Author Archives: Kyle Leto

Robot Freestyle Drill

The “Robot Freestyle” is a drill that is designed to help you focus on swimming with a high elbow. It is essentially swimming normal freestyle but with several pauses during the stroke (as a robot would move).

Start this new drill in the same position that you used during the “Side-Kicking Drill with a Twist”. In that drill your arm is extended straight into the air as you kick down the pool on your side. By starting in this position, you are putting your elbow at the highest possible point. Now with the extended arm, keep your elbow in place and slowly bring your hand towards your head. Then slowly enter the water with your hand as you rotate to your other side. Be sure to create pauses while performing this drill: 1) when your hand is fully extended out of the water, 2) just before your hand enters the water, and 3) before you lift your arm out of the water on the other side.

By performing this drill you are forcing your hand to enter when your elbow is in its highest position. This drill should be performed continuously from side to side throughout the length of the pool. After several laps, the drill should be followed by swimming normal freestyle with an emphasis on having a high elbow.

Executing this drill with a swimmer’s snorkel can add an even greater benefit. The drill is fairly complicated and the snorkel will remove the breathing aspect as you swim. Therefore you will be able to focus on what the drill is designed to help with: swimming with a high elbow.

- Kyle


Freestyle Side-Kicking Drill with a Twist

I am sure most of you have done the basic side-kicking drill during a swim workout. This common drill works on body position by having one arm extended out in front and the other arm lying flat at your side. As you are now well aware, we are constantly rotating from one side to the other while swimming freestyle. This drill helps perfect your rotation and side body position.

To make this drill a little more difficult and beneficial I am going to add a little twist. In the same side-kicking position, extend the arm that was lying on your side up into the air. For example, if you are kicking on your left side with your left arm stretched out in the water, you are going to have your right arm extended straight into the air, perpendicular with your body.

The arm extended out of the water is going to put much more weight over the center of your body, thus making it much more difficult to maintain your body position. You will start to feel your upper body sink into the water. You will need to counteract this sinking by trying to find a new balance point. Contract your oblique muscles to lift your hips toward the surface of the water and press down on your armpit area with slightly more pressure.

Try to find the right weight distribution that will allow you to maintain this high body position without sinking. Note that you will most likely not be able to maintain this position for an entire lap. Therefore, as you start to feel yourself sink in the water and are unable to maintain a high body position, take a stroke and switch to the other side.

While doing this drill it is perfectly alright to take several strokes during lap to regain your body position on the opposite side. The goal of the drill is to perfect your body position and not to just get across the pool as fast as you can.

To review the drill sequence:

1)     Start by kicking on your side with one arm extended out in front and the other resting on your side

2)     Raise your arm that was resting on your side straight out of the water so that it is perpendicular with your body

3)     Kick in this position while maintaining a high body position

4)     As you start to feel your position digress, take a stroke and switch to the other side

5)     Repeat steadily down the pool


- Kyle


Horizontal vs. Vertical Pulling Eliminating the “S” Curve

Recently while coaching my athletes, I realized they were all doing some of the same improper techniques during the pull portion of their stroke. When I asked them how they were taught how to pull their arm underwater, they all responded with some sort of explanation of pulling their arm in an “S” motion. I was astonished to find that all of them had been taught this technique because it is the opposite of what we should be doing during the catch and pull portion of our stroke.

We get most of our forward propulsion in the water during the pull phase of our stroke.  We use our hands and forearm as a paddle, and we generate power by pulling our arm VERTICALLY down our body. I emphasize the word vertically because any movement away from that vertical plane does not result in forward propulsion in the water. Therefore, a movement such as an “S” curve that has some horizontal motion will not result in what we are trying to accomplish which is moving forward in the water.

The thought behind the “S” curve in the freestyle stroke comes from watching a swimmer underwater. While the swimmer is rotating their hips and pulling it appears as if their hand is making an outward motion. While in fact their hand is pulling in a straight line under their body. Any motions outward would move the swimmer sideways in the water, which is certainly not the intention.

A tool that can be helpful in practicing this vertical pulling technique is the Freestyler Hand Paddle. The paddle is shaped like a triangle and has a ridge on the bottom. While using this paddle, focus on pulling your arm in a straight line under your body. Do not grip the sides of the paddle to prevent the paddle from slipping out from under your hand. If you feel the paddle moving out from under your hand that means that you are not pulling in a straight line. This paddle gives you instant feedback on whether or not you are keeping your arm and hand straight while you are catching and pulling water under your body.

- Kyle


Train More Efficiently with SWOLF

Swimming for a triathlon and swimming competitively as a single sport have some very key intrinsic differences. The biggest difference is after a single swim at a competitive swim meet, you want to be exhausted at the end of that effort; whereas when swimming in a triathlon, you still need to bike and run after you get out of the water. This inherent difference between the two swims effects the way that we train for swimming for a triathlon versus swimming as a singular event.

Because we are going to bike and run after our swim in a triathlon we want to make sure that we are conserving energy throughout the swim. By no means do we want to be going easy, but we do want to be swimming efficiently. So we are going as fast as we can while maintaining a certain level of efficiency with each stroke. By swimming with efficiency we are conserving our energy for the demands of the remainder of the race.

The more you swim you might feel a point where you may be able to go slightly faster, but it takes much more energy to do so. A simple example of this might be that you feel you can repeat 21 seconds per length rather easily. So it might be slightly more challenging to hold 20 seconds a length. And if you try to go 19 or 18 seconds a length, you are expending much more energy to hold this pace.

Because the swim in triathlon is relatively short compared to the other distances, the time lost between swimming at a pace of 1:30 per hundred versus 1:20 per hundred can easily be made up later in the race; assuming that while we were swimming a 1:30 pace we were swimming efficiently. DISCLAIMER: This theory does not hold true if our stroke at our race pace is not efficient.

A swim set that focuses on efficient swimming that I like to use in my own training is a game that we play called “Swim Golf” or “SWOLF”.  This set can be done in increments of 1 or 2 lengths. I will give the example for a 1 length for reference…

The first swim that you do will be your baseline score. You compute your score by adding the amount of strokes you took for the lap plus the time it took you to swim that length. (15 strokes + 20 seconds = 35)

The goal of the set is to decrease you score throughout. Just like in golf, the lower the score the better. For example if you did the set as 3 x 25 and your first score was 35, then you would want your second 25 to be less than a score of 35, and your third 25 to be a score below your second score. (Scores by 25 = 35, 34, 33)

The trick is to decrease your score by keeping the same number of strokes as your first repeat, but to decrease your time the set:

  • 1st 25 Score = 15 strokes + 20 seconds = 35
  • 2nd 25 Score = 15 strokes + 19 seconds = 34
  • 3rd 25 Score = 15 strokes + 18 seconds = 33

Base Training in the Correct Heart Rate Zone

Now is an important time of the year for triathlon training. During the winter months it is very important to focus on what is called “base training”. Base training involves doing workouts in a specific heart rate zone, primarily with a heart rate cap for a given workout. During base training we are trying to focus on working our slow oxidative muscle fibers. To work solely on this metabolic system, we need to workout in the corresponding heart rate range.

An easy and accurate way to calculate what your maximum heart rate (HR MAX) should be is to subtract your age from 220. Then take 80% of this HR MAX to find what your heart rate cap should be for base training workouts:

HR MAX = 220 – (age)

Heart Rate Cap for Base Training = HR MAX x 0.8

It is important to stay in this base training heart range for whatever workout you are doing. For some, this might seem like a fairly low heart rate. However, STAY WITHIN THE ZONE. Over a period of a few weeks, you will start to see that you can workout faster and longer at the same heart rate than when you started. For example, if at the given heart rate you are swimming repeat 100s your pace might start at 1:45/100 yards.  After a few weeks you will start to see that pace drop significantly and you might be holding a 1:30 pace for 100 repeats at the same heart rate. You will see the same results for run and bike paces at your given heart rate.

By working on your base training you are able to workout at faster paces without recruiting other muscle fibers that fatigue quicker. This phase of training is termed “base” training because it is the base on which you will build all of our racing and speed training on top of. A strong base allows you to maintain your fitness while you focus on speed work leading up to the racing season.

- Kyle


Clearwater 70.3 Recap and Tips on Racing Strategies

My first full season as a professional triathlete came to a close at the 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, Florida. This race was my first World Championships event and for that reason I was excited, overwhelmed, and very prepared. Just as I put in the time training leading up to the event, I made sure I focused on getting enough rest before the race. This was the first triathlon in my career that I felt I truly tapered for and after the weeks of hard training and a season long of racing, I felt rested for the first time. It reminded me of my college swimming days leading up to our conference meet. The excitement and nervous energy combined with the extra rest made me very anxious. I was determined to use that anxious energy in a positive way on race day.

On the day of the race I felt ready. I had a game plan and I knew what I needed to do. I knew that I was prepared physically to have the best race of my career. The swim for the race ended up being a wetsuit swim with the new rule change from the WTC (76 degree cut off for professionals to wear wetsuits…a very warm temperature in my opinion). I was determined to take the swim out fairly hard and I wanted to be first out of the water. I did just that and led the entire swim, was first into transition, and was first out on the bike course. My plan was to stay at the front of the race but not lead the race. I knew that it would take much more energy to lead the race than it would to stay in the front pack. This is where my inexperience got the best of me and my deviation from my race strategy changed my entire race.

While the bike portion of a half ironman is non drafting, (the rule states that you must be 9 meters or roughly 30 feet away from the person in front of you) it is much easier to stay within a bike pack. Even at the required distance, you can still get somewhat of a draft off the person in front of you. It is also less mentally straining to stay in a pack and react to other racers than set the pace. I knew all of this yet I still led the race for the first 40 miles of the bike. I would be passed by someone and then I would have to slow down while they were in front of me. I decided that I could go faster if I was in the front, but I should have known that everyone was just pacing off of whoever was leading the race, regardless of what pace he was going. Therefore, the whole race was going at the pace that I was setting. I finally realized that this was not a good plan around mile 40 and fell back into the group, but by this point I had already done the damage to my legs.

Even with the effort I put on the bike, I still knew that I would have a good run. I put in way too much time training to not have a solid run. When we came off the bike I was in the middle of the front pack and started running well; right on my race pace.  However, this did not last long. The pace was a little fast after my extended bike effort, and I had to settle into a slower pace. Although I was still on pace to run a decent half marathon, my pace was much slower than the pace of the other athletes and I was losing places rapidly. Because of the tactics that the other athletes applied, they were fresher going into the run. Although I knew I was going to have a PR in the 70.3 distance, I knew that I was losing way too many positions to accomplish my overall goal.

I ended up finishing the race in 22nd place. A bit off my goal, but I learned some very valuable experience in this race that I want to pass on. In a race of this distance it can be more important to follow YOUR OWN race strategy and not the strategy of the other athletes. Triathlon is a very individual sport. You spend hours upon hours training at your pace or your heart rate zone. When it comes to race day, you have no idea how the other athletes around you have been preparing or what their race strategies might be.  The best advice I can give after my experience is race the best race that YOU are capable of. You spend way too much effort and time training to make a small mistake on race day that can change the entire outcome of your race. Race a hard and smart race to the best your abilities and you are going to have a great day.

- Kyle


Silent Swimming is Over! Using Music for Motivation

I had the opportunity to swim with the SwiMP3 for the first time last weekend.  I was doing my usual open water swim practice but there was one big difference…I had music!  While swimming endless laps in high school and college, my teammates and I talked about how nice it would be to have music to listen to while we were swimming (instead of humming the chorus of random songs that would get stuck in our heads). Now I will be swimming in silence no more!

If you frequently train with music while you bike, run, or hit the gym, then you will love swimming with music. Music can help you get in a rhythm during a workout, and the SwiMP3 certainly allows you to get into a groove in the water with whatever tunes you desire.

Because the SwiMP3 attaches to your goggles, an item that you train with anyway, you can comfortably use the waterproof MP3 player in all the different types of your workouts.  For example, my personal preference is to not listen to music while I am running hard intervals on the track; but that is mainly because I don’t like having to carry something while I am running hard. I now plan on listening to music for all of my open water training sessions and also for my drill/technique specific sessions in the pool.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I highly recommend training in open water.  Depending on the distance of the race that you are training for, those open water sessions can become fairly long in duration. Swimming for an hour straight with not much to look at can become fairly monotonous or downright boring! If you fall in this category, then music will definitely help you stay focused for a longer period of time, allowing you to maximize your open water training. The swimming silence has been broken!



Pool Swimming vs. Open Water Swimming

There is a big fundamental difference between open water swimming and pool swimming and it involves not being able to push off a wall in large bodies of water.  If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to train in a 50 meter pool, then you are probably only able to actually swim “long” course for a few months out the year.  Therefore the majority of swim training is done in a short 25 yard/meter pool which, if you account for push offs, means we are really only “swimming” around 20 yards/meters per lap. On top of that, we are resting and breaking our stroke every time we make a turn at the wall.

For these reasons, I believe we get a huge aerobic fitness benefit by utilizing some open water swim sessions. Not only are we now swimming continuously for a given period of time (like we will be when we are doing a triathlon or open water race), but we are also able to improve open water techniques such as sighting or pacing (

A good way to break up the monotony of swimming straight for a long period time is to practice surging. Swim for a short period of time (around 2 minutes or so) at race pace.  While you are surging, find an object (tree or buoy) to practice sighting towards.  When your race-pace interval is over, swim easily for the same time duration. This exercise allows you to practice the surging that often occurs in an open water swim.

By utilizing open water swim sessions in training, swimming straight for long periods of time will seem less foreign when we get to race day. The frequency of open water swim sessions will depend on the availability you have to a lake, river, or ocean. I aim to get one open water swim session in per week to help me stay race ready.

- Kyle


Swim more Efficiently by Establishing a Neutral Body Position

I have spent most of my life in the pool. For this reason I have had about 20 years to develop a good stroke, but I am still trying to make changes and become a more efficient swimmer. For most triathletes this is not the norm. Most come from a non-aquatic background and you are trying to figure out your stroke for the first time. My professor in my motor learning class at UC Davis once told us that it takes a million repetitions for a specific movement to become what is considered learned. If you average 20 strokes a lap that would be 50,000 laps or 1,250,000 yards before your Freestyle stroke would become a learned movement. Now because most of us don’t plan on swimming that far in the course of our lives, let alone while we are training for a race, there are some specific things that we need to work on in the pool to maximize our ability to swim the Freestyle stroke.

As we are moving towards the off season for triathlon we have a great opportunity to revisit our Freestyle stroke before we need to work on our aerobic base. Over the course of the next few weeks I will be going over a few key areas of Freestyle in order to help you get the most out of your swim training.

If you are a triathlete that has a strong background in cycling or running, your race strategy is probably to get through the swim and then start your race. There is certainly nothing wrong with this strategy, and therefore your swim should be as efficient as possible so that you can minimize the amount of energy used in the water. The first step to becoming a more efficient swimmer is establishing the correct body position, and we are going to go back to the basics here: floating.

Once you have established the “neutral” body position, I recommend doing a few laps of kicking on your stomach using the Alignment Kickboard and the Swimmer’s Snorkel. Using the board and snorkel will allow you to find that ideal position without having to lift your head to breath. Kick with a steady, moderate kick while doing this drill. You can also do this exercise using the Z2 Zoomers for some added propulsion.