Don't just Twiddle Your Thumbs This Offseason

The time we’ve all been waiting for is here, triathlon offseason! This time of year being the offseason is quite new to me though. As a competitive swimmer my down time from racing was always August and April, and this time of year was full of championship meets. But I definitely like how triathlon and open water racing offseason coincides with the colder months, that’s super convenient. Especially considering I think everyone’s biggest obstacle in getting to the pool right now is not wanting to be outside with wet hair, talk about a win win. So now that we’re here, what do we do? Sit around and start training to become all star couch potatoes? I wish, but alas, that’s not what I wanted to write about (although I think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to be a couch potato for at least two weeks, I won’t tell anyone, I promise).

Offseason training is the absolute perfect time for two things: skill and speed work. You’re probably thinking, “But Lissa, shouldn’t I be working on those things during the season as well?” To which I say, yes, yes you should be. However, these two things in particular take a lot longer to make positive changes and progressions, so being able to work on them when you don’t have races getting in the way will allow you to really solidify your progress and help your body better adapt to what you’re looking for.

If you’ve been swimming with improper form (don’t worry, I didn’t know how to catch properly for over 20 years…), and that’s how you’re used to swimming, making changes to these movements is going to take a bit longer than you’d probably like. Muscle memory and I have a love hate relationship. It’s great when you’re tired and you can let your body take over for that early morning swim practice, but it’s pretty terrible when you’re trying to make technical corrections and it just wants to go back to your normal way of swimming. This is why skill work is so important during the offseason. You don’t have to fret about spending too much time on drills that you won’t get your yardage in. Instead, you can actually take your time, focus on the changes you’re trying to make, and not worry about anything else while doing so. Unless, of course, you’re like me, and your mind wanders to that never-ending to do list whenever you swim long distances at swim practice…

Speed work is the absolute best thing you can work on when you don’t have races scheduled every other weekend. I say this because building up your anaerobic capacity takes SO MUCH LONGER than building up your aerobic capacity. And, exciting news coming at you, whenever you’re training, either in season or offseason, you’re always working on your aerobic capacity. Every time you get in the pool for a long swim practice, hop on your bike for a 20+ mile ride, or go out for a long run, you’re building up your aerobic capacity. You do this without even knowing about it, that’s how easy upping your endurance is. But anaerobic? That takes timeeee. Why? Because you’re working on building up your lactate tolerance, increasing your resting levels of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate - the high energy molecule in all living cells that supplies you with energy), and increasing your fast twitch muscle fibers. That’s a lot to work on all at once. You might be thinking, “why do I need to do this if I only compete in long distance races?” Building up your anaerobic capacity is going to allow you to perform at and maintain a high level of intensity over a longer period of time. What does that mean? Faster times.

If you’re not sure where to start, try out this simple workout that allows you to focus both on skill and speed work at the same time.

1 x 500 warm up 

4 x 50 drill - one arm freestyle; alternate by 25s with :15 seconds rest

4 x 50 - descend 1-4 with :10 seconds rest

1 x 100 - easy with best technique as the focus

40 x 25 - freestyle fast  - take :10 seonds rest

4 x 50 - moderate effort with good technique - take :10 seconds rest

1 x rest for a minute

30 x 50 - freestyle fast - take :15 seconds rest

1 x 200 warm down 

Why Paddles Should Double as Hats

I know you’ve all jumped in the pool and thought to yourselves, “Gee, how can I use my training gear in a way it wasn’t made for?” And by that I mean I doubt anyone has ever had that thought, and this is the very reason why I question my husband’s sanity at times. But, since he thinks outside the pool (see what I did there? or maybe I should have said “outside the SwimBox,” take the one you like better and re-read this last sentence. Go on, I’ll wait) and plays around with these things, I now present to you my all time favorite drill. Paddlehead.

I love this drill because you DO NOT NEED a coach to practice it. Yes, you heard me correctly. The paddle gives you all the feedback you need to know if you’re doing the drill properly or not. And what does the drill work on? Head position.

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Paddlhead drill is the perfect drill to use to help you learn proper head position in freestyle. For beginners you’re going to start the drill WITHOUT taking a breath. No, I’m not asking you to hold your breath and swim until you pass out (although that might be a fun contest…). I mean when you’re first starting this drill, take 6-8 strokes - or however many strokes you can take without needing a breath - then stop when you need air. When doing this you want to focus on keeping your head in proper position. What’s that, you’re asking? With the paddle on the crown of your head, look straight down at the bottom of the pool. Make sure you’re not cheating here and pushing your neck downward while doing this drill, as that will more often than not keep the paddle from falling off, and will also take you out of proper head position.

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In the image above you can see the exact placement of the paddle that we’re looking for. The paddle should be placed right at the hairline and above the forehead. If you place the paddle directly on your forehead you’ll be able to cheat the whole drill and won’t get any feedback from the drill itself.

After you’re comfortable with your head position and can swim confidently without the paddle falling off, it’s time to add in the breath. Now, this is where things get tricky and sometimes downright discouraging. Be patient! This is the hardest part to have the paddle stay on. When you go to take your breath, focus on keeping your head low to the surface of the water and make sure your chin is pointing slightly down towards your collarbone. If you lift your head up at all, or move out of proper head position, the paddle will fall off when you go to breathe. Don’t try to do this too fast and get frustrated. I tell you this with 100% honesty, we’ve never had a client take a breath for the first time doing this drill and not have the paddle fall off (not even me). This movement takes time and patience to get right, you just have to keep at it.

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When taking your breath, try using your eyes to make the movement and have your head follow. It sounds weird, I know, but your head will follow the path that you make with your eyes without having to completely focus on solely moving your head. You want to look down in your eye sockets and try to look about 4 feet behind you. Another cue is to try to look down towards your armpit. Focus on these things when working on adding in the breath, as this is what will help you keep your head low to the water and prevent the paddle from falling off.

For detailed instructions on this drill before adding it to your next swim make sure to check out our video! You’ll be able to see how the paddle stays in place when I go to take a breath and how low you want your head to be in the water.

Out of the Pool Gift Ideas for your Beloved Swimmer

It’s the holidays! And if you’re anything like me that means one thing: FOOD. So much food I can never decide what to eat and then end up eating everything. Oops? No, not oops, definitely always smart to eat everything and not miss out on something. Yikes, here I go, not even coming close to my point. The holidays also mean gift giving! I love any opportunity I get to give my family, friends, and loved ones presents that I know they’re going to love. But when it comes to swimmers, triathletes, open water swimmers, and basically anyone else who loves to spend 30-40% of their waking moments in the water, it can sometimes be hard to figure out what they need. So I’ve compiled a list of things we use with our SwimBox clients (as well as ourselves) that will give great benefit to anyone with a love of water sports.

Your first move should be to buy these Perform Better Exercise Bands. We use these with our clients CONSTANTLY and I feel like I’m telling people to buy them more often than I’m making bad food jokes. They’re great to use, whether you’re a beginner or more advanced swimmer, to help you fine tune many aspects of your kick. Most often we use them around our clients’ ankles to work on their upkick, but they can also be used just above the knee to help work on kicking from the hip as well as strengthening your legs. They come in a pack of four, so once your legs get used to one level of resistance you can move up to a higher level of resistance to keep your legs working that much harder. And, just like anything made out of a type of rubber that gets stretched over and over again, they’re going to wear out, which means? They’re great to give again and again!

Next up is the Finis Tempo Trainer. I used to think these were a bit pointless, but boy has my husband proved me wrong. This is basically a tiny metronome that you set to a specific rate and tuck inside your cap right around your ear so you can hear it underwater. You can use the metronome feature to help you work on cadence and tempo of your arms, legs, rotation, pretty much any part of your stroke. It’s also a great tool to help you set a timer for yourself during a workout. For instance I used one of these little guys every time I got in the pool to train for my Aquathlon so I didn’t have to pay attention to a clock and could focus 100% of my attention on my stroke. Yes, you have to reset the timer each round, but it’s incredibly easy and you don’t even notice yourself doing it after the first 2-3 rounds of your set.

Say you want to give something that’s more of a theme gift, or a set of things that goes along with one overarching idea. Okay, I hear you. Let’s throw in some of our favorite Keifer Ankle Weights to go along with the kicking theme we started with the exercise bands. We use 2.5 lb and 5 lb weights depending on your level of skill and strength, and they can be used so many different ways. Firstly, placed around the ankles to work on upkick and hamstring strength. This way of using the weights is also just a great way to burn out your legs during a swim practice. Try swimming with these guys for 2,000-4,000 yards and see how your legs feel after that, yikes. Do that and you’re more than earned your holiday goodies. These weights can also be utilized around the biceps to strengthen your back during your catch and pull.

This one I would 100% suggest if you’re an open water swimmer or triathlete. The MP K180 is the PERFECT goggle to use if you spend any time in the open water. But what makes this goggle great is that it’s also wonderful for pool use as well. I personally have worn this exact goggle (and it’s tinted brother pair) for years and won’t be stopping any time soon. The eye piece is small, but not too small that did into your eye socket and create huge marks. My favorite part about this is that they eye piece is also very deep, meaning it sits far away from your eye and you don’t get the feeling that they’re so tight they’re going to become one with your eyeball. Bonus? Those pretty eyelashes of yours won’t come anywhere near the lens.

I have to warn you with this one, it’s going to seem weird. But as soon as that package arrives and you go to wrap this gift, you’re going to be so jealous that you didn’t grab one for yourself as well. What is the one thing that swimmers hate the most (besides being told they’re about to do 10 x 100s butterfly for time, that is)? That excruciatingly painful feeling you get from being wet and cold at the same time. I hated it as a kid, I hated it when I was competing, and I hate it every time I shower in the winter. Solution? The Dry Robe Towel Poncho. What is that, you might be thinking. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a towel that’s been fashioned into an oversized poncho that you put on after you get out of the water. The towel material itself is thicker than your standard towel, AND, it has a hood to help keep your wet head warm and pockets for all of your snacks. It’s definitely a winner.

Don't Let Your Elbow Drop!

If I were to give you a pop quiz right now and ask where the majority of your power is driven from during freestyle, what would your answer be? For the longest time my response would have been “the kick,” but that answer would have given me a failing grade. Any thoughts? Ideas? Guesses? Well the correct answer we’re looking for is “the catch and pull.” If that’s what you were thinking woot woot! Give yourself a high five and a pat on the back for me. While you’re at it, maybe grab a cookie or two as well, you earned them. Hopefully this helps you understand why soooo so many of my posts are about proper catch, but let’s dig a little deeper while I have your attention.

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If the catch and pull are ohh so important, how do we go about making sure they’re done properly and effectively? The biggest key? Keeping your elbow forward and up. That’s it, nice and simple. Okay thanks for checking in everyone, have a great day!

Ha, okay, sorry, sometimes I really think I’m just hysterical. But really, keeping your elbow forward and up, let’s break it down. I like to say forward and up as opposed to just up because that tends to give people the wrong impression. You want your elbow to stay on the same plane as your body during your catch, pull, and recovery. I NEVER want you to lift your elbow upwards during any of these movements. Why? Doing so will actually bring your arm behind your back, prevent your shoulder blade from gliding up and down properly, and put the power into your shoulder joint, eventually leading to injury. So what does a dropped elbow vs a properly forward and up elbow look like? Take a look at the image below. The dropped elbow is on the left, and the correct elbow is on the right.

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The dropped elbow on the left is pulling ZERO water as it moves through to the pull phase. Whereas the forward and up elbow on the right has created a paddle from the fingertips to the elbow to push back against the water to propel you forward. This is a great image to show just how little help your pull is giving you when you drop your elbow. No paddle is being created, and almost zero propulsion is gained from swimming this way.

This is where the word “forward” is really helpful. Think of yourself in the pool, swimming nice and easy freestyle. If I were to tell you to swim, but to make sure your elbow being brought forward is what’s going to bring your arm around during your recovery, now you would know what I mean. Having your elbow be the lead for your arms, as opposed to your hands, will help you keep your elbow in the proper position. This also helps you enter the water already set to start your catch, as opposed to having to set it up after your hand enters the water, therefore wasting time and also missing out on making the most of your paddle with your hand and forearm.

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This movement probably sounds pretty simple, but it takes A LOT of practice to get this right. I still have workouts dedicated to just this movement, spending 1-2 hours focusing on how to get this just right. And when I get tired, I tend to go back to my old habits, not good. When you go to work on this start a little at a time to prevent the impending frustration. Just like with all movement corrections in swimming, you have to work on this over and over again before it will start to become a habit. Even when you think you’re doing it all the time, keep practicing! This is the biggest component to having a strong and efficient freestyle, so don’t skip working on this!

Take a look at our video to see what a dropped elbow vs a forward and up elbow look like in motion!

Things Don't Always Go According to Plan

This blog was always supposed to be my race recap post. I was hoping my husband would have gotten some good pictures of me in the water, coming in and out of transition, and on the run that I would be able to use. I was looking forward to talking about how great it was to train and compete in something completely new and different to me, and share how it all went. Unfortunately, that isn’t what this post is about, because I wasn’t able to go to Miami, and I wasn’t able to compete.

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Two Saturdays ago (the Saturday before the race), super early in the morning, our sweet little frenchie fur baby Evvie starting getting sick. She couldn’t keep anything down all day, so Sunday morning Dominic and I took her straight to the emergency vet. Xrays and an ultrasound showed a foreign body in her stomach and intestines. Fluids were given over night to try to help the foreign body move along, but xrays in the morning showed it was still stuck, which was not the news we were hoping to hear. This meant that she was taken in for emergency surgery, cutting into her stomach to remove the foreign body. If you don’t have a pet of any kind, having surgery is always risky, no matter what kind of animal. So after I got the much stressed about call from the emergency vet telling me Evvie had to have surgery, a call that I barely (and probably unsuccessfully) could conceal my sobs and tears from being overheard, I took care of the one thing I felt I still had control over. I cancelled our flights, our hotel reservations, and our rental car. I should have reached out to the race director to try to have my registration deferred until next year, but it wasn’t anywhere near the top of my to-do list during those days.

To make matters worse, I got a call a few hours after Evvie went into surgery informing me that my grandfather was in the hospital after suffering a bad stroke. Seeing as he’s 96 years old and my mother lives over 370 miles away, I wasn’t really sure what to do. This just further cemented that I had made the right decision to cancel the trip, as I knew I had to be here for my mom until her flight came in.

So, what was supposed to be a great weekend filled with excitement and competition quickly turned into one overflowing with emotion, stress, anger, and at times, waves of uncontrollable helplessness and sadness. I was so worried that Evvie might not pull through the surgery, but I didn’t want to dwell on that, so instead I focused on how frustrated I was that I wasn’t going to be able to compete. I’d been training for months and wouldn’t be able to see my hard work pay off. I was working to use my nerves to better help my race, and I was getting excited to get out there and see what I could do.

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Irrational as it may be, I focused on my anger instead of being sad. But even though my anger was misplaced and unnecessary, it helped me come to the realization that competing as an adult means there are some things more important than your training. This might sound silly, but growing up as a competitive swimmer who spent the majority of her waking hours practicing meant that if I didn’t get to compete sometimes I felt like there was nothing else important. I can imagine what my reaction would have been if this had happened when I was a kid, and let me tell you, it wouldn’t have been pretty. Good thing I’ve done some growing up over the years…

Being put in this situation also helped me see that there will always be other finish lines to cross. There will always be something else I can train for, and I should count myself lucky that I get to do these things in the first place. So, not exactly what I wanted to be writing about, but still a learning experience for me to go through.

Oh, and one last thing. If you have a pet, and you don’t have pet insurance, do yourself a favor and go out and get some RIGHT NOW. Because emergency surgery and a week at the hospital for a french bulldog is not cheap…