aquathlon

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.

Work With Your Nerves, Not Against Them

With my race looming right around the corner (only three days to go!) I find that my nerves are beginning to rear their ugly head, creeping into my thoughts at every moment of down time. When they first started to get a hold on me I held it in, didn’t say anything, and tried to push them down without addressing them. News Flash: this doesn’t work for me, unless you count increasing my anxiety and it’s presence in my day to day activities as working, then it worked wonders. Next, I started to frantically voice my concerns to my husband, the pitch of my voice growing ever higher as I spiraled even further down the “what if” rabbit hole. This merely sent me into a frenzy akin to that of a six year old being told Toys R’ Us was out of the Special Edition Barbie they wanted and unfortunately Santa wouldn’t be able to deliver this year. So nope, that didn’t work either.

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Instead, after being calmed down and regaining rational thought and logic, I decided the best way to handle my nerves was to accept their existence and work with them.

So, what was I most nervous about in the Aquathlon? First thing that comes to mind is the transition and start of the run portion. I can’t help but worry that, even though race workers and volunteers have spent days setting up markers and cones and all sorts of other things to direct participants, I won’t know where to go when I get out of the water. AND that I won’t know where to go after I finagle my shorts, socks, and shoes on without spending the time to towel off from the swim. Why am I afraid of this when it’s people’s SOLE job to make sure these things don’t happen? Let’s journey back to the second (and last) triathlon I competed in for a moment. Cue me running out of the first transition with my bike ready to start the course, running through two cones and under an archway that I thought signaled where to go, only to have countless people screaming at me that I’d gone the wrong way and had to go back, turn around, and go through different cones and under a different archway so that I was actually going over the timing mat and heading in the right direction. Now I don’t know about you, but that was pretty embarrassing for me. I know no one else cared about the incident, and the people who yelled at me forgot about it immediately after it happened and I had left their POV, but still, not fun for me. Hence my fear of not know the right direction. But okay, if I do mess up, there will be other people to yell at me and get me back on track. I’ll still start the run, and nothing detrimental to me completing the race will have happened. Okay, next.

My second biggest fear is simply staying on course in the run. Why? The exact same reasoning as above. That whole missing the timing mat and having to turn around really messed with my head, and it seems to be the seed of my nerves right now. But okay, easy enough to deal with. I have plenty of time between when my plane lands in Miami and the start of the race to do a run-through of the course so that come race day I, at minimum, vaguely know where I need to go. Got it. And at this point in figuring out how to work with my nerves, I realized that making these plans and realizing I would be able to deal with my fears - even if worst comes to worst and they actually happened - was helping me calm down. I could count the “what ifs” for hours and just make myself feel worse and worse. But, working through the scenarios and having a plan of action was what actually helped me realize I need to use my nerves to my advantage, and not let them get the best of me.

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After I talked myself through my biggest fears, I decided to focus on what I knew, and what I could control. Starting with the swim. I have twenty-four years of competitive swimming under my belt, I’ve been training in our Endless Pool to get used to not having walls, and I’ve been practicing my sighting. Reasonable enough, at the very least I know the swim will be okay. Next, I know that I can survive a 5K. My training has mostly been distances longer than that, and I’ve been going PRs in my last two 3.1 mile runs. Logically, I know I have the stamina and strength to power through that run and cross the finish line. Easy. Well, okay, easier said then done, but still a good mental exercise to help me best utilize my nervous energy and thoughts.

Lastly? I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this experience and to be competing with some of our closest clients. I know the Aquathlon is nowhere near the distance of the Olympic distance tris or the Ironman races they compete in, but I have a better understanding of their training, dedication, and perseverance now that I would never be able to get from just swim practices alone. Now it’s time to put all of my words to actions and finish this race!

Two Disciplines, One Race

I started swimming competitively when I was 6 years old. My best friend at the time was joining the swim team at our local pool and asked if I would join with her. And since little kids are so courteous and respectful of our parents (HA) my friend asked this question in front of my mom, which, I learned later, was a great way to get your parents to say yes to things they normally would balk at. Not that my mom wouldn’t want me to swim, but this tactic came in handy pretty much any time I wanted a friend to come over and knew my mom would say no. Instead of being polite and asking my mom in private, I would beg and plead with my friend at my side, creating that oh so wonderful guilt in the bottom of her heart that would always result in an impromptu play date. But anyway, the point here. I started swimming when I was 6 and I never picked up another sport or joined another type of team from then forward. Because of this, working out was always one thing: swimming.

Fast forward to my Aquathlon training and all of the sudden the race I’m training for is made up of two things, not just the one I’m used to. Nothing crazy, considering triathlons and decathlons are made up of three-ten things, two should be a piece of cake. But training for a race with two different disciplines? That’s something I’m still getting used to.

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When I started this training it was a lot more than what I had been doing for my typical workouts. Now, believe me when I say I like to workout since I grew up with crazy amounts of physical activity being normal, but this training seemed to be taking up a lot more time than I thought it would. Talking to a bunch of our triathlete clients, they told me they tend to break up their workouts throughout the day so they’re not taking 2-3 hours at a time to get their training in. So? I started to do the same. But what I didn’t realize was that this could actually be detrimental to me come race day.

So this past Friday I switched things up. Instead of doing my planned 45 minute treadmill run and 800M on the SwimErg, I combined them. My workout consisted of:

  • 10 minutes running (at a moderate pace & with an incline)

  • 5 minutes slow and steady on the SwimErg

  • 10 minutes running

  • 5 minutes on the SwimErg

  • 10 minutes running

  • 5 minutes on the SwimErg

The planned pace on the treadmill was supposed to be around a 9-9:10/mile, but my legs were DEAD when I started, so my pace hovered between a 9:30-9:50/mile for my runs. Not what I wanted, but better than not running at all. That being said, this workout was KILLER. Combining the run with the swim without any breaks in between is something I’ve never done before. And even though I didn’t do either of them fast and furious, I kept my heart rate up for the entire 45 minute workout, the only relief being when I jumped off the treadmill and hopped onto the SwimErg.

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I’m not trying to say that breaking up your workouts throughout the day is bad, and I’m still going to do that some days of the week. But since the races I’m used to have never lasted more than two and a half minutes of all out effort, I need to get used to keeping my heart rate up, throughout multiples disciplines, for over 45 minutes. For most of our triathlon clients this is just a blink of an eye, but to me this is over twenty times my standard race length. So I need to buckle down and work on making this my new normal.

Yikes, over twenty times? Typing that out makes it even more exciting…

Training Through the Tears

Let’s take a minute to be extremely honest here. My training has ramped up recently, and yesterday I started crying in the middle of my swim workout. I’m exhausted, my legs seem to constantly hurt, not to mention my knees seem to be akin to that of a 90 year olds, and all I want to do is sit on my couch and eat bread. Maybe some bagels too, but mostly bread. I want to relax, stop working out so much, and lick my metaphorical wounds. So? I cried in my goggles while I was swimming. My stroke felt like garbage, my right arm seemed like it had completely forgotten what it was supposed to be doing, and the water felt like syrup against my attempts to get through it. Ugh.

But I pushed through, I stopped crying (although it went on for longer than it should have to be truthful), and I finished my workout. Not only that, but I didn’t skip my third workout of the day later that afternoon. And after that third workout? I put on my largest sweatpants, took out my contacts, and sat on my couch with a giant bowl of baked ziti and two donuts for dessert. And it was incredible. It was everything I wanted it to be.

What am I driving at here besides using my blog as a place to vent and daydream about meals past? That feeling this way, like signing up for this Aquathlon was the last thing I wish I had done, and letting myself be upset, is perfectly okay. In fact, it’s more than okay, it’s normal, and it’s part of the many ups and downs you’ll experience when training for any race or event on your calendar.

No, I don’t have tips to get through this, and I’m not going to tell you how to avoid it, because I don’t think you should. I think you should let it happen. Let yourself get upset, complain to anyone who will listen, and get your frustration, sadness, anger, whatever it is, out of your system. Feel your emotions, don’t push them down and try to ignore them, that will only make them worse and could hurt you mentally in the long run.

I’m going to keep it short and sweet. If you’re having a tough go of it with your training right now, that’s okay! Talk about your feelings, get upset for a bit, and then move on.

Why Bananas Don't Belong in the Pool

“Swimming is a sport of centimeters.” This is something my favorite swim coach likes to tell me over and over again, especially when I’m having trouble making a small adjustment to my stroke. This might seem like a depressing thing to focus on, but it’s really not. Think of the Olympics and the famous finish Michael Phelps had when he out-touched Milorad Cavic by only one one-hundredth of a second to win gold. One one-hundredth of a second. It takes ten times that long to blink to put things into perspective.

The small movements you work to correct over and over again, that sometimes make you want to pull your hair out in frustration, are the movements that will put you ahead that one one-hundredth of a second to beat out your competition. And in this case, the movement I want to talk about is keeping your ribs down and closed while you swim. What does that mean? The best way to understand it is to first think of the opposite, what you look like when you swim with your ribs open. Think of when you arch your back, and how it turns your torso into a "U" shape, or - and this one's my favorite - a banana in the water. Swimming like a banana through the water clearly would not be beneficial for your efficiency and power. This body position takes you out of streamline and, unlike a banana, causes your hips and legs to sink downward toward the bottom of the pool. Swimming with your hips and legs not at the surface of the water means you're causing unnecessary drag that you have to fight hard against to propel yourself forward through the water.

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The position you want needs to be driven from your ribs, and is, in actuality, a very small movement. When people tell you to arch your back most people create an extreme exaggeration, forming that “U” shape with their bodies. Here, you want a slight crunch inwards, driven from your ribs, which will result in a flat back. Think of it like the position you make when you exhale. When you blow your air out, your ribs go down and move inwards. Not the exact opposite of an arched back, you don’t want a hunchback either. You want to straighten our your back with this downward movement of your ribs in order to prevent swimming like a banana.

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What does this position do? It brings your hips and legs up to the surface of the water, AND helps to tilt your head into proper position at the same time. Try both of these movements standing up on land before trying them out in the pool. In the beginning, make them as exaggerated as you can. To make your banana, take in a really big breath and hold it. Now watch as your body turns into that “U” shape/banana. To feel the opposite, the position we’re looking for, exhale that really big breath and you’ll feel your body straighten back out, as well as the weight of your body falling back onto your heels. This will show you the extreme differences and help you find what we’re looking for in the water.

I know this probably sounds weird, but this minor change to your posture is one of the centimeters that’s going to help you get that much closer to your goal times. It’s going to improve your streamline, power, and efficiency by allowing you to move through the water with less effort and more smoothly than before. If you want to work on this more intensely make sure to take a look at our Foundational Breathing Method online course!