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Stimulus training for the off season

Updated: Jul 10, 2021

While many North American and European pros have migrated to warmer weather for either training or early season racing, the trisutto squad are bunkering down in the Engadin mountains to do stimulus work on their weakest leg of triathlon.

I’m sometimes subject to veiled (and not so veiled) criticism about how much racing my athletes do. However, it’s rarely mentioned how much of an extended break I give the squad before they even toe the start line when beginning a new year.

I believe an extended off season is golden. Not because it gives us time to do more and more of the training we already did through the year, but because it affords us the opportunity to have a specific focus on each of the individual disciplines and place them in a program that will allow us to maintain an advantage in our stronger legs while improving our weaknesses.

Given that the temperature was -22 degrees in St Moritz yesterday, it will come as little surprise that we are using the next three weeks to focus on swim stimulus. The sports centre is 28 degrees, as is the water, and we’re able to mix our workouts with X-country skiing and some light treadmill running. It’s a fantastic change of scenery and while some will call this cross-training, I like to think of it as refreshing the body and mind before a new season.

Since we started our winter camp I’ve been asked frequently by age-group athletes and onlookers: ‘When do you do your distance stuff? I’ve been watching your guys swim and it doesn’t seem to be that long. Where are the “killer” sets and aerobic conditioning?’

Firstly, it’s not long because the key word over our current training bloc is ‘stimulus’. Most of the work is therefore drills, but with a different emphasis of what a swim drill is. Our focus during these periods is to do work that stimulates great technique (through use of paddles, pull-buoy and resistance chord) and concentrate on making each arm stroke a great arm stroke.

Now is my favourite time of the year to coach, as it should be for athletes to train, as you have time to try different things for individual strokes without the pressure of racing. This is not just for swimming, but for the bike and run also.

Within our pro group we also have a set stimulus workouts, so that when I’m not there my athletes can follow and repeat. After being asked about it so often I’ve structured a less complicated but still challenging version for age groupers should they wish to follow and copy.

The main point I want to make with them is this: If we are hitting the water two times a day every second day then we don’t need to do the big miles because our arms, if we are taking the good strokes, will be dead.

During this time only every 3rd session is swum as a normal swim set. The other two sessions are a mixture of 25 metre efforts, 17.5 metre efforts and a lot of 15 metres hard 10 metres easy type sets. We also do a bunch of what we call in swimming HVOs – high velocity overloads. The distance of these little gems is 10 metres or sometimes only just 13 strokes. This may explain why onlookers are sometimes confused when they see the Olympic champ swimming sets that look like they were designed for the kids lane.

As mentioned, during this time we use all shapes and sizes of paddles and pull-buoy, and stretch chords (2 metre, 3 metre and 10 metres) which we use for resistance training. This way we can achieve Total Body Force swimming through a set of drills. The key element of the session is to get the motion with the swim equipment before taking it off and implementing in a swim set. We do this again and again, mixing it up so it doesn’t get boring.

I’ll leave you with this morning’s work out as a New Year’s present, as I believe it is worth its weight in gold and takes so little time to complete:

10 minutes of 15 metres fast (all out) 10 metres easy. (Paddles) 10 minutes of stretch chord, swimming against it until stationary and then floating back. 10 minutes straight swim (no equipment) transitioning the good strokes into our race “boat”. 5 minutes rest then we do it all again.

1 hour and we’re done. We’ll come back in the afternoon and do 30 minutes of 25 metre dive sprints (one third fast swim, two thirds rest). That’s all.

The day after we may swim 6km with plenty of aerobic function as a reminder of the real world, but it doesn’t change the fact that the off-season needs to provide stimulus to our weakest disciplines in a way that still refreshes us for the race season. To do that well you have to be innovative.

Please view our new Stimulus Programs here.

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