After two successful training camps where our visiting coaches were impressed with the improvement in swim strokes and times of the athletes attending, I now sit on the plane reflecting on a pertinent point that was raised at the end of our camp debrief:
How was it that improvements observed in nearly every athletes swim were achieved not from swim specific drills, but directly upon jumping in the water after the swim lecture? One coach added ‘I got in the water after the talk and have to say I had the most enjoyable swim I’ve had in ages.‘
At the lecture we did not discuss swim technique at all. Instead I opened the minds of athletes, that the marketing and proliferation of ‘established best techniques’ can effect everyone, including the best athletes in the world; even after they have achieved remarkable success.
With complexity stripped away, swimming gets easier, more enjoyable and faster. However maintaining this is a struggle. In society in general, and triathlon in particular, we operate in a community where ‘Keep it Simple’ principles are viewed condescendingly. I point this out, as many of our age group athletes having made swim breakthroughs will now return home and bit by bit, under the guise of friendly advice will start the process of complicating their strokes all over again. The temptation to return to ‘proper’ swim techniques can effect even the best athletes in the world, even after they have achieved unbelievable success.
At training camp we had Barb ‘Pepper’ Riveros, who already has had podiums at ITU World Cups, and a 5th place finish at the last Olympics in Rio. I believe to be on the podium at the next Olympics she needs to improve her bike and run. To do this she needs to change her swim stroke.
We invested a month to achieve the stroke I believe is right for her. Barb then went traveling and racing, with a vacation in Hawaii where she collected a 2nd place in the XTerra World Champs, before arriving back in camp. The difference? A return back to the old techniques, old stroke, old drills. So I thought this was a great example to share of elite level coaching.
I’m not changing her stroke to make her a faster swimmer. I’m changing her stroke to make her a more superior triathlete.
My method of trying to get her to ‘buy in’ to the new technique is to sell her the results of Nicola Spirig. I have changed Nicola’s stroke many times over the years, from the most ‘technically correct’ six beat, high elbow, bi-lateral breather which was beautiful to watch; into the straight armed, no kick whirlwind seen at the last Olympics. That stroke allowed her between two Olympics to go from 1 minute 10 seconds behind the leaders in a wetsuit swim, to being in the front swim pack in Rio, in a non wetsuit swim. This was the key to her Rio Olympic Silver medal.
However, here is the point I want to make. Even after her success, Nicola still pines for her old swim stroke!! As we now make another change in swim technique for the Tokyo games, which will be her fifth Olympics, I still hear on a daily basis ‘I used to swim 50m and 100m so much faster. People used to complement me on my stroke, now they laugh at it.’
I will add that Daniela Ryf, now 3x Hawaii Ironman World Champion, was also given a new swim stroke when she joined. Yet she too, despite such success wants to keep changing back from her 2 beat to her 6 beat kick, as ‘I’m so much faster swimming with 6 beat‘; It makes me sick to my stomach when she keeps adding swim drills, and other things into her swim workouts, which only serve to hinder her progress.
I try to breakdown these protests by making 3 points:
- Your bike and run has been the beneficiary of these changes. You are much faster triathletes.
- Your distance swimming has improved greatly, and at top speed you now develop way less lactate. And finally, when I can see that the above is not convincing enough, I remind them:
- At least your bank manager enjoys the new stroke!
Which usually breaks the deadlock.
Here is the point for challenged swimmers – ALL three of the above athletes, if they left and were coached by someone else, they would change back to their old swim techniques in a nano second.
So I understand completely how hard it can be for age group swimmers to hold the line, and to use a technique that is not trying to copy a Michael Phelps!
To my challenged swim friends, I can only say to you that you will improve and results over thirty years have proved it. But the real challenge is in ‘hold the line’ against the opinions and instinct to complicate, as your Triathlon will be so much better for it.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at his training camps in 2018. Spots still remain for Gran Canaria in February and Cyprus in April.
Article Photo Credits: Mokapot Productions
The majority of European long distance races this season are now behind us, and I have asked many athletes how they went. The most common answer: ‘it was ok but I somehow have to be able to cycle and run a lot faster.’
Every athlete wants to finish a race faster than the one before, or faster than last year etc, but only few athletes succeed. People often start to analyse and wonder… my cycling and running should be a lot better; I was faster in the shorter distances and during the marathon last fall; I was quicker during all of the long Sunday rides with my friends.
After thorough consideration some athletes decide to invest more money in a new bike and to train longer and harder. This can often be the wrong approach.
One reason why most triathletes competing in long distance races are dissatisfied with their cycling and running performances actually has to do with their swim.
What is apparent is that swimming is often underestimated in triathlon.
Do I have to swim more? Or, I already swim three or more times a week!! – are frequent reactions.
No, perhaps you don’t need to swim more however it might be a good idea to work on your swimming technique – adopt a style that fits you individually.
Kristin attributes her recent improvement to changes in her approach to swim training. Photo Credit: Jose Lois Hourcade
Kristin Lie from Norway is a great example of someone who invested time and effort into redefining her swim technique and has since seen the rewards. She recently detailed the changes in her approach in her Blog after her success at IM 70.3 Haugesund:
After the IM 70.3 in Haugesund I received numerous enquiries and comments or I was asked directly about my swimming performance. Here is my answer:
During the last past years I spent a lot of time in the water. I trained with many different swimming coaches and tried everything possible to increase my speed in the water.
The result: lots of frustration for all of the effort!!!! In May I took part in a Trisutto Camp in Mallorca. Brett Sutton and Dirk Neumann found a swimming style that was good for me.. We adjusted two small things. My breathing rhythm was changed and my swimming style was simplified considerably. Place Press Push makes my swim goes whoosh….
Result: I am out of the water faster, and more importantly I save energy. Before it felt like I needed 20 Calories and now only 1 Calorie. I immediately have power on the bike and can deliver my performance. I might offend some swim coaches now but pure swim training has nothing to do with swim training for a triathlon. This also applies to cycling and running. Which both also were changed during the camp.“
We cannot describe it better!
How can you simplify your swim; how can you get out of the water faster and more relaxed; how can you achieve faster splits on the bike and during the run, or how can you increase the overall fun and enjoyment of triathlon…, all of these these aspects are discussed and practiced at our Trisutto Camps and I invite you to join me in Mallorca in October or next Spring to learn more.
Dirk Neumann is a Trisutto Coach based out of Frankfurt Germany. Earlier in 2017 he coached his first camps on the beautiful island of Mallorca. Dirk will be coaching the Trisutto philosophy and Total Body Force Methods at camps in Mallorca this coming October with more camps available in 2018. Check here for camp dates and details.
After our blog on the humble turbo trainer, we received requests for my thoughts on swim benches, and other swim tools used out of the water. As we have quite a few online athletes who work not only shift work but in remote places, I thought we could pass on a little history with swim benches.
Let’s first answer the burning question, do you believe they are beneficial? The answer is an unequivocal yes. However, it depends what kind and if you use it to:
- replace a swim workout
- incorporate it with your training session
- because you don’t have a pool alternative .
Then there are the many different swim benches available. Before I discuss some of them in detail, let me list them in my order of merit:
- isokinetic swim bench
- pulley system swim bench
- weighted pulley system swim bench
- own body weight resistance swim bench
- stretch chords. Or a bench set up with chords
Each of these apparatus can be improved further with a small tool, called the swim halo. With this device on your machine it can promote an arm position that mimics the correct position of the arms in the water.
Halo Swim Bench
Done properly swimmers who drop their elbows can be taken through the correct movement on the swim bench out of the water, so instruction can be very effective indeed.
As far back as 1978 I was using isokinetic boxes to develop my own swim benches. As I became a little more sophisticated around 1986 I was making them on the walls of our gym to be specific for breaststroke as well as butterfly. My squad would do a swim workout from 9am – 11am but I would still add between 2 and 4 workouts a week on these machines. These swim bench workouts being a minimum of 45 minutes of work.
It is fair to say that in triathlon I have not used them, as time becomes critical training for swim, bike and run inside the one Triathlon program. However as a teaching aid, or a replacement for lack of pool time availability, they are excellent.
Why do I prefer the isokinetic over the other 4 types of benches? With this devise the power output lifts with the effort and acceleration of the stroke. This is crucial. Benches that do not do this are counter productive as the weight or resistance is static along the full movement, and hence is dictated by the weakest point of your stroke. The power phase of the stroke does not then have the necessary resistance to be developed as it could be. This is a massive problem. I have experimented with just strait isometric exercise on some of my lesser loved machines and I have found that I get a better result doing that in 3 or 4 static positions rather then doing the full swim stroke.
The second reason I ‘love the isokinetic movement’ is that once accustomed to it there is zero muscle pain the day afterwards – none. This is so important when doing multiple sports. We can do very very hard workouts for 1 hour 30 minutes on isokinetic machines and the next day zero soreness. I have done only 25% of the work on other benches and athletes can’t lift their knives and forks at meal times for 3 days, they are that sore, and impedes training in the other disciplines.
One last point I’ll make on the execution of technique, is when using a swim bench, and trying to include the proper swim arm recovery. After the initial first ever session I personally abandoned that procedure. We recover the arm just by letting it swing back normally. I’m positive not doing a full swim recovery is not impeding improvement.
In summary, if an athlete has pool access and only swims 3 times a week would I replace one of these swim workouts with a swim bench workout? Just the same answer when I’m asked should I replace one of these workouts with a gym session that will make me stronger. The answer from me is no. And just if you miss-understood: No. No. No !
However, it is a legitimate tool to improve swimming if used correctly, and a great piece of kit for any level of swimmer
‘Coach, what about racing in other sports?’
The Northern Hemisphere season has kicked off and one of the most asked questions is ‘Coach, I’ve got time before I do my main race. Can I do a race in another sport?’
My answer changes depending on the sport, the amount of time before the main race, and the possibility that doing that race could cause injury that will impact on the main goal of the season.
Let’s start with an open water swim race. The answer is nearly always a yes, great idea. Any time we get to practice open water in a real race scenerio is a big positive for me. If it is not the day before the race I’m more than happy to give it the big thumbs up.
Let’s move to the run race scenario. Again, I like this as a training aid to a better triathlon run. In saying that, we break it up into two categories:-
- To help improve speed, choose a race that is much shorter than race distance. If one is racing Sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, then a 3 to 5 km road race is a great stimulus for future.
- To help improve race pace for long course / Ironman athletes, then races from 10 to 21 km are ideal. My favorite is around 15 km, as I have found it gives a great stimulus of both above race pace and endurance, but without flattening the athlete, or interrupting too much their training due to needing a longer time to recover. When attempting this style of race we insist it must be done negative split, or as a build run. This ensures we don’t build up a lot of unnecessary lactate during what is a glorified training session.
Running Races can compliment our triathlon training well.
I left the bike to last, as when an athlete tells me they would like to join a cycle race, I ask if they would like a broken collarbone before their main event of the year?
In a perfect world I’d love to say yes, but rarely does this occur. Safety must be the ultimate decider of bike racing, and I just don’t see pack riding being beneficial to an Ironman racer. If they ask can I do a time trial race, I’m the first to say ‘what a great idea’.
Let me be clear, if someone asked me to pick between a 1 hour criterium or a 1 hour time trial on a turbo, I would say there is no comparison. (I have only seen one, no two athletes fall off a turbo – but that is for another story!)
Racing other sports I find to be a great benefit if you put them in context with your long term goals, and can help you enjoy your fitness without breaking the bank – financially, or physically.
Get out there and give them a go!
Total Body Force techniques are taught at Trisutto Camps worldwide.
During our age group training camps we have seen athletes make incredible improvements in their triathlon swim using our TBF (Total Body Force) techniques. We have also found many athletes returned to their training environment, and individuals in their club or in the swim lane next to them have ridiculed their new stroke – despite the fact they move down the pool somewhat faster than they used to do!
It’s a tough gig going against the peer group in anything – both for athletes, and for coaches. As a coach, you often doubt and ask yourself is there a better way. For coaches, I say the hardest thing in coaching is to find a method that is not recognized by the hordes and stick with it. If I fall prey to the pressure when I invented our TBF methods and I am an Olympic level swim coach having coached 24 swimmers to the Australian Olympic team, I acknowledge how tough it is for almost all others.
However, the strength of our swim program can be illustrated with some of the successes of our athletes. When our now Trisutto coach Bella Bayliss was racing professionally there was a period when she and husband Stephen could only swim for 1 hour every second day due to a lack of pool facilities. The answer was to maximise the use of the time available – paddles and buoy, 10 x 400, 40 x 100, or one hour non-stop.
A familiar sight – Steve Bayliss leading out of the water. Photo Credit: James Mitchell Photography
Stephen Bayliss was considered not a good enough swimmer, with too poor technique for the British program. As a 3rd pack short course athlete, and 2nd pack long course he was high elbows, breathing both sides, stretching out, counting strokes, wiggling like a worm on a fishing rod as he tried to do perfect technique. After watching him run and his natural gait I thought this man got a bit of skill – these swim coaches have just killed it in the swim.
We adopted the straight arm (English cricket fast bowler) swim stroke, with breathing on one side with the instructions:-
- Stop trying to feel the water,
- stop stretching out,
- stop counting your strokes.
- Use your natural turn over – the same as you have in the run.
Stephen did, and he got better and better. Soon he was in the first pack in Ironman, then soon he was leading the swims and every body could see who it was because of his straight bowling arm! Stephen was now swimming 47 minutes not 55 minutes, and was no longer in the 3rd pack of ITU races, but in the lead pack. He beat all the young ITU Brits out of the water.
The irony being when the federation coaches who got rid of him, suggested that if he worked on his technique, (which in their eyes currently looked awful) he could be the best swimmer in Britain. They still didn’t get it.
With swimming we must not lose sight of the fact that we are training for triathlon – and that we race in a wetsuit most of the time. Get the paddles on, pull buoy between your legs and get after it. To quote Bella:
‘I used to spend an hour and a half fussing about, trying to do all the perfect technique things in the water, gliding and stretching. It was paralysis by analysis! But once I just got in, got on with it, and just thought about nothing more than putting on the gear and giving it to myself, I improved by 15 minutes over 3.8K’.
For our athletes, and for those who have applied our techniques and improved their swim – Hold the Line!
For the coaches out there, if your athletes are improving, then it is working. If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it!
Bella Bayliss is a former World Long Course Champion and 16 time Ironman distance Champion. She now runs a successful coaching business from Sands Beach Resort in Lanzarote.
Bella will be teaming up with Head Coach Brett Sutton in early Sept in Lanzarote, running a high performance advance level camp, specifically for those preparing for Kona. Stay tuned for details!
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
Over the years I have frequently heard people insist that because the IM swim accounts for ~10% of total race time, it only deserves a commensurate amount of training attention. While the swim indeed represents a small fraction of your overall finish time, it still matters – a lot. You cannot (or most likely will not) win the IM on the swim but you sure can lose your day if it detrimentally impacts your bike performance and subsequent run. Here are three simple suggestions to help prepare your swim to have a positive impact on the rest of your race day.
Technique – The Recovery
Ultimately your swim preparation should aim to improve your ability to cover the race distance at (your) speed comfortably so you have energy in the tank to bike and run effectively. It all starts with a sustainable technique. This means one that you can replicate sustainably for~4000 strokes over 3.8k (factoring some navigational deviations along the way). The Recovery phase is key to this end.
The recovery is undervalued. People often pay lip service to it as simply that phase that somehow links the “Push” with the “Place”. When it is a point of attention discussion revolves around “proper” – dare I say aesthetic – form. I would argue that aside from being an inevitable biomechanical link in the stroke cycle it has a functional purpose.
Recovery means exactly that – recovery! Yet so many AG from a non-swim background (lacking the flexibility and coordination of fellow early-start pure bred swimmers) still work the recovery, contriving that high “chicken-wingie” finger-drag type procedure from the shoulder complex – because that is considered proper swim form. I see the energy tax in their body language.
Indeed the recovery phase is short lived. Passes in the blink of an eye at race effort. But it is still an opportunity to recuperate. Think of the upstroke phase when pedaling. How exhausting will it be to actively “pull up” every stroke over the course of 180k? So relax the elbow angle. Open it up. Is there an optimal angle? No. It can be completely straight. Whatever feels comfortable and provides your arm and shoulder with a momentary sense of respite (without of course compromising the placement of the hand on entry). The tension, pressure and power come under water where it matters. Over top – chill. Multiply that 4000x and there is some energy savings to be had. Remember – recovery means exactly that. Make it so.
Training – Race Pace Grooving (RPG)
In my fundamentals article I stressed the importance of rehearsing race pace (RP). An effective trial set to groove your swim RP, while developing and gauging progress in your stamina is to complete 4000m of 100m pull holding RP on a RP +7-10 sec send-off time – i.e 40 x 100p (1.50) @ 2.00. Of course one needs to work up to this possibly starting with 10 x 100, 20 x or 30 x, depending on experience. The goal is to hold RP from start to finish and see if and at one point in the set you start to fall off the pace. The seasonal objective is to make each trial feel better than the last (which means your efficiency and stamina are improving).
Naturally we want to see pace times come down as part of anticipated progression. What is most important is that you are able to sustain the effort 40x, consistently. If after 2-3 consecutive trials you are now coming in consistently with 12-15 sec rest, then you are likely ready to re-set your RP (in this example to 1.45 leaving on 1.55).
This trial set also helps potentially identify aspects that need further training attention. For example, if after 28-30 reps your pace tends to fall off to 1.58-2.02 and becomes a struggle to hold, then addressing stamina and holding TUF (Technique Under Fatigue) at the back end of training sets might be a point of attention. If the pace falls off mid-way and then consistently comes back on track or better for the back end, this may be indicative of distraction that may require more mental focus and cue development.
Try this trial set every 6-8 weeks to measure your progress from both a pace and energetic standpoint while concurrently grooving your RP effort. And remember to do this with NO WATER BOTTLE stops!
Race Preparation – Simulation Prep Sets
While it is never really possible to recon an actual IM swim course (as the full course is never set up until race morning – Kona being perhaps the closest exception) you can still get a sense of the course rhythm at home. By studying the actual course map found in the Athletes Guide you can design sets that follow the course pattern and allow you to develop your personal race approach/strategy with more specificity.
Using a fictitious IM race that has a 2-loop triangular course: 800m x 300m x 800m with an exit run around a buoy on the beach. You will quickly deduce that this course has 3x turns >90 degrees / points of convergence, and a tight inter-section between turn 1 and 2. This means there will be at least 3 points along the course, excluding the mayhem of the start, where some intensity will be inevitably injected into the mix causing HR to jack up momentarily requiring you to control it and settle back into your game quickly.
**[p = pull buoy, pp = pull + paddles, sri = sec rest interval, mri = min rest interval]
One specific prep session might be:
5 min warm up choice / 1-2mri full rest (waiting for the gun)
4 x 50p desc 1-4/5sri (start)
Then 2 times through:
7-8 x 100 (RP)/10sri (leg 1)
4 x 25 fast/5sri (turn 1, simulate convergence melee and its short and choppy nature, get HR up)
3 x (75 fast+25 mod-med) continuous (simulate the “bumper car” effect as people come out of the turn trying to re-sight and catching up/passing waves ahead)
4 x 25 fast/5sri (simulate turn 2 as above)
4 x 200 (RP)/15sri (leg 2)
4 x 25 sprint/5sri (turn 3, simulate HR rise from standing up and running. Round 2, do as 100 build by 25 to finish).
(Set 1- p, Set 2 – pp)
Incorporate these three tips into your IM swim preparation. They will help you conserve energy, develop your capacity to cover the distance at speed and build your confidence to tackle the nuances of the given course. Exiting the swim with resilience can only help your day on the bike and run.
Ed Rechnitzer has over 28 years experience in triathlon and has completed multiple Ironman events, including Kona. He is a Trisutto Coach based in Calgary.
Join Ed at one of his three Mont Tremblant Camps in July.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.