That Triathlon Show - Episode 2
How to improve your triathlon swim with Kevin Koskella
Kevin Koskella is founder and head coach of www.triswimcoach.com. He was an all-American swimmer in college and has coached masters swimmers and triathletes for years. Kevin's approach to swim training incorporates drills and technique training combined with video analysis, to help triathletes get more out of their strokes, be more fluid in the water, and have a better triathlon swim.
In today's show we discuss:
- How to structure your triathlon swim training to improve performance
- Periodization of swim training for triathletes
- The problem with the traditional approach to swim training
- The most common technique flaws triathletes have and how to correct them
- How to incorporate open water swimming and swim-specific strength training in your training plan
- And in the listeners' questions: how to combat anxiety of open water swimming
Kevin's and TriSwimCoach's background
- Started designing swimming workouts and workout plans for triathletes.
- Noticed that nobody did the technique properly, so he developed a program with technique drills so triathletes could improve their triathlon swim.
- This led to the Tri Swim Success program which helps triathletes swim faster and more efficiently.
- Kevin also has a great podcast.
Kevin's triathlon swim training philosophy and how it differs from traditional approaches
- The traditional "no pain no gain" philosophy doesn't work for swimming. The same goes for volume. Getting in 3000 m is not necessarily better than 1000 m.
- Kevin strongly emphasises quality over quantity. Swimming with great technique for 1000 m trumps a 3000 m swim if your technique gets sloppy. And a big part of the quality aspect is putting in the time to do the right technique drills to improve.
Designing a swim training program for triathletes
- There's no one-size fits all approach to learning freestyle.
- Some people do better with a slightly different freestyle technique than others.
- Essential foundations for good freestyle that apply to everybody include balance in the water and a good pull. But there may be small variations from person to person in how to achieve those foundations and what they look like.
- Technique drill period: Generally, a certain length of time at the beginning of a swim training program is dedicated to learning the right drills and really executing them properly. The duration can be anything from 2-3 weeks to 2 months or more depending on your starting point and progress.
- Aerobic fitness: Once your stroke is in order, you take a few weeks to build your aerobic endurance. Includes some long swims and some interval training, although the intervals are not that intense at this point.
- Slightly more intense intervals: These intervals still work your aerobic fitness, but you're also dipping into the anaerobic zone a little bit.
- Anaerobic training and sprints: This is where you really make the gains in terms of going faster. You're still doing other workouts during this period (which is 2-4 weeks long), but some workouts are completely focused on sprints.
- Taper: Drop your volume gradually, but don't drop it dramatically.
The most common swim technique problems for triathletes and how to correct them
- Breathing: Many people lift their head instead of just turning it. This drops the extended arm (non-breath side) down, and you lose propulsion and drag increases.
The root may be that you're not balanced in the water. The remedies include (see 14:35 into the video for details): balance drill and shark fin drill (both with fins in the beginning).
Another possible reason may your head position. Look a little bit down towards the bottom of the pool, and when breathing, focus on getting your mouth only just above the water. From 15:15 Kevin demonstrates this breathing drill.
- Sinking legs: This is also caused by poor balance and head position. The balance drills mentioned before is the first thing to improve.
For the head position, if you don't keep your head low enough your hips will easily sink, especially if you have low body fat. Try to drop your head more, but you want to keep the back of your head a little bit out of the water.
- Body and hip rotation: Don't swim flat on your stomach. This is a very inefficient way to swim that consumes a lot of energy. Use your hips to rotate your way through the water.
Practice this with rotation drills (see 17:57). Use fins.
- Elbow dropping: This is when your extended arm drops in the water before you even start your pull (see 18:15), and results in that you not getting a good high-elbow catch. This means you get a much less efficient pull. The right way to do it is to extend your arm, then bend your elbow and then pull (see the video for a demonstration).
- Runner's kick: Common for people coming from a running background. Your ankles are angled the wrong way for swimming because of loss of ankle flexibility from a lot of running. If you try to just kick you may be going backwards if you have runner's kick, because your feet act like anchors pulling you back.
It's pretty easy to get rid of by just stretching your ankles. Sit on your heels for a few minutes every day. The next step is the side-kick drill mentioned before, using Zoomers fins (or other short fins). Finally, do vertical kicking: kick in place in a vertical position at the pool's deep end. Start with just short durations (like 5 seconds, or as much as you can handle) and maybe use fins. You can then work up to longer durations and also kick without fins.
Incorporating open water swimming in your training
- If you have access to open water and it's not too frigid outside, Kevin recommends getting in the open water often, and do it with a wetsuit (since you'll probably use that on race day). It's completely different to the pool, so you want to practices those specific conditions.
- Open water training once per week leading up to your race is a great rule of thumb.
- Don't train only in the open water. Technique and interval training is better to do in the controlled conditions of the pool.
- Try to always have somebody with you in the open water.
- As for what kind of open water workouts to do, just go out and have fun together and get some distance in at least in the beginning. Kevin has also done open water swim to run brick workouts to get some more variety and fun into his training.
Strength training for improving swim performance
- Strength training for swimming is great, especially when you try to get to the next level.
- What to do specifically is very individualized and depends on demographics, goal race, and so on.
- Simulating freestyle with elastic tubing is a good starting point. You can do it before your actual swim workout.
- The Vasa trainer is a like swim training bench so you can practice both strength and power and technique. It is super specific, so it can even substitute complete swim workouts, even if it's not recommended to substitute too many of them.
- Favorite book, blog or resource: The Primal Endurance podcast
- Favorite piece of gear or equipment: Zoomers fins (used for almost all drills)
- Overprescribed or overused swimming tools: Can't decide between pull buoys and kick boards.
- Personal habit that helped Kevin become a great swimmer: Self-acceptance.
- If you could only prescribe 3 drills to triathletes, what would they be: Kicking on your side with Zoomers fins (see 33:40 for demonstration), shark fin drill, and deep breathing exercises (listen to Kevin's instructions at 34:44).
- How do you get over open water anxiety: Open water anxiety is very common, especially in triathlon with the mass start and a lot of physical contact. Kevin suggests deep breathing before you get in to calm you down. If you start feeling anxiety while in the water, it's good to focus on something specific: Kevin suggests counting your strokes. Finally, to prepare for the race start, try to simulate it with a group of people in the pool. Also, start off to the side of the pack or a bit behind the pack to not get sucked up in the melee of the race start.
Links and resources mentioned on the show
Connect with Kevin:
Learn more about That Triathlon Show
That Triathlon Show is a weekly live and on-demand interview show from Scientific Triathlon. It’s designed to help age-group triathletes discover ways to train smarter, race faster and achieve their triathlon and fitness goals.
You can check out the schedule of upcoming episodes and the complete archive of previous episodes here.
What's unique about That Triathlon Show is the fact that you can submit your questions to the expert guest during the live interview and get answers in real-time from some of the greatest minds in the sport. As a subscriber, you can also send in your questions ahead of time, to make sure your question get answered even if you can't attend the show live.
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