Think Downhill In Swim, Bike, and Run

Nov
14

Posted by Coach Aaron Scheidies

You may be wondering what this article is about with the above title. It is my hope that this article will shift your focus away from the stop watch and the heart rate monitor and on to how you “feel” when you swim, bike and run.  What am I talking about when I say think downhill?  This means that when you are in your best form in the pool and run and best position on the bike you should  “feel” as though you are on a slight downhill.

The feeling of going downhill is achieved by activating the correct muscles and putting yourself in the optimal position. In each discipline of swimming, biking and running there is a balancing point, like a teeter totter on a playground. When you are at your optimal position, you have moved just slightly to the downhill side of the fulcrum.  From my perspective, the key to achieving this downhill feel is engagement of the lower abdominals and even the pelvic floor muscles.  All athletes I coach have lower abdominal core strengthening as part of their regular training program. If the lower abdominals are not engaged, it is very hard to obtain and maintain the body position to go downhill.  Let's take a look at how to set your self up to go “downhill” in each discipline of swimming, biking and running. 

 

THE SWIM

Swimming is all about balance in the water. The lungs are buoyant and are closer to the head.  The legs are not buoyant and so the goal in swimming is finding the balance point to keep your hips and lower body at the top of the water. This is much easier said than done.  Because the lungs are constantly creating an upward force, they become the fulcrum from which we must teeter over. 

You may have heard people say, “Press your T.”  What they are referring to is pushing your sternum down as you bring your arm around during the mid to late recovery phase of the freestyle stroke. When doing this you are offsetting the upward force of the buoyant lungs and getting yourself on the downhill side of the teeter-totter. What most coaches don’t emphasize is that keeping good lower abdominal and pelvic floor muscle engagement  is crucial to keeping your hips up and for power production. 

With this said, here are a few cues and tips about feel in the swim. During freestyle you should always maintain a slight chin tuck and elongate your neck. Your lower abs and pelvic floor should be engaged which should feel as though your belly button is pulling into your spine. To engage your pelvic floor just pretend you have just urinated and contract the muscles that you would to stop the flow of urine. These are your pelvic floor muscles.  As you bring your arm around  to enter the water you need to press your sternum down. The thrust of the arm coming around and entering the water will also help in getting over top and on the downhill side of the teeter-totter.   There are drills I give my athletes to improve tipping over the fulcrum. Learning the butterfly stroke will help with this, as an integral part of the stroke is pressing the chest down and letting the hips come up. The motion should not be as drastic during freestyle but it at least gives your body the feel of pressing the sternum down. 

THE BIKE

Getting your body in position to get the feel of going downhill on the bike is all about getting body weight forward. Your chest should be over top of your pedals. You should be flexing forward at your hips and not through your lumbar spine.  Engaging your lower abs and pelvic floor is essential to maintaining a flat lumbar spine. Also, with a stable lower core you are right in the wheelhouse to create maximum power through your gluteal muscles. You want your pedal stroke to be smooth and circular and often times this may feel as though you are pressing your heel down at the bottom and upstroke of the pedal stroke. With your chest being overtop of your pedals and your core engaged you should feel as though you are dancing on the pedals. This should also give you the feel as though you are going downhill because your center of mass is tipping just over the fulcrum at the bottom bracket of the cranks. 

THE RUN

Getting the feel of running downhill is much easier said than done and can be very hard to maintain, especially when you get fatigued. The key to running downhill is being like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. That is, keeping the imaginary line from head to toe fairly straight but slightly leaning forward from vertical.  You do not want to flex at your hips. The lean forward should come from your ankles and from the effects of gravity. The only way to run in this position effectively is by ensuring you are elongating your spine to be as tall as you can and engaging your lower core and pelvic floor muscles.  Once you have this position, you can simply lift your heel towards your buttocks and then just let your foot fall to the ground.  It should fall right underneath your hips which will allow all the propulsive forces of your push off go into propelling you forward. 

Now, lets look at the feel of running downhill. First, stand as tall as you can as if you were a marionette puppet getting pulled up by a string from the back of your head.  You should feel the back of your neck elongate and your chin should tuck slightly. Engage your lower abs and pelvic floor and feel your bellybutton pull in and towards your spine. You are now ready to start running.  All you need to do now is fall forward. You should feel as though your chest is leaning over a cliff.  At this point just lift your heel towards your buttocks and let it fall to the ground. It may fee” as though you are going to fall over but trust me the circuitry of your neuromuscular system will do its job to get your foot underneath you. When in stance phase you also want to feel your gluteal muscles engage in order to create a strong propulsive force.  You should not feel as though your hip flexors (front of your hips) are working very hard.  If this is the case than you are probably fatiguing and your form is falling apart. It is probably time to reset and focus on the correct feel of running downhill. 

 

Use these ideas to consider your training and your form from a different perspective. Focusing on feel is essential to race performance.  When racing, you may not have constant feedback from a coach or gadgets. The one thing you always have is yourself and your own internal ability to make modifications. If you know how it feels to swim, bike and run downhill you can recreate this feeling at any time.  Focusing on the “feel” also forces your mind to have to work and will also lead to increased mental toughness in the end. 

Try these tips in your next swim, bike or run and feel free to contact me with any questions at aaron@teammpi.com

 

Aaron Scheidies is a coach with Team MPI (teammpi.com) based in Seattle, WA. He is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and licensed Physical Therapist. Aaron has coached World Champion Paratriathletes as well as Ironman World Championship qualifiers. Aaron is an 11-time World Paratriathlon Champion and has set the World’s fastest time for anyone with a disability at both the Olympic (1:57:24) and Ironman 70.3 distances. (4:09:54). He is a 3-time Boston Marathon Blind/VI Champion and 3-time Blind/VI National Marathon Champion with a PR of of 2:44. He can be reached at Aaron@TeamMPI.com.

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