Category Archives: Stretching

A strong core is essential for powerful swimming

Here’s a terrific excerpt from “Swimming Anatomy” published with permission of Human Kinetics.

“To move your body efficiently through the water, a coordinated movement of the arms and legs must occur. The key to this coordinated movement is a strong core, of which the muscles of the abdominal wall are a primary component. Besides helping to link the movement of the upper and lower body, the abdominal muscles assist with the body-rolling movements that take place during freestyle and backstroke and are responsible for the undulating movements of the torso that take place during butterfly, breaststroke, and underwater dolphin kicking.

The abdominal wall is composed of four paired muscles that extend from the rib cage to the pelvis. The muscles can be divided into two groups—a single anterior group and two lateral groups that mirror each other. The anterior group contains only one paired muscle, the rectus abdominis, which is divided into a right and left half by the midline of the body. The two lateral groups each contain a side of the remaining three paired muscles—the external oblique, internal oblique, and transversus abdominis (figure 5.1). In human motion and athletics, the abdominal muscles serve two primary functions: (1) movement, specifically forward trunk flexion (curling the trunk forward), lateral trunk flexion (bending to the side), and trunk rotation; and (2) stabilization of the low back and trunk. The motions mentioned earlier result from the coordinated activation of multiple muscle groups or the activation of a single muscle group.

The rectus abdominis, popularly known as the six pack, attaches superiorly to the sternum and the surrounding cartilage of ribs 5 through 7. The fibers then run vertically to attach to the middle of the pelvis at the pubic symphysis and pubic crest. The six-pack appearance results because the muscle is divided by and encased in a sheath of tissue called a fascia. The visible line running along the midline of the body dividing the muscle in two halves is known as the linea alba. Contraction of the upper fibers of the rectus abdominis curls the upper trunk downward, whereas contraction of the lower fibers pulls the pelvis upward toward the chest. Combined contraction of both the upper and lower fibers rolls the trunk into a ball.

The muscles of the two lateral groups are arranged into three layers. The external oblique forms the most superficial layer. From its attachment on the external surface of ribs 5 through 12, the fibers run obliquely (diagonally) to attach at the midline of the body along the linea alba and pelvis. If you were to think of your fingers as the fibers of this muscle, the fibers would run in the same direction as your fingers do when you put your hand into the front pocket of a pair of pants. Unilateral (single-sided) contraction of the muscle results in trunk rotation to the opposite side, meaning that contraction of the right external oblique rotates the trunk to the left. Bilateral contraction results in trunk flexion.

The next layer is formed by the internal oblique. The orientation of its fibers is perpendicular to those of the external oblique. This muscle originates from the upper part of the pelvis and from a structure known as the thoracolumbar fascia, which is a broad band of dense connective tissue that attaches to the spine in the upper- and lower-back region. From its posterior attachment, the internal oblique wraps around to the front of the abdomen, inserting at the linea alba and pubis. Unilateral contraction rotates the trunk to the same side, and bilateral contraction leads to trunk flexion. The deepest of the three layers is formed by the transversus abdominis, so named because the muscle fibers run transversely (horizontally) across the abdomen. The transversus abdominis arises from the internal surface of the cartilage of ribs 5 through 12, the upper part of pelvis, and the thoracolumbar fascia. The muscle joins with the internal oblique to attach along the midline of the body at the linea alba and pubis. Contraction of the transversus abdominis does not result in significant trunk motion, but it does join the other muscles of the lateral group to function as a core stabilizer. An analogy that often helps people grasp the core-stabilizing function of the muscles of the lateral group is to think of them as a corset that, when tightened, holds the core in a stabilized position.”

The Swim: Technique and Training for Triathletes

It feels like I am starting over, having been out of the water so long due to injuries.  I used to swim with the local US Masters group for a while and improved quite a bit during that time – thanks Coach Dan&Coach Dave.  Our total yardage varied depending on the season and in which lane you swam.  Mine varied from 2700 to 4200 yards each practice, three times per week.  I thought I was really churning up the water until I talked with a friend whose 12 year old daughter on a rec. league swim team was averaging 3500 yards three to four time per week.  I had also heard D1 collegiate swimmers swam between 8000 and 12000 yards a day.  But for me, it was enough because I had just started swimming a year before that.

Now that I am just coming back to the water after a long absence, it’s almost like starting over.  I remember the mechanics and drills but I am nowhere near where I left off because I have not used those muscles in that way in a long time.  Because of this, I thought it would be a great time to focus on technique.

There are some good books on swimming and drills.  I came across a seven-DVD set triathlon training series that included one for swimming.  It contains two DVDs.

The first disc is geared toward beginner/novice swimmers and was created by Trip Hedrick, former Iowa State University Head Men’s Swimming Coach.  He starts with the premise of you knowing little or nothing about swimming.  He thoroughly explains each drill, it’s purpose, and place moving you toward the full freestyle swim.  He explains what the extremities, arms and legs, should be doing while swimming and drills for that.  Remember, swimming is a technique sport so drilling is important to implant the technique into your muscle memory.

Clark Campbell, former Professional Triathlete and University of Kansas Head Women’s Swimming Coach, takes over and discusses the more detailed points.  These include body position and alignment, the function of the core in swimming, swimming musculature, and much more.

On the second disc, Coach Campbell “takes you through a classroom segment discussing training methods for swimming.”  He discusses what a training plan looks like and how to get to your goal – training periodization.

I popped disc one in and started watching.  Oh, how my Masters practices would have been easier if I’d watched this while learning swimming.  I really like that Trip was in the water, the way he explained the drills, had two triathletes demonstrate them and tell you what part they play in the overall freestyle stroke plan.

Since I am rehabbing from shoulder and elbow issues, I thought I would work on the recovery drill.  My next practice was transformative.  The recovery drills and subsequent swimming with my new recovery felt completely natural.  I was elated.  My wife’s eyes glazed over with excitement when I was telling her all about it, as they often do wen I “talk triathlon”.  The physical therapist liked the new recovery movement compared to the old way.  I told every swimmer I knew the effect of just this one change had made.  Every subsequent swim will have to build on it and imprint it in my muscle memory but, wow, what a difference.

The next goal is to tackle breathing technique.  When swimming a year ago, I could go fast enough where breathing technique was not an issue.  You know your breathing technique is good when you can do catch-up drills slowly while breathing in air instead of water.  That’s what I am working on.  Racing is out for me this year so I have plenty of time to work on technique and base training.

Here’s the DVD I’ve been discussing:
The Swim: Technique and Training for Triathletes – An “Outside-In” Approach to Freestyle

If you enjoy that one, you’ll probably enjoy the whole triathlon training series Champion Productions offer as well.

“H2O:  two parts Heart and one part Obsession.  ~Author Unknown”

Reduce water resistance and increase propulsive

I am getting back in the pool these days and see beginners making the same mistakes I made, thinking, “If I just increase my strength, then I’ll be so much better.”  I’ve since read that swimming is 70% technique and 30% endurance/muscle.  Much of the technique is learning how to move through the water-space with as little drag as possible.  Drag slows you down.  Drag makes you work harder for the same speed or distance.  The take-away from this excerpt is to reduce your drag!

In this excerpt, we learn about reducing drag and increasing propulsion from the book “Swim Fastest“, reprinted with permission of Human Kinetics.

Fundamentals for Reducing Resistive Drag

  • Maintain lateral alignment in the front crawl and backstroke by
    rotating the body around its longitudinal axis in synchronization with
    the downward and upward movements of the arms.
    The entire body
    must rotate, from head to toes, as an entire unit. Never try to
    maintain one part—the hips or legs, for example—in a flat position
    while the arms and shoulders

    I am getting back in the pool these days and see beginners making the same mistakes I made, thinking, “If I just increase my strength, then I’ll be so much better.”  I’ve since read that swimming is 70% technique and 30% endurance/muscle.  Much of the technique is learning how to move through the water-space with as little drag as possible.  Drag slows you down.  Drag makes you work harder for the same speed or distance.  The take-away from this excerpt is to reduce your drag!

    In this excerpt, we learn about reducing drag and increasing propulsion from the book “Swim Fastest“, reprinted with permission of Human Kinetics.

    Fundamentals for Reducing Resistive Drag

    • Maintain lateral alignment in the front crawl and backstroke by
      rotating the body around its longitudinal axis in synchronization with
      the downward and upward movements of the arms.
      The entire body
      must rotate, from head to toes, as an entire unit. Never try to
      maintain one part—the hips or legs, for example—in a flat position
      while the arms and shoulders are moving up and down.
    • To reduce form drag, keep the head in line with the trunk whenever possible.
      The only time the head should be out of alignment is when it is lifted
      out of the water for a breath in the butterfly and breaststroke. The
      head should remain aligned with the trunk when it is rotated toward the
      side to breathe in the front crawl stroke.
    • Maintain horizontal alignment by swimming through the water, not over it.
      Any efforts to elevate the head and shoulders above the water will only
      increase form and wave drag. The exceptions are the butterfly and
      breaststroke, in which swimmers should raise the head and shoulders out
      of the water to breathe. Even swimmers in these strokes should maintain
      a horizontal body position during the propulsive phases of the
      armstroke and kick, however, at least when it is possible to do so.
    • Body undulation is essential to propulsion in the butterfly
      and, to a lesser extent, in the breaststroke, but it should not be
      Swimmers should raise the head and shoulders out of the
      water sufficiently to reduce resistive drag during breathing and, in
      the case of butterfly, to allow arm recovery without forward dragging.
      Undulation should take place at or just below the surface to a position
      above the surface where the breath is taken. Swimmers should not push
      the body underwater simply to increase range of undulation. Excessively
      pushing the body downward will only increase form drag.
    • All entry and recovery movements of the arms and legs should be “soft” and smooth to reduce pushing drag.
      Where possible, keep the limbs within the cross sectional area of the
      body as they enter the water, and slide them forward through the water
      with the smallest and most tapered surfaces, the fingertips, facing
    • The first portions of all underwater armstrokes, the downsweep and outsweep, are not propulsive.
      Therefore, they should be executed softly and smoothly to keep pushing
      drag to a minimum. Lead with the smallest and most tapered surfaces of
      the hands and arms, the fingertips, when sliding them down and out
      during the downsweeps and outsweeps of all four competitive strokes.
    • Don’t kick any deeper, higher, or wider than necessary to produce an optimum amount of propulsive force.
      Kicks that are excessively wide and deep will increase pushing drag and
      may disrupt horizontal and lateral alignment. Kicking upward
      excessively will push the body downward. Where possible, maintain an
      optimum leg spread that keeps the legs within the cross sectional area
      of the torso in both lateral and vertical directions.
    • Don’t pull the legs into a flexed position in the flutter and dolphin kicks.
      The legs should only travel upward to body level during the upbeat of
      the flutter and dolphin kicks (downbeat in the backstroke). The
      remainder of their upward motion should take place during the
      subsequent downbeat (upbeat in the backstroke). Leg flexion at this
      time may make it appear that the upbeat is still underway, but that
      flexion should occur as the thighs are actually pushing downward. At
      that time, the water underneath the relaxed lower legs will push the
      body upward into a flexed position until the legs start to extend at
      the knees. Use the minimum amount of muscular effort needed to flex the
      legs forward during leg recovery in the breaststroke.

    Guidelines for Increasing Propulsive Force

    • Always wait until a high elbow catch position has been achieved before applying backward force against the water.
      Inexperienced swimmers try to apply force when the arms are facing
      downward or against the water. They must learn to wait until they have
      positioned the undersides of the arms and the palms of the hands to
      push back against the water before applying force. The arms and hands
      should travel through approximately one-third of their underwater
      armstrokes before swimmers begin to push backward against the water.
    • The arms should be flexed approximately 90° when the catch is
      made, and they should not be extended or flexed further by any
      significant amount during the propulsive phases of the strokes that
      In other words, swimmers should form a boomerang-shaped
      paddle with the undersides of the arms and hands when they make the
      catch, and they should press backward against the water throughout the
      stroke without changing the shape of the arms appreciably. In this way,
      the work of forward propulsion is done by the large adducting and
      extending muscle groups of the shoulders and torso instead of the small
      muscle groups that tend to rotate the forearms and hands. The only
      exception to this rule occurs in the backstroke, in which the arms
      extend backward and below the thighs during the propulsive phase of
      their strokes.
    • Keep the palm of the hand and the underside of the forearm
      aligned as though they were one jointless unit during the propulsive
      phases of the various armstrokes.
      The tendency to rotate the hand
      in and out in advance of the arm in the same direction and the tendency
      to overflex or hyperextend the hand at the wrist during the propulsive
      armstroke phase are two of the most common errors swimmers make. The
      hands do rotate during the various underwater armstrokes, but this is
      only because they are facing in the direction the arms are moving. This
      rotation is not initiated by rotating the palm and allowing the arm to
      follow. Swimmers should keep the palms of the hands aligned with the
      undersides of the forearms and allow the direction the arms are moving
      to dictate the pitch of the hands.
    • Always stroke in diagonally backward patterns during the propulsive phases of the underwater armstrokes.
      Even though drag is probably the dominant propulsive force in swimming,
      pulling and pushing the arms straight back through the water will not
      provide the greatest distance per stroke, nor will it provide the
      fastest forward velocity. Effective swimming requires deviations from
      the straight backward application of force for all of the reasons
      described in this chapter and in chapter 1.
    • Hand speeds should accelerate in pulses with each major change
      in their direction, from the time they make the catch to the end of
      each underwater armstroke.
      The hands accelerate in pulses during
      underwater armstrokes, slowing as they make the transition from one
      sweep to the next and then accelerating to the next point of
      transition. Nevertheless, hand velocity does accelerate from the start
      to the finish of their propulsive phases. Although they accelerate and
      decelerate in pulses, the hands should never reach maximum velocity
      until they are near the end of the propulsive phase of a particular
      underwater armstroke.
    • Propulsive efforts should cease as the hands approach the legs on their way to the surface.
      Many swimmers make the mistake of pushing against the water until the
      hands reach the surface. Because the arms will be facing too far upward
      after they pass the legs, applying force at that time will not create
      any additional propulsion. Instead, it will push the body downward,
      decelerating forward speed in the process.”

MIT’s “Chemistry of Sports” online course using triathlon

In the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Chemistry of Sports course, they “… will be focusing on three sports, swimming, cycling and running. There will be two components to the seminar, a classroom and a laboratory. The classroom component will introduce the students to the chemistry of their own biological system. Since we are looking at swimming, running and cycling as our sample sports, we will apply the classroom knowledge to complete a triathlon.

With Course Goals

  • Apply the principles of chemistry to studying sports. These principles include: atomic and molecular interactions, thermodynamics, acid/base chemistry, bonding, electrochemistry
  • There will be weekly reading of scientific literature related to the topic of the week
  • Understand the chemistry of their own biological system through observations written in a training journal
  • Study the science of a triathlon (swim, bike, run) from molecular/chemical/biological point of view
  • Improve your own personal fitness level by training for the Mooseman triathlon (either Olympic distance or half-Ironman) and earn PE credit or by maintaining you own exercise program.”

All materials are in PDF format and it’s worth a read if you’re interested, like I am, in the science behind your training.

Click here for the MIT course.

Developing the catch and power phase in swimming freestyle

Anyone who has spent any time developing their freestyle knows that technique is everything.  Yes, eventually you will have endurance but technique, reducing drag, and drills make for an excellent swim.  One popular swim author claims to teach effortless swimming.  Although it is a good book, I have yet to find that effortless swim.  But with proper technique and its practice, you can have a faster time and expend less energy.

The following except comes from Mastering Swimming, reprinted here by permission of Human Kenetics.

Developing the catch and power phase

The power in swimming comes from the core group of muscles, which this book defines as the area from the neck to the knees, including all of the upper-back and shoulder muscles, the abdominal muscles, and the trunk and upper-leg muscles. The best way to access this power is with a great setup at the beginning of the freestyle underwater pull, or what is commonly called the catch. This term, which first became popular with the development of the crawl or freestyle stroke in the 19th century, refers to the point in the stroke when a swimmer’s hand connects with the water and starts to pull.

The catch itself is not the main propulsive part of the stroke, but when properly executed, it sets your stroke up to be more effective through the propulsive power phase that follows. The freestyle catch occurs in the first 9 to 12 inches (23-30 cm) of the stroke, where you begin your pull by pressing the fingertips down while keeping your elbow up. Imagine yourself reaching over a waterfall and anchoring your palm and forearm on the rocks so that you can pull your body over. The late Doc Counsilman, former head coach of Indiana University and coach to 48 Olympians, including Jim Montgomery, was well known for his analogy of pulling over a barrel. Great freestyle swimmers anchor their hands in the water and use their core muscles to rotate their bodies past their hands. To properly achieve this catch position, internally, or medially, rotate your shoulder and open your armpit. Imagine driving your elbow toward the pool wall in front of you.

Consider the effect of body rotation on the depth of your hand catch. The forward reach and downward press of your arm at the entry and catch causes your body to rotate to the side. Keep your hand planed directly back (toward the wall behind you), with your fingertips toward the bottom of the pool, until your arm has reached midstroke. This is a key point for maintaining a powerful application of propulsive force. Finding the right amount of body rotation will automatically help you find the ideal depth in the pull. Once you set the high-elbow position in the underwater pull, maintain it throughout the stroke cycle. By keeping your hand and elbow anchored in the water at the catch spot, you will be able to recruit core muscles to rotate your body past that spot on the longitudinal axis. At midstroke, the bend of the elbow is approximately 90 degrees and then opens up again as your hand finishes the stroke. Your hand moves slowest at the catch phase of the stroke, but gradually picks up momentum until it is moving fast under your hips at the end of the stroke. Keep your wrist flexed to hold your hand perpendicular to the water’s surface at the finish of the pull. The acceleration of the hand through the underwater pull synchronized with the rotation of the body’s core creates the power phase of the freestyle stroke.

With a well-executed hand entry and extension followed by an effective catch and follow-through, your hand will actually come out of the water in front of the point where it entered! The hands of world-class swimmers exit the water several feet (about 1 m) in front of their entry points. These swimmers have an incredible amount of shoulder and back flexibility, allowing them to position their hands, forearms, and elbows in the catch position much earlier in the stroke. This creates a longer and more propulsive power phase. The following series of photos depicts the freestyle stroke from catch to power phase (figure 4.3, a-d).

Many adult novice and intermediate swimmers lack the body rotation, strength, and flexibility to hold their shoulders and elbows above their pulling hands throughout the freestyle pull. A well-designed dry-land program that includes stretching and strengthening helps swimmers learn and perfect the underwater stroke. Use the following teaching progression of both on-deck and in-water skills to learn the mechanics of the catch position and the correct muscle recruitment for transitioning into an efficient underwater pull.

  1. Begin by standing on the pool deck in a streamlined position. Have a partner hold a hand against yours, applying slight pressure against your palm as you proceed to simulate the freestyle pull pattern. Start by pressing your fingers and elevating your elbow. Feel the different use of muscles during a high-elbow, a straight-arm, and a dropped-elbow pull. When you do a high-elbow pull, you should feel your core muscles come into play, including the upper-back, chest, and shoulder muscles.
  2. Use stretch cords to manipulate your hand and forearm into the desired movement of the stroke cycle. Start with your arms fully extended at shoulder-width and your wrists slightly flexed. Pop up your elbows and move your arms back in a curved path, first diagonally outward and then inward. Once your hands have moved across and under your body, extend your elbows and straighten your arms. Notice that your hands travel farther than the elbow.
  3.  Another great teaching tool is the in-water press-up. Position yourself at the deep end of the pool, facing the wall. Place your palms flat on the deck or gutter of the pool. Start with your head and body submerged, and then press up, using the buoyancy of the water to lift your body out. Maintain a high-elbow position and lift your body as high as you can.
  4. Sensitizing your hands and forearms can dramatically enhance your feel for the water. This allows you to make subtle adjustments in the pitch of your hand so you can hold the water more effectively, whether anchoring in the catch position or finishing the propulsive power phase. You will learn to recognize water pressure against your hand and forearm during every phase of the stroke. Here are three simple ways to sensitize your hands: press the fingertips of one hand hard against the fingertips of the other, press your fingertips against the pool deck while resting, or rub your hands together or on the pool deck.
  5. Swimming with hand paddles generates more water pressure against the palms of your hands, which activates the muscle groups that propel your elbows up. Novice masters swimmers should use smaller paddles, preferably with holes in them. Try eliminating the wrist strap of the paddle and use a single strap or tubing around your middle finger. Focus on keeping water pressure on the paddle. If you drop your elbow, the paddle tends to slide off your hand.
  6. Whether you are from the American South or not, the A-OK and the Hook ’em Horns drills can effectively teach you to recognize flow and to angle your hands efficiently for good stroke patterns. To begin, swim freestyle with your fingers in the A-OK position, pressing together the tips of your thumb and forefinger to form a tunnel to channel the water flow as your hand changes direction in the stroke. If you drop your elbow during the pull, the water will not flow through the tunnel. To form the Hook ’em Horns hand position, hold your middle and ring fingers against your palm at the base of your thumb and point your forefinger and pinky finger up to signify horns. Begin the freestyle with this hand position, pointing the horn fingers toward the bottom of the pool during the pull.”

Triathlon Training Plan

Here’s what a lot of you are looking for, a basis from which you can build your own triathlon training plan. You probably have questions like; How long do I base train?, At what point do I start to taper before a race?, When should I add speed work? You’ll find many answers in Triathlon 101-2nd Edition, reprinted here by permission of Human Kenetics.

“Setting up your triathlon training calendar and log can be the two most important actions you take, perhaps more important than any swim intervals, long rides, or morning runs you do.

Your Triathlon Training Calendar
Your training calendar can be a preprinted calendar, a poster board, an appointment book, or a calendar software program that prints out customized monthly grids. Just make sure that you have enough room to write down your daily workouts. Your training calendar should also be on paper, as opposed to just on a computer screen. Although a software program is great for creating customized calendars, make sure it can print out monthly grids. You want your training calendar to be within plain sight, not hidden away somewhere on a computer hard drive. Dedicate a space for your calendar—someplace that you know you’ll see every day. Once you’ve chosen your calendar and picked a place to put it, it’s time to make the commitment and put pen to calendar (scary, huh?).

Work Your Way Back From Race Day
First, write your race goal on your training calendar. How much time does that give you to train properly? Again, take into account your current fitness level and skills. If you need to reassess your race goal and set your target on something more realistic, now is the time to do it.

Divide Your Calendar Into Phases
Although part II covers training in much more detail, you’ll need to know a little bit about what experts consider to be the optimal way to train. Training in phases or cycles has long been considered the best way to condition the body to the rigors of endurance exercise. Each phase has a specific objective, and the workouts fulfill that objective.

Coaches and fitness experts don’t always agree on the exact number of phases and objectives (largely because training differs among sports and elite athletes require more complex training plans). However, if you are a multisport novice or future triathlete looking for your first finish-line crossing, you should integrate some basic phases into your training calendar. Following is a brief description of each of these phases.

If you think you have a good handle on how much time you need to devote to each phase after reading this section, plan your training calendar accordingly. If you’re super organized, you might even want to use color highlighters to block off phases, using a different color for each one. Don’t worry about writing down specific workouts; that comes later. For now, just get familiar with the phases, objectives, and estimated time frames.

Initiation Phase (Beginners Only)
Objective: Learn a new activity never or rarely performed before.
Estimated time: Depends on level of inexperience. If you are learning to swim the front crawl, this phase can take three months or more.

Base Phase
Objective: Create a foundation of training with gradual, safe adaptation to a physical activity.
Estimated time: Three to six months, depending on current conditioning, skills, and the distance for which you are training.

Speed and Technique Phase
Objective: Increase both the pace you can maintain and the efficiency of your exercise.
Estimated time: Three weeks to several months, depending on current conditioning and performance goals.

Race Simulation Phase
Objective: Boost race day confidence by completing workouts similar to what you will be doing in the event.
Estimated time: One to two months, depending on current conditioning and race goals.

Tapering Phase
Objective: Feel mentally and physically fresh for a race.
Estimated time: One to four weeks before your event, depending on the distance. Sprint-distance races usually only require a week of tapering.

Your Training Log
When you think of a journal or log, the first thought that might occur is sentimentality about the past. Part of the value of keeping such records is to remind you of your accomplishments, but keeping a record of your triathlon training and racing has more practical applications as well.

Training logs can help you avoid injuries and improve your performance. Maintaining an accurate log of your daily and weekly workouts is one of the best ways to keep on track. A log that chronicles the variables that affect your energy level and performance can help you achieve your triathlon goal.

You can purchase preprinted training logs. Some have motivating quotes and pictures and space for many variables. If you’re a computer geek, several workout log programs are available.

There’s no one way to keep a training log. Whatever you think are the most applicable variables are fine. Consider these variables for your own log:

• Hours slept. Current research suggests moderate sleep deprivation has little effect on performance during the adrenaline high of competition. Still, that ragged feeling during a three mile training jog might be the result of too little snooze time.

• Waking pulse. Record your beats per minute when you awake, preferably while you’re still in bed. An increase of more than three or four beats can signal overtraining.

• Distances and times. Tracking correct distances and workout times can keep you honest. It is also your most reliable measuring stick to check your progress.

• Time of day. Studies show that our energy levels fluctuate during the day. As long as all other variables remain the same, you can pinpoint your peak time of day for a workout.

• Intensity. Use descriptive terms or a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is very easy and 10 is extremely difficult). Monitoring intensity levels is a key in avoiding too many back-to-back killer workouts (or in avoiding that crippling disease couchus potatoeus).

• Feelings. Though many things can affect your mood, a change in mood is sometimes a precursor to sickness and an indication of overtraining. For example, irritability can be an early sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard.

• Injury flags. Pay close attention to any unusual pain, especially around the joints where most injuries occur. Note any such aches and pains in your log.

• Weight. Get on the scale in the morning, after you’ve relieved yourself. A 3 percent or more loss of body weight might mean you’ve lost too much fluid. Take an easy day or, better yet, a day off.

• Weather. If you are easily affected by heat, cold, humidity, or other weather variables, keep track of these conditions.

• Notes. Perhaps the best part about keeping a training log is flipping back to read about that special swim, ride, run, or race.”

Designing Your Own Training Week

With one sport, you can understand how which days to train hard.  The following is an excerpt printed with permission from Human Kinetics book, Run Strong, by Kevin Beck.  It covers running only but the concepts cross sport lines.  Understanding training rules of thumb will put you on the path to designing your own training patterns.

Based on my experience as an athlete and a coach, I believe that the most valuable tool for any self-coached runner is an outline to guide decisions regarding which workouts are appropriate. The various types of training, …

With one sport, you can understand how which days to train hard.  The following is an excerpt printed with permission from Human Kinetics book, Run Strong, by Kevin Beck.  It covers running only but the concepts cross sport lines.  Understanding training rules of thumb will put you on the path to designing your own training patterns.

Based on my experience as an athlete and a coach, I believe that the most valuable tool for any self-coached runner is an outline to guide decisions regarding which workouts are appropriate. The various types of training, such as long runs, interval work, tempo runs, and so on, are all important and necessary for helping you improve as a runner. The key is classifying the various workouts and then scheduling them into your training consistently. Following a map–one that successful runners have used time and again–can ease the uncertainty and doubts that creep into every athlete’s mind. Following an outline that has led to success allows runners to train with greater focus and purpose, knowing their work will achieve long-term results. A workable training schedule brings workouts together to form a routine that addresses every relevant energy system necessary for top racing performance and continued improvement over time.

I cannot name one individual heroic workout that will take someone to the next level, but there are a few workouts that, when done consistently and repetitively as part of a training schedule, can lead to substantial progress for the majority of runners. The surprising thing for many runners is realizing that the training principles are the same for any distance you want to race. It doesn’t matter if the event is the mile, 5K, 10K, marathon, steeplechase, or cross country; the same training elements and concepts apply. As a coach, if I base an athlete’s training on the key elements, the athlete invariably maintains his or her health throughout the season, improves his or her race performances throughout the year, and competes well at specific goal races. It’s basic, it’s fairly brainless to follow, and most important, it works.

The following suggestions will help you fit each of the six elements into your training consistently within your standard training cycles. Some advanced athletes who recover quickly can address all six within a single week. Athletes who require more time between hard efforts to recover fully should consider fitting these within a two- or three-week cycle. You can also try a 10-day cycle if one week doesn’t work for you, but given that most people have schedules that revolve around a standard 7-day week, we tend to stick with 7, 14, or 21 days as the standard options.

For my athletes, I generally schedule two harder workouts every week, cycling through anaerobic-conditioning, aerobic-capacity, and anaerobic-capacity training. Once we’ve addressed each of these individually, we start the sequence of workouts over again; this allows us to elevate the athlete’s fitness level by concurrently working all of the energy systems necessary for distance running success. For athletes who recover especially quickly, I schedule a separate anaerobic-conditioning, aerobic-capacity, or anaerobic-capacity session each week, thereby allowing the athlete to address all energy systems within a single training week. For those who require additional recovery, a single session each week of one of these types of training is sufficient, allowing the athlete to address all relevant energy systems within a three-week period. Here’s the most effective route to incorporating the six elements in your program:

Step 1. Designate Your Recovery Day

Because most of the athletes I work with have families and careers, a recovery day is usually one on which they’d like to complete additional chores around the house, spend time with their families, or socialize. It may be a day to do little or nothing except read a book and relax. Others travel frequently for business and have a floating schedule; these runners need a day on which they can miss a run without feeling guilty. View the recovery day as a day to let your body and mind unwind and allow modern life to take priority over training. As an added benefit, it’ll keep you healthy, allow you to improve, and help keep you motivated.

Step 2. Determine Your Long-Run Day

This is pretty simple because most athletes do their weekly long run on either Saturday or Sunday. Whatever works for you is fine, as long as you do it consistently. I don’t have a hard and fast rule regarding spacing recovery days around the long run. In most cases, my athletes run a harder effort on Saturday, run long on Sunday, and run an easier day on Monday. This allows Saturday to be fairly hard and Sunday moderate while providing a recovery day following these back-to-back harder run days.

Step 3. Determine Your Primary Workout Days

On primary workout days you run scheduled harder workouts. My athletes schedule primary workouts every Tuesday and Friday in the fall. In the spring, the longer-distance athletes maintain this schedule, while the middle-distance runners adopt a Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday schedule. Depending on the length of your workout cycle, combinations of hard days vary. A 7-day cycle might include primary workouts on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Runners on a 14-day cycle might designate Monday and Thursday as primary hard-workout days. On the other hand, some runners can only tolerate a single hard workout each week and are therefore on a 21-day cycle. Based on your particular goal event, rotate workouts in this order:

1. 200s, 300s, or 400s at faster than 5K race pace (anaerobic capacity)
2. 800- to 2,400-meter intervals at 5K to 10K race pace (aerobic capacity)
3. Tempo run of approximately 30 minutes at threshold pace (anaerobic conditioning)

On the fourth hard-effort day, start over again with the 200s, 300s, or 400s at faster than 5K pace and work your way through the lineup again. In this manner, you address all the relevant energy systems needed for top-level performance. The 800- to 2,400-meter intervals at 5K to 10K pace handle aerobic capacity, the tempo runs address anaerobic conditioning, and the 200s, 300s, or 400s at faster than 5K race pace develop anaerobic capacity (economy).

Most runners use a 14-day schedule of two primary, harder workouts each week during the two-week period. The question arises: There are four harder workout days and three primary workouts to do, so should I adjust the schedule? Rather than starting again with workout one on the fourth workout day, would there be a benefit to focusing on one area of fitness more than the other? I allow for the following slight variations based on the fact that most athletes see the greatest improvement in race times by giving increased focus to aerobic-capacity development.

Week 1: Aerobic-capacity workout, anaerobic-conditioning workout

Week 2: Aerobic-capacity workout, anaerobic-capacity workout

During the final four to eight weeks of the training year before the championship racing season, I make the following adjustments based on event focus:

1,500 meters. Each week perform an aerobic-capacity workout on one day and an anaerobic-capacity workout on another.

5K to 10K. During week one, perform an aerobic-capacity workout one day and an anaerobic conditioning workout the second harder day of that week. During week two perform an aerobic-capacity workout one day and an anaerobic-capacity workout the second harder day.

Marathon. Each week perform an aerobic-capacity workout on one day and an anaerobic-conditioning workout on another.

Step 4. Schedule Your Double Days

I generally schedule double days on the primary harder workout days of the week because I want the athlete’s hard days to be hard. Without exception, my top athletes do a minimum of two double days per week on Tuesdays and Fridays, the same days we schedule either the 200s, 300s, and 400s, the 800- to 2,400-meter intervals, or the tempo run. The more experienced athletes add double days on an additional two to four days per week as they see fit.

Step 5. Fill In Rest With Aerobic-Conditioning Runs

The remaining days should consist of runs varying in distance from 45 to 90 minutes. Whether you choose to do two-a-days and whether you keep to the shorter end of the 45- to 90-minute range or the longer end is as much a matter of preference and “recoverability” as it is a function of your chosen race distance.

To help illustrate the previous concepts in detail, tables 3.1 through 3.3 provide some sample training weeks using this program. These are not set in stone, but rather are intended to illustrate how to apply the training principles to the everyday training of fast competitive athletes who also happen to have careers and family obligations.

So that’s it. Designing a training plan is important yet simple. I’ve described the elements it should include and provided examples of runners across the race-distance spectrum who have used these elements to form training plans that have taken them to the top of their game. Now, it’s your turn. Reread this chapter along with the other information in this book, set clear goals, grab a pen and paper (or a mouse and computer), and go to it.

Five training phases for triathlon success

It’s not often I can do this but the following is an excerpt from an upcoming book (currently only available as a pre-order), Triathlon 101 (Human Kinetics, due out March, 2009). In this updated edition reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics, Triathlon 101, you’ll learn the five training phases for triathlon success.

“Training in phases, or cycles, has long been considered the best way to condition the body to the rigors of endurance exercise safely and effectively,” says Mora. “Each phase has a very specific High-Tech Cycling book coverobjective, and the workouts are thoughtfully designed to fulfill that objective.” Mora suggests beginners approach training in five phases:

Initiation phase.
Specifically for beginners, the initiation phase allows the body to learn a new activity never or rarely performed before. Depending on the level of experience, this phase could take up to three months. “This phase may try your patience because you’ll be learning at least one activity that you’ve never attempted before,” Mora notes. “It is a time for your body to adapt gradually to new activity and to overcome the inevitable discomforts that go with triathlon training.”

Base phase.
This phase creates a foundation of training with gradual, safe adaptation to a physical activity and consists mainly of long workouts done at a slow pace. According to Mora, the focus of this phase should be on gradual increases of the length of workouts of no more than 10 percent per week, a rule that is especially crucial for running and helps in avoiding common overtraining injuries. This phase can last from three to six months, depending on current conditioning, skills, and the distance being trained for.

Speed and technique phase.
This phase increases the pace you can maintain and the efficiency of your exercise. According to Mora, the speed and technique phase is for those who have already run a few races and would like to hone their skills. However, for those running a triathlon for the first time, Mora recommends dismissing any expectations of finishing in a certain time and instead focusing on simply finishing the race.

Race simulation phase.
This phase helps boost race-day confidence through completing workouts similar to those done on the day of the event. According to Mora, many first-time triathletes have questions about transitioning from one sport to the other and the transition’s effects on the body. Race training improves performance on race day and provides the confidence needed for race day. “Workouts known as bricks combine two sports in a single session and are instrumental to any racing success,” Mora explains. “If you complete workouts that simulate what you will be experiencing during a race, the shroud of mystery surrounding your upcoming first triathlon will soon begin to evaporate.”

Tapering phase.
Tapering involves a period of decreased activity in the days or weeks before an athletic event. According to Mora, tapering allows the body ample time to recover from the previous months of training and refresh the muscles in order to be primed for racing. “Although there is much debate about the ‘perfect’ tapering schedule, it really depends on how fast your body recovers from training, how long you’ve been training, and what you are training for,” Mora says. “And although there may be some disagreement about how to taper, experts do concur that you need to taper in order to perform your best.”

“Hailed as a must-read for triathlon rookies, Triathlon 101 covers all the steps necessary for triathlon training. The updated edition also offers new chapters on what to expect on race day, information on off-road triathlons, and information on recovering to compete again