We're delighted to welcome Fix's Sam Burch to the site. Sam is an osteopath with some really useful advice...
As an osteopath who takes part in triathlon events i am often asked which are the potential mechanical problem areas for symptom development in triathlon and how can they be prevented.
With the Capital Tri Splash and Dash Aquathlon on May 17th in mind I will offer my thoughts on the swim-run combination and in particular how to avoid the common neck, shoulder and calf issues that can result particularly in beginners.
Bodies like gradual exposure to environmental and physiological stress to allow adaption. This is the case for training in general and especially in a new activity. We are well programmed to adapt to our environment via evolution and also minute-to minute throughout our life through homeostatic processes. However, it takes time for our systems to adapt well to a specific task hence the need for solid preparation and gradual exposure. In this case primarily of the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. In this regard nothing beats exposure to the exact activities involved in the event: an open water swim followed by a run when mildly fatigued post swim. Seasoned triathletes bodies will be well prepared through repetition over time. This advice will be of more use to competitors who are new to this type of event.
The Capital Tri Splash and Dash in Stoke Newington Reservoir is a great event to cut your teeth on. It is well organised and friendly with a clear swim course and space to swim in away from a bunch if necessary. In the May event though it will be cold and therefore experience of swimming with a wetsuit is essential. Most prefer a wetsuit swim due to the obvious benefits of added buoyancy and therefore energy conservation and increased speed through reduced resistance of the water. It does require some practice though as the higher position in the water can create a different stress to shoulders and neck. Coupled to this is the necessity to sight your route by lifting your head intermittently to look forward and spot buoys. This can be easily practiced in a pool with or without a wetsuit and the preparation will strengthen your neck and shoulder muscles prior to the event making it more comfortable. Many examples of sighting technique can be found online but essentially you can either: sneak a look forward in-between breaths by raising your eyes when facing forward; or while breathing to the side by continuing to raise your head as you re-enter the water with the arm you just took a breath under. Do yourself a great and simple favour by buying some lube such as ‘Bodyglide’ to reduce the unavoidable chaffing of the neck on the wetsuit as you sight.
Open water swimming often benefits from a horizontal hand entry to the water rather than oblique thumb first entry. This capitalises on the extra buoyancy form the wetsuit and higher arm position to allow for a more rapid catch and pull from the forearm. It also reduces stress to the rotator cuff musculature of the shoulder so is good for people who have a history of problems here. A good example of this technique can be found at http://www.swimsmooth.com including a great ‘Mr Smooth’ swimmer technique animation.
Nothing beats practice in a wetsuit and in Hackney we are spoilt to have the London Fields Lido and Stoke Newington Reservoir open water sessions available to us to facilitate this. Timetables for the open water session at Stoke Newington can be found on their website but an induction session must be booked at a small charge before being set loose for training. Practice in open water will allow for more relaxation and enjoyment on competition day as the lack of underwater visual cues can be disorientating when inexperienced. Swimming when relaxed means less oxygen consumption and therefore less fatigue as well and also less panicked sighting which reduces neck and shoulder stress.
The run component in itself is all very well but immediately after a swim in the colder waters of May can be problematic, for the calves in particular. The horizontal position of the body in water temporarily reduces blood supply to the calves, which are normally helped by gravity and their relative position underneath us. The blood supply is further reduced by the bodies adaption to cold. In a cold environment blood is shunted to the core away from extremities to conserve heat. Added to this the more proximal hip and shoulder muscles which are more active in swimming will take priority for remaining blood supply. This can leave calves open to cramping on initial running when out of the water. One way to try to encourage more blood to the distal legs is by kicking a little harder for the last minute of a swim. Some competitors like to wear long socks or compression calf guards in a colder event to try to retain heat in the calves and support a good circulation with gentle compression. Calf compression guards have the added benefit of being warn under a wetsuit to allow speedy transition and heat retention while swimming.
Practice running immediately after a swim in training to get the feel of it. Practice a shorter stride initially to reduce impact in the calves landing more lightly on the feet. Also experiment with more of a heel or mid-foot strike initially until warmed up. Essentially don't go balls out straight from the water until you feel warmed up as a bad cramp can lead to a calf tear. Regular exposure to swim-run sessions in training will allow for experience in initial run technique and for your calf muscle and blood supply to adapt to the strain.
As in all sport ‘practice makes perfect’ and makes for a much more enjoyable event. We are spoilt in Hackney by some fantastic facilities and triathlon clubs to engage with prior to the event so use and enjoy them.
Please remember our approachable team at Fix are here to support you on your journey and advise you on any health issues you may have. We have osteopaths, physiotherapists, acupuncturists and massage therapists in our number to offer support and a nutritionist to advise on fuelling strategies.
Fix are offering 10% off treatments to all our entrants - just quote your race booking reference when you get in touch.