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enduraLAB: Strength in Numbers

So maybe this post is a little late, but sometimes you just have to kick off a project before you're ready. I am super excited to bring you everything you could ever want as an endurance athlete and have recruited some amazing talent/knowledge from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to help me. I stumbled upon a blog from one of our council members that emphasizes why I started enduraLAB. Please give the short post from Dutch Lowy a read and we'll catch back up below.

Over time each coach or trainer will have a style. That style is heavily influenced by their experiences. For example i am a weightlifter and subsequently all of my clients do some weightlifting. If you don’t believe me, ask them… haha!

I would be ineffective as a swim coach because i swim like a rock and don’t have an extensive background in competitive swimming outside of sleeping on the lifeguard stand at 5:30 am. The point is that it would be irresponsible as a coach not to pass someone off that was looking for something outside of my experiences.

It is important to seek new experiences as a coach so you are more versatile. I have attacked this problem from two sides and there is a clearly better and worse way to do it.

Better: Find a new category of exercise/training/sport, find a coach yourself and learn from their experiences and get some new ones yourself.

Worse: Pretend to be an expert and learn as you go guiding someone through a long and winding road to their goals.

Like i said there is clearly a better way to gain new experiences to be used in your coaching. My recommendation is to go find someone that knows very well what you want to accomplish and sit at their feet and soak up all their knowledge. Ask questions and observe how they handle certain situations and you will be a better coach for it.

Strength in numbers. But we've got more than numbers...we've got a council of highly respected specialists with a range of perspectives. Afterall, diversity yields superior outcomes and our collective wisdom exceeds the sum of its parts. We believe that a team of people can find better solutions than brilliant individuals working alone. I have been very lucky to be able to spend the last two weekends with this awesome council and will be introducting them to you very soon. We're planning a very exciting journey and hope that you'll join us!



Tips for the Triathlon Swim

Let’s open the enduraLAB Triathlon Mailbag...

Caleb, a runner and cyclist from Austin, Texas tweets:

“@TriBoomer any advice for entering my first Tri? Olympic distance. I have biking and running down on their own, but have never swam.”

Caleb, by far the most asked questions from aspiring triathletes are about the triathlon swim. Open water swimming with a group of competitors is different than other types of swimming events and whether you’re an experienced pool competitor or a recreational swimmer, you’re going to have to learn a few new skills to perform your best in the open water.

The first piece of advice is to join a group of swimmers or get the help of a coach or experienced swimmer to watch you swim in a pool. Ask them to critique your stroke and show you drills to make it efficient. Their experienced eye will focus on the pillars of good swimming:

  • Body position: Head, neck, spine, hips, and legs aligned.
  • Balance: Chest low in the water, hips and butt high on the surface.
  • Rotation: Chest, torso, hips, and legs turning toward the bottom of the pool simultaneously.
  • Front-quadrant stroke: The outstretched arm begins its pull just prior to the arm coming forward enters the water.
  • Kick from the hips: keeping legs close together, initiate kicks from hips and buttocks.
  • Breathing timing: Exhale while your face is in the water and begin turning your head toward the surface as the stoking arm begins pulling. 

Caleb, just those things alone can keep a new swimmer busy for weeks learning to move up and down a pool lane but because you’re asking for triathlon swimming tips here’s what makes a triathlon different and challenging:

Traffic, navigation, and drafting.

There’s no more striking difference between a triathlon and a pool swim competition than the start.  Unlike in a pool swim meet where swimmers have separate lanes divided by lane ropes, a triathlon begins with swimmers treading water closely next to each other or dashing into the water en mass. Described as rugby in water, each swimmer is trying to make forward progress with legs kicking and arms thrashing next to another. Getting bumped, kicked, and pulled is going to happen and practicing swimming in a group is a key skill to get through those first few seconds of a race.

The only way to become accustomed to the scrum is to practice it with your friends. Go to an open body of water with your buddies and run into the water together, shoulder to shoulder, and swim as hard as you can for twenty strokes and then turn left or right for twenty strokes and finally turn one more time back toward shore together and run back onto land. Or, if your upcoming race is a deep water start, start by treading water with your friends close to each other, somebody yell, “GO!,” and swim in the same direction for twenty strokes changing directions just like described above. If you can’t get to an open body of water then simulate a mass start by getting into a pool lane with at least two others and begin swimming lengths next to, in front of, and behind each other. Do either of these a few times and you’ll quickly become experienced with getting pushed, kicked, and pulled.

If you’re a fast swimmer, start near the front of the pack and you won’t have to swim into slower swimmers ahead of you. If you’re a slower swimmer, start near the back of the pack to avoid the faster swimmers bumping into you from behind. If you’re a middle of the pack swimmer or just don’t like getting touched while swimming, start far off to the side of the pack. You may have to swim a few more yards but you’ll avoid the jostling.

Unlike a pool, there aren’t lines painted on the bottom of oceans, lakes, or rivers and even if there was something on the bottom to navigate by there’s a good chance you wouldn’t be able to see it. Learning how to navigate a triathlon swim not only essential but when done well it can save you time and energy too.

There are four sighting techniques; sight on a buoy, sight on a landmark, sight on other swimmers, and draft off of other swimmers. Practice them all each time you’re in the open water.

Sighting on the buoys is the easiest and most common technique but it’s also the technique that slows you down the most. Lifting your head out of the water to sight causes your torso to lift and hips to fall making your swimming inefficient. To lessen the drag learn to take a quick peek at the buoy while taking a breath or avoid it all together by not looking up as often or practicing other sighting techniques.

Sighting on landmarks beyond and in line with the buoy is a great way to navigate a swim course. This technique is especially effective if the buoy is far away, the waves are big, or if there’s a crowd of swimmers directly in front of you. Find a stationary object in the general direction of the buoy - the closer in line the better - like a large tree or a building and sight on it. 

Chances are the majority of other swimmers are lifting their heads out of the water to sight and you can take advantage of their work by sighting on them instead of a buoy itself. When you take a breath notice what swimmers are lifting their heads and the distance between you and them. Your goal is to swim parallel with them and let them do the hard work of guiding you toward the course markers. Assuming the other swimmers are swimming straight toward the buoy, and you keep the same distance or less between you and them, you’ll get to the buoy at about the same time but you’ll be less fatigued because you swam more efficiently.

Sighting on someone in front of you from their kick and stroke, also known as drafting, is just one more way to keep you swimming straight without lifting your head to sight. Practice finding the kicking bubbles from similar speed swimmers in front of you and get in their stream or position yourself close to their side with your head at about their hip and swim in their wake. Studies show that swimming in the draft saves the aft swimmer about 25% in effort. One word of caution though is to not rely solely on these folks to swim straight. Take a couple of peeks up just to make sure they are going the right way. If they are off course, correct yourself and look for another swimmer and get in their draft zone.

You may be fortunate and swim in clear waters where you can see objects in the water ahead of you in the direction of the buoy. Just like you’d sight on a landmark above ground, you can sight on a rock or other large object under the water. Find your target, swim over it and then look for the next object. If there isn’t one to sight on use one of the other techniques.

Learning to breathe on both sides of your body, also known as bi-lateral breathing, is very useful in open water swimming. Waves and swells can make it difficult to swim if they are coming from the only side you breathe from or if the sun is rising on the same side you could be blinded and forced to over-lift your head to breathe or sight. Practice bi-lateral breathing in both the pool and the open water. Not only will it make you a balanced swimmer it will help you contend with choppy water and blinding light.

Finally, Caleb, a word about your goggles. Be prepared for a sunny or an overcast day by having both clear and tinted goggles ready to wear. Choose goggles with the greatest peripheral vision and use anti-fogging spray to keep them clear. And one last tip; wear your swim cap over the straps of your goggles. You’re less likely to have them knocked off your head by another swimmer. 

Next up from the enduraLAB Triathlon Mailbag: Half-Ironman Tips 

-Post by Brian Brode



Natural RUnning Drills: Jump Rope

-Post by Patton Gleason


Strength Training for the Endurance Athlete

I've talked about how absolutely amazing a 4 minute workout can be and why for most people it is superior. Today I want to talk to those that insist on going long (longer than 30 minutes). I want to quickly clarify that I am talking to the people that are endurance athletes (runners, rowers, cyclists, swimmers etc…).

For those of you that enjoy this type of activity, I am sure you have experienced many of the fun syndromes, tendonitis, tendonosis, and other various overuse injuries. These are the fun parts of endurance and I’m sure something most of you have experienced. I want to talk to you about, what do you do to prevent that injury from happening?

Lets take a deeper look at these sports as a whole and dissect what is happening and how to prevent any future issues. The first point to realize is that your training session consist of tons, I mean TONS of volume. In my world (weightlifting) a decent amount of volume for a day is less than 50 repititions of work sets. For a runner going for a short 2 mile run you may end up with something like 3200 repititions provided your stride is just over 1 yard. You also have to understand that each time your foot hits the ground up to four times the force of your bodyweight is being absorbed by your body. Different running techniques will absorb force differently, but doesn't change the amount of repititons at a shortened range of motion. Consequently, in weightlifting I can barely squat double my bodyweight for more than 5 reps at a time.

So, what happens with all that volume? Not even looking at the pounding your joints are taking, it is a simple physiologic fact that high amounts of volume done at the same training session results in muscle endurance but NOT muscle growth and even a bit of a catabolic (Muscle Breakdown) effect. Everyone knows that if you want big muscles you don’t go run 10 miles right? Provided we have good movement patterns (good running form) you should be able to run to infinity provided we have proper fueling which is another post in itself.

With the above little tidbits in mind it would only make sense that to combat the catabolic effects of endurance training you would want to add in some anabolic (Muscle Building) training. To understand this we have to look at what types of exercise there are.

Exercise can be divided into 3 parts.

1. Strength training (1-6 reps) – Due to the way the muscles are stimulated and the intensity (read this as the amount of weight you can move relative to a maximum effort), this causes muscles to activate and strengthens connective tissue. You can think of the effects as being neurological. Basically your nerves learn how to activate more muscle fibers. I like to explain this by looking at people that are the same lean body mass as your self but can move way more weight. Its not muscle mass, its muscle activation. This is good for endurance athletes.

2. Muscle Hypertrophy (7-15 reps) – The added volume (reps) and reduced load gives the muscles more time under tension (they are active longer) and causes muscles to grow. This is good and commonly what people think about when they think of strength training unless you have a strength related background. The purpose of this training is to stimulate muscle growth and make your muscles bigger. This is good for endurance athletes.

3. Muscle Endurance (16 reps and more) – This is your sport (endurance people). Running, rowing, swimming and biking as we saw above is tons of volume in a repetitive motion and causes catabolism of muscles and is why you rarely see big bulky endurance athletes.

From a pure training standpoint endurance athletes need strength and hypertrophy training. Strength training builds strong connective tissue around the joints and muscles and provides stability in joints. Hypertrophy training counteracts the catabolic effects of endurance training while growing muscle. Muscle mass is important for things other than looks. It is very active in a couple hormonal cascades that are beyond the scope here but trust me, they are very important. The increased muscle activation from strength training allows for better neural recruitment and better running technique (efficiency).

My next post will focus on increasing your range of motion with functional movements and strength training with the purpose of helping you move faster and stay healthy longer.

Interested in learning more about Black Box Fort Worth? Call (817) 841 8678 or email Dutch at to schedule an intro session!


Injuries and Running

One of the most frustrating things in the world is when you have the desire to perform your particular sport, such as running, but your body just won’t let you do it. What sidelines most athletes in their running careers is not a lack of desire, dedication or motivation but those nagging injuries that can never seem never go away. Some of those injuries include disorders such as plantar fascitis, IT band syndrome, trochanteric bursitis, patellar tendonitis or even worse, articular cartilage damage at the ankle and knees. Short of having an actual traumatic injury, it is safe to say that most running injuries may be categorized as “overuse syndromes” with several different etiological origins.

The problem with many endurance training models is that the emphasis is placed on volume, and lots of it, and not quality and lots of it. That is what I love about enduraLAB and its emphasis on providing solid science to support appropriate training models focused on evidence based results to improve endurance performance. So, if most injuries that occur with running are overuse syndromes, how can we avoid or limit our risk to those injuries? The simple answer to that question is, less is more! The focus of any good endurance program should be on the quality of the training and not the volume. Don’t get me wrong, volume is important but not junk miles.

Recognizing the signs of an injury is the first step to insuring that you stay on the road or active in your sport. The general rule of thumb that I use if there is pain, redness, immobility, swelling or heat in any region of the body from performing your sport, and these symptoms persist for more than 24-48 hours, there may be an injury present. What we are really talking about is “inflammation”, whether acute or chronic, which is developed when tissue is injured. These are the signs of inflammation.

The acronym that is used for this is "PRISH" for Pain, Redness, Immobility (loss of function), Swelling and Heat.

I will commonly have patients or fitness clients ask me how to treat a particular injury, but the most important aspect to maintaining a relatively injury free body is prevention first and then recognition of the signs and symptoms of injury. My professional and personal experience is that most athletes neglect their bodies and continue to train for prolonged periods without attention to the injury. Human tissue responds to an injury through primary or secondary intention healing. Our goal should be to treat the injury in the acute stages and avoid a secondary healing model that becomes chronic. Chronically injured tissue is much less responsive to intervention than tissue that is acutely involved and healing through primary intention. Here are some general principles on how to avoid or reduce the risk of injuries.

  1. Support any training with quality nutrition, rest, and recovery
  2. Gradually transition into training and recognize that all human movement within sport can be taught, learned and practiced. Practice the movement of your sport even if it is “just running.”
  3. Acquire quality coaching for evaluation and training intervention to insure your training model and movement is appropriate.
  4. Develop capacity non-related to specific sport to include all fitness domains, i.e./strength, endurance, stamina, power, mobility/flexibility, coordination, balance, agility, accuracy
  5. Focus on quality not quantity 

In the future, we will discuss treatment of specific overuse syndromes and more detail on these principles.


Darin Deaton PT, BSMS PT, OCS,

Riata Therapy Specialists / ZoiFit-CrossFit Fort Worth