Category Archives: Swim

Master the freestyle

For anyone who has spent any time leaning and perfecting freestyle, you realize that the more you practice it, the more your understand it is a technique sport. There are so many movements that have to be executed correctly for it to work well, that it can overwhelm you. So pick one or two drills or areas of focus per training session and just focus on that. It WILL pay off for you in the long run!

Here’s an excerpt from Swimming Anatomy with permission of the publisher, Human Kinetics.

“As the hand enters into the water, the wrist and elbow follow and the arm is extended to the starting position of the propulsive phase. Upward rotation of the shoulder blade allows the swimmer to reach an elongated position in the water. From this elongated position, the first part of the propulsive phase begins with the catch. The initial movements are first generated by the clavicular portion of the pectoralis major. The latissimus dorsi quickly joins in to assist the pectoralis major. These two muscles generate a majority of the force during the underwater pull, mostly during the second half of the pull. The wrist flexors act to hold the wrist in a position of slight flexion for the entire duration of the propulsive phase. At the elbow, the elbow flexors (biceps brachii and brachialis) begin to contract at the start of the catch phase, gradually taking the elbow from full extension into approximately 30 degrees of flexion. During the final portion of the propulsive phase the triceps brachii acts to extend the elbow, which brings the hand backward and upward toward the surface of the water, thus ending the propulsive phase. The total amount of extension taking place depends on your specific stroke mechanics and the point at which you initiate your recovery. The deltoid and rotator cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) are the primary muscles active during the recovery phase, functioning to bring the arm and hand out of the water near the hips and return them to an overhead position for reentry into the water. The arm movements during freestyle are reciprocal in nature, meaning that while one arm is engaged in propulsion, the other is in the recovery process.

Several muscle groups function as stabilizers during both the propulsive phase and the recovery phase. One of the key groups is the shoulder blade stabilizers (pectoralis minor, rhomboid, levator scapula, middle and lower trapezius, and the serratus anterior), which as the name implies serve to anchor or stabilize the shoulder blade. Proper functioning of this muscle group is important because all the propulsive forces generated by the arm and hand rely on the scapula’s having a firm base of support. Additionally, the shoulder blade stabilizers work with the deltoid and rotator cuff to reposition the arm during the recovery phase. The core stabilizers (transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, internal oblique, external oblique, and erector spinae) are also integral to efficient stroke mechanics because they serve as a link between the movements of the upper and lower extremities. This link is central to coordination of the body roll that takes place during freestyle swimming.

Like the arm movements, the kicking movements can be categorized as a propulsive phase and a recovery phase; these are also referred to as the downbeat and the upbeat. The propulsive phase (downbeat) begins at the hips by activation of the iliopsoas and rectus femoris muscles. The rectus femoris also initiates extension of the knee, which follows shortly after hip flexion begins. The quadriceps (vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis) join the rectus femoris to help generate more forceful extension of the knee. Like the propulsive phase, the recovery phase starts at the hips with contraction of the gluteal muscles (primarily gluteus maximus and medius) and is quickly followed by contraction of the hamstrings (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus). Both muscle groups function as hip extensors. Throughout the entire kicking motion the foot is maintained in a plantarflexed position secondary to activation of the gastrocnemius and soleus and pressure exerted by the water during the downbeat portion of the kick.”

Drills to improve running form

Yes, there is more to running than simply going to the road and starting. Over the years, you’ll be able to run faster, more efficient, and with less injury by having better form. Here’s an excerpt from Running Anatomy that will help. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics.

“ABC Running Drills

Other than with strength training, how can running form and performance be improved? Because running has a neuromuscular component, running form can be improved through form drills that coordinate the movements of the involved anatomy. The drills, developed by coach Gerard Mach in the 1950s, are simple to perform and cause little impact stress to the body. Essentially, the drills, commonly referred to as the ABCs of running, isolate the phases of the gait cycle: knee lift, upper leg motion, and pushoff. By isolating each phase and slowing the movement, the drills, when properly performed, aid the runner’s kinesthetic sense, promote neuromuscular response, and emphasize strength development. A properly performed drill should lead to proper running form because the former becomes the latter, just at a faster velocity. Originally these drills were designed for sprinters, but they can be used by all runners. Drills should be performed once or twice a week and can be completed in 15 minutes. Focus on proper form.

A Motion

The A motion (figure 3.2; the movement can be performed while walking or more dynamically as the A skip or A run) is propelled by the hip flexors and quadriceps. Knee flexion occurs, and the pelvis is rotated forward. The arm carriage is simple and used to balance the action of the lower body as opposed to propelling it. The arm opposite to the raised leg is bent 90 degrees at the elbow, and it swings forward and back like a pendulum, the shoulder joint acting as a fulcrum. The opposite arm is also moving simultaneously in the opposite direction. Both hands should be held loosely at the wrist joints and should not be raised above shoulder level. The emphasis is on driving down the swing leg, which initiates the knee lift of the other leg.

B Motion

The B motion (figure 3.3) is dependent on the quadriceps to extend the leg and the hamstrings to drive the leg groundward, preparing for the impact phase. In order, the quadriceps extend the leg from the position of the A motion to potential full extension, and then the hamstrings group acts to forcefully drive the lower leg and foot to the ground. During running the tibialis anterior dorsiflexes the ankle, which positions the foot for the appropriate heel landing; however, while performing the B motion, dorsiflexion should be minimized so that the foot lands closer to midstance. This allows for less impact solely on the heel, and because the biomechanics of the foot are not involved as in running, it does not promote any forefoot injuries.

C Motion


The final phase of the running gait cycle is dominated by the hamstrings. Upon impact, the hamstrings continue to contract, not to limit the extension of the leg but to pull the foot upward, under the glutes, to begin another cycle. The emphasis of this exercise (figure 3.4) is to pull the foot up, directly under the buttocks, shortening the arc and the length of time performing the phase so that another stride can be commenced. This exercise is performed rapidly, in staccato-like bursts. The arms are swinging quickly, mimicking the faster movement of the legs, and the hands come a little higher and closer to the body than in either the A or B motions. A more pronounced forward lean of the torso, similar to the body position while sprinting, helps to facilitate this motion.”

Triathlon Training DVD series

I’ve reviewed this DVD series, “The Ultimate Training, Technique, and Strategy Series for Triathletes” and recommend you check it out. Most are taught by Clark Campbell, former Professional Triathlete and University of Kansas Swimming Coach.

The Bike, The Run, The Swim DVDs will take you through the nuances of technique and then go over detailed training plans in depth.

“The Core Strength: Pilates for Triathletes” is a superb teaching of core strength taught and flexibility by June Quick, Certified Pilates Instructor, licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Athletic Trainer, and Stanford University Swimming consultant. She explains the movements that are demonstrated by a beginner and pro triathlete, how to make some more advanced movements when you’re ready, and pre-hab to prevent common athletic injuries.

If you’re new to triathlon and learn better visually, this is the package you want. It’s like having a coach start you out. If you’ve been around the track a few times, pun intended, you may still pick up some technique and training pointers.

Championship Productions forwarded these to me for review and I’m glad they. I had not heard of them but these are some really good training resources.


Proper technique to water running

Many of us know what water running is because we’ve been injured and wanted to keep the cardio up or as a preventative measure to reduce the bodily stress of pounding pavement. Here’s an excerpt from Running Anatomy. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics.

“Most runners have been introduced to water running as a rehabilitative tool for maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness after incurring an injury that precludes dryland running. However, runners should not assume that aquatic training’s only benefit is injury rehabilitation. Running in water, specifically deep-water running (DWR), is a great tool for preventing overuse injuries associated with a heavy volume of aerobic running training. Also, because of the drag associated with running in water, an element of resistance training is associated with water running that does not exist in traditional running-based training.

Although shallow-water running is a viable alternative to DWR, its benefits tend to be related to form and power. Although the improvement of form and power is important, it comes at a cost. Because shallow-water running requires impact with the bottom of a pool, it has an impact component (although the force is mitigated by the density of the water). For a runner rehabbing a lower leg injury, shallow-water running could pose a risk of injury. More important, balance and form are easier to attain in shallow-water running because of a true foot plant. Fewer core muscles are engaged to center the body, as in DWR, and there is a resting period during contact that does not exist in DWR. For our purposes, all water-related training exercises focus on DWR.

In performing a DWR workout, proper body positioning is important. The depth of the water should be sufficient to cover the entire body: Only the tops of the shoulders, the neck, and the head should be above the surface of the water. The feet should not touch the bottom of the pool. Runners tend to have more lean body mass than swimmers, making them less buoyant; therefore, a flotation device will be necessary. If a flotation device is not worn, body position can become compromised and an undue emphasis is placed on the muscles of the upper body and arms to keep the body afloat.

Once buoyed in the water, assume a body position similar to dryland running. Specifically, the head is centered, there is a slight lean forward at the waist, and the chest is “proud,” or expanded, with the shoulders pulled back, not rotated forward. Elbows are bent at 90 degrees, and movement of the arms is driven by the shoulders. The wrists are held in a neutral position, and the hands, although not clenched, are more closed than on dry land in order to push through the resistance of the water. The strength gained from performing wrist curls and reverse wrist curls are beneficial for this.

Leg action is more akin to faster-paced running than general aerobic running because of the propulsive force needed for overcoming the resistance caused by the density of the water. The knee should be driven upward to an approximate 75-degree angle at the hip. The leg is then driven down to almost full extension (avoiding hyperextension) before being pulled upward directly under the buttocks before the process is repeated with the other leg.

During the gait cycle, the feet change position from no flexion (imagine standing on a flat surface) when the knee is driving upward to approximately 65 degrees of plantarflexion (toes down) at full extension. This foot movement against resistance both facilitates the mechanics of running form and promotes joint stability and muscle strength as a result of overcoming the resistance caused by drag.

Due to the unnatural training environment (water) and the resistance created when driving the arms and legs, improper form is common when beginning a DWR training program. Specifically, it is common to make a punting-like motion with the forward leg instead of snapping it down. This error is due to fatigue of the hamstrings from the water resistance, resulting in poor mechanics. To correct this error, rest at the onset of the fatigue, and don’t perform another repetition until the time goal is met. Do not try to push through it. You won’t gain fitness, and you will gain poor form.

DWR is effective because it elevates the heart rate, similar to dryland running. And because of the physics of drag, it requires more muscular involvement, thus strengthening more muscles than dryland running does without the corresponding overuse injuries associated with such training. Specifically, it eliminates the thousands of impact-producing foot strikes incurred during non-DWR running.”

Author shares his swimming secrets (podcast)

Swimming anatomy is quickly becoming a top seller for those wanting to learn more in depth about their swimming. Here’s a podcast by the author of from Swimming Anatomy. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics.

“Ian McLeod, is the author of Swimming Anatomy. Recommended by USA Swimming, McLeod has extensive experience working with world-class athletes, particularly swimmers. A certified athletic trainer and certified massage therapist, he was a member of the U.S. team’s medical staff at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. He has also worked extensively as an athletic trainer with the sports programs at the University of Virginia and Arizona State University.”


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.”

Controlling Your Pace During Races

The following is an excerpt from The Runner’s Edge, regarding pacing and is with the permission of Human Kinetics.

“While it’s obvious that a speed and distance device can be used for monitoring and controlling your pace during races, you need to use your device somewhat differently in races of different distances, and you must avoid succumbing to the temptation to rely on it too heavily.

First, before you race, try to get a good sense of your device’s specific degree of accuracy. Most devices are inaccurate by a consistent degree in one direction—either too long or too short. Test your device on measured courses whenever possible to determine its pattern. Races themselves afford some of the best opportunities, but be aware that it’s actually normal to run approximately 0.5 percent too far on certified road race courses because these courses are measured by the shortest possible distance a runner could cover in completing it (that is, by running every turn and tangent perfectly), and nobody ever does that.

Pacing During a 5K

If your device model has an option to display the average pace for the current lap or run, set the display in this mode before the race starts. If you’re running a 5K, ignore your watch for the first several hundred yards, when it’s crowded and your main priority is to find a rhythm. Once you have found your rhythm, take a quick glance at your average pace. It almost certainly will not match your target pace for the first mile, but that doesn’t mean you have to actively speed up or slow down. Just absorb the number you see, think about it in relation to how you feel, and let your gut tell you how to adjust.

Sometimes this early quick glance can save the day. When adrenaline gets the better of you and you start way too fast, it gives you the chance to rein in your legs and save your race before it’s too late. If you waited until the first mile split to discover your mistake, it would be too late. On the other hand, if you start way too slowly, the quick glance at your average pace may remind you that, in fact, you are not working as hard as you could be, and you have an opportunity to speed up before you’ve dug too deep a hole to climb out of. But most often that early, quick glance will merely confirm that you’re more or less on pace.

Pacing During a 10K

When running 10K races, do the same early glance at your average pace as soon as you’ve settled into a rhythm and adjust, if necessary. After that point, ignore your device (but pay attention to your mile splits) until the second half of the race, during which you should check the device whenever you find yourself worrying that fatigue is causing you to slip off your goal pace. The benefit of doing this is that it almost always motivates you to run harder, no matter whether the display tells you that you’re right on pace, have fallen a second or two per mile behind pace, or are ahead of pace. The only circumstance in which it’s likely to be demoralizing is when you’re having a bad race and have fallen far behind your target pace. In these circumstances, you’re going to end up demoralized anyway.

Pacing During a Half Marathon

Half marathons are long enough that your mile split times become almost meaningless after you’ve run several miles and brain fatigue has crippled your mathematical faculties. So don’t even bother paying attention to your splits after 10K. Instead, glance at your average pace at each mile mark to check whether you’re still on track toward your goal. As in 10K races, this type of monitoring is likely to keep a fire under you—there’s just something about chasing numbers that makes us work harder!

Pacing During a Marathon

In the marathon, all measures taken to control your pacing with objective data go out the window after the halfway mark. You have to run by feel. But properly controlling your pace with objective data in the first half is critical to setting yourself up for success in the second half. The marathon distance is just too long for your anticipatory regulation mechanism to make reliable decisions about how fast you ought to be running in the early miles. Instead, rely on setting an appropriate time goal and target pace and check your speed and distance device as often as necessary to ensure that you stay on this pace through the first half.

While a speed and distance device certainly can help you pace yourself more effectively in races, it is no substitute for your body’s built-in pacing mechanism. While this mechanism is poorly developed in beginning runners, it is highly refined and more reliable than objective pacing controls in experienced runners. If you are ready for a breakthrough race performance, your anticipatory regulation mechanism will tell you so by causing you to feel better than anticipated as you proceed through the miles. It would be a mistake in this situation to trust your pacing plan and your speed and distance device more than your body and resist the urge to run faster. Likewise, on those days when you just don’t have it in a race, you need to heed your body’s message of unexpected discomfort and run slower than planned instead of stubbornly persisting at your target pace only to suffer a disastrous bonk late in the race.”

Aerodynamics and bike fit for speed

Some practical wisdom on endurance sports nutrition from the book is “The woman Triathlete“, reprinted with permission by Human Kinetics.

“How fast you finish the cycling portion of a race depends on the
power you’re able to produce during the ride. Ultimately, power output
depends on just two variables: force and speed. Very simply, it depends
on how hard you push and how fast you pedal. The three forces you need
to overcome to move forward are air resistance, rolling resistance,
and, on climbs, gravity. Because gravity and rolling resistance depend
on weight, most cyclists try to minimize weight. This is most easily
achieved by using a lighter bike and componentry, but these come at a
high cost. Rolling resistance also depends on the road surface, as well
as the make, thickness, and pressure of your tires. The biggest
resistive force, however, is air resistance, which is dependent on your
speed and frontal surface area. At 20 miles per hour on a flat road
(gravity is zero), rolling resistance makes up less than 25 percent of
the total resistance, while air resistance makes up more than 75
percent. The most effective way to reduce air resistance is to draft
behind (or even next to) another rider. For a triathlete without the
option to draft (drafting is not permitted in most amateur triathlon
racing
), reducing frontal area has the greatest effect on performance.
Aerodynamic equipment–such as bike frames with tear-shaped tubes,
deep-dish wheels and discs, narrow water bottles, tight skin suits, and
streamlined helmets–can reduce some of the frontal area. However, a
rider’s body is by far the biggest obstacle. Bike fit for a triathlete
is therefore optimized with biomechanical fit and aerodynamic
positioning; many triathletes even choose to ride a less comfortable
setup in favor of better aerodynamics. Keep in mind, though, that a
comfortable setup that incorporates aerodynamics will usually result in
increased power output. Because road cyclists are allowed to draft,
they tend to place greater importance on biomechanical fit, comfort,
and handling of the bike than triathletes do, but triathletes would be
well served in finding a comfortable setup.

It is relatively
easy to adjust a traditional bike fit to a more aerodynamic fit. The
most cost-effective investment is a set of aerobars. Better yet, using
an ergo-stem along with your aerobars will allow you to more completely
adjust the position of your handlebars. A second seat post and saddle
combination will allow you to quickly move back and forth between a
road position and a time trial position with just one bike frame.
Because a traditional road bike fit often results in better (i.e.,
easier) handling of the bike, it is useful to be able to switch back
and forth between setups. You can convert your bike to match your
workout–aerodynamic position for solo efforts and time trials or a
traditional bike fit for group rides and hilly routes. Before you
adjust your bike fit to a more aerodynamic position, measure (and mark
with tape) how your bike is set up. It is always a good idea to have
the option of going back to a position that already works for you. Once
you have the necessary measurements, move your saddle forward one or
two centimeters. Because this reduces the distance from your saddle to
the bottom bracket, you may also need to move the saddle up (usually
about half the distance that you moved it forward). Now check your
reach by leaning forward into the aerobars. The front of your shoulders
should be aligned vertically with the back of your elbows. This
position allows you to rely on the skeletal rather than muscular
support of your upper arms for the weight of the upper body. Your
comfort and flexibility should determine the height of the handlebars
relative to the saddle. For example, if your hamstrings feel tight,
your handlebars need to be moved higher. Most likely, your cleat
position and your saddle tilt can remain in the same position as they
were in before.

No matter how aerodynamic you want to be,
injury prevention and comfort should be your main concerns with regard
to fit. Your knee rotates through many cycles on a ride–in just one
hour of racing at 90 revolutions per minute, you are completing 5,400
rotations per leg! If your bike is not properly fit to your
biomechanics, you will be at high risk for injury. Also, if you are
uncomfortable on the bike, you may become distracted by repetitive
twinges instead of being able to focus on your effort. Because a proper
bike fit is critical, you should be fit at a reputable triathlon or
cycling shop, by a certified fit specialist, or by a coach or physical
therapist who has experience in bike fit. A proper bike fit should
always include setting up your cleats (on the bottom of your shoes) in
the proper position: If your knee is restricted to the wrong range
through each pedal cycle, you’re almost guaranteed injury. Athletes
looking to be very competitive in triathlon should consider being fit
by a professional fit specialist who will take into account every
aspect of their biomechanics when adjusting their position. Look for
someone who specializes in triathlon-specific fitting, and expect to
pay $50 to $100 for the service (and anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for
services that include power output measurement or wind tunnel testing).

Even with a good bike fit, you may find that you are
uncomfortable on your saddle at times. If you experience this, consider
the following:

  • Never wear anything under your cycling shorts. The shorts are
    designed so that there are no seams in sensitive areas. Wearing
    undergarments adds those seams back between you and your saddle. Also,
    make sure you buy women’s shorts to ensure a proper fit.
  • Wash your shorts after each ride to avoid infections.
  • Use a chamois cream or ointment to prevent saddle sores and
    chafing. Apply it to both your body and the shorts for maximum
    protection.
  • Use a women-specific saddle. They are designed to support the wider sit bones of a woman’s body and provide increased comfort.”