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How To Ensure That Skills Continue To Improve

One of the biggest misconceptions is that skills are best learned at slow speeds without any pressure or fatigue.


If you’ve ever bought into this line of thinking, and I certainly have, you’ve no doubt seen the consequences as well.


Skills that don’t improve.

Skills that don’t show up in races.

Skills that look good for the 1st quarter of the race and then look like a complete trainwreck during the last quarter of the race.


These are pretty painful experiences to watch as a coach because it means that swimmers aren’t achieving their goals, and we’re not helping the process.


This was something I struggled with for a long time.


I had a belief system that obviously wasn’t working for me, but I was struggling to break out of it.


I couldn’t see or comprehend an alternative.


That changed when I read an article by Coach Wayne Goldsmith about swimming TUF, which he defined as technique under fatigue.


His point was swimmers needed to execute their skills while tired and fatigue, and to do that, they needed to practice their skills in those contexts.


The lightbulb went off in my head and I immediately saw how this was the solution to my problem.


And I saw the possibilities as well.


I used that concept and started taking it to the next level.


For all the skill development work I was doing, I started constantly trying to challenge it in some way.


I figured that if the skills needed to hold up under pressure, they needed to be exposed to pressure.


While that certainly proved to be the case, it went beyond that.


Not only will using any of the strategies below make skills more resilient, they’ll make skills BETTER.


Skills are learned under pressure, and all the strategies below are excellent for turning up the pressure.


What’s cool is that each strategy is basically a form of good training, so skills can be challenged and developed as part of a solid training program.


And they can be applied to any activity designed to improve skills.




If swimmers can’t execute their skills fast, nothing else really matters.


To improve skills, they have to be exposed to faster and faster speeds.


Any type of speed variation, progressively increased over time, is going to positively impact speed and positively impact performance.


Stroke Count


Changing the stroke count requires swimmers to change how they swim.


By requiring swimmers to swim differently, the door is opened to swimming better.


You can have them get longer, and you can have them increase the stroke count to encourage swimmers to learn how to change gears.


Having swimmers alternate between higher and lower stroke counts is going to help them learn to control and change their skills to achieve those stroke counts.


Stroke Rate


Swimming at fast stroke rates and swimming at slow strokes requires swimmers to swim differently.


That can be leveraged to improve skills.


Having swimmers use high stroke requires them to execute those skills quickly and precisely.


Using low stroke rates requires swimmers to execute those skills smoothly and patiently.


Alternating between the two encourages swimmers to figure out how to quickly shift their skills.




Adding resistance is going to challenge swimmers to create more propulsion with each stroke.


They’re going to have to use their arms and legs more effectively, regardless of what activity their performing.


Resistance also tends to make it more difficult to maintain alignment, requiring swimmers to focus more on how they’re controlling their position and posture in the water.


Training Aids


Fins, pull buoys, paddles, etc. all change how swimmers move through the water.


That change is going to challenge swimmers to execute their skills more effectively.


By using training aids, you can further emphasize or exaggerate certain skills, increasing the challenge that swimmers experience.


Hand Postures


Most swimmers rely on the hands to create propulsion,


While that works, it’s not as effective at using the forearms AND the hands.


If you take away the hands through different hand postures, swimmers are going to have to learn to use the forearms to create propulsion.


However, using different hand postures can also be used to challenge alignment.


Many swimmers use their hands to scull and create balance to maintain their alignment.


Take away the hands, and that’s no longer an option.




Executing any skill is more difficult when tired.


Using any of the strategies above with some fatigue is going to create a novel challenge that can promote learning.


There are tons of options here.


You can use different types of fatigue such as aerobic fatigue or race fatigue.


You can use muscular fatigue through resisted swimming.


You can create isolated fatigue in just the arms or just the legs.


In every case, it’s going to create a challenge that swimmers will have to use their skills to overcome.


Put It Into Practice


If your swimmers are struggling to learn new skills, or execute their skills when it matters, they may just need the right type of challenge.


If you know you’re using the right strategy to improve the skills, the right challenge might be all that’s missing.


Take a look at the options above, identify an opportunity, and see what happens.


You may be pleasantly surprised.


If you’re looking to make this even easier, and you want to know which skills are most important to focus on and train, I lay out the key skills swimmers need to create speed in each of the strokes in Stroke Fundamentals


I also show you the exact strategies I use to help swimmers learn these skills. 


If you want to improve your swimmers’ skills, consider grabbing a copy here.



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