by Coach Steve

If your goal is the get the most speed from yourself possible, being fit and energetic is not enough; you also need to perfect your form. Endurance athletes need to move well, smoothly and efficiently. Anyone who's struggled with swim form knows the challenge of making a change—and the benefit once you finally get it.

There are very few 'naturals'—athletes who move efficiently without thinking about form. I've watched kids' running races and there are certainly some naturals out there. In fact some of us had the best form we'll ever have as a kid sprinting around the yard playing with our friends. Then we grow up; with a few more pounds, and after a few injuries, things change. What was once natural must be re-learned as an adult.

Unlike running, I find that swim and cycling form rarely comes naturally. These are movements we must learn from scratch because the body positions and movements are unlike anything else we do in our daily lives.

Form work takes time. Perfecting your form in a particular discipline first, before undertaking endurance training is the optimal order of events, but it rarely happens this way. Many I coach don't have patience for it, but when you've reached peak cardiovascular fitness levels, improving form may be the only way to go faster. The majority of endurance athletes by nature are long on energy and short on patience, hence my term: OED (Obsessive Exercise Disorder). Yes it's a 'tongue in cheek' term, and a rip-off on OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), but let's face it, many of you would (already have) put training at the top of your priority list. You'll have to sacrifice some training time to work on form.

It's a fact that athletes don't all have the same kinesthetic feel. We don't all have the same ability to feel the difference between good form and bad, therefore changes come easily for some and can be a struggle for others. Everyone can affect a change though, sometimes it just takes awareness that there was a form flaw; sometimes it takes months of drills, but it's always worth it.

So what is good form, and how do you know if you have it? How do you make positive changes? Below are some key points by discipline. Do an honest self-analysis to see how you measure up. Have a coach who knows their stuff take a look and give you some feedback. But keep in mind that reaching elite levels as an athlete does not necessarily indicate the ability to analyse movement effectively and coach. If you can find a coach who's 'been there' and knows exactly how they 'got there' that's your best bet.

Swim

Body Position:
Your body is horizontal with legs near surface.
Your head is low with just a sliver showing above the waterline.
You move forward with no side-to-side motion, or vertical movement.

Technique:
Your hand enters the water not far in front of your head and goes to a depth of about one foot.
Your arm is extended but your elbow is not locked out front.
You begin the pull by flexing your wrist and pulling toward your body, not by pushing down toward bottom of pool.
Your elbow is higher than your wrist at beginning of stroke.
Your elbow is bent at about 90 degrees as you pull your body over your arm.
You push all the way back as your wrist pronates.

Feel:
You feel smooth and powerful moving through the water with the least possible resistance; your lats are tired at end of workout.

Bike

Body Position:
Your foot is parallel with ground with leg fully extended and crank arm in line with bike's seat tube. (more detail)
In aero position your back is flat, as close as possible to parallel with the ground.
Your forearms are level on aerobars.
Your elbows are bent at 90-110 degrees as viewed from the side.

Technique:
Your upper body is relaxed and doesn't move.
Your elbows are slightly bent when not in aero position so they give some spring action over bumps, and elbows are bent back, not out.
Your knees stay close to top tube when you pedal.
Your feet stay at approximately a 90 degree angle relative to lower leg through pedal stroke to maximize leverage.

Feel:
You feel the power coming from quads, glutes, and hamstrings while your upper body is relaxed and not contributing energy until you get out of the saddle.

Run

Body Position:
Your posture is upright, leading with your chest, shoulders back.
Your torso is bent slightly forward from the waist.
Your head is over your shoulders, not forward.

Technique:
Your feet hit the ground under your body, not far out front.
The mid part of your foot hits the ground first, not heel.
Arm motion should be relaxed, forward and back, not crossing body.

Feel:
You feel light on your feet with a minimum of impact with each stride; your upper body is relaxed with arms moving to aid balance.

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