As the triathlon season is upon us and ever increasing in its popularity, we are running a series of articles on triathlon tips and how to avoid common triathlon injuries and become stronger, faster and more confident for race day writes Sundial chiropractor Amanda Goring.
- Focus on freestyle for training with breaststroke during ‘breaks’ if needed.
- Keep your head as close to the water surface as possible and avoid lifting your head to take breaths.
- Try to breath on both sides evenly.
The first leg of a triathlon is the swimming and for most this is not the strongest of the three disciplines. For many it is simply the part that has to be endured before the more comfortable remaining two. Despite being a recommended form of exercise by many health practitioners due to its non-impact nature and whole body incorporation, even swimming can cause problems if it is not tackled correctly. Add to that the desire for speed and power that your body needs to generate and you can set up potential problems.
Most injuries occur during faulty movement patterns under repetition so we will concentrate on training; after all it is also where you adopt and reinforce any techniques that you will use throughout the season. And as I do not recall ever having passed a competitor doing backstroke or butterfly in any race, I will also focus on the two main strokes used; freestlye and breastroke.
I was once given the advice never to start your swimming sessions with breaststroke. Despite instilling panic this did make a difference and it makes sense. Breaststroke forces the lower back into an increased arch with every stroke, stresses the lower neck with every emergence from under the water and places extreme demand on the shoulders to generate such pulling power. And of course the large range of motion for the hips during the kicks.
If you must do breastroke training remember to try and keep as flat in the water as possible and avoid craning your neck. It still amazes me how many swimmers refuse to allow their face to get wet and then wonder why they leave the pool with a tight neck and headaches later on. Keep the head still in the water and look down and forwards at 45 degrees to allow you see ahead but not directly in front.
During freestyle it may sound obvious but it is so important to learn to breathe on both sides. Firstly it keeps your chiropractor and physiotherapist happy as you do not encourage dominance on one side of the neck and upper body muscles. It als encourages smooth, gentle movement of the cervical spine as your head rotates evenly.
From a practical point of view bilateral swimming also prepares you for open water swimming when you can face all sorts of things that can throw you and prevent a breath being taken on that particular side even for that moment (such as a wave in the sea, another swimmer being on top of you, or my personal favourite on one lake training session; literally coming face to face with duck poo!)
When you turn your head to breath on the upstroke of the arm try not to lift your head out of the water too much and gulp the air. Keeping your face and mouth so close to the water’s surface will be a psychological hurdle to overcome in believing that you will achieve enough air and minimal water in that intake. It will take practice but it will make an enormous difference not only to your neck but also your ease through the water.
Lifting the head too high will create a braking action, so slowing your progress and tiring you. By keeping your head still and as close to the water surface throughout the swim you will glide through it and your body will roll more efficiently.
Beneath the water surface allow your body to stretch forwards and elongate. This will increase your glide and increase lift, reducing dragging caused by your lower body and legs.