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Pulling for Power: How to Strength Train for a Faster Swim Split

Hey y’all! Its another edition of our Thoughtful Thursday blog where we help give you more information on form, technique, injury prevention, workout advice, or anything else that has to do with running and triathlons. Today is the fourth blog in our mini - series on strength training for endurance athletes. Today we are going to talk about the motion of pulling, what it is, why it’s important, and lastly how to perform one example of this exercise. Here we go!

What is the pull or pulling movement?

Well quite simply, a pulling movement is any movement that involves a pulling motion in the gym. A few examples of pulling movements that you can do in the gym include pull ups, any kind of rowing movement, lat pull downs, push-ups or any motion that works the muscles in the mid-upper back.

Why is the pulling movement so important?

The pulling movement is super helpful for us as athletes and even as people. The three main ways that the pulling movement helps us are : posture, power, and propulsion. First let’s talk about posture. The pulling movement works the muscles that help us have a good, upright posture while standing and sitting. It also helps us counteract the flexed, forward, rounded shoulder posture that a lot of us spend a lot of time in. Next, let’s talk about power. By improving our posture, we give our body a strong, solid platform for our arms and legs to generate force from. By having good upright posture, our body is able to generate more power when pulling with our arms, which is super helpful when swimming, biking, and running. I equate this to running on sand versus running on concrete. It is so much easier to run fast on concrete compared with sand because we aren’t losing any of our energy in the soft, squishy sand. The same thing can be said for our core and our posture. If we have sloppy, soft posture, our body isn’t able to use all the energy we are using to move us forward because it is pushing off of a squishy platform. However, when we have good posture, our body is able to produce more power which translates into improved speed or as we are going to talk about it here, propulsion. When we have a good solid core and good posture, our body is able to maximize the force from our arms and legs, allowing us to propel our body faster in the water, on the bike, or over the ground as we run.

Set up for the Lat Pull Down

That being said, I’m now going to walk you through how to set up for an exercise called a lat pull down because it is available in most gyms and has great carry over for us as triathletes and runners. This motion is great because it focuses on the same muscles that help us swim the freestyle stroke that is most often used for triathlon racing and training.

Before we get into how to perform this exercise, I want you all to find the muscles we are going to target with this exercise. Follow these steps and if you are watching the video on Facebook or YouTube, skip forward to the 4:00 mark.

1. Reach both arms out in front of you at shoulder height.

2. Imagine you are holding a metal bar or a stick in your hands.

3. Pretend that you are trying to bend the bar or break the stick in half.

4. You should feel a tightness in the muscles under your arm pit and on your mid to lower back contracting and your shoulder blades moving down.

5. The muscle you just used is called the latissimus dorsi and it is the main muscle targeted during the lat pull down exercise.

Next, I’m going to walk you through how to set up for a lat pull down exercise.

1. First you are going to approach the machine and select a weight to start with.

2. Then you will grab the wide portion of the bar because this puts our lats in a good position to perform the exercise.

3. Then you will sit down on the bench with your arms above your head holding on to the bar.

4. From there, pull the bar down in front of your face until it is at the level of your chin and then slowly let the bar come back up to the top.

5. Repeat for however many reps you are performing for that set, making sure to keep the motion slow and controlled the entire time.

How often should I implement pulling motions into my training plan?

Like most other movements, the pulling motion (lat pull downs and others) is a motion that should be performed every time you strength train. I would also recommend that you add in 2-3 pulling motions for every 1 pushing motion that you perform. (More on pushing motions next week). This is because so much of our activity throughout the day contributes to a forward, flexed posture, and doing a lot of pushing motions can further exacerbate this problem. For endurance athletes, I recommend strength training 1-2 times per week, performing 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions with 60-90 seconds rest between sets.

Well guys, that’s how you perform the lat pull down and why pulling motions are so important. If you liked this blog please share this out to someone who needs to hear this and make sure to watch the technique Tuesday video on proper form for lat pull downs here:

For the 5 dynamic warm up exercises for runners click here:

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Until next time,


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