Podcast, Training

Training talk with Neil MacPherson | EP#284

 May 3, 2021

By  Mikael Eriksson


Neil MacPherson is Scottish coach living in Cape Town, where he owns and runs the coaching business Dinamic Coaching. In addition to his own coaching and performance center services, Neil has also served as a coach educator and facilitator for British Triathlon and for the International Triathlon Union (ITU). In this interview, we discuss Neil's training and coaching philosophy, get into specific case studies, and much more.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Neil's coaching and training philosophy
  • Case study: taking an explosive athlete (Olympian) and coaching them towards an Ironman
  • How to break past performance plateaus for age-group triathletes
  • Swim technique, and using the SmartPaddle for quantitative analysis of your swim stroke
  • The skills that aspiring (and established) coaches really have to learn

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Background (Simon)

04:15 -

  • My name is Neil MacPherson and I am involved as a coach for Dinamic Coaching.

    My way into triathlon started in the 1990:s as an age grouper, whereas my wife was a professional triathlete and hence engaged in the sport on a much higher level.

    I almost accidentally got sucked into the world of coaching as me and my wife explored the world of triathlon together and we realized that, at this time we could do the coaching part just as well as anyone else.

    I gradually did become more and more involved in coaching and after a few years I realized that I could actually support myself as a coach on a full-time basis.
  • In more recent years I have also started to get engage in coaching education, i.e. educating other coaches on coaching.
  • I am based in Cape Town, South Africa.

Coaching/training philosophy

10:30 -

  • The key word here would be ”individuality”.

    I don’t believe at all in all those ”standardized” 12 weeks programmes leading up to an Ironman, every athlete is an own individual with a unique background and starting point physiologically as well as mentally and as a coach you need to guide he or she towards the destination (goal) that the athlete has set up.


13:20 -

  • I think written or oral post-workout feedback is absolutely crucial in order for me to be able to do my job as a coach.

    For me, this is the most important information the athlete gives me and have a direct impact on how I prescribe training.

    I prefer to be given the post-workout feedback as quickly as possible after each workout, but it depends a little bit on what type of session it is.

Coaching an ex professional athlete coming from an explosive sport towards his first IM

19:00 -

  • In the last months, I have had the pleasure of coaching an ex Olympian athlete coming from an explosive sport towards his first IM.

    This has been quite an exciting challenge and been very interested on many levels.

    To start with, the understanding of the training process and execution of the sessions were tremendous from the start with in the athlete.

    However, as this athlete came from a highly explosive sport, his anaerobic capacity was simply monstrous and his high end power numbers was through the roof!

    This has quite substantial implications on his aerobic system and utilization of carbohydrates during exercise.

    His carbohydrate burning rate was extremely high level on all intensities, which you simply cannot afford when you are targeting an Ironman event.
  • Hence, we focused very much on suppressing his anaerobic system, which was slightly hard to start with because this athlete was so used to going super hard basically all the time, going ”easy” for him could be the equivalent of threshold or above threshold intensity.

    So in that regard, he had to go through quite a bit of a learning process and now he is actually doing really well!

Coaching plateauing age groupers

32:25 -

  • One of the biggest issues I see age groupers do is that they have an annual periodization that involves building up towards a race and then take two to three months off before they starting the build for next year’s race, and during this time off they loose all the fitness that they built up as they were preparing for the race and hence miss out on the opportunity of continuing to build upon the fitness from the previous year.
  • The other main issue I see many amateur do is that they are only planning for things in the short term, the most spectacular performances, such as finishing in the top 10 within ones age group in Kona, come after setting up really long term goals.
  • I also think many athletes train too much in groups where they compromise plenty on specificity just in order to get to train together, one needs to be rather selfish and very disciplined if one wants to achieve your goals (as well as be prepared to do some rather substantial sacrifices).

Additional tips to age groupers who wish to improve

41:20 -

  • I know a lot of people would disagree with me on this one but I think that there are enormous gains to be had by focusing on technique and drills in the swim.
  • The same also applies on the bike, many people have crazy expensive bikes but they are not using it properly (sitting in a poor/unsustainable position etc.), as well as in the run (increasing running efficiency could have tremendous gains for many, many athletes).

    To increase the efficiency in the run, I am a huge fan of the running power meters.

The swim

44:30 -

  • When it comes to technique development, I believe there is a rather widespread misunderstanding of what is causing what in swimming.

    For instance, ”sinking legs” are almost never the legs’ fault, it is mostly because of a loose core.
  • Many technique related problems in swimming can be solved by urging the athlete to squeeze/tense the glutes (in turn, this leads to a tense core/whole upper body).

    I have seen many athletes improve several seconds per hundred meters by just urging them to squeeze the glutes.

    There is this widespread idea that one must be relaxed and loose in the water, but this totally goes against what you’re striving for in every other sport (in the run and on the bike, we have a firm core/body so why shouldn’t we strive for that in the swim?).
  • Another big issue in many age group triathlete swimmers is that they are swimming with a way too slow stroke rate!
  • I am also a big fan of the smart paddles, which can measure the direction as well as quantify the force of the movements in the stroke.

    This I think is really helpful as it gives the athlete a concrete number and/or arrow that they can relate more easily to and it enhances their understanding of their own stroke mechanics.

Coaching education

01:08:25 -

  • First of all, understand why you would like to go into coaching.
  • One of the most important things to understand about coaching is that it is a highly pedagogical process and requires very good teaching and communications skills.

    Of course, some technical/physiology proficiency is required but you will come nowhere as a coach if you cannot demonstrate or explain the ”why’s” to the athlete (given to it in a way that’s appropriate for and appeals to THAT particular athlete).
  • For athletes, the benefits of having a good coach are plenty, the coach will most likely introduce some new stimulus, which lead to further adaptions, you also suddenly have a person that you are ”accountable” to, which almost always increase adherence and finally, the fact that you have done a (for most people) quite substantial financial engagement, which also increase you overall investment to the sport and your goals.
  • In regards to where ”the world of coaching” is heading or what direction it should take, at the moment I think there is quite a big inflation in who gets to call oneself a coach.

    In the future I think the coaching proficiency needs some kind of regulations, because today there is no such thing and basically anybody could call himself a coach.
  • One field of coaching that I am currently very interested in is movement pattern analysis.

Rapid fire questions

01:29:10 -

  • What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to endurance sports? Jack Daniel’s Running Formula.
  • What is your favorite piece of gear or equipment? At the moment the Stryd running power meter.
  • What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success? My insecurity, I am always concerned that I don’t know enough or that there are a different and better way to do things.


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.

If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

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