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Favorite Swim Training Tools & Gear

Favorite Swim Training Tools & Gear
FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

What if you are not from a swimming background though want to be more competitive in the triathlon swim? One answer is to add more structure to your swim training.

I Want To Be A More Competitive Swimmer

There are many triathletes whose goal for the swim is to “just get through it so that I can get on the bike”.

I am not one of these.

Swimming is enjoyable to me. I have spent many hours reading books and blog posts and watching videos about swimming in order to be a faster swimmer. I have also gotten advice from my son, a former college swimmer, on how to improve my swim.

As with most sports, improvement comes by developing better technique, a more efficient form, greater full body strength, and aerobic fitness.

Increasing Stroke Rate Using the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

According to Swim Smooth, there is an ideal relationship between swim speed (time per 100 m) and swim stroke rate (strokes per minute). A swimming stroke that is too high (RED zone) hints at too short a stroke. On the other hand, a slow stroke rate typically indicates too much glide with each stroke and a tendency to create a hand position in the latter part of the stroke that causes one to slow.

My swim currently falls in the upper left portion of the BLUE region. Using my FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro, I am training to increase my stroke rate while paying close attention to the catch phase.

Graph showing the ideal stroke rate for various times for swimming 100 meters.
The ideal range for swim speed vs. stroke rate chart is in white between the blue (too low stroke rate) and red (too high stroke rate). Source: Swim Smooth

About the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

The FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro is a waterproof metronome. The choice of one of its three modes depends on the training plan. For example, one mode allow you to set a time per lap for use with interval training.

I set the device to transmit an audible tone for each of the strokes in the targeted pace. For example, I set the Trainer to beep every 1.0 second for a stroke rate of 60 strokes per minute.

The pace is adjustable in 1/100th of a second increments giving plenty of resolution for every situation.

The small, waterproof device easily secures beneath a swim cap and transmits a clearly heard, audible beep. It floats in water to help avoid it being lost in the pool or open water.

The Tempo Trainer Pro also comes with a clip for ‘dryland’ training. For example, it is used in bike (cadence) and run (foot turnover rate) training.

The FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro includes a replaceable battery. I have had the device for more than five years and replaced the battery one time by taking it to a local BatteriesPlus store.

My journey toward becoming a better swimmer continues by working to increase my stroke rate. With strength training and more structured time in the water, I am confident that I will be more competitive in the triathlon swim.

You can find the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro at SwimOutlet.com

Or at Amazon.com

Check Back Next Month for Reviews of Other Swim Tools

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Optimal Stretching Pre and Post Workout

Optimal Stretching Pre and Post Workout
Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

By Victoria Ward, Contributor

We’re all aware of how important stretching is before and after our workouts, so why is it that we decide to skip those crucial exercise steps? Well, besides being time consuming, a lot of people, myself included, think stretching is boring, and easy to skimp out on. That’s why it was only after a laundry list of injuries that I became consistent with my pre and post workout stretches.

But it was by stretching often that I learned how to do so effectively and make it enjoyable. Here, I’m going to lay out the exact stretching regimen I personally use, step by step, so you can try it yourself. Don’t be lazy like I was and wind of injuring yourself—some injuries never go away, like my elbow tendonitis. So be proactive and put the work in.

 

Warming up

For those who have access, dynamic movements in a warmed pool, such as those in aquatic physical therapy, provide a fantastic way to warm up. The warm water promotes blood circulation and loosens the muscles while the aquatic medium allows stretching to be done without strain on the joints, tendons and ligaments. This is ideal for most athletes, especially with taxed or worn joints. It would be smart to perform aquatic physical therapy at least once or twice a week for general wellness and joint health.

Those of us without an in-gym pool will have to perform our dynamic stretching routine on ground. It burdens the joints somewhat more in this setting, but it can be relatively safe provided you move slowly and precisely through the movements. I suggest finding a whole-body dynamic stretching routine and performing it before every workout session.

It is usually recommended to perform each movement for 10-15 repetitions, though I sometimes perform as many as 20-30 if my muscles feel tight.

After dynamic stretches, I’ll get in some band work, which has worked great for improving my joint health. Taking a low-resistance band, I’ll mimic the exercises to be performed that day and hold the band in a static position for 30 seconds, or until I feel ‘loose’. Something that’s helped my wrist and elbow health, which nobody seems to be talking about, is using rubber bands. I put my fingers through a rubber band and then open them so the band stretches. I do this for perhaps 100 repetitions in each hand a couple times a day and it’s made a huge difference in my elbow and wrist pain.

 

Cooling down

After your workout, you may find your muscles much tighter than usual. To remedy this, we utilize what are known as static stretches. Unlike dynamic stretches, static stretches involve holding a certain position for some amount of time—usually 20-60 seconds. To make static stretches interesting, try pulling just a little bit farther each session. As an example, try touching your toes—if you can, then your hamstrings are pretty flexible. Now try working up to pressing your hands flat on the floor. Once you can do that then you’ve worked up some serious flexibility.

The last step is jumping into a cold bath before massaging out the muscles to break up any knots, fascia, and reduce swelling. Using a foam roller, tennis ball, your knuckle, or anything else you could think of would be a good idea. This stops muscles from getting tight and ultimately prevents many injuries. Following this you should make sure to get plenty of rest so your body can recover. Don’t make the same mistake I did—do your stretches and do them often.

 

Victoria Ward is a freelance writer with a profound interest in psychology, holistic health, and fitness. Her hobbies include tennis, cooking, writing, and yoga. When she’s not working, she can be found playing with her corgi, Milo.

 

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Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes

Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes

(updated August 13, 2019)

After competing in sprint triathlons for eight years, my training had become sloppy.  I had lost the discipline of the early years.  I had nearly stopped strength training, focusing instead on cardio and endurance training.  And to top it off, my performance was poorer.  I was slower than ever and struggling with knee pain while running.

 

Credible References for Strength Training

So, the article entitled “Mark Allen’s 12 Best Strength Exercises” jumped out at me as I skimmed my emails on a recent winter morning.    Having read about triathlon for over eight years, I knew of Mark Allen and considered him a credible source of information.

I became even more interested in the plan once I realized that this strength training plan had also been a turning point for Mark.  In the first full season after following this strength training program, Mark won the three international multi-sport endurance events, including IRONMAN World Championship in Kona-Kailua, Hawaii.

Around the same time, I read about Judy Cole, a 73-year-old ultra runner.   Judy had started running every day during her early 30s.  However, early on, she had problems with her knees.  Following the advice of her running partner to strengthen her quads and hamstringsbecame a game changer”.

Judy’s experience sounded oh-so-familiar , so I committed to Mark’s plan.

 

My Initial Experience with Mark Allen’s Strength Training Program

This post is a journal of my experience with Mark Allen’s strength training program. 

I first published this post after completing four sessions of the first, or adaptation, phase.  I eventually finished eight sessions.

Now in the second, or endurance, phase, I am continuing to feel stronger.   Exercises that were especially difficult in the first sessions are now easier.  And, for the first time in months, I am running without knee pain.

 

Mark’s Best Strength Training Exercises

The table below lists the twelve exercises in this program.  The table also shows the triathlon event(s) most impacted by the exercise.  The original article includes videos that show how to perform each of them correctly.

Exercise Helps most with . . .
Lateral Pull-Downs Swim
Leg Extensions Run
Leg Curls Bike, Run
Bench Press Swim
Squats Bike, Run
Lateral Dumbbell Raise Swim
Calf Raises Run
Dumb-bell Pullover Swim
Backward Lunges Run
Bicep Curls Swim, Bike
Tricep Extensions Swim
Leg Press Bike, Run

 

 

Strength Training Restarted – Warmup and Cooldown

I start each session, no matter the Phase, with core exercises and 10 minutes of cardio to warm up.  In August 2019, I made some changes to the core exercise routine based on the recommendation of Tri Swim Coach.

The latest core exercise portion includes one minute each of:

  • Plank — one minute.
  • Side plank — one minute on each side.
  • Bridge – one minute.
  • Abs — one minute of bicycle crunches – go to 3:00 in the Tri Swim Coach video.  (Before August, I did a static crunch sitting up on the floor with the back at about 45 degrees off the floor and legs extended and on the floor.  This is an alternative to crunches that have recently fallen out of favor with trainers.)

Before starting with the weights, I spend 10 minutes to finish warming up.  This involves walking, jogging on an elliptical machine, or riding a stationary bike at an intensity high enough to break a sweat.

Throughout the journey, I have recorded the number of repetitions and weights for each of the exercises of each session in a Google Sheet.  I have also noted when I could use a heavier weight in the next session and any pain or soreness I felt during or after the session.

After each session, I complete another 10-15 minutes of cardio.  I then complete a sequence of static stretches of my hamstrings, quads, calves, and upper and lower back.

Progress is coming – slowly but surely.  I have increased weights while doubling the number of repetitions.  The amount of soreness in the days after the session has been much less.  And, I have started to run again.

Periodically, I re-read the original article and watch the videos to make certain I perform each exercise using the correct form and breathing.

Leg exension exercise machine

Machine used for the leg extension exercise. Mark Allen’s program involves a mix of exercises that use free weights, weight machines, dumbbells, and body weight.

 

Endurance Strength Training – Phase 2

The main difference between the first two phases is that Phase 2 involves two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions (“reps”) of each of the exercises with 90 seconds rest between sets, rather than one set in Phase 1.  As in Phase 1, I completed two sessions per week with at least one day, but usually three days, between them.

During Phase 1, I selected weights for each of the exercises for which I could complete 15 repetitions with good form.  For some of these, I was able to increase the weight slightly during the four weeks.

In transitioning into Phase 2,  I used the same weights as at the end of Phase 1.   However, in the first two sessions, I completed only 12 (rather than 15) repetitions in each of the two sets (except for the squats for which I completed 15 repetitions).   I did this following the principle of injury prevention that calls for increasing intensity gradually.   

Increasing the intensity, time, or type of activity too quickly is one common reason for a sports injury. To prevent this, many fitness experts recommend that both novice and expert athletes follow the ten percent rule, which sets a limit on increases in weekly training. This guideline simply states that you should increase your activity no more than 10 percent per week. That includes distance, intensity, weight lifted, and length of your exercise session.”  Source: Very Well Fit

Continuing with this principle, I increased the number of repetitions to 15 for the first of two sets in week 2; the second set still involved 12 repetitions.  In week 3 and beyond of Phase 2, I completed 15 repetitions for both sets. 

 

Restarting to Run

Also, early in Phase 2, I ran indoors on the LifeTime Fitness track for 10 or more minutes after weight lifting and before stretching.  Another pleasant surprise has been the absence of knee pain during the run.  This seems to confirm the theory that my knee pain resulted from weak hips and other leg muscles that are being strengthened in this program.  How motivating! 

Throughout this phase, I have increased weight gradually when appropriate following this guideline – whenever a weight is ‘easy’ in two consecutive sessions, I will increase the weight for the next session by 10% or less.   I have increased the weight for some, not all, of the exercises balancing adding more weight and avoiding injury.

During this phase, I took a two-week break from the program because of illness, not injury.   I expect to resume the schedule within next week.  However, I expect to have lost some ground but also to regain it quickly.  Stay tuned for the next update.

 

Lessons from Strength Training for Triathletes

I have learned some important lessons while using this plan:

  1. Be patient – the results one should expect from this training, and all training may seem to come slowly.  Keep at it and you will eventually see results.
  2. Become familiar with the specific equipment you will use in the program.  I did not seek an introduction from a trainer and found that I was learning how to adjust it by observing others, experimenting.  I learned some things by accident, like how to add weight in 5 lb. increments on the machines.
  3. Add weight when after a few sessions (minimum of two) the weight seems easy.  You can tell that it is easy when you can maintain good form throughout all the repetitions.

Interested in Joining Me?

If you would like to join me in following Mark Allen’s strength training program for triathletes, comment below or email me at seniortriathletes@gmail,com.  I will share the Google Sheet with you so you can record your results and we can track our progress.

 

New to Strength Training?

You may be interested in this article from Silver Sneakers with advice on how to begin a strength training program.

 

To Be Continued . . .

This post was first published on March 14, 2019.  The latest update was published on August 13, 2019.

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How Seniors Can Prepare for their First Triathlon

How Seniors Can Prepare for their First Triathlon
Photo by Tomasz Woźniak on Unsplash

By Laurie Larson, Contributor

Triathletes of any age who are motivated and self-disciplined can safely and effectively train for a triathlon. Remember that a triathlon is not so much a sport for only the elite, but really it is a hobby that people work into their everyday lives, much like work, family, and routine duties.

According to the New York Times, there is a growing number of seniors involved with triathlons, and the Center for Disease and Control encourages older athletes to join in competitive sports. In fact, membership of USA Triathlon by older athletes has gone up by 230 percent since 2005!

 

Getting Started

So what age defines an “older” athlete? By most accounts, athletes over 50 are considered older, but that in no way means fitness and performance decrease as you age. To the contrary, you can perform well and continue to improve as an athlete every increasing year and decade of your life. If you are new to all three components of a triathlon, preliminary starter tips regardless of decade include:

  • If you are new to swimming, biking, and running, choose just one to work on at a time and utilize beginner training plans, building up slowly over time.
  • Look for local races and consider volunteering, where you can chat with people for knowledge and details about triathlons, as well as gain insider tips.
  • Join a triathlete training program where you can make some friends and be encouraged to be persistent with accomplishing small, manageable goals.

According to Ironman Coach Sally Drake, the limits you may experience with age include muscle loss, slower metabolism, loss in bone density, weaker immune system, and loss of joint range of motion. In order to account for such limitations, Drake says you must recognize the signs that you need to slow down or take more rest, especially if you feel pain.

See testimonials of triathletes over 50 and see Ironman training plans for triathletes who are 55+.

In terms of your 50s and then 60s and beyond, remembering specific guidelines and training recommendations per your decade will help you perform well and reduce the chance of injury:

 

Training in Your 50s

According to 220 Triathlon, your joints begin to stiffen as your cartilage thins and the amount of lubricant surrounding your joints decreases. To combat this factor, choose to run on alternate days with interval sessions just once a week, in order to go easy on your joints and maximize performance. 220 Triathlon recommends a 2:1 training approach where you work hard for two weeks and rest for one week, and during that week of rest and recovery, engage in stretching, yoga, and massage. You want to reduce risks involved with overtraining and burning yourself out.

 

Training in Your 60s and Beyond

As you age, your muscle mass decreases. Remember that as you age, strength training is more and more critical, as by the time you turn 70, 24 percent of muscle mass is lost, where strength training increases these muscle building hormones. Restoration through sleep becomes more and more important, and napping can be very effective as well.

According to 220 Triathlon, better sleep and napping improve alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes. Napping over 40 minutes increases release of the testosterone and growth hormone that helps repair and build muscle. It’s critical that your time of sleep is conducive of restoration, so be sure you can stay comfortable and avoid exacerbating your pain through sleeping on an improper sleeping structure. While your sleep is an important part of your rest and recovery, taking breaks is as well. Make sure you’re properly scheduling workouts and take two days of rest between your trainings.

 

Consulting with Your Doctor

As with any matter concerning your health, it’s important that you consult with your doctor when making any major lifestyle changes. Once you decide to start training for a triathlon, it’s wise to visit with your doctor before, during, and after to be sure you are staying safe and healthy. Your doctor may be able to advise you on specific stretches, limits, and medications that could help you along the way. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so keeping your doctor involved in the process is the best way to train.

It turns out that age truly is just a number, provided that you account for changes in your body over time. Whether you are an aspiring athlete or someone who has been at this for a lifetime, with a proper training plan, diet, and persistence, the sky’s the limit!

 

Laurie Larson is a freelance writer based out of NC. She enjoys writing on health and lifestyle topics to help others live their best, healthiest, and happiest life!

 

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