Triathlon 101: Don’t be Overwhelmed

author : Jerrykyc
comments : 4

By Jerry Kyckelhahn
Author of Chasing Caterpillars 

Because I am “age enhanced”, a lot of new triathletes turn to me for questions and answers on all sorts of subjects.  One of the things that I watch is the over-whelming amount of information that is passed on to the “newbies”.  Now I am not an expert, nor a fast, triathlete.  Rather slow admittedly.  But I am an engineer and so, perhaps unfortunately, I like to try and gather information and come out with a simple summary.

I have finally decided to break this information down into one very simple lesson.  I tried this out on a group of new triathletes and the response was rather profound.  So, here it is.  If you are a bit weary of the mechanics of pedal strokes, analysis of the swim stroke and dazzling remarks on foot strike, then you will enjoy this Triathlete 101 short course.  I am not going to tell you how to do everything because there are an infinite number of really great articles on BeginnerTriathlete.com and a huge number of really great coaches that will give you every little detail on how to do it.  I am going to discuss why we do it.  If you understand why, then these detailed lessons and tips become much more meaningful.

Triathlon is a combination of three sports, swimming, biking and running.  What do all of these three sports have in common?  In all three of these sports we are always going forwards.  There is no side-to-side movement like in the racquet sports or soccer, there is no up and down movement like in basketball and there is no throwing or kicking.  Simply we have to go forward in each of these three sports, just as fast as we can for the distance of the triathlon.

In simple mechanical terms, to go forward we must maximize the forward force (force to the rear) while minimizing the resistance to the forward movement.  Therefore, all of the little intricate details that come along with swimming lessons, or biking training or running form all work to achieve these simple goals. 

Maximize forward force and minimize resistance.  What that means is that any effort that is directed toward anything other than going forward is wasted energy.  And any movement or position that causes resistance to the forward movement is requiring added force to achieve the same results.  These thoughts are not original for they can be found embedded in any number of publications or training videos, but they are sometimes buried so deep that the impact of the principles are lost.

Swimming

All of the terms that are used to cause a proper stroke and good form are there to lead you to the two principles of Triathlon 101.  Whether it is an early catch and pull or high elbow and high wrist, and whether you train by Total Immersion Swimming or by any other form, the basics remain the same.  All of these techniques vary slightly, but their goal remains the same and that is to maximize force to the rear while minimizing resistance.  So by any means, a swim stroke means that you are “grabbing” the water and pushing it to the rear.  Any movement that pushes down on the water, lifts the water or pushes sideways on the water is wasted force.  All of the tips about body position, like head low in the water and a tight kick, are to minimize resistance to forward movement. 

Biking

The forward force on a bike is caused by the rotation of the rear wheel which is caused by the turning of the cranks that are driven by your body.  If there is sideways force of a bad pedal stroke, then effort is wasted because all effort must go toward making the cranks turn.  Many new riders depend on their quads for the majority of their force to the cranks.  Quads only push down.  If a biker feels the bottom of his shoe at the bottom of the pedal stoke, then he/she is pushing against a crank arm instead of causing rotation so he/she is wasting energy.

Women in particular have the greatest amount of power in their glutes and biceps femur and can generate so much more power by recruiting these muscles to cause rotation of the cranks.  There are many visualizations that can be used (the worst of which is the old scraping your feet – ugh!) but all of them should lead to power that is causing the crank to rotate.  Similarly, all of the body positioning and all of the bike setups for triathlon are meant to cause a maximum amount of rotational force while minimizing forward resistance (wind resistance) – or finding the optimum combination of these two considerations.

Running

Clearly running is the most problematic of the three sports for finding the proper form to cause forward force.  Most people have heard the terms heel-striker or mid-foot striker or fore-foot striker but seldom does anyone explain very much about what this means.  Heel striking seems to be most often explained as being bad because it causes jarring to the heel and the bone structure.  While this is true, what else does it do?  It generally means that you are braking every time that your foot hits the ground and therefore you have to accelerate again with every foot strike.  This is not in keeping with “maximize power to the rear.”  Visualize a horse galloping.  Before the horse’s feet hit the ground, which direction are they moving?  They are already on the way back so that when they hit the ground they are causing force to the rear.  And so it proper running form.  Watch in slow-motion any track event from sprinting to marathons and you will clearly see that the feet of the best runners in the world are already moving to the rear when they hit the ground. To achieve that “rearward” strike, a runner has to lean more forward because the feet have to hit under the body.  When that occurs, the runner must be mid-foot or fore-foot striking.  So it is not only to relieve bone jarring but it is also to maximize force to the rear so that proper foot strike can happen.  If you are hearing a scuff of the foot every time that it hits the ground, you are probably braking.

This article is not to give lessons in swimming, biking or running.  Rather it is to paint a very simple picture of the sport in which we train so hard.  Not all of us have great physical abilities.  Some of us have to get better by being smarter and by using the assets that we do have more wisely.  Triathlon is simple.  We mortals just have to train to maximize forward force (force to the rear) while minimizing resistance to the movement.  This is really fairly simple.  Take every lesson that you can in all three sports but keep in mind the principles of forward motion.  Maximize the force to the rear while minimizing resistance to the forward movement. 


About the book “Chasing Caterpillars

The book, “Chasing Caterpillars”, speaks to those persons who are standing on the edge, thinking about doing a triathlon, or even training for one, but still hesitant to take the plunge. It is a light, fun and motivating book designed to entice newcomers or wannabe’s to go ahead and just do it. The book relates the life experience of the author with the adventures and misadventures that befall the new triathlete. It particularly relates to those of the over 50 age group that have serious doubts. Fear not-- so says the book!

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date: August 15, 2013

Author


Jerrykyc

Jerry Kyckelhahn, is far from a life-long athlete. Compared to the athletes of today, Jerry got a delayed start into triathlon, a delay of about 50 years. His experiences and late entry into sports ultimately led to a Pan American Continental Master’s championship in track sprints and finally to a USAT long course triathlon national championship. But his focus has never been on winning but rather on participation and health and fitness. He has written many previous local and national articles most of which have addressed how to have fun in triathlon and biking.

Author

avatarJerrykyc

Jerry Kyckelhahn, is far from a life-long athlete. Compared to the athletes of today, Jerry got a delayed start into triathlon, a delay of about 50 years. His experiences and late entry into sports ultimately led to a Pan American Continental Master’s championship in track sprints and finally to a USAT long course triathlon national championship. But his focus has never been on winning but rather on participation and health and fitness. He has written many previous local and national articles most of which have addressed how to have fun in triathlon and biking.

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