November 8, 2021

Drills for Swim Domination

Should you incorporate swim drills into your training? If so, which drills and how often? In this episode, coaches Elizabeth James and Jeff Raines drill down on swim drills. In a discipline where technique trumps fitness, learn how to identify areas of improvement and implement drills to improve your efficiency in the water. Elizabeth and Jeff overview the purpose of drills, how to use pool tools for your best execution, and break down some of the most common technique issues triathletes face. Listen in to start drilling your way to your best swim performance!

TriDot Podcast .111 Drills for Swim Domination Intro: This is the TriDot podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation and let’s improve together. Andrew Harley: Welcome to the show! Lots of stuff to chat about with a podcast about the most complicated sport on the planet. So it’s always nice to get back to the core and do an episode about swim, bike, or run and today it’s a swim episode specifically talking about how to leverage swim drills to become less like a manatee and more like a barracuda as we move our way through the water. Here to help us with this is Pro Triathlete Elizabeth James. Elizabeth is a USAT Level II and Ironman U Certified Coach who quickly rose through the triathlon ranks using TriDot. From a beginner, to top age grouper, to a professional triathlete, she’s a Kona and Boston Marathon qualifier who has coached triathletes with TriDot since 2014. Elizabeth, thanks for joining us. Elizabeth James: Always glad to be here. Thanks Andrew. Andrew: Next up is Coach Jeff Raines. Jeff is a USAT Level II and Ironman U Certified Coach who has a Masters of Science in exercise physiology and was a D1 collegiate runner.  He has over 45 Ironman event finishes to his credit and has coached hundreds of athletes to the Ironman finish line. Alright Jeff, hit us with your best swimming pun. I know you want to. Jeff Raines: Absolutely! Water you waiting for? Let’s get started chatting with swim drills. Andrew: Jeff Raines you did not disappoint. That was perfect. I’m Andrew the Average Triathlete, Voice of the People and Captain of the Middle of the Pack. As always we will roll through our warm up question, we’ll settle in for our main set topic today talking all about using swim drills in our training, and then wind things down with our cool down. Lots of good stuff, let's get to it! Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving. Andrew: Here at TriDot we love triathlon clubs and we love seeing our athletes plug into their local tri community. Doing this sport together is a much richer experience than doing this sport alone both in the training and on race day. There are a ton of great tri clubs out there. Some folks race representing TriDot Triathlon Training. Some folks represent a local club like the San Diego Tri Club or the Pittsburgh Tri Club. Others represent a local club with a fun name like Hissyfit Racing, Traildog Tri, or The Cupcake Cartel. Whatever it’s called, we’re just happy to see you get plugged in. So Jeff, Elizabeth, for today’s warm up question if you were creating a brand new triathlon club what would it be called and what would be special about it? Coach Jeff Raines. Jeff: So a little bit of my background…I’ve been a general manager of multiple fitness centers back in the day so I’m going to kind of gear it more towards gym a little bit. I’m going to have a gym associated with my tri club. I’ve always kind of had the desire to open up my own kind of unique, like a multipurpose gym or a multi-sport facility. So I’m going to approach this as a triathlon themed gym name. Something maybe like instead of Blood, Sweat, and Tears maybe it’s Breakfast, Sweat, and Triathlon. Something just because it would be a restaurant, it would be a gym, it would be a triathlon facility with a pool, and of course me being a runner it’s got to have an indoor track, but it’s got to be a 400 meter real indoor track with maybe a pool on the inside. But I always thought it would be cool to kind of have a restaurant, coffee shop aspect to it. Andrew: Yeah Jeff, you had me at coffee or you had me at breakfast. Elizabeth: I was going to say I want to join this gym so let us know when it’s open. Jeff: Andrew can be the barista. Andrew: Yeah, I’d love to in my spare time in between podcasting. I would love to. Coffee, Sweat, and Triathlon. I can just see it now, Jeff. I can see like a tri race kit with like eggs and bacon built into the design of the kit. I mean how would that not make you happy to rock a Breakfast, Sweat, and Triathlon tri club jersey with eggs and bacon on it and toast. Like you know– a little avocado logos.  I don’t know. Right? I mean, are ya’ll picturing this or is it just me? Or am I just hungry? Jeff: Hey I dressed up as Ranch Dressing for Halloween so I’m right there with ya. Andrew: Well done Jeff. Well done. Okay, Elizabeth James what would your new tri club be? Elizabeth: Man, I do not have the thought out answer like Raines did here. So I don’t know. Mine is much more a work in progress. Andrew: We’ll allow that. Elizabeth: Okay, okay good. I was like, “Gosh I have no idea what I’m going to say.” Umm, I do think that I would want something in the name to include journey. Just for me that’s always been kind of a key word and I think that the people that we meet along the journey with doing this sport and the places that it takes us it just has a very significant meaning to me. So I’d want to include journey somewhere in there, but I’ll have to get back to you on how that all comes together. I’m not sure yet. Andrew: Yeah sure and for folks, you know, Elizabeth has recently rebranded her social media handles to the Journey with EJ and so I see all of your posts on my Instagram feed and you’ve got that built into your Instagram name and so yeah. Just got to find the right play on words to have it be a tri club. That’s cool. We’ll let you kind of take some trim in your pro career to work those details out– Elizabeth: To develop it. Okay. Andrew: –and we’ll see when you unvail. When you first said that the first thing that came to mind was the movie Cool Runnings where the characters were like “peace be the journey!” Elizabeth: Yes! Andrew: But unfortunately for you there’s nothing really reggae about your personality for you to adopt that. So…but that came to mind. Anyway. This answer for me, I thought about a couple different things, but the one I’m going to go with. It’s somewhat a play off of my kind of nickname here on the podcast, Andrew the Average Triathlete, and it’s directly taking inspiration from the movie Dodge Ball with Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller. I would create a tri club called Average Joe’s Tri Club. Now Average Joe’s Tri Club much like the movie Dodge Ball, Average Joe’s Gym, was a gym for everybody whether you were super fit or whether you were super average you belonged there and in Average Joe’s Tri Club whether you’re super fast or super slow or super in the middle of the pack with me, you belong in Average Joe’s Tri Club. That’s my pick and that’s what I would do and here’s the little fun twist I would put on this. If you are fast and you join Average Joe’s Tri Club that’s okay, but if you send a picture of yourself and you have podiumed at a local race or an Ironman or whatever to prove that, “Okay I am an elite average Joe,” I would send you a special t-shirt or a special hat that says, “Not So Average Joe.” So you would be the not so average Joe’s that are a part of the Average Joe’s. Hey guys, we’re going to throw this out to ya’ll on social media. Make sure you are a part of the I Am TriDot Facebook Group. That is where we throw out our Monday podcast warm up question. I want to hear from you guys. If you were creating a brand new triathlon club, what would the name be? And what kind of special twists would you throw on your club membership? What might the kits look like? And hey while you’re out there, if you think of a good play on words for Journey with EJ send her a note. Let her know what she should name her personal triathlon club. Main set theme: On to the main set. Going in 3…2…1… PRECISION HYDRATION: We recently had sports scientist Andy Blow from Precision Hydration on the show and learned that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to hydration, because everyone loses a different amount of salt in their sweat. After working with the team from Precision Hydration I started using their strongest electrolyte drink, PH 1500, and it absolutely played a pivotal role in getting me to the finish line in my first Ironman, Ironman Waco. On a hot and windy day I drank plenty of PH 1500, their strongest electrolyte drink and I also used their electrolyte capsules to stay on top of my hydration and salt intake. I experienced zero cramping during the race and felt properly hydrated all the way to the finish line. So I whole heartedly recommend that you partner with Precision Hydration for your own hydration needs. At precisionhydration.com you can take their free online sweat test, find out which PH strength matches how you sweat, and then get 10% off your order with the code TRIDOT10.  Again, that'sprecisionhydration.com, and use the coupon code TRIDOT10 to get 10% off your electrolytes and fuel. Andrew: Swimming mindless laps in the pool is a sure way to stunt your growth as a swimmer and to drive yourself absolutely insane. The more intention we can give to every length of every pool session, the more we will enjoy our sessions and the more they will actually do to improve our technique and times. We know all of this to be true, but executing a quality swim session and incorporating all the right drills can still be an intimidating prospect for the average triathlete. So Jeff, Elizabeth, I’m thrilled to be led by the two of you today as we learn to drill, baby drill our way to more productive swim sessions. So let’s start real basic today. Jeff, what role do swim drills specifically play in improving our swim? Jeff: I like what you did there with that pun, Andrew. I also like what you said just now about the more intention we can give the better. I always say, regarding all triathlon, but especially swimming, “Being intentional is key.” and in this case being intentional with swim drills is also key in improving our technique and our body positioning. I would say there are many reasons why we do swim drills, the main one being they are an aid in helping us focus on our technique. They can also help us get a better workout. They can challenge us to focus and hone in on our weaknesses. We as triathletes tend to ignore our weaknesses and we want to kind of mainly focus on super capitalizing let's say on our strengths. Andrew: Yeah. Jeff: You know, I would even argue that most triathletes are cyclists or maybe the bike is the favorite discipline and I’ve seen it a lot where athletes will train and train and train and train all off season to maybe shave five minutes off that bike split when maybe they could take more off of that swim and run. So drills really can help us focus on our weaknesses and some kind of just overall generic reasons that swim drills can help us. Are we doing them, incorporating them into our swim sessions, we burn more calories doing them. Andrew: Yeah. Jeff: We can have some fun just doing something new and fun and different in the water. They also help us reduce our chance of injury believe it or not. So lots of lots of great reasons why swim drills need to be incorporated into our sessions on a consistent basis. Elizabeth: And you heard it there - from Jeff Raines. He says, “Swim drills are fun.” So you know, to have more fun in the pool apparently we need to be doing our drills. Andrew: I would argue that depends on the swim drill you’re doing because there’s some that are very fun and there’s some that I find myself almost drowning trying to attempt and those aren’t quite as fun, but– Elizabeth: Well Andrew, I think I’m more with you. I guess we need to continue working on our drills so we have as much “fun” as Raines does in the water. Jeff: Hey, there’s definitely a lot of hate to some of these drills. Andrew: And I’ll say to that point Elizabeth, there’s some drills that the first time I attempt them– you know the first time they are prescribed to me and I would try them in the pool. I would feel ridiculous and fingertip drag is one of them for example. When I was first prescribed fingertip drag I just was not very good at keeping my legs up and keeping my balance in the pool while controlling those fingertips along the surface of the water and so I felt ridiculous in the water attempting those drills. Then there’s other swimmers there, there’s lifeguards watching, and your just in your own head about how dumb you think you look. It’s like, well first of all you don’t. You just look like everybody else, it’s just all in your head. But you know the first, second, third, fourth time maybe that I attempted a new drill, yeah it didn’t go great. I wasn’t smooth at it, but the more I did that drill the more comfortable I got with that drill and we’ll talk about this later in the episode, but now fingertip drag drill is one of my favorite drills. So I would encourage people to stick with your drills even if there’s one that you’re like, “Man I hate this one so I’m going to skip it.” No! Do the drill. Do the drill that you’ve been prescribed because there’s a reason it was prescribed. So when we’re at the pool, we know fitness is important. We know building form and technique is important. When we’re at the pool doing our swim sets, how much should we focus on the technique of “how we’re swimming” as opposed to focus on hitting the right paces and purely just boosting our swim fitness because it can be difficult to focus on my form when my lungs are screaming and I’m trying to reach the wall at a specific pace. How can we as swimmers balance working on our technique, but also working on our fitness? Jeff: You know, I’ve worked with many different swim programs, different swim clubs, and they all kind of sort of follow the same kind of sort of weekly regimen in that earlier in the week tends to be kind of longer, slower sets maybe even kind of more recovery focused days coming off of swim meets on the weekends or races or something like that. Then later on in the week a lot of entities will focus on speed work. Fast Fridays are what we used to call it or Fast Twitch Fridays. So I personally kind of on those Mondays especially, or I swim personally on Mondays and Fridays, but earlier in the week when I’m kind of doing those more fundamental or kind of longer, slower more recovery type workouts I kind of have a workout within the workout. What I mean by that– and I say this to my athletes a lot– you can still keep the integrity of the fitness aspect of your workout. So you can still do your let's say 4 x 200s. You’ve got four 200s as part of that workout. You can do that at your zone 4 pace, your zone 4 effort, or get that fitness aspect, but be intentional inside of that. You may say the night before– so what I do, I look at the main set the night before and I say, “Okay, there’s 4 x 200s as part of that. What I’m going to do, maybe I know that I do not have an even body roll on the non-breathing side.” Because let’s be honest, everyone tends to have this great body roll when they’re taking a big breath because that’s rest, it’s salvation, it’s air. Then maybe you hurry up the stroke on the non-breathing side so you can hurry back up and get onto that breathing side. So maybe I’ll say, “Hey, on numbers one and two I’m only going to focus on my body roll. Is it even on both sides?” Or maybe I’m going to breathe every second stroke to my non-dominant side on the other two. You know, something like that. So you can kind of be intentional with your technique in your form and still get your workout in. So having that workout within the workout and being intentional with that is how you do that. You know, you said it– we can have all the fitness in the world, but if we have poor, inefficient body balancing, body positioning then we’re going to work harder but not swim any faster. Andrew: Yep, no. Absolutely. I know the more I find myself relaxing in the water– I think I heard a coach one time talk about you shouldn’t be fighting the water. You should be working with the water and just having that changed my mindset of okay with this stroke, with the energy I’m expending right now in whatever this particular zone, am I fighting the water? Am I splashing against the water or am I cooperating with the water? Am I being a friend with the water? Am I laying my body into the water and letting the water take the weight of me so to speak? And just kind of that mindset I know has helped me a lot as I’m doing my drills. Jeff: Yeah, on the pool deck I even tell people when I see that I can tell they’re working harder, but they’re even swimming slower or maybe they’re just frustrated because they’re working harder and they’re not hitting that base interval like they want to. So I’ll tell them like, “Look, you’re 80 to 90% effort in swimming is pretty much your top speed in swimming.” Andrew: That makes sense. Jeff: When you say that sometimes it clicks and sometimes even when you tell an athlete, “Swim here to the other end of the pool as slow, calm, cool, and collected as you can.” They’re within seconds of even a personal record sometimes. Andrew: Wow. Jeff: I don’t want to drag this out. I know we’ve got to move on, but I challenge listeners here with this question. Why is every pool in America or essentially the world, why does every legit lap pool have multicolored lane lines? Your pool, you’re thinking of it right now in the back of your head, right? Is it white, blue, white blue. Andrew: Yeah. Yellow, red. Jeff: You know, yellow, red, yellow, red. And the reason why those lane lines are multicolored are for coaches on the pool deck or for somebody who’s reviewing maybe a video analysis to see are you getting the correct or same distance per stroke, DPS, on both sides? Are you getting 2.5 meters on your non-breathing side and maybe you’re getting 3 meters on your breathing side. So just little things like that. Just kind of knowing some of these tidbits and being intentional can really help. Andrew: Yeah, I’m willing to bet that the reason why my first 100 of every swim is my fastest and easiest 100 is because that’s when my form is actually really, really solid and then it probably just breaks down as I get deeper into the set and I’m working harder. But anyway. I want to give a quick shoutout to a TriDot athlete named Marlow who swims at the same pool that I do. We’ll chit chat after our sets are done of course when we’re there at the pool on the same day. And I’ve been there before where I can look down the pool and I see Marlow looking at her phone and I can tell she’s watching the swim drill videos and then she’ll hop in the pool and she’ll crush the drill and that’s what I like about swim sets. You know, for TriDot athletes at least, drills are built into each set already and you just have to kind of go watch the video, learn how to do it, learn what to focus on during that drill, and then just do as instructed. But even with that roadmap it’s still fun to hear why things are the way they are and typically swim sets they’ll have drills more in the warm up and some in the cool down and maybe a little, some drills in zone 2 that are prescribed in the main set. Why are swim drills incorporated into workouts like that? Jeff: Well first of all our TriDot swim drills aren’t random. TriDot knows you better than yourself sometimes, knows what type of swimmer you are, and it strategically prescribes certain drills to help capitalize on your weaknesses. So they’re there for a reason just like our run drills in TriDot are there for a reason. Maybe you’ve even taken advantage of our PhysiogenomiX where you can upload your genome into TriDot and maybe you’re more predispositioned for injury than somebody else out there and so certain run drills may or may not be prescribed for you. So know that those drills on your TriDot plan are there for a reason. It’s not random. So when in doubt, start with the ones that are on your plan. But we do those drills so that we hope to kind of neuromuscularly relearn that motion in a better and more efficient way and hopefully that good aspect of the drill that we just did will hopefully then spill over into the hard set we have right after that. Andrew: Mmmm. I’ve gotcha. Jeff: And maybe we can enforce it better in a swim set having just completed it. So that’s why sometimes you see them warm up, cool down, and mixed into the main set. Sometimes they’re just warm up. Sometimes they’re just cool down. So there is a method behind the madness. Andrew: Well and like you were talking about Jeff. If we wanted to kind of bring that intentionality from the warm up into the main set and kind of do the workout within the workout you know. If we wanted to be mindful of our form and technique while we’re doing our 100s, 200s, 300s in the main set, you know whatever that drill was– if your drill in the warm up was fist drill and so you’re focused on your forearm really catching the water as you’re catching and pulling, you can bring that mindset into the main set with you and kind of further the understanding and education that the drill’s trying to reinforce, right? Jeff: Absolutely. Think of it this way, right? We’ve got to crawl before we can walk. When we were babies our goal was just to stand up. So when we fall down, what do we do? We just get up. We don’t think in our minds like, “Let’s stand up the most efficient way possible using the best core muscle group.” You know, whatever. Same thing when we learn how to swim. Our goal is just to stay above the water, get that breath, get to the side of the pool and some people naturally have it better than others. But Dr. B.J. Leeper, he can elaborate way more on this than I am with his PT background and his Doctorate, but back in grad school we learned a lot about a new and upcoming rehab machine called the Biodex. Back then it was fairly new. I want to mention this to prove a point, but back then if you got a total knee replacement or let’s say you tore your ACL, MCL or something like that. Part of the rehab is using this Biodex machine. You strap all in and the machine helps you through certain ranges of motion. You have isotonic/isometric muscle contractions and concentric/eccentric. So it teaches you all these ranges of motion in certain directions and the machine moves for you, but you’re strapped into it and it kind of like triggers neuromuscularly how to relearn that range of motion, but you relearn it in the most efficient, best way possible. What’s really cool is we would put electrodes on our hand and we’d look at these TV screens and my mentor would say, “Hey, just twitch your index finger.” And I’d look at the screen and oh okay, I used nine different muscle groups to trigger that range of motion in my index finger. But then if you really focus and you look and you think about it and you’re intentional you could twitch that finger with the same range of motion using three muscle groups instead of nine. You know, things like that. So that Biodex machine is helping athletes get back to the sport quicker. You see that a lot in downhill skiing even in the Olympics. You hear, “A couple months ago they were total–” maybe not total knee replacement, but maybe they tore their ACL, but they’re back eight weeks later and they’re breaking world records because they’re using these neuromuscular aspects of rehab. So that’s kind of what we’re doing when we do these drills. We want to really think about that good aspect of the stroke that we’re focusing on and really trying to relearn that so it will spill over into our swimming because the last thing we think about in the middle of an Ironman swim is, “Do I have even body roll?” Andrew: Is our form. Jeff: Yeah! The last thing we’re thinking about and so we want to do that subconsciously. Elizabeth: This also goes back to gosh I think it was like our second episode when Jeff and I first started talking about the barriers to swim– Andrew: 105 episodes ago. 106 something. What are we on now? What is this one? Jeff: Seems like yesterday. Elizabeth: Yeah, but I mean we went through that whole when you’re doing drills you are consciously competent. So you have to think very specifically about what you’re doing to have those right motions in the water, but eventually doing those drills over and over helps you become that unconsciously competent so that it just spills over and you have those neuromuscular pathways and you have that great muscle memory of how to have the most efficient stroke. So yeah, same thing that you were talking about there, Raines. Andrew: I will say while Jeff was talking I Googled the Biodex machine and it is a medical contraption with a bunch of straps and stirrups that does not look like it is for anybody who is semi claustrophobic. So just keep that in mind everybody. Yeah, it looks like a fun time. So we’ve talked on the podcast before about not just doing drills at the right times in our swim set, but about doing the right drills for us at the right times in our swim set. How can we diagnose what swim drills would be the most beneficial for us as a swimmer? Elizabeth: Well, I love what Jeff was saying just a little bit ago about those drills are there for a reason and those drills are there for you. I mean a few things that I just kind of want to touch on here. Within TriDot is kind of your swimmer’s profile and through answering a series of questions such as “are you faster with or without a pull buoy” will give insight into your swim stroke and the possible areas of improvement. Then additionally your CSS swim assessment can provide some additional insight into your current swim proficiency. So somebody with a slower 400 and 200 time likely needs some fundamental drills maybe focusing on body position to help them get started whereas somebody that’s swimming like a 1:20 per 100 meter pace has likely got some of those fundamentals under control and probably just needs some smaller refinements to their stroke. And those are generalizations, but… Andrew: Yeah, no. It totally makes sense. Elizabeth: Yeah. It’s really kind of where you are in terms of your proficiency in swimming. Then from there you know, video analysis of your stroke or the eyes of a trusted coach can be very beneficial and really hone in on your specific areas of improvement. Jeff: And actually I’ll jump in there. So many of us know like, “okay my right arm does that weird thing.” Or you know, “my kick has dead spots.” We all know. We all know there’s something weird and we know what kind of maybe our main– Andrew: At some point I just like stop kicking. Jeff: Oh, we’re going to talk about that. But until you actually see yourself doing that weird thing a lot of times, unfortunately, that’s years go by for some triathletes. Andrew: Wow. Jeff: But I encourage you to do what EJ said. Get some eyes on you. Get some video. Just get a lifeguard to take video of you, 15 seconds. Send it to a trusted coach. Until you see yourself doing that weird thing sometimes you’ll never correct it. Andrew: Wow and sometimes I’ve seen this in swimmers. Sometimes you think you’ve corrected it and you might have helped it a little bit. One that comes to mind is a lot of athletes when they enter the water with that hand out in front of them they’ll cross over the center line and it shouldn’t be crossing over the center line. It should be more out in front of you and so you’ll point that out to an athlete and they’ll scooch that hand over just a little bit, but they’re still crossing the center line. And in their mind like, “Oh, I fixed this because this feels like I’m reaching so much farther out.” And it’s like, “Well, you are a little bit but–” So a lot of times you can– seeing it will show you really how far off you are. Elizabeth: I feel like as Jeff Booher listens to this episode he’s going to be like, “Oh, this is Elizabeth exactly.” We did months and months. Andrew: Did you? Elizabeth: He was helping work with my swim stroke, but he’d be like, “Alright, move your hand here.” And I’d do a lap and come back and I’d be like smiling. I’d be like, “I got it didn’t I?” And he was like, “Not even close.” He’d show me a video and he was like, “Nope. Try again. Try again.” So yeah. I mean it’s amazing what seeing yourself on video can provide in terms of the technique correction because sometimes what you think you’re doing and what you’re actually doing are not matching up. Andrew: Now as we’re doing drills to work on these things; to work on our body position, to work on what we’re doing with our arm as we’re pulling it underwater, to work on the timing of our stroke. What should we be thinking about or focusing on while we’re doing our drills? Jeff: I mean some things that I say just simply– I mean, we’re in the middle of the set, maybe the other end of the pool is 25 yards away so we don’t have time to sit there or say a whole paragraph. So just some quick bullet points I’ll throw out there, things that I like to say while I’m swimming is– Is my body roll even on both sides or is it greater on my breathing side? Where am I throwing the water? Is my kick consistent, is it nonexistent, or is it inefficient? What is my head position? What is my body position? Do I have that good tautness? Where am I starting my catch phase? Is my elbow anchored and is it high when I start that catch phase? Am I breathing underwater or holding my breath or am I consistently letting it out slow every time my head is under water? Is the goal for that day or that set a low stroke rate with greater distance per stroke and maybe greater body roll or maybe am I focusing on less body roll so I can increase the stroke rate? Things like that. Andrew: Yeah that’s a great list and probably worth mentioning, you know go into your workout with one of those in mind to focus on for the day, right? Because you can’t focus on all those things every 25 in the pool. So kind of have the one you’re being intentional with that day, right, and kind of just nail it for the day. So Elizabeth, you’ve been very honest on the podcast as our voice from the professional field about how much you need to improve your swim to be able to hang with the pro swim pack. You’re working very hard on your swim. So this is actually a place where we the average triathletes might relate to you the most which is cool. What do your swim sessions look like right now and how are you leveraging drills to improve? Elizabeth: Yeah. As you’ve mentioned, I’m always happy to share what I’m working on. This is a big area of possible improvement for me. So right now I’m working with my coach probably five of the six days that I’m in the water per week. I’m in the water quite a bit and as Jeff mentioned earlier in the episode there’s kind of a progression of focus for each of those swim sets with some longer sets, sometimes where it’s very technique focused. You know we have our Fast Friday TriDot workouts too with our sprint 50s and such. Andrew: Uh-huh. Yeah. Elizabeth: So that’s all still very much a part of it. Like on Mondays we have the TriDot workout that includes some longer intervals so a great opportunity for me to focus on technique within the set. My coach, she’ll usually give me a focus for each part of the workout. So a lot of the things that Jeff was just mentioning– you know, as we’re doing a set what are some things that we can think about. So as I’m doing part of the workout and she’s there on deck she might say, “Okay, I want you to think about your hand entry for this.” or “On this next 300 I want you to think just about the finish of the stroke.” Then earlier when we were mentioning video analysis and so she’ll often video me swimming to either show me kind of mid set if there’s something that she’d like me to correct there or to send me some clips for me to reflect on after the swim set as well. I probably don’t need to dive into the details of each day. That’ll take a lot of time to go through. You know, here we go Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. But I will say that incorporating drills especially in the warm up and having that kind of translate into the set and then having feedback from a coach both just there on deck, sometimes in the water, and then the video analysis both from above the water and then sometimes underneath the water has been very helpful for me to really see what I’m doing. I know that me as an athlete, I really struggle with just that body awareness in the water. That what I think I’m doing is not even close– Andrew: That’s good. Yeah, that’s good. Elizabeth: –to what’s happening and so that’s been very helpful for me. Andrew: When we do our drills, there are pretty popular pool toys that can assist us with these drills; snorkel, swim paddles, fins, pull buoys, buoyancy shorts, etcetera. Now sometimes TriDot will even tell me to use paddles or use a buoy or use fins for a certain drill. How can we tell when to leverage these items and when to leave them in the bag? Elizabeth: I think the easy answer here is when your TriDot tells you to use them then you use them. But you know, seriously. The pool tools are great to help you create those positive habits and put you in the right position to help you move most efficiently in the water to really do the drills in a way that creates the proper muscle memory. But then you don’t want to use them all the time. Use them and then try to match your swimming without them to be able to do the same thing. So yeah. They have a time and a place when they’re specifically stated in the workout to use. Definitely use them. If you’re focusing on a certain part of your swim and you know that a tool is going to help you do that then absolutely. Just don’t let them be a crutch. Andrew: Yeah. I’ve got a couple concrete examples from me, Elizabeth, on doing what you’re talking about. You know I stick to doing what TriDot tells me. The times that I make an exception is if a drill is new for me and I need a toy to help me do that drill to kind of get a feel for how to do it right then I’ll use it. Fingertip was one. I was miserable at fingertip drag until I attempted it with a pull buoy and so taking my legs out of the equation I was really able to focus on what my hand was doing and then once I got better at it with the pull buoy now I’m able to do fingertip drag without the pull buoy like I’m supposed to. Archer drill, I’m miserable at archer drill without fins. So to properly do archer drill I throw fins on just to have enough momentum to do what I’m supposed to do with the hands. So maybe– Elizabeth: Well like kick on side, or 6-1-6, or 6-3-6 I always encourage athletes to start those with fins as well. Andrew: Yes. Yeah. Elizabeth: So yes. I mean the drills are a great place to incorporate them. Andrew: I asked a very similar question on episode 88 when we talked about run drills, but I’ll ask it again here because it still applies. We all have busy schedules. You know, we all have those days where we have a narrow window to do our workout and we have to cut some stuff. If I’m walking into the pool and I just know that I can’t get my entire session in, would you say it’s better to prioritize building fitness and hitting all of our quality intervals or is it better to do all of our prescribed drills and then do whatever quality fitness building we have time for after? Elizabeth: Well I’m smiling here because I feel like this is another “it depends” answer and I know– Andrew: The TriDot Podcast sponsored by Depends. Jeff: Different kind of depends there. Elizabeth: But really this is– depending on where you are as a swimmer, what your goals are, and then probably one of the biggest factors that I look at in the athletes that I coach is how soon is their next race. You know if you are three months out from your race, get in the drills. Focus in on the technique. What improvements do we still have an opportunity to gain from really focusing on the technique side of it. But if your race is three weeks from now, the likelihood that you’re going to make some meaningful changes in your technique is slim. So yeah, focus on the main set. Get in the distance and the quality that you need to and that would probably be what I would look at most in terms of the athletes that I coach. Andrew: No that’s great. I think that nails it right there Elizabeth. I think for all of us that’s just the template. That’s good stuff. For our athletes listening today, I know there’s going to be a lot of people that feel this way, but maybe they’ve just felt stuck in their swim. Maybe it ebbs and flows where maybe it was improving and now it’s stalled and just for whatever reason. Whatever the reason is that they just feel like they need further help to improve in the water, what steps would you advise those athletes to take in their search for their next breakthrough in their swim form? Jeff: Man that’s a good question. Working with a coach for sure can help bring this out or help get you that breakthrough or past that plateau, but I see it a lot. Athletes they may be 2:00 to 2:20 or 2:00 to 2:30. You know, we’ll say 2 minutes plus per hundred and with a little bit of work they kind of do it on their own they can get to that 1:45, that 1:50 pace, but maybe they’re super strong cyclists and great runners so you know that that ability is there. But if you’re ever going to swim a 1:15 pace per 100 for a half Ironman or something like that, something eventually has to change if you’re going to get to that point. I think most people need to slow down, take a step back to take a bigger step forward later on and focus on that form and technique. When you know that that is set; that catch phase even. Are you grabbing that water? Are you getting the most out of that stroke? Slow down. Focus on those things so then later on maybe you want to use that front quadrant style of swimming fundamentally and keep that as you get faster. Staying longer in the water– you know there’s just so many things that you can do, but taking a step back, slowing down and not always having to see a 180 heart rate is not how you get faster in swimming. Andrew: Yeah, no that’s a great way to think of it. You know, taking a step back, slowing down– slowing down for now so that when you take that step forward in your form that speed comes easier. That’s a great way to think about it. So the three of us have very different swim paces, but we all hit those drills in our swim sessions. From your own experience, just for pure curiosity here, what drill do you just not like doing and which would you say is a personal favorite? Jeff: Oh man. I’ll keep it simple. I do not like the Tarzan drill, that head out of the water swimming. It’s a torture drill. Andrew: I kind of like that one! I don’t know I kind of like that. Jeff: Ugh! I can’t stand it. I mean, I know it’s showing us what not to do, right? If the head is too high we sink and you’re a parachute and it’s just miserable, but I cannot stand that one. I also cannot stand streamline kicking on your back. Andrew: Yeah. Jeff: I’ve never been that good of a backstroker. I mean I’m descent, but it’s just been my least favorite stroke. So streamline kicking on my back. Booo! I really love, I love the torpedo drill. Exploding off that wall and kicking in streamline position as hard as you can as long as you can. One of my favorite drills is the tap and go catchup drill. That’s a good go-to and also fist drill for me. Andrew: Yeah. I do not like sinkdowns. I have nothing against sinkdowns. For me it’s just an ear thing. Just I don’t like going down in the water. I don’t know. I’ve just never been very good at like pressurizing my ears. So like the pressure builds up. I don’t know. I just don’t like going deep in the water and so for that reason I’ve never liked sinkdowns. I mentioned it earlier. I really like fingertip dragging now that I’ve gotten good at it. It just really kind of centers me in my stroke and I for the first time had TriDot prescribe sighting drills the closer that I got to Ironman race day. It would actually prescribe sighting drills where it would tell me to every five or six strokes practice sighting smoothly and efficiently. I don’t know, that was kind of fun. It really like makes it sink in that you’re getting close to race day and once you get out there in the open water on race day you feel confident, you feel comfortable working that quick sighting into your stroke. So I really enjoyed that. Elizabeth, what about you? Elizabeth: Well first I was going to ask you. You know who else doesn’t like sinkdowns? Andrew: Who? Elizabeth: Is the lifeguard at the pool that I first started swimming with when I joined TriDot. Oh my goodness! They actually came over and asked me like, “Ma’am can you please not do that?” Jeff: Oh, they didn’t like you to do the sinkdowns. Oh, gotcha. Elizabeth: Yes, yeah. Andrew: They thought you needed help. Elizabeth: I guess so. It made them nervous so they were like, “Hey can you not?” I’ve never had a problem with it since, but the pool that I first started swimming in… Umm, and maybe it was because I was a beginning swimmer. Maybe they knew that so they were like, “I don’t know about this one.” Andrew: “We don’t know if she can swim so that scares us.” Elizabeth: Yeah. New person, beginner swimmer, and she’s just going down to the bottom of the pool. So. Andrew: Yeah. Elizabeth: Anyway, they didn’t like sinkdowns either, but probably for a different reason. For me I don’t like kicking. This is a big struggle area for me so any, any time there is kicking in there I’m like “Awe, darn it.” And it’s definitely something that I’m very slow doing. So when there’s kicking and I’m there with another person it’s like, “Alright, well, you know I’ll see you in five minutes.” Give me some time. You’ll get ahead of me on the set here. It’s those stiff ankles of mine don’t want to cooperate. Give me fins, then I think it’s fun, but without fins it just takes forever. Andrew: I agree. I agree and it’s too bad we don’t swim together because I would be right there next to you behind everybody else. Elizabeth: We’ll have to swim together more often Andrew. We’ll work on our kick. But my personal favorite, and Andrew you mentioned this earlier too, is fingertip drag. Andrew: Yeah, it’s lovely. Elizabeth: And for me it’s not even so much about the drill itself, but this is such a great drill for me and my technique that it translates so well into my stroke and a faster speed and I like being able to see that connection of like, “Wow! When I focus on this I am swimming better.” So that’s– I mean I like the drill, but I love being able to see just the translation into my swim stroke. Andrew: So as a coach when you are working with athletes on their stroke, what are the drills you find yourself prescribing the most to your athletes and why? Elizabeth: I would say that most recently I’ve started working with some more beginner athletes. Not necessarily beginners in all disciplines, but more beginner swimmers and so I’ve most recently been putting a lot of the 6-1-6 or 6-3-6 drill in there and this has a lot to do with kind of what we’re talking about; those fundamentals in body position. So the purpose of this drill is to develop that body position and better body balance and awareness. So this is kind of an advancement of the kicking on your side or that single arm lead where it’s then going from just the kick to developing the full arm stroke and kind of the timing as you’re going from one side of the body to the other. So you perform these while you’re kicking on your side with one arm leading and a couple of things that I really have athletes think about here is working to establish and maintain that good balance in the water; that good body positioning. Then you’re going to think about the efficiency of that upcoming stroke. I love this because it really gives athletes time to establish that catch, to find that early vertical forearm and then to really throw water down toward their feet as they are kind of rotating and moving to that other side of their body. So that’s one that I would say especially most recently I’ve been talking with athletes about as they’re getting started and really just honing in on that body position. Another one would be the archer drill and the purpose of the archer drill is, again, maintaining that proper body position, but it’s maintaining that position as your center of gravity is changing. So this is a little bit more advanced. Again you’re going to kind of be lying on the lungs. Your head is underwater looking down thinking about just a streamline position, kind of swimming through a tube. Then you have that single arm lead position kind of like you would for the 6-1-6 or 6-3-6 and then slowly you move the non-leading arm up your side until your hand is right about your ear. Then you keep your hand there for a few seconds or a couple kicks and then you’re going to slowly lower your hand back to your side and then you repeat that several times as you’re going across the pool. So this is just great because as that arm is moving and your center of gravity is changing, you’re still focused on maintaining that great streamline body position. This is one where I think you’re going to need to go to YouTube and probably watch the drill video that we have. You know I’m doing all the movements here, but I know that athletes can’t see that. Andrew: I was just about to add that for anybody who is listening to Elizabeth’s description of the archer drill. It literally looks like– and our model in those– So if you go to our YouTube channel all these swim drills are there. Olympic gold medalist, Brendan Hansen is our model in the pool showing us how to do these swim drills and he looks like a– like he’s firing a bow and arrow. It’s like he’s loading and cocking a bow and arrow and letting a string go. It’s really funny that that’s what they decided to call it because of how literally it looks like an archer. But I would encourage people to not just go off of our verbal descriptions on the podcast, but to go check out those videos to learn how to do these. Jeff for you what are a few you’ve found yourself really telling athletes to do lately? Jeff: The catchup drill or the tap and go catchup drill is my go-to and fist swimming. Those two are easily mine. I’ll keep it brief, but I call the catchup drill the high knees of swimming. You know there’s 40+ run drills out there, but people tend to kind of gravitate towards high knees and butt kicks. That’s what the catchup drill is for me. It is one of the most, if not the most fundamental swim drill out there and really that teaches you to belong in the water. It really teaches you– think of a boat or a ship. The longer that it is the easier it rises to the surface of the water when it gains speed and so that’s kind of what we’re doing here on the catchup drill is staying long in the water. Keeping a hand or an arm as long as you can at all times in that front quadrant. We’re keeping an arm there at all times to maintain proper body positioning and body balancing. So what you’ll do is you’ll take the three underwater phases of the stroke. You’ll push the water down to our feet and then the same arm comes around through the recovery stage and catches up to that front arm that is still out in the front quadrant. And then you kick a little bit and then you start it all over again doing the exact same thing with the other arm. So really that tap and go catchup drill that’s the main thing. It focuses on good head positioning and all sorts of things. If you’re not patient and stuff like that in between the strokes you’ll sink. So really all the things we talked about earlier, the catch up drill, doing that properly fixes 8/10 maybe inefficient things in your stroke. Then fist swimming is just swimming freestyle with your clenched fists. It teaches you to grab water with a bigger surface which is your forearm and not just your hand. So it really develops the high elbow catch phase with that anchored elbow, that early vertical forearm that EJ was alluding to is kind of that same idea. So fist swimming helps you grab that water out front. A lot of people press too hard and too fast the early portion of the underwater stroke and all the water goes around and away from your forearm. How are you going to get all that water down to your tippy toes if you’re pressing too hard and too fast. So take your time out first– At the first part of the stroke take your time out there. Grip it first. Set up that catch phase and then as you progress through the underwater phases then you can accelerate as you create that momentum. Cool down theme: Great set everyone! Let’s cool down. Andrew: As mentioned earlier, our friends at Precision Hydration are our sponsors for today’s episode. Now they did not at all ask us to do this, but I just wanted to talk a little about our experience using their hydration products this year. I mean, they have genuinely meant a great deal to me and so I want to give them just a little extra love on the show today. You know, we’ve said it on the podcast before. We do not partner with brands that we don’t fully believe in and gosh, golly after using Precision Hydration products all of this year we at TriDot fully believe in both the product that they make and the education their team provides to athletes. So I’ve got John Mayfield with me today on the cooldown. John and I both use their PH 1500 which is their strongest electrolyte drink. Pro triathlete Elizabeth James also has been using PH 1500 lately as well and really enjoying it. John, you and I both successfully have completed some Ironman here this fall using PH 1500. Tell me this though, when you first switched to it; you did that consult call, you figured out which of their products you needed. What was your first experience using PH 1500 and Precision Hydration electrolytes in your training, particularly in the Houston area where you live? John: So it actually goes back to the first podcast we did with Andy Blow and I was actually driving back from Dallas. We had gotten together as a team and just hearing Andy speak with the passion and the authority that he did, I was like “Man, I’ve got to get on this.” So for me it wasn’t even necessarily as a result of working with him in a partnership. It was just true like this guy knows his stuff and I live and train in this ridiculous heat and humidity and this is something that I’ve always struggled with. So I was definitely down to try something new and find what works. You know, there’s a lot of products on the market and I’ve tried a whole lot of them and they’re good, but man I will say that I really feel like finding Precision Hydration has really just upped the game. It started off with the online sweat test and then going from there to scheduling the consultation. Having that call with a member of the Precision Hydration team who really knew their stuff even gave me– They’ve been working with athletes for a really long time. –gave me some pointers that you know I raced Ironman yesterday and I was using some things that they suggested. I came out of T2. I ran about a half mile and ran into you and I don’t know if you noticed but I had a bottle in my hand that that was my mix of some calories as well as my Precision Hydration 1500 right there. Taking that mega dose right at both the beginning of the bike and then again beginning of the run. So it’s little things like that that were some great suggestions. So it was a product, but it was also the implementation of it. So it was going and figuring out which of the electrolyte products were going to best fit my needs and then what was the protocol to then provide the solutions for those hydration needs. And again, I live and train in the Texas Gulf Coast. It is ridiculously hot and humid. It’s like all I do is sweat for like nine months out of the year so it’s critical for us. You know it’s so easy for us to get dehydrated whether it’s training or racing. I’ve done a better job of integrating these hydration products, electrolyte products, into not just my racing but even my training and I’ve seen an improvement there. Just the quality of training is better because I’m not in that dehydrated state where my fluid levels are down and my electrolyte levels are down. So yeah. It’s just upped the game both for my training and racing. Kind of like you mentioned, it’s not a plug that they gave us. This is just my honest opinion, my experience and always thrilled to find a great product. And that said they’re a super cool company. I’m really glad I was able to partner with them. Andrew: Yeah, no me as well. I know for me our athletes have heard I’ve been through a couple different Ironman training cycles now trying to get to the finish line of my first and it was interesting being able to see from the first go round, the second go round, starting to hit those long stamina sessions, trying to do a lot of those long stamina sessions outside on the bike here in the Dallas area. This latest training cycle was the first one and the only one where I was using Precision Hydration 1500 and it made a huge difference for me just on my ability to hold power outside on the bike. It made a huge difference for me in my heart rate staying lower outside on the bike and it gave me the confidence to head into race day and know that their electrolytes were going to take care of me. I had a plan and this is what I like about them as a company. You know, they’re actively trying to learn what athlete’s needs are. They didn’t just create a product and are trying to pump it out here. They’re always refining what they’re doing. They’re always learning what athletes are using just like TriDot is about TriDot training. So they actually were talking to me before Waco and asking me, “Okay what’s your fueling strategy? What’s your hydration strategy?” And we’ve been dialoging and I was able to send them my plan for what I was going to do during that entire race and they made sure that my numbers were correct, that I was going to be taking in enough salt and that was really helpful for me to know that I was taking the right amount and sure enough the whole race I never– It was in the 90s and John famously on the podcast he told a story of how you yelled at me as I was running out on the run course just reminding me how hot it was. And as hot as it was just keeping– basically every 20 minutes on the run course I was popping a Precision Hydration electrolyte capsule into my mouth. And the whole day as hot as it was I felt hydrated the entire time. So you become emotionally attached to the things that get you to the finish line. You know, you become emotionally attached to your bike, to your running shoes, to the nutrition that you take in and you know the kit that you used even. You love those things because they helped you get to the Ironman finish line and John for you as we’re having this conversation, I mean you’ve had just two huge races this year. I mean you crushed Ironman Maryland, had a nice shiny new PR that is so well deserted and you referenced at the time we’re recording this fresh off a tremendous day at Ironman Florida in what was just absurdly tough conditions. You got that one done and you had quite a bit of salt on your kit so I know you sweated a ton. Talk to me about how Precision Hydration has helped you on both those Ironman events this year and those are Ironman finishes eight and nine. So you have seven previous ones to compare it to. How did you feel using the PH 1500? John: So it was actually seven and eight. So six prior. And again like I said, I’ve used other products and I thought about this when you said, “Let’s talk about Precision Hydration.” One of the things that I really like is what I was using before was just an electrolyte additive and what I would do is I would mix my bottles and then I would put multiple scoops of this pink salt powder in there and it would make that drink really salty. And you know you could only drink five or six bottles of this over the period of four to six hours on those long bike rides and we even talked about this with Andy Blow on the episodes we’ve done with him, is you run into that flavor fatigue where you just don’t want to drink anymore because your mouth is just sugary and you add that salty component. One of the things I love about the Precision Hydration products is one, they taste good. They have a pleasant, mild, not overpowering flavor, but two they’re not super salty. In fact it’s almost like I question. In fact it’s almost like I question.like I’m getting in a higher dose of electrolytes than I was getting before, but it doesn’t taste salty so it doesn’t leave that salty flavor and get that flavor fatigue in there. So that was huge. So one it’s very palatable. I don’t mind drinking it. I don’t mind taking it in. It compliments the flavors and the calories I’m taking in as well. So yeah and you know just between the education that they’ve provided in those consults and the ongoing education they have even on their website. They’re that sage company that wants to educate their customers as you mentioned. It’s increased my just awareness and need for that to be more regimented and really have a plan as opposed to just kind of winging it. As you mentioned every 20 minutes out there on the run. You know, for me it’s again having that protocol and that plan and sticking to it and knowing too that it’s not just something I’m trial and erroring, but having someone who’s truly knowledgeable about this is saying “Here’s what you're doing. Here’s your body type. Here’s your race conditions. Here’s your training conditions. Here’s what you need to do.” Just to have that confidence in there. And then of course we obviously go out and field test it every day we’re out on training especially in those long sessions and to come into race day with a confident level knowing I feel good. I feel better. I’m not running into these issues of dehydration. I’m not running into cramping issues and that sort of thing. So it was great to have that confidence level headed into race day that I knew the product was going to work and it did. Andrew: Well John, thanks so much for just taking a few minutes and sharing your experience and again just congratulations on your Ironman Florida finish line. I was able to post a couple fun pictures of you out on the race course and got hundreds of TriDotters just congratulating you and liking those pictures. So everybody loves you. Everybody believes in you. Everybody is appreciative of the coaching you give them and I know they were excited to see you reach finish line of Ironman number eight. I really apologize for inflating your numbers there. I’m just trying to grow the legend of John Mayfield, that’s all. John: Well number nines on the books, not in the books yet, but it’s on the books. So next spring hopefully number nine will go down. Andrew: Well that’s it for today folks! Huge thanks to pro triathlete Elizabeth James and Coach Jeff Raines for helping us dominate our swim sessions with drills. Shout out to Precision Hydration for partnering with us on this episode. To learn more about Precision Hydration head to PrecisionHydration.com and use code TriDot10 for 10% off your electrolytes and fuel. I mean it. Go try their stuff. Enjoying the podcast? Have any questions or topics you’d like to hear us talk about? Head to tridot.com/podcast and let us know what you’re thinking. We’ll have a new show coming your way soon. Until then, HappyTraining! Outro: Thanks for joining us. Make sure to subscribe and share the TriDot podcast with your triathlon crew. For more great tri content and community, connect with us on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Ready to optimize your training? Head to TriDot.com and start your free trial today! TriDot – the obvious and automatic choice for triathlon training.
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