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Let's Talk About Our Feelings, Part I

In Feedback, I argued that traditional feedback in the form of verbal instruction has several shortcomings, primarily that it impaired long-term access to intrinsic sources of feedback that have the long-term benefit of improving skill acquisition potential. Below, I will outline how intrinsic feedback can be enhanced through effectively designed training tasks.


To effectively enhance access to and interpretation of sensory information, it is important to design tasks that magnify sensory information. An effective strategy is the use of contrast. The greater the differences in input, the easier it is to recognize those differences. In this way, swimmers can become attuned to differences in the nature and magnitude of sensory input. Overtime, this attunement becomes more sensitive, and suddenly we have ‘feel for the water’. As an example, alternating repetitions with holding tennis balls and paddles will help swimmers feel different levels of pressure on the hands and forearms, improving sensitivity.

A second strategy is to use tasks that require specific movement patterns so that swimmers can begin to FEEL what these positions. Once the swimmer has a kinesthetic awareness of what targeted positions/movements FEEL like, they can assess their own feedback to evaluate their movement. As an example, swimming with a heavy parachute will require relatively direct propulsive actions or forward movement will be impaired. Once returning to regular swimming, the swimmer has a kinesthetic template to compare free swimming against.

General Sensory Awareness

There are many skills that transfer across all strokes as due to the nature of the water. Enhancing these skills in a general sense, without specific context, should enhance the ability to learn when swimmers are placed in specific contexts. These primary skills transfer well across all strokes and can be enhanced when training any of the strokes.

Propulsive ‘Intelligence’

One of the critical skills for all strokes is the ability to create propulsion. The ability to effectively manipulate the limbs to apply force is a learned skill. Awareness of differences in pressure can be learned through exposure to a spectrum of pressure experiences. Furthermore, tasks can only be completed through effective force application require swimmers to search for successful solutions.

An example-

4 rounds of

2*25@45 Swim with parachute; large paddles

2*25@45 Swim with parachute; small paddles

2*25@45 Swim with parachute; open hands

2*25@45 Swim with parachute; tennis balls

4*50@45 Descend 1-4; hold stroke count constant

  • For the 25s; keep the stroke constant across all 25s while minimizing loss in velocity.

  • Distances, intensities, volumes, and intervals can be modified in the example above to accomplish any physiological goal while providing an opportunity to enhance propulsive effectiveness.

The chart below lays out some of the options for enhancing skill acquisition through intrinsic feedback. Manipulate any of the variables to create a variety of contrasting sensory experiences. This can be done within the context of developing any physiological quality.

Drag Reduction ‘Intelligence’

Equally as important as increasing propulsion, reducing drag will positively impact swimming velocity. To enhance the ability to detect and reduce drag, a similar approach can be used as described for enhancing propulsion. What strategies do you believe will be effective? How can coaches manipulate drag and the flow of the water over the body?

Directed Sensory Awareness

With a solid base of general sensory awareness established, coaches move towards enhancing awareness for specific positions and key tasks within stroke cycles. This is done by designing tasks that require swimmers to achieve the desired positions/movement outcomes.

Please note, that the general/specific distinction is artificial and is used to illustrate the subtle differences in intention and effect. The processes can occur concurrently.

Two Breaststroke Examples

1. Objective- Learn a lower, more forward breath.

4 rounds of

2*50@50 Breaststroke breathe every 3rd stroke; ODD pull; EVEN swim

2*50@50 Breaststroke breathe every 2nd stroke; ODD pull; EVEN swim

4*50@50 Breaststroke breathe every stroke; des 1-4 @ 6 strokes per lap

The idea is to spend time moving through the ‘breathing action’ while retaining a low position, minimizing vertical movement. When incorporating the actual breathing action, the swimmer has a new perception and awareness of the effects of the breath on body position and forward movement. They can then use this information to tune the appropriate breathing action.

2. Objective- Learn to separate the arm and leg actions to ensure periods propulsion are coupled with periods of minimized drag

4 rounds

4*75@1.10 ODD 3Kick+1Pull/2K1P/Swim by 25; EVEN 3Pull+1Kick/2P1K/Swim by 25

4*25@30 Strong breaststroke ODD 5 strokes EVEN 7 strokes

The concept is to learn what it feels like to be in a streamlined position with the upper body while kicking, and vice versa, slowly moving towards full stroke swimming. The swimmer then tries to recreate those sensations during regular swimming, using the intrinsic feedback provided through the senses.

Either of these sets can be altered to achieve various physiological goals, as well as modified and progressed to account for current and changing abilities.


Hopefully, these ideas provide some guidance as to how coaches can create learning contexts that allow swimmers to develop and take advantage of the sensory information already present within their body. Over time, consistent application will enhance learning in the short term, as well as the ability to learn in the long term.

It’s important to note that many of these strategies have been used, at least in part, by intuitive coaches. What is important to consider specifically what you are trying to accomplish, why it’s working, and how it can be further shaped in all contexts to better facilitate skill acquisition. Before speaking, the question should always be, ‘how can the swimmer learn the desired skill without instruction?’

1. Create contrast.

2. Create tasks that require the achievement of desired skills.

3. Watch learning take place!

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