Monday, 28 June 2010

This weekends training - A test of your endurance!

I don't mean we are going to be 'testing' your endurance again but both the swim and run sessions involve little if any rest periods. Great preparation for your upcoming events and both sessions should leave you feeling confident you can do the business come race day.

As usual we will start the swim session with some technique drills. It would be great if you could bring your fins and a pull buoy if you have them. Nautilus, the dive shop at 197-199 Mare Street, London E8 3QF, has swim fins at a good price. You have to ring a bell to enter the shop so don't be put off if the door is locked. I have written a blog about using fins to improve your stroke in the past if you want to take a look.

Well done to all those who completed the 5km time trial at Hackney Marshes. There were some quick times posted by a lot of you and I could see the effort that was put in by all. Nice work! It was a hot morning making it that much more of a challenge to keep the pace going. We plan to do this perhaps on the last Saturday of each month to help gauge progress.

Someone asked me after the session about the purpose of sculling. Not only do sculling drills work well as a warm up exercise to prepare your shoulders and arms for the hard work ahead but they are also great for developing a 'feel for the water'. It is quite difficult to develop this feel for the water when practising the full stroke so we break it down into different phases. When you get the catch and pull through right it feels like a smooth flowing action, it feels easy but still gives you lots of propulsion. If one of the early movements is wrong (e.g. dropping the elbow and/or wrist) this then disrupts the water flow and will have a knock on effect with the rest of your stroke.

Dan Bullock of Swim for Tri wrote an article called Sculling for Success in the Triathlete Europe magazine. You can read the article here. It is well worth a read and has a video to show you the various sculling positions and correct technique. Give them a go this week and let me know what you think. You might just find that you beigin to get more propulsion in your stroke with the same or less effort.

Have a good week! Tim (LFTC Coach)

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

This weekends training - Developing your catch and a 5km time trial!

A 'strong' catch and pull will make you both faster and more efficient swimming freestyle. You will not only give yourself more time to breathe but you will expend less energy in the water. This will translate into less of that horrible breathless feeling while swimming, a faster swim and more energy for the bike and run.

Some tips for a correct 'catch and pull':
  1. Hand entry: As your hand enters into the water, take care to make sure it does so finger-tips first, lengthening forward in front of the same shoulder with the middle finger pointing the way to the far end of the pool.
  2. Extension: As you reach forward with good body roll make sure you do so with the palm of the hand looking at the bottom of the pool and with the finger tips angled slightly down. 'Putting the brakes on' by dropping the wrist and pushing forward is very common and a habit you want to try to break. It is common in those swimmers that 'over-glide'.
  3. Initial catch: At full reach and without dropping your elbow, you should feel like you are tipping your finger-tips over the front of a barrel (again flexing at the wrist) which will start the catch. At the same time start bending the elbow and pressing back on the water with the forearm in a near-vertical position.
  4. Pull through: Concentrate your efforts on simply pressing water back behind you with the palm of your hand still looking back behind you.

These tips have come straight from the Swim Smooth website. If you would like to read more, look at some pictures and watch some videos to help your understanding of 'the catch and pull' I recommend you take a look.

We will teach you drills this week to help develop your catch and pull. It would be useful if you have a pull buoy or fins to bring them along as we will use them during the drills.

Just a reminder that instead of the usual run session based at London Fields we will be doing a 5km time trial at Hackney Marshes. You must register with Park Run before 6pm Friday. The event is free so don't be shy and join in! We must be ready to start at Hackney Marshes at 9am.

Just out of interest a study by O'Rourke et al (2008) found that caffeine ingestion significantly improved 5-km running performance in both well-trained and recreational runners. So grab yourself a coffee before we go! Ok so the performance gain was not huge but if you need an excuse to have a coffee Saturday morning I have just given you one.

See you on Saturday for a 7am start. Tim (LFTC Coach)

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

This week's swim and run sessions - Pacing

Having calculated your CSS last week this week's session is all about pacing yourself during the swim. It is extremely common to swim way too fast at the beginning of a triathlon (especially when it is your first race) and then spend the rest of the swim (and sometimes the bike and run) paying for your efforts. Suffering early in the swim can be a real blow to your confidence if you find yourself breathless and slipping backwards through the field. Improving your pace awareness might mean that your first race is even more fun than expected!We'll practise pacing during our run session as well to ensure you can keep those legs turning over at lightning speed right through the finish line.

This Saturday it would be useful if you had a stopwatch with a countdown timer on it or else you will have to get very good at using the pace clock at the Lido! If your CSS is 2min 10s per 100m set your countdown timer for 1min 5s. Your watch will 'beep' every time you touch the wall for 50m indicating that you are maintaining the desired pace. If you don't have a watch a quick glance at the pace clock will do the trick. Another great little gadget is something call a Wetronome. It is a waterproof metronome that can be used for working on your stroke rate (either speeding it up or slowing it down) or improving your pace awareness with the time interval function. I'll bring mine to the Lido so you can try it out.

If you missed last week's session and don't know your CSS see if you can squeeze in a swim session before Saturday and calculate it yourself. After a warm up swim a 400m time trial and then a 200m time trial. Remember try to keep your pace even throughout the time trials and allow yourself a complete recovery between the time trials. Use Swim Smooth's CSS Calculator to work out your CSS speed per 100m.

Swim Smooth have also developed a great new microsite called Swim Types. Just like an individual's running technique can largely be explained by their physical characteristics so too can an individual's swimming technique. Believe it or not your personality type may also have an effect on your swimming technique. Try to identify your Swim Type by taking the Swim Type Questionnaire. Let me know the result on Saturday and I'll see if I agree with you. I think we have a few Arnie's in the group!

See you bright and early! Tim (LFTC Coach)

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

This week's swim session - Breathing and body position

Breathing. Sounds simple doesn't it but how many of you feel breathless when swimming? There are a number of reasons why you might feel breathless. Most of us will automatically assume that it is a lack of fitness that is the cause. However it may be something far more simple like holding your breath or not exhaling properly or a combination of both.

If you hold your breath, trapping air in your lungs, it will increase the buoyancy in the chest. The consequence of this...your hips and legs will drop lower in the water. Why you ask? Just think what happens when you put a life jacket on. You increase the buoyancy around the chest and you will sit vertically in the water. Breathing therefore can have a major effect on your body position. If you missed my blog about breathing last month click here to take a look. We will cover some simple drills to improve your breathing technique on Saturday.

What is an ideal body position for swimming freestyle (front crawl)? If you have not seen Mr Smooth from the Swim Smooth website you should take a look. He is an animated swimmer with an 'ideal freestyle stroke'. See how horizontal he sits in the water. See how the back of the head, upper back and buttocks are at the surface of the water with the heels just breaking the surface with each kick. This position minimises drag and maximises efficiency. We will cover some great drills to improve your body position on Saturday too.

Remember your fins! Have I said that before? Seriously you will find the session much more beneficial (and fun) if you have them. If you have a pull buoy bring that too.

See ya, Tim (LFTC Coach).

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Knee - The area most likely to be injured

Knee pain is relatively common in triathletes. In fact the knee is the area that is most often injured by those participating in triathlon. Which discipline causes the majority of knee injuries? Running. That is not to say that swimming and cycling don't cause knee injuries. They certainly can but relative to running the injury rates a low.

The majority of knee injuries in triathletes are not acute injuries i.e. they are not caused by acute trauma such as a fall, but are the result of cumulative trauma. The injury develops over a period of time due to the failure of the tissues to cope with the load being placed on them over that time period.

The anatomy of the knee is quite complex and although it is interesting I will not go into too much detail today. The majority of knee injuries in triathletes are related to the 'extensor mechanism'. The extensor mechanism is comprised of: the quadricep muscles, the quadriceps tendon, the patellofemoral joint and the patellar tendon. The patellofemoral joint is the joint between the patella (knee cap) and the femur (thigh bone). The iliotibial band could also be considered part of the extensor mechanism and this structure can certainly be a source of knee pain in triathletes.

Common Injuries
The most common knee injuries seen in triathletes are: patellofemoral joint dysfunction; patellar tendinopathy; iliotibial band syndrome and quadriceps tendinopthy. This list is not exhaustive. There are other injuries in the knee that can occur such as ligament sprains and ruptures and various forms of injury to the different types of cartilage in the knee but the four injuries mentioned above are by far the most common.

Patellofemoral joint dysfunction (PFJD) is the term used to describe pain in and around the patella. Abnormal loads on the patellofemoral joint (PFJ) cause inflammation in the tissue (synovium) around the patella. Once the synovium becomes inflamed it can be continually aggravated by certain activities. Pain descending stairs is a common complaint. The area of pain is often described as underneath or around the patella.

Patellar tendinopathy is a degenerative process within the patellar tendon. The result is a breakdown in the microstructure of the tendon. The tensile strength of the tendon is reduced and the tendon is unable to tolerate normal loads. The process is reversible with appropriate injury management. This injury is common in jumping athletes such as long jumpers and if often referred to as Jumper's Knee but it also occurs in running athletes and cyclists. The area of pain is often described as immediately below the patella over the patellar tendon.

Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is caused by inflammation around the distal end of the ITB as it crosses a bony area on the outside of the knee called the lateral epicondyle. There is some debate as to whether the pain is caused by friction or impingement. When running the pain tends to occur soon after foot strike when the knee flexes or bends (loading response). When cycling the pain is felt most often during the down stroke when the knee is flexed to around 30 degrees. Pain may also be felt on the up stroke as the knee comes into more flexion. The area of pain is often described as over the outside of the knee.

Quadriceps tendinopathy is a degenerative process within the quardiceps tendon. It is the same process that occurs in patellar tendinoapthy. Again this process is reversible with appropriate injury management. It is the least common of the injuries described in this blog and can again occur with either running or cycling or both. The area of pain is often described as immediately above the patella.

Management Strategies
There are a number of factors that can predispose someone to the development of the injuries described above such as: biomechanical faults e.g. over-pronation of a lack of dorsi flexion at the ankle (ability to bend your knee over toe); soft-tissue tightness both in the the thigh e.g. quadriceps and ITB and associated areas e.g. calf, hamstrings and hip region; muscle dysfunction such as weakness in the vastus medialis obliquus(VMO), the calf, trunk and/or hip musculature such as the gluteul muscle group; training errors such as a sudden increase in training load or poor bike set-up.

When symptoms first appear the RICE regimen can be useful particularly with patellar and quadriceps tendinopathy and ITBS. Like all cumulative trauma injuries it is important to determine the cause. For example addressing areas of weakness in the trunk and hip to reduce the load on the knee or making changes to your bike set up e.g. saddle position or cleat position.

Using a foam roller to release tight structures on the outside or front of the thigh can be very useful. Click here to see examples of these exercises.

Strengthening of the gluteal muscles may also be required. Weakness in the gluteus medius (hip abductor) is associated with various forms of knee pain including PFJD and ITBS. Gluteus maximus weakness is also commonly seen in association with knee injuries. Click here to see examples of gluteal strength exercises.

Strengthening of the quadriceps and in particular the VMO is important to improve 'tracking' of the patella. When performing any quadriceps strength exercise thinking about using and looking at the VMO in a mirror can help activation of the muscle. Click here to see examples of quadriceps strength exercises. A specific form of strengthening has been shown to help patellar tendinopathy. This is called eccentric loading. I won't go into this in detail in this blog as it is already pretty long!

The muscles of the trunk are also very important and a reduction in the strength of the side flexors of the trunk has been shown to be associated with PFJP. Strengthening of the trunk musculature may therefore be required in some people with the knees injuries outlined above. Various abdominal strength exercises, including exercises for the side flexors, can be seen here.

Recognising training errors is very important. Sudden changes in training load such as an increase in mileage or an increase in intensity with the introduction of hill training or speed work or 'over-gearing' on the bike can lead to injury. You should introduce such changes gradually and only when you have built adequate fitness to do so. A training diary should help you recognise such errors and I well thought at training plan should help you avoid them!

Of course everybody is an individual and each individual's injury will have different contributing factors. If you have an ongoing injury you should seek help from a trained professional to help determine the cause of your injury and how to manage it properly. The tips above are an overview of some management strategies for the injuries described above. They are equally good preventative strategies if you do not have a knee injury and want to try remain injury free.

I hope that was interesting and useful. Tim (LFTC Coach)

This week's swim session - An effective kick

It is the action of the arms and body that provides 85-90% of your propulsion in the water when swimming freestyle (front crawl). So why work on kicking then? Well for some that 10-15% might make the difference between reaching your season goal e.g. lowering your 750m swim time by 'X' amount, or not reaching it. For others it may help your freestyle technique in ways you did not expect. For example reducing the 'scissor kick' that happens every time you take a breath that results in increased drag, slowing you down and reducing your ability to breathe effectively.

So how does an effective kick help your freestyle and therefore your swim section of a triathlon? Here is what the coaches from Swim Smooth have to say:
  1. An effective kick will lift your legs in the water helping you maintain an ideal body position.
  2. An effective kick will reduce drag in the water.
  3. The timing of an effective kick will assist body roll rather than hinder it.
  4. An effective kick will result in lower energy expenditure during the swim.

What will give you an effective kick then? Here is what the coaches from Swim Smooth have to say:

  1. Kick from the hip. There is some movement at the knee during kicking but the movement should be 'driven' by the hip. The knee flexes (bends) slightly during the down stroke and extends (straightens) during the up stroke. This occurs because the knee is relaxed but the hip is doing all the hard work.
  2. Point your toes. By plantar flexing your feet and ankles (pointing your toes) you are turning your foot into a something resembling a flipper creating positive propulsion.
  3. Ankle flexibility is important. Without it you will not be able to point your toes effectively. Working on ankle flexibility will therefore help to improve your kick.
  4. The key to good timing is that when the hand enters the water at the front of the stroke, the opposite leg should kick. Timing is an advanced skill and novice swimmers should focus on points 1-3 before getting too concerned about timing.

Fins are very useful for helping develop and effective kick. Remember to bring yours along on Saturday! Tim (LFTC Coach)