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3 Pro Drills to Make You A Faster Triathlete

Get ready to become a more efficient (read: faster) triathlete.

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To help prepare for the race year ahead, we enlisted the help of Cliff English, head coach of Arizona State University’s women’s triathlon team, to share some of his favorite off-season pool, trainer, and treadmill drills. Here are his top picks:

In the Pool

“Balance is the biggest challenge most triathletes have in the water,” English says.

To improve, he recommends a progressive balance drill: Start by pushing off the wall and holding a tight streamline, and just “feel” what happens. Once you’re able to maintain a balanced streamline off the wall, add in kicking on your side with one arm out front and your body at 45 degrees (0 degrees being staring straight down and 90 degrees being staring at the wall). Focus on maintaining a neutral head position while rotating from the hips and shoulders. Every six to 12 kicks, take three long strokes, and rotate to the other side. Fins can help maintain body position, but English recommends beginning without them to get a better feel of what your body is actually doing in the water.

As a variation, try what English calls “pause one” or “pause three”: Take one or three long strokes, holding one arm in front with your body rotated and head neutral.

On the Trainer

I love cadence builds combined with big gear work,” English says. “This is my favorite way to improve pedal stroke efficiency.”

One of English’s favorite trainer sets is three rounds of:

  • 4 minutes, biggest gear possible (60-75 rpms at 75 percent max power)
  • 4 x (45 seconds build from 100 to 110 to 120 rpms every 15 seconds; 30 seconds easy rest)

As you get comfortable doing this set, increase your max cadence to 130-140 rpm.
“The goal is to be smooth and not bounce when you hit the higher rpm,” English says. “Once 120-140 rpm feels comfortable on the trainer, racing at 90-100 rpm becomes possible and will even become a default cadence. Racing at 90-100 rpm will never feel truly comfortable until the higher cadences are adapted in training.”

On the Treadmill

“We run more efficiently and with better turnover when running fast, and the treadmill provides a great way to do this in a controlled environment on a soft surface,” English says.

Ideal running position means having a slight forward lean with head and eyes pointed 20-30 degrees down; the treadmill display provides a good visual cue to help maintain the ideal lean and downward gaze. Once you get up to speed, run with that good head and body position for 20 seconds and then look straight ahead and stand straight up (bad position) for 20 seconds before switching back to ideal position for 20 seconds. Run easy for a minute and then repeat as many times as you like.

“You’ll notice more heel striking when you lean back, and the rest of your mechanics, like arm swing, will also feel off,” English says. “Run mechanics often fall apart late in a race, so it’s important to be able to feel the difference between good and bad form. Running on the treadmill provides a great opportunity to play around with those mechanics to find that perfect feel.”