January 23, 2018

Tri Swim Series, Part 5: Leg And Foot Position

Last, but not least are your feet. What should they be doing? How much do your legs and feet really drive you through the water? Great questions (Ron)!

Frankly, your legs and feet aren’t that important in triathlon swimming. Now, if you were talking about short distance swim events I’d have a different opinion, but for our sport . . . not so much.

It’s not to say that your legs and feet aren’t important, it’s just that relative to the other elements of the freestyle stroke, they’re less important – and if you’re swimming in a wetsuit, they’re even less important.

First, if your body position is good your legs should be following close to the surface of the water. If you’re “plowing” through the water chances are your head is too high and your legs are out of position. Remember, the more “hydrodynamic” you are, the easier it is to swim, and the faster you can go.

Ideally, your feet should be kicking close to the surface of the water and your heals breaking the surface of the water, but not splashing wildly. You don’t want to work your legs so hard during the swim so you have difficulty cycling afterward.

You’re going to get very little propulsion from your legs in triathlon swimming. Perhaps 5% – 10% of your forward motion can be attributed to your legs. But since you don’t want them dragging behind you it is important that they do more than drag behind you.

I really don’t care about your kicking pattern. If you kick once per stroke or three times per stroke it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the following:

• Keep your toes pointed but not stressed. If you stress them you’re likely to get a cramp.

• Keep your feet together. I used to have this problem when my body was out of balance. If your body is properly situated you should be able to swim with your feet close together, not splayed.

• Keep your knees straight but not locked. There should be very little knee bend. The more you bend your knees the less hydrodynamic you are.

• Keep your feet near the surface of the water (as previously described).

Since I’m not a big fan of “swim crack” (all of the swim devices that are supposed to make you swim faster), I never use a kickboard. The idea behind using a kickboard is to give your legs more power so you can swim faster. The problem is we all have a limited amount of time and rather that spend the time to do the laps with a kickboard I’d rather see you working on your form.

Practice these tips and you’ll have a better swim at your next event!

Ron Saetermoe


Discover the secrets to improving your swim technique, avoiding painful injuries, and shaving minutes off your best triathlon times to date! Are You Ready To Make A Change In Your Athletic Life?

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Effective Interval Training For Triathletes

One of the most effective weapons of top triathletes is interval training. Here at Triathica we define interval training is a period of “test” then “rest.” In other words you follow a really hard effort with an easy one.

The virtue of interval training is that you can squeeze more quality training into a shorter period of time – something everyone can appreciate! However, there’s more to it than that . . .

Some of the other benefits of interval training include:

• Boosting your metabolism/improve weight loss
• Improve speed
• Improve endurance
• Increase cadence
• Improve anaerobic threshold/lactate threshold

Interval training can be done for swimming, cycling, running or even strength training. The common thread is “test” and “rest.” Incorporating interval training in your weekly workouts will help you improve your race day performance.

One of the misconceptions about interval training is that it means an “all-out” effort followed by an easy one. While an interval may be an all-out effort it may also be a longer, less intense one too. An interval can be as short as a few seconds to 20 minutes, for example.

There are no hard and fast rules, and mixing up the intensity and time helps your fitness in different ways.

The Swedish term “fartlek” means “speed play” which is a popular form of interval training. Essentially, fartlek training is interval training which is less structured. For example, you might start an interval at a telephone pole and sprint to the mailbox. There are no predetermined distances or intensities. Fartlek helps you mix things up a bit while avoiding some of the boredom associated with some other forms of interval training.

One of the biggest benefits of interval training is that it can boost your anaerobic/lactate thresholds. Anaerobic simply means “without oxygen.” You’re anaerobic when lactic acid builds in your system that it can’t clear and you go into oxygen debt. You can reach your anaerobic capacity doing most exercises at a really hard effort.

The problem is you can’t stay anaerobic for long periods of time. These are short bursts of effort. However, as you “test” your system more you’re able to increase these efforts or lengthen them over time. Therefore, incorporating interval training with other forms of training will increase your fitness and your race performance.

Before attempting interval training you should make sure of several things:

• Your doctor clears you for high-intensity training
• You adequately warm-up (to avoid injury)
• Increase your intensity and duration but not at the same time

While effective interval training can provide lots of benefits it’s not without its risks also. Be sure to back off when things don’t feel right or you’re in any kind of pain. Don’t assume you can “push through” it because you may only make matters worse. Also, be careful not to overuse interval training. Two sessions per week in each event is plenty (two swim, two bike and two run).

Click The Video Below To Take a Peek Inside The Triathica Academy Interval Workouts…

So how is interval training done? There are a number of variables that can be changed-up to create in interval session, including:

• “Test” duration
• “Rest” duration
• Workout duration
• Number of repetitions
• Speed or effort of interval
• Frequency of interval sessions

Here at Triathica we’re big believers in interval training and feel it should be in every triathlete’s training arsenal. I personally used interval training every week in all three events to help me qualify for the Ironman World Championships.

Triathica offers a variety of training options to help you with your training, all of which incorporate interval training.

First, we offer customized training plans based upon your swim, bike and run fitness. Every plan includes detailed interval training tailored to your level of fitness.

We also offer “Power Up!” our cycling DVD. Power Up! is a high-intensity interval workout that will definitely help your cycling performance.

Most recently we’ve added our cycling interval mp3 workouts. Check it out here: http://www.triathlontrainingworkouts.com/. There are four versions aimed at improving your cycling performance and recovery:

• Speed: includes high-cadence efforts to boost speed in the flats
• Power: includes low-cadence efforts to improve hill climbing
• Endurance: includes longer intervals to improve race endurance
• Recovery: easier effort to improve recovery from hard workouts


Check out our training and let us know how we can help.

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Balancing Home Life, Work And Training – Part 1

Every serious athlete struggles to balance home life, work and training. More times than not training loses out. So how can you find the proverbial “balance”? The way I did it was to incorporate interval training into my weekday workouts.

Interval training is essentially a hard effort followed by an easy effort. At Triathica we call this “test and rest.” The test is pushing yourself hard and the rest allows you to regroup before another hard effort. For the “time crunched” athlete you can compress your training into shorter workouts and still get some great results.

Personally, I incorporated two cycling interval workouts on the trainer and two interval workouts on the treadmill every week. I was able to cram about two hours of training into a one hour session and still reap some incredible efforts — efforts that allowed me to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona in 2010!

At the Triathica Academy we’ve developed interval workouts for the bike and run that every athlete can add to their training repertoire. In addition to endurance and strength training, interval workouts round-out the athlete’s training regimen.

Click here to discover how interval training can improve your speed, power, endurance and recovery.

To your success,

Ron Saetermoe


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Ramping Up

This is the time of year we triathletes ramp up for our upcoming season. For some of us there’s a little more ramping up needed than others (if you know what I mean)!

We’re very anxious to return the fitness we had at the peak of our season last year but not so fast! Sure, it would be great to jump right back into those long hard sessions but don’t!

This is the time of year to slowly ramp back up to where you were not jump back in where you left off. If you attempt to you’re likely to encounter one of three problems:

1. Injury
2. Illness
3. Give up

Since you’re body isn’t used to the type of workouts you did during your peak last year you need to start out easier and build to where you were. Too many triathletes try to jump back in and injure themselves by going too hard or too long.

A buddy of mine back east was in a hurry to drop the winter weight and make good on his New Year’s resolution and decided to do a nighttime run. Big mistake! Now it’s quite possible he’ll never run again, or at least the way he used to. He’s got a huge cast on his foot and seven screws holding it together!

Since exercise puts stress on your body illness is another potential problem. Eating right and lots of rest are helpful, as are staying away from sick people and washing your hands a lot, but when you stress your body too much you’re more susceptible to getting sick.

The last, and perhaps worst, problem is giving up entirely. It’s frustrating not to be able to perform the way you used to. However, if you let it get to you and give up you’re never going to get your fitness back.

Here are some tips to getting your fitness back:

1. Start out with an abbreviated number of workouts per week. If you were doing 11, try six.

2. Cut the length of the workouts back. If your long rides were four hours start out with two.

3. Cut the intensity back. If you were hammering at an RPE (rating of perceived exertion) of “8” dial it back to “6” for a while.

4. Reduce the amount of running you do. Running is the hardest on your body. Substitute an additional swim for a run early in the season and build from there.

There’s no rush. Yes, the season is close at hand but you don’t want to blow it before it even gets started.


Ron Saetermoe

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Tri Swim Series, Part 4: Head Position

Why am I writing about head position this week? Seems you’d start at the head and work down, doesn’t it? Actually, I’m approaching this series based on my perception of what’s most important.

I started the series with body position. This is where everything starts and the power is really derived. Last week I talked about the importance of arm position – in my opinion the second most important element. This week I’ll talk about head position.

Improper head position is probably the most common problem I see with triathlon swimmers. And in nearly all cases, the head is too high. However, I have also seen it where the head position is actually too low.

So where should your head be? If you’re reading this sitting up straight in your chair you have the proper head position for freestyle swimming. That’s it! It’s your natural head position when you’re sitting or standing. We call this the “neutral” position.

Our natural tendency when swimming is to try to look where we’re going, particularly when we’re swimming in a pool with other people. We seem to want to see where we’re going so we don’t run into to someone or the end of the pool. It’s natural, but not effective in swimming freestyle.

The “neutral” head position is the fastest and it’s easy to spot from the pool deck. A good swimmer will have the top of the water slightly flowing over the top of their head. You won’t see their forehead and you won’t see their head dipped far below the surface of the water either.

The most important reason you want proper head position is to make sure your body remains flat in the water. As soon as you raise your head up your body will follow, which means your legs will drop down, thereby making you less hydrodynamic. As soon as your head goes into the neutral position your body will flatten out. Amazingly simple isn’t it.

And while it is a bit of a leap of faith that you won’t run into something, in time you’ll get used to swimming this way.

So what about breathing? Again it’s very simple. With your head in the neutral position, turn your head and look over your left or right shoulder. Don’t lift or drop your head, just turn it. That’s it! Again, how simple is that?

You can tell if you’re turning your head properly if when you do only one of your eyes comes out of the water and the other remains under water. Again, this takes some time to get used to because you may be lifting your entire face out of the water again, but one eye out is best.

And finally, what is your head supposed to be doing when it’s in the water? Does it shift from side to side or remain static? Again, very simple. When you’re not breathing your head should remain completely still with your eyes focused nearly straight down.

One of the better swimmers I know is Kevin Koskella, the TriSwimCoach guy. We video taped him and amazed at how still his head was when he wasn’t breathing. Perfectly positioned, and perfectly still. That’s when I started analyzing my head position and found that mine was constantly shifting while I swam.

These days when I swim I’m constantly thinking about my head position and the benefits I get from having a good one.

Triathlon Swimming DVD

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Triathlon Swim Series, Part 3: Arm Position

Swimming arm positionLast week I wrote about body position and how the good stroke begins with good body position.

This week we’ll cover about arm position.

Over the years there have been many thoughts on arm position. I personally know of four. Unfortunately, I learned about three of them too late – after my rotator cuff was messed up. Let’s see if we can prevent the same problem for you.

I’ll break down the proper stroke for you into its elements so you can visualize this the next time you swim:

Entry: The proper hand entry is smooth. The hand should enter the water just above your head as if you’re slipping your hand underneath the sheet of your bed. Don’t slap the water – there should be very little splash. As your hand enters the water your hand should stay close to the surface of the water – don’t let it drop down. Try to stay about 4” – 6” from the surface of the water. As the hand enters the water quickly push it forward under the water. Also be careful to watch where your hands go once they’ve entered the water. You DON’T want them crossing over the imaginary line that goes through the center of your body and head. Ideally, they’ll stay approximately shoulder width.

Reach: I talked about “reach” last week. Essentially, you want to stretch your arms out as much as possible as if you’re trying to touch the wall that’s just 6” too far out of reach. The proper reach will automatically rotate your body.

Catch: The main element of the catch is to keep the elbow high and bring the hand and forearm vertical as quickly as possible. If you do this your hand should stay very shallow in the water. Think of it as if you were swimming in 12” of water and you didn’t want your hand to hit the bottom of the pool. The proper catch will allow you to use the force of your hand AND your forearm against the water. Yes, it’s harder to pull through the water but the additional resistance will help propel you through the water faster.

Pull: The pull should be fast. You’ll feel the resistance which is why doing exercises like lat pull-downs will help you with your tricep strength. The proper pull will have your hand going nearly vertical through the water, not under your body, but to your side. The YMCA used to teach the “S” pull. Avoid the “S” as it adds nothing to your efficiency. Your hand should continue to pull until it is by your hip. In fact, if done properly, your hip will move out of the way (because of your proper body rotation) just as your hand passes by.

Return: Keep your elbow high on the return but your hand low. Your fingers should almost skim the surface of the water on the return. You’ll see swimmers reaching waaay out of the water with their hands sometimes. This isn’t efficient. Keep the hand low.

That’s it! Those are the key elements of the proper arm position. Concentrate on these elements each time you swim and you’ll go faster.

Ron Saetermoe


Discover the secrets to improving your swim technique, avoiding painful injuries, and shaving minutes off your best triathlon times to date! Are You Ready To Make A Change In Your Athletic Life?

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Best Laid Plans

USAT triathlon coachEveryone that knows me knows I’m a planner. While I appreciate spontaneity I am more comfortable with a plan – one that’s flexible.
Serious triathletes are usually great planners. We plan our races. We plan our meals. We plan our workouts. We plan everything. We really have to be good planners because our training takes so much time we need to figure out a way to fit it all in.

For example, my normal training week has me doing 11 workouts per week, and I may be increasing that to 12. With 11 – 12 workouts a week you really need a plan. Here’s how I break it down:

• Annual plan: this is a week-by-week view of my entire calendar year. It shows the date, the minutes of each workout per week and any races I have signed up for.

• Weekly plan: this shows me the structure of my week. Which days I’ll be swimming, cycling, running and strength training as well as the minutes each day.

• Daily plan: this shows me the exact structure of my workout for the day. For example, if I have a treadmill workout planned it breaks it down minute-by-minute in terms of speed and incline.

This is precisely how I help the athletes I coach structure their year as well. Once you’ve got it all laid out you can see how it flows. The other thing I like is that it there is never any question about my workout for the day – it’s all there in black and white.

Here’s the hitch: things don’t always go according to plan. An injury, vacation or another event may take you off your plan. In fact, you can count on something messing up your plan at some point. The question is how to respond to it.

The answer is that it all depends on whether it’s a short-term hiccup or a long-term one. If you simply miss one day don’t worry about it. Just go on to the next day’s workout as if nothing happened.

However, if you’ve missed multiple days, or even weeks, which can be the case with an injury, you’ll need to adjust your plan.

My good pal and strength training partner, Mark Arenal, has had a stubborn injury that doesn’t allow him to run. Okay, so what do you do with that? Simple, he maintains his normal training regimen except when it comes to running. On his scheduled running days he either substitutes an additional swim, cycling or strength session.

Is it ideal? No. But while he’s recovering from his injury he’s lucky enough to be doing other things that will help his core strength and endurance.

So when your plans don’t come together as you want, don’t give up, just make a new plan.


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Triathlon Swim Series, Part 2: Body Position

Last week I wrote about the importance of “feeling” the water and being conscious about what your body is doing while you’re swimming. If you approach your swims with this approach you can all but eliminate the swim drills you’re currently doing.

This week we’ll cover body position.

The position of your body is crucial to a good swim stroke because the power you achieve starts with your body, not your arms. Similar to a good golf swing, your body should rotate gently from side-to-side to generate inertia to your arms.

The mental image I talk about with my athletes is think about sitting in a canoe in the middle of a calm lake. Hold on to the sides of the canoe and gently rock it from side-to-side. This is precisely what your body should be doing – gently rocking from side-to-side, as you swim.

The question is, “how is the rocking created?” It’s actually not created by your hands pressing through the water it happens naturally as you “reach” with your hands to catch the water.

Many swim coaches talk about “making your boat longer.” What they’re saying is proper position in the water when swimming freestyle is about really stretching your arms and body as much as possible when you swim. Think of it this way: imagine a normal swim stroke. Then, imagine another swim stroke but this time your normal stroke would leave you six inches short of the wall. That extra “reach” will allow you to touch the wall without taking another stroke with your other arm.

That’s the proper “feeling” your stroke should have. But wait a minute; I thought we were talking about body position, not the stroke. Exactly! A proper reach will automatically rotate your body – you can’t help it!

Photo: Courtesy of Tri Swim Coach

That’s the beauty of proper swim form – it happens naturally – you don’t have to force anything. See if I’m right about this. The more you reach, or stretch, with your arm the more your body will rotate.

The trick is to do this on both sides. For those of us that unilaterally breathe (breathe to just one side) is to get a proper extension on both sides. The answer is simple and obvious: you need to really stretch out on both sides and your body will automatically rotate as you need it to.

Nothing about the proper swim stroke should be forced. It will all happen naturally if you let it.

All this week, during your swim workouts, concentrate on reaching for the wall on every stroke and be conscious of your body position, and you’ll swim faster!


Ron Saetermoe


Discover the secrets to improving your swim technique, avoiding painful injuries, and shaving minutes off your best triathlon times to date! Are You Ready To Make A Change In Your Athletic Life?

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Triathlon Swim Series, Part 1: Feeling the Water

To the disappointment of many, I don’t think you need drills or a bunch of accessories to be a fast swimmer. I know how much you love to repeat those drills every week but I wonder how much they really help.

I also question the sense kick boards, pull buoys, paddles, snorkels and all the other swim junk and if they really help you. We refer to them as “swim crack” because people get hooked on them and think they can’t live without them.

When it comes down to it, swimming isn’t all that complex. When you break it down to its simplest elements you’ll see what I mean. In this series of articles I’ll address each of the primary elements to show you just how easy it is.

Yes, I know, this sounds like one of those infomercials where the guy who’s a concert pianist is going to teach you how to play perfectly in three easy lessons. Being a fair swimmer myself perhaps a good swim stroke comes naturally to me . . . but in fact it hasn’t.

I swam competitively from the ages of seven to 17. In all that time none of my swim coaches talked to us about our form. We just did what we thought we were supposed to do. And like a lot of other kids, I developed problems in my shoulders because we were swimming “flat” in the water (no body rotation). I’ve had surgery on my left shoulder and my right could use it as well.

Since that time I’ve had some swim coaching and two different philosophies have emerged and another I never tried (credited to the YMCA). Having been a student of the freestyle swim stroke I’ve come to my own conclusions which I’ll share with you in the next several editions of the newsletter.

The first thing I want you to try is to “feel” how you’re swimming. Be conscious of everything you’re doing in the water. For example, in the pool just this morning, I was swimming next to a guy whose hand entry went from the surface of the water and dove straight down to the bottom of the pool. In essence he was slowing himself down by doing this because his entire hand and arm were blocking his forward progress.

The elements you should be thinking about while you’re swimming are the following:

  • What is my body doing? Am I flat in the water or is my body gently rocking from side-to-side like I might do in a canoe? Your body will move faster through the water on your side than flat in the water.
  • What are my arms doing? Where are they entering the water? How deep are they going? What position are my arms when I “catch” the water? How far back are they going before I start my stroke? Your arm position can make all the difference in your speed.
  • Where is my head? Is my head still or is it moving? Where your head goes your body will go. If you’re moving it up and down your body will follow.
  • What are my legs and feet doing? How much of your speed is coming from your legs?

Next week we’ll delve into one of these elements and help you get faster immediately.


Discover the secrets to improving your swim technique, avoiding painful injuries, and shaving minutes off your best triathlon times to date! Are You Ready To Make A Change In Your Athletic Life?

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Smack Talk

We really don’t cut each other much slack in the gang of triathletes I hang out with. We all talk “smack.” You know the disparaging comments you make about others, particularly the ones you’re good friends with.

The way we use “smack” is to help motivate each other. We’ll “dis” (disrespect) the training methods used by the other guys and remind them how we beat them at a particular race.

Naturally, it’s all in fun, but it does motivate us.

For example, even though I’ve had some good success in my racing this year I’ve decided to change my training for next year. Well my good pal Larry “Lar Dog” Davidson was giving me a ration of sh** about the changes I’m making. While he clearly doesn’t agree with my changes I know he supports me totally (even though he’s aging up into my age group January 1st).

That’s how it is. You have some good fun by giving the other guys crap while really supporting them and enjoying their accomplishments. Now, I don’t expect Larry to “let” me win at Ironman 70.3 California but I know he’ll want me to have a good race and if that means beating him, he’ll be happy for me.

Of course, the reverse is true as well. If I beat him I hope he’ll feel like he was at the top of his game and that I just had the better race that day.

I believe in using as many forms of motivation you can get your hands on. Find others to inspire you. Find others to train with. Seek out “peer pressure.” Have others hold you accountable. Log your workouts and keep a diary. And of course, the proverbial favorite, keep the “smack” train rolling!

And speaking of Ironman 70.3 California, Larry, how much did I beat you by again last year?


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