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Video: Triathlon swim training – Continuous or intervals? Bonus – Hip rotation drill

In the below video, you will learn the benefits of structuring your swims in shorter repeats compared to ocntinuous swims and also a swim drill to improve your hip rotation. Enjoy your training.

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Swim Clinic – Shoulders

SWIM CLINIC – shoulders blowing up early into swims

By: Alun Woodward

A common problem among swimmers and triathletes is the sensation of shoulders blowing up very early on in races or hard sessions, this just leaves us feeling weak and uncoordinated for the remainder of the swim and unable to perform to our potential. This feeling is a sure sign that something is going wrong in the swim, the shoulders should not be taking the brunt of the workload when we swim hard rather the latissimus muscles should be working harder.

When we look at top swimmers we typically see a V shaped body with very broad upper back, this is the latissimus muscle and should be well trained in experienced swimmers. We all have this muscle and even if not as developed as top swimmers it is a much more powerful muscle to use to propel us forward when swimming than the shoulders. While this muscle is much more powerful it is also much harder for us to switch on and use in the pool effectively due to hand and arm position. If your arms are not in the right place to start pulling the latissimus will not be able to do its job and the shoulders will take over the action. The shoulder muscles being much smaller will fatigue fast and fail long before the latissimus would.

Gliding and stretching forward

How many times do we hear this from swim coaches? If you do this and reach forward with hands near the surface of the water as seems the typical instruction it is almost impossible to switch on the lats and use them to pull, certainly the newer an athlete to swimming the less chance they will be able to use lats in this position and will have to rely on shoulders leading to weaker swim and increasing injury risk.

Angle the entry and push forward and DOWN

By changing the instruction to enter the water and push straight down so when arm is extended the hand is approx 15- 20cm below surface we put athletes in a perfect position to engage the latissimus muscle and use it to execute a powerful pull.

This one simple change to your stroke could be the key to unlocking real power, stopping your shoulders blowing up and some times to smile about on the clock!


ironguides is the leading Lifestyle Facilitation company for athletes of all abilities. We provide coaching and training services, plans and programs, as well training education, health and fitness products to help you learn and live a healthy lifestyle. Come get fit with one of our monthly training subscriptions, event-specific training plans, coaching services, or a triathlon training camp in an exotic location! ironguides also provides Corporate Health services including Corporate Triathlons, Healthy Living retreats and speaking engagements. At ironguides, your best is our business!

Train with ironguides!

Personalized Online Coaching: Starting at USD190/month

Monthly Training plans (for all levels, or focused on one discipline): Only USD39/months

Event based training plans:

Sprint Distance (USD45 for 8-week plan)

Olympic Distance (USD65 for 12 week plan)

Half Ironman (R$95 for 16-week plan)

Ironman (USD145 for 20-week plan)

X-Terra (USD65 for 12-week plan)

Running Plans (10k, 21k and 42k – starting at USD40)


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Swim Technique – Part 3


In the first article in this series about swim technique, I talked about the process of developing a technique for optimal open-water swimming. In the second, I discussed swim fitness and ways to build it. Here, I consider the reasons we use drills and when to use them.

When we think about swim training/coaching, we always think drills, drills, drills. Many top-end swim coaching companies base their whole business around drills—their own special drills—to produce the best stroke. I want to look at why we use drills and when we should use drills as I think they are often overused.

Firstly, a drill is breaking down the stroke into its component parts and refining movement patterns to enhance the overall stroke and so improving performance. Blindly prescribing drills to every swimmer, though, is not the route to go in my opinion; we need to see each individual athlete to assess what they are doing wrong and what needs to be fixed. We can use video footage of the swim stroke to gauge any potential problems and, if there are any, then go about fixing faults—if something is already working then there is no need to try and fix it. In fact, trying to improve something that already works fine can be very detrimental to the athlete.

When we train in the pool or open water, the aim is to perform as many good strokes as possible. If our technique is solid and we can repeat it then we do not need to be doing drills to change anything—in essence every stroke is a drill! This, though, is rarely the case and as triathletes we have days when we are so tired that our technique can just be terrible and needs a little stimulus to get back to good pathways.

In essence, the body gets lazy and wants to switch on the least amount of muscle to perform any task in order for the fatigued muscles to recover.

This “laziness” causes us to swim very poorly compared with when we are fresh but we can override the brain by performing drills that force muscle activation. So if you get in the pool and feel bad, your stroke timing feels off and power is low, then you need to do something about it: stop your session and perform a drill to fix what’s wrong and then get back into your workout.

It may only take 2-4 x 50m to fix the issue and you can then have a great session.

As an example I like to use what I call the power drill on days when I just feel wrong in the water: this is a great drill that sets stroke timing and also activates all swim-related muscle fibres.


Push off the wall on your front, head down and using a light kick, arms are always under the water—elbows and upper arms at the surface and wide of the body. Now pull one arm forward and the other arm back, so you are fighting one arm against the other. It is important that you always lead with the elbow so when pulling the hand forward from the back, your hand is pointing to the bottom of the pool all the way with the elbow leading the hand until it passes the shoulder—from this point the hand comes forward to full extension out front. The hand pulling back does the opposite so the hand comes down while the elbow stays forward of the shoulder and then all back together.


When you master this drill, you should hardly be moving up the pool!

When we perform a drill in training it is important that we do the drill and then immediately swim after. This is helping the brain associate the drill to the full technique. So my advice: if you feel off, stop your session and perform 2-4 x50m, swimming 25m drill and then 25m moderate effort full stroke.

While the power drill is my go-to drill for most athletes right now (depending on the athlete and the issue), other drills can be used to fix specific problems.


I also recommend using drills when you are injured or notice a sudden pain. With swimming this is very common in the shoulder around the rotator cuff. When we swim with a technique that goes against our structure we can easily get inflammation in this area and it is very painful. The standard advice given to athletes is to stop using paddles or swimming until the problem goes away. This can take a very long time and not really addresses the issue so the pain is likely to return once back to normal swimming.

Shoulder problems occur easily in triathletes as we have stiff shoulders from all the riding we do. We need to swim with a style that takes this into account.

So if you develop shoulder pain, or if you already have, then a couple of drills will go a long way to solving the problem. The issue is normally bringing the recovery arm too close to the body and too high above the water—to remedy this we need to recover wider over the water while keeping the hand closer to the water.

DRILL ONE – hand drag

Simply swim as normal but the recovery hand must stay in the water all the way to the wrist—the only way to do this is by staying wide of the body and when you get this right you will instantly feel less stress on the shoulder.

DRILL TWO – finger trail

This is a follow-on drill from the first, so now the recovery hand is just above the water and the finger tips are still touching the water on the recovery.

If you have shoulder problems, these drills should be performed in your warm-up before every swim; if you suddenly develop pain during a session, you should stop and perform some drills before continuing. As above, I recommend just 3-4x50m of each drill, swimming 25m drill and then 25m moderate.

Drills have become an integral part of swimming and certainly have their place when learning to swim. After that, drills must be very specific to the athlete’s needs and performed only when needed. As triathletes we have limited swim-training time and we need to make the most of this for fitness gains. Swim fitness is very important when racing triathlon, as your condition (much more important than time) leaving the water affects the rest of the race. The focus of your swimming should be on taking as many good strokes as possible and using drills can aid this process at times.

Alun ‘Woody’ Woodward, Certified ironguides Coach – UK/Hungary

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