Saturday, January 28, 2012

It's a relatively simple formula

 The Problem & The Solution 
The U.S. is very much an instant-gratification culture where the best talent is often burnt out at a young age, he says. Talent isn't so much nurtured and developed as it's exploited, marketed and capitalized upon. The values of sport have given way to those of entertainment. Coaches aren't rewarded so much for teaching or nurturing talent, but rather for more wins than losses or riding the coattails of genetically gifted individuals who survive the training they're subjected to, rather than being developed to their full potential. 
"It's a relatively simple formula," says Snell. "Develop endurance as early as possible. Developing endurance is difficult and time consuming. Developing speed is a relatively short process with a fairly strong genetic component." 
- excerpt and then quote from a Running Times feature on Peter Snell, the Kiwi 800/1,500 Olympic gold medallist, who 50 years ago today lowered the world record to 3:54.4 in the mile thanks to running 100 plus mile weeks and 22 mile long runs. A great read, particularly page 4 which slams the US college coaches for only recruiting, not developing talent.
This was the QOTD from

The first part of the quote above is particularly relevant in the age of olympic funding which is driven by performance outcomes now, with little emphasis on appropriate athletic development over the long term.

The second part, developing endurance, in my experience rarely happens with young athletes. The emphasis is all about being fast in the short term, vs getting progressively stronger and better conditioned over time.

There are many gems from this article:

"I came to the conclusion that it was all about the conditioning,"
"long runs were beneficial because they caused the adaptation (training) of both slow-and fast-twitch fibers" 
"Another valuable lesson Snell learned from Lydiard was that training, like science, takes time to get results; adaptation isn't an instant process. "
"Lydiard gave his athletes valuable advice on patience and peaking, telling them not to worry about results in the buildup phase of their training, that the real rewards would come in the spring and summer track season."
"Another thing Lydiard discovered was that high-intensity training was something one had to use sparingly and judiciously because it could as easily break down an athlete as build one to a peak. "
"Just because it's published or comes from an authoritative source doesn't make it gospel, he learned. You have to see if it works for you, Snell says; that's the essence of the training process. Science doesn't lead in this process, Snell adds, it follows. "
"But as Snell looks back on his experience, as well as the training and racing patterns of others, he concludes, "It's quite possible that the majority of top level athletes are overtrained." The drive for success, winning, that motivates top athletes and coaches plays into this potentially counterproductive behavior"
"Champions are everywhere, all you have to do is train them properly" A. Lydiard

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Top 20 Rules for Faster Triathlon Swimming

The previously* most popular post on this blog was a 2007 post on swimming, which is mainly a link to another blog post from The Triathlon Book. Over on ST there has been a lot of chatter about swimming for triathletes. And RappstarPaulo and Coach Daz amongst others have weighed in on the topic.

Update: Top 20 Swim Tips Approved swim tools:

Finis Agility Paddles, Finis Agility Paddles These are ideal for learning an effective catch, where you must press on the water effectively in the correct way. Medium is the right size for most athletes, small for small hands or larger for a different stimulus.

Finis Instinct Sculling Paddles Smaller versions of the agility paddles: a good second paddle in the tool kit.

Speedo Power Paddle: Recommended basic flat paddles. Remove the wrist strap.

Finis Pulling Ankle Strap A fancy ankle band: you can make a band out of a inner tube, or buy one of these.

Finis Bolster Paddles - Yellow: These paddles don't allow your wrist to break. They require some commitment to be effective.

Finis Swim Parachute - Red  A drag tool - teaches effective catch. Most swimmers should tie a knot before the chute to lessen the drag from 'stock'.
Without further ado here is an update to my brief 2007 post:

The Top 20 Rules for Faster Triathlon Swimming

1. Conditioning trumps drills. Technique matters, but the way most athletes try to improve technique doesn't work. Get fitter, and your ability to hold good technique improves. It takes a lot of work to develop aerobic conditioning in your upper body. If you think you are already swimming a lot but are not improving, swim more and keep at it. There are no shortcuts.

2. Traditional drills don't work. The type of drills and the way that most triathletes do them don't actually have any material effect on swimming technique.

3. Swim more often. Frequency is the best way to improve your swimming. Also see rule #4

4. Do longer main sets. You can't expect to swim fast and be fresh on the bike if you rarely do main sets with the same or higher volume and pace than you expect in the race. For short course these should be at least 2km, for IM 4km, or more. And that looks like 20-50x100, not many short broken sets adding up to 2-5km.

5. Don't over think it. Don't under think it. Be engaged with what you are doing in the water, and use tools to help get a better feel for the water. But don't over think every stroke, and suffer from paralysis by analysis. Swimming fast is about rhythm and flow, when good technique becomes automatic.

6. Increased swim fitness translates to the bike and run. Being able to swim harder, starting the bike both fresher and with faster riders is how that works.

7. Deep swim fitness allows you to swim on the rivet. See rule #6. Most triathletes don't know how to really swim hard for the duration.

8. Include some quality in every swim. If you are swimming less than 5x per week, having easy swims is a waste of time. Always include quality, from band, to paddles, to sprints, in every swim.

9. Don't count strokes. See rule #2. The objective is to get faster, not take fewer strokes.

10. Learn now to use your kick but don't spend a lot of time with kick sets. Kicking is about stroke control and body position, not propulsion for triathlon. Kick fitness doesn't matter.

11. Use a band frequently. The best swimming drill there is. Do short reps with lots of rest at first. Both propulsion and body position will improve.

12. Use paddles with awareness of engaging lats. Paddles are primarily a technical tool to take more strokes with better mechanics, the result of which is learning how to use your prime swimming movers: your lats.

13. Keep head low on breathing and in open water. Head down, feet up. It's a common body position error.

14. Do many short repetitions for stroke quality. It takes fitness to swim with good technique for long durations. Start shorter, and swim faster. 50x50 works wonders. Don't have time to do a 2500m main set? Drop the warm up and warm down.

15. Learn to swim with a higher stroke rate. This takes conditioning. It will pay off on race day, and particularly anytime swimming in a group and in rough conditions.

16. If you need to write your swim session down on the white board or paper, it's too complicated. Keep it simple.

17. Find a good masters programme. Long main sets is a good sign. Swim with others to challenge yourself. Good programmes are the exception rather than the norm, unfortunately.

18. Don't use swim tools as a crutch. Paddles and bull buoys are tools with specific uses. Don't reach for them out of simple laziness, because the set is hard.

19. Do use swim tools when you are very fatigued, and will otherwise swim with poor quality. See Rule #18.

20. Dry land and gym can help swimming for some via improved neuromuscular recruitment. Use body weight and tubing not machines.

Bonus:  Love swimming if you want to get faster. Embrace the process of getting faster in the water. Chlorine sweat is a good thing.

Follow the rules above to swim faster, and ultimately to be a faster triathlete. Enjoy.


#21 Repetition is your friend. Variety is for the weak minded, and interferes with the learning process. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.

*Before this posting which now has surpassed the previous most popular post by a wide margin.