Four of the Best Swim Drills for Triathletes
Most age group triathletes aren’t fortunate enough to have swum from a young age. In-fact a lot of triathletes haven’t swum at all until they decide to start triathlon. It seems to be the number 1 question I get from people when they first start triathlon… how can I get better at swimming?
Whilst my initial answer is to always ‘Just get in the water.’ You want to be in the water at least 3 times a week, maybe 4 if you really want to improve and get the muscle memory process started. Swimming is one of the most frustrating disciplines for triathletes, as we often don’t see progress for months and months. Compared to cycling or running, we often see results much quicker.
Plus, who wants to go and swim by yourself? Who wants to swim in general when you can’t chat to your friends like you can whilst cycling or running? Who wants to get up in the freezing cold darkness at 5am during winter and jump in a swimming pool? Generally no one!
I heard an athlete say this morning before swim squad:
‘My stroke isn’t perfect, but it is efficient for me’
This particular athlete is a professional triathlete and swims easily off a 1.20 cycle. Yet if you saw the stroke, you wouldn’t see a perfect high elbow, strong catch, passed the hip technique like we’re all taught.
I absolutely loved this!!! It is a perfect quote that I think a lot of triathletes should take on board. Whilst I 100% believe that stroke plays a part, I strongly believe that just getting in the water, spending time in the water and getting stronger in the water will pay dividends over hours and hours of swim technique lessons (opinion).
Here are a few of my favourite swimming drills that you can incorporate into your sessions – I would recommend wearing fins it helps with body position and takes some pressure off the hips.
1. Catch-up Freestyle
- My number 1 tip for catch up is to think of the ‘train tracks’ make sure your arms follow the line of a train track. Make sure there are 4 kicks in between each stroke so you can really focus on a ‘strong’ pull through under the water. Keep the legs together when you breathe and breathe every stroke to work on evening out the hips.
2. Finger Tip Drag
- Exactly like it sounds. Do your normal pull through stroke then drag your fingers alongside your body until your head and back into the water. This drill should be super slow. Really focus on keeping on the hand right alongside your body.
3. Head-up Freestyle
- Triathletes really struggle with this and I believe it’s because it is where the hips sink and the deficiencies creep in. Lock the core in, keep your head looking forward not turning side to side with your stroke and kick hard! This drill is particularly important in the first part of a triathlon, getting a quick start and also helping your hip position when sighting in open water.
- I personally like athletes to have a pull buoy on for scull, as we tend to want to kick as we feel like we are going NOWHERE. But that’s okay. Again this is a slow drill and is about really engaging the first part of the stroke, which is the initial pull phase.
I have attached a few you-tube videos below that can be used to get a visual of what I am talking about.
However I like the 4 kicks in between as I feel it allows for more focus on the actual stroke and you can slow it down.
Progression of this video:
2. Finger Drag
3. Head up Freestyle
Good luck and happy swimming!
Ultraman Australia– 3 big days, 1 massive team effort
A personal blog entry by Coach Rich days prior to his attempt at the 2017 Ultraman Australia
For those who aren’t familiar, Ultraman is a 3 day stage race comprising of swim bike and run. It started in Hawaii over 30 years ago and this year will be the 3rd annual running of Australia’s edition held at Noosa Heads, Queensland. The distances are fairly heavy. The stages are comprised of as follows:
Day 1 – 10km swim + 140km Bike
Day 2 – 280km Bike
Day 3 – 84.3km Run
It is an enormous task, especially when we are going in trying to race not just survive. But not dissimilar to any task that seems too great, you break it down into smaller more manageable parts, tick them off and the overall outcome sorts itself out.
I should add, that Ultraman is invitation by application- so I feel very privileged to have been accepted to race this year. When I summited my application the only thing that genuinely concerned me was 10km of swimming. I had run over 85k a couple of times before, I felt my bike strength could handle the 420km of riding but goodness – I thought a 5km swim set was a long way – let alone 10km in the open water.
I chose this race for two reasons. 1) Personal retribution – I really wasn’t happy with how I performed in Kona last year. Not focusing on the result or time that I did, I just knew what I was capable of in training and the race did not reflect that. I made critical errors during the first half of the race which caused this, and is something that makes me grind my teeth a little whenever I think about it. So I wanted any opportunity in 2017, whatever that looked like, to have a race that appropriately reflects what I have been doing in training. 2) Timing – My wife, Lisa, is doing a 120km ultra marathon around Mt Blanc in Italy and France in late August this year so any sort of race needed to be in the first half of the year. This discounted a Kona return and anything past June due to her impending training load. So when the idea of Ultraman came to be, I thought it was a perfect fit for me and it satisfied the two reasons above.
The preparation has been amazing. It has brought be back to how I felt training for my first Ironman. Training hard, consistent and enjoying every minute of the process all while not really knowing whether you are fit enough or fast enough or what to actually expect during the event.
The swimming is what has surprised me the most. While I was in good form going into Hawaii, I still thought any set above 5km was far too long. Not only did my perception change over the last few months but my ability to hold form and maintain speed in the back half of 7/8/10km sets has been super encouraging. I found I almost go into a meditative state when swimming long – it will certainly be something I will miss after the race.
So my expectations… I am driven to have three consistent days whereby the performances do reflect my training. Throughout the weekend I also want to continue to represent to the T:Zero Collective that by living your potential, anything is possible. Set a goal, a massive goal, work hard, real hard and achieve that goal.
I am fit, healthy and ready to see how fast I can go over these 3 crazy days.
I have swapped between ‘us’ and ‘I’ a bit in this blog. It is because unlike anything else I have ever done, this has been the biggest team effort I have ever been apart of.
So, bear with me, the following people I would love to thank:
My crew - I never would have dreamed that we would have at team so selfless in supporting this singular goal for me. That team, my crew for the weekend, includes Scotty Farrell, Nick Quinn, Nick Rinaudo, Steve Wehlow, Brett Kerwick , Andrew Perry & Cam Cole. I feel so very fortunate to have so many great friends as crew to be there every step of the journey. They have been invaluable over the past number of months – not only giving up their own time for the race, but prior to the race, pacing me on course, meetings to go over race strategies, contingency plans, fueling etc. It has been ridiculous and I cant begin to explain how grateful I am to these 7 guys.
Nicki, Em, Tahlia, Nat and Kim – thank you for supporting me by allowing your husbands to crew this weekend. You are all mothers/expecting mothers – and to give up breakfast in bed this Mother’s Day so that they can sit in a car for 8 hours and help me – is remarkable. I truly appreciate it.
Jude, Scott, Karen, Wendy & Carol- Thank you to all of you for helping out with Ted and our little family generally so that this preparation could be done. It is a gross understatement that it couldn’t have been done without your help.
Lisa Spink – Swim coach extraordinaire – you didn’t need to take such an invested interest in this journey but seeing that you are a crazy ultra marathoner yourself, I can kind of see why you did. Thank you for everything you have done to get me this ready – it has been really enjoyable experience and my ability in the water has far exceeded my expectations.
My body maintenance team – Andrew Duff from Sports and Spinal Physio, Kirra and Michele from Queensland Diagnostic Imaging at Caloundra, Di Feldman, Ash Hunter (for the use of her Normies) and Vanessa Ng from Innovation Podiatry have all gone out of their way to get me on the start line. I wish that list wasn’t as long as it was, but I am so stoked that these guys are in my corner.
The previous champions – When you have no idea what you really are getting yourself into, you seek out the ones that do! I am very grateful for the time that Dave Kalinowski (1st Male in 2015 and current course record holder), Pip Holland (1st Female in 2015), Robbie Andrews (3rd Male in 2015) and Tony Bryan (9th Male in 2015) had all given me over the past few months to pass on every little detail they knew about their preparations and performance for Ultraman. These guys are all amazing people and so generous with their time.
The businesses – The following businesses have been with me throughout the training and I will absolutely be representing them with pride this weekend – Clif Bar, Rudy Project, Champion System Apparel, Xterra Wetsuits, Velo Service Course – Mooloolaba, Pioneer Cycling, Sunshine Mitre 10, Ausmar Homes, Hebel and Hebel CSR.
The T:Zero Family – To the T:Zero Coaches, the athletes who I coach, and the T:Zero collective – thank you for your inspiration each week – knowing we have a family of athletes and coaches around Australia all getting up early and embracing the grind to achieve great things is awesome and motivates me every day.
The Kerwick Family – you are both ridiculously incredible people who I am so fortunate to call close friends. Your outlook on life and how you deal with its ups and downs is simply inspiring.
My lovely wife, Lisa – 2017 was (and still is) meant to be ‘your’ year. Thank you so so much for letting me hijack some of the year to do this. You have been so supportive the entire way. Thanks for letting me share some of the trails with you (even though you crushed me on all occasions), thanks for taking the breakfast shift with young Theodore for the majority of the mornings each week and really, thanks for being you. You are brilliant and cool and goodness this is getting wordy – so ill wrap up here. Ox
So yeah – a MASSIVE team. The biggest feeling I have is an overwhelming sense of gratitude and it will be something I feel not only over the weekend but for a long time after.
No stone has gone unturned for this preparation. Logistics are sorted, the race plans (A,B and C) are ready…now its time to sit back enjoy the final day of rest before getting into it on Saturday.
Live Your Potential
The importance of the coach / athlete relationship
In the world of endurance training and racing, we as athletes rely on many relationships to support, guide and assist us on our path. We have supporter type relationships with our partners, friends, family and kids who pump up our tyres when they need inflating. We have relationships with our work colleagues who, even though they ask how the weekend was, are not really interested in hearing the ins and outs of the 5 hours ride (cue the glazing of eyes look). Some of us have curious relationships with our gadgets and technology and spend hours pondering the session and the number that have been crunched. Perhaps the most critical relationship we have, however, is with our coach!
At T:Zero the coaches believe wholeheartedly in the concept of ‘athlete centred coaching’ where the coach’s decisions and actions are executed with the athlete in mind. This means all coaches employ a style of coaching that adapts to the athletes needs, while creating a supportive environment that empowers the athlete. T:Zero is determined to promote the athletes learning through ownership of their training, developing awareness of the session goals and taking responsibility of their training to reach their goals and potential! This is why each athlete has their own unique training program that is carefully designed around their needs, abilities and goals as opposed to producing a cookie cutter program that does not support the T:Zero philosophies and ultimately does a great disservice to the athlete.
Ironman University has developed the notion of the 3 C’s of coaching, those being compatibility, communication and commitment. These 3 C’s are critical to the success of the relationship and are worth exploring deeper.
Compatibility is critical and is largely based on cooperation and effective interaction between the coach and athlete. Research supports the notion that an athlete’s self-confidence is increased when the coach and the athlete have similar values, beliefs and approaches to training. This is why new athletes are carefully matched to T:Zero coaches to ensure there is a strong linkage in values and direction in the first instance. When you have compatibility between a coach and athlete there is a shared learning experience where the coach learns what the athlete needs and what they want from the coach and the athlete learns the science behind the training and ultimately about their own performances.
Coaches must learn how to coach athletes and conversely athletes have to learn how to be coached and the secret to success in this relationship is through effective communication. Communication is key in any relationship and must be constantly developed. Initially the coach and athlete quickly establish their roles, expectations and standards which allows for the athlete to understand why the program is so and how it will benefit them in the long term. The best way to communicate is in person and when this can’t be achieved there are the alternative platforms of texting, calling, messengering, snap chatting, what’s app, zoom and instragramming (did I miss any???). The coach constantly seeks feedback from the athlete in terms of how they are feeling, what is going on in their lives, how the session went, what was good, what could be worked on and how they are travelling physically, mentally and emotionally. This feedback can be communicated and interrupted via Training Peaks comments, but sometimes it is what is not said that provides the cue to call the athlete. Equally, the athlete wants to know how they are going, if they are getting better/faster, if they will smash their PB or even finish the race. There are competing needs in the communication process and it is imperative that both the coach and athletes needs are addressed for a successful journey.
The final C is commitment. Both parties have to be committed to making the relationship strong, positive and enjoyable. The coach must ensure they convey their strong commitment to helping the athlete towards their goals and it is via this intention of commitment that the athlete will be able to identify their own goals and dreams for their endurance career. The athlete has to be committed to doing the hard work and sticking to the program in terms of training, nutrition and recovery to see the results. At the end of the day a well constructed training plan will not miraculously convert into real results without a lot of hard work, determination, sweat and tears from both the coach and athlete.
It is also worth noting that there has to be a high level of trust in this relationship. Trust that the coach is preparing you for the event of your life and has your best interests at heart and in reverse the coach has to trust that the athlete will do the little things like sleeping, stretching, reducing stress and not becoming obsessive over missing sessions (I am the worst offender for that!! Guilty as charged!!).
As you can see, the relationship between the coach and their athlete is a very necessary and critical component of endurance training. If this relationship is strong and solid communication exists, this will translate seamlessly into positive results for the athlete, thus making the athlete happy and working positively towards the attainment their goals and living their potential and making the coach proud to have played a central role in the athlete’s success!