Category Archives: running technique

Running Technique Economy

If there was a technique improvement that would enable you to run at the same heart rate but faster, would you want to know about it? Running economy, improving your technique, might help you improve your times. This might be it. It’s not new but you might not have heard about it. Here are some videos (a video playlist) that will inform you.

Three Endurance Technique Development Exercises for Runners

This excerpt is from the book, Developing Endurance. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics. Purchase this book from Human Kinetics and help keep MyTriathlonTraining.com in online!

Arm Swings

The athlete sits on the floor with the legs extended straight in front of the body; the arms are bent at 90 degrees at the sides. The athlete begins swinging the arms forward and back slowly. She gradually increases the pace, focusing on pushing the elbows back and keeping the movement in the sagittal plane (forward and back). When the arms swing very quickly, the entire body may bounce up and down. If this happens, the athlete should focus on using core strength to maintain posture and limit any twisting or cross-body swinging.

Focus points: Developing a smooth arm swing forward and back with elbows bent and hands relaxed

Butt Kicks

This is a traditional track and field drill that emphasizes the rapid hamstring pull. The athlete should allow the hips and knees to flex in order to maintain the range of motion specific to the running stride. While running slowly forward, the athlete alternately lifts the ankle vertically by quickly pulling upward with the hamstring. He begins slowly at first. The athlete can gradually increase foot speed so that he is pulling the heels up very quickly and taking a greater number of steps while moving forward very slowly (fast feet, slow body). The arms must be coordinated with the legs during this drill. The drill can also be done stationary.

Focus points: Mid-foot striking, awareness of using the hamstring to pull the heel upward, maintenance of a high stride rate, practicing the arm swing

Bounding

The athlete begins by walking, running, or simply taking one or two running steps to build momentum. He pushes explosively off the ground with the back leg, driving the opposite knee up and forward to gain height and distance. The athlete keeps the heel of the driving knee under the hip, ready to land on the ball of the Continue reading

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
      excessive.
      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
      forward.
    • 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
      follow.
      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.”

Triathlon basic swim technique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Entry
  • Catch
  • Pull
  • Push
  • Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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