Balance the Imbalance – Part II: Mechanics

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Written by: Mark Allen

Over the next few days Mark Allen will explain the best way to balance the task of maintaining a high level at your strongest sport, while also improving in your weaker sports. In this edition, Allen explains the importance of knowing the mechanics behind each sport.

Proficiency in any sport is part fitness and part efficient biomechanics. We all know how that works. You can take a world-class runner and throw him in the pool and that person will sink. Start with the mechanics. Build your efficiency of motion in each sport separately so that the training you undertake has a chance of being 100 percent effective.

Swim Mechanics: There are a few keys to think about in each and every swim stroke you take. First, power is generated through the roll of your hips from side to side and not specifically by pulling hard with the arms. You can gain a physical understanding of this concept by using only one arm for a length and then using the other one when you come back. The only way you will do more than a flop across the pool is if you generate power by rolling or whipping the hips as you pull underwater.

The next consideration is the position of the arms relative to each other at the beginning of the pull. Today’s top swimmers are doing what is called a half-catch-up stroke. In this, you leave your extended hand out in front until the hand of the recovering arm is about in line with your head. At that point the pulling arm goes into action. If this is a tough skill for you to master, you can get it by first doing a complete catch-up stroke where you do not start your pull until the recovery arm taps your extended hand. From there you can gradually reduce the amount of time you wait until you figure out the half-catch-up.

Pull efficiency: What happens underwater is the most important element affecting swim efficiency. Dropping your elbows or creating bubbles around your hands leads to a pull that just doesn’t generate much power. To supercharge your underwater efficiency, do a few laps with your hands clenched in fists. At first you will feel as if you are swimming with an infant’s arms attached to your body, but you will eventually get the hang of it. And then, when you open your hands again … watch out, Michael Phelps!

Bike Mechanics: Nothing develops your pedaling mechanics and spin efficiency like spending time on a stationary trainer. Make sure you use your tri bike with aerobars and a trainer with resistance. Start with your normal warm-up and then get into the aero position. Gradually increase the gears while keeping your cadence at the ideal training cadence of 90 to 95 rpm. If you don’t have a cadence monitor on your bike, get one now! This can help you improve your efficiency more than any other device you could put on your bike. Raise the gears every five minutes, but keep your cadence constant (don’t let it drop) until you cannot go into a bigger gear without the cadence falling. And don’t feel bad when your cadence does fall: The big gear always wins!

After 15 to 30 minutes of regular riding, it’s time for your real efficiency drill. Pedal with one leg at a time for five to 10 minutes. Stabilize your other foot on a box or chair. Do this drill in the aero position. If you have big issues with your pedal stroke, they will come up here but will also get corrected. Make sure to pedal normally for five to 10 minutes with both legs at the end to remind your brain that you have two sides that need to work in tandem.
Running Mechanics. Triathletes as a whole are over-striders. In short, fast races, this issue may not show up visually. But in a longer race, when fatigue really sets in, each time your foot hits the ground heel first, it’s like your body’s brakes are put on until your center of gravity moves forward of the midfoot and you can finally hit the gas again.

There is a very easy way to correct this problem: Run barefoot. Go to a track, take your shoes and socks off and run a lap or two. You will immediately notice that you land right about at your midfoot, which is ideal. You will also feel how you land lighter on your feet and spend less time on the ground, getting off your foot more quickly. When you put your shoes back on, try to recall these sensations and run the same way with your shoes on. You can practice this drill a couple of times a week until the correct stride and foot-strike placement become second nature.

Next up, Allen explains the importance of understanding the ranges of motion your body goes through in each sport.

Mark Allen is the six-time winner of the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii and is available for speaking engagements worldwide. For further information about Mark’s speaking availability, please call 1-800-994-5306. Based in Santa Cruz, Calif., Mark has a state-of-the-art online triathlon-training program at In addition, Mark co-teaches a workshop titled Fit Soul, Fit Body with Brant Secunda, a shaman, healer and ceremonial leader in the Huichol Indian tradition. They have recently released a book by this same name that you can find at bookstores near you or on (Fit Soul, Fit Body-9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You).

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