Do you enjoy triathlons? Are you a performance addict, and is competition seductive to you? And perhaps most importantly, are you smart?
If you answered YES to these questions, then you owe it to yourself to think carefully about one more: What is your personal temperature limit in triathlons or open water swim races? That is, at what water temperature would you make the decision NOT to participate? Mine were 58 degrees on the lower end and 84 on the upper spectrum, non-wetsuit, both learned from bad experiences. Eventually I raised the lower temp to 60: I simply did not enjoy cold temperatures.
Deaths in open water during a triathlon have become disturbingly common. Particularly troubling is that, given the decisions by organizers not to cancel events despite potentially lethal temperatures, such deaths appear now to have become regarded as somehow acceptable. Just this past weekend, yet another triathlete passed away in the Alcatraz triathlon. The official report is that the water temperature was 51 degrees; ominous enough. However, credible unofficial sources are saying it was more like 49. And it’s not just the cold: open water swimming lost one of its brightest stars when champion Fran Crippen succumbed during a 10k race in 89 degree water.
Should upper and lower racing temperature limits, or ‘collars’ be set? And if so, who is responsible for setting those collars: the National Governing Bodies (NGBs), the race directors, or the participants? Who is the most responsible, really? We can debate the role of all involved, but here is what YOU, the participant, need to do:
• Receive medical clearance for training and racing.
• Hire a coach or get on a reputable and proven training plan.
• Spend ample time preparing for the distance.
• Spend ample time preparing for all types of racing conditions: cold water, warm water, currents, winds, low visibility, blinding reflection and sun, choppy waters, big surf conditions, rip tides.
• Acquire the skills of proper and frequent navigation.
• Become very familiar with swimming in very close quarters to others.
• Familiarize and prepare yourself for the discomfort from contact at race starts, buoy turns and swim “claustrophobia”.
• Practice in open water with a group, simulating race-like conditions.
• Have a proper-fitting wetsuit that is tested and familiar prior to racing.
• Have a real swim race plan, not simply “I just want to get to my bike”.
• Warm up properly.
• Start to the side of your group.
• Only swim fast at the beginning if it was part of your training preparation.
• Use rhythmic breathing with a 2nd-stroke frequency; no 3rd-stroke or higher breathing.
• The moment you have difficulty, roll over on to your back and wave your arms for assistance.
• Establish personal temperature collars, and adhere to them.
Participants who are responsible enough to arrive at races well prepared would solve a lot of the problems—but not all of them. What else can be done? Here are my messages to the three key constituent groups of our sport.
TO THE NATIONAL GOVERNING BODY and RACE DIRECTORS:
Here’s my opinion: Temperature collars ARE needed; both lower AND upper guidelines. The NGB needs to institute and enforce these temperature collars. You have a responsibility to your members as a whole to preserve their safety when the individual won’t. You also need to provide some education to membership regarding preparation. The same applies to race directors, but you have an additional responsibility: accept the need for, and make it easy for participants to perform, proper warm-ups. But both groups, NGB and director, are apparently being seduced by some combination of more races on the calendar, securing greater visibility for the sport, and more revenue. So be it: financial realities are what they are. However, at bare minimum, set collars regarding water temperatures in competition.
To THE COACHES:
Our duty here is education, training and skill development—and careful encouragement. Encourage preparation, but discourage racing in 51 degree water. We discouraged racing Alcatraz to particular individuals, and yet some still decided to participate. The next best thing we can do is fully prepare the athlete.
TO THE INDIVIDUAL PARTICIPANT:
Would you attempt Everest if not prepared? I would think most would say no, but some would still try. Would you attempt Everest if not prepared, knowing that many love you and DEPEND on you? What if you are a parent to children, a husband or wife, brother or sister in a loving family, a favored uncle or aunt, a coach or teacher, a best friend, a CEO: Perhaps you would give the challenge second thoughts? This is the question you must ask yourself when making decisions about the swim portion of a triathlon.
When weather turns bad on Everest’s summit, many aspiring climbers are forced to turn around, either by caring guides and supporters (who adhere to strict protocols on summit safety) or by smart climbers who have deeply considered the decision framework that will lead to the outcome of climbing onward or turning around. In triathlon, with the dangers of the swim, the same protocols and thought need to go into the Race Director’s decision of whether or not to allow a swim to occur, and into the individual participant’s personal decision as to whether to jump into the water.
Please make sure you are FULLY prepared for the swim portion when entering a triathlon, and think about the parameters when you might make the tough decision to pass up the chance to race. Some Everest climbers train all year, arrive prepared, go through all the hard work… only to be turned back a few hundred feet from the summit. Sometimes that is the right decision. The same can be said for your triathlon. No matter how hard you have trained…. and how much you have sacrificed, SOMETIMES it is better to turn before the summit… and still wake up in the morning.
As a coach, a dedicated former athlete, parent, brother, uncle, best friend and life enthusiast, my humble view is that the ultimate responsibility lies with the participant. And so to all participants, I say: Take proactive action now; somebody loves you and wants you around.
1. Breathe every 3rd stroke or higher.
2. Hold your breath before expulsion.
3. Breathe through your nose.
4. Take short, shallow breaths.
5. Linger while taking a breath.
6. Focus on front quadrant or catch-up style swimming.
7. Over rotate with hips.
8. Have low strokes rates.
10. Be “loose” in the water.
11. Be a “scrunchy” swimmer. ie. look like a fetus.
12. Have a BIG focus on Distance Per Stroke (DPS).
13. Focus on least strokes across the pool.
14. Cup your hands.
15. “Salute” by placing your hand close to your forehead at entry.
16. Swim with straight arms under water.
17. Have your hands cross your mid-line underwater.
18. Have your hands enter of pull outside your shoulder line.
19. Have your elbow BELOW your wrist/hand underwater.
20. Pet the “kitty” underwater, ie. Don’t have a floppy, gentle or loose hand underwater.
21. Do the “S” stroke.
22. Cut your stroke short at the finish.
23. Do most pool swimming drills.
24. Do Sculling.
25. Focus on kicking harder.
26. Ignore using an ankle strap or swim snorkel.
27. Think working on technique solves it all.
Think this is all there is ………
The most important element of swim technique is tautness! The opposite of #10.
1. Train at one speed only.
2. Swim straight workouts.
3. Swim in open water ONLY.
4. Swim long, non-stop open water sessions ONLY.
5. Have your main swim set(s) less than 50% of your workout time.
6. Not vary your workout composition.
7. Follow what Andy Potts does or ANY faster known swimmer/triathlete.
8. Follow instruction from Michael Phelps’ coach. Would you listen to Usain Bolt’s coach?
9. Wait until 3-4 weeks before your race to swim.
10. Eliminate warm-up or have small ones.
11. Forget to incorporate FAST swimming in EVERY workout. (May differ for some pros).
12. Wear fins in your main swim set.
13. Always use your pull buoy.
14. Wear BIG hand paddles. (Especially the pros who can’t drive them correctly).
15. Run or ride before KEY swim workouts.
16. Think just building your “engine” only will make you improve.
17. Think MORE is always better.
18. Train just HARD every day.
The most important element of training is consistency!
1. Race in a wetsuit or goggles without testing them first.
2. Use a wetsuit too tight in the shoulders.
3. Race without a proper warm-up. (Everyone, pros alike are guilty of this).
4. State to self: “I just need to get to my bike”.
5. Start in front if NOT a fast swimmer.
6. Sprint the start IF not prepared for such.
7. Be afraid of a rip current at the start.
8. Emphasize drafting. (Can be different for SOME pros).
9. Forget to sight FREQUENTLY.
10. Sight “water-polo” style. (May be different for SOME pros).
11. Just follow the person in front of you.
12. Swim in the middle of the pack.
13. Breathe every 3rd stroke.
14. Tap feet unless you want a broken nose.
15. Swim with pool-polished strokes in choppy conditions.
16. ONLY measure your improvement by time.
17. Ignore the 1-body length rule (mainly for elite athletes).
The most important element of racing is experience. Race to “Be Race Ready”.
1. Think you can improve your swim on your own.
2. Hire a coach without specific triathlon swim/swim coaching experience.
3. Listen to fast swimmers on technique, unless they understand open water needs (MOST don’t).
4. Expect pool coaches to know much about open water technique for triathletes. They don’t.
5. Think any coach knows it ALL.
*6. Hire a coach just because they have a coaching credential OR coached some named athlete.
7. Hire a coach if swimming is neither their strength nor yours (btw – same applies to bike and run).
8. Hire a coach who can’t/won’t explain why they prescribe their training.
9. Hire a coach who thinks there is ONLY one training route (theirs) to performance.
10. Put stock in coaches who state swim is not important. The sport is S-B-R!
11. Only swim in a Masters group if there isn’t a focus for triathletes.
12. Forget to thank your coach – some still do it for free.
The most important element to learning is finding the right teacher/coach for you! But, they MUST have honed their craft. There’s an ‘ole adage: Did the coach make the athlete, or, did the athlete make the coach? *(#6). Make sure the answer is the former. Review ALL their athletes, and then look for development and evolution of performance across the group. Low athlete turnover is also a strong indicator.
The best coaches continue their knowledge quest, admitting what they know presently may very well change with more information. These coaches will allow their athletes’ exposure to other coaches especially when the coach may have limited experience as a former swimmer, swim/triathlon coach, and time at the craft (how much time? At least 10-15 years). Here are a handful of coaches worth following for TRIATHLON swim specifics: Matt Dixon; Brett Sutton (follow the substance); Joel Filliol; Mike Collins; Jim Vance; Swim Smooth; Sara McLarty. They are many others.
1. Read or follow non-proven coaching instruction.
2. Watch You Tube swimming.
3. Buy a wetsuit based on price OR endorsement.
4. Think a swim lesson, clinic, camp or short training block in itself will make a difference.
FOR PROS (the *VIP TIPS)
1. Think you can be competitive (front pack) on less than 30k a week without a prior swim background.
3. Train your swim sessions like your bike or run sessions.
3. Run or bike before a KEY swim session.
*4. Race without a proper warm-up. Little has changed here in 31 years since watching my first tri; shocking actually.
5. Waste your time swimming Andy Potts’ workouts. You’re not him.
*6. Skip acquiring open water skills, no matter how fast you are. Many lack these.
7. Do all your swim training in a pool.
8. Train your strength more IF swim is your weakness.
*9. Over rest your swim going into a race unless a competitive swimmer.
*10. Wear those HUGE paddles. Not even some elite swimmers can drive them correctly.
11. Do the “S” stroke.
*12. Breathe every 3rd stroke or higher in a race.
Good luck in your quest for improvement. Gerry Rodrigues.
If you wish to add to the list, send me an email with your don’t: email@example.com
Swim meets motivate! They reinforce our training regimes as evidenced in the multitude of “best time” performances.
Many Tower 26 members attended our meet, performed extraordinarily well receiving another jolt of motivation and validation.
Here’s why it’s important to attend a meet: Almost every triathlete runs either a 5k, 10k, 1/2 or full marathon for a PR in addition to their tri racing schedule. It helps measure improvement, bolstering confidence, and is a reinforcement to their training regime. Improvement validates the training process, BUT more importantly it elevates confidence ultimately leading to improved performances in ones tri races.
The same should occurs for swimming, EXCEPT, few triathletes enter swim meets. Perhaps it’s too intimidating, even though that elevated confidence level post event would lead to enhanced tri swim performances. Making the meet experience a gentle introduction, we created a swim meet at our home facility bringing in a meet referee, programmer, and necessary equipment….. our members just had to do was show up. Many did.
Let’s take a look into some results from last week with a particular athlete in mind, FRANCISCO CORTEZ.
Francisco started swimming with Tower 26 in November 2010, he was one of our initial members. His swim confidence was low, his skills rudimentary, and his specific swim fitness fairly non-existent. He swam 100s on a 2:15 – 2:30 interval or slower; his repeat times ranged from 2:00 – 2:15; he struggled as many do at the beginning.
Francisco believed in and executed upon the process we provide. His 100 time last week was 1:16.5. A massive improvement. For sure, he no longer views himself as he did last month, last quarter, or last year. Look for big things from Francisco this season. Congrats Farncisco!
Other significant improvements were seen in the results of:
BARD AUSTIN, who took one of our Swim Improvement clinics in February, and then joined our training program. I would estimate Brad’s swim performance in February at around 1:20 for an all out 100; pretty good. Last week he swam 1:01.4. His 1000 was a smashing 13:18. He had no swimming background, rather an 800 m track runner.
CHRIS KAVEH, could barely complete a 50 without utter exhaustion when he joined us last November. His eventual improvement in swim specific fitness would assist him swimming 100s on a 2:30 interval. Chris swam his 100 last week in an astounding 1:21.09.
JEN TETRICK is a professional triathlete. We met at Matt Dixon’s purplepatch pro camp in March 2011. Her biking and running were good, but her swimming needed lots of work for a PRO, an important distinction. Jen moved to LA last December, making Tower 26 her destination swim improvement program. She has powered-up her 1.2 mile swim from 34 minutes to 28 minutes, AND, she stopped the clock in her 100 free last weekend in 1:03.75. At camp last year, her 75 free was 1:03. Her journey began then.
NANCY McDONALD is one of Tower 26’s remote clients for a couple years. Her voyage began with around a 1:30 personal best 100 free and 17 minute 1000 free. Last weekend she stopped the clock at 14:21.9 in her 1000, and 1:13.7 in her 100.
There were many, many other notable performances that stood out, above are just a few, but the success derived is the same because the journey is similar:
1) decide to do it;
2) understand it’s a 2-year plan, there are no short-cuts;
3) commit to your part of execution;
4) be CONSISTENT; and
5) set-up a mechanism for measuring performance.
Improved results WILL come.
Recognizing a few other performances:
SEAN JEFFERSON is a 3:56 mile runner and indoor NCAA mile champion. Recently turned triathlete needing to improve his swim, he moved to LA in February joining Tower 26. His test 1000 and 100 then were 12 minutes and 1:02. Last week Sean swam 11:13.56 and 56.88. He’s motivated even more now.
SARAH PIAMPIANO is another purplepatch pro traithlete who moved to LA in January for swim improvement. Her initial 1000 and 100 free time trials in January were 15:52 and 1:21. Last weekend she smashed those with a 13:17 1k and 1:11.01 for the 100 free. Sarah recently won the New Orleans 70.3. Her story worth reading is here: http://www.purplepatchfitness.com/news/one-win-doesnt-make-season
BRYAN PAUL could swim? Who would think the former Washington State quarterback would improve his 1000 and 100 free by over two minutes, and, 10 seconds respectively in just a few short months. His 13:29.8 1k and 60.66 100 free were inspiring performances, BUT he put in lots of effort and time into his training these last several months.
Chris Wright, Chris Doss, Reilly Smith, Susan Moon, Greg Wootton, Baker Smith, Greg Kearns, David Lee, Leslie Steiner, Eric Carysfort, Rebecca Nevitt, Stacey Stern, Chris Plourde, Julia Kolyadenko, Mark Vermeersch, Amy Aukstikalnis, Mattie Reyes, Carolyn Nohejl, Mike Tatum, James Duffy, Eric Reid, Monica Morant, Mike Schiepke, Ben Patterson, Susan Kallal, and Chase Watts all made their commitment with similar stories.
These “Big Guns” all put in sub 60 second 100s: Mike Tatum, Eric Craysfort, Sean Jefferson, Todd Larlee, Mark Vermeersch, David Lee and Chase Watts. Both Todd and Mike posted 57+ 100 swims. Congrats! Knocking at the sub minute barrier are: Bryan Paul, Brad Austin, and James Duffy.
Meet results can be found here:
Club member, Carolyn Nohejl posted some event photos here:
Up next is our 1-hour swim for distance coming up on May 20 at the Cost to Coast event in Culver City, and, our May 26 Swim Improvement Clinic. Details in a couple days.
1. Tell us about your background in swimming and Tower 26?
My background can be broken into three categories:
1) The athlete portion began at age 7 in Trinidad, and I’ve been at it for 42 years. I was an okay competitive swimmer who flourished more at open water than conventional pool racing. Although a few Masters national and world pool records were established along the way, my emphasis was in open water, competing in several hundred open water races and finishing overall winner at many. Presently, I swim 1-3 times a week depending on work schedules, about 90 minutes to 4 hours in a good week.
By triathlete standards my swimming was better than okay. I swam one minute for the 100 meter free; 4:37 for a 400 meter free; and won my first overall open water 4k race—all by the time I turned 12. Translated to yards, that’s around 53 sec for the 100 and a bit over 4 minutes for the 400. That same year I swam 9,600 meters in a 2-hour swim-a-thon; that’s a 1:15/100 meter average pacing. Those were pretty fast times almost 40 years ago for a young kid from the third world. Having great mentors, coaches and terrific parents contributed significantly. I competed in one marathon swim, 28.5 miles around Manhattan Island, finishing around 8 hours. My fastest open water 3 mile swim was a little over 51 minutes.
2) My coaching spans 30 years, starting officially in college. A like-minded group of us launched one of the first triathlon clubs in Los Angeles, Team Malibu, in the early 80s. Coaching triathletes swimming, we traveled to many races all around, including Kona in the early years. Fast forward to summary highlights: I made the first open water swimming DVD with Mike Collins in the mid-90s; coached and spearheaded several large Masters clubs over the years; received regional and national coach-of-the-year awards; coached a few hundred All-American performances, scores of national Masters and world champions with national and world records; and advised and/or coached several Olympic gold medalists and World open water champions.
Presently, my main coaching focus is triathletes and open water swimmers. Tower 26 was started in 2010 because of the need for triathlon-specific swim coaching. There is a gaping hole for this service at the quality and educational level. We run a carefully targeted training program with seasonal progression and education, then offer open water sessions six months of the year. Demonstrating that open water demand, last season our pre-work beach workout was attended by 100-300 triathletes each session. It became massive. Athlete swim improvements ranged from 2 minutes in shorter ½ mile and Olympic distance 1.5k swims, to 20+ minutes in Ironman distance swims.
Additionally, there are some training and educational projects in the works with Matt Dixon, of purplepatch fitness. Another coaching project was advising Eva Fabian and her coach/father, Jack Fabian, in their formative years: Eva on swim strategy and workouts for her open water swim career and her dad on the new paradigm for coaching open water athletes. The result was a world championship 5k title last year and multiple other open water victories. She’s only 18, presently training to make the 2012 Olympic team.
3) For about 10 years I was Publisher of three swimming magazines: Swimming World, Swimming Technique, and SWIM Magazine. I owned SWIM Magazine. We had a terrific editor-in-chief who delivered masterful but filtered, qualitative swimming content for that audience. Although I ran the business operations, my background was swimming, and quality content is paramount to successful publishing. One of the jobs of a publisher is to know their audience’s needs.
2. What advice would you give to a new triathlete swimmer?
Let’s frame this with historical perspective, followed by a paradigm shift, and then a look out toward the horizon.
Unfortunately, both new and established triathletes encounter a minefield of obstacles to swimming improvement. These include: 1) general, non-specific swim instruction; 2) a deluge of misinformation that is either simply wrong or again, not specific enough to their needs; and 3) the increasing infusion of online or remote “programming”. None of these examples are helpful to them.
Expanding upon these three examples, and then advising:
1) Non-specific swim instruction: Triathlon is still a sport in infancy with an Olympic debut in 2000, as is open water racing with its Olympic intro in 2008 with a 10k race. Duly, the evolution of swim instruction has yet to catch-up with the needs of the sport, ie. Specificity of the training, the type of swim mechanics needed, and racing skills. Mainly available to triathletes is traditional pool based training, with improper emphasis, taught by many untrained and/or misinformed coaches (see item 3). Masterful and imaginative coaches are far and few between.
2) Misinformation: Considering the abundance of non-specific swim instruction, coupled with unreliable publishing resources, triathletes struggle filtering information.
Preparing athletes for open water racing requires a lens-shift from swim coaches, publishers and educators; it’s a new paradigm. Publishers must be more diligent in providing substantive highly specialized, appropriate content for their subscribers and members.
The current approach of many publishers, providing “alternative or different perspectives” hits and misses the educational mark for their readers with the volatility of a 90s internet stock. These publishers need to recognize the paradigm shift. Present content is “unfiltered” and often lumps pool-specific traditional information together with open water advice, as if they were one subject. Readers need distilled, qualitative, specifically purposeful content. Triathlon participants lack the appropriate filter or knowledge in sorting through the various opinions emanating from traditional pool coaching, and from an abundance of inexperienced coach authors (see item 3). Unfortunately, many editors lack expertise for such filtering.
Although Triathlete Magazine has improved their content and material presentation in the last year, advancements are still needed from the likes of: Inside Triathlon; Ironman’s LAVA Magazine; Competitor magazine; 3/GO Triathlon; Slowtwitch; Beginning Triathlete; Ironman on-line; Active Corp; USA Triathlon’s national publication; SWIMMER, the national magazine of US Masters swimming; SPLASH, the national magazine for USA swimming; and ASCA, the American Swim Coaches Association.
3) On-line or remote coaching is not coaching; it’s programming and generally low quality. Although I do some remote coaching, it is nowhere near as good as seeing someone in person. Why is quality generally low?
a) Lack of club coaching infrastructure for educating coaches;
b) Lack of proper editorial content and coach mentor programs; and
c) A very low entry barrier to triathlon coaching.
Many triathlon clubs do not have a head coach. There are approximately 900 triathlon clubs only, servicing about 1/3 million partial or yearly association members. Conversely, at USA swimming, there are a few thousand clubs servicing the same volume of members, with every club having multiple coaches providing daily instruction.
In triathlon, anyone can purchase a triathlon coaching credential for a few hundred dollars, by attending a two-day seminar, taking a test, then receiving a certificate. This new “coach” has a tacit stamp of approval from the sport’s national governing body, USA Triathlon. Think about the message this basically sends: No experience needed at anything. Approximately 4,000 credentials have been issued. This presents a puzzle to the consumer for proper coach selection while bringing new meaning to “let the buyer beware”. Compare this with USA swimming’s model where coaches are usually former swimmers, who spend countless years being educated and mentored by veteran coaches, while coaching juniors, all prior to becoming a head coach. And that’s if they can get hired for a head coaching position. In triathlon, a “coach” just arrives by calling himself a coach.
If you look at some of the respected coaches, most have gone through a LONG journey of competition, mentoring, education, and then coaching. For illustration, let’s take Matt Dixon, of purplepatch fitness whose resume I am most acquainted since I coached him for a brief period. His resume would be similar with other respected coaches:
• Competitive swimmer for 15 years.
• Olympic Trial finalist in 1992 and 1996.
• Triathlete for eight years; professional for five years.
• Evolved from Olympic distance, to ½ IM, and then to IM.
• 2004 overall Vineman winner.
• Age-group swim coach for 5 years.
• Year round swim coaching to National standard.
• Developed and fostered by a team of supporting senior coaches.
• Coached swimming two years at NCAA div 1 with a team of 5 coaches.
• Developed under guidance of multiple triathlon coaches and advisors.
• Backbone of Masters in Clinic Physiology.
….and only after all this did he take on his first individual client. Respected and successful coaches don’t just arrive.
Advice to the new triathlete: Choose and hire a swim coach as carefully as you would a doctor for surgery on your child, using the same prudence. Seek someone with history in the sport who works full-time at the job. It’s helpful if they have both a swimming and coaching background, with successful experience coaching open water. If they were not a swimmer or swimming coach before, then be cautious. Find out if they had long-term mentoring from a bona fide swim coach or triathlon coach, and whether they have continued their education.
The horizon: Fortunately, with triathlon becoming an Olympic sport in 2000, more substantive coaches are entering the space, raising the present mark of swim coaching and triathlon coaching in general. There are many good swim coaches for triathletes; unfortunately, many do not publish. Here are some examples worth following when they do publish: Swim Smooth; Jim Vance; Mike Collins; Joel Filliol; Brett Sutton; Matt Dixon. These coaches together, along with a few others, are the future for triathlon swimming.
3. What the most common swimming mistake people make?
There are several, but probably at the top of the list is the athlete who swims straight for 20-40 minutes, a couple of times a week. Next would be those who subscribe to all those conventional “pool” drills such as side kicking, switch drills, sculling, and consistent bilateral third stroke breathing. These are possibly appropriate drills, but generally administered to an inappropriate audience or prescribed at inopportune times in an athlete’s development.
4. What drills/training tools give athletes the most bang for their buck AND is it true that people can do too many drills?
Given the limited time budget for triathletes, many spend way too much time doing the traditional “pool” drills mentioned. It’s almost a waste of time. I’ve observed beginners kicking on their sides, almost drowning; complete torture, too advanced, and a real waste of learning time. Just swim! Build some specific muscular endurance for a month (10-12 one hour sessions), and then you’re better able to receive technical feedback.
Get yourself a swim snorkel, a pull buoy, a pair of fins and an ankle strap. Here’s the package: http://www.theswimmall.com/package.php?package_id=TheSwimMall
Some will need a tempo trainer, to rid themselves of the catch-up like swimming called “front quadrant swimming” they were taught or read. It slows their stroke rate down and is the absolute slowest form of swimming for a non-competitive, inexperienced participant. It’s also “old school” not meeting the needs for the modern day open water swimmer.
5. You are known as an open water swimming expert. Are there differences between pool swimming and open water swimming technique? For example, breathing technique, stroke rate etc.
Think of open water swimming as the peloton in a bike race, utilizing different skills and tactics than the time trial athlete. Think of pool swimming as a bike time trial or a 400 track run race. They are different animals, thus requiring different training specificity and familiarity.
For open water, one needs familiarity and a massive amount of skills for mass starts, pack swimming, frequent sighting, drafting, navigational, varying speeds, varying stroke rates, athletic IQ helps, and some tactical techniques. These all need practice prior to racing.
Regarding technique, do less of the conventional drills; swim more with enforcement of body tautness and alignment using your snorkel. Kick less; learn to lift your head while keeping proper body positioning. Have very specific training workouts. Do at least some fast swimming in every workout!
6. Can pool workouts be tailored towards open water swimming/skills? If so could you give us some examples?
There are some masterful and imaginative coaches who devise excellent POW (pool-open-water) sessions. Examples are: pace-line swimming, frequent sighting, fast 30 – 60 sec swims at the beginning of repeats, deck-ups, pack swimming without lane lines, buoys in the pool mimicking open water racing, mass start practices, and anything that a coach can create that helps their athlete gain familiarity with their new environment. It works! Here is a testimonial worth sharing from Leah Graham on her 2011 Vineman IM swim:
“I finished the swim in 1:06:40 and to be honest it was pretty easy peasy thanks in LARGE part to you and Tower 26!
I never would have thought the swim would be my best event because I consider myself a runner, but as it turns out the swim trumped both the bike and run! Honestly the training from you and the tower 26 team TOTALLY paid off. I got in the water calm and confident knowing exactly how to pace, sight, and create a clear spot to swim. I got bumped around at the start and it didn’t even phase me, in fact, I bumped right back. I swam through three waves of dudes holding my composure. This is a HUGE difference from this past April at Oceanside 70.3. At that start I got bumped, panicked, literally thought to myself “you can’t do this, what are you thinking being here?” Then I proceeded to swim to the WAY outside and then all over the place just trying to stay away from people. This time around I sighted every 10 strokes, hugged the buoys, knew exactly where I was and paced a perfect 33 minutes on each lap. I jogged outta the water a happy girl. Thank you!!!”
7. You’ve helped a lot of high level athletes like Chris Foster turn their swimming weakness into strength. What was the key ingredient(s) to Chris’s and others success?
Chris made significant improvements in the time we worked together; he’s a very hard worker and a remarkable young man. He has a new triathlon coach these last 18 months, and will improve further if he continues enhancing his mechanics.
Another good example would be Jesse Thomas, winner of Wildflower. Jesse is coached by Matt Dixon. Matt sent him to me in late summer 2010; I made some technical stroke changes and he was sent off with the correct prescription for him which was implemented by Matt, then set on a two year voyage. The former 1:25/100 or 29 minutes ½ IM athlete is now a 1:09/100 swimmer or 24:30 ½ IM. He’ll be swimming 1:05/100 soon enough, which will get him in contact with most lead packs. Matt did a terrific job with him.
Success comes from the correct combination of technical enhancements, appropriate training volume, a progressive training road map, intensity, and specific muscular strength and endurance. Every athlete needs a formula specific to them.
8. A lot of triathletes neglect the swim because it is the shortest portion of the race. Can becoming a better swimmer improve your bike or run split in a triathlon?
Interesting question without a clear answer, and one perhaps better answered by a triathlon coach. But, my 30 years of triathlon sport exposure and coaching background tell me that there should be carry-over benefits to both riding and running. The cost of improper swimming preparation in terms of wasted effort is high, which likely hurts the ride and run segments. I have also experienced athletes who were injured from running, focused on swim training as a result, and then went on to run their best marathons in an IM. Although there may be other contributing factors, it seems there are immeasurable benefits.
Triathlon is not Swim….Bike….Run. It is SwimBikeRun; one sport!
9. There have been a lot of running and cycling trends. For example, barefoot running… Are there any swimming trends that you are aware of and if so, are any worth paying attention to?
Trends are like stocks, they go in and out of favor. Think practical: what skills do I need; how do I acquire them; with what frequency do I practice them; what’s the right workout complexion for me at this particular time in my evolution. Keep it simple, but specifically be mindful that every triathlete is an open water swimmer.
10. Do you work with swimmers not in the LA area? If so, how can swimmers connect with you?
Many pros, accomplished, capable and developing athletes come visit us. All our information can be found on our web site at: http://tower26.com/ together with some of our training plans at www. http://www.purplepatchfitness.com/
I do some remote consultation via phone or Skype, reviewing a swim file and an athlete’s swim regime, commenting and giving a recipe for that individual.
11. You’ve been directing the swimming portion of the purplepatch triathlon camps hosted by Matt Dixon. What is on the horizon with regards to clinics and camps, and how can people get involved?
Matt Dixon is a true professional and someone I hold in high esteem. He is the perfect example of many things right in triathlon swimming as indicated earlier by his resume. Even with his extensive competitive swimming, and swim coaching background he still shepherds his athletes to seek outside swim counsel. Hopefully other coaches follow his path thus benefiting athlete, coach and sport.
Matt is hosting a Kona camp in February at which I’ll direct the swim instruction. We are running another camp this summer in Santa Monica, and I’ll be hosting monthly clinics in Los Angeles from February through summer. Matt runs two weekly swim classes in Northern Cal, while Tower 26 runs daily triathlon specific swim workouts in Santa Monica, CA. All information can be found on our respective websites.
12. What’s the most important thing every swimmer should make sure they do every time they swim?
I’m uncertain there is one key thing since different folks may require varying prescriptions at differing athletic progressions, but some of the nuggets were answered in question 5. Recognize that doing many small things consistently usually results in big gains.
13. Who are some of the pros you have coached?
Not many on a consistent basis, as we coach mainly age group and amateur triathletes, although Matt has sent many pros on his roster to me, or I coached them at a camp or in private sessions. http://www.purplepatchfitness.com/professional-athletes
Many of Siri Lindley’s athletes attend my weekly beach workouts during the summer: http://www.siri-lindley.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=81&Itemid=118
Outstanding Boulder, CO running Coach Bobbie McGee sends athletes my way: http://www.bobbymcgee.com/home.html
A few other coaches such as Mac Brown, Mike Collins, Brian Stover, Lara Brown, Marilyn McDonald, Tim Crowley, and others have all sent athletes for review or consults on individual technique, knowing they’ll receive the right prescription for them.
14. Any last words?
It would be powerful for athletes and coaches if the National Governing Bodies of USA Swimming, US Masters Swimming and USA Triathlon could forge a cooperative effort toward sharing their information and coaching programs. Presently, but controversially and surprisingly to many, USA Triathlon’s athletes and coaches have more open water experience than USA Swimming and US Masters swimming. The latter won’t admit it, and the former has yet to seek the conventional pool knowledge from its predecessors.
There are too many inexperienced coaches teaching swimming in the sport. They have read a swim book, watched a dvd, or received a Triathlon coaching certificate thinking that qualifies them. Too many athletes drown in their misinformation. Then there are true professional coaches like Matt Dixon, Tim Crowley and others who recognize the value of exposing their athletes to specialist. Search these coaches for your triathlon needs.