Saturday, March 26, 2011

Swimming Tips for Triathletes (with Thanks from Swim Smooth)

shoulder injury

How To Train Your Triathlon Swimming

A Swim Coaching Article By Swim Smooth

reproduced with permission (see here)

All the staff here at Swim Smooth are triathletes or open water swimmers. We understand the different preparation required to race in open water versus the pool and the need to balance out your training between the three disciplines.

If you are new to triathlon, here are some important pointers to maximise your performance in the water during your triathlon season:

Your Individual Stroke Technique

ceinwen and andy

One of the differences between being a pure swimmer and a triathlete is that your training time is split between the three disciplines so you have time less available for swimming. As a 'time poor' triathlete it's very important to understand what you need to work on for your individual stroke so you make the best you of your available time in the water.

If you have a coach at your pool or club, seek out their help and get some advice on your stroke and how to go about improving it. Also, it's worthwhile asking what is naturally good about your stroke too (be brave!) as this will help you simplify things. There are all manner of drills and techniques you can work on with your swimming and it can be quite overwhelming – try and simplify things down to your individual needs wherever possible and you'll make much quicker progress.

Training As Well As Technique

swim training

As a distance swimmer, one of the biggest mistakes you can make with your swimming preparation is to solely focus on your technique, swimming only 50 or 100m at a time. Becoming a 'technique hermit' is bad for your swimming because as a distance swimmer you need to be able to maintain your technique over longer distances. By only ever swimming short drill sets you tend to develop a technique that overloads the smaller muscle groups of the shoulder which quickly tire beyond 100m.

Drill work is a great for your swimming but also incorporate continuous swims of 200m, 400m and even 800m into your sessions so that you develop a stroke that you can maintain over longer race distances. You may find this results in a slightly shorter stroke that is more rhythmical to you, such strokes are often more efficient over longer distances.

Include A Distance Focused Swim Once A week

Many pure swimmers come from a sprint (50/100m) or middle distance (200/400m) background and so masters swim groups often focus on short fast sets with lots of recovery. However, triathlon is a true distance event in that you will be racing for at least an hour and as such you need a distance focus to your swim training.
We recommend that once a week you put in a longer distance swim at steady pace. If you're doing Sprint or Olympic distance then building up to 1500m of steady swimming will build the necessary endurance for your race. You can swim this continuously or if you prefer break it down into a set with short recoveries – e.g. 3x500m with 30 seconds rest between each 500m.

training is important

If you are training for Ironman then you have a 3800m swim ahead of you in the race and because of the longer distance, your weekly long swim arguably becomes the most important session of your swim week. If you can, build up your long swim so you reach 4000m a few weeks before the race and you'll be all set for a fantastic Ironman swim leg.

If you train with a club or masters group that never does any longer distance sets it's well worth missing one of the club sessions, replacing it with a session of your own focusing on steady distance pace.

Developing Your Pacing Skills

As a distance swimmer your ability to pace your swimming correctly is critical. With any swim that you do, be it in training or a race, it's extremely easy to start off quickly and then slow dramatically after 100m or 200m. In a race situation you might not realise this is happening because everybody else is starting too fast around you and doing the same thing!

When you swim your sets in training, keep an eye on the times you swim for each repetition. If you can, also monitor your splits within each set – so if you're swimming 200m, monitor each 25 or 50m split. Not all of us are analytical or numbers people but asking a coach or friend to check this regularly is very worthwhile to develop your pacing skills and so improve your performances in races.

If you are interested in investing in a gadget to improve this area of your swimming then we would highly recommend a Wetronome to you. You can program it to a certain time per length and then place it under your swim cap where it will beep to you at the time you should be turning each lap. It's fascinating how easy it is to get ahead of the beep over the first 25 or 50m and then how the beep catches up with you as you slow down. It's a bit like the red-line they show on the Olympic swimming coverage!

Practise Open Water Skills (even during the winter)

If we told you that by focusing on a particular drill or training method you would take several minutes off your triathlon swim split, you'd jump at the chance right? Well, you really can save several minutes by optimising your drafting and navigation skills for open water swimming.

When you swim behind, or to the side and slightly behind another swimmer you save up to 25% of your energy expenditure – or put another way, swim much faster for the same effort. This sounds easy but is actually very skilful to perfect as you have to swim very close to other swimmers to get maximum benefit. If you are not used to doing this it can be slightly unsettling at first – you need to practise this in the pool with some friends or with your training squad:

open water skills

Your ability to swim straight in open water is also critical as it's easy to lose large chunks of time by swimming off course. We've recently been equipping some triathletes with GPS tracking devices and seeing how straight they swim in open water – the answer is not very straight at all! It's easy to lose anywhere between one and ten minutes by swimming off course. Our twin blog posts on this subject make fascinating reading:

Open Water Navigation

Swimming Straighter In Open Water

The key is to practise your sighting skills in the pool so that come the race you are entirely comfortable raising you head slightly to look forwards without excess effort or ruining the rhythm of your stroke. The easier and more natural sighting feels the straighter you will end up swimming!

Quick tip: Don't try and sight forward and breathe at the same time – this will mean lifting your head too far above the surface which will sink your legs. Instead, time your sighting to happen just before you're going to take a breath. Lift your eyes out of the water by pressing down lightly on the water with your lead arm (in this example your right arm). Only lift up enough to get your eyes just out of the water:


Your left arm will have now started recovering over the water, as it does so, turn your head to the right with your body to breathe. As you do so, let your head drop down in the water to a normal breathing position.

Putting It All Together

After reading the above you're probably thinking "OK, how do I fit all that in?". If we were designing your swim training, and you were swimming three times per week, we'd structure it something like this:

Session 1: A stroke technique focused warm-up followed by threshold pace work at race pace. See CSS Training

Session 2: A longer steady paced swim building up to race distance. We might split this into a set with short recoveries with a focus on good pacing.

Session 3: A stroke technique focused warm-up followed by a fun open water skills session in the pool with some friends. This would include group drafting work and sighting skills. (This is great fun and in the Swim Smooth squads in Perth is the most popular session of the week!)

improve your swimming with Swim Smooth!

Swim Smooth is an innovate swimming coaching company famed for its straightforward approach to stroke correction. Visit our website for plenty more fascinating articles to improve your swimming. Don't miss our amazing new DVD Catch Masterclass featuring incredible underwater video of champion swimmers in action. Also see our other swimming DVDs, training plans and training tools in our swim shop. Last but not least don't miss our animated swimmer "Mr Smooth" showing you a great freestyle stroke in super-high detail. Unmissable! :

mr smooth

Swim Smooth!

Article © Swim Smooth 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Food Glorious Food

Okay so a long time ago I rode really far on my bike with a fruit roll  up and a bottle of water. Needless to say, I fared poorly. A couple of years ago I rode 3 hours on a cool rainy day with 1 water and a Gatorade, think why would I need food. I just made it home. Usually I am good about food and water when I exercise, but occasionally I have been caught out.

Well that happened again the other day. And frankly I should have been paying attention more, but instead I have been paying so much attention to the actual exercise and things like increased base training, that I may have neglected my calories (and I am one of those people that needs a decent amount of calories). Well I won't make that mistake again this season.

Most of my training so far this year has been under 1 hour. 8-10K runs, bike commutes and swims. All in the name of building a good base. I don't need food during that level of exercise. I can easily make up that deficit when I get home or to work. But alas as I started to add in long runs in my attempt to get ready for a half marathon, I didn't think to bring anything with me.

My first 15K run was fine. I ran slow, I made it home and had a decent meal. It was very good. Then a week later I headed out for a long slow 20K run (well I headed out for a 2 hour run). I ran along and by the end I was dragging myself home. It took me 3 days to get back into shape.  a week later I ran with a bottle of Gatorade and a Powerbar. The next day I swam 2400M and rode 32 KM without any trouble.

So I write this mostly as a message to myself not to forget about calories and as a warning to others starting their long runs and long rides after a winter of slumber. Find something you can carry, bring 2 bottles on a ride, and if need be set your watch to beep every 20 minutes or so and take a bite and a swig of the bottle.

Now I need a rest. Just managed an 8K run at a 4:13 pace. Yeah, I had plenty to eat and drink today and had some good old chocolate milk when I got home. Mmmm.

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's March, Ian. How's that Base Training?

Well here are. March is well underway and the race season is upon us (well for some anyway). I personally have no races planned for the next bit (though one can always jump into something if the right opportunity arises) and my main focus right now is prepping for the Bluenose Half Marathon.

Yes, I have signed up for the Bluenose Half and I hope to do well in it. Doing the half (even though I am not a runner, I swear) has been mostly about making sure that my running is truly up to snuff for the Du and Tri season. I mean normally my winter running is at best small 4-5K jaunts. But with most of my running being 5K placeholders before I get on my bike and have some fun, it was easy to justify the small amount of base training in the past. Well no longer as I have to get ready for that half. I have already put close to 200Km of outdoor running in.

But the most exciting thing has happened. Last Fall Shane MacLeod told us at the Provincial Training Center event that doing a lot of long slow running will make you run faster. So I started doing that and kept it up fairly well all winter long. Those 4-5K occasional runs became 8-10 K runs at least 3 times a week. And now that the snow and ice are melting away they will become even longer. And what has this meant? Well I have been running with a Heart Rate Monitor and keeping track of my "Zones" and while my heart rate stays pretty much the same (okay it goes up when I cruise up some hills sometimes) my speed is increasing.

How much Ian? Well I started with a modest 5:15 training pace and now it is easily a 4:30 pace. We are talking my race pace from normal years, in March. This is months before my season will start. And soon my harder training will begin.

Does this mean I may be able to actually break that 40 minute 10K barrier? Maybe. The elusive 20 minute 5K? Well I have done that before but I think I can do that much more easily now, and by more than  a few seconds. But really I hope it means I get off that bike in the Dus and take off with happy fresh legs that i didn't burn out on the first run. Oh how I hope.