Triathlon  / Freestyle Swimming - Total ImmersionWe have athletes of all experience levels training with our coaches, and sometimes we take for granted how much knowledge triathletes have. There’s no such thing as a question too simple, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that a question that seems basic was once a question we didn’t ahve answers to.

It’s only through familiarity, repetition and surrounding ourselves with training resources daily that common sense triathlon answers become common sense!

So with this series of (occasional) wednesday posts, us coaches will address your burning training questions with to the oint answers. If you want more detail, please let us know with a comment and we’ll use interest to create longer posts, videos & short podcast explanations and discussions.

When should I fuel while training?

Fueling generally refers to taking in calories, as opposed to simple hydration with water or electrolytes.   Generally any workout up to 45 -90 minutes can be completed on water hydration alone.  For a sub 1 hour workout, you may not even need water…but will probably feel better if you do hydrate.

The less experience you have the shorter you’ll be able to go without feeling the need to eat or fuel with some calorie source, but as you gain experience, going initially for 30, 45 then 60 minutes and longer will be easy.   This not only saves some time and logistics during a workout, but also ensures that your body is relying on a combination of fuel sources and not just burning off sugar that you consume right away.

As an endurance athlete, training the body to burn fat as a primary fuel source, and to spare glycogen will help you train longer distances and durations.

There’s a whole science and a few different paradigms about what you should eat when you DO fuel, but we’ll save that for another time.  IN the meanwhile check out coach Anne-Marie Alderson’s articles on metabolic efficiency I and Metabolic Efficiency Part 2 here on the site.


Should I practice the high elbow catch?

Yes! Everyone should, because it’s the most efficient way to create freestyle propulsion!  But there’s a catch to the catch.   How each individual implements it depends to a large degree on their flexibility and swimming experience & background.

Many triathletes who learn to swim as adults have problems with their catch that involve pushing down on the water in the front part of the stroke.  If their swim stroke were a set of wheels on a car, they are riding with square, rather than round wheels.   They go forward, but not without hesitation and inefficiency due to pushing water down, to the sides, and even forward as they stroke.

Visualizing your catch as the wheel of your stroke should help you think about siding the fingers and forearm forward and down while the elbow & upper arm remain relatively above the wrist..with the forarm first going from mostly horizontal during the entry, slightly angled below horizontal, and then becoming  diagonal and finally vertical … essentially entering the water & creating a smooth arc if you were to trace your hand and any part of yoru forearm as you trace the catch.

When the forearm is finally or mostly (or for less flexible folks, almost) vertical, the larger lat muscles can begin contracting to move the body forward past this forearm that’s anchored in the water.   This is the high elbow catch/early vertical forearm.    However most triathletes would do just as well with the slighlty-later-almost-vertical forearm…and still have a much more powerful and efficient catch by delaying the contraction of the big lat muscles until the hand , wrist and forearm have traced that arc of the “wheel”.

This is a big topic that deserves video and many different ways of explaining until yo “get” it.


In the meantime, here is a great video by Coach Gadi of Total Immersion Isreal demonstrating the technique with a few different swimmers examples:


What kind of intervals should I be doing right now?

What kind of racing are you doing?   When is your next race?   What are your current strengths and weaknesses? And finally what sport are you asking about, run, bike or swim?

it’s a simple question but the answer’s going to be different for everyone.  Since its the end of May, I’ll just give a few scenarios for different race distances and times…

4-6 weeks from A race, Olympic distance.

-You should be doing a mix of threshold & Vo2 max intervals on the bike, along with progressively longer bricks at 10k pace, heading out fast off the bike.  A race day simulation of 1 hour bike/45 min run brick should suffice to give you an idea of what race day will feel like.  If you have 6-8 weeks before your A race, go ahead and try to fit in a full 40k/10k race day bike/run brick including a taper to fully test your strategy  & fitness. You still have enough time left to modify training before your race.

6-8 weeks from A race, Half-Iron

This is the sweet spot for Half-Iron preparation. You should be increasing your bike & run duration with intervals during your long bike & run that mimic race pace, or tempo/Zone 3 (depending on what system you use).   Increasing duration and intensity at the same time is taxing and potentially can lead to overtraining so consider alternating weekends of long bike or long run, followed by the same or slightly shorter distance with race pace intervals for 20-30 minutes at a time, building up to 4 x 30 min intervals for the bike and 4 x 20 minute intervals for the run.

Need training suggestions for other distances or durations until your race? Let us know in the comments below!