To Drill or Not to Drill?

This is the question many triathletes ask themselves at this time of year. When reading the different articles on the “off-season” at this time of year the most common advice is to work on a weakness. Most triathletes will immediately think of the swim leg. Since 2011, I have spent the months of November & December working on the “traditional” aspects of “improving technique.” Below is my short discourse on technique/swim mechanics being incorporated into practice for age group triathletes.

A couple of things to preface this article-

1-There is nothing that can replace working with a coach on deck that has triathlon or open water coaching experience. Swimming in pool events is different from coaching triathletes or open water swimmers.

2-Most triathletes and adult onset swimmers need to be careful with using power producing or drag increasing equipment. Examples are paddles, an ankle band, an Eney Buoy with any water inside or a parachute. My prerequisites for using these type of equipment are a swim history-defined as swimming consistently for at least 3x/week for 48-50 weeks per year for at least 2-3 years or swimming faster than 1:30/100 yards or having grown up swimming in high school or college. Even still, there is nothing can replace the advice and watchful eye of a knowledgeable open water swim coach.

Here is a short list of what I think the drawbacks of working on traditional technique & drills are:

1-The lack of athletic awareness of where their body is in the water as well as individual parts of their body. For example, when trying describe to people to push water with their palm towards the opposite wall from the direction they are going I frequently see swimmers pushing water upwards. No matter how I try to phrase this I cannot elicit the change in hand position that I would like.

2-Does two months of working on technique elicit the changes needed to make a difference in technique? Does three? My guess is no.

3-People expect that with “better” technique comes faster swim times or ease of swimming. *Perhaps* over time-but definitely not right away.

4-As my mentor Tower 26 coach Gerry Rodrigues has talked about endlessly, the AG triathlete simply does not have the time to swim 5-7x/week to incorporate daily/weekly technique work. And even if they could-is it the best use of their time?

5-Is there a transfer of technique/drill work to their swimming when they start swimming a set of 10×100(or insert set here) on a set interval at 80-85% or high aerobic effort or race pace effort? Again-I don’t think so. At that point, the athlete is only trying to make the interval without getting completely out of breath.

Do I see any good points about working with drills at any time during the season? The thought is that doing drills can provide a mental( a huge component) and physical break from regular training. Instead of interval training or having that Ironman swim in the back of your mind as you log swim after swim, there is a relaxation that an athlete can “just swim” to focus on one or two points of their stroke.  

Copyright © 2016 Todd Larlee

A Perspective on Our Training

As we start the beginning of March I thought it would be a good time to chat about our purpose of the workouts at this time of year. We are in a phase I like to call “General Preparation.” You may have heard this phase called “Base” or “Aerobic Endurance.” In a periodization model, we are working from a perspective of general fitness towards specific fitness for our particular race. If that race is an Olympic distance race the training is a bit different compared to an athlete training for an Ironman. At this time of year, we are working on building all types of fitness from low aerobic fitness or zone 1-2 to high end fitness commonly referred to as zone 5. As we work at this time of year we have an eye on what the first races of the year are for each athlete as well as the races through the year that are the “A” races.

On Saturday April 16 we will host a Pool-Open Water Swim Event at the Cape Elizabeth High School Pool. For the two weeks prior to the event we switch our focus to incorporate an introduction to open water skills such as swimming in a group, contact among swimmers, sighting and drafting as well as many others. This open water skill phase will go for the next two to four weeks depending on how the athletes progress and pick up the various skills.

Following this open water skill phase we will start to work in the “Specific Preparation” phase. In this phase we look towards specific races such as the Sebago Lake Triathlon, Peaks to Portland Open Water swim, the Casco Bay Otillo and others throughout the year. In the pool, open water, bike and run we will start to make every workout focused on making every athlete ready for their competition. The goal of this phase is to get the athlete ready for that Sprint, Olympic, half-Ironman or Ironman distance triathlon. This phase will last through the summer to one of the pinnacles of our sport-Ironman Hawaii World Championships in Kona. I look forward to seeing everyone through the year!

Copyright © 2016 Todd Larlee

Oh the seasons they are a-changin’: Winter Words of Wisdom

Stealing a line from a Bob Dylan song-if you have have been training for triathlon for most of the year the Ironman World Championships and Xterra Maui Championships mark the unofficial end of the triathlon season. So what to do now? The best way to spend the end of October to the end of December is with unstructured and unplanned training. It is easier to keep at it a bit through November & December than to take off for two months then get back into it in January or February. Depending on what you have done for training and racing through the year as well as 2016 goals will dictate the amount of time that the athlete will need to take off. Here is a general breakdown of each sport. -swimming: In our workouts at the Cape Elizabeth High School pool, we will be changing the complexity of the workouts.

  • The intervals will get slower. For example, if a lane usually swims 100 yards on 1:30, that interval will be dialed back to 1:40 or 1:45.
  • Technique work: We will do some drills in the water but there will still be a workout for each group.
  • Body tightness: By using swim toys more at this time of year we will work on putting the triathlete’s body in a good position while swimming.
  • Alignment: Through the snorkel, buoy & band triathletes will swim learning to keep their body in one straight line while moving through the water.
  • More non-freestyle strokes: Using butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke throughout the workout.
  • Education & implementation: Learning to use the pace clock, lane etiquette & getting the pace right for different distances.


  • Get out, grab your friends and have some fun riding. No need for time frames or metrics. Go hard if you want or don’t!
  • Practice good posture on our bike. Good habits now breed a good set up when training kicks back in.
  • Do some cyclo-cross or mountain biking.


  • The first two points from cycling can apply to running.
  • Running takes the biggest toll on the body. Take some time off.
  • When running-run tall. Cue into other good habits to make them automatic by 2016.


  • Take classes you normally wouldn’t. Whether it is a yoga, pilates or a boot camp class. Go out and do something new.
  • Let loose a bit. Triathletes are known for being a bit serious. About everything. Have fun. Splurge. Spend time with family & friends. Eat ice cream. Everyday. I recommend Gelato Fiasco.
  • Get some rest. Take care of yourself and the people around you.

Heather and I are looking forward to our first full winter here in Maine-snowshoeing, cross country skiing and maybe some fat biking!

Copyright © 2016 Todd Larlee