With triathlon season now coming into full swing in the UK, and the Open Water challenge swims not far off, learning to swim effectively with head up is important. As any of my swimmers will tell you, its one of the few times I will tell them to look forward; if you’ve been following my posts over the last 8 months, you will know that by looking forward you force your hips down in the water and create more resistance. i.e. you make life harder for yourself!
Why Do It:
Swimming head up has several benefits:
Resistance training – see the note above!
Watching your entries into the water – fingertips first, minimal splash.
Watch your engagement on the water – making sure your hands aren’t sliding back, that you are really getting maximum hold.
Watching your hands come back close to the body without crossing your centre line – keeping you in a straight line.
By practising head up swimming, you can look to make your stroke as smooth and efficient as possible and an easy transition into sighting. As we all know, what we think and what we actually do with our swimming can be two completely different things. This is where video coaching comes in to show you what you are actually doing!
How To Do It:
1. Keep your chin on the surface, keep your eyes pointing forward, focus on the end of the lane, maybe a diving block or a sign.
2. Slide your hands into the water in front of your eyeline and stretch forward.
3. Engage on the water as we’ve mentioned and practised over the last few weeks – bend your elbow before squeezing back with your forearm all the way past your hips.
How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Keeping your head still is key. You shouldn’t have to turn your head to the side at all to breathe, work your core and kick hard! If your head is moving 1, your shoulders (and therfore your body) will follow and 2, how will you know if you’re swimming straight in open water?!
Aim to slide your fingertips in first, flat. There are many different debates from coaches, or what swimmers have been told, but the easiest and simplest thing to do is slide your hand into the water flat. The reasoning behind this is that if your thumb goes into the water first, its far easier to slice your hand straight down than it is to get real pressure to squeeze against. If you are more controlled, have more awareness and strength/stability in your shoulders then you can look to put a slight angle into your hand, around 30°, but this isn’t a necessity for you.
You can change up how you use this drill. As with any drills, mixing in with full stroke is incredibly useful because you can really feel what you work on once you put everything together (hopefully!). It could be that you use a combination of 3 strokes head up, 3 strokes head down to simulate sighting. Or you could do full 25m/50m swims with your head out of the water for added resistance training, whatever works for you.
Enjoy, see what you think, let us know your feedback!
Sometimes it’s difficult to get out the door and train. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the motivation to go and do the the sessions you need to do; or push through the hard parts and places of sessions when your brain is telling you you can’t be bothered. We all have been there! Don’t feel that you are alone!
The reason I say this is because I’d felt like this with some of my own training. I’ve set my own plans, toward my own goal, and yet there have been days where I just can’t be arsed don’t feel up to it.
This is where you need to speak to someone. If you have a coach, potentially that should be your first port of call – if you’re not motivated to go and do their sessions, toward things you have agreed between you, then elements need to change. As a coach myself, I’m very aware that I need to keep on top of where each of my athletes are at, make sure they are happy with each week ahead or week past.
I was very fortunate to grab a chat with Kim Ingleby of Energised Performance to sort out my head space! Kim is an expert in NLP, and as one of her clients has written, a mind and body ninja! It was very useful to go through things with her – the basic outcome was that I needed to change particular environments to make some of my training more appealing and ultimately more successful. Since our chat, it’s been good to alter my plan and now I’m looking forward to implementing that!
Being your own coach has its advantages. You know your own body, your strengths and weaknesses, the time you have available to you – and occasionally more than any expert (I certainly wouldn’t put myself in the expert category!)! But an external coach can be a useful tool in achieving your goals – whether that be adding extra weapons to your armoury, or just sorting things out in your head.
Obviously I’d love to help people, that’s why I do the coaching – but hopefully I can give food for thought with my own experiences as well as with the services I offer!
One way of developing your swimming is to mix up your strokes. I am a big advocate of swimming backstroke and breaststroke to maximise the feel athletes have for the water and and understanding for what makes them move forwards.
This week’s drill is primarily a butterfly drill, but don’t let that scare you! The underwater phase for butterfly is the same as for freestyle, so by working both arms at the same time we can 1) stay well balanced on the water and 2) feel for differences between each side.
Why Do It:
By starting from a fixed position with your arms out in front, it encourages you to feel what holding that pressure on the water is like, and understand that anchor point that you lever the body over. I would tend to do the drill as individual pulls for freestyle, focussing on the quality of each connection on the water, rather than trying to make a continuous stroke like the video as a butterfly drill.
How To Do It:
1. Lie out flat on the water – good posture, eyes down, core in, arms out in front. Light kick to keep afloat.
2. Anchor your wrists on the water (point your fingers down), then bend your elbows and throw your hands down and away past your hips.
3. Don’t rush to get on to the next stroke – take time to breath and slide your hands forward, aim for maximum distance per press.
How to Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
The trick is all in making sure you can feel pressure on your hands and forearms. We can all throw our hands down and away, but if they are slicing through the water like butter, you will be wasting energy. Remember to keep the elbows high and press with your forearms as well as with your hands, under your body. Drive all the way back, from engaging on the water at the front end all the way back to the exit at the back. Don’t try to breath during the pull; all you’ll do is end up with a face full of water and feel yourself slow down rapidly!
By working on a good, connected drive back through the water – and levering your body forward over the top – you will improve your pull no end. As a result your stroke count should reduce as you travel further for each individual pull. As always, follow up lengths of this drill with full stroke to feel the difference on the focal point of the drill.
Last weekend I took a trip over to Lisbon in Portugal, to recce the area and facilities of the company who approached us to run training camps. Lisbon South is the brain child of Antonio Barbosa, a bike shop owner and keen cyclist, who didn’t see why athletes weren’t coming to Portugal as much as they do to mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands or the Canary Islands for warm weather training. What he has done is put together a package that hopefully will suit athletes of all levels from novice to elite, individuals, groups and families.
Lisbon South is situated in Alcochete, a little village on the south of the River Tejo. When I arrived at the airport in Lisbon, rather than taking the 20 minute drive over the river to the hotel initially, we went and explored west of Lisbon, toward the beautiful Cascais, Guincho beach and Sintra. It is this side of town that Antonio has his bike shop with his business partner Joao, and as a Trek bike dealer gives him the opportunity to rent out top level Trek Madones – as well as offering lots of other support (spares, mechanic, sports nutrition, GPS etc). Unfortunately you can’t ride over from the base to this area – bikes aren’t allowed to be ridden across the Vasco de Gama bridge, but it can be arranged to transport bikes over to Sintra to ride around the region. What really struck me was that even in the car, at rush hour, once we were out of the city itself, the roads were almost empty bar cyclists!
While I was in Portugal I had the opportunity to swim, ride and run. One of the services that the Lisbon South package offers is guides for bike routes – and at speeds to suit! If you are an experienced, high end athlete, Joao will lead you a merry dance across the varied countryside – he has raced at Portuguese elite national championships on the road and mountain bike. Don’t let this put you off however; if you are just starting out or feeling more circumspect on a bike, Antonio knows the area well – and his good humour and knowledge will keep you interested on whatever rides you feel up to. If neither of these options are up your street, and you just want to explore, Antonio can furnish you with a GPS unit to help point you in the right direction and route maps for if you find yourself lost! Being out on the road was a pleasure having had some interesting experiences at home – the roads were 95% smooth, and where there were potholes there wasn’t the need to swing right in to the road to avoid them. Even the biggest roads were quiet by British standards and there was a real variety of terrain and views.
East of Alcochete is prime breeding ground both for bulls and horses.
Running around Alcochete was good fun – predominantly flat with a few gradual climbs – but plenty to do both on road and off. Running along the river was lovely, especially early in the morning when no-one was around! Because this part of the river is the estuary, you can swim in the river here, it’s great for open water swimming. Alternatively there is a great 25m pool facility a short travel from the hotel for the more tri minded athletes. Finally for the athletes looking for a full training programme will be pleased to know that a 2 minute walk from the hotel is a gym with a full complement of equipment – machines, free weights, TRX/stability equipment – and a sauna/steam room! The gym also does sports massage for those coming out and doing hard training weeks and in need of a little assistance with recovery! Outside the gym is a 60m sprint track as well for athletes wanting to do some power work.
Alcochete is a picturesque little village with plenty of places to eat, drink or just chill out. Because it is quiet, its great for downtime between training sessions, though on the edge of town there are places to go out dancing if your training week is more about balance than all out work!
Alcochete is like a view out of a postcard
Having been out to Lisbon South, I’d happily go again as an athlete – no questions asked. The flight is short, the weather is fairly guaranteed, the area is lovely. Its a minor downside that not all the facilities are right on base – but given that its all pretty much within walking distance for gym or pool swim from the Hotel Alfoz, its certainly a competitive option to elsewhere on the continent.
The intention for us is that we can run camps for Lisbon South – for varying levels of cyclist or triathlete – and also run camps/training weeks under our own banner, hopefully encouraging some fun in our usual way with training but also giving the option to go and see the sights, get some culture!
There are three things that improve run speed for us, 3 factors. The first affects all three disciplines in triathlon, the speed/intensity of training. The second, more importantly, is technique and being more efficient, something we try to cover every week on here with the #RunningFormFriday tips. Finally – and possibly most important of all – is muscular and postural strength.
Endurance athletes (and women, sorry to stereotype) are scared of doing strength work, for what I see as two main reasons: Firstly, there is the worry that doing strength work builds muscle bulk, which is then seen as unattractive, or as an unnecessary hindrance to running. This is INCORRECT! Yes you can tone up a little more by doing strength exercises but you won’t automatically become like Jodie Marsh or Arnie just by doing some squats and sit ups! That takes a lot of time, effort, particular training and dietary requirements – and most probably some additional help. Secondly runners see running as the most effective way to train, which is understandable. However if you are busy trying to work on weak muscles and poor kinetic chains, you’re more at risk of injury.
Here are a handful of exercises that you can do – that don’t require extra kit or going to the gym – that will help your running. I’ll also explain how and why each exercise will help.
Prop yourself up on your elbows with your feet slightly apart. Make sure your body is aligned, your abdominal muscles are tight, and shoulders are directly above the elbows and down and back, not hunched up. Hold this position for 30 seconds to one minute. Gradually add time as your core gets stronger.
This will help you run tall, with your hips in alignment, without your back collapsing.
Extensions: – Lift a foot off the floor (without dropping the hips), or go to moving planks where you move up into a press up position and back down again.
Similar to the plank, but on your side. Elbow under shoulder, hips vertical (not rocking backward), legs out straight.
This will help give you the elastic strength around your sides so that you can drive your arms back and help get the lift from the opposite leg.
Extensions: – Lift your arm in the air vertically, potentially lift your top leg, or even moving side planks where you sink your hips down, then push back up through your side muscles. All the time your hips stay vertical.
A simple favourite! Plant your feet. They should be flat on the ground, about shoulder-width apart. Get below the bar and bend your knees slightly. You’ll want equal weight distribution throughout each foot during the exercise. Feet should be forward or slightly turned out.
Feet should be about shoulder width apart to give you good balance but without putting sideways pressure on the knees.
Look straight ahead. Keeping your back straight, bend at your knees as if you were going to sit down and back in a chair. Keep your heels on the floor. Make sure that you get your quads parallel to the ground, for full range of motion.
Lower yourself. In a controlled manner slowly lower yourself down and back so that your upper legs are nearly parallel with the floor. Do not extend below parallel. Keep the weight distributed on your upper thighs and the heels or balls of your feet, not on your toes or your knees.
Keep the downward (eccentric) motion slow, then squeeze and drive upward – you gain more strength that way.
The glutes (bum muscles) and quads are what give you your driving force, make you go forward faster!
Extensions: – Add weight for extra resistance. To make it extra difficult, go for jumping squats and really get your glutes and quads firing!
Keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back and relaxed and chin up (pick a point to stare at in front of you so you don’t keep looking down). Always engage your core.
Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Make sure your front knee is directly above your ankle, not pushed out too far, and make sure your other knee doesn’t touch the floor. Keep the weight in your heels as you push back up to the starting position.
To make it even more run specific, as you step forward on one leg, take the opposite arm forward. It’s good for balance, and for neuromuscular memory.
This is (if you can picture it) a super extended running stride, working strength, power and balance.
Extensions: – Add weight – either across the shoulders or in the hands. You could put your back foot off a step and just dip down, increasing the stability element. Or to super charge, go for jumping split squats:
Single leg balances:
Simple as it sounds. Stand on one leg. With the other, either lift your knee so your thigh is parallel with the ground, or stretch it out behind you (without leaning forward).
Running is a series of single leg balances – if we can’t balance on one leg, how can we expect to run efficiently?
Extension: – Close your eyes, it throws the body’s sense of balance! If that is easy enough, try these, making it slightly more mobile:
Calf raises and contractions:
Standing on a step on your toes, slowly lower yourself down to the point where you feel a stretch in your calf. This should take 4-5 seconds. Then drive back up to the top.
This will help with both absorbing the impact on your calves but also pushing off. You gain more strength from the slow lowering than you do from the explosive push (approximately 40%), so take your time and control the motion!
Extension: – Do it on one leg rather than two. If that is easy, minimise the amount of stability you take from a wall/step.
Walk around on your heels with your toes pulled up off the floor for around 45s.
Weakness in Tibialis Anterior can contribute to overuse injuries elsewhere in the ankle and shin region. This exercise helps again with that stabiliser.
Standing on a towel with it flat beneath your feet, use your toes to grip and scrunch the towel back toward you. Use all 5 toes for this. Then push the towel back away from you.
Strengthens the foot, protects agains shin splints and plantar fasciitis, and improves push-off power.
Doing all these exercises 2-3 times a week, maybe instead of that extra (4th/5th/6th) run will help make your running more stable and more strong. Remember form is important as is posture – so if you feel things start to fall apart, don’t push it, we don’t want to cause injury. Equally, if you can’t hold your form on the entry level exercises, don’t try and do the extended versions.