Improving Endurance

by Doug Carr in Cyclocross, Road Cycling, Train With Grain, Triathlons

Merriam Webster defines endurance as the ability to withstand hardship or adversity; especially : the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.

Joe Friel, author of The Triathlete’s Training Bible, defines endurance as: The Ability to Resist Fatigue.

In most athletic pursuits, endurance can be the determining factor of who is crowned the winner, and who must settle for second place. Endurance can be developed for an event lasting a matter of seconds, or one that lasts for days. Think of the sprinter versus the eco-racer. One common denominator in improving endurance is the fact that it happens in relatively small chunks, over a lengthy period of time. You can typically improve your endurance in three specific areas. Those are the Cardiovascular and Muscular systems, as well as the psychological system, or what would be considered Mental endurance. The cardio system includes both aerobic and anaerobic pathways.

Cardiovascular and muscular endurance are improved with the same type of overload principles used in resistance training. We’ll overload or stress the systems (go longer than previous sessions), then recover the systems in preparation for the next overload. Each subsequent session builds on the previous, and the systems adapt to increase the amount of time necessary to overload or fatigue. In turn, mental endurance is gained as the previous barriers or limitations are exceeded. One can be said to have Mental Toughness. I don’t consider this the same as Mental Endurance. An individual can be mentally tough, but to have the mental endurance to persevere through the training at longer and longer efforts, and be able to take that endurance out on the course with you, takes an amount of endurance that is only found by pushing through the fatigue.

Improving your endurance through consistent training will be stair-stepped effect, in that each session or “step” will take you that much further toward improvement. It’s a good idea to utilize the services of a qualified coach, someone who can look at your progress objectively, and determine when, where and how much additional stress can be applied to the next workout session. They can also test your endurance and determine when it might be time to back off so as not to risk overtraining. Think of it as a natural addition or infusion to your workouts. Just like gaining overall fitness, it’s a process that takes consistency, applied moderation and perseverance.

Train With Grain!!­

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Doug Carr Google: Doug Carr
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November Playlist: Patricia Dowd

by Patricia Dowd in Cyclocross, Train With Grain

I love music. As I kid, when the New England weather was really crappy, I roller skated in my basement to Diana Ross and spun awesome 80s hits on my record player. I made mix tapes in high school and college and decorated the tape covers. Now I download music, burn CDs and make monthly playlists.

Listening to music gets my legs spinning and gets me psyched to race! Music also helps me keep what’s left of my sanity when I’m stuck inside riding Mr. Trainer or the rollers when it’s 20 below and snowing outside.

November 2011 playlist:

  • Intro: The XX
  • Arrow: Tegan and Sara
  • Ageless Beauty: Stars
  • Kids: MGMT
  • Sick Muse: Metric
  • Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough: Michael Jackson
  • Hidden Track: Scissor Sisters
  • Gold Guns Girls: Metric
  • Ursula 1000-Disko Tech: Ursula 1000
  • Where Does the Good Go: Tegan and Sara
  • All Fired Up: Pat Benatar (she’s making a comeback, btw)
  • Galang, M.I.A.

Looking for new music? John Richards’ Morning Show on KEXP is a must listen; NPR’s All Songs Considered features live concerts, new artists and old favorites; and Pandora’s Funk station is super fun, especially at dance parties.

Tune in to music—it’s good for your soul.

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Patricia Dowd Google: Patricia Dowd
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More Recommended Reading for Triathletes

by Doug Carr in Train With Grain, Triathlons

When it comes to triathlon, I always seem to have a new book or reading material to converge on. Whether it’s about coaching or training reference, new equipment, technical studies or biographies, the stack remains high. Magazines in the sport are abundant and keep me up to date on the latest trends, gadgets and results. I’ll list a few of my favorites and a couple of my “Go To” selections that seem to get pulled off the shelf more often.

Magazines ~

Triathlete & Inside Triathlon: Both bring the latest news and equipment offerings to the sport. Race tips as well as destination races one might consider.

Outside: It’s a view in to those other areas of life I like to explore. Whether it’s surfing in Bali, kayaking in Croatia or just reading about top athletes in the great outdoors. It provides a nice escape every month.

Reference Books ~

The Triathlete Training Bible by Joe Friel: Let’s face it, with a name like that, you better know your stuff, and if anyone does, it’s Joe Friel. I can always find a reference source in this book when looking for the whys and hows of training and racing.

Strength Training Anatomy by Frédéric Delavier: This book, and it’s counterpart for women, always seems to be at an arms length. It is the most comprehensive, well-illustrated and in-depth book on strength training I have ever found. Got something that’s hurts? Pinpoint what muscle it is with this book. Want to know how to do more specific strength training and which muscles are actually doing the work? It’s in here. When the Body Works exhibit came to Portland, I brought this book along to see how the printed page actually translated to the three-dimensional human body display. It’s the best!

Workouts In A Binder by various authors through Velo Press: These are reference books for Swimming, Biking and Running. Workouts are categorized or broken down based on goals and distances. They’re great for changing up your routines and keeping workouts interesting or at least different. The sweatproof pages are a great help too.

There are a lot more books than I have space for. If there’s a particular area of the sport you’re interested in, chances are there’ll be several books to choose from.

Train With Grain!!

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Doug Carr Google: Doug Carr
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Recovery Tips

by Mark Swartzendruber in Cycling, Cyclocross, Road Cycling, Train With Grain

Ahhh, it’s September.  College Football, the NFL is starting for real and a nip of fall is in the air as the temperatures cool at night and the humidity drops.  It’s just about the time for the road weary cyclists to turn his thoughts to…wait for it…wait for it…CYCLOCROSS!

What?!  Wait a minute friend.  You’ve been at this stuff for a full year.  Remember?  You finished your season last year in mid September.  You took a few weeks to just enjoy riding a bike without your power meter and heart rate monitor.  Maybe you did a couple of club century rides, making sure to stop for the strawberry rhubarb pie and apple fritters along the route.  You played a couple of rounds of golf on some gorgeous autumn afternoons because everyone knows the best time to golf is after Labor Day when the masses are off the course and you can zip around in cart or walk a round by yourself and never see another soul on the course but for an occasional worker from the greens keeping crew.

Then, November came and with it, you began to build your fitness for the upcoming season.  You worked out on the trainer, lifted weights, took some hard spin classes and put in some hellish long weekends on the trainer to get up to 15 hours a week on the bike.  When the weather warmed enough to venture outside, you made the most of it, logging 4-6 hours of road time because you didn’t know when the next time would come that the weather would allow you to ride outside.

Then March came and so did the racing season and you’ve done more than 50 races.  It’s been a good year but you’re starting to show signs of fatigue.  The power meter is showing lower numbers each effort.  Your legs never really seem to clear the lactic acid during races and your attacks just aren’t crisp any more. It’s time to take a break.

But, all you can think about is cyclocross.  Hey, give yourself a rest.  Remember your winning formula from last year.  Leisurely bike rides, golf, toss that power meter to the curb and stop pushing…just for a bit.

Most of those hard core ‘cross racers didn’t put in serious road seasons.  Sure there are the rare few who are able to move right from the road to the mud and kick butt every step of the way but remember – they’re the exception, not the rule and besides – most of the time, those guys weren’t really on top form until July.  They plan it that way.  They’re resting too but just doing it later than you are.  If you’re a dedicated road racer going hard from February to October, you can’t jump directly into another racing season and expect to be effective.  You need to recover.  Here’s how.

  • Keep yourself out of Zone 4 and 5 when you ride.  Keep things conversational. It’s important to not allow yourself to completely lose fitness but if you continue pushing, you’ll pay for it with fatigue in April.  Not good.
  • Absolutely take a day off – especially when the weather is beautiful.  Take a walk in the woods with your dog, play some golf, go kayaking, fishing—anything but riding a bike.  It will do wonders for your mental recovery too.
  • If you can stand it – do some running.  Use some different muscle groups
  • Take a yoga class that emphasizes stretching and core strength
  • Go to the gym and work on your depleted upper body.  Save the weight lifting with your legs for later.  Cyclists need to have some shoulder, back and core muscles too.
  • Take up a hobby like cooking or baking.  Challenge yourself to see how many Bob’s Red Mill grains and flours you can use.
  • Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep at night.  The HGH your body produces during deep sleep is invaluable to helping you recover after a long season
  • Go ahead and enjoy some ‘cross racing.  Why not?  Most people see it as a mental break from the road season.  It’s okay to have the occasional push, hard effort and have people ring cow bells in your ears.  Knock yourself out, but if you do a full ‘cross season, remember to take your recovery and rest period into the late winter before you start building for the road season.

Remember, even when you’re well trained and race fit and the efforts you make in races seem – well, effortless – you’re putting a lot of stress on your body and unless you give yourself a chance to recover both physically and mentally after a long season you’ll never really be able to reach peak performance next season.

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Mark Swartzendruber Google: Mark Swartzendruber
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Recommended Reading for Triathletes

by Julian Pscheid in Train With Grain, Triathlons

No matter if you are a triathlon newbie or a seasoned athlete, there seems to always be more to learn and understand about how to best train and prepare for triathlons. If you consider yourself a self-coached athlete, books will quickly prove to be the best source of information about the sport. I learned almost everything I know about training from miscellaneous books and magazines I have read over the years, but as I have progressed as a triathlete, some books have stood out. The following three books guided me along the path from my first triathlon to training for my first Ironman:

As a newcomer to the sport of triathlon I needed a book that explained all the basics, while not overwhelming me with too much information. “Triathlete Magazine’s Complete Triathlon Book” provided me with all the knowledge needed to successfully complete my first few triathlons. The book covers everything from diet and health to equipment and safety tips.

Once I was comfortable with racing, I was ready to learn how to plan a complete season, using periodization to break up the year into different phases and correctly plan around races. The book that helped me take my training to that next level was “The Triathlete’s Training Bible.” One note though: This book has A LOT of information. Make sure you have a few triathlons under your belt before you attempt to digest it.

Over the coming year I am taking the next step–training for an Ironman. The requirements of training for that distance will add an additional levels of stress to my already busy life. Therefore I picked up “Be Iron Fit: Time-Efficient Training Secrets for Ultimate Fitness .” This book explains the most popular training and time management methods used by professionals with busy lives, allowing them to train 15 – 20 hours a week while still managing their careers and spending time with their family.

I highly recommend these books depending on your experience level. Also, don’t hesitate to look at your bookshop for other resources (I recommend Amazon)–there is a book for virtually every level of athlete.

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Julian Pscheid Google: Julian Pscheid
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Improve Bike Performance with these Off-Bike Activities

by Joan Hanscom in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

The end of the road season is fast upon us.  My bags for Bend are packed, my bike has been shipped and there is one race left.  But that doesn’t mean training ends.  As anybody who loves riding and racing a bike will tell you – training goes on year round though it changes some.  I start adding in more of the things that I cut back on during the summer racing season, dialing back time on the bike and increasing other activities off the bike.

Core strength and flexibility are two things that really help you as a cyclist.  Upper body strength too – despite how spindly the Tour de France riders may look on tv – makes a big difference.  You don’t need to be like Arnold in his Terminator days but you don’t want to be wet spaghetti either.  You got spaghetti arms and a weak belly you got a SLOW sprint!

During the season, I maintain a flexibility program.  For me it’s not that I need to be able to do splits like back in my ballet days, but it creates and maintains balance in your body.  If you are spending 15-20 hours a week in one position bent over your handlebars it does a body good to bend in the other direction every now and then!  I am a big believer in the Active-Isolated stretch technique.  It’s not static stretching like you likely remember from high school gym class.  It’s, well, ACTIVE.  The premise is relatively simple – you work across specific joints (hence isolated), pumping blood-flow through joints and muscles by working through ranges of motion, never holding a stretch for more than a couple of seconds.  As the muscles get warmer and loosen up you can stretch deeper and deeper.  A key component of this technique is utilizing the opposing muscle groups to deepen the stretch – so if you are working on hamstring flexibility you would use your quadriceps to enhance the stretch by contracting them (the theory being the contracted quad, enables the hamstring to relax and lengthen). For more information I would refer you to or to The Wharton’s Stretch Book written by Jim and Phil Wharton.  Very simple and straightforward and highlights specific flexibility practices for specific sports.  Great stuff!

The other thing that I try to focus on year round is core strength.   Sometimes when my on-the-bike time is really high it’s as simple as doing 100 crunches in the mornings sprawled across my swiss ball.  But when my bike time is cut back, during the off-season or even on a light week, I love to add in yoga practice.  Different styles of yoga for different folks – I like Vinyasa the best, but find what you like and go for it.  Core strength is so important on the bike – for climbing and sprinting.  Breathing obviously a great skill to have on the bike and off.  Upper body strength too.  All of these things you can hone and develop through your yoga practice. Say hello to Chaturanga Dandasana!

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Joan Hanscom Google: Joan Hanscom
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Recovery Tips

by Meredith Miller in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

Everyone knows that in order to perform well, you must train hard and train right. What many people forget is that part of the train hard, train right formula is RECOVERY. The best laid plan isn’t complete without the proper rest and recovery. It should be part of your routine monthly, weekly and daily. Without attention to recovery, you’ll hit the wall sooner than later and all that hard work you’ve put into your training will come to naught.


If your plan is to race a full season, then the best approach is to sit down with a coach to talk about the season as a whole so you can plan your peaks as well as your recovery weeks. Over the years, one thing I have heard over and over again is how little consideration people give recovery days because they think they’ll lose fitness. Rest days ARE training days. They are as important or more than the lung busting, leg burning intervals that everyone thinks are the key to going fast. Even within day-to-day training rest days are important. Do not underestimate the power of complete days off the bike and easy spinning, even if it feels like you’re going slower than your grandma. Remember that quality is more important that quantity, and this includes rest days as well.


You’ve heard it before. Drink water to stay hydrated. It’s no secret. But the question during training or racing is water or drink mix? It depends. Under normal conditions water is adequate. However, when you’ve got a long day on the bike planned or the mercury has risen, ingesting calories through a drink is a good idea. I’m not an expert on prescribing hydration formulas, so I will refer you to the respected scientists who have formulated the “Secret Drink Mix” to get the information you need. I recommend reading the article on Bike Radar to get the low down on the science behind this drink mix. Bottom line…replace the fluid that was lost during exercise.


Don’t be afraid to eat carbohydrates! Carbs are the main source of fuel during exercise. You must replace what you use. It’s pretty easy. Although carbohydrates are most important, it is a combination of carbs and protein (approx a 4:1 ratio of carbs to proten) that will ensure you get what you need for proper recovery. Sure, there are formulas out there that suggest a certain amount of carbs and protein per body weight, but if you can consume any sort of healthy food (I like foods like peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, chocolate milk, trail mix, and fruit) within the first 30-60 min after exercise, you are on the right track.


For shorter and harder races, you need more warm up. If it’s the type of race that will start off hard and fast, then you need to do a few hard efforts in warm up. After a race, especially one that made you dig deep, you’ll feel better the next day if you allow yourself 15-20 minutes to cool down by spinning at a slow speed, high cadence.


Stretching is not an activity that is in many cyclists’ training programs, but it helps your body stay supple and flexible. When I am home I try to get regular massages (~1/week minimum) to help work out the kinks and soreness. A good massage therapist can help you iron out small problems, help you stretch and help you relax after a hard day of training or racing. Regular massage is not cheap, but it can help you stay on top of any problems you might have or even treat issues before they become a problem.


Naps are my all time favorite thing to do. After a hard day on the bike, I look forward to a little sleepy time on the couch. They help me relax, recover and put my mind at ease for a little while. Most importantly, though, is to get adequate sleep nightly to best prepare mentally and physically for the stresses that lie ahead.


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Meredith Miller Google: Meredith Miller
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Injuries: They’re a Pain!

by Doug Carr in Train With Grain, Triathlons

In any sport, injuries are a fact of life. Their causes are many and not always associated with stand-alone training or participation within your particular event. In 2005, elite runner Deena Kastor stepped on a large pinecone and rolled her ankle. For anyone who’s ever done this, I don’t need to tell you how painful it is, and how tentative you become as a result of it. Through the recovery process, you’re reminded of this fact with nearly every step you take toward getting better and fully healed.

I recall our daughter’s cross-country coach reading her the riot act for training for a marathon, in her last year of high school. It was a goal she had set to complete before graduation. Training started near the end of the spring track season, into summer, and the race took place halfway through the following fall cross-country season. I was her marathon coach, and no, her high school coach knew nothing of the training…until she crossed the finish line and word started to spread amongst her friends, who hadn’t known either. To make a long story short, the words that reverberated the most came from her coach, to the effect that she could’ve injured herself. I told our daughter, “That’s true. And you could’ve injured yourself stepping off a curb too.” The point is, injuries will come from anywhere, are unplanned and can happen at some of the most inopportune moments. What’s the alternative? Stay inside and injur your thumb on the remote control button, and trip over the cat when you go to get some ice? For some, maybe?

Dealing with injuries has a profound effect on an athlete’s mental state, sometimes more so than the physical pain from the injury itself. They don’t want to sacrifice any of their fitness level, lest they suffer detraining. However – and here’s the double edge sword – some injuries are a direct result of overtraining, caused when secondary and tertiary muscles are recruited as crutches, for primary muscles that have not fully recovered. You might consider this a “senseless” injury, because it’s so easily prevented through adequate rest and recovery. The athlete might then feel foolish, and at the same time is already dealing with the mental anguish of not being able to train at 100%.

So what do we do when we get injured? First and foremost we determine how serious the injury is. Is it something that requires attention from a medical professional? Maybe an opinion is needed from a professional to determine if the injury really is what we think it is, and not something associated with another condition or the improper use of a piece of gear. Does your foot hurt because you pulled something, or is it just the wrong shoe for you? Pain is the body’s best indicator that something just isn’t right. Our immediate task is to find out what’s wrong, and begin to correct the problem before causing further damage.

Second, what is the typical course of action for your particular injury? Does the diagnosis require R.I.C.E (Rest Ice Compression Elevation), stretching, alignment (chiropractic, physical therapy, etc.), heat/cold treatments? How long can you expect to be out of commission?

Third, what types of alternate training would you be allowed to do? With a lower body injury, can you swim to maintain aerobic fitness? How about riding the trainer to deal with upper body injuries? It may feel like it, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Ultimately, you’ll have to question whether continued training is helpful (even if only mentally) or harmful.

A pulled hamstring injury severely shortened my 2006 race season, when I couldn’t complete a run without pain. I thought I was doing myself a favor by only riding the bike, and completely staying out of the running shoes. Fact is, I wasn’t allowing it to heal at all. It wasn’t until I had an assessment done that I learned something in my back was tweaked just enough to affect that area.

We will all, at one point or another, experience injuries, obstacles and setbacks. It’s the price we pay for what we do out there. How we handle the recovery and healing process is up to us. We can prolong the agony and anguish by continuing to push too hard, or we can take a step back and look at the big picture, then figure out a way to come out stronger physically and mentally.

By the way, our daughter proudly wore her finisher’s medal attached to her Honors Graduate medal at her graduation. You think I was proud to see that? Just a little!!

Train With Grain!!

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Doug Carr Google: Doug Carr
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Injuries: What to Expect and How to Respond

by Mark Swartzendruber in Road Cycling, Train With Grain

Unfortunately injuries are a part of life for most competitive athletes.  Injuries can be caused by things that range from simple overuse to traumatic impact.  How the athlete treats and responds to the injury depends largely on the nature of the cause and the severity of the injury.  I’m very fortunate to have been relatively injury free over the course of my athletic career, but, in the couple of instances that I have endured an injury, the treatments and recovery have been good lessons learned.

First, let’s break down into categories various types of injuries and potential problem issues.

SORENESS:  This can be caused by over use, or it can be caused by properly trained and worked muscles.  If you’re a cyclist in the weight room for the first off-season strength building sessions, you’re going to experience muscle soreness even if you’re doing things correctly.  Soreness can be treated by not over using the sore muscles alternating ice and heat and incorporate stretching and massage.  Some times the use of non steroidal anti-inflammatory meds such as Ibuprofen or Sodium Naproxen is called for.  At any rate, soreness eventually goes away, but if you continue to push soreness, it may become…

PAIN:  Pain is more indicative of a chronic problem.  I’m not speaking of the momentary or short lived pain we all put ourselves through in hard workouts.  I’m speaking here of pain that you experience when you aren’t working out.  Back, joint, or muscle pain that is consistent, persistent and long lasting can be an indicator that you’re either employing improper technique, bike position, have structural problems or an over-use injury.  Seek out the opinion and diagnosis of a doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist or athletic trainer and do what they tell you.  Pain is most often a leading indicator of a potentially chronic injury that you’ll have if you try to “push through the pain.”

INJURY:  This is the definite, diagnosed “I know exactly how it happened” thing we all hope to avoid.  Maybe you crashed and broke a collar bone, some ribs or had a concussion.  Maybe you pushed through the pain of a ligament or tendon sprain and now you need surgery for a tear.  Whatever caused your injury, you’ll be requiring medical attention.  In 2002 I had some knee pain and swelling.  I continued to race through and eventually the problem didn’t respond to ice, compression and elevation.  Turned out I had a meniscus tear that was exacerbated by the repetitive motion of pedaling.  It was a season ender that required surgery.

The first orthopedic surgeon I saw told me I had the knee of an 80 year old man said I must quit cycling and take up swimming, but that I’d never be able to race again.  I was devastated and sought a second opinion.  The second orthopedic surgeon had been the team ortho for the US Air Force Academy and worked with the US Olympic Ski team in Colorado Springs.  He’d seen knees similar and much worse than mine.  He assured me that I’d be fine, but the recovery was slow and had to be done right in order to avoid re-injury.  The full rehab took nearly 3 months before I was cleared to ride my bike again.  Even though I was going crazy with the inactivity I did what the therapist and doctor told me to do and 2003 turned out to be one of the best seasons of my life with a big win on the NRC race circuit and a silver medal at Masters Nationals in the time trial.

As athletes, we’ll all deal with soreness and pain from time to time.  Pay attention to what is causing the soreness or pain and treat it accordingly.  If you’re injured, give yourself time to fully recover before forcing your way back into full fledged competition.  Otherwise you’re risking pushing yourself into the category of being “chronically injured” which isn’t a season ending problem, it’s a career ending problem.

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Mark Swartzendruber Google: Mark Swartzendruber
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Three ways bio-mechanics can improve your triathlon times

by Julian Pscheid in Featured Articles, Train With Grain, Triathlons

While most triathletes focus their training around volume and intensity, big gains can be realized by focusing on the bio-mechanics of each individual sport. This is mostly known for swimming, a sport that benefits more from technique than endurance or power, although cycling and running can also benefit from motor programming.


Since water is very dense, becoming “streamlined” is critical to improving your efficiency. Dedicate at least half of your time in the water (especially early in the season) to performing drills that improve your form. I am a big fan of the Total Immersion program, which provides excellent guidance on how to increase the efficiency of your body moving through the water. Both their book and DVDs are great resources.


Cycling, too, can benefit from improvements in bio-dynamics. Pay special attention to your stroke. Your goal should be to provide a smooth power transfer throughout the entire 360 degrees of your stroke, and not use a “push-pull” technique. Exercise “pushing your toes in shoes” and “scraping mud off your shoes” and do not be concerned with “pulling up”. Throughout these exercises keep your cadence high around 90 – 100 rpm.


Running has probably received the most attention recently in regards to bio-dynamic improvements. The barefoot running craze has reopened the conversation around strike efficiency and mechanics. No matter if you run barefoot, with lightweight trainers, or with supportive shoes, you will benefit from practicing a midfoot strike that avoids transmitting large loads through joints and create a breaking force that heelstrikes do. I recommend Chi Running to help you improve several aspects of your form–they offer several books and training programs.

By keeping bio-mechanics in mind and including technique focused drills in your workouts you can ensure that all that hard-earned endurance and power has the wanted effects on your swim, bike and run and set yourself up for a new personal best.

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Julian Pscheid Google: Julian Pscheid
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