Beginner swim, bike and run tips

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A triathlon can be a daunting challenge. The three disciplines of swimming, biking and running all require a specialist skill, and a specific technique. below I have tried to focus on the key tips a beginner would find useful when tackling a triathlon for the first time.

Beginner swim tips

For someone new to swimming, the concept of working on a ‘catch’, or getting a ‘hold of the water’ is an extremely difficult concept. This involves correct hand entry, relaxation, correct body position, body rotation, timing and of course disciplined training.
There are a few basic tips you can adopt to get you on your way –

    • Don’t Practice Failure

Avoid fighting the water. If your stroke starts falling to pieces because you’re tired, you’re better off taking a rest. If you break swim efforts down to shorter intervals, you will practice better technique before tiredness sets in. Something like 20x50m with 10-15seconds rest interval, rather than a 1km effort is an example of how to break down a session.

    • Increase Your Reach

As you swim, think about using your hand to lengthen your body line, rather than just using it as a paddle to push you forward. As you stretch your hand forward thinking about rotating onto your side. This will help you engage your latissimus dorsi (lats) – the big powerful muscles at the sides of your chest.

    • Kick To The Rhythm

Don’t be afraid to use your legs and do a 6 beat kick. This involves kicking three times per single arm stroke. They need to be good kicks too, with relaxed ankles, pointed toes and no bent knees. If your kicks are uneven or they are not rhythmical, they may cause a dead spot in your stroke.

    • Accelerate your pull

Try to accelerate from slow to fast as you pull the water. It is important to start your stroke (catch) by gently entering the water and maintaining a high elbow position. Once you are in this position you can focus on accelerating your arm through the water to gain maximal forward movement.

    • Stay Relaxed

Try to stay relaxed during the recovery (forward movement of your arms), so as not to waste energy. A good drill for practicing this is the “finger tip drag” drill. This involves lightly dragging your fingers along the water’s surface, during each arm recovery. Above the water, make sure you keep your arms, wrists and hands loose.

    • Maintain Stroke Length

Try to maintain a long stroke length to improve efficiency. There are a few ways to practice this. One way is to brush your thumbs along the top of your thigh as you complete your stroke or you could try to swim 200m with two fewer strokes (on average) than you usually do. You may feel a bit awkward at first, but be patient. Soon the new lower count will feel more rhythmic and normal.

    • Take time to Swim Slowly

Take time to allocate slower swim sets. You will be able to focus on small technique improvements and efficient swim practices at slower speeds. This doesn’t mean you should avoid hard efforts during your swim workouts, but you should certainly spend plenty of your pool time focusing on improving your stroke.

    • Enjoy yourself

You will always improve more easily if you relax and enjoy what you are doing.   Take on the challenge of swimming improvement as a new challenge and enjoy the journey. The difficult things to achieve are often the most rewarding.

Beginner Bike Tips

Many new to triathlon think the quickest way to going fast on a bike is to spend more money. While fast bikes do help, it is important you develop your riding skills and fitness. Some simple steps to take to help you do this are –

    • Have your bike set up correctly

It is really important you spend the time and money on having your bike set up correctly. This should take anywhere from 2-4 hours. Women should purchase riding equipment for women, and not just adjust mens equipment to fit. Once your bike feels comfortable and suits your own biomechanics you are much better prepared – and able – to train efficiently.

    • Ride Hills

If you take yourself out and ride hills regularly, you will learn more about gear selection and pacing yourself than just riding on the flat. Hills will also give you a great cardiovascular workout, and therefore keep you fitter. Weight loss is also greater from hill riding sessions – which is often useful when needing to return to optimal racing weight.

    • Stay out of the big chain ring

Spend most of your initial riding in the small chain ring to ensure you are pedaling efficiently and developing good basic riding efficiency. Smaller gears are the best was to learn riding efficient pedaling – something that is vital to riding fast. Once this skill has been developed, larger gears can be introduced.

    • Ride in a group suitable to your ability

Bike riding can be dangerous, especially when traffic and cars are thrown in the mix. If you are riding in a group, make sure you know the groups riding rules. Make sure you know how the group rolls and any safety calls they may make. It is also important the group in not too fast for your current level of fitness, so you are not over extending yourself – possibly causing you to push too hard and crash.

    • Enjoy your riding

Make sure you enjoy your time out on the bike, and you will improve.

Beginner run tips

Running is a technical skill. One of the biggest mistakes new runners make is not spending the time working on running skill and technique. The technique of running requires four key components of good running form: Posture, Alignment, Pelvis Stability, and Hip Strength. Here are some tips to develop those key areas –

    • Increase your Cadence

Running speed is a result of stride length multiplied by stride frequency. In order to run faster, you must work on leg turnover (cadence) to maintain speed. Under optimal conditions, it is recommended your run cadence should be around 180 foot strikes per minute. The easiest way to count stride frequency is to count your steps for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. If you count 40 steps in 15 seconds of running–meaning your are currently taking 160 foot strikes per minute–gradually make the jump to 180 foot strikes per minute by focusing on increasing your turnover. The most efficient way of increasing stride cadence is through speed work. I will explain this later.

    • Land on your forefoot

..or avoid heel striking. Slow cadence often goes hand-in-hand with heel striking for many runners. In more technical terms – your hips are behind your feet. The problem here is that you cannot push off your foot when it is in front of your hips. Your hips must come over your feet in order to propel you forward. Again speed and pace work are vital for avoiding the dreaded heel strike.

    • Work on your flexibility

If you work on your flexibility – especially through your lower body – you will be less susceptible to injury, and also achieve greater stride length and frequency – and therefore speed – with less effort. Dedicate specific training times for stretching, and remember static stretches are best done after your run.

    • Remain relaxed in your Upper Body

One of the most difficult things to teach a runner, beginner or experienced, is how to run fast AND relaxed.
To remain relaxed, it is important you carry your arms correctly. Keep the angle of your elbows at 90 degrees, and be sure not to release that angle in the back swing. Your arms should swing from the shoulders.

    • Practice running Fast

This is a very simple running rule. If you want to run faster, you must practice running faster.
The easiest way to start working on your running speed is to do a few strides after your easy runs, or add a session of weekly hill sprints into your schedule. It’s hard to run fast, especially uphill, with inefficient form. From these small speed increases in your running, add 2 sessions of speedwork into your weekly training schedule, and you will soon improve your speed and efficiency.
Ideally you will build to at least 2 running sessions a week with a focus on pace and speed work. This should be aimed at faster than race pace, for varied distances/times and with varying rest intervals.