Athletes come to TriSpecific for a reason. They want to significantly improve and are usually burnt out, sick and holding onto injuries from the sole focus of aerobic development and threshold focus at the expense of everything else.
If you spend the time to develop the one (same) skill placed differently for each discipline, you will get good.
If you don’t take this on-board because of the simplicity you’ll forever limit yourself and your ultimate ability. Period.
There is one overriding skill needed across all three disciplines.
The skill is limb turnover or better known as stroke rate in swimming, cadence in cycling and stride rate in running. Lets break it down why each is important and how to focus on each one.
Improve your swim by…
Ditching the long glide and perfectly placed hand in the water and learning how to develop a strong and reactive swim stroke.
I could point to at least 20 commonly given swim instructions that don’t serve you in triathlon swimming (for another time). Why?
Because swimming in the mass start chaotic mess that is open water triathlon swimming means you need to develop a different set of skills that are commonly taught in the closed and controlled pool environment.
Let me repeat. Triathlon swimming is different to pool swimming. Much different.
You need to develop a strong and FAST stroke and be fit so as not to negatively effect your bike and run.
So go ahead and ditch the distance per stroke (DPS) goal because it ain’t going to help your triathlon swim. You want to start focusing on upping your stroke rate while keeping form. It’s not just about turning your arms over quicker. You need to be able to do so under duress.
Focus on a shoulder width hand entry, driving your hand in aggressively and then cocking elbow out to the side and pulling back hard. Rinse and repeat and over time develop the speed (stroke rate) you do this with. This develops a nice reactive stroke.
And the reason reactive stroke serves you in triathlon swimming is because the environment is constantly changing. Anything that will break your nice long glide will give you a stop start swim and slow you down.
Develop strength with extra small paddles like the TYR Catalyst ones and use a pull buoy to aid your body position so you can fully concentrate on what your arms are doing.
KEY – develop your stroke rate EVERY SESSION.
Swimming is commonly underrated as a focus in triathlon events because it only represent such a small percentage of the day. Don’t make this mistake.. Because you can have great fitness and non optimal technique which may see a slower swim but a better overall race outcome. I’ve seen many a technically proficient swimmer lacking fitness that still swims fast but has poor overall results.
Point: Getting fit in the water will help your bike and run.
I’m going to focus on 70.3 and Ironman here because it’s a different game to Olympic distance (and shorter) racing. Again the skill set you want to develop is cadence. But I’m going to go against the norm (again) and I recommend the best cadence to focus on is around 70-80rpm.
People will say you’re mashing the gear and that you can run off of that. Not true and I have been able to prove it again and again with many athlete. It’s an easily trainable skill that you can develop a perfectly good pedal stroke pushing a bigger gear (developing strength) and doing so will give you a greater rate of return.
But the essence is why you want to do this.
Yes, each stroke enforces a bigger muscular contraction but the turnover is slower and thus it comes at a smaller aerobic cost (caps heart rate good thing) which is important to run fast off the bike. We are also taxing your bike muscles and saving your run muscles for when it counts. Plus the lower rpm means you’re saving glycogen stores and relying more on using fat for fuel. (a very good thing).
The clincher of riding a bigger gear;
It will only help your run if you spend the time focusing on the run skillz I discuss next. We see a many athletes push a big gear and have a cracking bike split and then plod on the run (and everyone blames the big gear mashing) but the reason is because they haven’t trained the most important aspect of running which is discussed below.
Developing the ability to push a big gear also takes time and it is uncomfortable. Especially at the back end of rides where all you want to do is spin easy, but if you want to recruit more muscle fibres to do the job and make you an über biker then you have to learn how to push hard in your biggest gear when fatigued and not concern yourself with what your speedo or watt numbers are telling you. They don’t matter. What matters is EFFORT.
So spend a lot of your time riding at what I core a core cadence of 70-80rpm and then times much lower than that on short hard repeats and at other times i.e. the end of a long ride pushing your biggest gear.
What about your knees? If your bike position is set up correctly and your cleat position is set back and you diligently do self massage on calves and quads you’ll have no problems.
Running for dough or Kona spots or massive PBs
is all about developing your stride rate:
Stride rate is key. You can do all the different types of running sessions but if you don’t focus and develop this one quality then you’ll always limit your performance off of the bike.
For running we learn it early and then fall into a stride that feels most comfortable. And that ‘comfortable’ stride gets trained into the body over and over and then when you have some one pushing big gears and slow cadence followed by big plodding run stride it becomes “houston we have a problem”. And if you don’t push a big gear but follow the high cadence pathway, you’ll end up with the same plodding run and same ‘we have a problem’ scenario.
The same pathways are taxed, glycogen stores are gone and heart rate cannot get raised to run fast. Neurologically we are fried from the same or similar cadence.
So when we put a focus on stride rate, athletes find running quickly becomes uncomfortable. Running easy at a high stride rate at first is impossible (without high heart rates or intensity) unless you use specific tools or terrain like a treadmill or slight downhills.
Developing a high stride rate that happens for the most part unconsciously because you have programmed the red meat computer you are takes time and bucket loads of patience but it is the MOST important skill to develop if you wish to run fast off the bike.
See a higher stride rate breaks up the viscosity developed in the legs from hours on the bike and the lower cadence. But it also breaks the work of the muscles into smaller manageable bits, which allows you to get your heart rate up after racing for hours so so can run fast at the end. When it counts the most.
The higher stride rate focus will also make your running form better. Without over thinking technique. It works. Your feet will land under your hips and you’ll tend to land flat to fore-footed. No special drills needed. Just a focus on an important skill.
It’s a different neuromuscular pathway from the lower cadence riding and that means we can effectively start the run “fresh” with tired legs from the bike.
The goal is running in the mid 90’s. That is 90 steps per foot per minute.
Please don’t tell me it’s boring. Champions and go getters don’t get bored. They focus on the critical few things that matter and not gimmicks.
So here are three of the same skills involving limb turnover that will improve your game. High stroke rate in the water, low cadence on the bike and high stride rate on the run. All take time, hard work and focus to develop.
But you have an opportunity to develop them every single time you train. Spend enough time and you’ll develop highly effective motor patterns where things will feel like they just happen autonomously and take your overall performances to another level.
Interested in taking your triathlon game to the next level? Then answer these questions and set up a short strategy call with me so we can dissect whats working and what’s not.