Monthly Triathlon Training Advice
Do you swim front crawl with a crossover?
Earlier this week I was swimming at my local pool in Perth, Western Australia. There was a guy in the next lane who is one of the best 60 year old triathletes in the country.
We got talking and he told me; "swimming is my slowest discipline and no matter how hard I train I never seem to improve."
That's a shame, I thought. With such a strong bike and run, it's a pity to lose out because of a slow swim. A couple of minutes later he swam up and down the lane and I soon realised why he wasn't traveling faster.
He had a "crossover" - which is the most common front crawl swim technique flaw I see as a triathlon coach.
Before I explain more, let me show you an image to demonstrate what I mean.
In the left-side image you can see a crossover occurs when the right-arm enters the water and crosses the center line of the body.
In the right-side image the swimmer does not have a crossover and his right-arm is in perfect line with his body.
What's Bad About A Front Crawl Crossover?
Where do I start? Basically it disrupts your balance, propulsion and streamlining in the water.
A crossover changes your direction of travel, because one (or both) arms are heading off towards the side of the pool instead of straight ahead.
Once you're in that bad position at the beginning of your stroke, every other aspect is then compromised from that point forwards.
When you swim with a crossover there's a good chance you will also compensate by snaking your hips or doing a scissor kick. This is a subconscious attempt to regain your balance in the water, but in reality it's like applying a set of brakes to your stroke. As you can see in the image below (sorry it's so small).
And when your legs are scissoring or snaking it makes it harder to rotate your body to breath without losing propulsion.
It's not just your pool swimming that suffers either. Crossovers are a big problem in open water too, where there are no lane ropes or tiles to follow. Swimming straight is vital and it is not uncommon for open-water athletes with crossovers to swim diagonally, as much as ten percent further than necessary. In an Ironman triathlon this could cost you five minutes or more.
A crossover can also increase the risk of a shoulder injury, particularly if done in combination with a thumb-first hand entry.
How To Fix A Front Crawl Crossover
Before you start changing your stroke you need to ascertain if you actually have a crossover in the first place.
Ask a coach to watch you swim or ask someone to video you so you can check it yourself later on. Do you look like the left-hand image above? Once you know for sure, there are three main ways to fix it.
Front Crawl Swim Tip 1:
Middle Finger Visualisation
Simply focus on your middle finger of each hand as it enters the water and extends forward. Imagine you’re pointing it down the barrel of a gun, straight towards the wall that you’re swimming towards. Focus on the middle fingers and nothing else.
Front Crawl Swim Tip 2:
Try Swim Paddles
Swim paddles can enhance the feeling of a crossover and help you to make corrections. The Finis Freestyler paddle is actually designed to eliminate crossovers. It’s shaped like an arrow-head and it gives you immediate feedback on how straight your hands are when they enter the water.
Front Crawl Swim Tip 3:
Kick On Side Drill/Swim Posture
In order to swim straight you need to establish a good swim posture. The kick on your side drill helps you to learn what it feels like to swim straight. If you get it wrong and your lead-arm crosses the center line you’ll notice yourself heading towards one side of the pool.
Simply put on a pair of fins, push off from the end of the pool and bring yourself into a 90 degrees side-lying position. Kick at a steady pace and point your lower arm out in front of you. Rest your top arm by your side. Face downwards and exhale under water while you’re kicking - this feels like you’re looking past your armpit. To take a breath, simply turn your head, inhale and return it to the water.
Focus on bringing your shoulder blades down and together, as this encourages you to point your lead-arm straight. Focus on doing this when you return to normal front-crawl too.
Eliminating a crossover is not a cure-all solution to transform you into a top swimmer overnight. But it is a significant step towards improving your stroke. Other, smaller, technique flaws will be easier to correct once you've done this. And it also means you'll start to get the full benefit of all your hard work in training.
If you think you have a crossover, I would invest in a set of Finis Freestyler Hand Paddles if nothing else. Focus on how they feel when you swim. Then take them off and try to retain that same feeling with just your hands. Good luck.
Please share this blog if you found it useful.
Thanks, Phil Mosley.
Unmissable training advice, pacing guidelines and race-day tips to help you tackle a 3.8km Ironman swim...
An Ironman swim is a huge challenge. It involves swimming 3.8 km in open water, among hundreds or thousands of athletes and with no opportunity to rest. It's a scary prospect, especially if you're not the most confident swimmer.
Not only that but somehow you'll also need to save your energy for a 180km bike and a 42.2km marathon afterwards.
In this feature we reveal five tips that will help you optimise your training, race tactics and mindset so that you can conquer your Ironman swim and execute a great race.
1. Treat It Like A Warm Up
Ironman is different to all other forms of triathlon. You need to think of it as an endurance trial and not a race. Switch off your competitive race-head and simply focus on following a realistic pace plan throughout, as I discuss in point 5 below.
Avoid the temptation to set yourself a target time for the swim. There are too many variables on race-day to get this right. If you end up doing a swim that’s slower than your goal-time it can lead to low morale and the temptation to catch-up during the bike section.
Think of the swim as a warm-up for the main event, rather than a race itself.
2. Train Long
The primary goal of your Ironman swim training is to get your fitness to a level where swimming 3.8 km feels normal. This means you need to do it many times in training.
The best way to achieve this is to gradually increase the distance of one or two of your swims each week, over a period of 12-weeks. Start off at 3 km and add an extra 100 metres each week.
You’ll also need to do some long swims in open water in the last 4 to 6 weeks before your race, so you are confident in river/lake/sea conditions.
Once you get to a point where 3.8km feels normal you should be able to complete your Ironman race-day swim with plenty of energy left for the bike and run.
3. Do You Need Swim Nutrition?
During an Ironman you’ll need to consume plenty of carbohydrate from sources such as gels, bars, blocks or drinks. But should you do this during the swim?
The answer is usually no.
Consuming drinks and foods is very difficult while swimming in open water. There are several practical considerations, like how to carry the food, how to access it and how to consume it quickly while treading water. You’ll also be stationary while you do all of this, so there’s an obvious time cost. You probably won’t feel like eating either.
An Ironman swim should be done at a relatively low intensity, at which approximately 35% of your energy comes from stored body fat and 65% from glycogen (stored carbohydrate). So providing you pace it right you should have plenty of energy to conquer the swim without needing to consume anything until the bike section.
That said, it's a good idea to have an energy gel and some water 15-minutes before you start. This ensures your glycogen stores are topped up before you start.
4. Swim Straight
Research by Swim Smooth has shown that Ironman athletes commonly swim several hundred metres more than they need to, pointlessly adding anything from 60-seconds to 10-minutes to their swim time. They do this by zig-zagging their way through the swim course, instead of following the most direct route.
Swimming in a straight line can be challenging in open water, particularly in choppy seas where your vision is obstructed. Swim technique errors can also exacerbate the problem, such as a “crossover” - where one of your arms crosses the centre-line of your body as it enters the water, causing you to swim diagonally.
Aside from improving your technique, one of the best fixes is to sight regularly, by looking up every 10 to 20 strokes. Don’t just follow everyone else blindly - they might be going the wrong way.
5. How To Pace Yourself
Your Ironman swim should be done at a steady pace. There are several ways to pace yourself, including heart rate, pace and feel. From a practical point of view, using perceived exertion works well - it saves you trying to look at your watch.
Ironman Swim Perceived Exertion
Ironman Swim Heart Rate
Ironman Swim Pace
Final Note: Tips For Elite Triathletes
The tips and pacing strategy above apply to the majority of athletes. However, if you’re aiming for a sub 10-hour Ironman (men) or sub 11-hour (women) it’s a good idea to go a little harder in the first 300 to 400 metes of the swim. Let’s say 8 out of 10 intensity. Maybe even 9 out of 10 at times.
This can help you get clear of the crowds and find similar or slightly faster swimmers to draft behind. Providing they’re going straight, you’ll save up to 10% of your energy for the 3.8km by swimming directly behind or by their hips.
Either way, after the first few hundred metres you should settle down to 5 out of 10 and preserve your energy for the long day ahead.
By Phil Mosley.
Triathlon Plus Magazine Coaching Editor & Ironman Certified Coach.
PS: Check out my triathlon & duathlon training plans at TrainingPeaks.com. There are seventy different training plans to cater for all your triathlon needs. Now with Ironman Winter Base training plans.
Copyright © 2016 Philip Mosley
What Is CSS?
CSS is the pace at which you’d currently swim a 1500 Time Trial (in yards or metres). It’s nothing complicated - simply an effective way to prepare for race distances of 400 and above. Here’s why:
The Benefits of CSS Training
1.CSS is a pace that’s tough enough to develop your aerobic capacity but not so hard that it’ll take you days to recover. So you can improve your swim fitness and still have enough energy to go running or cycling (or swimming again?!)
2.CSS is a race-specific training pace. It may not make you the fastest 50 or 100 swimmer, but it will train you to sustain a moderately high speed for longer distances.
3.CSS training teaches you about pace awareness the hard way (which is usually the best way!) Go off too fast and you’ll pay the price later. Ouch!
4.Thankfully you can test your current CSS pace without having to swim a solo 1500 Time Trial. See below for instructions.
5.Once you know your CSS pace, you can use a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro to help you train. It’s a small beeping device that attaches to your goggles. Dial in your CSS pace and it’ll happily beep every lap so that you can maintain perfect pace.
How To Test Your CSS
To test your current CSS pace you need to swim a 400 and 200 Time Trial within the same session. Ideally, get a friend or coach to time you and record your 100 splits and strokes per minute. Failing that, simply record the 400 and 200 times yourself. Once you’re done, enter your 400 and 200 times into this CSS CALCULATOR.
Including CSS sets into your swim training can help improve your sustainable speed and enhance your pace judgement. In addition to CSS training, it’s also important to strike a balance between speed, threshold and endurance workouts in order to meet the needs of your target races. Technique work and open water training are equally important too! For more information about CSS training check out the SwimSmooth Training System.
The Serious Training Blog
Train Smart. Race Fast.
Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and writer.