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The three “F”s of successful triathlon training and racing are fun, fitness and form. We have discussed fitness and fun. To perform and feel...

The three “F”s of successful triathlon training and racing are fun, fitness and form. We have discussed fitness and fun. To perform and feel better during and after each swim, bike and run, as well as putting it all together for a successful triathlon race now and into the future, form is the key.  

For Performance

During training and racing, a triathlete needs to think about form as a triathlete. Proper form for a triathlete spans the entire race. What you do in the swim affects the run.  What you do on the bike affects the swim and run, and vice versa.  

Plan ahead with muscle and muscle group usage. As a private swim coach, I have worked with some really great, fast runners that say to me, “I am a good runner, but I just can’t seem to put together a good run at the end of a triathlon.”  

Usually these athletes run their half marathon a good 10-15 minutes slower in a triathlon than they do in a straight half marathon. When I watch them in the pool, these runners usually have their heads up very high most of the time, and are using their lower back and hamstrings way too much. Swimming a mile with your head up not only equals a slower swim time, it also means that by the time you even begin the run, your lower back and hamstrings “” the muscles most used in the run “” are fatigued. The lesson here is swim with your upper body and a relaxed neck. Save your neck for the bike and lower body for the run.  

Improper form can also close down lung function. When you are the most tired or anxious, focus on your form. During a race or a difficult training, when you are tired or feeling down, your first instinct will be to double over and walk. Doubling over is exactly the opposite of what you want to do. Keeping your arms bent less than 90 degrees and your shoulders open, especially during those last few miles of the run, will open your chest cavity, expand lung capacity, and will give you something on which to focus. You will move forward easier than you imagined.  

For Longevity 

Correct form in the swim, bike and run is critical to stave off injuries, help you perform better during training and racing, and recover better after training and over all. 

Your body is made to move! It is made to be active every day. However, each joint and muscle is made to move a particular way and serve a particular movement function.  Repeatedly forcing your joints and muscles to move in ways not suited can only last for a short period before something breaks or inflames. 

The most important reason to learn and maintain proper form that most people overlook, especially on the run, is to prevent long-term injury or illness. The most common reason people stop being active altogether is joint injuries. Knees, hips and shoulders are most common. These injuries are not from “overuse”, which you may have heard. They are from improper form over time.  

 Don’t run through pain. Pain is a sign that something is wrong. Muscle soreness is good, but pain is bad. If you are hurting anywhere directly after working out, and/or you can’t function in your normal life due to your training, you are moving something wrong.  You may be working out too long and too hard, but most likely you are performing some part of one of the disciplines improperly.

In the next column, we will focus on how to learn proper form, and moreover, how to maintain it. 


Liz Elliott is the head coach of the Tri-Valley Triathlon Club based in Dublin. Liz specializes in preparing beginner triathletes for their first race(s). Liz completed her second Ironman in August, bettering her performance in every aspect of the race. Contact her at Liz@TriValleyTriClub.com. Find the first series of TriSteps columns in issues #28, 31, 33, 35 and 37. All issues can be accessed in the digital magazines archive: Click “digital magazine,” then mouse over the cover image and look for the “menu” item to appear in the bottom right corner.


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