Finding your Blind Spots – Improving your Triathlon in the Offseason

Finding your Blind Spots – Improving your Triathlon in the Offseason

IMG_6786Last week I rented a small SUV while I was at the Long Course World Championships in Oklahoma City, OK.   Normally I rent compact or economy cars because they’re less expensive and I don’t have a need for a lot of cargo room.  But invariably, by the end of my trip my back and neck are tired and sore from the low, molded seats that these cars usually come with.  So on the spur of the moment I upgraded to an SUV.  My back was really really happy with that decision!   But I had two close calls while driving on the highway, trying to switch lanes and noticing that there was a car in my blind spot.

I’m used to the blind spots on my own vehicle, and therefore know where and when to look and for how long before I switch lanes.  I was a bit surprised to have this happen twice…once on my right and once on my left in this rental SUV.  It didn’t take more than one occurrence though, because as soon as I knew there was a blind spot and where, I knew to look for it before switching lanes.

Improvement Requires some Type of Feedback

Normally in order to locate your blind spots you need some type of external feedback.  Hopefully it’s not a car accident that becomes your first warning a car was too close to you. Typically I look in my mirrors, rear view, then side view, then finally I turn my head to check for anyone there…in that blind spot that I’m used to.  IN this new car, I had to look further back and for a second longer.  But once I knew it was there, it became routine to check and I had no further close calls over the weekend.

Applying “Blind Spot Reduction” to Triathlon Training

How does this story apply to triathlon training?  WE all have blind spots in our own preparation for the sport.  Whether it’s a fitness blind spot (Doing only long slow distance and no intervals?), possibly a sport balance blind spot (you like running the most, so you skip all your bike rides?), or often a technique or skill blind spot (not sure when to shift gears, or how to smooth out your swim stroke?)

A blind spot means we can’t see it.  We need some type of external feedback to identify it.  So chances are, unless you train often with a variety of friends, hire a skills or technique coach, or sit down with someone to review your training and preparation you may not know where your blind spots are.

I can guarantee one thing, though…if you can locate them, they will almost automatically improve!  Just like my rental SUV story.    Once I knew they were there, they became a non-issue.

How to Find your Own Blind Spots (Hint: If you already know about them, it’s not a blind spot!)

If you become aware that you preferentially skip bike rides to go for a trail run, then maybe you’ll be more inclined to get in an extra trainer ride this winter or sign up for a spinning class.  Pay for it ahead of time or buy a punch card, and you’ll be more likely to go.

Even if you enjoy swimming and feel skilled, seek out a qualified swim coach in your area, or someone who can do video analysis from good quality submissions…and get some outside feedback on your stroke.

How to Specifically Ask for Outside Help

Take a swim or run clinic.  Ride with a different group of people.  Join a local tri club’s weekly fitness session.  All of these are ways to get objective feedback especially if you ask for it!   How do you ask for feedback?  Just pick out someone who seems confident and comfortable, or perhaps there is a coach attending and let them know your concerns.  Ask questions like:

  • Can you watch me shift during these rolling hills and let me know if I’m using my gears appropriately?
  • My right shoulder gets sore when I swim longer than 1/2 mile, especially when I am forced to breath left.  Can you take a look at what could be contributing?
  • I can’t seem to increase my pace when I try to run intervals. Can you let me know if you see anything that could be causing an issue?

You don’t have to know the answers, and you also don’t need to Know what your blind spots are.  You only need to be aware that all of us have them.   Blind spots are even easier than weak spots to address, because the simple act of becoming aware of them opens up all sorts of avenues to create lasting improvements.

 

I’d love to hear from you.  What kind of blind spots have you discovered in the past? How did you address them?

2016 Age Group National Championships, Omaha, NE

Age Group Nationals Summary …

Steel City Endurance had FOUR athletes represented at the Age Group national championships just two weeks ago (the same time the Olympics were going on, making it doubly exciting!

Michelle Johnson McClenahan and Kirsten Ingeborg Sass both competed in the  Olympic & Sprint Distance races held on Saturday an Sunday, both are coached by Coach Suzanne.   Matthew Martino amd Richard Albertson lined up for their start at the Olympic distance race Saturday morning, both Matt & Rich are coached by Coach Michale Bauer.

In our Midst, a National Champion x 2 (Overall and Age Group)

The big story of the weekend is the remarkable accomplishments of Kirsten Sass, named the 2015 Triathlon of the Year and Duathlete of the year (first time ever one athlete has received both awards).  Kirsten finished 1st in her age group and 2nd overall in the Olympic Distance Race on Saturday.  The next day she finished 1st again in her age group, as well as first place OVERALL in the sprint distance race, beating the 2nd place finisher by just 3 seconds!

Want to Swim Like an Olympian? Then Avoid the “Crossover Effect”

You can learn something from 100m sprinter Simone Manuel or distance specialist Katie Ledecky, regardless of which one of these remarkable women is your hero.

Streamlining and drag reduction in the water helps us conserve forward momentum because water is 800 times more dense than air.  Anything you can do at any point of the stroke to become more streamlined, even as you’re trying to swim faster, will allow you to swim better, with less energy. Why? because slowing down is what humans do best in the water!   Staying fast means paying attention to small details…for example, the “crossover effect”.

The Crossover Effect is Human

The Crossover effect occurs because of the way our shoulder joint is oriented, and the fact that we are used to operating in our daily lives with our arms reaching, holding and manipulating objects directly in front of us.   When we turn our upper body, we are usually still operating in the frontal plan, or the plane that divides your body into a front half and a back half.  the shoulders lift the arms forward and typically our arms stay in front of us most of the time.

Picture things like typing, driving, cooking, cycling, having a conversation with someone (arms folded or hands in front pockets) as typical things we do.  We carry this habituated position of the arms into swimming and as a result, while you don’t feel like you’re crossing your arms in front of you, the effect is that arms cross midline of your direction of travel.
This is a key point, and the reason it’s so difficult to correct…your arms are still in front of you when you crossover in swimming.  The crossover effect is that you direct your energy diagonally instead of the direction you really want to go!  How frustrating, right? Believe me I know.   But sometimes you don’t know you’re doing it until you see a video or photo of yourself, or have someone physically make that correction for you.

Olympians Eliminating the Crossover Effect (this is the slick arm trick)

Here are two examples from the 2016 Olympics, Katie Ledecky in the first photo, and Simone Manuel in the 2nd photo.

 

Their arms are extended parallel to the lane rope, right? The arm is aligned, no crossover.  The effect of arm aligned, is that momentum continues forward.   However look at where their sternums are directed, and look at their body rotation.

Now imagine those activities I mentioned previously…driving, typing, shaking someones hand.  If Simone Manuel were autographing a gold medal photograph at this moment instead of swimming, her left arm would be pointed way over towards the right edge of the photo in a diagonal direction, right?

Her arms would be “in front” of her chest, or directed to the right, since her body is rotated to the right.

Weird, huh?

How does she do that?

When the body is actively rotating in freestyle (or backstroke), the lead arm aligned requires you to have the sensation that your arm is kind of off to the side a bit, even sticking out.  Visualize yourself in their rotated positions in the pool…now hold your arm above your head and visualie where hte surface of the water and where the lane rope would be.  Can you get your arm lined up with the lane rope? It will feel far off to the side.

Avoiding the crossover effect is one easy trick you can practice while standing in the mirror so that you start to develop your Olympians freestyle stroke!

How else can you practice it? I wrote a book all about it !

In Fresh Freestyle: 99 Practices for triathletes and swimmers, we included specific focus on alignment and eliminating crossover.

Practices 10 from Coach Celeste, 36 from Coach Dinah and 68 from Coach Suzanne inFresh Freestyle address these skills.

Give these practices a try and let us know how it goes! if you need a copy of Fresh Freestyle to give it a try, you can order it here: https://www.createspace.com/5523934

In the meantime, don’t try to sign any autographs while swimming, things will get messy and you’ll avoid the crossover effect!

Testing My Limits at the Duathlon National Championships

Duathlon National Championships – Bend, Oregon.

Tested the limits big-time. Beautiful city, challenging course, great competition, wonderful time meeting up with old friends and making new ones, and an absolutely fantastic job by USAT, Tim Yount, and the Duathlon Team putting on a top-notch event.

If you can run and ride a bike – make this your goal for 2017. Go to Bend. Test yourself. It will be worth it!

Sunday morning, waiting for my flight home, I met a girl (Kirby Heindel Adlam) whose 2nd duathlon EVER was the world championships in Spain. Now THAT is incredibly inspiring. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The opportunity is yours for the taking – why not seize it with both hands!?!?!

I am thankful beyond words for my husband, Jeffery M Sass (most of you know as Elvis), who is my constant support and cheered tirelessly all day for everyone out there competing; for my family who watched the children so we could pursue this adventure; my awesome coach (Suzanne Atkinson) of Steel City Endurance who has put up with multiple texts and questions and always has the right answer; to Raceday Transport (goracedaytransport.com) who got my bike from Spain to Bend so all I had to do was show up at the event and my bike was ready to ride (I cannot even begin to say what a fantastic job they do, definitely worth checking out!);

Bobby McGee – what I learned from him in running was all that got me through that second race (whew!); UCAN nutrition also saved me for that second race, Lynn Greer for the awesome new race suit/helmet/shoes/all my biking needs; to John Lines for all the support and encouragement; and to ALL of you who cheered from near and far – you keep me going!!!! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!Du Nats Sprint Start2016 Kirsten&ElvisBend2016 Du Nats Finish-Bend OR Sass Du Nat Champ 2015
?#?USATDU? ?#?steelcityendurance? ?#?UCAN? ?#?kask? ?#?fizik? ?#?racedaytransport??#?testyourlimits? ?#?Elvis? ?#?ilovemybike? ?#?hills? ?#?lifeisgood?

What I learned about Swimming from Muhammed Ali

MuhammadAliLast weekend I participated as a guest coach with Dinah Mistillis of Discovery Aquatics to help teach a two – day swim clinic.   Dinah asked me to lead a 15 minute talk that was a condensed version of my  “Every Day Skills for World Champions” talk that I gave in Minneapolis as  keynote speech for the Total Immersion Coaches Summit in May.

For this open water clinic I chose three key skills to share with the dozen swimmers present on Sunday. My first key skill was “Plan a Map to Your Success.”  In order to plan your way to success in swimming or triathlon, you need to know of course where you are now, and where you want to go.

In the context of open water swimming, recognition of problem areas might included open water anxiety, difficulty swimming in a wetsuit, trouble sighting in open water,  that pesky left hand that smacks the water…this list can get really long!  It’s easy at this point for swimmers to feel overwhelmed.

The reality is that each of these skill and mindfulness issues takes time to address.  While Dinah and I were discussing this, she shared a quote with me…eerily this was the day before Muhammed Ali passed away.

It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe. Muhammed Ali

3x Heavyweight Boxing World Champion

In these swim camps and workshops, we typically have a set order of skills to present to our athletes, and we present them in a logical building order that allows each skill to build on the next.  But even if the athlete is 95% competent in a foundational skill such as head position, for example, the review allow that athlete to find any pebbles or grains of sand that may be interfering with a better execution.

There are probably bigger pebbles or grains of sand as well, and at some point, the pebbles become rocks or boulders which are simply too big to be addressed in one lesson, one trip to the pool, and at times, even one training block or season.

I used this quote in our clinic and it was well received, and then I investigated the origin of the quote.  It was used by Muhammed Ali, but it also appeared in military literature 50 years prior to his use of it.

An early appearance of this quote also included several other inspirational admonitions alongside of it:

It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it is the grain of sand in your shoe.

Back up your ideas with courage that will not back down, and there will be no way too long, no road too rough.

The reason most men and women do not accomplish more is that they do not attempt more.

My takeaway from this quote parallels what I’ve learned in my own journey of becoming a better swimmer, triathlete and coach:  be courageous and one by one you’ll remove every obstacle in your way.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes, or how difficult it seems, you and I have the skills and tools we need to improve bit by bit…one pebble out of the way a ta time.  We can accomplish far more not only as triathletes, but as individuals than we think we can because we often don’t even attempt to do something more.

 

Monitoring Your Injury During Recovery–Tips from Halle Frederiksen

Coach Suzanne leading a skills clinic while wearing a walking boot!

Coach Suzanne leading a skills clinic while wearing a walking boot!

It is important to monitor your progress through an injury so as to know where you stand. This is made much easier once you start monitoring yourself while healthy so that you have something to compare it to. When you are injured, monitor how you feel every day. In general, how do you feel doing different tasks, at different times of the day. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to monitor how you’re feeling and set goals for yourself.

  • Recovering from an injury requires dedication and hard work for a triathlete in order to get back on track
  • When one is injured,monitoring what aggravates the injury, how it is recovering, and what hurts or doesn’t hurt is important to track and look back on progress.
  • The best way to improve when one is healthy is by monitoring ones progress,  which may be done through software like Trainingpeaks.com (not an affiliate link, although I do use them).

As I write this, I am edging my closer to a start line. My body is close to full health and as my fitness builds, soon it will be race time again. Nothing excites me more than the thought of battling with the best in the world. But how did I get here? How did I, and so many others, get through such a long period of injury?

Helle Frederiksen

Professional triathlete and current holder of the fastest half-distance time by a female 3:55:50

Kirsten Sass Team USA, Duathlon World Championships 2016

Kirsten sass duathlon world championshipsGood luck to Kirsten Sass, Steel City Endurance  athelte coached by Suzanne Atkinson in this weekends Duathlon World Championships in Aviles, Spain.

Kirsten earned her spot in Team USA by winning last years sprint and standardized Duathlon National championships on the same day!

Kirsten entered 2015 wanting to improve her running form and dedicated herself to both technique as well as training. Running transformation camp with Bobby McGee early in the season set the stage for her to not only improve her form, but also quickly improve her post bike speed and resiliency in run training.

Her “secret” run training included short post bike race bricks. Not simply doing a hard bike ride followed by a trainig brick, but competing in road bike and time trial races (often winning) and then immediately doing a quick 10-15 minute run.

These sessions forced her to learn leg turnover after digging deep in a race effort not just a hard trainig effort. The difference may seem subtle but it’s significant.

Kirstens training also included progressive training blocks that built strength, leg speed, neuromuscular connections and of course overall fitness.

Her run improvements since her stress fracture in 2013 have been from a long term planning arc, and not from a need or desire to hit a specific pace at a specific time in her season.

This is is the true result of process over outcomes…competing with team USA at the World Championships.

Good luck Kirsten!!

4 Keys for Open Water Swimming this Spring

Open Water Swimming & Spring Triathlon Season is here!

DonSwimMorgantown09The first local triathlons are coming up soon and our local club membership kickoff is right around the corner. This summer two local to the Pittsburgh and Eastern Ohio area lakes will have organized open water swimming for triathletes including safety boats as well as buoy marked courses set up.  It’s my favorite time of the year!

I’ve invited my fellow Fresh Freestyle author & Total Immersion Master coach Dinah Mistillis of Discovery Aquatics in Moorsville, NC to share some of her insights with you and I.  Dinah has distinct advantage as a triathlon & open water swim coach of living right on a lake with an endless pool in her ground floor.

Are you getting the picture?   Take a day trip to Moorsville, spend a  Saturday doing a 90 minute endless pool session, have a snack then go straight out on the lake to put your open water skills into practice.  What an ideal setup for triathletes! Dinah your swimmers are lucky to have you there.

Here is Coach Dinah’s post…and if you read to the end you’ll also find information for our local open water swim events you can put on your training calendar.

It’s heating up!

dinahMistillisMugThis time of year is wonderful! The air is getting to be that perfect day time temperature and the lake water is not far behind. Open water racing is underway and the first local triathlons have been completed. Last week also saw Discovery Aquatics athletes swimming at the USMS National Masters competition in Greensboro NC. So much swimming to be done!

If you have taken a break from swimming that is okay too.Most of us will take a break from swimming at some point. It may be a few weeks, months or longer between swims. Making the decision to head back to the water is the first step. Now, what to do when you get there?

Take these ideas with you to make the first swim back enjoyable, purposeful and successful so that you will want to do it again. and again. and again!

1. Relax Into It – choose a warm up distance and pace that is a comfortable for you. The goal here is to find relaxed exhalation and inhalation, and to keep the body tension free. Use this time to make a connection with your environment by stimulating your senses – what do you see, hear and feel?

It may be 4×25 repeated 3 times, or 6×50, or 3-5 x 100, or a 300, or a 500. Make it your practice from the start by feeling what your body can do comfortably.

2. Find a Focus – training yourself to think about swim technique in all of your practices is important. Start in this practice by repeating your warm up distance, this time with one swim focus in mind.

You may recall the focus from previous coaching, or from watching a swim video, or self assessing your stroke, or by watching graceful swimmers at the pool. Make it your practice by feeling the focal point and holding the thought and form for this set.

3. Add Some Speed – just enough to wake up your neuromuscular and cardiovascular systems. Choose some short distance repeats, a series of 25s or 50s and pick up the pace. Keep the focus from the second set and allow yourself recovery time between each repeat.

4. Warm Down and Reflect – round out your first swim back with an easy relaxed warm down. Use this time to congratulate yourself and to reflect on the swim. What went really well today? What can you improve? and….When will you be back for the next swim?

Coach Dinah

Thanks coach Dinah! We always love your insight.

 

2016 Summer Open Water Swimming Opportunities in SW PA

Keystone-_Lake_1Here is information for the local open water swims in our area of southwestern PA and southeastern Ohio.   Be sure to put these on your calendar and note what the requirements & costs are.

The first opportunity is at Keystone State Park with a series of four monthly swims by No Boundaries Fitness.  Each swim day has two start times, 10AM & 11AM. Show up for the first, or the second or for both.  Safety kayaks will be present.

The second opportunity is weekly Monday night swims at Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park.  These are set up by Joella Baker of Get Fit Families.   In addition to the ‘open house’ swim setup, she has several open water races on her calendar as well.  Joella’s swims have become something I look forward to every summer.  Whether you swim 200 yards or 2 miles, it’s so gorgeous to swim in the setting sun on the lake with the safety of a marked course and plenty of kayaks.  Usually after I swim I’ll hop in a boat to do some coaching as well.

This summer I’ll be doing some mini open water clinics in conjunction with her swims as well.  If you’d like to be notified of those events, please take a moment to fill out this contact form.

 

Fresh Freestyle: 99 Practices for Triathletes & Swimmers

Fresh Freestyle Cover

Looking for more practice ideas?  Pre-order my book of 99 Swim Practices for Swimmers & Triathletes.  Fresh Freestyle, a refreshing way to approach your freestyle practice. Fresh Freestyle is perfect for new swimmers, fitness swimmers and triathletes. This collection of progressive technique based practices will have you swimming with focus, ease, confidence and speed.

 

Now taking pre-orders at a discount, with shipping expected by May 31st, 2016

Can I qualify for the Boston Marathon?

During today’s running of the 120th Boston Marathon, one of my former athletes sent me a message on facebook.  “Do you think with coaching I can qualify for the Boston Marathon?”

This video was my short answer to him, basically, it depends on what your training has looked like at the time you’ve set PRs for various distances.   Watch the video for a longer explanation. I’ll continue to provide more insight on what the different factors may be in a series of “Can I BQ?” videos!

1000 Meter Freestyle Workouts for Triathletes

suzSwimUW1000 Meter Freestyle Workouts for Triathletes

Whether you are looking to swim a sprint distance or an Iron distance triathlon, having a few “goto” 1000 meter or 1000 yard freestyle workouts will help keep you from getting into a rut when training.   For the long course triathletes, do these 1000 meter/yard sets 2 or even 3 times through to cover the distance needed in your training.

Creating a Mini-Project Accelerates Your Progress

You can use these sets to create mini projects or tasks to challenge yourself. It is a great way to stay engaged with your swimming and take control over your own training plan.

For example, a 1000 yd improvement project may look like a sequence of 3 sessions cycled through for 3-6 rounds before retesting.  You can use these 1000 meter/ yard sets as the main set, add a 500yd tuneup or warmup to swim exactly 1500m (a swimmers mile).  If you are swimming in a yard pool, just add on a 150 yard cool-down for an imperial version of the swimmers mile (1650 yards)

If you are looking for a main set that’s longer, such as 2000 or 3000 yards or meters, you can repeat the main set, or combine two of these into one practice.

Suppose you’re looking for 2000yd main sets, you could take these three suggestions below, each at 1000 meters/yards and to them in any of 3 combinations (1 & 2, 2 & 3, 1 & 3).  Rotate through these combos for a unique set of 3 main sets, each having a set that you do twice before taking a break from it.  There are a lot of ways to customize this practice idea.

Here are sample 1000 meter practices sets for you to play with

Pre-project test set: favorite warmup, 1000yd TT with splits & stroke counts, cooldown

Swim #1: 5 x 200

Swim #2: 10 x 100

Swim #3: 5 sets of 4×50

For each of these swims you can choose some element to improve like…consistent SPL across all sets, or consistent tempo (use a tempo trainer). When you gain or if you already have good control, manipulate a variable…like 5 x 200 swimming the first 50 at one SPL, the next 100 at SPL + 1 and the last 50 at SPL + 2. This should result in a build within each 200.

Vary the rest intervals to create a bit of variety. Since the 200s are more aerobic, keep the RI short in that practice. Since the 50s *can* be anaerobic, maybe choose to swim descending 50s with 30 sec rest, rest 2 minutes and repeat that 4 more times.

Then you cycle back to the 5 x 200 set and have some comparison…choose 1 metric to try and improve.

After 3 cycles of this…whether you swim every day, every other day or 2 times a week…you go back to your 1000yd TT and by that time you should KNOW before you swim it that you’ve improved based on metrics from the previous sets.

Maintain Focus on Form and Skill During this time as well.

Be sure to toss in at least 1 swim, possibly 2, of un-timed, form only swim sets, other strokes, or a team workout for variety. Or a water aerobics class.

Comment below with how you are using these sets!

For more ideas on creating swimming improvement projects, check Terry Laughlin’s  Swim Well blog, or check the Total Immersion website forums as well.

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