Tri Talk Triathlon Podcast, Episode 70

Olympic interviews from the vault, I get roasted for my conclusions to Episode 69, and to breath or not to breath? That is the question. Plenty of slings and arrows, today on Tri Talk.

Welcome to Tri Talk your podcast source for triathlon tips, training, news and more. A shout-out to listeners from New Mexico and congratulations to those who completed the recent Elephantman event. To new listeners in Singapore thanks for your support and generous thanks for the podcast. 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 70.

I always resist revisiting a topic on Tri Talk, but a timely response to the feedback on Episode 69 is essential. We’ll spend the first part of the show hearing your comments and clarifying or supporting the data I presented last episode. We’ll also hear from Heath Thurston, a professional triathletes and always a top athlete out of the water at Ironman events and his opinions on Episode 69. Plus, in honor of the recent announcement of the 2016 Olympic games awarded to Rio De Janerio, I’ve taken some interviews out of the vault. We’ll talk to two Olympians about strategic pacing, training, racing in the heat, haircuts, and more.

Let’s get onto the good stuff!

About once a year I write a topic that generates a landslide of feedback. Episode 69 was one such topic. Many of you wrote in to comment on my research looking at rotation and independent hip and shoulder movement when swimming. The feedback was primarily negative. For example.

Rod observed:

“David, I think you hate swimming. In listening to your podcasts, it’s become clear to me that you are very good at telling triathletes what does not work in swimming, instead of focusing on what does work in swimming. Your well-researched cycling and running pieces give an athlete advise on what to do, but have you noticed your swim data is primarily what not to do?”

Chris from Australia writes:

“You’re messing with my livelihood! As a swim coach who teachers rotating as a fundamental, your podcast is causing confusion among my students and eroding my credibility. Be sensitive to how you use your bully pulpit, and make sure you know what you’re talking about before broadcasting it to 10,000 people.”

Tim from Ireland (I think) summed up a majority of the feedback when he wrote:

“You have mis-interpreted the studies you quote. It is normal that relative rotation increases as speed decreases: not because it is directly related to speed but because it is related to stroke rate. Of course rotation decreases as you go from 1500m to 100m and so does speed.

Telling most triathletes, who are very poor swimmers with woeful technique and no clue about it, that rotation does not matter on the basis of studies into which you have read too much is just plain stupid. You have a responsibility to base your advice on not just what you read in studies but what is effective advice.”

OK, let me take a few minutes to respond. First, if you listen to Episode 69 again, you’ll hear me spend significant time at the beginning of the section specifically addressing the topic to those who fall outside the swim technique bell curve. I wrapped up that introduction by saying: “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.”

Now, although the information I presented was intended for those non-responders and plateau’d swimmers, I’d like to summarize why I support a small rotation for all swimmers, why I think the negative feedback I received was incorrect, and why I have not misrepresented the studies.

First, the information I first shared with you in episode 43 was done specifically on elite swimmers at a 1,500 meter pace. This is very applicable to triathletes, and I believe should refute the argument that these studies are not applicable to triathletes. Those elite swimmers displayed a 65 degree rotation in the shoulders at that 1,500 meter speed.

We also know from the study in episode 69 that when these researchers separated the measurement of the hips from the shoulders there was a 20 degree difference in the degree of rotation in the shoulders from the hips. Therefore, an elite swimmer swimming at a 1,500 meter pace with a 65 degree shoulder rotation, will only have a 45 degree rotation in the hips. 45 degrees of rotation at the hips is belly-button to the floor in my book.

The other consistent argument I received was that the degree of rotation only reduced due to the change in swim velocity as the swim distance changed. This is partially true. The same study from Episode 43 did show that the same swimmer would reduce rotation as they went from 1,500 meter velocity to 25-meter velocity. However, I’m not arguing that rotation changes based on the swim distance. I’m saying that for any given distance, the swimmers who rotate less will be faster, and this is supported by the study from Episode 69. Based on the study from Episode 69, the fastest swimmers in the group, who all swam the same distance, were the ones with the least rotation.

The counter-argument is that those faster swimmers must have had a faster cadence, and so they couldn’t afford to rotate. But that’s the whole point. Over-rotation causes you to slow your cadence. This argument also is weakened by the fact that many elite swimmers do not change their cadence when they increase speed, as you’ll hear from Heath in a few minutes.

To me this whole argument is academic. I can provide multiple studies that show increased velocity at a reduced rotation, but I have not yet been provided with an empirical, peer reviewed, independent study that supports increased velocity with increased rotation. All the counter-arguments I have received are anecdotal. Don’t send me an article from a magazine, don’t send me a chapter from a book without citations, don’t tell me about your years and years of observation. Send me data. And frankly, even if you sent me 4 studies supporting a direct relationship between velocity and rotation, I could counter with 4 studies that show an inverse relationship.

Finally, for my friend and long-time listener Norman from Connecticut, who I know is screaming at the speakers right about now, let me re-state what I stated in the last episode. New swimmers should learn rotation. I have never endorsed eliminating rotation. New swimmers should learn how to rotate, and then begin to reduce it as they improve. I do think that swimmers who are already swimming well should eliminate drills that reinforce rotation based on current research.

Now that I’ve blasted anecdotal opinion as a basis for swim training, let me introduce some of my own. It is fair to say that I have much less experience as a swim coach than a cycling and running coach, and that was also mentioned in the feedback to Episode 69, and therefore I don’t have the rapport to provide advice on swimming technique. To help support my position, I’ve enlisted the help of Heath Thurston, one of the finest swimmers in the country where we talk not only talk about rotation and cadence, but some interesting talk about breathing.

(interview with Heath Thurston)

With the recent excitement over the 2016 Olympic venue announcement, I pulled out a couple of interviews from the vault. It’s a little known fact that I have a secret audio vault with data and interviews that are just sitting there, waiting for the right time to be revealed to the world. Last year I had the opportunity to interview two of the American Olympic triathletes a week before their event. Julie Swail Ertel and Hunter Kepmer. Now I know the Olympics were last year, but the information they shared is timeless. I should note that I neglected to include in Julie’s bio her Olympic silver in water polo from the 2000 Sydney games, which was a glaring omission. In addition to their training and racing secrets, listen in and you’ll find that Julie and Hunter have much more in common than triathlon.

(interviews with Julie and Hunter)

Congratulations to PowerTri’s Jameson King, 10th place age group at the World Championships in Australia, and to my TrainingBible client and uber-mom Kim Shattuck who came in 16th age group at the World Championships. Good luck Thad and David at your upcoming half-ironman! Sub-6 hours or bust! I’ll see you next time.