What are some good VO2 Max Workouts?

Triathlete Cornering on Bike Course at Pittsburgh Triathlon

VO2 max is typically achieved in an all-out effort of 3-8 minutes depending on your genetics and fitness. Outstanding athletes may be able to hold their true VO2 max for a full 8 minutes, but most people cannot.

The whole idea of interval work (at any intensity) is to use shorter sets with rests to add up to a total of more work that you would otherwise, be able to do as a continuous effort. You can reach your VO2 max after about 30 seconds of starting an interval at the appropriate intensity, but after you stop or slow down, our oxygen needs diminish and your heart rate slows, and you are no longer at your VO2 max. When you start your next interval, your “bucket” has only partially emptied depending on the intensity of your rest interval (how low your HR or Power or Vo2 drops during the rest)…which determines how far you need to fill the bucket up again to be back at your Vo2 Max.

So if the goal is to get as much work in as possible at VO2 max
efforts, you can see how shorter, more intense rest intervals would
let you reach your VO2 max effort more quickly once you re-start a
given interval.

So if the goal is to get as much work in as possible at VO2 max
efforts, you can see how shorter, more intense rest intervals would
let you reach your VO2 max effort more quickly once you re-start a
given interval.

So the next question is how long should the intervals be?

Tabata intervals (10 sec max, 20 sec rest) will hit a component of VO2
eventually, but they are really best for anaerobic conditioning.
Billat’s intervals (30 at vo2 max-30 at “rest”) are great for an
introduction to VO2 max efforts for either newbies, or early in the
season, with little worry for injury. In addition, her work has shown
that after a 4-6 week block of VO2 interval work, only 2-3 minutes of
VO2 work per week are required to sustain your gains before they drop
off to far. So you can cycle your VO2 work early in the season and
see some benefits, taper them off in the spring time and resume them
prior to or during race season. Of course, if you can tolerate the
longer intervals (2, 3, 5 minutes or more) at your VO2 max power, you
will pack in the most time at VO2 max.

Finally, about what power to do your intervals at…since by
definition, your 5 minute power is going to be close to your VO2 max
effort (and could only be confirmed with expired gas testing in a
lab), you might as well use that 5 minute power as your target power
for your VO2 intervals.

There’s no right or wrong as long as you are applying physiology
appropriately. The most important part is to have a plan to follow
and be able to measure your progress. Ways of measuring your progress
could be to do a block of VO2 intervals for 4-6 weeks as part of your
regular training with a progression that makes sense, and then measure
either your all out 5 min power again, OR hold your 465W and see how
long you can hold it after the training block.

So if the goal is to get as much work in as possible at VO2 max
efforts, you can see how shorter, more intense rest intervals would
let you reach your VO2 max effort more quickly once you re-start a
given interval.

So the next question is how long should the intervals be?

Tabata intervals (10-sec max, 20-sec rest) will hit a component of VO2
eventually, but they are really best for anaerobic conditioning.
Billat’s intervals (30 at vo2 max-30 at “rest”) are great for an
introduction to VO2 max efforts for either newbies, or early in the
season, with little worry for injury. In addition, her work has shown
that after a 4-6 week block of VO2 interval work, only 2-3 minutes of
VO2 work per week are required to sustain your gains before they drop
off to far. So you can cycle your VO2 work early in the season and
see some benefits, taper them off in the springtime and resume them
prior to or during race season. Of course, if you can tolerate the
longer intervals (2, 3, 5 minutes or more) at your VO2 max power, you
will pack in the most time at VO2 max.

Finally, about what power to do your intervals at…since by
definition, your 5-minute power is going to be close to your VO2 max
effort (and could only be confirmed with expired gas testing in a
lab), you might as well use that 5-minute power as your target power
for your VO2 intervals.

There’s no right or wrong as long as you are applying physiology
appropriately. The most important part is to have a plan to follow
and be able to measure your progress. Ways of measuring your progress
could be to do a block of VO2 intervals for 4-6 weeks as part of your
regular training with a progression that makes sense, and then measure
either your all-out 5 min power again OR hold your 465W and see how
long you can hold it after the training block.

I hope that gives you some more ideas on how to design integrate VO2 max sets into your training.

This article originally appeared on my retired blog, exercisephysiologyMD.com in January of 2009

5 Ways to Become a Better Hill Climber – Bike Training

Make Climbing Hills fun by training specifically for your race or adventure!

Image by moerschy from Pixabay

Recently an athlete asked me the following question:

I’ve noticed that I can pretty much keep up with
people on rides. Except when we hit a hill, I hit a wall.  Thank god
my descending skills are great otherwise I wouldn’t catch up with the
pack!

Any recommendations in terms of training for climbs?  I would like to
work on those at least once a week.

Here is my answer:

You can do several things to train for climbs.

#1 More Overall Power equals Better Climbing

The first is to climb, climb, climb!  Climbing is all about strength to weight (or power to
weight) ratio.  So the more overall power you have the better you will
do on climbs.  Thus any sort of training that raises your threshold
will help with climbing (sweet spot, threshold, VO2).

#2 Climbing Short Fast Hills

Shorter climbs are frequently about anaerobic efforts and the ability
to recover from them quickly.  Especially in Pittsburgh most hills are
only a few minutes long or shorter.  This taps into anaerobic energy
stores.  So doing hill “sprints” at various lengths from 30 seconds up
to 3 minutes with FULL RECOVERY will add an aspect of fitness.
#3 Training to Recover from Short Efforts

As far as recovery from hill-climbing, doing sprints with short
recovery will help you learn to “tolerate” lactic acid and keep riding
when your legs are cooked.

So you can craft a number of different workouts to improve at hills.
#4 Overall Leg Strenght Work (Bodyweight Training)

I think it is also beneficial to work on sheer muscular
strength with bike-specific leg work in a weight room or with body
weight.  Lunges, Bulgarian split squats (rear leg up on a chair, other
leg forward, squat down and up, step-ups, deadlifts, one-legged
deadlifts, etc).

#5  Develop a Solid Core for Climbing 

Don’t forget solid core work.  When climbing the upper body often
comes into play and without a strong core to transmit energy and
stabilize the upper & lower body with one another, you’ll just be a
floppy noodle on the bike.  Sue’s “Core and More” exercises are great
for this. (She also covered the good leg work).

Mixing it all together

I would do core 2-3 times per week, bodyweight leg strength 1-2 times
a week, even progressing to some plyometrics, and finally at least one
day a week focusing on on the bike climbing and strength work, with at
least one long hilly ride on the weekend.

That’s enough workout ideas to keep you busy for a while.
Finally, I’ve talked to many cyclists who simply say that “one day”
they were suddenly good climbers.  It comes as the years of riding add
up and you get stronger and more efficient. Unfortunately, there is no
fast way to become a better climber, but if you are consistent in your
training you will get there!

/* This article was original published on my retired blog excersice physiology, MD on March 18, 2009 */

The Myth of Hypoxic Breathing

Baby (and Adult) Humans cannot breathe underwater

This is a response to a forum post over on Beginner Triathlete about so-called “Hypoxic Breathing” swim drills, and originally appeared on my retired blog, exercisephysiologymd.com on January 17th, 2007

I’m a huge proponent of using terms that accurately reflect the underlying physical changes that occur on a biochemical level when training for triathlon swimming. The words I use as a coach transmit meaning to the athlete that may help reinforce what the benefit is.

That’s why the term “Hypoxic Breathing” does not belong in a swim or triathlon coach’s lexicon. If you ask swimmers, triathletes and many coaches what hypoxic breathing drills are, they’ll respond with answers like:

  • Holding your breath
  • Swimming Underwater (as far as you can)
  • Swimming a length while minimizing breathing
  • Swimming with increasing time between breaths, eg. every 3, every 5 or every 7 strokes

I want to address the first two responses primarily, but principals apply to the latter 2 answers as well.

Firstly, holding your breath prevents CO2 from escaping your lungs. Our body is constantly consuming oxygen and producing CO2 as a waste product. The CO2 builds up much faster than the oxygen is consumed, and needs to be released through the lungs. Holding your breathing causes the CO2 level to build up in your bloodstream. So these sets should really be called “Hypercarbic” sets. “Hyper-” meaning elevated and “-carbic” relating to the carbon dioxide level.

The build-up of Co2 in the lungs while holding your breath stimulates the brainstem and diaphragm to breath. This is the sensation you feel when you hold your breath without exhaling. The lungs start to burn and the urge to breath is irresistible. Breathing is usually involuntary, meaning we don’t think about it and when not thinking about it, don’t have control over it. Our brainstem, spinal cord, and diaphragm will keep the bellows moving no matter what.

But when we voluntarily decide to hold our breath, we are overriding the built-in mechanisms. We can continue to override those mechanisms even when the urge to breath crops up. When trying to stay under the water for a long time, some swimmers and divers will hyperventilate first, in order to lower the CO2 level and delay the urge to breathe. This means that the oxygen in your bloodstream drops lower and lower while the CO2 level takes longer to build up.

However, people have died doing these drills. There is no physiologic benefit from doing them. The name is a misnomer. If you want to swim uninterrupted without worrying about breathing, use a snorkel. The benefit of using a snorkel is that you don’t have to break form when breathing, and can focus on other parts of your swim stroke comes from not having your form break down when you roll (or don’t roll, or lift your head, or claw your way to the surface) to take a breath.

A far, far better solution is to have someone work with you to learn how to breathe properly. The number of strokes you take per breath is irrelevant. There is no right number. You need what you need. The body’s need for oxygen consumption and getting rid of carbon dioxide is dependent upon how much energy you are using and in what form you are using it (aerobic/anaerobic, etc). When I start my swim warmup, I will frequently swim 7 to 9 strokes without breathing only because I am swimming smoothly, I have not gotten my oxygen consumption up by working hard, I am not generating a lot of waste products due to the low effort. When I have the urge to breathe, I breathe. When I am doing long endurance sprints, I may breathe every 2 strokes. When I am rested and doing a single 25-yard sprint, yes, I can do it with no breaths. But not because I am forcing myself to do it. It is because 15-20 seconds of maximum effort requires little oxygen.

A novice swimmer who uses all the energy they have just to stay on the surface of the water will need to breathe every stroke because of the amount of energy they are using.

Do not play with the basic needs of your body.

There is a mantra in Emergency Medical Services:

Air goes in and out,
Blood goes round and round
Pink is good and blue is bad.

That’s all an EMT, Paramedic or Emergency Medicine nurse or physician needs to know in order to resuscitate a patient. If it’s good enough for these professionals, it’s good enough for the recreational swimmer.

Air goes in and out.

Don’t forget it.

Practice it daily. Frequently. You’ll get really good at it.

Freestyle Swim Coaching for Efficiency & Speed

Efficient Triathlon Swimming  Philosophy

Transform Your Skills

After
Before

IMG_5745

Swim coaching manuals from the early 1900s up through the mid 1990s and later have traditionally focused on drills that include kickboards, pullbouys and high volumes swimming as a means to improve.   Coaches who learned to swim during this time period are now in their 40s & 50s and responsible for coaching youth, high school and collegiate athletes, as well as mentoring younger coaches.  That’s why you hear of “traditional instruction” as opposed to more modern and efficient swim instruction.   Coach Terry Laughlin of Total Immersion brought more modern skills to the lay public through his swim camps and books on self coaching.  Inspired by Bill Boomer, new ideas of learning to float and be supported by the water, rather than struggling to stay on the surface, became common place.  Efficiency in swimming skyrocketed when these balance, posture and streamlining ideas began to spread beyond coach boomer’s personal contacts.

By breaking down swim skills into small manageable components and then reassembling, your swimming stroke can be transformed into one that is smooth, enjoyable and faster than you have experienced.   The secrets of speed already lie within your own body and our job is to help you experience and understand how to apply this in your swimming.

Learn to Make Swimming your Favorite Activity

Most swimmers contact me because they want to swim faster…or they want to enjoy swimming more in order to pursue healthy physical activity. Whether you’re a rockstar triathlete or a retiring school teacher or any where on the spectrum of swim speed, you’ll learn to enjoy the PROCESS of learning to swim better.   We make swimming a mindful activity that infuses you with energy, helps you escape from the daily buzz and stress of your life, and incorporates whole body movements in a non-impactful, endurance and stress-reducing pursuit.  AND you’ll swim faster as a result.

 

Make Swimming The Best Part of Your Training Day

SuzSwimCoronadoMany triathletes and exercisers dread the process of getting up for the gym, getting ready, changing and going to do a ‘work out’ for any variety of reasons.  Maybe you’re nodding your head right about now?

By focusing on the process of swimming and getting your mind in the right place to practice gentle movements you’ll find yourself more energized as you learn to swim better.

Through this regular practice you’ll not only become a better and faster freestyle swimmer, but you’ll also begin looking forward to the pool as the best part of your training day.

 

Who Should Take  Swim Lessons from Steel City Endurance?

Triathletes of all levels

From learn to swim and complete your first triathlon, to crossing the finish line to qualify for Kona, both beginner AND elite triathletes can make improvements to their swim.  For the elite athlete, the basic laws of hydrodynamics can get challenging to manage as your speed and skills improve. It seems counter-intutiive, but to maintain progress and get faster at swimming, you need an experienced eye to help show you what you can’t feel or see on your own.

Adult Learn-to-swimmers

Steel City Endurance has a very non-intimidating approach that will ease you ito the water at your own learning speed, helping you gain confidence for your next trip to the beach or snorkeling vacation you’ve always dreamed of.  Improving your relationship with the water helps you be more confident AND safer around any water activity.

Masters Swimmers & Swim for Health

You’ll find yourself passing your old lanemates wondering what you’ve done differently and looking to YOU for instruction once you learn the fundamental mistakes that are holding you back.   If you’ve got joint arthritis or need to swim for your cardiovascular health, being able to swim easily and without stressing your neck, shoulders and back is vital for you to continue a healthy lifestyle with swimming.

Sign up the Lessons or Clinics that are Right for You

suzSwimUWPrivate Lessons

Sign up for one on one or small group lessons.  A minimum of three one-hour, or six half-hour lessons are recommended to allow you to completely transform your stroke for beginner, intermediate and fearful swimmers.

Included is video evaluation above and below water, with expert stroke analysis.  Technique development tailored to your current level of ability, clear instructions on how to structure your practice before your next less. Lessons are 55 minutes long.

Bring a Buddy

Sign up with a swimming buddy to improve your ability to practice proper swimming between lessons and on your own.  Learn what to look for in your parters form so you and your buddy can self-critique when swimming without an instructor.  Minimum lesson length is 1 hour.

Swimming Lessons for a Fast & Efficient Stroke

Lessons with Coach Suzanne Atkinson

Private (1) Buddy (2)
Single Lesson (55min) $85/$75  Add $30/$25 per person
Three Lesson Package $225/$210 (savings $30) Add $75/$65 per person (save $45)

Discounted prices apply to current members of any USA Triathlon Club:   $10 discount on all swimming lessons, $15 discount on packages of 3.

 

Stop Working Out in order to Build Confidence in Racing

Stop Working Out and Practice Instead

4 male triathletes running and diving into the ocean

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

 

Is Training by Heart Rate Better than Training by Effort?

Do you use a power meter or heart rate monitor for every cycling workouts? Do you know your training zones by heart? Do you regularly execute a threshold test set every 4-6 weeks throughout the year as your fitness improves? If so congratulations are in order…or are they?

Executing a workout well often means hitting prescribed training levels such as a target heart rate or power zone.  But an even more powerful training skill to master is nailing the effort level without out prescriptive guidelines.   Instead of having a pre-determined target to hit, you ride (run/swim) by effort following the guidelines of the workout and tuning in to your body’s response and signals.

  • How long can I sustain this effort?
  • Can I work at this level of dis-comfort for another 4 minutes without fading?
  • Can I repeat this focus level for another three sets of the same activity?
  • Is this recovery level easy enough that I can do another hard effort for the next eight minutes?

Nailing the workout intention when using effort alone means you’re in tune with how your body is responding to effort that day.   But it takes practice!

 

Failing is a Step Closer to the End Result

Henry Ford Quote - Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently

The first time you execute a workout like this, you may, in fact, you will fail miserably.   You’ll start too hard and won’t complete all the efforts.  You’ll finish too easily and not hit the desired intensity. You’ll look at your heart rate tracing after the fact and see a line that looks like the profile of the Hilly Billy Roubeaux instead of even like the Sahara desert.  In other words, your efforts were all over the place, rather than steady, even and repeatable.

You’re thinking,  “But coach, just give me a power target and I’ll hit it”.

Success in triathlon is not always about hard work. It’s more often about being in tune with your body on a consistent basis and relying on that instinct you’ve developed on race day.  Power training is fantastic, but there’s no substitute for your intuition about your own body’s performance.

There’s a recipe for developing this instinct.   Given any specific task, complete the workout in a “practice” mode.  You’re not trying to build fitness, nail a heart rate zone, get anaerobic, VO2 max-ish, or wherever the effort falls on a physiologic scale.

You’re trying to tune your instincts to hit the intention of the workout. ie  “go hard for an hour”, “run easy for exactly 30 minutes”, “execute three evenly paced efforts with 2 minute rest at the maximum of your ability”.

Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Training

It may be hard to see how it’s different to hit a power range for three eight-minute efforts, versus doing the same effort without targets and going just by feel.

The first is “prescriptive”…your efforts are given by your coach or your spreadsheet of training zones. But your spreadsheet doesn’t know your body’s ability on that specific day, and your coach won’t know unless you are in a daily training environment or communicate intensively on a daily basis.

In the second example, the power is “descriptive”.  You or your coach look at your power levels, effort or heart rate zones AFTER you complete the workout instead of before or during.

You improve your ability to understand your body while executing  a practice session, rather than a workout. While practicing, you’re also developing the specific fitness needed to improve your fitness and master the pace, master the effort and tune into your body.

On race day, it matters less what your power or heart rate targets are…it matters more if you’re operating within your body’s ability to cross the finish line having used your energy wisely and finishing in the fastest time you’re capable of.

 

Fitness Follows Mastery

Once you master the workout you can learn to push your abilities while still maintaining the practice intentions.  Maybe it takes you three ‘practice sessions’ to do an evenly paced 3 x 8 minute effort with 2 minutes rest.   “But Coach,” you protest again loudly…”If you’d just give me a target, I can do it right the first time!”   Right…but that’s not the point.

Building fitness is easy. Anyone can prescribe hard workouts.   Online training simulators like Trainer Road, Zwift and Sufferfest can help you do testing sets, tell you how to crunch the numbers (or do it for you) and give you back more training sets to do.  That’s algorithmic.

But coaching is an art and racing well requires practice…not just fitness.

Practice executing specific workouts by listening to your body.  Repeat these efforts to do it “better”…more evenly paced within the workout guidelines.  See what your heart rate and power were AFTER the effort is done. Are your efforts even or ‘hilly billy’?  Is each effort similar to the previous or do they get less intense as you get more fatigued?  Or is the first effort even and the second and third efforts ragged?

 

Practice Perfect the Push Performance

Chris McCormack - Triathlete running up stadium steps

Photo: Nils Nilsen, Triathlete.com

Reread the workout guidelines and see if you executed it well.   If you did, congratulations! You now have a baseline. Next time you try it, see if you can push just a little bit more.  If the workouts are well designed, you’ll be building the fitness you need, but more importantly, building your reservoir of body sensing, pacing and confidence in racing.

Chris McKormack, two time Ironman World Championship winner, explains this concept well in a blog post called, “Keep it simple“…

“Training is about teaching yourself to understand your boundaries and then slowly pushing those boundaries up. You need to know how to feel those and where they are!

I say go out and try to get in touch with your perceived exertion and your body rhythm at least a few times a week in all the disciplines of our sport. Most of the time in training, especially when I go to a new town, I often test myself by doing the following. I leave the hotel room for a run and check the clock before I leave. 

I then say to myself, ok I am going to go and run for 1 hour. When I come back I try and see how close to that hour I actually was. I take no watch with me nor do I set any preconceived pace. I run freely and try and feel my way to understanding just how long I have been running by my surroundings and my pace and effort. Funnily enough, the fitter I get the better I am at getting very close to the hour.

 

Ride “Blind” and Benefit

During your next training session, try putting black electrical tape over your power meter or heart rate monitor.  Turn off Zwift and Trainer Road and go old school while listening to tunes, or watching a scenic youtube video.   Learn to “practice” rather than “workout”.  You’ll tap into a new set of skills needed for triathlon speed, success and enjoyment.

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

Kirsten Sass crossing a finish line at national championships

ì2017 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships ñ Olympicî

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”

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

Two Olympians racing in a sprint, viewed from directly above

2016 Olympics Women’s 50m Sprint

 

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 denser than air.  Anything you can do at any point in 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 plane, 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 someone’s 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 visualize where the 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 Olympian’s 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 a specific focus on alignment and eliminating crossover.

Practices 10 from Coach Celeste, 36 from Coach Dinah and 68 from Coach Suzanne in Fresh 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.

 

//google analytics