Coaching, Podcast, Swimming

Andrew Sheaff | EP#402

 August 7, 2023

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Andrew Sheaff - That Triathlon Show

Andrew Sheaff is a swimming coach with 15 years of experience in coaching at the collegiate level in the United States. In order to improve the skill acquisition of his athletes and overcome some of the challenges of traditional coaching methods he has implemented a constraints-led approach to motor learning in his coaching practice. We discuss this topic in detail in today's interview. 

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • What is a constraints-led approach (CLA) to learning and how is it different from a traditional approach?
  • Task, individual and environmental constraints and how to use them
  • How the roles and responsibilities of coaches and swimmers change when going from a traditional to a constraints-led approach
  • Using a CLA in swim coaching to improve skills and fitness simultaneously
  • How the implementation of CLA changes based on athletes' ages, ability levels, swimmers vs. triathletes, etc.
  • Challenges of using the CLA in swim coaching
  • How an individual (e.g. podcast listener) can implement the CLA themselves to improve their swimming skills

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Andrew's background

03:13 -

  • My journey in swimming began relatively late in life, around the age of 15. I became passionate about the sport, which became a central part of my life. 
  • This passion led me to swim in college in the US, and after that, I ventured into coaching. 
  • For the past 16 years, I have been involved in college swimming and coaching, aiming to help athletes improve their skills and reach their goals.
  • During my coaching journey, I realised that mastering swimming skills was crucial for improvement. 
  • However, I faced the challenge of effectively teaching these skills to others. 
  • Initially, I followed a traditional approach of giving instructions on arm movements and head positioning, but the results were less satisfying than I had hoped. 
  • This prompted me to explore alternative ideas, eventually forming my coaching approach's foundation.
  • In the process, I came across Keith David, a key figure in the theoretical aspects of these alternative ideas. 
  • He suggested that I write a book about the techniques I had begun implementing in coaching, which further fueled my commitment to refining and sharing these innovative concepts.

Constraints Led Approach

05:24 -

  • The conventional approach to teaching and learning involves planning the action before executing it. 
  • In this traditional model, coaches instruct athletes on what to do, and athletes aim to follow those instructions. 
  • Feedback from coaches guides them towards the desired outcome, with adjustments made along the way. Athletes gradually refine their performance based on this feedback.
  • In contrast, the constraints-led approach shifts the focus. Instructions don't solely direct movement but are influenced by various constraints. 
  • These constraints limit movement options, prompting individuals to choose from what's available within their capabilities to achieve the goal. 
  • Three key categories significantly influence how people move and swim:
  • Task Constraints: The nature of the task itself plays a crucial role in determining how individuals move. For instance, a short 25-meter swim prompts athletes to increase their stroke rate and speed, while a longer 2000-meter swim necessitates a more patient and efficient stroke. Task constraints automatically guide people to adjust their movement to suit the specific task, even when choosing between different swimming strokes like freestyle and backstroke.
  • Individual Constraints: Individual attributes like height, strength, and mobility shape movement patterns. 
  • Tall individuals naturally move differently from shorter ones, and someone lacking strength may adapt their swimming style accordingly. Individual constraints, such as mobility issues caused by running in triathlons leading to stiff ankles, impact movement decisions. 
  • Fatigue is another individual constraint that alters movement as exhaustion reduces the range of movement options.
  • Environmental Constraints: Though less pronounced in swimming, environmental conditions significantly impact movement in sports like triathlon. 
  • Swimming in a pool versus open water racing highlights this difference. Smooth, calm waters versus choppy waters with many swimmers around prompt varied movement choices. Adjustments are required based on the specific environment, with each scenario demanding different movement strategies.
  • Understanding these constraints is vital in facilitating effective movement change. 
  • The concept revolves around the flexibility to use various constraints to achieve specific outcomes. 
  • For instance, an individual's constraints could involve using swim toys to enhance buoyancy and elongation while specifying a certain swimming distance, stroke rate, or stroke count. The combinations are versatile.
  • These constraints don't act in isolation; they interact. 
  • By comprehending how these constraints influence different activities, we can manipulate them strategically. 
  • This approach proves more effective than explicitly instructing someone to adjust a particular movement. 
  • By altering these constraints, we can naturally induce changes in technique or behaviour, achieving the desired outcome.

Benefits of this approach

11:03 -

  • There are several reasons for this approach. 
  • Firstly, every individual is unique, and what works best for one person may work less effectively for another due to our physical differences. 
  • Optimal solutions can vary from person to person, making providing one-size-fits-all instruction challenging. 
  • Instead, the aim is to guide individuals towards finding their optimal solutions.
  • Secondly, it becomes impractical to have personalised coaching conversations with each one when dealing with larger groups of athletes. 
  • Traditional coaching methods might struggle to effectively manage a large number of athletes. 
  • This practical limitation prompted me to seek an alternative approach that could still offer valuable guidance to athletes.
  • Lastly, excessive thinking can hinder performance, especially in high-pressure situations like races. 
  • Overthinking can lead to self-interference and anxiety. We can help athletes avoid getting bogged down with excessive thoughts during races by teaching athletes techniques that are not mentally demanding. 
  • The goal is to create a default strategy that doesn't rely on extensive thinking when under pressure, enhancing performance under challenging conditions.
  • An advantage of certain training methods is their ability to offer a tangible movement experience. 
  • Often, describing a movement can be challenging, but placing someone in a position where they can physically feel it allows for quicker and more effective learning. 
  • This experiential approach enables individuals to directly sense the desired outcome and avoid the struggle of trying to intellectualise the movement process. 

Other alternative methods

13:01 -

  • There are various approaches with two main ways of thinking. 
  • The first is an explicit approach, where instructions are directly given to individuals. This is more traditional. 
  • The second option is an implicit approach, where learning happens through experience. 
  • Different variations of constraints are often used within this implicit approach, aiming to provide experiences that encourage self-discovery. 

The evidence behind this strategy

14:46 -

  • Two primary theoretical frameworks contribute to this subject. One is rooted in complex systems theories, which apply well to human beings as we are intricate systems. 
  • This theory suggests that small changes in inputs can lead to significant changes in outputs, which mirrors how we learn and move. 
  • Another theoretical foundation is ecological psychology, focusing on how we perceive information from our environment. 
  • This approach emphasises that our movement is more influenced by how we perceive the environment rather than simply how we think.
  • Several training studies have provided evidence for the validity of this approach. These studies have compared traditional methods with interventions involving constraints, yielding positive outcomes that support the approach's effectiveness. 
  • From a coaching perspective, the value lies in its ability to explain observed phenomena and streamline the learning process for athletes. 
  • While scientific evidence is compelling, its practical effectiveness matters most to me as a coach. 
  • This approach aligns with my experiences and observations, making it a compelling tool for enhancing skill acquisition and understanding how individuals learn.
  • I want to highlight that, besides training studies, it's essential to acknowledge that this approach is a skill. 
  • Effectiveness in implementing this approach can vary based on an individual's practice and understanding of its constraints. 
  • Training studies may not fully capture this aspect since they are often designed by individuals with theoretical knowledge but not always practical experience.
  • The differences between various groups might not be as evident within the scientific context because not all participants are professionals whose passion revolves around the practical application of these ideas. 
  • Recognising that as one becomes more skilled in this approach, the disparities between different groups become more pronounced.

Most common constraints Andrew uses

19:16 -

  • Athletes and coaches often intuitively apply these principles, but having a framework enhances their effectiveness. 
  • Several task constraints are manipulable and contribute to effective learning:
  • Speed Variation: Different speeds necessitate altered swimming techniques. Athletes changing speeds within or between repetitions force them to find solutions to swim effectively at varying paces.
  • Stroke Count: Altering the number of strokes taken forces changes in swimming technique. Encouraging longer strokes helps mimic proficient swimmers' tendencies.
  • Drills as Constraints: Utilising drills with purpose is essential. Drills should mirror desired technique changes rather than inadvertently teaching undesirable patterns.
  • Breathing Challenges: Applying task constraints like placing a paddle on the head during breathing enhances technique learning. Athletes must adjust breathing to prevent the paddle from falling off, highlighting effective technique.
  • Experience plays a role in identifying practical task constraints. Some individuals might respond differently, making it necessary to gauge which constraints lead to desired technique changes.
  • Clear examples of task constraints include using a paddle to promote correct breathing. 
  • Placing a paddle atop the head while swimming necessitates maintaining proper head alignment to prevent it from dislodging, revealing the impact of effective versus ineffective breathing techniques.

Effectiveness of drills

24:28 -

  • When aiming to adjust someone's movement, you might need to step away from regular swimming to get them in the correct positions for learning the skill. 
  • However, the goal is to return to regular swimming quickly. Using progressively distant drills to prompt change is necessary. 
  • Still, the focus should be on transitioning back to swimming because the further the drill, the less likely the change will carry over to actual swimming. 
  • The key is to stay as close to swimming as feasible and only move further away when required while actively working to get back to regular swimming.
  • There's no strict rule for this approach; it's more about observing what's effective and then working towards swimming. For instance, the one-armed freestyle drill can be helpful in addressing specific issues. 
  • To facilitate skills transfer, a strategy involves alternating between one-armed freestyle and regular freestyle. This allows learners to immediately apply what they're learning from the drill to their regular freestyle. 
  • Solely practising the drill doesn't ensure the skill will transfer to regular swimming, but combining the two can enhance effectiveness.

Individual constraints: fatigue

26:18 -

  • Traditionally, learning is associated with practising when you're fresh. However, fatigue can also be valuable as it alters your movement patterns and increases awareness.
  • Fatigue can lead to more efficient movement as your body finds ways to perform tasks using less energy.
  • Influencing techniques through fatigue can be effective. For instance, if an athlete needs to engage their legs more, tiring out their arms can prompt them to use their legs to compensate.
  • Training aids like paddles, fins, and pool buoys can alter how you interact with the water and help improve your technique.
  • Tools like holding a paddle upside down can provide physical constraints that help you feel and understand proper form, making the learning process more robust.
  • Using a paddle cap during freestyle can force you to keep your head in a specific position, exemplifying individual constraints that impact movement.
  • These techniques leverage fatigue, training aids, and constraints to promote effective learning and improve swimming technique.

Training aids for triathletes

30:34 -

  • Adapting your swimming tools according to the changing demands of races or events is crucial. Different goals require different strategies. 
  • Using a pool buoy more frequently can work, but it becomes problematic if swimmers become overly reliant. 
  • This dependence can backfire when the buoy is removed, impacting their performance. 
  • However, this issue might be less critical with wetsuit usage since the buoyancy advantage is inherent.
  • Tools like pool buoys can be precious as they help swimmers learn how to swim effectively with added buoyancy. This skill is slightly different from regular swimming. 
  • The choice of tools should align with your objectives.
  •  For instance, in open water triathlon swims with wetsuits, swimming dynamics differ from pool races. 
  • It's all about adapting to these changes in rules and conditions. Many swimmers need to practice maintaining higher hips, essential in open-water racing.

Using fins and paddles

31:57 -

  • When it comes to using paddles, I find the upside-down design to be effective. 
  • Another option is the pinch paddles, which promote precise pulling technique. 
  • These paddles challenge swimmers to maintain stability, preventing hand cramps. Paddles are valuable tools for enhancing pulling skills in various ways.
  • A helpful approach involves placing a paddle on one hand while leaving the other bare. This highlights the strength imbalance, motivating the swimmer to replicate the pressure on the non-paddle hand. 
  • This technique fosters more effective pulling mechanics.
  • Paddles prove beneficial in improving upper body propulsion. They can simulate conditions to work on force generation. 
  • Additionally, for drills performed slowly, fins can prevent hip sinking in less proficient swimmers. 
  • Fins maintain hip position during such drills, enabling swimmers to focus on technique rather than struggling to stay afloat.
  • Fins also serve to replicate fast swim stroke dynamics. They aid in learning the sensation of speed, a valuable experience distinct from slower swims. 
  • While paddles and fins can make swimming more manageable, their purpose should be intentional. 
  • Using them without purpose can hinder learning progress. 
  • Instead, they should be employed with clear objectives to enhance the learning process effectively.

Other training aids

34:38 -

  • Resistance tools like parachutes and bands in swimming can offer several advantages:
  • Resistance for Strength and Feedback: Tools like parachutes create additional resistance in the water, which can aid in building strength. With a parachute, pulling your arm through the water becomes more challenging due to the increased pressure. This can be instrumental in developing strength and muscle power.
  • More explicit Feedback: The resistance also enhances the feedback you receive during your stroke. Changes in pressure become more noticeable, highlighting errors in your stroke technique. This feedback is crucial in maintaining consistent water propulsion and improving stroke efficiency.
  • Enhanced Sensation: Swimming is quite different from activities on land, making it challenging to feel what's effective in the water. Resistance tools slow down your movements, making it easier to sense your actions. This heightened sensation helps you identify where your stroke might be going wrong.
  • Effective Water Movement: Swimming effectively involves pushing water backwards with your arms to propel yourself forward. Resistance tools accentuate the impact of ineffective water movement. If your stroke isn't generating enough force against the resistance, you won't progress, providing clear feedback on the need for stroke adjustment.
  • Accelerated Learning: Clear feedback speeds up learning. Resistance tools, by making feedback more evident, accelerate progress by highlighting areas for improvement. 
  • Purpose Beyond Strength: While resistance does contribute to strength, its primary value lies in skill enhancement.
  • Another advantage of many of these concepts is that they simultaneously offer a dual benefit of training and learning. 
  • This addresses a common issue where athletes must decide between focusing on skill development or building fitness. 
  • Traditionally, when working on skills, athletes tend to swim without exerting effort, thus not contributing to their training. Conversely, during intense training, skill improvement is often neglected.
  • By implementing constraints, this dilemma is overcome. 
  • Training activities become a means of learning, allowing athletes to work on skills while building fitness. 
  • This eliminates the need for a trade-off between skill enhancement and training intensity, providing a valuable and practical approach.

The connection between skills and Physiology

38:27 -

  • Using drills is a way to physically challenge swimmers and create technical challenges. 
  • The goal is to practice and refine skills under increasingly difficult conditions. 
  • A common misconception is that being able to perform a skill slowly translates to success in a race, which is not accurate. 
  • Mastery requires executing skills slowly and at a race pace, even when tired.
  • For example, consider a set like 10x50s with a light parachute, where swimmers must meet a specific time and stroke count. This set enforces effective pulling techniques, as taking excess strokes would hinder efficiency. 
  • The added resistance makes it even more challenging. 
  • The distinction between a training set and a technique set blurs here, as this set achieves both objectives concurrently. 
  • It forces swimmers to perform well under pressure and fatigue, pushing the boundaries of their skills.

Process of improving swimmers' performance

40:41 -

  • Another reason I leaned towards this approach is the necessity of a system to facilitate these skill changes, mainly when dealing with multiple athletes. Simplification becomes critical in such cases. 
  • To swim faster, individuals must generate more propulsion with their arms and legs while maintaining alignment. 
  • This requires minimising head movement and preventing arms or legs from straying to the sides. These primary skills need to be honed.
  • During a training season or preparation for a race, the initial focus is on helping athletes learn and enhance fundamental skills. This phase can be termed "doing it right." 
  • This involves altering their swimming technique for improvement at a basic level. Subsequently, the focus shifts to executing these skills faster over longer durations. As mastery improves, the emphasis moves to executing skills under increasing fatigue. This is essential to manage race scenarios effectively.
  • The framework involves immediately implementing tools, strategies, and constraints tailored to each athlete's effectiveness. These tools are used to improve skills and are then progressed to more challenging conditions. The process is akin to traditional training periodisation. 
  • Starting with easy elements, the training adds short bursts of speed, extends to endurance training, and culminates with intense race-specific exercises. The emphasis here, however, is on executing skills impeccably in progressively more demanding conditions. 
  • This gradually aligns with race specifics, prioritising skill execution over isolated physiological development.

Athlete's responsibility to improve

43:40 -

  • I emphasise problem-solving over excessive overthinking. The athletes I coach need to tackle the challenges I set for them. 
  • For instance, if I assign them ten sets of 100 meters in 1 minute and 10 seconds with 12 strokes per lap, it's meant to be challenging yet achievable with effort. 
  • Their responsibility is to devise strategies to meet these demands. While they need to be problem solvers, they don't need to constantly ruminate on their actions.
  • I believe in guiding them to develop problem-solving skills. Interestingly, problem-solving becomes enjoyable and rewarding when they taste success through these challenges. 
  • Achieving progress adds to satisfaction. 
  • For those who love swimming and training, which is quite a few, I provide tasks that maintain intensity while adding an extra layer to strive for.
  • For instance, urging them to control their stroke count can be effective, especially when demands aren't overwhelming. 
  • Gradually, I increase the complexity of tasks as they build their capacity. This approach aligns with their preferences, allowing them to train hard while seeing consistent progress.

Challenges within a team environment

46:00 -

  • Preparing for training sessions is crucial and involves tailoring the approach to each individual. 
  • This means considering the unique needs of the athletes and making adjustments accordingly. 
  • For instance, if I use a set of 10x100s, I might give each athlete slight variations based on their requirements. They have a clear understanding of their objectives for the session. 
  • Even if two athletes do the same session, their expectations can differ as their coaches have tailored the training to their capabilities.
  • This approach can be more challenging for a coach beforehand since they must plan for each athlete's specific needs. However, this allows for intentional customisation. 
  • The advantage is that there's ample time for this planning, as coaches aren't confined to a fixed communication window with athletes. 
  • In a group training setting, communication takes on a different form. Instead of issuing commands, it becomes more about checking in, asking about performance times, strokes taken, and guiding athletes through problem-solving. 
  • The emphasis shifts to assisting athletes in finding solutions rather than merely dictating actions.
  • To address your question, the key is avoiding generic assignments. Instead, it's vital to tailor training based on ongoing athlete observations. 
  • This customisation is facilitated by the planning stage, which permits careful consideration. 
  • The more familiar a coach becomes with an athlete, the smoother this process becomes as the coach gains insight into their tendencies and capabilities.

Feedback from athletes

48:19 -

  • The primary focus is on engagement, aiming to ask questions that require engagement and active participation. 
  • These questions serve as indicators of the learner's level of engagement. The main goal is to ensure engagement while providing tasks that aid learning. 
  • Engaged learners tend to grasp concepts more quicker and more effectively. In cases of frustration, offering hints, encouragement, or guidance can help redirect their focus and enthusiasm.
  • Communication involves maintaining their engagement, sharing extra tips, and suggesting alternative perspectives. Instead of providing direct instructions, guiding them towards better approaches is critical. 
  • This approach fosters their realisation that they can tackle challenges independently, enhancing their problem-solving skills and self-confidence. This empowerment is exciting for learners and instructors, as sport demonstrates their potential and ability to learn autonomously. Encouraging their self-discovery and problem-solving skills is crucial to facilitating the learning process.

The impact of age

49:56 -

  • What's crucial here is tailoring the approach to the individual. This applies across various ages and skill levels. 
  • The guiding principles remain consistent, but the specific activities vary significantly based on age and skill.
  • Consider the example of an eight-year-old versus a 35-year-old beginner swimmer. 
  • Even if their skill level is similar, their cognitive abilities, focus, and physical capacities differ significantly. The core idea remains unaltered: creating scenarios facilitating skill acquisition and allowing learners to discover optimal techniques.
  • Adapting these concepts to the learner's age, maturity, and existing skills is essential. The foundational goal is to immerse them in situations conducive to skill development and self-discovery. 
  • The methodology aims to foster learning experiences for each individual rather than just providing instructions.
  • While the fundamental concepts hold, their application varies due to the diverse needs of learners. 
  • The effectiveness of these concepts endures, but the approach must be customised to suit the specific requirements of each learner.
  • When working with a group of eight-year-olds in swimming, the key focus is developing foundational skills. 
  • One crucial skill at this level is teaching them how to float effectively in the water. M
  • Any kids struggle to learn basic strokes like freestyle because they lack body control in the water. 
  • Therefore, the primary objective is to help them become comfortable and adept at floating and managing their body position.
  • Here's an example of how to approach teaching swimming to eight-year-olds:
  • Floating Practice: Begin with various floating exercises to help the children become comfortable and confident in the water. These exercises should focus on different ways to float and maintain balance.
  • Silent Swimming: To improve their stroke technique and reduce excessive splashing, give them the task of swimming as silently as possible. This constraint encourages them to relax and refine their movements without explicitly instructing them on every detail.
  • Task Constraints: Instead of overwhelming them with specific technical instructions, provide task-based constraints. For example, you can challenge them to complete a certain distance with one less stroke per lap. This introduces an element of fun and competition, making it engaging for them.
  • Counting Strokes: While getting them to count strokes consistently might be challenging, turning stroke counting into a game can be effective. Make it a concrete task where they need to count strokes for a specific distance, making it both educational and enjoyable.
  • Balancing Fun and Learning: Keep in mind that while structured activities are essential, maintaining an element of fun is equally important. Games, challenges, and playful activities can keep their interest high and promote a positive learning experience.
  • Avoiding Over-Literal Interpretations: While task constraints can be practical, be prepared for literal interpretations. If you ask them to take one less stroke per lap, they might take it to the extreme. Be ready to guide them towards the intended learning outcome.

Challenges of applying this in coaching

53:16 -

  • When approaching any skill, including coaching, there are certain key aspects to consider:
  • Clarity of Goals: It's vital to clearly understand the skills you want to develop and the ultimate objectives you aim to achieve.
  • Understanding Individual Differences: Different individuals will react differently to the same task or instruction. Anticipating these reactions and having contingency plans in place is crucial.
  • Adaptability and Adjustments: Knowing when and how to adjust your approach is vital. If your initial plan isn't working as expected, being able to adapt and try different strategies is essential.
  • Multiple Options: Developing various approaches to tackle the same problem is important. For instance, when improving breathing techniques, offering various methods like snorkel practice, breathing to the opposite side, or using paddle drills can be effective.
  • Accumulated Experience: Gaining experience over time is key. We need to accumulate a range of options and understand the potential impact of each.
  • Practice and Experience: Like any skill, it requires practice and experience. Consistently achieving desired results takes time and continuous effort.
  • Effective Implementation: The ability to implement various strategies effectively comes from a deep understanding of the principles and extensive practice.
  • Challenges and Learning Curve: Learning to think critically and implement coaching strategies effectively is a significant challenge that requires practice and dedication.

Implementing a constraints-led approach in triathlon

56:07 -

  • Much like age group considerations, the approach for triathletes remains consistent, although the goals differ. 
  • Even at the shortest distances, Triathlons encompass longer swimming segments than traditional swim events. Therefore, preparation emphasises an aerobic component. Unlike pool events, triathlons eliminate the use of walls, requiring a different strategy. 
  • Given that the swimming portion is just the beginning of the race, the legs' role becomes crucial as they dominate the remaining segments.
  • Optimisation in triathlons extends beyond swimming to the entire race. Managing open water conditions, people, chopping, and sighting contribute to the unique challenges. 
  • Wetsuits, commonly worn in races, change hip positioning, making using a pool buoy or training in a wetsuit more practical.
  • Irrespective of event distance, the training approach centres around understanding performance demands and skill acquisition. 
  • Training intensity might be lower, with a stronger aerobic focus, reduced leg usage, and a continuous swimming style. 
  • The key is adapting to the distinct demands of open water triathlons and effectively training for these challenges.

Applications for self-coached athletes

58:19 -

  • I believe the most impactful step for anyone is to consistently track their strokes and times. 
  • This practice acts as an automatic constraint and provides a clear benchmark for improvement. This method doesn't demand expertise or sophisticated equipment; it uses these metrics as guiding posts, always striving to progress. 
  • Playing around with stroke count, speed, and deliberate variations empowers you to control your swimming, which can be particularly beneficial in open-water scenarios where conditions fluctuate.
  • An alternative strategy to continuous long swims is to focus on shorter intervals. 
  • This approach enables quick reassessment and feedback after each segment, even with minimal rest. Unlike a straight 2000-meter swim with limited feedback, frequent pauses allow for better learning and adaptation. T
  • The essence here is that the more and better feedback you acquire, the faster your progress.
  • When employing training tools, being conscious of their impact on your swimming is essential. Purposeful use of tools, like paddles or caps, can be a potent aid in learning. 
  • For instance, drills such as using paddles upside down or incorporating a pull buoy should serve a clear purpose in your training. Using tools solely because they make you faster without a deliberate intention to improve technique is less effective.
  • Counting strokes holds two significant benefits in swim training:
  • Comprehensive Evaluation: Counting strokes offers an additional dimension to assess swimming performance beyond speed. While not flawless, it provides valuable insights into the quality of your swimming technique.
  • Early Detection of Skill Decay: For instance, if you consistently maintain your timings during a set of eight 200-meter freestyle swims, it might seem like a success. However, if stroke counting reveals that you're adding three extra strokes in the last 50 meters of each 200, it indicates a decline in your technique. 
  • This continuous pattern could compromise performance in longer races, like a 1500-meter swim. By monitoring stroke count, you gain awareness of this issue and can work on rectifying it. 
  • This newfound awareness empowers you to address these problems in subsequent repetitions and manage your swimming more effectively.

Final thoughts on this topic

1:02:40 -

  • For athletes, the advice remains consistent with my previous statements. Coaches should also consider the same principles. The most crucial aspect for coaches is establishing a structured plan for the skills they want athletes to acquire. 
  • This plan should outline both the skills and the method athletes will learn them. 
  • Instead of approaching this process haphazardly or neglecting it altogether, coaches should deliberately define the desired outcomes and create a plan that evolves throughout the season. This way, athletes can effectively develop the necessary skills for success.
  • Another critical approach for coaches is to focus on experiential learning rather than just instructing athletes on what to do. A practical example involves teaching the proper forearm technique for swimming. 
  • Instead of merely explaining the concept, coaches can guide athletes to place their forearms flat against a pool gutter and gently push into it. 
  • This helps them understand the sensation of forearm pressure and lat engagement, contributing to a more effective swim stroke. This experiential learning approach can be applied to various skills – the goal is to immerse athletes in an experience that mirrors the desired skill outcome. 
  • When athletes genuinely feel and comprehend the technique, their ability to replicate it increases significantly.

Rapid-Fire Questions

1:04:58 -

What's your favourite book or resource related to endurance sports?
The Science of Winning: Planning, Periodizing and Optimizing Swim Training by Jan Olbrecht

What's an important habit you've benefited from athletically, professionally or personally?

Anything that has helped me seeing the world differently and helped me live a better life.
Who's somebody that you look up to or that has inspired you?
My parents


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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