Updated: Mar 17, 2022
Make sure your race is a success with these 3 easy tips you can apply today. Use these 3 tips to become faster and help prevent injury!
Swim – Be a speed boat not a tugboat
The swim is the discipline I get asked about the most in my clinic. Usually, athletes think they need to kick stronger, or develop more strength in their arms, or need to learn to hold their breath longer. But let me reassure you, there are easier fixes to get faster that don’t require any additional strength.
Let’s discuss upgrading your swim pattern. You want to develop a pattern that mimics a speed boat and not a tugboat. Meaning you want to slice the water with your shoulders and hips rather than keeping your shoulders square, which increases drag. One easy test you can do to see if you are swimming like a tugboat or a speed boat is to try using a leg swim buoy. Swim a couple of laps with one between your legs, then remove it and see if you swim the same speed and with the same effort. If you notice you're slower then you’re swimming like a tugboat.
The best way to determine how you swim in the pool is to get a swim analysis done. When I
perform swim analysis it becomes such an eye opener because you can see how much drag you are producing when you swim. Too many times athletes are trying to constantly look where they are swimming, increasing a cervical drag, keeping both shoulders in the water at all times, creating a tugboat effect, and athletes let their hips drop in the water, creating an anchor drag. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. I see this often in the athletes I help.
The easiest fix to becoming more streamlined is to look down, rotate your core to keep only one shoulder in the water at a time, and keep your hips elevated by “swimming downhill.” Learn to use the pool marker on the floor of the pool to help guide your direction and keep your head down, ultimately reducing drag. Use your core like a corkscrew and learn to really rotate your body as you swim and attempt stacking your shoulders rather than keeping them flat in the water. This will require some practice and coaching but is something that can easily be trained with the right performance coach. Lastly, practice “swimming downhill” by keeping your hips elevated and skimming the waterline. Learn to use your lungs as a buoy to keep you elevated in the water and give you the feeling as if you were swimming downhill in the pool. All these techniques are easy to do when you have the right performance coach to help guide you and will make you instantly faster, without gaining a single pound of muscle. The best way to determine how you swim in the pool is to get a swim analysis done. When I perform swim analysis it becomes such an eye opener because you can see how much drag.
Cycle – Don’t ignore groin numbness
We have all felt it at one time or another, you are riding well and going the distance. Then on that one hill you are looking to climb in record time, you get off the saddle but notice something doesn't feel right down between your legs. You shake it off and as you feel the blood flow back to the area you realize you went numb and have experienced what is medically termed “saddle anesthesia.”
Everyone is looking for the aerodynamic edge in cycling, especially in a triathlon where drafting is not approved. There are modifications you can make to your bike, lighter clothing and components you can wear to reduce drag, and body positions you can master to help maintain efficiency while reducing wind resistance. But out of all the athletes I’ve helped, one main area I focus on is groin numbness/pain. Groin numbness is almost always reported by most of my athletes, but it is often ignored or not talked about. So I would like to address it because it can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction and sexual dysfunction.
Experiencing saddle anesthesia is a big concern and is something you should address, especially if you experience it often. Basically, your riding position on your bike saddle is
reducing the blood flow to your groin area and the supporting muscles and structures in the area are not getting the blood they require. Often this can lead to changes in your pelvic floor with women reporting urinary leakage and men reporting erectile dysfunction.
The easy fix is to have a clinical bike fit performed where your bike is fitted to your body. Some bike shops tend to do computer generated bike fitting claiming those bike fits are more accurate, but your body type, riding style, biomechanics, and prior injury history need to play a role in how your bike is adjusted. Often, Tri bike positions place the rider in extreme flexion angles to improve aerodynamics but this is at the cost of biomechanics of your body. I would recommend improving your flexion angle by introducing headset spacers, adjusting your saddle angle to allow for aerobar positioning, and getting an appropriately fitted saddle to ensure proper blood flow. To learn more about the issue and saddle selection see my other blog titled, “‘Peloton Bike’ / cycling Groin Numbness and/or Sexual Dysfunction”
Run – Increase Cadence to Stop “Runner's Knee”
Runner’s knee describes the sensation of soreness and even pain in your knee after you run and is commonly found in runners who have a heel strike pattern. The short reason as to why you have “runner’s knee” is because you rely on your skeletal system to absorb impact forces and there is a breakdown in your mechanics that are increasing those forces on your knee. Finding out where the breakdown is occurring can be a tricky one to find because running requires the whole entire body to move rapidly and often the problem area remains hidden. The one key thing I say is don’t believe all the misinformation and lies that are told to runners like, “running damages your knee” or “heavy weight is bad for running.” Check out my other BLOG titled, “3 Lies Told to Runners” for more clarity.
Having a gait analysis is the best way to figure out the root of the problem, especially when slow-motion capture is performed. I find that showing my athletes videos of themselves running and explaining the movements in a slow motion video format is the best tool to correct a major problem that will lead to injury in the future. Plus, if you think about it, whoever taught you how to run? Most of us usually picked up running somewhere along the way, threw on a pair of old shoes, and headed out the door to pound the pavement. Most athletes never really have someone teach them how to run, they just run. So it’s important to make sure you are running safely to avoid injury in the future.
There are a variety of ways to help fix a poor running technique but the easiest fix you can do today is to try and increase your cadence (the number of times your feet hit the ground). Most smart watches and apps can give you a general cadence number and this can be useful to know if you are in the injury zone or in the injury free zone. The basic rule of thumb is to try and run with a cadence above 170. The reason why 170 is the magic number is because, on average, if you run with a 170 bpm cadence you typically run with more of a midfoot strike pattern. The reason midstrike running is better is because it allows your body to use not only your skeletal system but your soft tissue to help absorb the impact forces. This results in keeping your knees, and other joints, happy throughout your run. There are other factors to consider as well like how many miles you run in a training session, your shoe type (toe box width, heel to toe drop, shoe weight, sole depth, etc.), determining what type of runner you are, your preferred foot strike pattern, and your running goals. See my other BLOG titled, “5 Shoe Designs to Run Faster” for some help on shoe design and shoe anatomy.
So, when you are training for your triathlon just remember to keep those three tips in mind: stay streamlined in your swim, avoid groin numbness on the bike, and increase your cadence in your run. Those are three simple tips you can work on to increase your speed and get you over the finish line faster. I’d recommend having a board certified, physical therapist on your team to make sure you avoid injury and keep you on the race calendar all year round! Good luck on your next race!
You Deserve the Best, Expect the Best!
Dr. Estrada is an Endurance Specialist at EPRSG and has over 15+ years of experience. He has completed over 10+ half marathons, marathons, and triathlons. His experience ranges from swimming, running, cycling, mountain biking, and many other sports. He has coached many athletes ranging in ages from high school to senior athletes in their 90's.