Flips Turns: To Flip or Not to Flip, That Is the Question

Not many triathletes come from a swimming background. If you ask 10 triathletes what their least favorite or weakest sport is in triathlon, I bet a majority of them will answer swimming. Swimming is a very technique-based sport. You can always spot a “real” swimmer in a pool. He or she is usually the one who has a beautiful, effortless stroke and does flip-turns. Ok, maybe their stroke isn’t beautiful, but chances are they can flip-turn with the best of them.

Flip-turns are something every triathlete desires to be able to do in the pool. Not only can flip-turns help you become a stronger and more efficient swimmer, but they also make you look like a badass. Who doesn’t want to look like a badass in the pool?

I’ll be honest. I didn’t start flip-turning until recently. I swam in high school so I know how to do flip-turns, but when I started to swim again for triathlon training, I just never began flip-turning again. I was never the best at them and they can mess up my equilibrium sometimes. However, I do believe that every triathlete should learn to do a flip-turn at some point during their triathlon careers.

Why Flip-turn?

There are no flip-turns in an open water swim so why spend time learning how to flip-turn? There are no breaks in an open water swim as well. Most triathletes, especially beginners, spend way too much time at the wall during open turns that it mimics a mini-break. Most triathletes don’t do flip-turns because they are harder to do. That’s why I didn’t do them for a long time.

Open turns can hurt your swim technique. Think about. As you approach the wall you lift your arm to touch the wall and then push-off. Does that sound like good swim technique to you? What about the added stress of lifting your arm to grab the brim of the wall? Each pool has a slightly different wall structure. The YMCA pool I swim at has a high wall brim and if I open turn I have to lift my arm up high adding stress to my shoulder joint. Imagine that over and over again? Ouch!

Flip-turns add fluidity and smoothness to swimming. Think about it. Stroke, stroke, stroke, flip-turn, stroke, stroke… No breaks, just swimming. Flip-turns also require you to hold your breathe for a little longer than a normal stroke, thus requiring you to be hypoxic for a moment. Hypoxic breathing is a good drill for all triathletes to do because one should be able to mix up their breathing pattern. I personally find that doing hypoxic breathing once in a while in workouts helps me if I ever feel panicked during a race.

A flip-turn is also like doing a squat when you push-off the wall so that adds a bit of strength work into your swim workout as well! Plus, doing flip-turns allows you to swim more laps in less time. A bonus if you are time-crunched.

When should you start to flip-turn?

I recommend triathletes to begin flip-turning once they are comfortable in the water and have the basic swim stroke technique down. If you’re a beginner and still learning proper technique to become a more efficient swimmer then I suggest waiting to learn to flip-turn. The key to becoming a better swimmer is actually doing a lot of swimming and practicing your swim drills!

Once you’ve been swimming consistently for a couple of years then I don’t think you really have an excuse not to flip-turn. Spend some time learning to do them. You may not get them right away and might crash into the wall everyone in a while, but that’s how you learn. Believe me, I still have my crashes every once in a while as well. Also, if you learn to flip-turn you’ll be able to keep up with more of the masters swimmers!

Flip-turns can make you a stronger and better swimmer so start now. Here are a couple good videos to watch and of course you can google some more. Or better yet, ask some of your swimmer friends to help you!


~ Happy Training!

Common Triathlon Training Metrics



Over the past two weeks I have outlined how to conduct a heart rate test and a functional threshold power test; but, I realized that I should have started from the beginning. What are the various training metrics that a triathlete should use?

Coaches, athletes, and endurance sport authors love to talk training metrics and terminology. Lactate threshold. VO2max. Cardiac output. Heart rate. Power. Rate of perceived effort. The list can go on and on…

Let’s look at a few key metrics that any triathlete or endurance sport athlete should understand, or at least a basic understanding.

  • Heart Rate – The very basic definition of a heart rate is the number of heartbeats per unit of time. Heartbeats are created when blood flows through the heart and the values open and close creating an audible sound. The normal human heart beats at 60-100 beats per minute (bpm). This, of course, depends on various factors such as fitness, age, stress, etc. Heart rate in fitness is an important metric because it can measure an athlete’s fitness. Through regular endurance training, the heart becomes stronger and thus can pump more blood with each beat. As a result, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard, and the athlete’s heart rate at rest and during exercise will be lower. Measuring an athlete’s heart rate over time is a good way to measure improvement in an athlete’s endurance fitness. See how to conduct a heart rate test for more information on heart rate-based training.
  • Cardiac Output – Cardiac output is measured as the amount of blood that the heart pumps through the body at a single minute. An increase in cardiac output is important because more blood is delivered to the important organs, such as the brain and liver. Cardiac output increases with regular endurance training. During endurance sports, cardiac output is an important metric because it means that more blood is delivered to the working skeletal muscles during a workout. As a result, more oxygen is transported to the muscle cells to produce energy and other metabolic waste by-products are removed from the working muscles more rapidly.
  • VO2max – Endurance training not only improves cardiovascular fitness, but also improves lung capacity during exercise. Endurance training generally improves an athlete’s respiratory rate (breathes per minute) and tidal volume (amount of air per breath). Improvements in respiratory rate and tidal volume can contribute to an increase in maximal oxygen uptake, also known as VO2max. VO2max is defined as the highest volume of oxygen that a person’s body is capable of taking in and using during aerobic energy production. An improvement in VO2max is important for endurance athletes because it means more oxygen is available to working muscles for energy production during exercise.
  • Lactate Threshold – Lactate threshold represents the point at which the athlete’s body requires a greater contribution from the glycolysis energy system (anaerobic system) and a smaller contribution from the oxidative phosphorylation energy system (aerobic system). At this point, lactate production exceeds the lactate removal rate and blood lactate levels increase. One of the primary goals of endurance training should be to increase an athlete’s lactate threshold.
  • Power – Power is primarily a cycling metric. It is simply defined as the rate of doing work, where work is equal to force times distance. Power is measured via a power meter on a bike. See How to Conduct a Functional Threshold Power test for more information on power-based training.
  • Rate of Perceived Effort – Rate of Perceived Effort, or RPE, is a psychophysiological scale, meaning that it calls on the mind and body to rate one’s perception of effort. The traditional scale called the Borg Scale is based on a scale of 6-20, where a score of 6 is equivalent of no exertion and a score of 20 is equivalent of maximum exertion. Many coaches and trainers, myself included, will use a scale of 1-10 for easier understanding by the athlete/client.

Above are several common exercise physiology and training metrics terminology that are often thrown around by athletes, coaches, and endurance sport authors. Of course, there are many more that we could discuss.

~ Happy Training! 

Frugal Fridays: My Obsession with Budgeting


The first step that I took to gain financial stability was to make a budget. Well, I actually made about 500 different budgets. I’m a wee bit obsessed with making budgets now. I’m beginning to think that I should have been an accountant.

My main budgeting method is Mint.com. If you don’t use Mint then I highly recommend that you hop on that train. It’s completely free and you can upload all your banking data plus investments, car and house loans, and student loans. It’s a great way to keep track of your money and debt and also your overall net worth. I find that Mint is a helpful tool in determining where your money is going and ways to cut your budget.

Along with my Mint account, I also created about 100 different types of budgets through Excel. I tried out a bunch of different budgeting temples offered through Microsoft Excel, but none of them really met my needs. Thus, I created my own from scratch. From there, it involved into about a 10-sheet spreadsheet containing my yearly budget, monthly bills, student loan details, and three-year finance goals.

A glimpse at my budgeting spreadsheet

A glimpse at my budgeting spreadsheet

A few of my three-year financial goals include: purchasing and paying off a new car by 12/31/15, paying off my SallieMae student loans (currently about $9200) by 12/31/16, and a volunteer trip to Africa in November 2015. I’ve calculated the amount I need to transfer to each of my corresponding savings accounts each pay check in order to meet my goals by my deadline.

By creating my own budgeting spreadsheet I was able to add everything I needed into one spreadsheet that was easy for me to edit, read, and keep track of my income and expenses. I also color-code everything because, well, I’m a bit obsessed at the moment.

A lot of people get overwhelmed with budgeting. Hence, why so many people are in debt and/or spend money on useless or unneeded things. Here is how I went about creating my budgets:

  1. Determine your monthly take-home pay
  2. Determine your monthly “hard expenses,” i.e. rent, student loans, health insurance, etc. (basically anything that you must pay each month and the amount doesn’t usually change)
  3. Determine your monthly “soft expenses,” i.e. groceries, gas, gym memberships, coffee shops, etc. (soft expenses include items that have more fluid costs each month and ones that you could probably cut back on if needed)
  4. At this point, decided if you prefer software/website programs such as Mint, or if you would rather create your own budgets through Excel
  5. Subtract all your expenses from your monthly income
  6. Hopefully you have money left over! If you don’t, then you need to readjust your expenses. Start with your soft expenses first. Trust me, there are ways to cut back on things.
  7. Stash your extra money into a savings account. You should always pay yourself first! If you have goals, such as a vacation, open a second savings account to put money away for this expense.
  8. If you have a lot of debt, especially credit card debt, put extra money towards paying those debts off! You can probably cut back on going out to eat or going to the movies to put extra money towards those extra payments.
  9. Stay on budget throughout the month! And check back throughout the month to see how you’re doing.

Budgeting shouldn’t be hard. Yes, it may not be fun because for most people, it acts as a wake-up call for where your money is going. You work hard for your money so why put it down the drain on stupid purchases or wasteful spending!

~ Happy Training!

How to Conduct a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Test

Power meters are becoming the new standard on bicycles today, especially for competitive athletes. They are certainly an expensive investment, but a worthwhile one if you’re serious about training with data.

Powermeter = LOVE!

Powermeter = LOVE (somedays)!

I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions that I have a love/hate relationship with my power meter. Heart rate-based training on the bike is a great training metric, but it can only do so much. I always liken my power meter to a truth-meter because it does not lie about my current bike fitness and riding abilities.

Power meters are extremely effective tools for training and racing. For long-course triathletes, like myself, I find my power meter acts as a governor for my bike leg because I know if I go out too hard, it will only be time until I blow up.

Most triathletes love spending money on new gear, whether we truly need it or not. A lot of triathletes want fancy race wheels because they make our bikes look fast and cool. Race wheels can easily set you back a couple of grand and the same with a power meter. Now if you had to choose between a power meter or race wheels, what do you choose? A power meter should probably be the correct answer and here’s why:

  • A power meter can help you build your engine. Sure, race wheels can shave a few seconds to a few minutes off your time, but an effective and strong engine (aka YOU) can shave even more time off your bike leg!
  • A power meter can help you monitor your efforts over time and keep you working within your correct zone. For example, if it is extremely windy out you will work harder (i.e. push more watts) than if there was no wind. If you have a power meter, you know you are working harder and thus not fight the headwind by pushing a faster pace (i.e. speed) like your competitors sans power meter.
  • A power meter can give you a highly accurate measurement of your bike fitness over a season. A power meter can be used for benchmark testing unlike a lot of heart rate testing that can have multiple variables with results.

There are various metrics that you can measure over a season with a power meter. I won’t get into that today because the terms can be confusing. If you work with a coach or train with a power meter regularly you are probably familiar with the terms such as normalized power, functional threshold power, critical power, etc.

Today I want to discuss Functional Threshold Power (FTP) because it is often used as the main benchmark testing for bike fitness.

Functional Threshold Power can simply be defined as the wattage an athlete can produce and maintain over a 1 hour time period without fatigue. FTP is relative to nearly all cyclists. It is important for an athlete to test their FTP at the beginning of their base training cycle to determine the correct training intensity zones and also to determine the benchmark for the season. Athletes should periodically re-test their FTP to compare against the benchmark test to observe fitness.


You might want a Puke Bucket!

You might want a Puke Bucket!


FTP Test Protocol:

  1. Warm-up: 20 minutes at endurance pace/easy to moderate pace; 3 x 1 minute fast pedaling (100+rpm) with 1 minute rest between; 5 minutes easy pedaling
  2. Main Set: 5 minutes all-out effort; 10 minutes easy pedaling; 20 minute time-trial
  3. Cool Down: 10-15 minute easy pedaling


  • Keep cadence normal (i.e. 90-95rpm) throughout the test
  • Pace yourself during the 20 minute time trial – it helps to break the time into small sections
  • If you are conducting this test outside, try riding up a steady climb or into a headwind

How to Calculate Your FTP:

  1. Download your data. TrainingPeaks is my preferred software program.
  2. Figure out your average power for the 20 minute time trial. In TrainingPeaks you can highlight the 20 minute interval and it will show average power for that time period.
  3. Take your average power number and multiple it by 0.95 for your FTP number.

Note: The reason you multiple your average power number by 0.95 is because you are subtracting 5% from it. A true FTP test would involve an athlete holding their highest average watts for 1 hour, but since most of us cannot focus that long, we shorten the test to 20 minutes. The 20 minutes is a shorter time period, and thus the athlete generally uses more of their anaerobic capacity and this skews the wattage data by about 5% over a 60-minute effort.

Now what? You know your FTP number and now you can use it to calculate your power-based training zones. The zones are below:

  • Active Recovery – Less than 55% of FTP
  • Endurance – 56-75% of FTP
  • Tempo – 76-90% of FTP
  • Lactate Threshold – 91-105% of FTP
  • VO2max – 106-120% of FTP
  • Anaerobic Capacity – 121-150% of FTP
  • Neuromuscular Power – N/A (maximal number of watts you can push for less than 30secs)

Most triathletes will train predominantly in the endurance and tempo zones, but it is important to include the other training zones in your training plan as well. A coach can help you better plan this type of work with your training plan.

It is important to periodically re-test your FTP to see improvements. If you don’t see improvement over time, it’s probably time to change-up your training routine!

~ Happy Training!

How to Make a PushPin Map

I love to travel… to experience the beauty of a new location, the excitement of a new culture, and the tastes of new foods. I’m working towards a career in international public health so I know I’ll be doing a lot of international travel in the near future.

Geography has always been a big interest to me. I once considered double-majoring in it as an undergrad (I also thought about history, political science, and economics too…. clearly I have a vast array of interests…). In middle school I won a contest on the state capitals and I could probably name a majority of them still today.

I’ve always wanted a world map on my wall that I could place pins in for where I have been and where I hope to go in the future. I found a couple of them online that I liked, but my wallet did not like the price tag!

You can buy this one for $120!

You can buy this one for $120! From PushPinTravelMaps

I figured that I could make one at the fraction of the price! Now, I just could have easily got a map and pinned it onto a cork board, but I wanted something that looked a bit more sophisticated.

I began my search for a World Map online. Holy cow they are expensive! I found one at maps.com for $22.00. Sold!

Next I went to Home Depot for some supplies. The map is 32″ x 50″ and thus would not fit on a cork board that I was hoping to recycle for the backing. I discussed my options with my father and I decided that I would get a tri-fold poster cardboard and roll-up cork-board for the backing. I picked up some pre-stained molding for the frame. My supplies only cost about $20 total.

The supplies...

The supplies…

I then had my father help me cut and make the framing. It’s a bit harder than I thought it would be and thus it’s not the most professional finish, but it will work!

Almost done!

Almost done!

So for under $45 and about 1.5 hours of work I got my pretty framed pushpin map to plan my future adventures!

The finished product!

The finished product!

How many countries have you been to? 

I’ve been to been to 5 countries (including the US).

Where do you hope to travel in the next 2 years?

I’m planning to head to the Dominican Republic and Haiti next year followed by Zambia and hopefully France in 2015.

~ Happy Training!