By: Greg Kealey, Triathlon Ontario Provincial Coach
Swim skills to master
- Balance – Swimming is done through your core, so proper rotation, maintaining good balance and posture while swimming on your side is imperative.
- Breathing – The timing of your breathing within the stroke cycle is important and it’s important to not hold your breath.
- Catch – It’s important that you apply force early during the rotation phase of the stroke. It’s important to engage the primary muscle groups as opposed to the stabilizers.
- High Elbow – Maintain a high elbow both during the recovery and as your hand enters the water and during the catch phase of the stroke.
- Pull dominance – Pull, don’t push yourself through the water.
- Rotation – Should start at the hips and your head should remain stable.
- Stroke rate – Open-water swimming lends itself to a higher stroke rate.
- Sighting – Separate sighting and breathing while keeping your head as stable as possible.
- Competitions will also have different swim environments: fresh water with or without a wetsuit, salt water with or without a wetsuit, etc. Each variable needs to be understood and practiced.
- Develop confidence for swim starts – they are aggressive and contact is unavoidable.– Greg Kealey
Keys to excellent cycling
Cycling has quickly become the “make or break” component of competitive draft legal events. The days where all the packs converge and it becomes a foot race are over. Developing proper cycling skills is imperative to being competitive.
- Proper bike fit – Have one done by a professional who understands triathlon (as opposed to a cycling specialist).
- Power production – You need to be able to produce power through torque (high resistance) and cadence. The demands of the sport require an ability to perform at a variety of cadences.
- Repeatibility – Draft-legal racing requires repeated high-power efforts. An ability to recover quickly and be able to sustain multiple efforts is more important than an athlete’s FTP (Functional Threshold Power). While FTP tracking is useful for long course, non-drafting triathletes, it is less relevant to draft-legal racing.
- Balance – Proper balance creates confidence on the bike and helps with pedalling skills, cornering and pack riding. Incorporate balance drills into every session.
- Cornering – learn how to read the quickest (best) line through a corner.
- Climbing and descending – Learn to climb properly with the right gear selection that enables consistent leg turnover. Learn how to pedal even while your descending to take advantage of the fastest part of the course.
- Equipment and maintenance – Know the parts of your bike and how to do general maintenance on it.
- Packing and travel – Learn how to pack and rebuild your bike. Keep a written copy of your bike fit measurements. Buy proper tools. – Greg Kealey
Nail the run
The run is the discipline that gets you on the podium, if you’re in position to do so. Efficiency is the key – triathletes are fatigued as they start the run and need to be able to do their best work in the final one or two km. This is an impossible feat if you are inefficient. Elite run coaches all emphasize rhythm as the foundation of good fast running.
- Foot strike – The foot should hit the ground flat, with heel slightly raised. Never run on your toes. Hit the ground too far forward prevents the large muscle groups (hamstrings and glutes) from producing power. A flat foot plant engages all the muscle groups for better, more efficient power production and reduces injury potential.
- Cadence – Your training and race cadence should be the same. Too many athletes do their base training at one cadence (ie 70- 80 rpm), but then want to race at 90 rpm. Under fatigue or stress, how will you maintain a cadence you practice only 20 to 30 percent of your training? Maintaining a higher cadence helps reduce over-striding and improves run metrics and supports the neuromuscular training that will help maintain turnover under fatigue.
- Rhythm – Is the number one item on an elite coach’s list. Develop rhythm and build your speed off that. Your breathing, stride and arm drive all have to be coordinated for you to run fast.
- Run metrics – Stance time (the amount of time your foot is on the ground), swing time (how long your leg takes to move forward) and vertical movement (how much up and down motion you have in your stride) are all important aspects to run economy. A proper run gait analysis can give you ideas on how to improve your run economy.
- Drills – Will help with run form and biomechanics and help with injury prevention and run economy. When doing drills, do them with purpose. Know what you are doing, why you are doing it, how to do it properly and how it relates to performance.
- Pacing – Developing athletes need to work on negative splits – the ability to finish faster than they started. While seasoned athletes with many years of specific training can start faster and then “settle in” to a given pace. A young athlete does not have that capacity and needs to understand how different paces affect them, how to measure an effort (pace) by feel and how to build that pace through the event.