Set of the Week

Race season in the Mid-Atlantic is still a few months away.  Most athletes have just started to get back in the pool, are still cranking away base miles on the trainer while catching up on missed episodes of House of Cards, and have probably given in to running on the treadmill due to the atrocious weather we have been having.  Well, here is a workout from the Kurt Kinetic website that will get your heart pumping and your legs burning and will pay serious dividends on race day.  I completed this earlier today and I have never sweat so much in my life!

Over/Under Threshold Intervals (2:00)

Warm Up

  • 15 minutes warming up at a high cadence (90+ rpms)
  • 5 minutes of gradually increasing resistance and building into HR zone 3

Main Set

  • 5 repeats of 12 minutes work / 5 minutes recover
  • The 12 minute work intervals should be completed as 2 minutes just under your lactate threshold (zone 4 or 95-99% LTHR) followed by 1 minute just over (zone 5 or 100-102%).  Repeat this four times, then spin an easy gear for 5 minutes to recover.

Cool Down

  • 15 minutes spinning in zone 2

(Note: If you are still early in your base training, you can decrease the effort to zones 2 and 3.  The short intervals will make the time go by quicker and you will have put in 125 minutes of aerobic effort.)

This workout teaches your muscles to clear lactate while maintaining a high level of effort.  Think of it like you are climbing a short hill or accelerating to overtake a competitor on race day, then settling back into your race tempo.  Make sure you have plenty of water and nutrition on hand because this session is a doozie.

I find that it is also a good workout in which to test out your fueling for race day.  You have a few different paces at which to try and take in water, sports drink, or fuel.  On the trainer is always a good place to test new fuel options (gels, blocks, etc.).  You can have a few options on hand and see which ones agree with your gut the best. 

Feb. 14th Clinic Set


This weekend we will focus on kicking.  A lot of kicking.

I think that many triathletes race and train under the idea that kicking during their swim will tire out their legs too much for riding and running.  This leads them to swimming with a weak, two-beat kick (if at all) which at best helps maintain a horizontal body position.  More likely, however, this poor technique disrupts their stroke timing and body rotation and leads to a less efficient stroke. 

I have seen a wide array of opinions on the relative importance (and relative return) of investing training time on improving ones kick.  These range from, on the high end, two entire sessions per week (most likely for those swimming 5+ days per week) to maybe a few hundred meters per week on the low end.  My personal feeling is that swimmers with a weak or unbalanced stroke, and who are swimming three to four times per week (remember, focus your workouts on your limiters), should be spending at least 1/3rd of each practice doing kicking sets.  As ones stroke and kick improve, time spent on kicking alone can be reduced as long as attention is paid to maintaining a consistent (not necessarily hard) kick during all swim sets.

How ever much kick training one does, it cannot be argued that having a more prolific kick during freestyle will make for an overall faster swimmer.

This weekend we will again touch on ankle flexibility and leg strength while incorporating some kicking sets that will help build a powerful, 6-beat kick. Like developing power on the bike and durability on the run, building a powerful kick is dependent upon the amount of time that you spend working on it.

Here is this week's set:

  • 1min sit on heels

  • 200 warm up

  • 4x kick on wall (:30 hard, :15 rest)

  • 100 kick with board

  • 100 easy swim focus on tight kick

  • 4x100 kick on front/kick on back

  • 100 kick no board

  • 100 easy free focus on tight kick

  • 9x50 kick on side 12 beats, 6 beats, 3 beats

  • 100 kick on back

  • 100 easy swim focus on tight kick

  • 4x vertical kicking (:30 on, :15 off)

  • 100 cool down

Fabruary 7th Clinic Workout

This week we are working on drills that will help perfect the catch portion of the freestyle stroke.  Here is the workout for Saturday's session:

Week #6 - 2/7 - Stroke catch, propulsion, front quadrant swimming

  • 200 warm up

  • 100 swim flat

  • 100 good shoulder roll

  • 100 w/ buoy, toes pointed down

  • 100 w/ buoy, toes dorsi-flexed

  • 100 straight arm pull

  • 100 high elbow, good catch

  • 4x100 one arm drill w/ fins - 25 left, 25 rigth, 50 swim

  • For the following drills do sets of 4x50 drill :30ri/100 easy swim :30ri

  • catch-up w/ kick board

  • zipper or thumb-to-thigh

  • fist drill

  • paddles in fists

A Note on Breathing

Inexperienced swimmers often tend to hold their breath while they swim, releasing the contents of their lungs in a burst just before rotating their head and body to inhale.  This results in several negative outcomes for the swimmer. 

First, the length of time that is available for taking in oxygen (during the recovery phase) is determined by the swimmers stroke rate.  If part of that time is spent expelling air from the lungs, then the time for taking in air is reduced.  The only way for the swimmer to get a full inhale is to slow their stroke on the breathing side resulting in an uneven stroke.

Second, one of the best ways to remain relaxed while swimming is to maintain a long exhale.  (Try it now: inhale deeply, then let out a long, steady exhale.  The point of relaxation comes at the end of the exhale, right?)  The longer the athlete swims, the more stress they will accumulate.

Third, by holding their breathe, the swimmer begins to rely on the buoyancy of their lungs to remain close to the surface of the water as opposed to using their stroke and kick to accomplish this.  As the athlete continues to swim, their body position in the water will begin to sag as the volume of air being inhaled decreases.

I would propose that an alternative to this is to focus on the breathing and to maintain an uneven count where the time of exhalation is slightly longer than the inhalation.  Example: while swimming freestyle and using a breath-every-three pattern, exhale continuously while your face is in the water, counting each stroke as one beat.  This will result in a three out/one in pattern.  A drill that can be used to practice this is to kick on your side for 6 beats(or kicks) then rotate to the other side for 6 beats.  While doing this, have your face up for the first two beats, then turn your face to the bottom of the pool for four beats and exhale continuously until you rotate your body on the next count of six.

I find that this technique also works well for cycling and running.  Focus on your breathing and practice exhaling smoothly for a count of four and inhaling strongly for a count of three. (Or if you are running harder, use 3-out/2-in instead.)  See if this helps keep you relaxed and breathing deeper during your next hard interval.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to add your comments

January 31st - Learn to Feel the Water

This past weekend, we spent a considerable amount of time on drills that help a swimmer learn what a good catch in the freestyle stroke feels like.  To accomplish this, we did started by kicking 50s while in a streamline position alternating the pitch of the hands: up (stop sign) and down (45° to the bottom of the pool).  The swimmer should feel the difference between positive pressure on the palm while the fingers are up and a feeling of negative pressure when the fingers are pointed down.

Sculling is an excellent drill to help learn good feel for the water.

Sculling is an excellent drill to help learn good feel for the water.

We then progressed to sculling drills, both in streamline and with arms at the shoulders, fingers pointed to the pool floor.  These drills help a swimmer to learn  the feeling of catching the water at the beginning of the underwater stroke as well as at the transition from catch to power phase of the stroke.  HERE is a link to a video of good sculling technique.

Workout from 1/31/15

  • 200 warm up
  • 4x50 kick with fins in streamline position - vary the pitch of your hands and feel the water on your hands.
  • 100 free easy
  • 4x50 sculling with head above the water - again, focus on how the water feels on your hands as to press on the water.
  • 100 free easy
  • 4x25 scull with arms at 90° to your body and high elbows - learn the feel of transitioning to the power phase of the stroke while swimming with a high elbow stroke.
  • 100 free easy
  • 4x50 swim with ankle band and buoy - incorporate the skills you have learned into your pull;  focus on the hands.
  • 100 cool-down

January 17th swim clinic

Breathing, balance, and body position

This past weekend we worked towards achieving a horizontal body position in the water, rotating the shoulders to allow for a proper recovery, as well as learning how to breath properly during the freestyle stroke.  The workout that we did was as follows (with slight modification):

2x200 swim 50 free/50 not free

4x50 kick with board in streamline, breath every 6 count

100 easy swim

4x50 6/3/6 - 6 kicks on R side/3 strokes/6 kicks on L side

100 easy free

4x50 catch-up

100 easy free

4x50 sail drill

100 easy free

8x50 breath every 2,3,4,5, by 50, repeat build

100 easy

The theme that should remain constant while conducting these drills is to maintain a purposeful, consistent exhal e. Whether you are swimming and taking a breath every 3,5,7 strokes or kicking on your front of side.  Practicing this will teach you to maximize the volume of CO2 that you push out and therefore the amount of oxygen that you can take in. 

Here is a link to the video that Damon shot at the end of practice:

January 10th Swim Clinic Workout

Dry land strength exercises for swimmers:

This past week, the topic for The Bike Rack Multisport team swim clinic was strength.  Our small group split in two: one half doing drills in the pool while the other stayed on deck to learn a short strength and movement routine.  Below is the list of the exercises that were demonstrated during the dry land portion of the workout.  This set focused on three areas: shoulder strength and ROM (range of motion), ankle ROM, and core strength.  While not exhaustive, this group of exercises can form the base of a weekly strength routine or be added individually to an existing plan.  For demonstration videos, search each exercise by name on Youtube.

(All exercises should be done with very light weight or a small amount of resistance.  Weights or stretch cords can be substituted depending on what you have available to use. 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps or 3 repeats of 30-45 seconds on, 15 seconds rest.)

Shoulder/Triceps Strength:

  • Supraspinatis lift - remember thumbs down!
  • Forward and lateral low to high reverse fly - keep your arms straight.
  • Triceps kick back - keep you upper arm still, pull from the elbow.

Shoulder ROM:

  • Fly stretch on the wall - first thumb up, then thumb down.
  • Doorway fly stretch -bend arms 90 degrees at the elbow.
  • Triceps stretch - try to push your arm down the middle of your back.
  • Eagle arms stretch - If you can't achieve this position, bend one arm at the elbow and pull across the chest with the other.

Ankle ROM:

  • Ankle sit - If your quads are too tight to sit with your butt bones on your heals, first stretch your quads, and if tightness persists use a rolled up towel.
  • Wall ankle mobilization - start with foot a few inches away from the wall and press weight forward until the knee touches the wall.

Core Strength:

  • Planks - front and side, rest on your elbow.
  • Prone cobra stretch - start in streamline position and rotate arm to your hips keeping arms straight.
  • Single leg bridge - keep one leg straight, feel press thought your glutes and hamstrings.
  • Supine bird dogs (dying bugs) - alternate arms and legs while keeping your core tight.
  • Windshield wipers - Arms out for stability, bend legs at the knee and rotate side to side touching knees to the floor.

Again, this list of movements is not exhaustive, but are good exercises to rotate into an existing workout routine.

Running in a winter Wonderland

I have always been a cold weather person.  I can remember back in grade school, when the school year was just getting started in late August/ early September, I would already be digging around for my skis or snowboard and counting the days until the first snowfall.  As I have moved from extreme sports into endurance sports, my outlook on winter has changed somewhat.  And while I currently can't wait for the temperature to rise into any range other than 20-30 degrees, I still have a lingering love for snowy days.

This past week brought the first really cold weather of the 2014/15 winter to the DC metro area: temps in the teens; strong, cold winds; and the first snowfall of the season.  Even I was driven inside on a few occasions when I had planned an outdoors workout.  But after the initial storm blew through, and a fresh coating of snow was left on the ground, I did venture out and was able to complete some fantastic runs throughout the week. 

During many of these sessions, my mind began to wonder over all the things that I love, and hate, about running in the winter.  So here is a short list of my top three pros and cons of winter running.


1. There is nothing quite like being outdoors during, or right after, a fresh snowfall.  There is a magical quietness that seems to exist only when all the local critters, including people, seem to know that now it a time that they should be tucked away inside their home where it is warm. 

2. Running in snow is a great way to work on your running form.  Keeping your steps light and quick and having your weight balanced are critical when running in the winter.  Throw in a little ice and any sloppy mechanics are brought to light very quickly.  Plus, the additional focus on your footing that you need to maintain is great mental training for staying in the moment.

3.Like I said before, I'm a cold weather person.  I start to sweat when the temperature reaches the high 60s.  When I throw on some thermals, a good pair of gloves, and hit the trails 35 degrees feels pretty darn good.


1. Fresh snow is fantastic for running.  You get a little extra cushion under foot, when it's cold enough you don't have to worry about your toes getting wet, and you get that unique crunch noise as the snow packs under your weight.  BUT, after a few days of being trod on, that same magic carpet becomes a pock marked field of ankle death.  After a run this weekend through the Sligo Creak trail, I had achy muscles in my lower legs that I didn't know previously existed.  Guess I need to work on my foot plant.

2. The last few winters I have acquired the habit of growing a winter beard with the mindset that it will protect my delicate cheeks from harsh winter winds.  However, I have also become more prone to the dreaded "beard-cicle".  For those of you unawares to this phenomenon, the warm air being exhaled quickly freezes on the surrounding facial hair leading to small icicles to form.  i won't even get into the nose drainage issues.

3. Doing multiple workouts per week training for triathlons already leads to bi-weekly laundry loads in my house.  Maybe three every 14 days.  During the winter months, this number is pushed to the max with all the additional clothing that one must dawn in order to venture out into the cold.  Next to the bigger bill from the heating company, I am pretty sure I am doing my fair share in purchasing a few new BMWs for the execs at Pepco.

So keep your toes warm, your beards ice free, and I will see you out on the snowy trails.


Buying a triathlon bike

I WAS RECENTLY ASKED by a teammate for some tips on purchasing a new triathlon bike.  There are so many cool designs out there, and so many gizmos on the market that will supposedly help you save a few watts, that it can be very difficult to determine what will actually provide a benefit and what is just extraneous junk.  In a previous life, I used to be the manager of a bike shop.  At the beginning of every tri season, I would have people come in looking to get on a new bike.  Most of them had a fixed budget that they wanted to stay within and all of them wanted to end up riding out on something way above that budget. Here are a few guidelines that I would give them to help narrow down what they should be looking for.

Fit: First, plan to set aside $200-300 in your budget to get a dynamic bike fit performed by a trained professional and to cover the cost of changing out small parts like saddles, stems, and pedals. This can either be done before or after you buy the bike.

Getting a fit performed prior to buying a bike will give you a short list of frames that fit your body type (more on this later).  Once you have your list of fit measurements (ie: the points in space where the rider contacts the bike such as saddle height, pedals, aero bar pad reach and width, base bar position, and extension reach to name a few) you can go looking for your new bike and have the shop adjust the bike to meet your fit standards. 

This can also be done in reverse order. Purchasing a bike first and having it fit to you will ensure that that specific bike is customized to your body. This will ensure that you get the most out of your new ride in the areas of comfort, aerodynamics, and power output.  

Which ever way you go, you will reach the end result of being one with your new bike.  (a relationship that is going to see a lot of time spent together.)  Many frame manufacturers are building very fast bikes with a specific eye towards fit and being easily adjustable. Quintana Roo and Specialized, to name a few, have designed very cool bikes with these characteristics in mind.  

Frame Fit: As I mentioned before, there are two main styles (fits) in triathlon frames: long and low, and short and tall.  

Bikes build with a long and low geometry (the QR cd0.1 comes to mind) have a longer top tube and shorter head tube making them a better fit for riders with a longer torso.  These frames will allow the rider to stretch out over the bike and get very aero.

The short and tall frames will be better suited to riders with a shorter torso and longer legs or those who are less flexible in their hip joints.  While they may not allow the rider to get their upper body as horizontal, the increased comfort and ability to produce power will overcome a slightly less aero position.  Both styles of frame can be set up to put the rider in a very aerodynamic position, but one style will fit your body type better.

Frame Style: Another thing to consider when buying a TT frame is whether you want a triathlon specific bike or a bike that will be UCI legal and allow you to race stand alone time trials.  Many companies are producing triathlon specific bikes with frame profiles that exceed the UCI 3:1 tube ratios making them ineligible for road racing.  If you have any inclination that you may in the future want to do an individual TT then opt for a UCI legal frame.  A good example of this is the new(ish) Cervelo P5, which comes in a triathlon specific version and a UCI rated version.  The main difference being the addition of a front fork with deeper side profile and nose cone style brake cover. 

Components: My stance on components is this - if I have X amount of dollars to spend on a triathlon bike, I would opt to spent the majority of that pot on a frame and wheel set while letting components take a back seat.  Here is why: throughout the life of your bike, you will regularly be replacing parts as they wear out.  so, when it is time to change your chain, upgrade.  When it's time for new chain rings, upgrade.  If you have some extra dough down the road, upgrade your derailleurs.  These parts can be bought cheap online (especially if you can live with ten speed components now that 11-speed is so widely available) and taken to your shop for installation.   

Another factor is that most triathlons are done over fairly flat terrain meaning that a bit more weight on the bike from lower grade components is not a huge penalty compared to someone racing huge mountain climbs in a road or stage race.  Also, because triathletes are loading their bikes up with water, nutrition, flat kit, and other gizmos whatever weight you may have lost from buying Dura-Ace components over 105 is lost.  And finally, the rider is the biggest source of weight and drag on the bike by far, so spend the extra dough you saved to pay your coach. 

Wheel set: While probably the most expensive upgrade you can make to a bike, a good wheel set can help you shed seconds off of your bike split and can improve how your bike feels and handles immensely.  My favorite combo is the Zipp 404/808 firecrest set. (TriRig did a great write up on wheel sets here.)  if you have the means to only own one set of race wheels then this combo provides great aerodynamics without sacrificing too much control on windy days or for lighter and small er riders.  Also, with most wheel companies providing some form of discount for race crash replacement, you can run these wheels on your bike all the time.

Brands: I can't say that there is a bad brand of bike out on the market today.  There is a convergence of aero technology that makes all the newest super bikes look and function very similar.  In the field of components there is also not a good or bad brand in terms of quality and function.  I think each individual has to find one that they like (I prefer Shimano shifting over SRAM, for example) and go from there.

I will say that there are brands that charge more for their bikes with respect to what you get for your money.  Trek and Cervelo seem to be more expensive then a comparably equipped Giant, Specialized, or Cannondale.  But prices can fluctuate from shop to shop and region to region.  Again, none of these brands are better or worse than the others, they just very in price.

Super buyer's tip! It can be very tempting to take advantage of cheap deals on the internet but buyer beware.  Usually customer service is poor with these companies and good luck if you have any warranty issues.  Buy purchasing a bike through a bike dealer, you may pay a little bit more, but your money goes towards buying the knowledge of the sales, fitting, and mechanical staff.  Many shops throw in some amount of free service with a purchase as well.  You are also developing a relationship with that shop that will pay dividends in the future when you have questions regarding service, upgrades, and again warranty problems.  

Hopefully these guidelines will help those of you in the market for a new bike find the bike that will bring you the most benefit without having to take second mortgage on your house.  If you do have any questions, leave it in the comments, shoot me an email or post it on the Facebook page.  Shared questions bring everyone more knowledge.