Podcast, Swimming

Swim training talk with Ian Armiger | EP#263

 December 7, 2020

By  Mikael Eriksson


Ian Armiger is a professional swimming coach, former Director of Swimming at Loughborough University, Great Britain Team Head Coach, and Olympic coach. In this interview Ian discusses his coaching style and model, swim technique, advice for triathletes and triathlon swimming, and much more.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Ian's coaching style and training model
  • Thoughts on swim technique, and triathlon-specific aspects
  • Developing speed and power
  • Useful swim tools to have in your toolbag
  • Reverse periodisation in swimming
  • Ian's top-3 tips for triathletes

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03:50 -

  • My name is Ian Armiger and I am a former elite pool swimmer, as an active I was on the brink of being in the British National team, sometimes I didn’t make the team and ruing some periods I did.

    Mostly I was ranked between 5-6 in Britain on 100m freestyle, and at some occasions I got to be part of the 4x100m relay team.

    Immediately after I finished my active career I started coaching swimming, and this was as far back in time as 1973!

    In 1982 I became a full time swimming coach and made my first Olympic games as a coach in 1984, and since then I have had swimmers at 6 Olympic teams.

    Between 1997 and 2012 I was also the director of swimming at Loughborough University and we really built this place from being rather anonymous within swimming to become a real swimming ”powerhouse”.

    Since 2014, I have mainly had different kind of coach consultant commissions.

Coaching philosophy/principles

07:00 - 

  • I rather use to talk about a ”coaching style” and a ”coaching model”.

    ”Coaching style” is most about seeing the individual athlete, coaching ”the person” and having a great relationship and communication with the athletes.

    My ”coaching model” is very much about being very specific in regards to the targeted event, I am a big fan of doing race profiling and utilize that in planning the training.

    For instance, this could be to specifically address a certain phase of a race where an athlete frequently is is loosing ground.
  • An example of a development within swim coaching since I started coaching in 1973 is that things are more individualized nowadays, as an example, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte never trained together throughout their careers (even when being on training camps), they did the kind of training that was best for each one of them at all times.
  • Looking back at my coaching, I probably prescribed too much volume in my early days for the sprint swimmers, they need to focus more on speed and less on endurance.

    ”Speed through endurance” was a mantra that was (or still is) often used within swimming and I have never really understood the foundation of that.

Swim mechanics

28:25 -

  • In order to get good swim mechanics, it’s going to take practice, practice and practice, but you must be practicing the right thing!
  • Many triathletes that I have witnessed training just swim up and down the length for 45mins to 1h and I’m not sure how much good that will do for them.

    I think triathletes need to work with the different energy systems in the pool, they need to do some speed work (not a lot but some dedicated speed work is crucial to get a good feel for the water at this power output and develop the speed required to be able to go with the front pack in the beginning of the race).

    I also think that they need to incorporate some drills into their sessions to work on the technique.

    Overall, they need more structured sessions and also need to adress the specific aspects of the races (open water related) such as sighting and swimming around buoys.
  • When comparing a child that is learning swimming to an adult, I do believe the adult would need slightly more ”one on one” coaching and/or video analyses since they don’t seem to take up an effective technique quite as intuitively as the child.

    Another factor to consider in adults is their flexibility, some adults maybe much more limited in their flexibility compared to children.
  • In regards to swimming mechanics, I do believe there are a few basic principles that a swimmer needs to adapt in order to swim fast, but otherwise, there are many different ways/techniques in order to swim fast, and I believe that one must look at every individual swimmer and from that decide in ”what direction” technique wise one should go with this particular athlete.

    These basic principles are: Always have the elbow higher than the wrist at all phases of the stroke, don’t make too big movements with the head and have a good body position in the water.
  • When it comes developing speed and power, I think that a small part (maybe 5-10mins) of every session could be dedicated for this.

    For instance this could be, doing 4-8x25m really fast with at least 10s recovery and/or practicing dive starts + the first really powerful strokes following it.
  • I don’t think you need to adapt your body in any special way to make it more suitable for swimming as a triathlete, work with what you got, chances are that it is very unlikely that your body type will limit you as a swimmer.

Swimming toys or tools

01:01:10 -

  • My basic tool box contains pull buoy, fins, paddles (different sizes) and the tempo trainer, these are equipment that I think everyone should have.

    In some cases, a center snorkel can also be a really good tool to have as well.
  • In regards to swimming with pull buoy and/or wetsuit, I am a big fan of doing plenty of natural swimming so for that reason I wouldn’t recommend doing too much swimming with the pull buoy, and in terms of wetsuit it can be a bit hot to swim in wetsuit in many pools, even though it is great for specificity, however, a good pair of buoyancy shorts could generate the same effect without the heat downside.


01:10:00 -

  • We do incorporate speed work through all phases of the build up, and hence we don’t actually apply any classic periodization (first building plenty of volume where speed is then added).

    As we are getting closer to the races, the number of speed sets per week increases as well as the duration of the sets (they are basically getting harder), to be more specific for races.
  • In the taper period, we are very careful with pushing our athletes too hard, it is very important that they remain fresh all the way until the event.

Performance testing

01:18:55 -

  • Generally, I’m not a big fan of performance tests.

    In the past, we did some lactate testing, but haven’t done that in quite some time now.

    Of course we do a few test sets (benchmark sessions), such as 6x100 starting at 1:45 or 1:50 (these swimmers would then do the 100s in just sub 1min).

    Also, the latest test results will give me an idea of where the athletes stand.

Common mistakes among amateurs

01:24:30 -

  • We have touched upon this previously, like swimming up and down the lane at a low pace with a poor technique without any structure.
  • Many also seem to believe that there are some kind of magic equipment that can suddenly make you faster, that is not the case, one must do the basics right first, there are no shortcuts!

Current areas of specific interest

01:26:40 -

  • Recently I have come to take great interest in how to adjust the training to women’s menstrual cycles in order to maximize performance.

Rapid fire questions

01:35:40 -

  • What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to endurance sport? I use plenty of different resources within several fields as well as taking part of what the experts in every field say.
  • What is your favorite piece of gear or equipment? Fins, tempo trainers are all great, but the best tools a coach has are the eyes and ears!
  • What is a personal habits that has helped you achieve success? Reliability (making sure that the athletes can always count on me being there for them) and relentlessness (making sure that I do everything I can to take my athletes to where they want to go).


Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

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