Tri Talk Triathlon Podcast, Episode 69

Swim velocity and the independent relationship between shoulder and hip rotation. Plus, the 6-week peak is validated, but will it be vindicated? Today, on Tri Talk.

Welcome to Tri Talk your podcast source for triathlon tips, training, news and more. Welcome to new subscribers from Russia and Japan. To my Russian listeners, I say Zdravstvuite! The only Russian I maintained from a 6-week trip to that amazing country. And to the listeners in Japan, Ironman Japan is only 10 months away! Time to get cracking! My goal at Tri Talk is to help you swim, bike, and run faster, to meet your personal triathlon goals. Whether you are an elite or amateur triathlete, we cover sprint distance to Ironman distance. I’m your host, David Warden, and this is Tri Talk Episode 69.

Today on Tri Talk I’ll pretend to be an expert in my weakest sport. The swim! Seriously, we’ll discuss some excellent independent information that looks at the validity of shoulder and hip rotation in relationship to each other, and the relationship to swim velocity. Also if you are a regular listener to Tri Talk, and I bet you are, I’m sure you have not been able to sleep ever since I gave you an update on the disastrous start to my 6-week peak experiment. How did the final 4 weeks go? Can an endurance athlete maintain a peak for 6 straight weeks? Let’s see what happened to me.

Some house cleaning from Episode 68 and 68a. In response to those episodes, Curt Brant from Tampa Florida has had good and bad experience with the use of glycerol. He writes:

“When I tried to use the “drink it all the hour before the race” protocol that you mentioned in your show, I got explosive diarrhea that lasted right up until the start of the triathlon. Hammer nutrition sells glycerol branded as ‘Liquid Endurance.’  Hammers’s glycerol loading protocol is 1 table spoon per 100 lbs. 3 time a day for three days before a race. I have no problems with this.”


Thanks, Curt! There is no place in triathlon for explosive diarrhea. I’ve had several other athletes report their loyalty to the Hammer liquid endurance product and protocol as well.

In regards to the section on creatine, long time Tri Talk listener Graeme Turner from Canbera, Australia theorizes:

“You are correct that there is no real proof that creatine assists in race day performance.  Indeed if you look at the energy systems you use in a race it is fairly obvious it wont be of any advantage. However, as part of a periodised training plan an athlete will typically include a strength component (typically weights) and there has been a lot of proof that creatine helps build strength as part of this type of routine.


So whilst creatine is not useful for racing there perhaps is a place for its usage during the power phase of a periodised training plan and race improvement can be realized from that part of the program.”

Graeme, this is an excellent point. The Maximum Strength phase of a strength training program is essentially the exact protocol that was proven to be effective in those creatine studies, and this obvious use for triathletes escaped me.

Let’s get on to the good stuff!

I have tremendous respect for contemporary adult swim coaching. It has provided adults who never thought they could swim with fantastic opportunities. The swim is defiantly the primary of the 3 sports that prevents people from getting into triathlon. Without swim guidance from techniques like Total Immersion and Swim Power, I honestly think that the sport of triathlon would not be where it is today.

However, like any technique, there is a distinct bell curve. Outliers on both ends of that curve represent athletes who respond unusually well to that swim technique, or athletes who respond poorly or not at all.

There is also the real possibility that these popular swim techniques only bring the athlete to a certain point in their swim performance. Meaning, during the first stages of learning to swim, they get the swimmer rapidly to a certain velocity, but then the athlete finds themselves stuck and can’t progress past a certain point.

It is to these two kinds of swimmers that I would like to address this next study. Those of you who are either non-responders or plateau’d responders to two specific popular swim techniques. That is the overall body roll and equalizing the shoulder and hip rotation. We have all been taught to put our belly button to the wall, and to not allow our shoulder rotation to be greater than the hips. You’ll recall I addressed part of this issue in a previous episode of Tri Talk, but this latest study is significantly more thorough, and provides even more information.

Previous studies have not looked at the shoulders and hips as independent rotation points. Meaning, the researchers picked a point on the trunk of the swimmers and measured the rotation of that point to represent the whole trunk. Researchers in the UK decided to measure hip and shoulder rotation as separate rotation points, instead of the entire trunk as one rotation.

The study took 6 national and international level swimmers and measured the stroke cycles for each swimmer using 6 total cameras. 4 under the water and 2 above the water, and then measured the rotation of the hips and shoulders independently.

The results were fascinating. Of course they were fascinating! I say that about every study I review. If it wasn’t fascinating, I wouldn’t be putting it on Tri Talk.

First, let’s compare the degree of rotation between the shoulders and the hips in these elite swimmers. First, the highest level of shoulder rotation observed in one of these swimmers was 58 degrees. The highest level of rotation in the hips was only 37 degrees. 37 degrees is far from belly button to the wall swimming.

In defense of belly button to the wall, the technique is given to the swimmer to exaggerate the movement. Most people who try and get their belly button directly at the wall will probably only achieve 60 degrees, not 90 degrees. I don’t think the proponents of belly to the wall actually expect 90 degrees. Still, 37 degrees is far from 60 or 90 degrees.

More importantly, the researchers once again confirmed that as swim velocity increased, rotation decreased. They found a statistically significant and inverse relationship between speed and shoulder rotation. The faster they went, the less rotation in the shoulders. Interestingly, these researchers found although there was also an inverse relationship in velocity and hip rotation, it was not statistically significant.

The real gem from this study is the fact that at any velocity, these elite swimmers had a significant delta between their shoulder rotation and hip rotation. Although we have been taught to keep our rotation equal in the hips and shoulders, elite swimmers don’t do that. All 6 in this study had huge differences in the degree of rotation between the shoulders and hips. The shoulders demonstrated 20 degrees greater rotation at the peak than the hips at their peak.

Now, in defense of belly button to the wall and shoulder hip synchronization, it is very possible that the elite swimmers don’t swim faster because they consciously reduce their rotation, it could be that they naturally reduce rotation as they get faster. In fact that is very likely. However, they certainly don’t get to that point be constantly performing drills that reinforce muscle memory to over rotate. It is also important to point out that none of these swimmers had no rotation. Some rotation obviously plays an important role, but the truth is that velocity simply decreases as rotation increases. Perhaps the best advice for us age-groupers, is to swim with rotation in our consciousness, but eliminate the drills that teach on over-rotation and shoulder and hip synchronization.

It is also possible that brand new swimmers need the feel of an over rotation before they will do even a small rotation, and that these drills are important for brand-new swimmers. No one can dispute the success of these techniques for new swimmers.

However, at a certain point, I feel strongly that these drills should be eliminated. I am unaware of any peer reviewed study that shows a direct relationship between shoulder rotation and velocity. There may be a study out there, but I have not found it. I also recognize that nationally-recognized coaches say they have studied elite swimmers themselves, and that based on their own observation, rotation and hip to shoulder synchronization are important points. But when independent researchers look at the biomechanics of swimming, it does not hold up. I can provide 4 peer reviewed studies that show an inverse relationship to shoulder or hip rotation to velocity, but none that support rotation and speed.

Anecdotally, my own personal swim story is one of 4 years of struggle trying to swim using popular techniques, and I never cracked the top 50% in any triathlon. As soon as I stopped rotating, stopped gliding, turned my head to breath, stopped kicking, and held my breath, my swim went almost immediately to the top 20% and I am now swimming consistently in the top 10% at any given triathlon.

I want to thank my collegue, Aaron Lovell my copy editor for Trihive magazine, for sending me this study. He may cut my submitted articles to ribbons before they are published, but he knows how to make me look smart.

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The rest of the podcast is all downhill from here. In Episode 68 I took advantage of you, my captive audience, to complain about the poor start to my 6-week race cluster. This was an important 6 weeks for me, both in terms of confidence and to test the 6-week race cluster as opposed to the 3 weeks I have previously been mapping out for my athletes and myself. Can an athlete taper and maintain peak performance week after week for 6 weeks? I’m confident that the answer for full and half Ironman events is, “rarely”. But the answer to Sprint and Olympic is, “maybe”.

The concept of peak performance in periodization is that fitness only improves when there is an increase volume or intensity followed by recovery. That new and increased stress triggers the compensation process in the body to adapt, and the adaptation occurs during rest. This is why a classic periodization plan includes months of slowly increasing volume followed by a peak in intensity before the taper begins to maximize fitness. Joe Friel goes as far as to distinguish between fitness and what he calls “form”. Joe suggests that fitness increases through training, and form improves after recovery. Therefore, an athlete’s goal is to arrive on race day in top form.


The risk of a race period, whether it is 3 weeks or 12 weeks, is to find that balance between fitness and form. Too much rest in order to improve form takes away from fitness and particularly hits the endurance skill, and too much training during a race cluster compromises form.

All exercise physiologists agree that peak form cannot be maintained indefinitely, the question is just how long it can be maintained. My 6-week Sprint-distance race cluster is at best an anecdotal test, but it will at least help me decide how to structure my athletes’ Sprint and Olympic race clusters going forward based on my own experience.

You heard about the first 2 weeks of may race cluster in Episode 68. Not the start I had hoped for. Let’s take a look at the second half of those 6 weeks, and frankly, it looked like it was going to be more of the same over the following 2 weeks. Sprint event 3 of my 6 weeks was cancelled, and I substituted that week-end with a race simulation workout (which I can objectively say I won). And then there was a snag in event 4, where I had accidentally registered for the Olympic distance instead of the Sprint. Despite my charm and notoriety, the timing company would absolutely not let me switch race morning. I could race the Sprint, but I would not have a time. Racing without a time? Blasphemy!

To you hardcore IM athletes, this may not seem like a big deal. The difference between a 1 hour race and a 2 hour race is peanuts to you. However, my entire training plan, since October of last year, has been exclusively around Sprint-distance racing, and there is a big difference between training a year for Spring vs. Olympic racing. The result is that event 4, at the Olympic distance, was done rather conservatively but still ends in an age-group podium spot, but not the overall victory I’ve been looking for.

The bottom line is that I have 2 races left in the cluster. At the beginning of the year, I realistically thought I would win 4 of those 6 events. Can I salvage the season with these last 2 events?

Week 5 is a local Sprint with 160 participating at that distance. It carries more bragging rights than any of the other 6, as it is the closest event to my local triathlon club. More people I know will be tracking the results of this event than any other. To add to the pressure, the event is sponsored by the only other triathlon shop in the state, the fierce but respected retail competitor of Having the owner of (me) win the event sponsored by our rival would be a marketing coup. Not only is my family there, but the vice-president of the software company I work for has decided that after all the years of hearing me brag about how good I am, he’d like to come and see for himself. And finally, my arch nemesis, James Lawrence, although not racing the event this year, won this sprint event last year, and I’ll never live it down if I don’t win it this year.

My confidence going into the event is low, but my preparation is solid. I’ve turned over the recording of the race to my wife who gives a pre race status and prediction.



That’s right! Sorry ladies I’m off the market. I used to think that if I became an elite triathlete and won a few races, my wife would not be able to keep her hands off me. The reality is, she could care less. If I win a race, it’s a smooch and then back to business. If I get my butt kicked, it’s a smooth and then back to business. When you think about it, it actually shows what an incredible woman she is. She loves me no matter what. It brings me comfort to know that if something ever happened to me, she would still love me the same. I digress.

If you’ve followed the podcast over the last 3 years, you know that I have been slowly getting better on the swim. For the first 4 years of racing, I never cracked the top 50% on the swim. After a year of self-coaching and making major changes to my stroke, I immediately broke into the top 20% consistently on the swim, and I have high hopes for this year.

The first person out of the water is local phenom Sarah Jarvis who has a 2.5 minute lead on me out of the water. I know that sounds like a lot in a Sprint event, but she is unbelievably fast on the swim. At the swim exit, my crew is there to greet me, and as a good omen, I come out of the water to one of my favorite songs.


I end up 13 out of the field of 160, which ends up being the best swim of my life in terms of placement in the field, top 8%, but thanks to a fast transition, I’m out on the bike course in 5th place.

Now, I don’t want this to come across as overly sexist, but I really, really don’t want Sarah to beat me. I would never hear the end of it. The trouble is, she is an outstanding cyclist as well, and I have 13 miles to try and eat into that 2.5 minutes. I can’t even see her on the bike she’s so far ahead. I decide to just keep my head down, and stick with the pacing plan, as my wife makes the call coming into T2.


Did you catch that? She might be the best female in the state? Let’s just make it clear that hitting the run at the same time as Sarah Jarvis is an honor, and does not reflect on my manhood.

I’m leading the race, but less than a minute into the run I realize that this run is about much more than just Sarah and I. A glance over my shoulder reveals there are 5 athletes within 1 minute of me and 2 are definitely closing, a point my wife makes clear about halfway through the run.


Thanks to a disciplined pacing strategy on the bike and early run, that 30-second lead turns into a 75-second victory as I am able to pour it on over the last mile of the race. Sarah Jarvis hung on for 3rd place overall. However, in the excitement of the moment, my wife, bless her heart, forgot to record anything at the finish line. Just imagine if you will: music blaring, my name called over the loudspeakers, and the mayor giving me the key to the city.

In addition to the race acting as an outstanding confidence booster, it helps me feel confident in that longer race cluster, now in week 5. It was certainly the best performance of my life. I have won other events before, but this one felt completely different in terms of my overall power and performance. Although I have no audio, and I don’t want to make you suffer through another race report, my final event in week 6 was even better. 1st place in a solid 140-participant event where my margin of victory was 3 minutes.

So, although the first 4 weeks of the race cluster were wrought with tactical errors, the fact is my last 2 events of the 6 week cluster were the best races I have ever done. It certainly seems that I was able to maintain that peak for the full 6 weeks. In fact, 2 weeks after the race cluster ended, I did my company’s annual indoor corporate triathlon and finished a minute faster than the year before. I consider this significant since my corporate triathlon is done on the same machines each year, and ends up being a fantastic way for me to assess fitness each year compared to previous years, since the “course conditions” if you will, are the same each year on an indoor row, bike and run machine with the ambient temperature and humidity being also virtually identical each year. I could almost extend that 6 week test into an 8 week test if I counted that final indoor event. Remember, Dr. Tudor Bompa felt and endurance athlete could go for over 2 months in peak form.

I have considered that it is possible that I simply did not truly peak until week 4 of the 6 week cluster. That is possible, but consider that I had a 2 week taper prior to the 6 weeks starting. If that were the case, that would mean a 6 week taper got me to top form at 4 weeks into the race cluster, and that seems far too long for a reasonable taper. I think it is much more likely I was in top form for the entire 6 weeks, and can absolutely attribute my disappointment in the previous events to specific mistakes.

Remember that you don’t have to race each week-end to maintain form for 6+ weeks. There might be just two events 6 weeks apart that you want to peak for. The key is to perform a race simulation each week for at least an hour o the weeks you don’t race. I recognize that many of you live in areas where you can’t possibly race each week for 6 weeks, because there arte not just enough events.

I also think that the primary cause of erosion of fitness over a race period is the lack of endurance training. During this 6 week cluster, I did a 1.5 hour brick each Monday to maintain endurance, an easy swim day Tuesday, a short anaerobic bike and run Wednesday, Thursday off, Friday an hour of pre-race short accelerations on the swim, bike, and run, finish with a race or race simulation Saturday, rest Sunday. You’ll note that each week had a long endurance workout, a short intense race-pace workout, and a race or race simulation. A good balance of endurance and speed each week.

I would be skeptical of applying this back-2 back concept to Olympic racing. Oly racing should rarely be done back-2-back. With Sprint, you can get away with racing every week-end. Few athletes have the recovery ability to be at form to go hard for 2 hours each week and stay at the same speed. Instead, 3 Oly races over 6 weeks, or placing a Sprint race in-between each Oly race over the 6 weeks for a total of 3 sprint and 3 Oly.

What about half and full IM racing? Consider that the IM Hawaii championships are just 6 weeks before the 70.3 championships, and many pro athletes do incredibly well at both events. The 6-weeks cluster may apply to those distances as well, but certainly not back-to-back, but the full 6 weeks apart.

I have tons of other thoughts and opinions on this 6-week cluster, but this podcast is long enough already!

That’s all for Episode 69. I’ll be back in about a month for the next episode. I need to say congratulations to one of my TrainingBible athletes John Callos who just finished his first Ultraman. That’s right, a 6 mile swim, a 260 mile bike, and top it off with a double marathon. John went from Sprint distance to Ultraman distance in just 18 months. Well done John! Also congratulations to PowerTri Employees Heath Thurston and Jameson King who both qualified for the World Championships in Australia nest month. How many triathlon retailers can boast of 2 of their employees going to worlds. I’ll see you next time.