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Triathlon Swimming

A Complete Guide to Triathlon Swimming

“Triathlon swimming tips, advice and more. Truly a complete guide. Read more now!”

This guide is triathlon focused and recognises that triathletes, who come in all shapes and abilities, need a different style of training and technique to pro swimmers. For example, Phelps is 6’4″ and compared to your penguin-like wing span his 2m one propels him through the water like a nitro-fuelled speedboat. He is also able to put in 45 miles of pool practice a week, which is great for him but you have two other sports to train for, not to mention a life to live.

Triathlon Swimming

Tips for Better Triathlon Swimming

However, there are some similarities and Phelps’s basic in-pool principle is one that all swimmers and triathletes should learn: “The longer and more streamlined you can make your body, the faster you’ll go,” he says. “It’s that simple.”

The advice opposite is aimed towards triathletes of all levels. If you are a beginner, they’ll keep you from flailing about like you’re being attacked by piranhas. Or if you see yourself as a seasoned veteran, they’ll show you how it is possible to shave off the seconds without having to shave your legs.

If you’re training for your first triathlon, it’s fine to opt for any stroke in the swim but the focus is on freestyle here, not only because it provides a killer cardio workout, but also because it works the most muscles – building core strength and burning calories. Here’s our seven-step plan for leaving everyone in your wake.

Olympic-sized advice

1. Swim tall
“Water is 1,000 times denser than air,” says Laughlin. “So the single most important factor is to slip your body through the smallest hole in the water.” Imagine a central axis extending from the top of your head to the opposite end of the pool. Rotate your body along this axis with each stroke, stretching your leading arm as far forward as you can. Keep the muscles in your lower back and abs taut as you power through the water – doing so will keep the propulsion coming from both your arms and legs.

2. Drop an anchor
Swimming with just your hands is like jumping with just your feet. Instead, grip the water with your entire forearm and hand, holding your forearm at a right angle to your upper arm and digging in like you’re gathering sand with a shovel. Keep your hands broad, flat and firm. You’re not pushing your arm through the water as much as anchoring it and pulling your body over it.

3. Heavy rotation
Each stroke begins with your leading arm having entered the water, and that side of your body – the low side – pointing almost at the bottom of the pool. The other side of your body – the high side – should be raised, with the arm that just finished its stroke getting ready to return to the water. “Power is triggered when you drive down the high side of your body,” Laughlin says. “Throwing your high-side arm forward along the central axis into the leading position and rotating your hips and torso. Meanwhile, your low-side arm is the pulling arm underwater, working with your rotating torso to provide acceleration.”

4. Keep your head down
Freestylers used to hold their heads high. That forced the rest of the body to drop, turning it into a high-drag plough. “I look pretty much straight down at the bottom of the pool,” says Phelps. “Not only does this cut drag, it keeps your torso high, reducing strain on your neck and lower back.”

5. Find your glide path
In the pool, fewer strokes is better. Your goal should be a high distance per stroke (DPS). Elite swimmers like Phelps can easily traverse a 25m pool in seven strokes (each hand entry counts as a stroke). Try to keep yours below 20 by conserving momentum. Pull yourself over your anchor and continue to glide forward with one arm forward and the other back. “You’ll travel further and faster with your legs streamlined near your axis,” says Laughlin. “When you begin to slow, start the next stroke.”

6. Drag your feet
“If you’re a good kicker, you’re a good swimmer,” says Phelps. The secret is turning your feet into fins. Here again, leverage rules: your legs should be taut, scissoring you through the water, while your feet remain flexible. This will help them snap at the downstroke of each kick, adding oomph and helping twist your torso along the central axis. If your feet don’t flex well, buy a set of fins (such as Speedo Swim Fins, £19.99) to add flexibility.

7. Don’t waste breath
Gasping for air every time your head nears the surface is a great way to drown. Instead, make each breath count. Emphatically exhale the air from your lungs (all of it, not just 90 per cent) before taking a quick, full breath on the high side. Beginning swimmers need to breathe after each stroke, but as your endurance improves, try breathing on alternate sides – that is, after three strokes. It’ll reduce the strain on your neck and shoulders that results from always breathing on the same side.

Find Your Racing Form

Your form is great in training but as soon as the gun goes off in a triathlon, you forget how to perform. It’s happened to us all: you start to flail your arms, and all you can see when you lift your head is a sea of other triathletes powering away from you. “Swimming fast at the start of a triathlon can sabotage your form, so the challenge is to maintain your efficiency at high intensities,” says Laughlin.

Find your threshold

Warm up for five minutes, then do this 500m test. Start at a pace you can hold for more than 500m, but build gradually so that your last 100m is at 90 per cent effort. Count your strokes per length (SPL) in the first and last 100m.

Improve your threshold

Swim 100m repeats for 20 to 30 minutes, resting after each set for a quarter of the time you were swimming. So, if you swam 100m in four minutes, rest for one minute before beginning the next set. Swim at the fastest pace that allows you to keep an SPL count one or two strokes below your count in the final 100m of your test.

Drill bits

Avoid pitfalls with these simple swimming drills from Olympic-coach David Marsh. You’ll go from tadpole to torpedo in no time.

Taking a deep breath
Instinct: You lift your neck to breathe, throwing your body out of alignment.
The Fix: Imagine your spine as a fixed-axis moving through the water. Keep your head down and roll your shoulders forward with each reach. As your arm extends and you roll to that side, turn your head to sneak a breath.
Swim three strokes of freestyle without breathing; then over-rotate your torso until you’re on your back. Take three backstrokes, now roll back into freestyle. Alternate roll sides. Do 10 reps of 50m with 10 seconds of rest after each 50m.

Kick with your core
Instinct: Kicking from the knees disrupts your balance and fatigues your quadriceps muscles – bad news before the bike.
The Fix: Kick from the hips. Small, rhythmic flutters propel you more efficiently than large, flailing kicks, which disengage your hips and thighs. Think of your legs as extensions of your core, bending your knee only slightly.
Wearing foot fins, push off the wall on your back, with your arms stretched above your head. Do a 10 x 50m set; follow each 50m swim with a 30-second recovery period.

Full through
Instinct: You paddle with your hands instead of pulling yourself through the water using your forearms.
The Fix: Anchor your hand, wrist, and forearm as you drive forward into the water. Prevent your elbow from dropping inward as this will only weaken the anchor and your pulling power.
Swimming lengths with closed fists forces you to anchor your forearms. Do a 4 x 50m set of fist-only strokes; rest for 10 seconds after each 50m. Then do a 6 x 50m set with open hands resting for 10 seconds after each 50m.

Build a better workout
Instinct: You treat your swim workout like a casual run, doing long sets at a medium pace.
The Fix: Elite triathletes train by tackling building sets, which begin slowly and end with sprinting. They boost conditioning and create fatigue-proof strokes. Second place goes to the guy whose technique crumbles first.
Match the number of strokes on the first, easy length with the final, sprint length. Do a 5 x 100m set at roughly four minute intervals. The first 25m: long and easy. The second: swim at 50 per cent effort. The third: 75 per cent. The final length: 90 per cent.

Personal Services

Whether you’re new to triathlon or an experienced racer, swimming is often the discipline that inspires the most trepidation. Most of us are brought up cycling and running but our swimming development may have stopped at school. If you dread the swim, don’t despair: there are professionals out there who can analyse your swimming technique, and strengthen your weaknesses even if you’re already a good swimmer. And the good news is that there’s always room for improvement, as one triathlete discovered recently. More at Seven Steps To Better Swimming Technique

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Triathlon Wetsuit Reviews

Triathlon Wetsuit Reviews: Choosing the Best Wetsuits

“We review some of the best triathlon wetsuits to help you give your competitors the slip in the swim. Read them below!”

Triathlon Wetsuit Reviews

Choose the right triathlon wetsuit for you

Triathlon Wetsuit Reviews for every triathlete:

Orca Equip
The equip’s blue arms echo Orca’s top-end Alpha suit of a couple of years ago. The fully coated neoprene and impressively flexible shoulders are welcome at this price point, as is the comfortable, low neck. Buoyancy is good for slighter athletes with 2-5mm front panels correcting sinking tendencies well. The catch panels cover the entire forearm but made the elbows feel a little stiff, distracting from a natural stroke. The legs also have a stiffness to them, but this helped in producing a smooth and efficient kick. Getting out of the suit is easy thanks to super stretchy calf panels, but our female testers would have appreciated some more girl-friendly styling. We found Orca suits tend to come up small, so make sure you try on before you commit.

A good suit that performs well for the price and has high-end looks too.
Performance 3/5
Value 5/5
Overall 4/5

Xterra Vortex
Xterra’s vector Pro suit is worn by more Ironman and 70.3 athletes than any other and its little brother, the Vortex, is no slouch either. The suit is fully coated for hydrodynamics and the 1.5mm arms take care of shoulder flexibility, allowing an unencumbered stroke. Buoyancy from the 5mm front/3mm back is really positive for sinky-legged swimmers; tipping you forward slightly to glide over the top of the water, and allowing for an easy kick. The lined interior and stretchy neck keep things comfortable, even during sighting when swimming over long distances. Simple catch panels had no extra feel against the water for us, but the suit was fast and comfy. However, the sizing came up large on our testers and the looks are a little basic.

A comfortable, flexible, fast and highly buoyant suit at a great price.
Performance 4/5
Value 5/5
Overall 4/5

Zone 3 Aspire
Zone 3’s mid-level suit offers stunning performance at a very good price. The fit is slim with tight wrists that keep water out and a low, unobtrusive neckline. The ends of the legs, which are made of stretchier neoprene for a fast exit, didn’t seem to make as snug a seal, though speed seemed unaffected by this. Shoulder flexibility is astonishing at this price point with no noticeable restriction. Buoyancy is impressive, with 5mm neoprene to the knees raising the legs and supporting the core without getting in the way of swimming naturally. The catch panels had no discernable ‘feel’ against the water, but didn’t hurt pulling the suit off quickly. A close second to the HUUB in speed, flexibility and comfort, at just over half the price.

If you want a high-end performing suit at a low-end price, there’s none better.
Performance 4/5
Value 5/5
Overall 4/5

Triathlon Plus Value Award issue 41
2XU T:3 Team
www.2xushop.co.uk; www.wiggle.co.uk
This entry-level wetsuit, available exclusively through Wiggle, offers many of the benefits – and the cool looks – of 2XU’s higher-end models. The shoulders are flexible enough to allow the arms to swing freely, which is partly down to the stretchy, uncoated material under the arms. All testers found the neck a bit restrictive at first, but quickly got used to it. The torso, with Velocity Strake grooves designed to help forward tracking, feels strangely stiff at first, but the suit is superbly buoyant and two of our testers who are prone to ‘snaking’ found it kept them on the straight and narrow and helped control body rotation. It feels completely different to the other suits here, and comes highly recommended for weaker or new swimmers who’ll love the support.

A buoyant, supportive and fast suit, great for beginner triathletes or weaker swimmers.
Performance 4/5
Value 4/5
Overall 4/5

More at Best Triathlon Wetsuits Review

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Triathlon Bike

Big Decision: Triathlon Bikes or Road Bikes?

“Triathlon bikes or road bikes? What are the pros and cons? Find out below!”

Before you even ask the road bike vs. tri bike question, you should have a couple sprint triathlons or duathlons under your belt. For your first couple go-rounds, use whatever you have available to you. Ride your kid’s BMX, borrow a bike, buy a $20 garage sale bike. Whatever it takes. You’re probably not going to win anyway, so you might as well try it out and see if it’s going to be something you’re going to enjoy.

When you make it to this point, it might then be the time to ask the question: tri bike or road bike?

triathlon bike

What type of bike should you buy?

There’s not one fit-all answer here. Every individual is different. The first thing to consider is: What are you trying to accomplish? Do you plan to compete and/or train for triathlons on a continuing basis? Have you been bitten by the bug, or are you still just getting your feet wet? Are you primarily riding in an effort to train for multisport events, or do you plan to ride on a regular basis with your non-triathlete friends?

We’ll get back to the above questions. First let’s take a quick look at standard road geometry and tri bike geometry.

Road bikes
Road bikes are made to handle well in a wide variety of circumstances including climbing, cornering, or riding in packs of other riders where space is tight. The seat tube angle is generally 73 degrees and the rider’s position is often upright. The hands are positioned on top of the hoods to allow for easy shifting and braking. This position allows for maximum power transfer when pedaling, especially climbing, and quick response time when in a pack of riders.

Tri-specific bikes
Triathlon bikes also handle well but in a different way. Tri bikes are made to go fast while utilizing rider energy efficiently and even conserving energy to some extent (remember – the bike is only 1/3 of the race). In order to accomplish this, tri bike geometry has a steeper seat tube angle, usually 76-78 degrees. The head tube angle is usually a little less aggressive, the top tube is slightly shorter, and often the front end slopes. The chain stay is also often one centimeter or so shorter. This geometry allows the rider’s hips to remain open while riding in the aero position.

Attaining and holding an aero position on a tri-specific bike vs. road bike with clip-on aerobars should be significantly more comfortable, especially for longer periods of time. The forward position requires more energy from the hamstrings when pedaling. Hopefully this will conserve some energy for the quadriceps when the bike leg is over and it’s time to run. We also can’t overlook the aerodynamic benefits of an efficient aero position.

So road bike or triathlon bikes?
There’s definitely a difference between a road bike and tri bike. Will the differences benefit your riding style and ability? Some people can read and relate to the differences between the two geometries and understand how the differences might affect their own riding / training immediately. It might not be so clear for others. It is always a good idea to meet with a certified tri bike fitter and have them evaluate you in person.

For most of us, if you’ve been bitten by the tri bug and you plan on training and doing triathlons and multisport events, get a tri bike. If you found that you really liked duck hunting, would you go buy a BB gun so you could target practice with your friends that like to do that on occasion?

For your question specifically, I would say consider the above points, evaluate your future goals, and definitely meet with a certified tri bike fitter and get evaluated. Would a steeper seat tube angle be advantageous? Probably. Remember, you still have to get off the bike and run with that 250 lbs. Any energy savings that your quads take advantage of during the bike will benefit you in the run. There’s one in favor of the tri bike.

If you were just getting into triathlons and already have a road bike, then sure, by all means throw on a clip-on and go to town. But if you are buying a bike to train for triathlons specifically and that’s what you enjoy, why even consider a road bike? You answered your own question. Train with what you are going to race with. Ideally…cross train. Don’t trade in that old road bike. Save it…as a road bike. No clip-ons. It’s not worth much. It’s worth more to you as a bike to cross train on, ride with friends and as a spare. More at Triathlon Bikes vs. Road Bikes

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