Whether you swim like Michael Phelps, bike like Chris Froome, or run like Meb Keflezighi, one thing is clear: your form is not perfect. Even the greatest of athletes still have room for improvement, and they work on their weaknesses daily. In fact, that’s much of what separates top-tier triathletes from the mid-packers. It’s the attention to detail.
While fitness is obviously important, superior technique is the other half of the triathlon training puzzle. What we mean by technique is the ability to move one’s body in a repeatable way with the greatest possible efficiency. Technically speaking, it’s often true that if you’re capable of repeating the process of an exercise in a superior manner to the next person, you can actually outdo that person while remaining less physically fit.
I’ve used this example in a previous post, but imagine I’m in a tennis match with John McEnroe. McEnroe is significantly less fit than I am in his current age and state of retirement. I could outdo him in the court-running game any day. But who’s going to win a tennis match? The ability to outrun someone across the court doesn’t mean much in the sport of tennis if you don’t know how to swing a racket. Due to my inexperience in racket expertise, his technique would easily win over my fitness.
For this reason, it’s incredibly important to implement corrective exercises into your triathlon training where you technique is lacking. While fitness may play a greater role in triathlon than it does in tennis, the magnitude proper technique can have on your overall results is considerable.
While I certainly wouldn’t dare compare myself to the Olympians mentioned earlier, I can speak from experience in how, much like them, I have employed corrective exercises into my triathlon training in order to improve upon my weaknesses in technique.
For example, I used to swim with my head forward, looking straight ahead and dragging my legs. I used to bike without engaging my core and asymmetrically lifting one heel higher than the other through each pedal stroke. I also used to over-stride in my running. These were all enormous hurdles of habit I had to (and continue to) overcome.
The first step is to become self aware of the deficiency. An expert surveying your technique or recorded video of yourself in action can often help to overcome this unawareness. Then comes the analysis of why the deficiency is occurring.
With my swim technique, it was obvious at first. Once I corrected my head position, however, I went on to continue swimming with a poor right-arm pull. It took a swimming buddy to inform me of what I had unknowingly been doing wrong. I learned from my friend that this was happening because of poor balance on one side and my tendency to drop my elbow before the pull. Then came the last step—performing the corrective exercises.
In the triathlon world, we usually call these drills. Drills are unique actions intended to instill proper muscle memory into the body.
Here’s the kicker: Drills are worthless without intentionality. In other words, if you’re doing drills just for the sake of drills, then what’s the point? This is something I learned from ITU World Cup Series champion and USA Triathlon National Development Coach, Melissa Mantak. There must exist an intention behind why the particular drill is being performed. I could spend an hour in the pool training to perfect every drill I’ve ever learned, but will that correct my poor right arm pull? Certainly not.
In fact, I could even practice the kind of drills that are intended to correct my issue, but if I don’t know their purpose or why I’m doing them in the first place then what’s going to cause me to extract the correctional nuances of the drill and repurpose them into my normal triathlon swim stroke?
This would be like trying to learn another language simply by teaching yourself how to pronounce the unfamiliar words written down on paper. Over time you might be able to read a foreign paragraph with perfect inflection and pronunciation, but what does that matter? You wouldn’t know what the words mean and you certainly couldn’t hold a conversation with someone who spoke this language natively.
In much the same way, I might become very affluent in executing drills but without knowing what they’re intended for, it is very unlikely that I should be able to “converse” between the drills and my actual swim technique.
If, however, I was to practice, for example, a sculling drill with the intention to use the skill sets learned from this drill and transfer them over to my swim technique, then the correctional nature of this exercise would have a greater chance of being realized. I would know to think about what my body was feeling during the drill, specifically my right arm and “look” for that feeling immediately following the drill when I’m swimming freestyle again.
Hopefully you can appreciate the process of applying corrective drills to your triathlon training and the value it will have. Seek guidance from your coach or a knowledgeable friend to identify where your deficiencies in technique are. Then learn why the deficiency is happening. Last, explore drills with the intention to correct your specific weakness.
In much the same vain of a tennis player, the triathlete must first have a solid foundation of technique before relying on fitness. Streamlining technique is done by first identifying problem areas in your current technique, understanding why the problem is occurring, and then using corrective drills with the intention to amend your weakness.
TALK WITH TRIDOT:
What weaknesses do you have in your technique? Do you implement drills in your triathlon training for cycling and running as well?
JARED MILAM is a professional triathlete, TriDot coach, and member of the Tri4Him Pro Team. He has 16 years of competitive running experience and 11 years of competitive triathlon experience with a half Iron PR of 3:59 and a full Iron PR of 8:30. Coaching under the TriDot system since 2011, Jared loves working with aspiring triathletes of all ages and performance levels.