Year after year athletes train in very specific phases to peak for their chosen events during the race season
This approach is required because it is impossible to sustain peak performance over an extended period of time. The top athletes who perform well at targeted races have done so because their programme followed the tried-and-tested structure of off-season, pre-season and race prep phases. Each part of this structure is as important as the other. Without the correct build up and off-season work, then the race season is hampered by a lack of preparedness or injury. The more serious weekend warriors have also adopted this approach as they prep for targeted events throughout the racing calendar. In doing so they also mix up their training, with a variety of volume and intensity that mimics the programmes followed by full-time pros, albeit a scaled-down version that fits into their lifestyles. However, one key element that is seldom focused on by those, not at an elite level is that of technique. For the pros and the most successful age-group athletes, technique training forms an integral part of their off-season training. While it’s a common part of swim training in the form of formal coaching, very few athletes feel that running or cycling is a skill that needs dedicated focus to improve on outside of their normal training. The reason for this is the water is a hugely inefficient medium through which to move because the density of water creates drag and anything that isn’t streamlined will require more energy to move through it. This means that even small changes in swimming technique – stroke, head and body position, breathing technique, kicking, and even the drag coefficient of your swimsuit – will make a swimmer more efficient and can deliver exponential returns in performance.
“Factors such as foot strike in relation to your hips, cadence, and even breathing technique can help to limit ‘energy leaks’ that reduce efficiency. By perfecting these elements early on in the season athletes also reduce their risk of injury as everything in the body is working as it should to absorb, transfer and dissipate force in the most efficient manner.”
Conversely, many athletes feel that running or cycling technique doesn’t require as much dedicated focus. The truth is that there are major benefits to be had by athletes who focus on improving their technique in whatever sport they engage in. The main reason for this is that better technique dramatically improves movement efficiency, and the more efficient you are, the less energy you’ll expend. Referring back to the example of swimming efficiency, a triathlete who gets out of the water on race day having used a lot of energy during the swim will already be on the back foot going into the ride. Further inefficiencies, be they due to an incorrect bike set up or an inefficient pedal stroke, will further compound the problem as the amount of power to the wheels per stroke will be reduced. This effectively means you won’t travel as far per pedal stroke than a more efficient competitor. Having expended unnecessary energy during the swim and bike due to poor technique, there may be little left in the tank for the run, which is another discipline where more athletes can improve their technique to reap the rewards of greater efficiency. Factors such as foot strike in relation to your hips, cadence, and even breathing technique can help to limit ‘energy leaks’ that reduce efficiency. By perfecting these elements early on in the season athletes also reduce their risk of injury as everything in the body is working as it should to absorb, transfer and dissipate force in the most efficient manner.
There are literally thousands of things that can be worked on or changed to improve your swimming, pedalling and even your running. But to do so requires that these ‘inefficiencies’ first be identified, then corrected, and then repeated, over and over, until the brain and body create the neural pathways that make these more efficient movement patterns second nature. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to see what you are doing by yourself. And even if you manage to by reviewing video of your performance, most athletes don’t know what to look for. This is why it pays to get a coach to analyse the footage and then offer advice to improve both your technique, in addition to planning your training. There is also a huge amount of content on YouTube that deals with technique correction and movement efficiency, but you still need to know what to search for. As such, a combination of expert advice and sourced information, be it online or from books, will guide you in the types of drills and exercises you should be doing in your off-season to perfect your movement patterns and ensure you build up your volume and intensity off the solid foundation that good technique creates.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steve Attwell, Level 2 Triathlon South Africa (TSA) and certified Ironman coach, and founder of Embark triathlon coaching | www.embark.co.za