Thursday, August 30, 2012

Figure Four

Bike (Tuesday)
time- 1:10
distance- 20.48mi

Run (Wednesday)
time- 22:42
distance- 2.38mi

Swim (Thurs am)
1 x 100- Warm-up
5 x 100IM- 1:45
5 x 200

Tuesday's bike was mostly a recovery ride from Sunday's 63 miler. I didn't put a ton of effort into it, and it was pretty flat because Ewa. And this morning's swim was really chilled out mostly because I wasn't feeling it. The IM set went ok, but it was quickly obvious that the 200 set wasn't going to be happening. So instead of pumping it I focused on swimming from my hips and that power generation. Then I got out and grabbed a Starbucks before school.
But my run, while not far or especially hard, was the most focused workout of the week thus far. I spent a lot of time thinking about the figure four.
No, not that one (Bonus points of you know who the blonde is and his signature noise). This one.

From my running clinic. I am a very visual person so I tried very hard to keep this image in my mind while I ran. The bent knee on contact, the mid/fore-foot strike happening directly under the center mass, pulling with the hamstring to create that 4 shape, and the slight forward lean. Those were my focus points. Especially the 4. If I can strengthen my hamstrings and pull evenly with both legs a lot of my running issues, I think, will go away. The pull and center mass contact also creates a shorter stride, which means a quicker turn-over. I'm still trying to connect quick turn-over with pacing with mixed results. But these things are part of why I'm running so short right now. I have no running races planned, no triathlons on the radar yet, so now is my time for fixing and fiddling. Run short, and get mechanics together.

...WOOOO! *trademark lisp*

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Holy Headwind, Batman

time- 4:56
distance- 63.5mi

Yeah, this was pretty much the slowest metric century I've ever ridden. My excuse is that I've been lazy recently. And wind.
The Grey and I met up at his house and off we went. This adds some distance to the route I used to ride back when we lived in Wahiawa, but it means I get to see how The Grey and Diesel, who is training for Kona and is doing waaay bigger mileage than we are right now, got to me every week.
Kinda hilly. Sucks a little. I could see sucking more in my future as we come back.
I let training mileage slip for a variety of reasons after the Honu, but now I'm registered for the Honolulu Century at the end of next month and damn if I'm going to go into that totally unprepared. So cycling needs to come back up to three days a week, with big days on weekends. Real detailed century training plan. I know.
Anyway, we headed straight up the coast to Pupukea, one of the best-worst climbs I regularly do. It's not as long as some on the island, but there are sections of a lot of suck. Makes you strong. Especially because now we come back down and keep heading out. Gotta stack miles into the legs.
Out to the north-most point and around is an adventure in Holy Crap It's Windy. The Grey and I took turns pulling. There isn't a nicer sight than the guy you are riding with pulling around you to let you draft for a while. Tough winds. Looked forward to the turn-around.
Partially from the winds, partially from being out of shape, but I was bonking pretty good for a lot of the ride back. Just dragging. I kept trying to get it going, and it would for a while, but I never was able to hold what I felt was an acceptable pace. Looking at the data we were hovering around 45mph out and up around 18+ with the wind to our backs, but I was tired. We took more rest stops than we normally do. At least Hawaii is a great place for a breather.

I knew before we got to it that Pineapple was going to suck. And I was right. There is something about that climb. You can pace it all kinds of ways once your in shape, but when it's the first time in a while there is a lot of Happy Place Just Get Up It happening. The Grey blew me away going up and I didn't care. Couldn't have ridden much faster. Took another break in the shade of a bus stop at the top.
From there it isn't far home, but there is one climb that, while short, isn't much fun. Got it did, got to the Grey's house, and Second Favorite (Hawaii) Wife had food ready for us because she is awesome. Diesel showed up too because he smelled food.
Looking forward to getting distance-strong for the century. Not much feels better than 100 Mile Confidence on the bike.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Faster 1.5km Swim in the Key of S- Part 4: Smart

Closing out my Massive SwimSplosion of Advice about a faster swim leg of your next Olympic-distance triathlon is some musings on swimming Smart. Strategy during the swim is very important, and you can be as Smooth, Strong, and Sustainable as you want, but if you don't swim Smart you're going to be eating wake.
Thanks for reading.


Smart strategies are things that are important but don’t have any real place in the first three categories. These will help you think about swimming and plan your race better. A good swimmer is constantly evaluating, tweaking, and planning.

Tip#1- Warm-up
Thou shalt warm up before the race. Try to time your trip to the Port-a-Potty early enough to allow yourself ten minutes if splashing around in the water before the race starts. Yes, a 1.5km swim is long enough for a warm-up to happen while you’re going, but you don’t want to do that. Your muscles will thank you for getting blood flowing through them before the mad dash of a mass triathlon start. You can shake out the tightness, get a feel for the water temperature, fiddle with your cap and goggles, and pee (everyone else is doing it). A good, short warm-up can make a huge difference in that initial push, and will help you settle in once you get rolling.

Tip #2- Your Kick
There has been only one mention of kicking in this entire overview. The reason for that is simple- You don’t need to be kicking that much most of the time. What are you going to do as soon as you hit the shore? You are going to start cranking on your legs. The water is the only time you get to use your arms, so use them. Not to say you should not kick at all, but it should be steady and light. Freestyle is about 75% pull 25% kick, and I would say triathletes are more like 80/20. A regular kick can fix your body position, but that is not what its purpose is. Looking back at Smooth, the way to a good body position is pressing down on your T-Spot to bring up your hips. Kicking to bring your hips up means you are kicking down. Kicking down means you are using energy in the wrong direction. You want the force going back so that you will move forward. Don’t use your kick as a Smooth crutch.
Flutter kick does not generate from the knee, but from the thigh and glute. The degree of deflection is very small. Too big of a kick ruins your hydrodynamic property and slows you down. You want to remain torpedo-shaped. Your feet shouldn’t be jumping out of that and causing drag.
Keeping these things in mind, you should kick hard at the beginning of the swim (if you are trying to get out ahead of the main pack), then settle in with a regular, propulsive-but-not-hard kick. With about 200m left in the swim start revving your kick back up. This will force blood back into those big muscles, preparing them for the run to T1.

Tip #3- Self-Seeding
Most triathlons do some type of seeding, even it is just separating the men and the women. Big races might divide you up by age groups. Within your own starting group it is important to find a good place to start. Be it a beach or water start, should you be near the front, mid-pack, or in the back? That depends on your skills and your goals. If you aren’t a comfortable swimmer, start in the back. If it’s a beach start, that might mean you let the crazy people go, then wade in with the cautious ones. You won’t be the only one.
Start too far forward and you’ll be an obstacle. You can’t hear other racers cursing at you like you’re a big rig in the fast lane, but they are. Some might go so far as to climb right over you. Start too far to the back and you’ll be the one climbing and cursing. Best to be honest and err on the side of caution. It is better to try and find open water and swim around people than it is to be in the way.
BE AWARE- Any race that isn’t a straight out-and-back will probably have a buoy turn after a few hundred yards. Swim wide. The crush of people trying to cut that corner as closely as possible aren’t going any faster. You might swim a few extra yards, but you’ll stay away from the white water mess right against the floating yellow pyramid (orange sphere?). If there is a turn buoy right after the start there will be a mass sprint for it. Not a confident swimmer? Let them go, hang back. It isn’t worth it and the time saved is negligible.

Tip #4- Drafting
Drafting is illegal in most triathlons. On the bike. In the water though it’s impossible to enforce. Hundreds of bodies all swimming the same direction at the same time equals plenty of chances to slip in on someones feet and go for a ride.
Drafting in the water follows the same principals as drafting on the bike. You tuck in behind someone else and they create a slipstream of water you can follow. They break the slow water and as it flows around them it will flow around you too, meaning the person in front is doing a little more work and you are doing a little less. Some triathlons are so full that you can’t help but draft. You want to be a few inches off your unwitting engine’s feet. NOTE- Touching someone’s feet for 1.5km may result in your getting punched in the face. Nothing is more annoying than tap tap tap tap tap while you are trying to swim. So be there, but give them some space.  

Tip #5- Sighting
Open water swimming sometimes means getting lost. There might be a point where you pop your head up, look around, and wonder how you got halfway to Hawaii. A good drill to do during workouts every once in awhile is heads-up swimming. Ocean lifeguards use this a lot. You swim normally, but every five or six strokes pop your head up just a little during your breath and try to look at the same spot on the wall. In a triathlon swim you’re looking for a giant orange or yellow shape. You don’t have to have a clear view, just a fuzzy idea of where you should be going.
Some races are so busy you will barely have to sight at all. Those become a case of I Hope The People I’m Following Aren’t Lost.

Tip #6- Swim Up the Beach
The swim does not end when you can put your feet down. I see athletes all the time get to a point where they can stand, put their feet down, and struggle through 20 yards of hip deep water. You're slowing yourself down and wasting energy. Swim until you're dragging your hands through sand. Then when you stand up the water level will be at your shins. It is much easier and faster to high step over shin-high water then it is to bull through hip-deep water.  The biggest danger here is being trod upon by fellow athletes you swim past in those last few yards. But that's not a real issue and the benefit of this small change is huge energy and quickness-wise.

Tip #7- Positive Self-Talk
Don’t get down on yourself during the swim. If you are not a strong swimmer it is too easy to notice how many people are ahead of you and how many more have passed you and how much further there is still to go. If you become mired in those thoughts the swim will become an adventure in pain and self-pity. Once you begin to go down that road off ramps are few and far between. That mindset can follow you right out of the water and it’ll hop onto your bike with you. Stay positive. The best way to do that is constant stroke check-in. Move through your body. How are your hands entering the water? How is your reach? Are you finishing past your hip? High elbow on the recovery? Powerful thrust forward on the reach? Good catch? The more you think about the basics of Smooth the better your swim will go.
Sinking into a rhythm helps too. Use the first three “S”s and repeat them over and over like a mantra. “Smooth, Strong, Sustainable, Smooth, Strong, Sustainable.” Self talk that often helps is to remind yourself to calm down and settle in, especially after something unexpected that might spike your heart rate, like catching a wave in the face or accidentally bumping into another swimmer. “Settle in,” reminds you to, like the British say, “Keep calm and carry on.”  

Following the Four “S”s of Smooth, Strong, Sustainable, and Smart will help you become a faster 1.5km triathlon swimmer. Do not expect immediate changes. Many of the drills in the Smooth section do not work overnight. And ignoring the Smooth drills and focusing on the Strong section will not help either. You will just drive bad habits deeper into your muscles. The Major Key to being a better swimmer is technique! Swimming is harder to master than cycling or running. There are so many moving pieces, and each of those pieces has tiny adjustments that can be made. This four part essay was guidelines to a better, faster, more efficient 1.5km swim. If possible, have someone look at your stroke for a more focused evaluation. A good, Smooth pretty stroke will make a world of difference.
One last thing- Enjoy the water. Love the swim. All good things love water. Water holds you up when you’re feeling down and massages your muscles when you’re hurting. Swimming is how we started. It’s the most natural thing in the world. You can’t win a triathlon on the swim, but who cares? You’re swimming!

A Faster 1.5km Swim in the Key of S- Part 3: Sustainable

I proudly present the third of my four part Massive SwimSplosion of Advice series. In Part 1 I covered swimming Smooth, and in Part 2 I talked about swimming Strong. In Part 3 I'm covering what I think is the second most important part, behind Smooth, of a good Olympic-distance or greater triathlon swim- Sustainable.


Along with Smooth, swimming with Sustainability is the most important skill for a triathlete to have. It does a triathlete no good to get out in front of the pack, swim Strong to the first buoy, then completely come apart and struggle the rest of the way. The ability to Sustain a high intensity is paramount, behind only Smooth in importance. Truly, Sustainability and Smoothness are tied closely together. Having a pretty stroke for half the race and then watching your arms come off and float to the bottom of the ocean isn’t terribly useful.
As stated, a major part of Sustainable work will be focused on maintaining Smooth swimming. The other focus of Sustainable swimming is being fit enough to allow you to get out of the water after 1.5km and blast up the beach, through T1, and out onto your bike.
These will be longer sets, much like your LSD runs and rides. Maintaining a steady pace and heart rate is the goal, not cranking it to 11.
Be sure to warm-up before you go into your main sets with 200-500 yards nice and easy. This should shake the cobwebs out and get the blood into your muscles. You can also use active rest, 50-100yds easy, between these sets to ease the lactic acid build-up out.
Please note that under Set #2 there are many ideas for drill variation. Be creative with this. These are guidelines and ideas. They can be used on almost any of these sets. Many of the other sets also have variation possibilities.

Set #1
3 x 500- Sustainable pace/set rest
total- 1500yds
*Notes* Much like the 10 x 100 Strong set, this is an excellent benchmark set for Sustainable. While swimming these 500s you should be monitoring stroke deterioration, preventing yourself from dropping your hips, driving the stroke from your hips, letting your elbow fall below your hand, and cutting your finish short. Your goal should be to finish each 500 at about the same time. You don’t want to fade, you want to pace properly. This set is nearly 1.5km, and so is a good test set.

Set #2 (with Smooth variations)
5-10 x 200- Sustainable pace/ set rest
total- 1000-2000yds
*Notes* 200s are a great bread-and-butter set for 1.5km preparation. They are long enough that you build endurance, but not so long as to be intimidating. You can’t crank a 200 like it is a 100, but you don’t need to worry about swimming too hard and getting exhausted like a 500.
*Smooth Variations*
a) Mixing the 1, 2, 3, Swim drill into the 200 set is an excellent way to get both distance and technique worked at the same time. Suggest doing the first 100 1, 2, 3, Swim and the second 100 normal, while focusing on the grab.
b) Breathing drills are very helpful for Sustainability. A good breathing drill is 5, 7, 9. This is done by counting strokes and breathing on the 5th, then 7th, then 9th, then back to 5th stroke. It will hurt, but it will force you to Smooth your stroke out and make it more efficient. Efficient strokes use less oxygen. Breathing on odd numbered strokes also means that you will be bilaterally breathing, or breathing to both sides. Bilateral breathing is important because you don’t want to be breathing directly into a wave or another swimmer. Beginners should modify the 5, 7, 9 drill to 3, 5, 7. The goal is success, not failure. You will not get better through failure in these drills. You need to practice correctly. If getting all the way to 7 is too hard at the beginning only do a 3, 5 repeat. Do not Ego Swim.
Incorporate the 5, 7, 9 (3, 5, 7) drill into the 200s the same way you would incorporate the 1, 2, 3, Swim drill. As 100 drill/100 Swim.
c) Mix two drills into one 200. For example- 100- 5, 7, 9/100- Fingertip Drag.

Set #3 (with variation)
4/5 x 300/400- Sustainable pace/set rest
total- Varies
*Notes* Repeating heavier distances will be beneficial. Different distances and different numbers of reps allow for different intensities. The goal for all of these, like the goal in the 3 x 500 set, is for there to be very little fade between each swim. You want to be swimming hard enough to feel it, pushing it, but not so hard that things are going wrong.
*Smooth variation* Odd/Even- Easy/Hard swim. On the Odd numbered laps swim easy. On the Even numbered laps swim hard. So you are repeating 300s, but only swimming half of it hard. Mentally, this makes the set so much easier. Hard laps need to be done with a Strong intensity. A variation on this variation is to alternate by 50s rather than 25s. So Easy 50/Hard 50.

Set #4 (with variation)
Giant Ladder
1 x 100- sustainable pace/set rest
1 x 200
1 x 300
1 x 400
1 x 500
total- 1500yds
*Notes* Giant ladders are great. You need to be looking forward to that 500 at the end, so you need to pace the easier seeming 100 and 200 smart so you still have energy for the 500, but you don’t want to dog the early swim either. Nothing makes it harder to swim hard than to start out too easy. You get lazy and complacent. The most difficult part of the longer sets is staying within your body the whole time. It is very easy to drift and lose focus. When you drift your body begins to betray you and you lose intensity and Smoothness. Stay focused. Monitor what your hands, hips, core, head, elbows, shoulders are doing. Anything to be present.
*Higher difficulty variation* Climb back down the ladder. After the 500 do a 400, 300, 200, 100. Blast the 100.

Set #6
1 x 1650
total- 1650yds
*Notes* This should not be a regular set. It is a good test to do every once in a while. The key is staying within yourself and being sure to push the whole time. Focus on nothing but the lap count and fill your mind with positive self-talk. Don’t think, “Ugh, 40 more laps!” Break it into smaller chunks and think, “That was a good 200. Let’s do another one.”

*Triathlon-Specific Sustainability Notes*
The cliche, in case you haven’t heard it enough, is that you can not win a triathlon in the water, but you can lose one. Most triathletes, however, aren’t interested in winning. They want to finish, they have personal goals. For many triathletes the swim is that awful thing between the gun and the bike. Sustainability and Smoothness are how you go from hating the swim to tolerating or even loving it. It’s a chance to warm up, find your groove, and get your head right. Few things feel better than getting into T1 and seeing a ton of bikes.
But in order to be Sustainable you must work hard and, counter-intuitively, slow. Strokes fall to pieces when they are done too fast. Speed will come, but it takes a lot of work and even more patience.
You are looking for a lower stroke count (less strokes = more energy later remember?) in all of these sets. This will translate well into your open water swims. Long, Smooth strokes. The Sustainable sets are more important than the Strong sets.
Try and keep this simple tenant in your head when working on Sustainability:
A stroke that looks as good at the swim exit as it did at the start is a good stroke.
If you can do that, then your swim will be good, and it will get fast.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Faster 1.5km Swim in the Key of S- Part 2: Strong

This is the second part of my four part Massive SwimSplosion of Advice series. For Part 1: Smooth click anywhere that looks like a hyperlink in this sentence because it will probably send you there.
In Part Two we will be discussing how to become a Strong swimmer. Not as important to your distance swimming, but not to be disregarded either.


Swimmer Strong is the ability to nail shorter, harder sets. A Strong swimmer has a powerful stroke. Strong does not mean bulky, big, or sometimes even all that muscular. Swimming makes you muscular, but it does not make you big. That unique swimmer’s body of Phelps, Lochte, and Yang is narrow hips, big back, wide shoulders. That doesn’t come from lifting weights as much as it comes from repetition. Those are muscles of function, not muscles of vanity.
Strong, powerful swimming means putting a lot of force into the pull phase of the stroke. Strong swimming will allow you to cut precious strokes off your total count, which will save you energy, which will allow you to gap the runners on the bike. You should do half-to-one Strong set a week. This is the least important of the first three “S”s.  

Information on Sets and Timing
Sets will be described as 5 x 100- 1:30. This translates as Five One Hundreds ( default to freestyle unless otherwise noted) on One Minute Thirty seconds. This means that, for this particular set, your timing would look like this:
1- leave at 0:00
2- leave at 1:30
3- leave at 3:00
4- leave at 4:30
5- leave at 6:00
This type of timing means that as you get tired your rest time decreases, forcing you to do the same amount of work with less recovery, which will help you get stronger. Beginner swimmers may struggle to find a happy time standard. You should be able to make 10 x 100 with plenty of rest of the time standard you choose. Experimentation will be needed. By 100s eight and nine you may only be getting five seconds of rest. This is good. It will make you physically and mentally tougher.
Your 100 time standard then translates to all other distances. If you are doing your 100s on the 2:00, then your 200s will be on the 4:00, 300s on the 6:00, 400s on the 8:00, and 500s on the 10:00. Having this baseline will help you gauge progress and see where you ard when evaluating race times. Please remember that open water swim times are normally slower than pool times. Current, waves, and the press of other bodies slow you down.
Another choice for timing is to give yourself a set amount of rest between each effort. So you can do 10 x 100 with 20 seconds rest. This is a good place for beginners to start, since you cannot fail to meet a time standard and it might be less discouraging.
It will be a good idea to use active rest between sets. Active rest includes an easy 50 or 100yd swim. Active rest is better than passive rest (hanging on the wall) because it speed recovery and gets lactic acid out of your muscles faster.

To prepare for a 1.5km (1640 yds) swim your workouts should hover around the 1700yd mark. Strong workouts might be slightly shorter and may include Smooth work as active rest. Sustainable workouts will be slightly longer. Harder, main sets should go towards the front of the workout, after a warm-up of 200-500 yards.

Set #1
10 x 100- Sustainable time
total- 1,000yds
*Notes* You want to be making the 100s comfortably for the first few, and by the end really be struggling. It is not uncommon to get 3 seconds rest with a Strong set. As stated above, that will make you mentally and physically tougher. This is a bread-and-butter type set. You can add Smooth drills to it, but note that turns it from a Strong set into a Smooth set. This is not a problem as long as your goals match your work.

Set #2
10 (15) x 50- Sustainable time
total- 500/750yds
*Notes* This is one of two times 50s will be suggested. Do not fill workouts with 50s, they won’t truly prepare a swimmer for a mile. But as far as creating a deep anaerobic hole to climb out of, its hard to beat them. Plus, while a 100 might be intimidating to a beginner swimmer, anyone will look at a 50 and think, “Two laps? How hard can it be?” With the highest amount of effort, very hard. Every single 50 should be as hard as possible.

Set #3
10 x 100- Build intensity over each 100
total- 1000yds
*Notes* In most pools 100 yards is four laps. In this set Lap One would be about 75% intensity, Lap Two 80%, Lap Three 85%, Lap Four 90-95%. Lap Four is the Chased By A Shark lap. In the case of a long course (Olympic-sized 50m pool) there should still be a line on the pool bottom marking halfway. Change gears there.

Set #4
10 x 50s- Breath count
Total- 500yds
Anaerobic work makes you stronger. Choose a number of breaths-per-lap or breaths-per-fifty and swim hard while keeping to that goal. Don’t give up, you need less oxygen than you think. This set should be on a set amount of rest rather than a time standard.

Set #5
Ladder to 200 by 50s
1 x 50- x time
1 x 100- 2x time
1 x 150- 3x time
1 x 200- 4x time
1 x 150- 3x time
1 x 100- 2x time
1 x 50- x time
Total- 800yds
*Notes* Ladder sets seem longer than they are. The point is to finish the last 50 with the same intensity that you did the first 50. Ladders also teach pacing. It will not take long to find out that maybe you shouldn’t have hit the 100 quite so hard now that you’re halfway into the 200 and sucking wind.

Set #6
5 x 100 IM
total- 500yds
*Notes* This is an advanced set. IM stands for Individual Medley, which is one lap of each stroke in the following order- butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke, freestyle. Obviously, a swimmer must know all four strokes before attempting this set. Before you wave your hand proclaiming that you will never swim fly, back, or breast in a race you need to realize you will never put your bike on a trainer or ride that specific hill you keep struggling up in a race either. These strokes make you Strong. They make you use different muscles, and they make you struggle and hurt. It’s good for you.

*Triathlon-Specific Strong Notes*
A triathlete will use the skills they develop from Strong sets primarily in the first 200-300yds of a race. That mad dash to the first buoy, when the pack is still thick and there are elbows and feet everywhere. Strong swimmers will be able to get clear of the washing machine quickly without using up their entire store of energy, before settling in to a more Sustainable stroke. Remember, just because you are swimming all out, attacking the walls and breaking off pieces, does not mean your stroke stops being Smooth. The moment your stroke starts to fall apart take a step back. As will be discussed in the Sustainable section, a swimmer’s ability to maintain correct technique throughout an entire race determines their position coming out of the water. Strong does not mean splashing mess. Smooth still comes first.

A Faster 1.5km Swim in the Key of S- Part 1: Smooth

I got a request through the twitters for advice on swimming a faster 1.5km, the distance of an Olympic triathlon opening leg. This got me thinking and got me writing. There is no short version of that kind of advice that can be done right. So instead I present a Massive SwimSplosion of Advice. It will take place over four parts, each focusing on a different topic I feel is important to a fast triathlon swim. Enjoy.


The first leg of an Olympic-distance triathlon is a 1.5km (0.9mi) swim. This thrashing, white-water, washing machine start is often the most intimidating and off-putting leg of any triathlon. On the bike you can put your foot down. On the run you can rest. But on the swim? You just have to make it. The cliche about a triathlon swim is that you can’t win a race there, but you can lose one. Let the lead pack get too far away, burn too much energy fighting the water, or simply get caught in a bad starting position, and the leaders are out of T1 before your feet hit sand. So how can you have a good, fast 1.5km swim? This advice works just as well for beginners as it can for experienced triathletes struggling on their swim, a notoriously weak discipline for most strong cyclists and runners. Included with most pieces of advice will be a drill or set to help put the advice to practice.
The key to a faster 1.5km swim can be summed up in Four “S” s- Smooth, Strong, Sustainable, Smart. Each S will be a new blog entry for easy reading.

Smooth swimming is fast swimming. The natural reaction of anyone who wants to swim faster is to swim harder. Harder, in most cases, translates in the water as thrashing, splashing, and gasping. This only seems harder, and it surely does make it harder to swim, but it is in no way faster. Great amounts of splashing water in every direction mean energy is being expended that way and this way and over there instead of being focused back behind the swimmer where it should be. A fast swim is a Smooth swim. And a Smooth swim is all about good technique.
When a triathlete is thinking about good technique the should not be thinking so much about Michael Phelps as they should Sun Yang, the 1500m gold medalist and world record holder from London. This is not to take away from Phelps, he’s the greatest swimmer in history, but Yang’s stroke is very different than that of a 200m swimmer, and much more similar to the stroke of a triathlete.
Before we really get in to technique tweaks it should be noted that any technique work needs to be done slowly. It will not work if you are swimming fast. Changes should be done with a long-term mindset. Don’t worry if your times raise. That isn’t the point at the start. Times will fall again as the stroke becomes more comfortable. Technique work should not be done with pressure and pushing for speed right away makes any changes disappear. A good stroke is the most important aspect of swimming fast over distance. That’s why Smooth comes first. It is also going to be the longest section, as I believe it is the most important. You should do at least one Smooth workout a week. Beginning swimmers should do more like one and a half Smooth workouts. Nothing matters if your stroke is rubbish. You will see this information again.
Triathlete technique work comes in four parts- reach, pull, finish, and recovery.

Reach- A triathlete wants to cover as much distance as possible per stroke without sacrificing speed to an overlong glide. To lengthen your stroke you want to reach at the top. Stand up and raise your hand like a student reluctantly volunteering. Now raise your hand like the kid who knows the answer and needs to be called on. Oh, oh, Mr. Kotter! Feel what your body did? You probably rotated and raise that hand as high into the air as you could. In the water that means rotating your shoulder to your chin and reaching your fingertips towards to opposite wall, the far buoy, or the swim exit. Now you’re taller. Now your stroke is 6-8 inches longer than it was before you reached. 6-8 inches more stroke at the front means you are traveling farther per stroke. Traveling farther per stroke means your stroke count drops. A low stroke count means less energy expended in the water, which means more energy you can use to gap the runners on the bike.
When reaching do not let your hips drop. A level body is a fast body. Hips that drop in the water cause drag. Drag slows you down and makes you work harder. Imagine swimming downhill. Picture a line across your chest from shoulder to shoulder. Then picture a line from throat straight down the midline of your torso. Where those two lines intersect is called the T-Spot. Lean down on the T-Spot while swimming. Your body is a seesaw in the water and lowering one end will raise the other.
When rotating you should be as though on a spit. No side-to-side movement at all. Imagine a line from the top of your head to inside the tips of your big toes and you may only rotate on that center line.
That rotation should be driven from your hips. Much like a boxer can get a snap on his or her punch with a twist of the torso and a batter can drive the ball farther by opening up their hips to the pitch, an open water distance swimmer should be driving their strokes with hip rotation. Your reach is dictated by the power of your hip twist (to not quite 90*). You will feel this focus in your obliques.
Stroke Count- Swim 25 yards normally, counting each stroke. One stroke = front of reach to front of reach with same hand. Begin trying to drop the count by one or two strokes each 25 be lengthening your reach.
Catch-up Drill- Swim normally, but do not start the next pull phase until the previous pull phase is finished. Which means pull, wait for the recovery to finish, touch the leading hand with the recovering hand, begin the next pull. You will feel like you are sinking at first. You’ll get better. Press down on the T-Spot.
Sideline kick- Lay on your side in the water as though you are mid-stroke. One are straight out in front, one at your side, shoulders perpendicular to the pool bottom, head looking down, neck relaxed. Basically, the position you are in right before the recovery phase of the stroke. Kick across the pool with short, quick flutter kicks. This isolates the kick, is better for you than using a kick board, and teaches your body to balance in the water in the reached position. 5 x 50 of this is enough. Be sure you are always facing the same wall no matter which direction you are going so that you work both sides.

Pull-  The pull begins with the catch. Doubling up on the above picture, look at Yang’s pulling arm. Notice how high his elbow is. The elbow should always be higher than the hand during the catch phase of a stroke. Reach. Anchor your hand vertically, grabbing the water. Lever your body over your hand, digging deeply into the water with your elbow high, thus allowing you to pull using your whole forearm and hand. Allow your hand make a small S under the water, but it should not cross your body’s center line.
The key to the pull is the high elbow. Many swimmers allow the elbow to drop, which makes the whole arm slip through the water. Try one of these visualization techniques:
A) You are climbing through the water. The water is solid and you anchor your hand and pull yourself over your hand as though climbing a wall.
B) There is a barrel underneath you so your elbow has to be high because you are wrapping your arm around the barrel, swimming over it.
There should be force in the pull, do not let yourself slip through the water. You are grabbing water and pushing it towards your feet. Mr. Newton says that pushing water behind you will move you in the opposite direction. Splashing side to side means you are moving laterally rather than forward, wasting energy. As you pull use your hips to power to rotation into your reach.
1, 2, 3, Swim- Swim 100 yards, 4 laps of the pool. The first lap make a fist and extend only one finger on each hand. This will force you to grab more water with your forearm. The second lap extend two fingers. The third lap three. And the fourth lap swim normally, but not you should be able to really feel all the water that is there to grab.
*Note* Do not allow your hand to wiggle side-to-side in front of you. It will want to. Keep it steady in the water.

Finish- The pull phase ends with the finish. The finish is where swimmers get lazy. Your thumb should brush past your hip, extending your triceps. When swimmers get tired this is the first place the stroke suffers and swimmers pull their hand straight out of the water at their waist. Ending the stroke at your waist is a waste! You have ten more inches of pulling to do at least. This is where the pain starts first, you wear our the end of the triceps muscle with a good finish. Without locking your elbow you should contract the muscle fully, flexing it. Those last few inches of pull are very valuable and will mean serious differences in times once you are strong enough to maintain a good finish for an entire swim. And in triathlon, why not? When are you going to use your upper body again? Might as well wear those muscles out now, when you get the chance.
Flick drill- At the end of every stroke flick water behind you/over your butt. Focus on getting a decent splash towards your feet. Then you will know you’re finishing hard. This over-emphasis on the movement will translate into better regular finishing.
Thumb To Thigh-  Stand up, let your arms fall to your side, extend your thumbs into your thighs. Every stroke try to whack your thumb against your thigh. Try and leave a bruise in the same spot every time. Then you are finishing far enough down and you are finishing hard.

Recovery- The recovery phase of freestyle begins at the finish and ends at the reach. Your goal is to be controlled. Don’t simply flop your arms forward. Too much splashing is slow and ugly. Swimming should be smooth and pretty. Lift your arm from the elbow, allowing the bottom half of your arm to be relaxed. Breathing takes place from the finish to when your arm crosses just past your head. The hand enters the water a few degrees past your head and you begin the rotation/reach.
Thumb Drag- Plant your thumb in your thigh at the finish and drag it up your body to your armpit during the recovery. This will force you to keep your elbow high.
Fingertip Drag/Piano- This is the same concept as the Thumb Drag. Let the tips of your fingers graze the surface of the water during recovery, lightly as though you were playing piano.
*Notes* Breathing should take place half underwater, half above water. be sure you are blowing bubbles so that when you turn your head all you are doing is inhaling. No reason to turn and exhale inhale. You do not need a lungful of air, you only need enough to get to the next breath two or three strokes away. I will detail a breathing drill in the Sustainable section. When breathing do not pull your head out of the water. Your head floats, allow it to float. When you need to breathe simply turn your head with your body until half your face breaks the surface. No need to look left or right. Breathe with the natural motion of the stroke.
There was not much mention of kicking in this section. Your kick should be smooth and regular, but not hard. Kicking will be detailed more in the Smart section.

*General Notes*
All of these drills can be included in the workouts in the other sections, especially the Sustainability section. They will not work as well in the Strong sets because the goals for Strong are different. Examples will be given.
Technique will be the biggest difference maker in your times, especially if you are a beginning swimmer. You can’t muscle your way through 1650yds. You must fix your stroke first. Fast is not a worry until Smooth is taken care of. Smooth is never completely fixed, there are always small things to fix, but you’ve got to move the big rocks before worrying about speed.