Category Archives: pull

Physiology of tapering – in brief

It’s about that time of year where you will be racing soon if you haven’t already.  Leading up to your race, you will probably want to know or learn about tapering.  This excerpt from Tapering and Peaking for Optimal Performance is reprinted with permission by Human Kinetics.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1

main aim of the taper is to reduce the negative physiological and
psychological impact of daily training. In other words, a taper should
eliminate accumulated or residual fatigue, which translates into
additional fitness gains. To test this assumption, Mujika and
colleagues (1996a) analyzed the responses to three taper segments in a
group of national- and international-level swimmers by means of a
mathematical model, which computed fatigue and fitness indicators from
the combined effects of a negative and a positive function
representing, respectively, the negative and positive influence of
training on performance (figure 1.1). As can be observed in figure 1.1,
NI (negative influence) represents the initial decay in performance
taking place after a training bout and PI (positive influence) a
subsequent phase of supercompensation.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2

mathematical model indicated that performance gains during the tapering
segments were mainly related to marked reductions in the negative
influence of training, coupled with slight increases in the positive
influence of training (figure 1.2). The investigators suggested that
athletes should have achieved most or all of the expected physiological
adaptations by the time they start tapering, eliciting improved
performance levels as soon as accumulated fatigue fades away and
performance-enhancing adaptations become apparent.

The conclusions of Mujika and colleagues (1996a), drawn from real
training and competition data from elite athletes but attained by
mathematical procedures, were supported by several biological and
psychological findings extracted from the scientific literature on
tapering. For instance, in a subsequent study on competitive swimmers,
Mujika and colleagues (1996d) reported a significant correlation
between the percentage change in the testosterone-cortisol ratio and
the percentage performance improvement during a 4-week taper. Plasma
concentrations of androgens and cortisol have been used in the past as
indexes of anabolic and catabolic tissue activities, respectively
(Adlercreutz et al. 1986). Given that the balance between anabolic and
catabolic hormones may have important implications for recovery
processes after intense training bouts, the testosterone-cortisol ratio
has been proposed and used as a marker of training stress (Adlercreutz
et al. 1986, Kuoppasalmi and Adlercreutz 1985). Accordingly, the
observed increase in the testosterone-cortisol ratio during the taper
would indicate enhanced recovery and elimination of accumulated
fatigue. This would be the case regardless of whether the increase in
the testosterone-cortisol ratio was the result of a decreased cortisol
concentration (Bonifazi et al. 2000, Mujika et al. 1996c) or an
increased testosterone concentration subsequent to an enhanced
pituitary response to the preceding time of intensive training (Busso
et al. 1992, Mujika et al. 1996d, Mujika et al. 2002a).”

Transitions are key for triathlon success

If you’ve raced more than once, you know you easily can spend too mush time in the transition area.  This is a good quick article from the authors of “Championship Triathlon Training“, where you can learn how to save time in the transition area.  It’s the easiest time you’ll make in the race.  It is reprinted with permission by Human Kinetics.

The secrets to mastering bricks

Experienced triathletes know that quick transitions are necessary
for low race times. But, according to George Dallam, PhD, USA
Traithlon’s first national team coach, transitions are often difficult
to master because rapid changes in movement put stress on the body.
“When you stop doing one activity and begin doing another very soon
afterward, your body must make adjustments in blood flow, nervous
system regulation, and muscular tension,” Dallam says.

The bike-to-run transition, or brick, is the most difficult to
master, making the body change from a static and crouched position on
the bike to an upright and dynamic position on the run. In his new
book, Championship Triathlon Training, Dallam offers tips for mastering bricks.

  1. Prepare for the bike-to-run transition by flexing and extending
    your back on the bike and maintaining or increasing cadence to
    run-stride rate or above.
  2. Pull your feet out of your shoes while riding and then dismount at speed, leaving your shoes clipped into your pedals.
  3. Run with your bike.
  4. Minimize equipment you will need to put on in the transition area for the run (that is, put on only your shoes in this area).
  5. Put on your running shoes while standing.
  6. Put on any other equipment-hat, glasses, and race belt-while running.

“Once these basic skills have been established, specific transition
training sessions can be instituted for continued improvement in a
race-specific environment,” Dallam says. “These sessions can then be
timed as intervals from entry to exit and can be used as a baseline for
improving performance.”

Triathlon basic swim technique

Three years ago I started swimming after back surgery for a low impact aerobic activity. When I was young, I swam around lakes and pools but never on a swim team and was never coached.

After several months of swimming on my own, I joined a US Masters swim team. The US Masters Swimming is a terrific way to learn swimming or get back into it. It is a coached practice for all levels of ability. They divide you into lanes based on your ability. As you progress, you move “up a lane.” I started in lane one and watched in amazement at some of the swimmers in the “fast lane.” They were former college swimmers, a former professional triathlete, and people who had worked their way up and were just plain fast.

Swimming is probably the most technique-oriented sport in triathlon. Thus, it is one where coaching can help you the most. A friend of mine, a former Auburn swimmer, advised me to take private lessons for a month then go on my own. I should have followed his advice – I would have saved myself many months of learning the hard way. US Masters is a coached practice but there are 20+ other swimmers they have to pay attention to so be patient and learn proper technique before putting in a lot of yardage. Trust me, you will be SO much better off in the long run.

Swimming well means two things to me. First, having good technique and balance – this is absolutely a technique sport. Second, reducing the drag of the water on your body. We’ll get into technique in a minute but let me address drag.

Water is about 1000 times more dense than air. Imagine you are pushing your hand through the water. Is it harder to push your hand parallel to the water line or perpendicular? Perpendicular. The basic lesson of this is to reduce your resistance signature in the water. This will come with practicing good technique but it is worth mentioning on it’s own because it is so important. The more drag you carry and push through the water, the harder you have to work to maintain a certain speed. Thus, the less drag, the faster you will go at any given level of energy.

The image my terrific Masters coach gave me was to imagine your are trying to swim through a long tube. The smaller your make that imaginary tube, the less drag you have.

There are entire books written on technique so I will briefly outline it here and have some terrific resource recommendations at the end of this post.

Before getting into technique specifics, you must learn to balance yourself in the water. By this I mean, be able to kick almost effortlessly on your side where your hips and shoulders are at about the same level. Your hips and legs are not lower making you plow through the water creating drag – remember the tube imagery. The next time you are swimming, take a moment to watch some of the other swimmers, from underwater if you can do so safely. You will know who has balance right away because they appear relatively level compared to the water line. Others will appear to swimming uphill the entire time, and I can tell you from my earlier days that it feels like it also. Balance is imperative and should be drilled until it is second nature.

I’m not a coach but I offer what I have learned – take it for what its worth. The freestyle stroke can be broken into several phases:

  • Entry
  • Catch
  • Pull
  • Push
  • Recovery

The entry is how your hand comes in front of and enters the water. It should be at a 45 degree angle when entering the water and go through the water like your putting your hand through a mail slot. As you move your hand forward, your body should roll partially to it’s side.

The catch is how your hand and forearm “catch” or grab the water ready to pull and push the water back, and you forward.

The pull is where, with a high elbow, your hand and forearm start to pull the water back. I went to a swim clinic taught by Olympic champion Rowdy Gaines. He used the imagery of putting your hand over a barrel and pulling – that’s the curved type of shape it should be. But make sure you have a high elbow. It will likely feel awkward at first.

The push is taking all the water mass you have gathered in the pull and pushing it back propelling you forward. There is some debate about whether you push all the way back and flip your hand out at the end of the pull OR pull out earlier since the last few inches don’t add that much propulsion.

The recovery is how your arm gets from the end of the pull back to entry. Some teach it to be almost a huge circle while most still teach a high elbow and relaxed forearm back to entry. I’ll leave this to your research and trail and error. This is typically when your shoulders are rotated almost perpendicular to the water line. This rotation is generated through your core and hips.

Please take my advice – get some help with your technique in the beginning. It’s worth it. With proper technique you are more likely to avoid injury and progress faster.

One last thing to remember about triathlon swims is that you don’t want to spend all of your energy kicking in the swim portion leaving nothing for the remaining one to fourteen hours of your event that require much from your legs. Some advise to use them as a stabilizer instead of a propellant, thus saving energy. Experiment with it and see what works for you. Whether you use your legs much in your triathlon swim or not, having a good swim means having a proficient kick and that takes time to acquire but is worth the effort.


  • Get a coach in the beginning if you can
  • If you can’t, get some videos or books to learn technique (see below)
  • Have someone video tape you swimming so you can see and correct yourself
  • Technique drills should incorporated through all phases of your swim development
  • Learn drills and practice them regularly no matter how fast you progress
  • Balance is the key to less drag and less effort

Swim technique videos
Total Immersion Swimming DVD
Total Immersion (book)
The Swimming Drill Book