Breathing While Running #RunFormFriday

Just before you crest a hill or reach the end of a speed interval, your lungs go into overdrive. Your breath becomes shallow and rapid. You think if only you could pull in more air, you could surge up that hill or maintain your pace. But the more your chest heaves, the more you struggle. You may even end up exhausted, bent over, gasping for air.

Breathing While Running

Runners think about training their heart and legs, but they rarely think about training their lungs. A strong respiratory system can improve your running. It’s a simple equation: Better breathing equals more oxygen for your muscles, and that equals more endurance.

Just as we strength-train our hamstrings and calves to improve our ability to power over hills, we can tone the muscles used for breathing. Exercise improves the conditioning of the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen, and the intercostal muscles, which lie between the ribs and enable you to inhale and exhale. When you take a breath, 80 percent of the work is done by the diaphragm. If you strengthen your diaphragm, you may improve your endurance and be less likely to become fatigued.”

This was backed up by researchers from the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University in England, who recently measured fatigue levels of marathoners’ respiratory muscles and leg muscles. They found a direct link-runners whose breathing was the most strained showed the most leg weakness-and concluded in their study that the harder the respiratory muscles had to work, the more the legs would struggle in a race.

The key to preventing lung-and leg-fatigue is breathing more fully. When you take deeper breaths, you use more air sacs in your lungs, which allows you to take in more oxygen to feed your muscles. When I’m running, I concentrate on taking slow and deep breaths to strengthen my diaphragm.

Most runners are “chest breathers”-not “belly breathers.” Try and run a mile at a pace that gets you blowing a bit. Then  stop and place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest and watch. The lower hand should move with each breath, while the upper hand should remain relatively still (usually the opposite occurs). Every time you breathe in, your belly should fill up like a balloon. And every time you breathe out, that balloon should deflate. When you chest breathe, your shoulders get tense and move up and down. That’s wasted energy-energy you should conserve for running.

Chest breathing can be a hard habit to break-especially while you’re preoccupied with keeping pace or calculating splits. One way to make the switch easier is to work on belly breathing when you’re not running, and the skill will eventually carry over to your running. To make this happen, some elite runners turn to Pilates, a program originally developed as a rehabilitation program for World War I soldiers. Pilates aims to increase flexibility, strengthen the core, and improve breathing. “I try to do Pilates twice a week,” says 2004 Olympic marathon runner Colleen de Reuck. “It stretches my intercostal muscles and lengthens my spine, which helps my breathing and my running.”

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about breathing while running in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Pull Glide drill #SwimTechTues

Swimming quiet

The majority of triathletes like using a pull buoy to make life easier for themselves. Very few use it as a tool to improve their swimming – so here is a potential drill that you might be able to use.

Rather than relying on a pull buoy to keep the hips afloat you can actually use the float to help focus your balance. This drill also allows you to think about controlling the water as you pull, and accelerating your body through the water.


How To Do It

With a pull buoy, lie on your side (same position as side kick) take one pull, roll and glide on the opposite arm – ie take one normal stroke. When your glide slows to a stop, take a pull on the other side. The idea is to get you accelerating the hands through under the water, really pushing the water back and taking control. The idea is to swim the length in as few strokes as possible.


Do It Really Well (The Fine Points)

  • Keep the core really tight throughout – this will help keep you in a straight line and make rotating from the hips considerably easier.
  • Squeeze the hands/forearms through the water to lever the body forward as much as possible; snatching quickly at the water will mean that you don’t travel as far or as fast per stroke. Notice how James in the video has his elbow higher than his hand at all points, with the forearm pointing straight down for as long as possible.
  • Finish your stroke past your hips – this will help focus that back end of the stroke, you should feel the acceleration of the body as your hand moves further back.

As always there are pros and cons to every drill – for example, catch up is a great drill for thinking about front quadrant swimming and keeping one hand in front at all times, and being as balanced as possible – however it really limits the opportunity for rotation and stiffens up the hips. Similarly, this drill is aimed at controlling balance through the hips, and accelerating the hands through under the body, but the downside is that we don’t want to over emphasize the glide when we go back to full stroke.

Take your time with learning this – as with any skill. The point is that drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!


Should I Eat Before I Run? #RunFormFriday

Eat before runSome runners can’t walk out of the door for a morning run without having something to settle their stomachs. Others cannot have a bit of food in their stomach without causing stomach discomfort. The overarching theme of sports nutrition is “every athlete is different”. That doesn’t specifically help you much, does it?

The idea of this article is to try and help make the question “to eat or not to eat” a little easier. Hopefully as a result you can set yourself up for a great session.


Eating for different types of runs

In a typical week for me, there are 3 types of runs to consider: easy/recovery runs, long runs, and workouts. Each type of run is associated with different fueling needs and different physical responses.

  • Easy/recovery runs are at a comfortable, conversational pace and usually don’t last longer than 60 minutes.
  • Long runs vary by pace and are longer than 60 minutes.
  • Workouts – or sessions – are shorter in duration but higher in intensity than the other two types of runs.

Eat before run

Reasons to eat before a run

Liver glycogen, which maintains a normal level of blood sugar, gets depleted overnight. A small amount of food before exercise will increase your blood sugar and help prevent hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia could cause lightheadedness, blurred vision and fatigue.
Food also helps settle your stomach and absorb some of the stomach juices that can cause discomfort, especially if you haven’t eaten in awhile.

Finally, a pre-exercise snack is a last chance to fuel your muscles. Food eaten far in advance of a workout will be stored as muscle glycogen, but food eaten in the hour before exercise can be used as instant fuel if the exercise intensity is low enough to still allow for digestion.

Reasons not to eat before a run

It is a common belief that exercising on an empty stomach will enhance the body’s use of fat as a fuel source, allowing one to burn more body fat. While this is true, burning body fat to fuel exercise does not necessarily mean that one will lose body fat overall. To lose body fat, you still need to have an overall calorie deficit by the end of the day. If exercising on an empty stomach just sets you up to eat more later in the day than you would have if you ate before running, then there is no benefit. Also, a small snack before may allow you to exercise harder and run longer, resulting in burning more calories.

Fears of getting a dodgy stomach or feeling sluggish are other reasons why one might choose not to eat before exercise. Avoiding foods that are known to cause distress and eating the right kinds of foods can resolve these issues. Also, getting an adequate amount of food the day and night before a morning workout will decrease your need to eat much in the hours before. This is certainly the case for me!

What to eat before each type of run

The next questions to consider are the intensity of the run and the timing of the run.

The body’s ability to digest a recent meal depends on the intensity of the workout. If the pace is generally easy and is something you could easily keep up for 30 or more minutes, then your body should still be able to digest a recent meal or snack and use it for fuel. If you need some pre run snack ideas, we’ve written a great article on how to find the optimal time to eat and what to eat before a run.

The more intense a workout is, the more blood flow will be shifted away from the stomach and to the muscles, decreasing the body’s ability to digest. Therefore, more planning needs to go into pre-workout meals as compared to meals before easier runs.

Now let’s consider the timing of sessions.

Morning workouts

As stated above, liver glycogen will be depleted overnight and you may wake with low blood sugar. Care should be taken in the day and night before a workout to make sure muscle glycogen stores are full. However, a small snack before a workout can help bring your blood sugar back up and maintain normal levels.

A general rule  is to eat about 1 grams of carbohydrate per kilo of bodyweight up to one hour before a workout. For a 70kg runner that would be 70 grams, or 300 calories worth of carbohydrate. This carbohydrate load can be achieved through a combination of solid and liquid, such as a bowl of cereal or a bottle of sports drink/squash. The sooner you eat the better so that the body has time to digest before an intense effort.

Afternoon or evening workouts

Afternoon and evening workouts give you more time to fuel your body with good carbohydrates and adequate amounts of fluids. It is important on these days to start off with a good breakfast and continue on with a healthy lunch 3-4 hours before the workout.

Choose foods that are high in carbohydrate, moderate in protein, and low in fat. Fats and proteins delay gastric emptying. Focus on complex carbohydrates for a sustained source of energy, but avoid very high fiber foods.

Eat before run

Bottom line

Tolerances vary from person to person so you have to use trial and error to find out what foods work for you and if you exercise better with having something to eat.

My recommendation would be to have something to eat before long runs and efforts so that you can get the best training effect out of your run. Easy and recovery runs do not require pre-exercise foods most of the time, just be sure to fuel your body well throughout the day for your sessions later in the week.


Final tips for eating before a run

  • Eat adequate, high-carbohydrate meals on a daily basis so that your body is always ready for a run or workout.
  • For longer runs (more than 60 minutes), choose slowly digested carbohydrates like yogurt, apples, bananas, and oatmeal. Also consider similar foods for fueling during the long run.
  • Avoid sugary foods like soft drinks, candy, and sugary gels that can quickly spike the blood sugar and actually lead to hypoglycemia.
  • The more calories you eat, the more time you need to give your body to digest, especially before intense sessions.

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about eating before run training in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Video Swim Analysis #SwimTechTues


Video Swim Analysis

With the racing season fast approaching, most athletes are thinking of entering events – whether its their first ever race or as a seasoned competitor! One of the things that can really help your motivation towards the season, and help give you real direction with your swim is to get a video swim analysis done.


Video Swim Analysis

Our pool at The Triathlon Shop Bristol


What Is Video Swim Analysis

A video swim analysis is a valuable tool for improving your stroke – it can showcase flaws in technique that may be holding back your speed and efficiency. Using underwater video cameras and video playback not only can the coach see what is being done by the swimmer, but the swimmer is then also able to see what is happening – which may well be vastly different from what they believe!

What Are The Benefits Of Video Swim Analysis

Most swim coaches can stand on the deck and develop a fairly good idea of what their swimmers and triathletes are doing…or not doing. For example: the can see if the kick is too wide or the elbows are dropped, if the swimmer is not finishing the stroke, or if there are bi-lateral imbalances or a lack of hip rotation.

But, similar to an iceberg, a swimmer viewed only from the surface of the water can be – and many times is – very deceptive.
Really, most of the body sits under the water. Viewed from the topside, form and technique often look great, yet when viewed from below the surface, there might be indications of a considerable need for improvement.

In addition to the altered perception above the water, observing a swimmer at actual swim speed is difficult at best. It’s nearly impossible for the human eye to catch and analyze motion in split-second intervals.

So, how do you expose the good, the bad and the ugly of a swim stroke?

Video swim analysis is  the best way for athletes looking to improve overall stroke technique. Video swim analysis gives the coach the opportunity to view a swimmer at a multitude of angles, speed and positions to better assess their unique strengths and weaknesses. Also, if you are a visual learner, being able to see what you are doing makes a big difference to being able to process the information you are getting.

You can book your video swim analysis with our ex international swimmer and coach here.

Finish Your Stroke #SwimTechTues

One of the first segments of a swimmer’s stroke to fall apart when fatigue sets in is the finish, the last bit of underwater pulling that takes place during the arms-submerged cycle. Powered by the tricep muscles of the upper arm, the finish of your stroke is essential in maintaining ideal efficiency in the water. Even world-class swimmers tire during their events and end up shortening their strokes on the back end, resulting in a rapid, choppy turnover that is less efficient and which ultimately requires more energy.


As the triceps fatigue and cramp up, the arm bends at the elbow during the final part of the stroke, and the hand is pulled out of the water prematurely (by the hip area) before a full stroke is completed. A correct finish means that your elbow straightens while your forearm is still submerged at your side, with your hand leaving the water by your upper thigh (rather than your hip). This requires triceps conditioning and, initially, concentration during the stroke cycle.

There are a few ways you can strengthen the muscles required to execute a proper finish, the most obvious being in the gym.

Tricep Extensions

Take a lightweight dumbbell and position yourself in front of a mirror. Bending at the waist, look straight ahead and hold the weight at your side with your elbow bent 90 degrees. Then, slowly straighten your arm until it is extended behind you. You have just completed a stroke finish.

Do 10 reps this way, taking care to slowly bring the weight back to the starting position (with your elbow bent at a right angle) before resuming the next rep. Switch arms with the weight and repeat. Alternatively rather than using dumbbells you can use a stretch chord or theraband.

This is a great exercise to do periodically to strengthen your triceps. If you do it consistently and correctly, you will notice a marked difference during your freestyle underwater pull.


Another way to strengthen your arms to perfect your finish is to do a drill in the pool called sculling.

Initially you can do this on your front or on your back, going headfirst with your arms by your sides, palms facing toward your feet. press the water out and in out in a figure of eight motion.

Note that the hands are always moving laterally and not big bends from the elbow!

If this gets easy, you can progress it. Lying on your back with your feet facing the opposite end of the pool, push off the wall with your arms (instead of swimming head-first, you will be floating feet first to the far end).

With your arms above your head, wave your hands in a figure of eight motion, concentrating on pushing water above your head and away from you, propelling yourself across the pool. It is slow going, but you will feel the burn in your forearms and triceps if you do the drill correctly. This is also a great way to develop, or maintain, a feel for the water. As a result, you will gain a sense of comfort and efficiency during your pull that only seasoned swimmers have after years of training.

Once you have taken the time to master these simple exercises, there are other ways you can keep yourself in check during your sessions, as the shortening of the stroke is the first, most obvious element to fall apart during hard swimming.


During your sessions, always be aware of where your hand is exiting the water during your underwater pull. Is it coming out by your hips, or by your swim suit? Either way, you are swimming with a short, less efficient stroke. Force yourself to extend your elbow so that your hand exits the water by your upper thigh (below your suit line). To make sure you are extending all the way, graze your thumb by your thigh as you recover.

Pulling With Paddles

A method I have depended on for years to ensure a proper stroke finish is to use paddles with only the finger-straps intact. I remove the wrist-bands and affix the paddles to my palms using just the middle-finger band. As such, if I shorten my stroke the paddles will either come flying off or they will pull my finger in an unnatural way. This method of pulling forces me to be disciplined, and trains me to develop a finish to my stroke automatically.

During competition, always concentrate on your underwater pull and make sure you are maximizing the water you are pulling by stretching out your stroke on the front end and extending it at the back end. In time, a correct finish will be second nature and you will be at a distinct advantage to your less disciplined and short-stroked competitors. Remember, it is what you do under the water that makes you faster, much more than what goes on over the top.

Take your time with learning this – as with any skill. The point is that drills are there to make you smoother, stronger, more efficient. Make sure you hit all those target points!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here!

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!