100 and 400m splits work out like this:

Target 100m time 400m time
29 mins 1.56 per 100m 07.44
25 mins 1.40 per 100m 06.40
21 mins 1.24 per 100m 05.56

There is absolutely no point in doing a 1500m swim in January in the UK and getting disappointed that you can’t hit the times required. Winter is for working on your weakness and building confidence.

Working out your weaknesses

Your swimming must always have an aim or goal (especially if you have not come from a swimming background) to ensure you keep focused on the next swim set and you can record your positive progress.

Three key areas to watch out for are:

  1. Leg kick
    • Not kicking from the hip (ie, you can feel your bum working)
    • Not pointing toes (focus on ankle flexibility)
    • Kicking too deep or outside the body line (to help in rotation)

All of these weaknesses in leg kick can cause drag behind the body which will slow you down by pulling your legs and bum towards the bottom of the pool.

  1. Balanced body
    • Lifting the head to breathe or holding the head too high during swim
    • Pulling straight down during the catch phase (if you are pulling straight down you are not catching the water and a bobbing effect takes place)
  1. Arm stroke
    • Not setting up the stroke with an effective catch phase (same as above)
    • Not holding onto the water effectively under the body and throughout stroke
    • Not finishing the stroke effectively enough to get over onto your opposite side… to set you up for an effective catch phase!

Although swimming with your club or in a master’s swim session can be a great workout, it can also have the biggest detrimental effect on your swim technique (if you are building a stroke), as you will tend to race the guys in your lane and you will not be relaxed or working on your specific weakness. More importantly, swimming on someone’s feet every session does not set you up for swimming open water… …in your own water!

Dealing with your numbers

In this short article I can’t explain what could possibly be wrong with everyone’s stroke, but remember an effective swimmer will move through the water effortlessly, with little drag or friction, and a low number of strokes per distance (around 14 – 16 strokes and in a time of around 15 – 20 seconds per 25m).

The penny "dropped" for me in swimming when I swam with a junior squad. There were 8 to 10 year-old boys and girls quite happily doing 60 to 65 seconds per 100m; no muscle mass, no power – just good economy of motion. Swimming is so like golf, if you try and whack the ball with all your might you don’t get it. On the other hand, if you relax (and work diligently on technique) you will get your hole in one!

If your time is too slow, or your stroke count is too high, you need to set about working on aspects of your stroke to change your weaknesses into strengths. Take responsibility for your swimming, this can be done effectively by going to a swim coach who can make a difference, as what you feel you may be doing in the water can be quite different from what is happening in reality. A little video analysis can paint a thousand words.

Session 2: Race Preparation

For this session, hopefully, you will need to have have been working on your weakness and now have some free space in your mind to concentrate on race specific drills and sets!

The first thing you should get stuck into your swim practice is a dry land warm-up. At some point watch the top 1,500m swimmers in action and then visualise the perfect stroke as you are on poolside. Hold onto the vision as you do your arm rotations, basically;

  • 20 x single arm rotations (forward and backwards)
  • 20 x horizontal swings across the body touching your shoulder blades
  • 20 x monkey swings (one arm up and over your head so your hand touches the spine behind your neck as the other hand comes up to the same armpit)
  • 10 x double arm rotations forward and back

If you are doing a race or open water swim, perform the same warm up each time and you will be amazed at how having the same pre-event routine will calm the nerves!

Race practice

You don’t have to wait until the weather warms up to practice open water skills, try some of these in your pool.

Start the session with a normal warm-up of between 400m and 1,000m followed by between 1,000m and 1,500m of drills. I find it best to do ½ length of a drill then ½ length normal swim or one length drill and one length swim to accentuate the 'feel' of the particular drill. Be creative with putting together your swim session, you want it to stay interesting! (See this article for some other drill session ideas.) During the main part of the set incorporate the following:

  • Drafting: Instead of going 5 to 10 seconds behind the next swimmer, go off on their toes and feel how much easier it is to sit behind someone. Drafting is legal in the swim! Don’t get too used to this, as there will be times when there are no feet to swim on in open water and you will have to swim in your own water, happily, comfortably and relaxed.
  • Sighting: First, try swimming for 10 strokes with your eyes closed. You will pull in one direction or the other – guaranteed – and this is what will happen in open water if you do not keep to a set course. Most of you will not practice this enough in training and then try to get away with keeping your heads down too long in a race. You can easily go way off course in just a few strokes. Practice being comfortable lifting your head, if it’s a calm day with no swell you need only lift your eyes a little, however, if it’s a rough swim you will need to lift up onto your chest so get used to it.
  • Overtaking: Have a friend keep to their normal stroke rate and time (race pace) while you sit in for 75m then on final 25m see how little effort you can put in to overtake. It is important that the other person does not speed up and you try and keep calm.
  • Turning at a buoy: Have a friend stand in the middle of the lane (when it’quiet!) and practice turning round them. This can also be done with a few friends all turning at once for realistic race simulation. Remember nobody wants to get into a punch-up out there, it just wastes energy.
  • Dolphin dives: Practice beach starts in the pool by starting the set from a dolphin dive and not a push off the wall.
  • Strokes per minute: If you know how many strokes you do per distance you can gauge how you are doing out in the big blue, and even how many strokes it will take you to complete your swim.
  • Pick up’s: By this I mean that you should practice going out harder than normal to imitate tension/ pre event nerves over say 25 to 75m, then settle back to your normal stroke rate for another 25m to 75m
  • Pairs swimming: If you can, get two or three of you to swim up and down together in a line (the lifeguards love this one!) and deal with issues like hitting hands and being in close proximity to one another.
  • Wetsuits: As you know, wearing a wetsuit is a totally different swim sensation than non-wetsuit, so don’t leave swimming in your wetsuit until your first open water swim. Use the pool and pace clock to get the feel for the suit and the times you are looking to swim, then transfer this feeling to the open water.

Session 3: Open Water

Use your imagination! All I ever see is triathletes swimming round and round and round in open water. Especially on your first couple of visits to an open water session put into practice what you have learned over the winter.

  • Dry land warm up: Same as at the pool, but put on your wetsuit first (this keeps heat in as you generate it).
  • Warm up: Spend 10 minutes building the stroke, but stay relaxed.
  • Drills: Use the same drills you have used in the pool (for about 10 minutes), you need to get used to the wetsuit and the open water.
  • Time/distance/stroke count/feel: This is one of the most useful exercises to do in open water. Start by recording a specific time over a set distance, while keeping to a normal stroke count and watch this improve as you get closer to the big one! Use a tree, buoy or other marker (something that will not move in coming months) and carry out a 1 x easy – 1 x race pace – 1 x hard swim over, say, 400m to 800m (with an easy swim back to the start point) and record/ remember your time and SC. With this exercise you will also learn that putting in massive amounts of effort does not always guarantee faster times.
  • Drafting/over taking: This is the same principle as the pool based drills, covering the same distance as above. Get a buddy to swim it with you at your normal race pace. Then, after about 200m of sitting in and feeling comfortable, slip out of their draft and overtake. Again, stay as calm as possible and think about what you have to change to move quicker through the water.
  • Turning at buoys: Again, as you did in the pool session. Get some friends to practice this with you so you get used to turning under pressure from other swimmers… race specific training is better training.
  • Sighting: This has got to be one of the main areas where most age-group triathletes waste far too much energy. First, from not sighting enough and going off course and, second, from lifting the head for too long or far too high. If you normally do your open water swimming in a lake and your main race of the season is a sea swim… …get to the sea and practice, be specific in your training. (OK, you may not be able to get to the sea and back in an hour...!)
  • Group swim: Get a few swimmers of the same standard to go out with you and swim in close proximity to one another and get used to the tagging, bumping, etc.