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This is the TriSwim Coach podcast where the most difficult leg of the triathlon becomes your friend, leaving your struggles and your competition behind you. helping you to laugh at the water.

Welcome to TriSwim Coach. This is Kevin and this is episode 58. Today I have an interview with Sheila Taormina who has actually been on the show before, and I brought her back on; I think she’s only the second guest that I brought back twice. I was really excited to be able to have her on the show again. She is going to talk about some of the differences in the pull in freestyle and a lot of other exciting stuff. So stay tuned for that. I just wanted to mention that it is the triathlon off season for those of us in the northern hemisphere. If that’s you, and you’re listening, you may be kind of confused on what to do at this time of year because it’s easy to let things go and kind of just wait until next year to start training again. It’s also easy to overdo it and to keep going and kind of power through the winter. And I think there is actually a way to do it that is kind of the balance of the two, not to overdo it and not to kind of sit around and eat bon bons and gain weight and all that good stuff. So I put together an off-season package for anyone that’s interested, and if you go to the web site, you can see what’s there; it’s on the page. You scroll down. I’ve got some strength training exercises and also some ideas on what to do in the pool so that you’re not cranking out the yards; you’re not overdoing the distance, but you’re getting right to the heart of your efficiency in the water which is really an important thing in the off-season is to work on, the drills and the things that you need to do. That’s included in our package, and you can check it out again at So if you have any questions or ideas you want to run by me, feel free to send me an email at Otherwise have a great week of training; I hope your November is going well, and we’ll talk to you soon. Enjoy the interview with Sheila Taormina.

All right.Well, I’m really excited to have four-time Olympian gold medalist and triathlon world champion Taormina on the show today for the second time, and I wanted to chat with her again because she has a new re-edited version of her book called “Swim Speed Secrets” and I also wanted to hopefully settle this debate over the so-called perfect stroke. So Sheila, welcome to the show.

Sheila Taormina: Thanks, Kevin. I’m really thrilled to be back on your show.

Kevin: Yeah. So what’s been going on since the last time we talked? I think that was probably over a year ago.

Sheila Taormina: It was over a year ago. I’ve been busy coaching swimming clinics around the world and also writing a second book, and it’s actually a book of swim workouts and that help develop a propulsive freestyle stroke so we’re really having a great time partnering with Valo Press writing that. And in the meantime, just getting out there and constantly learning from athletes about what the challenges are in a swim stroke and where we can help them learn it.

Kevin: I noticed that you’ve been traveling a little bit and you recently went to Thailand, is that right?

Sheila Taormina: Yes.

Kevin: When was that?

Sheila Taormina: The people there are so great; the country is wonderful, what a culture and great food. That was my second time going back there. Their triathlon community is really growing so I think I’m going to be going back again within the year. There is actually a neat group that does bicycle tours through Asia, and we’re going to combine a swimming clinic with a bicycle tour that goes throughout Vietnam and Thailand. I’m looking forward to that. I think we’re going to plan it for next October 2013.

Kevin: Wow! That’s awesome so it’s a bike tour where you stop in various places to swim?

Sheila Taormina: We’re only going to do one intensive day of swim clinic on the eight—day bike tour so it’s primarily cycling, and it’s very historical-based too. You get in some good kilometers, but it’s a relaxed pace and really learning about the culture and the country there. And then they’ve got wonderful pools all throughout Southeast Asia and all through Thailand and Vietnam so they’re planning a stop where we just spend a day working on the swim.

Kevin: That’s so cool. I was in Thailand this year as well in the Spring, and I guess I hit it in April and that’s Thailand’s hottest month of the year in an already really hot country. I found it amazing that people could actually compete in any kind of sports like triathlon or anything other than just getting in the pool.

Sheila Taormina: They are tough people, and they’re wonderful people, so enthusiastic. And you’re right, they don’t even complain about the heat.

Kevin: I was in Bangkok. I walked about 20 minutes outside of my hotel, and I had to turn around as I was dying of heat and sweat. It’s pretty amazing. The Vietnam thing sounds really cool; Is that already booked up? Are you looking for people still?

Sheila Taormina: You know what, we’re narrowing down the exact dates in October so it hasn’t even opened registration yet. And the name of the company putting it on, they’re a really great company is Grasshopper Adventures. Tell people to go to Grasshopper Adventures in the next month to two months, I think everything will be nailed down, and they’ll be taking registrations. And there is a limit; I don’t know what the limit is if it’s 16 people. We’ll know more about that later.

Kevin: That’s cool. I mean, that’s a great way to see a country is taking a bike out because otherwise you just miss a lot of stuff.

Sheila Taormina: Yes. And they have local tour guides who are also cycling enthusiasts, and they guide you through the tour so they have degrees in history. I just think it’s so wonderful when you can learn about a country and its history while you’re out there exercising. There’s a total connection of your mind and body.

Kevin: Yes. Yes, absolutely. So, now to the meat and potatoes. I read an article back around the Olympics and whenever anybody was talking about swimming with Michael Phelps and everything, and the article basically said (I think it was in the New York Times), and it said that they determined scientifically that they found the perfect stroke for freestyle. And they kind of measured the S-curve pull vs. the high elbow pull, and they said that the S-curve was faster proven. And it showed why it was; and I can’t really get into the science of it, but I can link to the article in the show notes. I really wanted to see what your take is on this and how that could be possible or why that could be wrong or how that relates to triathlon in open-water swimming.

Sheila Taormina: First, two points that are the biggest points to make about this are that semantics is so important when we’re having this discussion because if someone says the S-pull , that’s words we choose to try and describe an action that we’re viewing. We have to on to define what they specifically mean when they say “S-pull.” And I’ll go back to that, but the second big point to make here is that still today they don’t have a definitive conclusion; the debate is still out there on what’s the best, and you’ve got people who train specifically for one style of stroke and for one particular event. A 50 freestyler, the ideal stroke for that individual may be completely different than a world-class 1500-meter freestyler. So I think the article, I’m not sure. I read it and I can’t remember if they said they’ve definitely come to the conclusion the S-pull is the perfect stroke. But I’m pretty sure if you talk to any scientist who studies fluid dynamics or a top swim coach, they’ll say “no, no.” We still have great discussions about it, and that’s actually what makes swimming beautiful. When we talk about the S-pull, what they’re really talking about is all the study that (not understood 0:07:45.7) did back in the 1960’s and all the way up until the 90’s when he passed away. Doc to me was among one of three of the leading researchers in swimming propulsion theory. And he was the one who dubbed it the S-pull. By the way, Doc also coached Mark Spitz and a number of other world record holders. But Doc’s S-pull is based on the (not understood 0:08:09.3) principles which has to do with the lift forces and drag forces. I think if we say the word, “S-pull”, people somehow think it means lateral presses to the side, that we’re going to sweep our hand where our palm is facing the side of the pool, and we’re going to press out that way and we’re going to pitch it and sweep it totally in the other direction. And that’s not what an S-pull is. What I’ve studied so much this past even just six months are the really slight and barely noticeable pitch angles there at a swimmer’s hand. It to me appears to be three to five degrees, and that in and of itself is it seemed like pitch you would see on an airplane propeller or wing. But it’s not a lateral angle to it as an S press would have some people  believe. So that’s why semantics are so important. Now the high elbow, that has more to do with people might think of that as what Ernie Maglishko, who is another man I just completely respect with all the research he’s done in that he believes that Newton’s third law is primarily responsible for swimming propulsion, and a swimmer must predominantly press back on the water. So high elbow puts us in a position to do that. The study I’ve done really kind of shows both are at play, and that we have to be very careful how we define this. It is a predominantly a backwards press on the water, but there are these slight pitch angles that kind of have the lift forces to them. So, just a really fascinating topic that I am passionate about and writing about in my books.

Kevin: By the way, that kind of solved it for me. I hope that it made sense for everybody because it’s something that I get the questions on, and I think that when articles like that come out, people get really confused because they’re like “wait a minute, I thought—but we talked about it, it depends on the distance of your race so that it could be a completely different stroke that you need.

By the way, did you watch that Sun Ying, the Chinese distance swimmer, that won the 1500?

Sheila Taormina: Yes, of course. How wonderful is that to watch?

Kevin: How amazing was that stroke. That’s like perfect everything.

Sheila Taormina: You’ve got it. I mean, both arms just catch the water, unbelievable. He’s got the agility in his joints and the power and strength. What is he, 6 foot 8 tall?

Kevin: Really amazing!

So you have a new book; it’s basically most of it is the same information as the old book, but you’ve done some edits to it. What was it that you changed?

Sheila Taormina: Right. So Swim Speed Secrets, Valo Press took over my original book that I did in 2010. It was “Call to Suit.” I pretty much did that on my own. I was very new to the book world, and since then I was really fortunate to be introduced to the people at Boulder, Colorado at Valo Press; they focus on endurance sports, and they really wanted to take over the book so they did that and retitled it “Swim Speed Secrets.” So that was my first book and really the only book that’s now in print. Swim Speed Secrets has 10 to 15 percent additional photos and information added to it so it pretty much does read the same as when “Called to Suit” came off the press. But there are additional photos and a few tweaks I wanted to make where I realized how, like you just said, people can get confused. And we really must choose our words carefully. I didn’t want a concept to be taken too far one way or the other. So when I talked a lot about the catch and getting into the high elbow position, I had seen that a lot of people tried to hold that the entire length of the underwater pull. So I’d only had a short section that had said, “hey, the catch moment is the first third of the underwater pull. In the revised edition in “Swim Speed Secret””, those are the things that make the point. Remember, this high-elbow catch is just the beginning of your pull. Once you get in the middle and the back thirds of it, you’re no longer in the catch position.

Now my second book that is about to go to the press (and it will come off the press in early 2013), I go much more into the middle and the finish phases of the freestyle pull. I still talk about the catch and everything, but I also realize, “hey, if we’re going to be doing workouts, let’s really talk about what goes on the second two-thirds of the underwater pull.

Kevin: So in that book, that’s the one with the workouts?

Sheila Taormina: Yes. That’s called “Swim Speed Workouts” and it’s coming out with Valo Press as well.

Kevin: Awesome! That’s one thing that’s missing out there is a good resource for workouts. I mean, there are a couple books that I’m aware of, but especially what you teach, applying that to a workout is not always the easiest thing when you’re at the pool, and you’re trying to come up with something that would benefit you in your triathlon or your open-water swim. Are the workouts kind of geared towards triathletes?

Sheila Taormina: Yes. They’re geared mainly toward triathletes and master swimmers. The workout range we determined that between 2000 and 2300 yards or meters; some people will be in a 25-meter pool or 50-meter pool. The workouts can work for any type of pool you’re in, 25 yard, 25 meter, or 50 meter. The range would be very doable even for people who are newer or intermediate, but we offer bonus sets in there that would bring them up to the 2800 range for people who want to get in a little more. And what we really put in that’s fun for the more advanced swimmer, is one out of every three workouts is taken from my training log during my years as a triathlete. And I selected workouts that range between 3500 and, I think, 4200 so they’re slightly longer than the other two workouts of each week. I’m offering three workouts per week essentially. So, this one that comes from my training log is a little more endurance-based and a little more challenging as far as actual length of the sets. It would really appeal to swimmers who have been doing it for awhile. But that doesn’t mean that the shorter workouts that are 2000 to 2300 would be easy for the more advanced swimmers in the group too, really challenging and very specific on stroke technique, the underwater pull, and the freestyle stroke.

Kevin: The thing is a lot of people think they need tons of yardage like going four or five thousand yards each workout. And that’s not necessarily bad, but if you’re not doing the right stroke technique, it’s not going to help you, and you’re kind of wasting your time.

Sheila Taormina: You’re so right on that. People just get out there and hammer yards with bad technique, and they’re reinforcing the wrong muscle memory. It’s like “no, let’s just pull back the reins a little bit” with the right technique. Yes, that’s a great point you’ve made there.

Kevin: That’s awesome! I actually have a swim shop now on my site, and we’ll have to talk after the show about carrying that book because that would really go along well, I think, with our products.

Sheila Taormina: I’d love it; that would be great.

Kevin: You’ve been teaching some clinics this year. What are some of the things that you’ve noticed in terms of the typical bad habits that people are making?

Sheila Taormina: The worst habit of all is keeping the elbow locked out and straight. We have to have so much coordination and strength in our elbow to be able to function properly under water and also how we’re using the core of our bodies to be connected with the arm pull. I think people almost feel a separation between what their body is doing and then the arms, but there is so much connection. And I talk about a concept called the serape effect. Serape is been around for over 50 years where kinesiologists, Logan and McKinney, wrote about it in the 1950’s or maybe 60’s, but it’s about how all the internal forces that are in the trunk of our body are transferred to the limbs of our body, and which muscles are these connecting muscles. And they dub it the serape effect. I explain in my book where that comes from and explain what it’s about so we can have really strong cores to our bodies and then that gets transferred to our actual limbs. I see people not really functioning the core properly, and not knowing how to slowly connect it with the limbs and then also, like I said, just engaging the elbow properly and having coordination there.

Kevin: So as far as remedying that, what people are doing is just working on these drills?

Sheila Taormina: I have 15 different drills that will come out and they’re accompanied by photos, crystal clear underwater photos. I have Peter Van Der Kay who just came off his London medal-winning performance at the 20212 games. We were really fortunate to get Peter Van Der Kay to come do the photo shoot for Swim Speed Workouts right after he returned from London. And so he demonstrated a lot of the drills and we took underwater video and above-water video and accompanying that with photos under water and above-water that are actually in the workout kit. We’re calling it a kit because Swim Speed Workouts will be a booklet, a technique booklet, but it will also have 75 waterproof cards. And the workouts are on the cards, and then there are individual cards for each drill that have the photos right on the card so people can take those cards to the pool with them and be reminded. I’ve heard so many triathletes say that the coach will just tell them “do 400 yards’ worth of drills.” They’re like, “okay, but what drill? What am I focusing on, and why am I doing this?” So that was a big thing I wanted to fill that gap for a lot of people and say, “here’s the drill you’re going to do, and here’s why you’re going to do this drill, and it’s going to get you one step closer to your goals in swimming.” So it’s a real fun project to work on.

Kevin: Yeah, that’s awesome. What about results? What kind of results have you seen from the clients you’ve taught?

Sheila Taormina: People who are obviously newer, they send emails with the greatest time drops, one guy who said he went from 53 minutes down to 35 minutes; I think that was a half ironman swim that he had done so he was obviously a real newbie. And that’s just thrilling for somebody to drop that much time, other people who compare it more on a per 100 basis, “oh, I used to do 135’s and my hundreds, and now I’m 127’s. So really regular feedback. The thing I’m enjoying most is the getting faster, but they’re enjoying swimming; it’s kind of meaning something to them, and they have a focus when they’re in the water.

Kevin: Yes, that’s so important because that’s why we do stuff like triathlon and open-water swimming for fun. So if it’s not fun, then it’s going to be a struggle, and people end up burning out and things like that. So that’s good to hear.

Sheila Taormina: You’ve got it!. I’m really big on strength too, so one thing I’m trying to determine is do we need just the base level of strength before we can ask triathletes who don’t have a swimming background maybe to do this type of a stroke because I think the stroke is very doable. It’s how do we approach it? So the workout book also has—I’m a big fan of Lane Gainers halo tubing. I’m not endorsed by them; I’ve never been endorsed by them or paid one penny by them. I just think the product is the most simple wonderful product, and they have a tubing that you pull on; and you can train the swimming underwater pull specifically. Each workout includes tubing workout so that I think we’re going to try and do that one. People commit to tubing and have a coach telling them how much tubing to do each workout, then it’s just going to be the whole package now instead of saying in “Swim Speed Secrets”, I’d show them what tubing is, but it’s kind of up to them; they’re the ones who have to pick up their homework cards.

Kevin, the other thing I really did a lot of in Bangkok was people wanted to learn how to do flip turns and also they wanted to learn how to do butterfly. And so I think in my clinics, I’m going to offer a bonus day; anyone who wants to stick around and learn some of the swimming skills like flip turns and butterflies so maybe we’ll have to arrange something out there in your neck of the woods in San Diego.

Kevin: Yeah, I’d love to do that. Then you have the flip turns thing; I’m always telling triathletes to do flip turns, and they don’t want to hear it. But it’s like if you want to swim like a mile in the open water efficiently, if it’s like you’re grabbing the wall every time (inaudible 0:20:42.2) it’s not going to get you there.

Sheila Taormina: I think a lot of the resistance comes that they just haven’t been taught the step-by-step process. Once again it’s another fun thing to teach, and I love it. And it’s very rewarding because that’s something that you actually can learn in about a half hour, as the swim technique, it can take people months and seasons to really feel competent with that.

Kevin: Yes. Absolutely. Now why do you think that triathletes need to be concerned with speed?

Sheila Taormina: Do you mean speed in training or just speed?

Kevin: Speed in the races in most of you because it’s a long race, and we used to say, a lot of the swimming talk around triathlon was like I just need to survive the swim and then you can go fast in the rest of the race.

Sheila Taormina: I mean, everybody’s starting to get so strong in the bike and run now. And I think people are realizing if they get out of the water in a three-minute deficit, or a lot of people are coming out in a ten-minute deficit, that it’s too difficult to make up that distance. Why give it up if just learning the proper technique can make all that difference. In the swim, that’s the one place where age group triathletes can draft where in our Pro World Cup races we can draft on the bike, but obviously that’s not happening at age group races or Ironmans, and so they can just get that next gear, they’re going to sit on the feet of swimmers who are faster than them and take advantage of the draft which is great.

Kevin: That’s right. What about the mental side of it? I think that for me when I did triathlons, it was always getting out of the water in a talk group and getting just destroyed on the bike. I imagine that coming from behind, if you’re starting out way back on the swim, it might be tough. Even if you’re just an age group triathlete trying to beat your last time, it’s that mental thing of starting behind and trying to catch up the rest of the way.

Sheila Taormina: Nobody wants to be in that position; you’re deflated. So much of sport is mental and emotional, at least emotional for a lot of people and so you want to be in the thick of the fight; it just spurs you on. If you’re way too far back, you’re like “oh man, this is just going to become survival.”

Kevin: Then if you have an ego like I get in races, you see these older women passing you, it’s like, “oh no; this is not happening.” It’s check ego at the door time.

Sheila Taormina: I really like what you’ve been doing on everything on your web site and what you send out to people about the mental side of it. I know you’ve gotten a lot of experts on about that. I think that’s fantastic.

Kevin: Yes, we did an online kind of course just recently. I did it with Chris Jansen, a triathlete and psychology kind of guy just to help people get over it, that fear of open-water with the things they are experiencing in the open water that are holding them back.

What do you have coming up? What are your plans?

Sheila Taormina: The next two months I’m sticking around Michigan quite a bit just to be at home. But once that book comes off the press in the beginning of 2013, I’m going to be on the road, and just about in another two to three weeks start scheduling the route that I want to take for a road trip to do clinics. So maybe we’ll have to talk about getting San Diego on that path or if any of your listeners have a city where they think there would be interest, I have a free route I can design here. So it’s going to start to take form in another couple of weeks. I have a very busy Winter, and that’s why I’m going to stick around home for the holidays.

Kevin: Nice. It sounds like a good plan. I’ll definitely shoot it out there on the social media and see if people are interested in a clinic and will let you know. It would be a lot of fun.

Sheila Taormina: I have the books hot off the press and will be teaching each drill there in person so that they feel really competent to do each one as they go through the workouts.

Kevin: Cool. That’s awesome! Well, Sheila’s web site is; you can get her book there, and I’ll have a link to the book on Amazon as well. You can also follow her on Twitter @sheilataormina.

Thanks so much, Sheila, for coming on; it was great chatting again and good luck with everything.

Sheila Taormina: Thanks a lot, Kevin. It’s always a pleasure to be on your podcast.