Browsing articles in "Strength & Conditioning"

To Drill or Not To Drill

Jan 7, 2012   //   by admin   //   Articles, Strength & Conditioning, Training  //  No Comments

There’s been an interesting debate on slowtwitch recently, triggered by a tweet from Paulo Sousa and a blog entry by Joel Filliol.

They suggest that triathletes shouldn’t do formal drills and that for most, swim fitness, not technique, is the key.  I think this is a simplification of their argument – they do emphasis use of paddles and band to ‘force’ good form on to swimmers

I can see some logic to the argument – if you can swim 200m at a pace you’d be happy with for a 1500m, the problem isn’t your technique, but having the fitness to maintain that technique over a longer time.  What doesn’t come across in the discussions is the importance of ‘deliberate practice’ when completing your drills.

I (and I guess most people) have been guilty of rolling through sets of drills, just waiting to get to the main set.  I’ve also been guilty of racing drills, or abandoning some of the technical emphasis in order to hold my position in the lane.  In these cases, I’m sure the ‘no drill’ brigade are absolutely correct – I was wasting my time.

However, I also think there’s defintely room in the training plan for a sprinkling of focused drills.  I think the keys to success are:

  • try to get someone to confirm your form during these drills
  • pick appropriate drills for your ability – if its easy, its probably wasting your time.  Deliberate practice should be hard, both mentally & physically
  • if you start to lose the laser-focus, then stop – even if the plan says to complete more sets
  • if you’re not learning from the drill, then stop and reconsider – why are you doing it
  • drills do not replace hard graft – for a typical triathlete your plan should include a mixture of longer reps at threshold pace or below and a smattering of quick stuff
  • when swimming your intervals, you should still be concentrating on form


How do you master Deliberate Practice?

Dec 21, 2011   //   by admin   //   Strength & Conditioning, Training  //  No Comments

“Deliberate practice” is a phrase that’s been bandied about a lot recently.  The concept that its not about talent but the work you do is a very appealing one, especially if you think you lack natural talent!

Whether you believe in the concepts of the 10,000 hour rule, etc., its easy to fall into the trap of assuming that deliberate practice is the same as listening to your coach and trying hard.

My recent attempts to work on different swimming strokes and master the Olympic lifts in the gym have demonstrated something different – its about breaking the activity into steps that are hard but eventually achievable – the art of deliberate practice is about initially failing, then repeating the act until you succeed, then practice that act until it becomes second nature.  Daniel Coyle’s book
The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown has an excellent description of the process, and its actually in the Amazon preview so you don’t need to buy it. Clarissa the clarinet player breaks down her work into chunks and is able to analyse each note – striving for perfection and repeating it until she gets there.

This effort comes at a cost – the practice is tiring, both mentally and physically.  Holding that effort is hard, so most people don’t do it.  I’m hoping that by striving for perfection in practice and being prepared to work incredibly hard on the process not the outcome, it’ll pay off with PBs in the summer, when it counts.

An introduction to mobility work

Oct 9, 2011   //   by admin   //   Strength & Conditioning  //  No Comments

This is an area that seems to generate lots of debate, but it seems to be obvious that most triathletes don’t do enough.  Its understandable – when you’re training a lot of hours and have all the pressures of a typical age-grouper, mobility work is the first thing that most people drop.

That isn’t the wisest choice when you consider your long-term health and well-being, as well as your short-term performance.

So what is mobility work.  We can define it as actively moving a joint through its range of motion.  It differs from flexibility work (or static stretching), which is more passive and much better suited to cooling down (a number of recent studies have shown that performance decreases if muscles are statically stretched prior to training, with no demonstrable benefits in reduction of injuries).

Mobility work is ideal as a warm-up, especially for shorter sessions which have a tendency to become quite vigourous quite quickly.  I will normally work from head to toe or toe to head, working each joint in turn.  Start with simple movements and make these more complex as you progress through your session.

For example, start with shoulder circles (no weights), then progress to the tea cup drill (

Target areas of weakness.  Although you should aim to cover all the joints, listen to your body and make sure that problem areas get more attention.  Remember, these drills shouldn’t hurt!

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