triathlon

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.

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!

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…

Drills Have a Purpose, Trust me

During my swim practices back in high school there was nothing I hated seeing on the board more than a giant set full of freestyle drills. Well, except maybe an entire workout made up of butterfly sets, those were the worst. 3000-5000 yards of 80% butterfly? No thank you. And yes, this happened, unfortunately there’s no exaggeration here. Those dreaded drill sets just bored me to tears. If you’ve never been a teenage girl doing thousands of yards of slow, monotonous, freestyle drills at 4:15am before going to school and having to actually pay attention to things (and apparently “learn”), give yourself a pat on the back, because that was the actual worst. All of those drills would never get me to my goal times and make the champs meets.

Or would they?

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One thing that has finally gotten through this thick skull of mine is that the very drills my coaches had me do over and over...and over again, had a purpose. AND that I actually needed to be paying attention whilst doing them, not just daydreaming and thinking about how excited I was for breakfast (my mom got up with me EVERY MORNING at 3:45am to make me a fried egg and cheese sandwich before practice, that woman is a saint) in order for them to have the desired impact. Huh, who knew?

All of the drills your coaches put into your practices have a point, and a purpose, and are there to help you build a proper foundation for your swimming. And that proper foundation? That’s what’s going to keep you injury free throughout the years. And the reasons you have to keep going back to them? So you can stay injury free. Swimming can be monotonous, even mind-numbingly boring at times, trust me, I’m aware (and don’t worry, I say that with love). But you have to focus on the technique of your stroke. You need to focus on the drills that help you perfect that technique. Doing so will help you be able to make improvements to your stroke faster and understand the purpose behind making the changes that lead to those improvements. And all of this will lead to a stronger, safer, and more efficient stroke.

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The next time you head to the pool and see a laundry list of freestyle drills, don’t start singing songs from your favorite Disney movie and trying to figure out the math on how many cookies you can eat after this workout. Focus on each drill, take your time, and try not to fall asleep in the water. The more you focus, the more you’ll want to practice these drills over and over. Because you know what happens when you focus? Progress.

PS the drill I’m working on in these pictures is Triangle Drill, which helps you focus on proper catch position and the movement of your shoulder blades. Check out our instructional video and try adding it to your next swim workout!

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.