Category Archives: triathlete

Swim-Golf is a great way to focus on stroke technique

When you are drilling, and you should add some drills to most every swim workout, swim-golf is a great way to track your progress. Essentially what you do is combine your stroke count per 25 or 50 y/m with the time it took to complete. It is a proxy measurement for technique efficiency and you should try to bring that number down over time.

Here’s a great excerpt from excerpt from Swimming Fastest by Ernest Maglischo reprinted with permission.

Swimming Fastest by Ernest Maglischo“One of the most common drills for increasing stroke lengths is to count strokes for one pool length and repeat the drill while attempting to cover the distance with fewer strokes. All of this is done at a slow speed. This is a good drill for young and inexperienced age-group swimmers. The efficiency of their strokes and their performances will improve when they attempt to cover each pool length with fewer strokes, regardless of the speed of their swims.

Although a drill like the one just described is excellent for inexperienced swimmers, it has limited value once athletes can swim with good coordination and reasonable efficiency. At that point, swimming speeds and stroke rates must be included in drills designed to increase stroke length. Because the relationship between the combination of stroke rate and stroke length that will produce the most efficient swimming velocity will be different for each race distance and for each swimmer, all three elements should be included in drills to improve stroke lengths. Following are some drills that include all three elements.

This drill is so named because it involves swimming and is scored like golf. The value of the drill is that it allows each swimmer to discover the best way to improve the relationship between stroke length and stroke rate to achieve a particular swimming velocity, whether through increasing stroke length, increasing stroke rate, or using some combination of the two. The drill is performed in the following manner. The athletes swim a particular repeat distance, 25 or 50 yd or m, while counting their strokes. Their times are noted, and the two measures, number of strokes and their time for the swim, are combined for a score. For example, a time of 30.00 for 50 m with a stroke count of 40 would produce a score of 70.

Once they have established a base score, swimmers can use any one of several variations of the game to improve the relationship between their stroke rates and stroke lengths. The goal is to reduce the score by (1) swimming faster with fewer strokes, (2) swimming faster with little or no increase in the number of strokes taken, or (3) swimming the same time or nearly so with fewer strokes. If the swimmer in the previous example were to swim 29.00 with the same stroke count, the score would be an improved 69. This swimmer’s stroke rate has undoubtedly increased with little or no loss of stroke length, which accounts for the improved time. Similarly, the same time of 30.00 coupled with a reduced stroke count of 38 would produce an improved score of 68. In that case, the swimmer’s stroke length will have improved and the stroke rate will have decreased with no detrimental effect on swimming speed.

The results will be more difficult to evaluate when lower scores result from faster times that are coupled with a greater number of strokes. This is generally a desirable effect because the lower score results from time reductions that are proportionally greater than the amount by which stroke lengths have declined. This effect can certainly be considered beneficial for improving sprint speed. Increases of stroke rates and the reduction of stroke lengths may not be advantageous for longer sprints, middle distance races, and distance events if the perceived effort that produced lower scores is beyond that which swimmers feel they could sustain over their race distance.

The kick-in drill works best for increasing stroke length. To perform it, athletes swim a series of 50 or 100 repeats while counting the number of stroke cycles required to complete each repeat. Before starting, each swimmer should be assigned the maximum number of cycles they are permitted to use for the repeat distance in the allotted time. That number should be one or two cycles fewer than they generally need to complete that distance. The goal, then, is to complete the repeats with fewer strokes. If they do not finish the repeat when they have completed their assigned number of stroke cycles, they must kick the remaining distance to the finish. The send-off time for the repeats should be set so it is challenging but manageable if the swimmers can complete the repeats without kicking in. The time goal will motivate swimmers to try to reduce their strokes without sacrificing swimming speed. This drill puts a premium on increasing stroke length and doing so without increasing the energy cost of the swim.

This drill can help sprinters increase their stroke lengths while swimming at race speed. The drill can be done in a number of ways. With one method, swimmers sprint 25 yd or m at maximum speed while trying to reduce their stroke count. This method puts a premium on swimming fast with a longer stroke length. Another method is to try to swim each repeat faster without increasing the stroke count. This encourages them to increase their stroke rates without shortening their stroke lengths. The distance that swimmers cover with a push-off can become a confounding variable with both drills. Therefore, swimmers should try to keep that distance similar from swim to swim. The influence of the push-off for different distances can be eliminated from this drill by counting only the number of strokes required to get from one set of flags to the next.

Still another method for increasing stroke length at sprint speed is for the athletes to swim only a specified number of stroke cycles while trying to cover more distance with each swim. For example, the coach can measure the distance a swimmer can cover with two or three stroke cycles, and then the swimmer can try to increase that distance. This distance should be measured in the middle of the pool to remove the influence of the push-off.”

The Science of Cycling Position

Here’s another excellent excerpt reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics of High-Performance Cycling by Asker Jeukendrup

cycling performance“Throughout this chapter, we have used a set of reference values for aerodynamic drag area. Although these values represent good approximations to the drag area of a 70-kilogram (154-pound) rider in each position, those values are not fixed. Rather, a cyclist can influence his drag area in several ways. Riding with knees close to the centerline of the bicycle frame can reduce drag area by approximately 8 percent compared with riding with knees wide apart. This knee position will affect drag similarly whether the rider uses conventional racing handlebars or aerobars.

For riding with standard handlebars, arm position, including elbow bend and forearm alignment, can even more dramatically influence drag area. Bending the elbows allows the rider to lower his torso and thus reduce frontal area. Indeed, carefully positioned arms with the forearms horizontal and parallel to the bicycle can reduce drag area by up to 12 percent compared with widely positioned arms or straightened elbows. A wide-elbow position may result from poor technique, but it also may be due to poor bike fit and thus may not be within the control of the rider. Specifically, if the saddle-to-handlebar distance is too short, the rider may be forced to widen the arms so that they do not contact the legs. Consequently, drag area may be substantially increased because of a poorly fitted frame-stem-handlebar combination.

Optimal Time-Trial Position
Riders often ask, “How do I optimize my time-trial position?” The simple answer is, “Go to a wind tunnel and have your aerodynamic drag measured in various positions.” But, of course, not every cyclist has the opportunity to take part in wind-tunnel optimization.

As an alternative, we offer several suggestions that will help riders position themselves using only a trainer and a mirror or video camera. We recommend the following procedures to establish a preliminary position before wind-tunnel testing, and this often will result in a position that is within a few percentages of the optimal drag area.

Over the past 10 years, two very different approaches for optimizing aerodynamic position have been used. During the early 1990s, it was recommended that riders use a dedicated time-trial bicycle with a steep seat-tube angle (78 to 84 degrees). With bicycles like this, a low drag-area position could be achieved with a relatively formulaic procedure. Those positions are, at the present time, allowed for triathlons and by some national cycling federations. However, UCI rules currently prohibit forward seat positions. Within the current UCI rules, low drag-area positions can be achieved but the procedure is less formulaic and depends on individual morphological characteristics.

To achieve a low drag position with a forward seat position, start with your current road position. You achieve the aero position by “rolling” that position forward until the torso is horizontal. Specifically, the elbow pads should be lowered and the seat should be moved forward (and slightly up) so that the body rotates about the bottom bracket and the joint angles at the hip and knee are maintained. You can use a mirror or a video camera to assure yourself that your torso is horizontal and that your relative hip, knee, and ankle angles are maintained during this procedure. This procedure usually results in seat positions that require a bicycle seat-tube angle of 78 to 84 degrees depending on body type. Taller or more slender riders tend to require less steep seat-tube angles, whereas shorter or more muscular riders require greater seat-tube angles to achieve a horizontal torso. You can achieve a similar position using a standard frame with a forward-angled seat post and a long stem. However, that configuration may result in a bicycle that may not handle well. If you are to use a forward position, we recommend that the frame be specifically designed for proper handling with that position.

Once you have achieved the horizontal torso position, it has been our experience that details regarding positioning of the arms are less critical. Changing elbow-pad width (center to center) from 11 to 14 centimeters has almost no effect on total drag area, but wider positions (greater than 20 centimeters) can increase drag area by 0 to 3 percent. Similarly, arm angles (measured from horizontal) of 5 to 40 degrees have very little influence (0 to 3 percent) on drag area. The small effect of these changes on drag area suggests that, once a horizontal torso position is established, differences in arm position only affect the location of the arm’s frontal area but do not significantly affect coefficient of drag or total drag area.

Cyclists must accomplish aerodynamic positioning for bicycles with conventional seat-tube angles with more subtlety. Initially, riders must learn to roll their hips over as described by Lemond and Gordis (1987). This posture can be difficult to adopt, but it is an essential element of a low drag-area position with a standard bicycle. The level to which the elbow pads can be lowered will be limited by contact between thigh and torso (which will occur at acute hip angles). Because the elbow pads cannot be radically lowered, frontal area cannot be dramatically reduced for a conventional seat-tube-angle bicycle. Rather, reductions in drag area must be accomplished with careful positioning of the hands, arms, and shoulders to reduce the coefficient of drag. Specifically, the width of the hands and elbows and the angle of the forearms are critical elements that, in an optimal configuration, act to channel airflow around the rider’s torso. Additionally, the contour of the rider’s shoulders can influence the point at which airflow separates. Rounding the shoulders and rolling them forward (i.e., protraction and downward rotation of the shoulder joint) can allow airflow to stay attached further around the rider’s body and thereby reduce pressure drag. The combined effects of redirecting (arm and hand position) and smoothing (shoulder contour) airflow around the body can reduce drag area by 10 to 20 percent.

Comfort and Power
Optimized aerodynamic positions can be uncomfortable in two ways. First, by rotating the hips forward, the cyclist places pressure directly on highly sensitive areas. Additional seat padding may help to distribute that pressure but probably will not completely eliminate the discomfort. Some riders try to alleviate this problem by tilting the nose of the saddle down, but that approach will result in a tendency for the rider to slide forward, off of the saddle. That sliding force must be restrained with forces produced at the shoulders and arms that can become fatigued very quickly. Second, riders may experience muscle soreness or strain in the muscles that extend the neck. This discomfort will be reduced with training and can be ameliorated with stretching and massage.

Riders often express concern that changes in position may compromise their power or efficiency. Heil et al. (1995) investigated the effects of seat-tube angle on metabolic efficiency and reported that efficiency was significantly greater with 83- and 90-degree seat-tube angles than with a 69-degree seat-tube angle. Similarly, Price and Donne (1997) reported that efficiency with an 80-degree seat-tube angle was higher than that with 68 or 74 degrees. Thus, steep seat-tube-angle bicycles should not decrease metabolic efficiency and, indeed, may improve efficiency. Conversely, Heil et al. (1997) reported that reductions in mean hip angle increased cardiovascular stress for a given power output. Such decreases in hip angle often occur when riders attempt to reduce their frontal area by lowering their elbows excessively. Therefore, you must exercise caution when adjusting your position to avoid excessive hip flexion.

This exploration has produced several useful findings for the cyclist. Typical cycling positions exhibit drag-area values that range from 0.48 to 0.27 meter squared, which can mean up to a 20 percent difference in velocity for a given power output. Surprisingly, the proportional difference in velocity is nearly independent of power, suggesting that novice and elite cyclists will realize similar benefits from improved aerodynamic positioning. When a rider is cycling uphill, differences in cycling velocity related to drag area are markedly reduced but are still substantial for less steep grades and for high power outputs. Even though the effect of drag area is reduced during uphill cycling, adopting a standing position is not recommended because of increases in metabolic energy expenditure. Finally, for any given cycling position, drag area can be affected by the position of the knees, elbows, arms, and shoulders.”

Running technique

Kevin M. Beck has been a runner since 1984 and is currently a senior writer for Running Times magazine.

Beck has served as a distance running coach at various levels and is coached by two-time U.S. Olympic marathoner Pete Pfitzinger. He also helped coordinate a research study on exercise and diabetes at the University of California at San Francisco, where he was a diabetes researcher and exercise technician for the Mount Zion Medical Center.

He has written a book called, “Run Strong“. In part of it he talks about Perfecting Running Form. With permission of Human Kinetics, I quote part of it here.

“As a physical therapist, I am often asked how the body should look while running. There are many biomechanical interpretations of proper running form. Most physical therapists’ stand is that an athlete’s individual flexibility, strength, and joint mobility define his or her form, so there is no one correct answer; however, a runner’s knowledge of what constitutes basic proper form is important.

As detailed in chapter 1, running is broken into phases based on the positioning and movement of the foot:

  • Footstrike. The initial contact between the ground and the foot
  • Midstance. Composed of two subcomponents:
    • Foot-flat. Body completely over the stable foot contacting the ground
    • Heel rise. Beginning of the propulsion forward as the heel begins to leave the ground
  • Toe-off. Final propulsion and last contact between the foot and the ground
  • Swing-through phase. The leg swinging under the body getting into position for the next footstrike

To get a feel for optimal running form, try going through the following movements in slow motion while standing in front of a mirror. Balance on one leg and strike the ground approximately six inches (15 centimeters) in front of the body with the other foot, either at the heel or the midsole. Be sure to flex the knee of the moving leg 10 to 20 degrees and the hip 20 to 25 degrees and lean forward slightly at the trunk. As the body weight completely transfers to this foot, keep the knee bent, letting it cushion the joints at the foot-flat phase. The body continues to move forward, and the hip extends (straightens), the knee extends, and the heel lifts. This is followed by the toe-off phase. As the foot leaves the ground, the thigh swings backward maximally. The direction of the leg changes as the thigh drives forward, with the knee bending in the swing-through phase. Try this with each leg; a few rehearsals should give you a feel for the optimal relative positioning of each part of your body during an actual run.

That takes care of proper lower-body mechanics, but what should the rest of the body do during this movement? The following list describes upper-body movements and how they coordinate with lower-body movements.

  • Maintain an upright body position while relaxing the shoulders and face. Less tension in these areas helps promote more relaxed, free-flowing movement throughout the body as a whole.
  • Hold the sternum high. This allows the chest to expand and increases lung ventilation.
  • Swing the arms from the shoulder joint forward and backward, maintaining a relatively fixed elbow bend at 90 degrees. The shoulder is a pendulum; allowing the arms to passively swing as a result of momentum imparted by gravity rather than actively “flailing” or pumping them minimizes energy wasted through excessive body movements.
  • Synchronize the arms with the legs, mimicking the same rhythm. The arms are used for balance, momentum, and to assist with forward propulsion.
  • Engage the trunk muscles with a slight lean forward to help support the upper body over a moving lower body. Think of a long spine and visualize space between each lumbar vertebra.
  • Rotate the pelvis slightly forward. If you put your hands on your hips, under your fingers is the portion of the iliac crest called the ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine). These points of the hip move slightly forward as the leg swings through and prepares for the footstrike. This hip drive provides propulsion and forward momentum while wasting little energy.
  • Let the knee drive the leg forward with the footstrike about six inches (15 centimeters) in front of the body. The feet stay under the hips and the hips under the trunk, which helps maintain the body’s center of balance.
  • Transfer your body weight evenly from one foot to another, making sure only one foot is on the ground at a time. If both feet are on the ground at the same time, you may not be propelling yourself forward efficiently during the toe-off phase.
  • During toe-off and in the beginning of the swing-through phase, the leg must go past the front-to-back midline and behind the opposite leg. This creates propulsion.

Strong supporting muscles help you maintain efficient running form. When these muscles fatigue, your form deteriorates. Being aware of your running form and consciously trying to maintain form during the latter stages of a run are important means of preventing injuries. Of course, conditioning can help you avoid muscle fatigue and the muscles’ failure to function. However, muscles will fatigue, especially in long events such as the half-marathon and marathon, so it’s important to think about maintaining proper form. Although it is difficult to think of your form for the duration of a long race, reminding yourself of the basics when you start to fatigue centers your focus on the running motion and helps you optimize your performance. The visualization exercise at the end of the chapter emphasizes conscious awareness of proper head-to-toe form. Conditioning and form drills, detailed in chapters 1, 4, 5, and 6 will strengthen your body and enable you to put this visualization process into practice.”

Remember to check out the running videos also.

Welcome to Triathlon Training Notes!

This blog is solely meant to share my experiences training for my first triathlon season, the injuries I had, some lessons I learned and resources I found useful which you might as well in your new triathlon endeavors.

As I find new resources, I will mention them in the blog and add them to the resources page. I hope you find it useful.

To start off, below are some basic and short videos for some triathlon-related exercises.