Archive for September, 2011

if you didn’t catch the triathlon beginner post PART 1, and you want to add more triathlon distance, then you may want to check that out.  In part one, I mentioned three key aspects of being comfortable in the water, and dealt with some of the psychological aspects of water comfort.  Today, we will deal with my specialty, the physical aspect of swimming ease.

Not all bodies are they same in the water.  You may have noticed that fish and rhino’s have different bodies, which makes a tremendous difference in the two species swimming abilities.  So what makes a human body do well in the water?  Certainly strength and endurance play a part, which a good conditioning program can help us with, but what other factors are there!

Would you believe me if I told you flexibility?

A flexible triathlete? Can you do this?

Well you should, because it’s huge.  Flexibility can affect stroke length, kicking technique, plane of your body in the water, power generation, ease of breathing, and water balance/ agility.  Wow right?  Who would have thought.

So those stiff as a board endurance athlete bodies don’t really help you swim like a dolphin, get over it because flexibility can change like Gaga’s fashion statements.  How to change your bodies flexibility is too big a topic for this post, but I can tell you which movements will help.

It goes without saying that shoulder movement is key, but what most people don’t know is that shoulders often lack the outer 25 to 30 degrees of motion that would make a big difference for swim success and safety.

Trunk rotation is huge for water balance, breathing, and developing an efficient kick.  About the efficient kick, don’t underestimate the importance of your legs in swimming.  Another leg motion that can help is Abduction, or out to the side flexibility, especially for breast stroke and treading water.

Flutter kick needs decent mobility of the structures on the front and back of the hip joint.  Finally, backward bending of the spine is really helpful to being at home in the water.

You see, to move in water we need to move like water, with flow.  Flow is only possible with technique and flexibility.  We will cover some technical aspects in the next triathlon beginner post and help you add even more triathlon distance (part 3).

Being at home in the water is a significant barrier to experienced endurance athletes moving over into the world of the triathlon beginner.  Lets face it, a lot of runners and bikers didn’t grow up in competitive swimming and because of that, they float like petrified cork.  

It should be said that comfort with the water is equal parts technique, physique, and psychology.  

Why don’t we look these factors in reverse, starting with psyche.  When you are afraid, or even just nervous, it affects the natural flow and rhythm of how you push water.  It makes you breath more shallow which then affects your bouyancy.  Also, it destroys your endurance by frightening you into working the water too hard.  

Even a good swimmer can drown when terrified, such as in a real life survival situation.  We all know that the first thing you should do in an emergency is to stay Calm.  

So how do we prepare our mind?  A few ways really.  With any new skill aquisition, swimming included, it is important to remember that the pacing and the progressions of the tasks you do to learn are vital.  If progressions are dosed wrong, and the learning doesn’t occur quick enough, the athlete becomes stressed and they are on their way to developing a “mental block.”

Consider a gymnast learning dangerous skills on high flying apparatus, if their coach were to advance them too quickly and let them fall too hard or too often, what would happen to the athletes level of trust and security?  The same could be said for golf or any other sport.  

With swimming, I would also suggest gradual progression.  Plan it, take your time to be at home in the water.  Have fun with the process.  If you don’t like your cold pool, find a warmer one.  If chlorine makes you wanna barf, find an outdoor or a saltwater pool.  If water in your eyes makes you lose your sense of calm, get better goggles.  If open water swimming makes you imagine how a lurking fish might view your wiggly (tasty) toes, swim in a pool until you can get over your phobia.  

Tell yourself that you are at home in the water, be positive.  Say it so you can play it, or in this case race it.  Visualize yourself swimming free and safe, like that mutant freak of a character Kevin Costner played in  the movie Waterworld, which by the way was a better movie than people gave it credit for.  Mental rehearsal can be incredibly helpful in familiarizing you with a foriegn task.  Use it to excel.

The final secret is fun.  Have fun with water.  Log some hours of goofball games and luxuriant bliss in water up to your knees, waist or your neck.  It doesn’t matter as long as it’s wet.  If you get bored of water, try whip cream (not really).  Have fun and learn about water the way a swim kid would, through play.

That should give you some ideas for dealing with the psychology of being comfortable in the water.  Consider this part one of three of being at home in the water for the triathlon beginner.  I will deal with Parts 2 and 3 in future posts.  Leave a comment and share your insight with the world.

Training your body takes time, doesn’t it?  And we’re up for that.  We’re tough enough to pay our dues, and put in the miles.  But wouldn’t it be nice to find a way that we can give ourselves an instant advantage, right now!?  Hello yeah!

The concept of power in athletics is, in my opinion, viewed somewhat incompletely.  The basics are easy. Exert a great deal of force (strength) over a short span of time (speed), and the result is power.  So in other words:

       Strength      +     Speed     =     Power

So we develop power by developing strength (muscle size), and by working on speed.  There are other factors as well, but lets keep this simple for now.  Okay, why would an endurance athlete want power?  In short, because power moves your carcass well … As opposed to not well.

If you can’t generate power, you cannot swim, bike, or run with efficient and proper technique.  You see, sports are about power.  The people that are good at sports are those that have learned to produce and utilize power.  Often the easy way, is the powerfull way.  Consider olympic weight lifting, the most successful athletes at lifting that bar, are the guys or girls that lift it fast and powerfully.

I know what your thinking, triathlon is about endurance right?  Wrong.  It’s about what strength and conditioning coaches call speed-endurance and power-endurance.  The fact is that champion endurance athletes have done a honkin’ pile of speed work.  It is fairly accurate to say that they first develop a fast running stride, swimming stroke, or bicycle pace and then they learn how to sustain it.  I say fairly accurate because in reality, that is still too simple.

Okay, enough about power.  Now you know enough to value it, so let’s move onto the instant advantage that I alluded to earlier.  Let’s see, which one should I share …

... Okay, got it.  We’ll talk about Positions of strength, that’s a useful topic.  What if there was a joint in your body, (a joint which you are ignoring right now), that when it’s in the right position, it makes your arms stronger and your lungs function better.  Strength in your arms could add up to power generation in cycling (imagine hill climbs as an example) as well as in your freestyle swim stroke.  

So what’s the position?  Essentially, the position is good posture.  This position of stability with your shoulder blades down and drawn together is referred to as Power Position of the shoulders.  This position can be optimized for your sport activities relatively quickly with the right exercise protocols ( 2-5 weeks), and the resulting changes in your performance can be exciting.  Is that fast enough for you?

So get your triathlon beginner butt over to Total Outcomes Physio Surrey site  and read more about posture in the coming weeks!

Thanks for reading … Oh yeah, and power to the people, right on.

It was Vince Lombardi that said, “fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

I’ve spoken about how a triathlon beginner’s mental state can affect his physical performance, and why we want to practice good mental toughness principles every day that we train.  What I haven’t touched upon, is how this relationship can work both ways.  

You see, if weak thoughts can make our body weak and tired, then is it also possible that a body that is weak and tired from exertion and physical strain, can make our thoughts weak?  Do you think so, Vince Lombardi thought so.  

Let’s analyse what he said … “Fatigue makes cowards …”  What is a coward but someone who pulls up stakes and retreats, a quitter, a non competitor… Yuck!  Hang on a second, I have to spit.  Nothing less admirable in an athlete that cowardice.  Athletes respect both the winners and the losers, but never the quitter.  

Commander Warf, the big brown Klingon in Star Trek, once said (in a really deep voice), “There is no shame in falling before a superior opponent.” Right on my Klingon brother!  Preach it.

Our sense of compete is really the one and only thing that drives us forward.  Without that sense of compete, our inner drive turns to driving Miss Daisy.  Lombardi, perhaps the most inspirational coach to ever prowl a sideline, gave us both words of warning, as well as a formula for developing the heart of a lion.

The warning is this, in states of exhaustion, we can ALL become cowards and start looking for the way out, so we better expect it, and make ourselves ready for it.  

The heart of a lion formula is this, if we can face our cowardice and push through, we can become truly tough.  The beautiful thing about it is that pushing into fatigue is all we need to challenge our own fears and chisel away the cowardly responses ensconsed in our mortal souls (much easier than fighting dragons).

Beautiful isn’t it.

As a triathlon beginner, we will be facing our limitations every day in training, and sometimes we might ask ourselves why we do it.  Well, here is the answer.  Stay strong.

Don’t get Tire – ed!

So you remember the post on triathlon mental toughness and dissecting a champion triathletes brain?  Well, it’s time for more on that topic.  Not dissecting, but mental toughness…

Both modern scientists and ancient warriors have agreed that personal toughness, or resilience is closly linked to physical conditioning.  This seems strange to many people, including triathlon beginners.  Where one pursuit seems to be all in the mind, and the other seems to be all in the body, it is in fact not true.  When you race, your will races with you, and at times your will races FOR you … Cuz your damn legs sure won’t.

How do we build this undefeatable will?  Well would you believe that physical conditioning is one of the primary ways?  In this sense, triathletes are made to be tough, and training for a tri is a great pathway to toughness.  

If you remember, toughness is about achieving a sense of mental poise that we call achieving I.P.S or ideal performance state.  This would imply ideal arousal level, focus, resting of focus, and emotional control.  We need this to drown out fear of failure and our own sense of quit that offers the temptation of making our lives easier.  With every step it is offered and every turn of the pedal. 

 I.P.S is about seeing challenges as enjoyable obstacles.  Obstacles that merely make life worthy of the untamed caveman or cavelady inside of us.  I.P.S is about “bring it on” and “no fear” and “just do it” and almost every other sport product slogan ever concieved, all rolled into one!

When you learn I.P.S you can start to win.  You don’t need to be angry to push yourself past your barriers anymore, and your feet fly with the exhilaration that competition fuels us with.  Bring on the competition!  Bring on the fear, so I can squish it!  

This will carry you right up until the point where you are ready to achieve the very goal that you dream of.  The point where your fingers are almost brushing up against your dream and it’s a real possibility to grasp it.  At that point you are so very close … and without meaning to be dramatic, you are, in truth, so far…


Because of your self image.  Because of the importance of the goal to you.  Because you’ve looked at others who have achieved that goal (your role models), and felt that they were special.  Having spent month after month admiring the accomplishments of people who have achieved what you really want, it has built the sport psychology equivalent of a brick wall in your mind.  

At the very moment that you have earned the right to compete at the level that you most desire, (and for you, in that moment, the stakes are at their highest) the malignant thoughts of Wayne and Garth creep into our subconscious with a silent scream of “We’re not worthy!”. At that point, the long list of triumphs that we’ve accumulated in coming to that point– Stop … And are followed by the most collosal CHOKE that the world of sport has ever seen.  

The spectators all mutter their armchair comments … “Good athlete, but they choke when it really matters.”  The inability of the athlete to cut the mustard can then follow him like a stigma until one day, the only place where they feel any sense of self worth is at a Star Trek convention.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but the truth is, this can be devastating.  The lesson here is that our accomplishments can only grow as large as our self esteem will allow.  If you believe that you have all the skills and athleticism to play pro hockey, but still see the NHL’ers  as members of an elite and exclusive club for superior people, I would bet that your career will not be spent in the NHL.

Give yourself permission to be as good as your role models, and give your role models permission to be as human as you are.  We are all just athletes that pour our hearts, souls, and will’s into what we do, and we accept the commendations that come with it … But not too proudly, because we know that our trophies are no more than:

Training + Heart  + Dedication over time = Success… Guaranteed… (for you anyways)

Someday I’ll share with you my choking experience, and if you want, feel free to make a comment on yours.  

…Live long and Prosper…

Remember, it isn’t CUTE to choke…

Here’s a smattering of triathlon beginner advice for surviving mass starts.  When you’re just learning to compete in triathlon, it may be wise to take some precautions during mass starts so that your victory photo after the race doesn’t get you mistaken for an NHL hockey player in game 7 of the Stanley cup final.

Here’s my advice, if you are just starting out, find a place in the back of the pack and ideally towards the outside of the first turn to start your race from.  It’s true, starting from that position in the pack isn’t the closest pathway to victory, but it has the advantage of allowing you to avoid the mosh pit that a mass start creates where you get kicked, clawed and sportingly abused. 

Your going to want to stay on your feet for as long as you can as the water gets deeper, then transition to swimming efficiently once the water is deep enough.  Don’t try to swim too early in the shallower water

I would recommend that you learn to breath on both sides when you swim so that you have options if there are waves or splashing racers to one side of you.  Don’t panic, the mosh pit will dissipate soon.  Keep yourself calm so that it doesn’t throw of your pacing and gas you out later in the race.  Ideally you fall into your comfortable stroke as quick as you can, and if you’re on the outside of the first turn, you just might have the space in the water to do that.

Don’t worry, it gets easier.  Let me know if you think this advice seems practical to you.