Swim Analysis Via Data – A Tridot Check-In

Here lies Axel “Iron Rogue” Kussmann.  Loved by the best of us, barely tolerated by the rest of us.  Drowned in the moonlight, strangled by his own bra died by exhaustion.

This training program may be too much for me; in fact, I’m nursing a pulled right calf muscle as I write this (a Finding Nemo frozen gel pack stuck under a compression sleeve).  When I wake up tomorrow I’ll know how bad it is.  When I look at the weekly totals it doesn’t seem that bad (though those don’t include warm-ups – the calf got yanked trying to do “butt kicks” for my run warm-up), but you’ll see there are 3 workout days, which apparently is due to me designating Thursday as a day off.


I’m not posting to complain though – that’s not the informative writing I strive for, but to tell you about a cool feature of the Tridot system.  When I was putting in initial data like age, height and weight, I also filled out a questionnaire regarding my swimming.


Based on these answers and stroke rate (which gets updated from Garmin data), Tridot has diagnoses me as a combination of different types.  I am:

  1. An “Overglider” (55%) – “As an Overglider, you’re likely over thinking your swim form and trying to stay streamlined at the expense of generating propulsion. Swim speed is Distance per Stroke (DPS) x Stroke Rate (SR)–not just DPS. It’s likely you’ll see solid improvements by focusing more on increasing your stroke rate and generating more propulsion even if you sacrifice your streamline a little. Remember that the most streamlined gliding position doesn’t have any propulsion. Make the mental shift from pursuing only form to pursuing fitness too. Work on your prescribed drills, and you’ll find the right balance.”
  2. An “Overkicker” (30%) – “As an Overkicker, your able to swim at least at a moderate pace and may not perceive the ‘need’ for much form improvement. However, with a little more emphasis on generating propulsion form your front quadrant and reducing your kick you’ll be able to swim further, faster, and with less energy. Focus on each of your prescribed drills and be open to re-thinking and re-learning how you swim.”
  3. A “Lightweight” (25%) – “As a Lightweight, you’ll need to really focus on your ooomph and confidence. You may not have much experience in the pool, but that won’t be true for long. Focus on making small improvements each session. Try to relax in the water and focus on strong execution of your prescribed drills. Much of your improvement will come from having a positive mindset as you go into each session. Swimming is not ‘natural’ for humans. It’s learned. You can learn to be a great swimmer!”

The percentages reflect a degree of confidence in the diagnosis, which is why they don’t add up to 100%.  The other types (which aren’t a match for me) are:

  • “Tarzan” – “As a Tarzan, you’ll need to learn to rely less on your strength and athleticism and more on skill and technique. As you execute your prescribed drills, learn to work with the water rather than fighting against it. Focus on reducing drag and having a long, balanced body position. Relax and let your body glide through the water. Improving your swim form can take time. It’s often not a matter of more effort, rather it’s patience as you repeat the movements (drills) over, and over, and over until they come naturally. “
  • “Swinger” – “As a Swinger, you’re already a relatively fast swimmer. Understand that the Swinger form isn’t a ‘lesser’ form than the Classic. You can achieve great results with either. The amount of ‘form correction’ you’ll want to pursue will be relative to your fitness and results. If you’re already turning in strong swim performances and are not experiencing shoulder pain, you may not want to change too much. Work on your prescribed drills as a Classic would to maintain and refine your form not overhaul it.”
  • “Classic” – “As a Classic, you’re already a very strong swimmer. You’ll always want to watch that bad habits don’t creep in and impact your form. Don’t take your swim form for granted and neglect doing the drills that are prescribed in your swim sessions. As a triathlete, you will do well to spend time working on open-water skills such as sighting and drafting.”

I’ve noticed they put a lot of “sink-downs” in my warm-ups.  These are for getting more comfortable in the water – you empty your lungs and let yourself sink down to the bottom.  These are to be immediately followed by swimming a short interval.  I think the idea is to get me more used to swimming with less air in my lungs – I’m probably spending a lot of time getting more air in than I strictly need and it’s hurting my stroke rate.  I also recently got to play with my head position; looking less up seemed to help me be more efficient but the stroke data didn’t look radically different over the short intervals I got to play with that aspect.


The Tridot Pre-Season Project (and me)

This post is part of the #MotivateMe Link-up that takes place on Salads4Lunch and Run Mommy Run every Monday.  Visit them to see more great active living content.

Triathletes sometimes refer to themselves as ‘tri-geeks’.  While everyone is a ‘geek’ for what they’re passionate about and will discuss these subjects at great, great length, what I think puts the ‘geek’ in ‘tri-geek’ is the attention to the technical minutiae.  Even though I’m an engineer and an analytical person by nature, I’m actually pretty laid back about the number-crunching aspect of training.  I do like to keep records and quantify things, but that’s about as deep as it goes for me.

I started following Tridot about a year ago.  Tridot is a website/training system that is data-driven at a whole other level.  They’re working at an algorithmic level, and putting a lot of effort into doing things differently – one aspect they’ve been pushing is their Pre-Season Project.  They were recruiting athletes who had

  1. Done a triathlon before
  2. Planned on completing an Olympic, Half-Iron or Full Distance Tri this year
  3. You are not a pro or coach or have benefited from a previous Tridot program.

I qualified for this, and sent in my application for 2 months of free training.  While I’ve been a little anti-coach in the past, under this program I’m still a DIY type athlete – I’m just following a training program that has been  customized to me by complex algorithms.

Once I was selected, I completed a few steps of an ‘on-boarding’ process which included not only my height, age and weight, but benchmark assessments, which I had to take very rough estimates of – 400m/200m swim times, 25km bike time (with average heart-rate) and 5km run time (again with average HR).  They ‘normalize’ a lot of your performance by location (because of temperature, elevation and humidity factors), and ask for you bike weight, arm span, you name it.  Like I said, it’s data-driven to the next level.

I was really impressed by their interface.  It’s not exactly clean,  but considering how much data they’re presenting at a glance, it’s surprisingly easy to navigate and interpret.

I’m still learning a lot about it (between jumping into the training program, writing this up, and the rest of my life, there hasn’t been a lot of time for other reading and research), but I can tell you the little circular graphs show your planned vs actual volume and the colours are mapped to training intensities like Endurance, Threshold etc.  The intensities for each sport are explained on the dashboard, based on your current data.

The day after I was accepted into the program, there were assigned workouts to do, and they were quite technical.  The great part is that each workout has explanations and/or videos for any part of the workout you don’t understand.  I opted for 2 strength workouts per week (rather than zero) and those are included in my schedule with triathlon specific exercises.   You pick your ‘off’ day (if any).

Completed workouts can be manually entered, or you can connect a Garmin account.  While that was convenient, I hadn’t used my account in months, and my a lot of my accessories weren’t working too well.  I’ve made a point of wetting the pads on my HR strap and I’ve replaced my speed and cadence sensor.

The training schedule for my first week looked like this:

The time and effort profiles are easy to see and the logos make it quick to determine what you’re doing on a given day with just a glance.  Clicking on a workout brings up that day’s workout(s).

For strength workouts, you mark them complete as a percentage of intensity, which I found a little odd (I was prepared to record reps).  The great part is not only are there videos to show the exercises, but they’re on the same page, available by selecting a drop-down menu which is populated with only that workout’s exercises (or drills/other terminology for swim, bike, run workouts).

As Instagram will prove, I had a lot of fun with these workouts.

I should also mention Tridot’s customer service.  While the immediate volume and technical sophistication of the workouts was intimidating, they’ve been very helpful.  One issue I had was getting reminders to do my assessments (time trials at prescribed distances) while having a full training schedule.  They explained that my formal program hasn’t started yet, and the assessments were more important than the prescribed workouts and I should slot those in instead.  In fact, the assessment protocol descriptions showed that they can be substituted for a given workout,  for example, when the time trial takes less time than the prescribed workout, you just extend the cool-down period till you get the same time spent.  One thing I’ll have to get better at (besides time-management) is recording the entire workout with my Garmin.

It’s still early days in my Pre-Season Project, and I have a lot to learn, but I’ll report back every few weeks on progress, opinions, notes and the overall experience.

Looking Ahead to Barrelman, Looking Back on the Training Season

This is the final week of “training” before the Barrelman Triathlon.  I put training in quotation marks, because between lower back pain, a head cold (that descended to my chest on Sunday), and some of the rainiest weather I’ve seen in at least a month, I haven’t been hitting a lot of workouts.  I thank my lucky stars that I’m tapering, and the workouts don’t count as much (or at least that’s how I’m consoling myself).  

The good news is that I’ve gotten chiropractic treatment for my back and it’s been improving slowly yet steadily, and I’ve got until next Sunday to shake this cold.  Doctor Wife’s prescription is to be in bed by 10:00PM (N.B. my wife is not a doctor, but I still think it’s a good prescription).

I’m feeling ambivalent about the last few weeks of training that I’ve been through.  On the one hand, I’ve hit new records for distance in every sport (all time distance for open water swim and bike, and 2 year records for running, pool swim record probably occurred earlier in the season), I’m faster and stronger than I’ve probably ever been, and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to undertake the journey at all.  Still, I feel controlled by the program: Monday=Strength, Tuesday=Swim+Run and so on.  I was watching a Periscope a few weeks ago where the host was distinguishing between exercise and training.  If I understood her correctly, training has a finite goal, and is structured to serve that purpose, whereas exercise is more about general maintenance, health and fun.  I commented that I missed exercise and was sick of training, but I don’t think I really made myself clear. I just want to take an exercise class for fun sometimes, without questioning which of the 3 masters (Swim, Bike, Run) I’m serving.
This needs updating with a bunch of other new ideas…

I’m already wondering what I’m going to do with myself when it’s done; which feels like a mistake, because I haven’t finished the race yet. Still, stay with me for a bit while I ruminate. Most of all, I want to re-devote my time to my family; while I think I did ‘Walk The Line’ the way I said I would on my Vision Board, how can I ever really give enough? Big ticket items include volunteering with Shark Boy’s Beaver Scout Colony and helping the Lightning Kid with speech and occupational Therapy work.

The race weekend is going to be a hectic one. On Friday, I turn 42, so this race is kind of my birthday present to myself, and the sacrifices my family has made are the only presents I really wanted. Saturday will see us put both boys in the Family Fun Fit Beaches Kids of Steel Duathlon. This will be Shark Boy‘s fourth year, but the Lightning Kid’s first. He’s been really improving on a glider bike, and participated in a bike camp during the summer to get better on a pedal bike with training wheels. The trick will be keeping him focused on forward motion rather than waving at fans. He also does fall off sometimes, and even steers into his father’s legs (trying to cause a DNS no doubt). From the race, I’m going to Welland to set up my T1 and bike, pick up my race kit and get informed and oriented, then I head to a cheap motel in Niagara Falls on my own. My wife will be in Niagara Falls on Sunday to cheer me on (for the run leg) and then we’ll have our romantic getaway night… sore muscles and all.

Remember, you can still sponsor me and donate to RODS Racing; we’re still short of sending Laura home to a loving family. I’ll be wearing my official kit if you see me there! Wish me luck this weekend!

The 120 KM Weekend: 20k run with Legend Compression, and a Century Ride with MEC

I think I’ve hit the big times. This weekend (according to my training plan) called for 2 hours of running, 1 of swimming on Saturday as well as a 5 hour ride on Sunday.  I woke up at 5:00 AM on Saturday with running gear laid out in advance in the basement.  I even remembered hydration for myself.

Ready to roll… before sunrise.

My weather app said the sun wouldn’t rise until 6:30, so I had over an hour to make up my own course that would keep me under street lights.  I went towards my office and ran through the industrial areas there.  Seeing a truck yard at sunrise isn’t really my cup of tea, but if you want to fit your run in and be available for your family, you have to make some sacrifices.

I had a few peaks at a map and I felt 99% sure I could connect back to the Etobicoke Creek Trail once the sun was up.  The problem was I would be running beside the airport runways. I got to a point of no return on one of the airport service roads where there were signs saying that you couldn’t go any further… then I saw two cyclists go exactly where I wanted to run.  I followed.  It was nerve-racking, as I knew there were plenty of police cars patrolling the area; I’d been seeing them all morning.  As I envisioned explaining myself to a police officer, my confidence in knowing my local geography dropped from 99 to somewhere in the 80s…

Suddenly I recognized a familiar rolling in the landscape and some of the runway lights, and hopped onto the trail for the run home.  I thought I’d be over 19 km and find myself trying to go around the block to get 20, but I only clocked 19 once I was already near home.

On my calves, I was wearing lavender calf sleeves by Legend Compression (Disclaimer: I was given a pair of Legend Compression calf sleeves for review purposes, all opinions are my own). I wear compression sleeves while running (and sometimes cycling) mostly to combat Achilles tendinitis and any other calf tightness/injury.  What I noticed about the Legend compression sleeves it that the fabric felt very natural and breathable on my skin, like regular socks, and quite unlike most compression wear I’ve tried.  That morning was quite cold and though I don’t regret wearing shorts and short sleeves, having a little extra insulation for my lower legs was nice.  I could still feel some twinging in the lowest parts of my calf (which don’t get covered by sleeves – which I prefer to socks for the sake of wearing them in a triathlon where my feet get wet from swimming), but I think I weathered my 19 km run better for having worn them.

I was a lucky man that morning, as the kids had slept in, and I found them and my wife cuddled up together.  I snuck in a few cuddles of my own and made pancakes (with extra protein from both Manitoba Harvest and Everlast Nutrition).  We had a busy afternoon planned, and to make sure it happened, my wife ran errands while I took the kids to L.A. Fitness.   The Lightning Kid has been to their Kids Klub daycare a few times, but it was Shark Boy’s first time; I tried to couch it as less than a play centre, but more than a daycare (which he kind of equates with ‘school’), while I quickly got 1150 m (a.k.a 1.15 km) of swimming in to round out the day’s mileage at 20 km.

I got your Fitspo right here..

That busy afternoon, I mentioned? Two birthday parties.  The first was a classmate of Shark Boy’s and they went to Air Riderz trampoline park, which also had some climbing features (complete with safety harnesses and helmets).  I took the Lightning Kid down the road to a favourite play centre called ‘Balls of Fun‘ where we goofed off and recreated a scene from the old 90s video game Street Fighter II: the Hadouken ‘Fireball’ technique (minus actual fireball).

I collected them from those two venues and shuttled them to another birthday party, with a Frozen (Lighting Kid favourite) theme and bouncy castle.  I don’t need to tell you how well they slept that night.

As for myself, I had some nerves before the longest bike ride of my life.  I had signed up for the Burlington Mountain Equipment Co-op Century Ride; 100 km in Niagara Escarpment country.

I had put out my gear the night before, and I woke up before everyone else.  I dressed in my new gear from RODS Racing.  If you don’t know, RODS (Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome) helps get children with Down syndrome who are currently being housed in orphanages around the world into the loving arms of families who would like to adopt them; the families are ready, the kids are great, all it takes is cash to get around the bureaucracy and logistics.  If you would like to help, my donation page is here.


I drove to Burlington’s Hidden Valley Park to find things in full swing; although I was there before 8:30, which I considered early for the 9:00 start, I had just enough time to switch shoes and put the bike together, pick up my numbered bib and take a bathroom break before they wanted us to start lining up on the road to head out; this was around 8:45.

I asked someone in the crowd what their estimate of the number of participants was, and they figured 250.  I couldn’t help but notice that I was the only one with a triathlon bike there; I did see one girl with aero-bars on a road bike (much how I used to ride), but I still felt like a freak among what seemed to be a hard-core cycling crowd.  The large numbers did make it seem like it would be safer out on any heavily driven roads.  The marshals emphasized this was a ride, not a race, and the roads were open to all traffic, so safety first!

The ride started uphill, of course.  For the first 5 km or so, I was happy to take an easy meandering pace, but soon it felt too slow.  I needed to pace myself to last for 100 km – I knew this, but if the pace felt unnatural, and maintaining it was going to mean taking longer to finish than I was ready to spend on this event, that meant I would have to pass.  This is where I seem to have a bit of a disconnect with pure cyclists.  They like to ride at least 2 abreast and occupy the whole lane.  This is considered the safest practice, I know, because it forces cars to acknowledge that the bicycle is entitled to the entire lane under the highway traffic act.  When cars pass, they go around the group in a separate lane.  As a triathlete, though, I have an aversion to crossing the centre line, even when there is not oncoming traffic, just because the rules so strictly prohibit it – it can mean disqualification.  Plus, it seems dangerous.  So I found myself sometimes waiting for opportunities to pass; I don’t think “on your left” is as much of a thing in straight-up cycling.

After some climbing to get over the Niagara Escarpment, there was plenty of flat land to really see what kind of speed you could build up to on flat land.  It was a beautiful day, with perfect weather.  The first rest stop came at 23 km, and they had bananas, Clif Bars, Pro Bar Base protein bars and Nuun hydration tablets.  No porta-potties though; that might have been a little prohibitive for such a small support crew to transport, but I could have used one.  From that point, the century (100 km) and 50 k routes split up.

That was also the point where I separated from the crowd.  Sometimes I rode behind a pair of riders or so, but for the bulk of the ride I was on my own.  The course maps they had provided us had a list of ‘cues’ on the back that told you when your next turn would come in terms of total mileage.  That came in handy for reassurance, but for the most part I could see the little white arrows painted on the road because they came as such logical junctures. The route was so rural and abandoned that I often forgot that cars could come by.

At the second rest stop (48 km) my drink mix (Everlast FUEL with BCAAs and electrolytes, use the code IRONROGUE for a discount), was getting weak from being diluted with the water I had added, so I popped in a NUUN tablets.  I have many blogger friends who rave about NUUN, and now I get it.  It gave me some nice pep for the remainder of my ride.  I didn’t see any of the Pro Bar Cookie Dough flavour that I had promised myself at the second rest stop, and the third rest stop (same location as the first) had run out by the time I got there.

The ride went through so many small villages that I can’t remember the names of them all, but one location I did recognize was African Lion Safari.  One of the riders jokingly suggested a detour through there; “What could possibly go wrong?” I asked.

Overall on the ride, I had my chain pop off way too much.  Other riders suggested replacing the chain, but the bike is still too new.  I think the front derailleur needs an adjustment – this is something I have to take up with my bike shop, as it costs me way too much time, and trying to put the chain back on while balancing the bike at the side of the road seems to get a lot harder as my legs get tired.

The last 25 km were a bit of a struggle.  I can remember thinking at 82 km “I don’t want to do this anymore.”  It wasn’t so much that I wanted to quit, but the aero position was hurting my neck and shoulders quite a bit, and to not ride in aero was making the ride slower and ultimately take longer.  Still that part of the ride was a net downhill, and all familiar from the ride out, so the kilometres clicked by fairly quickly.

I rolled into Hidden Valley Park after nearly 4 hours of time in the saddle (I paused Garmin tracking during the rest stops) with a big smile of accomplishment on my face.  While I was tired, I think my legs would still have responded to the command to run, if I had to, so things are looking up for Barrelman.  The local Rotary club was grilling burgers for free and a bike shop had put up a beer tent with a local brew; sadly they only took cash so I have a future date with Cause and Effect by Nickelbrook Brewery.

Century Ride Finisher (minus beer) selfie

I drove home and tried to clean myself up – I had chain grease everywhere: my hands, my face, my legs, the insides of my arms.  Then I took the boys to the splash pad; they rode their bikes, showing me maybe someday they’ll be up for long rides too.  Trips to the splash pad, long bike rides, birthday parties, swimming, running… I wish the summer didn’t have to end.

What’s the longest bike ride you’ve ever done? How are you consoling yourself over the end of summer?

A Long Bike Ride: Tour De Lake Of Bays

You might say I crossed an item off my bucket list this weekend – the odd part is that I forgot that it was on my bucket list (insofar as I have one).  You see, when I was little, my father and a friend rode their bicycles around Lake of Bays over the course of a day.  He’d repeated the feat with my mother a few years later, though I had forgotten that little factoid.  At any rate, he told me that it was a challenge worth taking on, and I always thought I would do it one day “when I was grown up”.

A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on

I was trying to come up with a good long, training ride to do at the cottage when I remembered all this, so it fell to me and Sable to get the job done.  I called it “Tour De Lake of Bays” #TourDeLakeOfBays.

The first 24-25 km of the route were very familiar to me, as I had rode them last week.  It was a lot hotter and sunnier this time, though.  There is bridge construction in Dorset, which made for a good time to text a status update and take a CLIF Shot (chocolate flavour) gel.

After Dorset came the Highway 117 leg, which probably caused me more suffering than any other part.  It was very long and unfamiliar, and though I hoped that it would be flatter thanks to how it hewed close to the lakeshore, I was confronted with the same kind of hills I’d been climbing the whole time in my own backyard parts of Muskoka.  It must have gotten monotonous and seemed worse than it was, because the Garmin analysis shows I kept up a speed average of over 25 km/h for over an hour.

A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on

When I rolled into Baysville, I was seeing familiar sites.  I’ve heard stories of people on long bike rides stopping for Starbucks, or Tim Horton’s or whatnot, but stopping at a brewery would take the cake.  I didn’t though, since I knew I wasn’t going to be keeping to my projected 3 hour schedule, and I didn’t want to shirk child-minding duties entirely.  I doubt the alcohol would have done much for my safety or performance, but it would have tasted SOOOO good.
A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on

While being familar ground, the final stretch of Brunel Road followed by South Portage were the toughest. For starters, there was construction on Brunel Road for the first 3-4 km. I had been forewarned about it, but I figured it would be a closed lane or some narrowing; the road was as good as gone!

I didn’t like taking my brand new bike over that gravelly road, but I didn’t have much choice, and taking it easy for safety was a good excuse to take it easy, and give my legs a rest. When I reached the end of the construction zone, I saw a sign that put me a little on the defensive…

The last part of the ride along Brunel takes you by some very pretty lakes; there’s Shewfelt – which is nearly a pond, and Axel Lake (!) which isn’t too visible from the road. I stopped to take a pic of North Tooke Lake (I think) and it’s one of the nicer landscape pictures I’ve ever taken (at least with the help of an Instagram filter).
A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on

I finished the ride back at my starting point with a time of 3:17 and texted for a pick-up. I was pretty spent, and even laid down in the dirt for a bit. Being attacked by bugs made me realize that at least I’m in good enough shape to recovery quickly from when I think I’m all tapped out.
A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on

I’ve still got some time before Barrelman, so I may use this route again (with some add-ons, probably).

It would be great to be able to get it under 3 hours.

Do you have a training ride that is like a dragon that you have yet to slay?

#WorkoutHack: Explosive Power For Triathletes Using A Heavy Bag

Disclaimer: I am not a certified fitness professional.  Please consult one or a medical professional before undertaking any new forms of exercise – you are at your own risk.  I present these exercises only as a way to exchange ideas and inspire others to be creative in their methods for attaining their fitness goals.

I’m now into the “Pre-Competitive 1” Phase (weeks 13-16) of my Half-Iron training (from Gale Bernhardt’s Training Plans for Multisport Athletes), and strength training is only once per week and the workouts are meant to be for “strength maintenance”.  For the preceding “Specific Preparation 3” phase (weeks 9-12), my strength workouts were coded as being “Power Endurance” (PE).

“The PE strength training phase is intended to combine strength with velocity.  Making fast movements with weights, however, is controversial.  At least one study has shown that when lifters were asked to move a weight as quickly as possible while maintaining contact with the weight bar, power actually decreased….”

So Gale Bernhardt wants me to lift the weight explosively, but is concerned I won’t get the most bang for my buck if I have to control where it goes?  I’m more concerned about whether I can handle the weight coming back down on the negative phase, and what that’s going to do to my body….

“One of the best options for a hip extension exercise with fast movements is a leg press machine that allows you to explosively jump off the platform with a load and return to the start position at a moderate speed.”

So if I understand it correctly, most of the PE movements should have an explosive lift, and ideally not carry any extra weight on the way back down.  I’m not sure my gym wants me dropping weights on the floor like that, but luckily, I’m good at finding ways to improvise…

Enter the Heavy Bag.  This thing has been hiding in my mother’s basement from the halcyon days of the late 90s when I took kickboxing and other martial arts.  It weighs 70 lbs, and that’s a lot less than the weight I dead-lift or squat, yet somehow carrying it out of her basement (and subsequently into/out of mine) is a workout unto itself.  Once I did, though, I found a way to get some great, explosive strength workout, and get a little Vitamin D in my own backyard.
Have a look.

How To Build A Descending Swim Set

I’m thinking…

Following a structured swim workout can be complicated. I could probably do an entire series on swim terminology that I don’t quite have a handle on. Even when you look the terms up, it can still be a little intimidating (this is one of the better resources I’ve found so far).  One of the things do understand is the idea of doing a set, like the following example:

4×100 Descending

So that’s doing 100m (4 lengths in most pools) 4 times.  Each of those 100m intervals are supposed to be done successively faster.  If you’re like me (and congratulations if you’re not), it’s hard to get those paces right; how do you do it, beyond just
  1. Not too fast
  2. A little faster
  3. A little faster still
  4. Fast as you can!  (assuming you have anything left).

Trying progressively harder hasn’t yielded times that decrease for me when doing sets like this, but I did stumble across a way to gradually get faster and have different degradation of effort that I can mentally separate.  I even gave them one word nicknames that can double as mantras, if that’s your kind of thing.

  1. Stroll: the pace/effort of a walk in the park.  You’re swimming casually, and without much concern for form (though don’t be purposely sloppy) or pace or anything.
  2. Elegant: Make every stroke as perfect as possible.  Anything you’ve been working on remembering to do in drills should be found here.  You really concentrate on the best form you can manage to do for the entire interval; it takes some concentration
  3. Mash: This feels like a hill climb on the bike (or maybe even the run); every stroke should feel like it has a lot of resistance.  Push hard on every stroke, feel the power, like you would if you had hand paddles on.
  4. Quick: This one is almost the opposite.  Rather than trying to push every stroke hard, you’re trying to get every stroke over with quickly, and focus on the quickest arm turnover possible.
This shows the resulting times for 4x100m and 4x200m.  Usually about 15 seconds rest between intervals.

The first time I tried this, I actually had #3 and #4 reversed, since I expected that would give me descending times (i.e. go faster).  Quick seems to outpace mash for me, it may be different for you.

Disclaimer: I am not a triathlon coach, or even a particularly good triathlete. If you have one of these in your life telling you differently, more power to you – I am merely a busy cheapskate with a DIY ethic (at least in triathlon training) who likes to share his ideas and discoveries.

Gear Corner: Reviewing the Skulpt Aim

Disclaimer: I was provided with the Skulpt Aim for review purposes by Raynforest.  All opinions are my own, and this post was not otherwise compensated.

No matter where you are on your fitness journey, you probably want to see some improvement from where you are now.  How can you know you’re improving if you can’t measure it? Going by feel has its merits, but it can be subjective based on what else you have going on; how well did you sleep the night before, what did you eat, how much stress are you under external sources, etc..  If you measure your athletic performance numerically, i.e. how fast you can run a certain distance, how much you can lift, at least you have some quantification, but it’s still subject to those daily variables I just mentioned.

Just about every fitness blogger has a post about why the scale isn’t a good measure of health and wellness, and Body Mass Index still gets a lot of mainstream attention, in spite of being tied to weight.  If an obese person whose weight comes from a spare tire of fat and a power lifter whose extra weight comes from gigantic muscles have the same height and weight, they’ll have the same BMI value, even though they present entirely different pictures, health-wise.

Body fat seems to be a decent thing to measure, most of us would like less, and certain types of fat (e.g visceral) or locations (belly) are linked to many negative health outcomes.  The most accurate test of body fat involves getting immersed in a tank of water which makes it terribly inconvenient for tracking at regular intervals.  Calipers are accurate if you really know what you’re doing; I got myself a cheaper more ‘entry-level’ pair last year, but I’ll be darned if I could get similar measurements from day to day.  Bathroom scales that use bio-electric impedance analysis sound promising (I have one that I use from time to time), but trying to get a measurement of your whole body’s fat composition from the soles of your feet seems sketchy, and indeed there are a whole bunch of dependencies like not having eaten, slept or exercised within something like 5 hours of the measurement (when would those conditions ever be satisfied realistically?).

Enter the Skulpt Aim.  You take measurements directly on different parts of the body; the general snapshot it asks for takes for measurements: right side bicep, abdominals, tricep and quadriceps.  You can also measure (left and/or right) hamstrings, glutes, calves, upper back, lower back, biceps and  forearms.

The Skulpt Aim also measures MQ or Muscle Quality, which Skulpt equates to IQ, except for muscles rather than intellectual ability.  Higher MQ scores correlate with stronger, leaner, more defined and firm muscles. That way, you can measure how your training regimen is improving your physique and physiology, muscle by muscle.

Skulpt Aim – The Device Itself

When I got my hands on the Skulpt Aim, I was pleased to see it had a relatively simple interface.  One button on the left side for powering on/off or selecting a menu entry and two buttons on the right side for scrolling through menu entries – one up, one down. The sensors are at the back, and the screen is on the front, with fairly simple menus.

Once you get your user profile set up with a few basic stats about your gender, height and weight etc. the device walks you through how to take the basic measurements including showing an instructional video, right on the device itself!  I’ll admit for a split-second I thought the device had a camera, because it looked like a first-person view through it as I was lining it up with my bicep, until I notice that the bicep in question was better toned and more hairless than my own…

I’ve found it easiest to simply keep my Skulpt Aim in my shower caddy; it’s splash proof, and taking measurements after my shower (either as part of a morning ritual, or post-workout) is easy since I’m already wet, and all muscles are… *ahem* uncovered, shall we say.

Another great feature is a multi-coloured LED around the rim of the device that flashes as you scan the muscle.  It changes to solid when the scan is finished.  This is especially handy when you scan muscles that are hard to reach so you can’t see the screen to know if the scan is finished, e.g. calves, back, triceps.  I could usually see the side edge of the device no matter where I measured, but sometimes it was easier to look in the mirror to see the flashing end.

The App

I liked navigating the app more than on the device – a smart phone touch screen is more familiar than the button layout of the Skulpt Aim, and there are simply way more options.  The app only asks for one permission when you install it – access to Bluetooth so it can pair with the Skulpt Aim – rather than your location, friends list, camera, custody of your first born child that so many apps ask for, which is refreshing.  Bluetooth pairing worked quickly and easily.

The Data That Skulpt Gives You

The following charts show the progress I made (or didn’t make).  More than anything else, I used the ‘Total Body’ measurement which uses right bicep, tricep, ab and quad to take an average picture of your body, so I have the most data for those muscles.  The big take-aways I have are that my glutes and hamstrings are the fittest (and most lean) parts of my body.  Which is not too surprising for a triathlete, especially one who’s stronger on the run than the bike.  I was proud of my posterior chain and hill-climbing at the beginning of the off-season, and I’ve been incorporating dead-lifts into my strength routine since last December or November, so that’s nice to see.
I made this chart myself.  I know it’s a little dense.

Having quads that are much weaker (less fit according to MQ) than my hamstrings is a bit of an alarm for me.  I knew I needed to get stronger on the bike, and muscle imbalances can lead to injury so I started trying to focus on isolating the quads in my strength routine since I first saw that.  Overall, I’ve seen my Right Quad MQ go from 102 to 110, so that looks good.

We can also see differences between right and left sides.  This may be due to actual differences between my right and left side muscles, or due to how I’m measuring the muscle.  Given that I can see fluctuations in MQ and Body Fat from one day to the next consecutive day, it has to be at least a bit of both causes.  The nice part is that if you take more than one measurement in a day, the progress feature of the app will report the average value of that day, so you can use the law of averages to get the best reading if you want more accuracy.

I think this device (and app) would be useful for
  • Bodybuilding/Fitness competitors who want a picture of what each muscle is doing over time
  • Runners with gait issues who need to strengthen given muscles for better running function
  • Triathletes who want to avoid problems in the future related to muscle imbalances

Does this device sound useful to you? What quantities do you like to track when it comes to your training?

Pin-It Party (with the Lean Green Bean)

I’m taking part in a party! Lindsay from the Lean Green Bean, is nice enough to host a little linking party where we can share the posts that are most Pinterest-worthy! You follow me on Pinterest right?

So here are the posts I’ve made over the years that I think should be part of your Pinterest collection.  Pay them a visit (clicking on the image will open the page), and then pin them!  Then head over to Pin-It Party Headquarters and pin a bunch of that stuff too.

1.) A way to get a whole-body workout with a small number of dumbbells and very little time.

Dumbbell Doubles #WorkoutHack
2. A way to combine bike hill repeats with strength work to save time.

Bike + Strength #WorkoutHack

3. 5 Tips to have an Active Family Life.

5 Tips for Active Family Living

4. A Low impact alternative to Burpees that also targets obliques.

Introducing: Roguees!
Swim Workout: Thursday 300s

Starting A Triathlon Training Plan Before You Have To

I announced in January that I had selected a training plan for the Barrelman Triathlon (Half-Iron).  The plan is of a 27 week duration, meaning the start date of the plan was Monday March 16th.  That falls right on our family ski vacation (recap to come), but as I had mentioned in my February Goals post, I’ve been implementing the structure of the ‘Basic Preparation Phase’ for nearly a month and a half.  Here’s why this was a good idea.

Starting the Habit

  • For my program, Tuesdays and Thursdays had both swim and run workouts.  The more of these I did, the more #TwoferTuesday and #TwoferThursday became the norm for me.  Come those days, I was packing a swim-suit, running shoes, etc.  It became a fact of life, and when the real program starts, I can put my concentration into what kind of swim and run workouts I’m supposed to have (speed, endurance, etc.)
  • Any formal training program should tell you what they’re assuming about your basic level of fitness and current training volume.  These tend to be described in fairly general terms, but by pre-sampling the training program, you’ll have a better idea what you’re in store for at the outset.

Learning What Works/What Doesn’t


  • Doing triathlon training in February in Canada means a log of indoor work.  Tracking treadmill runs, was a challenge since  phone apps want GPS data (ditto a Garmin), but Samsung Gear Fit tracks well through step counting.  BUT, not if the Samsung Health App is started through the phone.  Endomondo pairs with my ANT+ Garmin HR strap, but the Samsung app doesn’t seem to, luckily, I still get some HR data through spot checks the Gear Fit makes.


  • On one of my ‘twofer’ days that have a swim and a run, I opted to do a treadmill run and had asked my wife if it was OK if I did the swim in the evening after the kids were in bed which is usually “clean up the kitchen then quality time” time – then I wouldn’t need to do an early morning workout.  Then, the Lightning Kid took forever to go to sleep (and asked for me) so what should have been an 8:00 departure turned into 8:30 or later.  An evening workout runs the risk of making sleep difficult, and the truth is I was feeling exhausted (and I had the sense that a cold was coming on).  I scrapped the swim in favour of rest, since getting sick would have sacrificed more than one workout, but the bigger takeaway is that mornings might be more practical after all.
  • The training program doesn’t seem to have much in the way of rest days, at least not in the early season.  This may be a problem for a 40-something athlete like me, I may be able to work around it by turning some workouts into ‘active rest’.  The best example might be substituting a Yoga class for a weights/strength session.
  • As of right now, the first week of the plan fell on the vacation in Vermont, and I got 3 hours 55 minutes of training volume done in a week that should have been 9 hours 30 minutes.  Yet, thanks to having followed the basic structure for most of February and early March, I could pick up at week 2 without missing much, at least in theory.  What I’ll do instead, is do Week 1’s workouts (since they have some time trialing that will be used to benchmark some of my paces and performance) then move to Week 3 and be in sync.

What’s Missing

  • What I didn’t do well during my pre-sampling, is get to know the different workouts.  The table/spreadsheet has codes to classify workouts into different categories like time testing, endurance, speed, form, muscular endurance, anaerobic etc. and now that I’m in the thick of it, I find myself pressed for time to learn what I need to do for tomorrow’s (or even today’s) workout. I still haven’t transcribed everything into my own spreadsheet, but I should be OK until May or so.

Make sense? Or am I crazy (I love it when you call me crazy!)?