Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Key to Learning to Swim Faster Is...

Experimentation and risk. If you're not willing to experiment and risk swimming slower with a change, you'll never improve. This is true for no matter what level of swimmer you are, beginner to elite.

All swimmers reach a point where they are not going to get faster unless they address the technical flaws in their stroke. The only question is the potential benefit of those changes. For Michael Phelps, he's technically proficient enough that fitness will do more for him than technical changes. He could certainly go faster if at peak fitness, he made a few technical improvements. But obviously, faster for him is not going to be minutes or in some cases, won't even be more than 1 second.

Conversely, most triathletes are simply poorly skilled swimmers. And many will claim they want to improve their swimming, but are scared to try anything different, as though it might be wrong, or that they will possibly get slower. Problem is, if you're not willing to take that risk, you're already proving you'll never get faster. Fitness isn't the problem for most triathletes, (look at how much they can run and bike!) Skill is the problem. If you won't give an honest and committed attempt at fixing the skill, which requires experimentation, you're wasting time you should spend biking and running.

This week I have been in Tenerife, Canary Islands, and it's been great to work with a group that was willing to risk swimming slower. A few of them did, at first, but by week's end now, they are all swimming faster and with less effort than ever.

I will be speaking and doing underwater video analysis for athletes and coaches in London, at Hampton pool, this Sunday. I will discuss the 3 key items for improving swimming. If you're in the area, or know someone who might benefit, details are available at

If you can't make the talk, but want to learn more, check out my swim webinars at Performance Webinars.

Coach Vance

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Incredible Swim Flume - Tenerife Top Training

This is video I took from the TriDynamic Tenerife Triathlon Camp I am doing this week, with Joe Friel and TriDynamic. The swimmer in this video is Martin Boddie of the UK. This swim flume is the only one of its kind open to the public, in the world! It is located in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. All the campers will get to use this system individually, for analysis of their swim.

A swim flume is basically a tank which acts as a swimming treadmill, but also like a wind tunnel for swimming. There are three different camera angles filming at the same time, and a viewing window to the left of the swimmer, (you can see Joe Friel in the window). Martin is wearing a belt with lights on the side that shine into the cameras thru the side viewing window. The cameras pick up the light to determine the rotational frequency of the swimmer, giving cadence.

The data and video are collected and recorded together, which is shown in the screen projection, so the coaches can review the data in its entirety, and in unison, with actual speed and cadence data. This is the most impressive and comprehensive swim analysis system I've ever seen. The big metal structure can also allow us to attach a VO2 system to the swimmers, and slide it out on top of them.

The system will go up to 2.5 m/sec, or 40 secs per 100 meters! I am anxious to see more of this in action, and see the things we can determine about the athletes' swim strokes here at the camp.

Coach Vance

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My First Elite National Champion

Congrats to Emma Garrard, who won the USA Triathlon Elite National Winter Tri Championship this past Saturday! She's the first elite national champion I've coached.

She has European Championships in Sweden in 8 weeks, and Worlds in Finland in 9. I look forward to seeing her competing there as well. Maybe she'll be the first World Champion I've coached.

Follow her blog at:

Coach Vance

Friday, January 14, 2011

Great Quote #4 and #5

Two great quotes about experience...

"Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from - poor judgement!"
- Unknown

"Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want."
- Unknown

Coach Vance

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ironman Race Specific Training

If you're doing an Ironman race, once you get about 12 weeks out from the event, it is time to start focusing on race-specific training for the event. This means your training should reflect the intensity and demands of the race. Doing longer, steady state rides, aerobic threshold work, and longer intervals in the pool are all examples.

But there is also the course which must considered. Take Ironman St. George for example. Here is a map and elevation profile of the course:

You can see there is a long climb, lasting about 26 miles in length. This means over an hour of climbing steadily. The watts an athlete produces at this incline will likely be higher than if they rode on a flat course, such as Ironman Florida. However, the climb is preceded by a rolling section and build-up for the first 26 miles.

You can also see a descent of about 12 miles in length, after each climb. It is likely that an athlete will not be able to produce very high watts on this descent, but will be in a high cadence mode, due to the higher speeds.

Given this, my athletes will begin race-specific training for Ironman St. George in mid-February, and doing a workout which reflects these specific demands. This entails a ride which will likely look like this:

- Warm-up 30 mins easy
- Goal wattage range of high zone 2 to zone 3 watts for 60-90 minutes, (simulates the rolling lead-up)
- Directly into Zone 3 watts only for another 75-90 minutes, (simulates the climb on first loop)
- 20 minute recovery spin, zone 2 watts, high cadence (simulates the descent)
- Another zone 3 watts session for 75-90 minutes, (simulates the climb on the second loop)
- Another longer recovery spin, zone 2 watts, high cadence (simulates descent into T2)

If the athlete has a climb very similar to the course near their home, then they can do this workout on that course, and prepare even better. But if the athlete is in an area of mostly flat terrain, these wattage prescriptions will help.

These workouts are taxing, and the athletes will not complete this workout more than once per week.

All my athletes will have a recovery period of a minimum of 20 minutes of zone 2 watts, before doing a transition run, because the descent will help them recover their legs for the run.

If you're looking for an opportunity to get some race-specific training in, especially on the course at St. George, you should check out the camp I'm running in March:

At this camp, I will also be gaining knowledge of the course as a coach, and figuring out ways to better tweak this workout to meet the specific demands of race day.

Best of luck!

Coach Vance

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year! This is my first post of 2011, and I think it's a good one.

Many of you who read my blog regularly know I have a junior triathlon team I coach and run, called TriJuniors, based in San Diego. This weekend the team will do its first race of 2011, a duathlon put on by the Triathlon Club of San Diego. After this race, we will have a meeting with all the athletes and coaches, and begin to set our goals individually, and as a team, for 2011.

I created a worksheet which will guide the athletes, (who are 13-19 years old), thru the process. This is a process I do with all my athletes, but here I've simplified it for teenagers, and thought they might be of benefit to athletes of all ages. These questions are focused around the team's race schedule, so base your's around your A-priority race.

1. What are my goals for 2011? (Include 3 goals, one must be a performance at USAT Junior Nationals, and all should be measurable!) [Measurable means not ambiguous, such as a numerical value, i.e. split, place, overall time, qualification, etc.]

2. If nothing stopped me, and I had the greatest day ever, (a DREAM performance), what would I be capable of doing at Nationals in August?

3. What is stopping me from achieving the difference between my goals for 2011 and my DREAM/greatest day ever?

4. If these obstacles are stopping me, what can I do to overcome them in time to achieve my DREAM performance at Nationals?

5. What are my test workout goals for 2011?

So many athletes will undermine their own performances subliminally, and teenagers are no different. These questions help them to verbalize their goals, and verbalize the possibilities without inhibition.

Once they have stated these, they are forced to verbalize why there is a difference between what they truly believe they can do, and what goals they are shooting for. They realize they have more control over the results and performance than they previous realized, and can begin to recognize their weaknesses and make them a focus and priority to improve.

In the end, they realize the ownership they have, and they are hopefully even more excited about the possibilities.

Use these questions to determine your own goals, and what is truly stopping you. You might be surprised to learn the only thing stopping you, is you.

Coach Vance