Train Less Practice More


Sorry to go all ‘Game of Thrones’, but it is. Winter is coming. Maybe it won’t be all snowy and doom, maybe it will. We will have to wait and see. However, you can still be thinking about what you are going to be doing this winter. Hopefully, the pools won’t all be frozen over and 10ft of snow on the ground.

We have recently been putting a lot of work into this new website, and getting some of the swim courses we run organised for this winter. I’ve taken the opportunity to take stock on what we do and how it’s delivered, how can I do better, how can I help you to do better.

During this process, I happened to be talking to an athlete I have coached for a while now, about her swimming last winter, and we kept coming back to the same points.

Last year she stopped racing in September, had a break and started training again in October. I won’t bore you with all the details, but we had decided in our 2018 year review that the key to her racing faster was going to be a quicker more efficient swim, which would set her up better for the bike etc.

We do some 1:1 some sessions periodically looking at technique and form under pressure and from this, we agreed that we would spend some time before Xmas just working on a few areas without a pace clock in any session. Sure there was hard work in there (I’m not entirely soft) but it wasn’t on a cycle or a target time, it was just ‘fast’ or ‘strong’ and go again when you feel like it. However, all sessions had a lot of drills and technical work in them. I’m going to put this out there now


Ok, I can hear the confusion, I can see the cogs turning. But they don’t. You become a better technical swimmer by practising proper technique, over and over again. Doing drills with poor technique will have zero positive impact upon your swimming. It probably has a negative effect. For drills and technical work to have a positive impact on your technique you need

  • to understand why you are doing the correct drill or exercise
  • how to do it properly
  • practice it properly (lying on your side and waving an arm around out front doesn’t count as a drill, that’s just practising crap technique which will lead to crap technique (not a coincidence eh?)
  • repeat it over and over again, striving to improve every time.

Ok, back to the point, mini-rant over. We spent a lot of time working on the re-enforcing correct technique. March came around, and she asked me.

‘Am I ready to race, I don’t feel ready, we haven’t done any training’?

So we did some timed efforts, the standard CSS (Critical Swim Speed) test, and guess what? She smashed her previous best times from the race season and any other season. She had taken a massive step forward, without doing any ‘training’.

I can hear you all shouting but what about racing over 1900m? OK ill confess we didn’t expect her to be quite as sharp as the distance went up because we hadn’t done the specific endurance work required. She was still quicker than ever before, but not by as much as the shorter TTs suggested. But that’s periodisation (otherwise known as a plan). We had successfully improved the efficiency of her stroke, over the long term through good practices and re-enforcing technical changes, and not flogging a dead horse when it wasn’t going well. With only a few weeks proper training (CSS sets, and longer endurance reps) we were able to consolidate the technical gains with the endurance work, ready for a race.

On the reverse of this, I had a guy come up to Loughborough and do a 1:1 session with me about a year ago, as he ‘had heard good things’. He was swimming 20km+ a week, mostly with paddles and a pool buoy, and getting no faster. He wanted to be competitive in Ironman swims, as he was on the money on the bike and in the run, but loosing out on the swim.

We spent 2hrs working on his body position and rotation, as he dragged his feet along the bottom without a huge pull buoy in, and had no rotation. After the session, he was a bit disgruntled that I hadn’t spent more time working on his catch. I tied to explain that you have to start at the beginning. Here is a guy who has a massive engine and is physically very strong; but the drag he was creating through poor control of his body position and rotation outweighed any short term improvements we made in his catch. I explained that he needed to go away and practice (a lot) the exercises we had worked on, but I could see I hadn’t managed to convince him to invest time. He thought seeing me (or any of the other coaches I later found out he had seen) was a magic pill and he would be cured. I saw him recently, and he was swimming as he always had, and funnily enough, the outcome was exactly the same.

I guess what I am trying to say is take time to think about what you are doing and why and see if there are more effective means of getting to where you want to go. With swimming, devote some time to working on your skills and technique if you’re going to improve, but do it properly and commit long term to it. Plan it into your training and allow time for your swimming to adapt. No video analysis or coaching session is going to change things permanently. Only YOU can do that. We as coaches are your guides, but you need to commit, prepare and make the journey into the winter yourself.

Until next time!



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