top of page

TRAIN Skills With These 3 Simple Steps

Nothing is more frustrating than watching swimmers fail to execute their skills in competition.


All that work for nothing.


Or worse, they never make any progress in their skills at all, and they don’t swim faster as a result.


Just about every time it has happened to swimmers I coached, it was because I didn’t have a PLAN for how to develop the ability to execute new skills under pressure in races.


Planning training is difficult enough, and planning for skill development makes it even more difficult.


And while there is plenty of information about how to set up a training plan, there’s very little guidance as to how to set up a skill development plan.


I knew I had a problem to solve, and because there wasn’t any information available about how to do it, I knew I had to figure it out for myself.


Rather than complicating everything, I focused on what HAD to happen, and I came up with a very simple approach to improving skills over the course of a season.


It worked really well, and because it worked so well, I’d like to share it with you.


It’s an approach that you can apply to any skills you want to develop, and it can be applied to whatever style of training you like to use.


Best of all it’s simple and easy to use.


To get skills to show up in races, swimmers have to do things right, then they have to go faster and longer, and then they have to go harder.


If that happens, they’ll improve their skills, and they’ll go fast.


Let’s check it out.


Do It Right


The first step is to decide WHAT you want your swimmers to improve.


Underwater kicking?  Upper body propulsion?  Timing?


Once you understand what you want to improve, early in the season, focus on getting those changes as fast as possible.


The less time, the better, so I suggest you use your most effective strategies from day 1.


My goal is to get a major change in one day, if possible.


For example, if the goal is to improve stroke length, a key aspect of doing so is helping swimmers learn to create more propulsion with their upper body.


To facilitate that process, I’m likely to be using a lot of different hand postures, stroke counts, light resistance, and some select drills.


And my goal is to help them figure out how to hold more water as quickly as possible.


I want change TODAY.


It’s going to take some time to train these skills, so the sooner swimmers can learn the basics, the sooner we can start training.


At this point, the goal is not to get big changes in fitness but get big changes in skill.


However, because they’re likely returning from some sort of break, even low-level work is going to improve their fitness.


Just like you normally ease into a season, it’s the same thing here.


However, there’s a very directed and intentional focus on improving specific skills.


Add Speed, Add Volume


The next step is to start adding speed, and start adding volume, but not at the same time.


During some of the work, start asking for faster and faster speeds, ensuring that the skills are maintained throughout.


If swimmers are going to execute great skills in races, they have to be able to execute those skills at high speeds and for extended periods of time.


That’s what we’re working on here.


It’s important to keep the pressure and fatigue relatively low here.


Allow them to work on getting faster and going for longer distances without getting tired.


That will allow them to be successful.


They’ll be plenty of time to create fatigue soon enough.


A key point here is that it’s not about doing faster or longer sets and asking swimmers to ‘think about it’.


The skill work should be built into the sets so that swimmers HAVE to execute the skills.


Sticking with our stroke length example, if the goal is to help swimmers improve their stroke length, rather than telling swimmers to ‘stay long’, provide them with specific stroke count expectations during the speed and endurance work.


Build it into the set.


From a training standpoint, this is your ‘basework’.


You’re developing a base of speed and you’re developing a base of fitness.


The faster swimmers are and the more fit they are, the faster they will be able to swim in races.


Even better, by focusing on pushing the forward with the skills, they’re going to have an excellent base of skill as well.


Turn Up The Pressure


Once swimmers can execute their skills with some speed and hold it together over longer distances, it’s time to add pressure.


Swimming fast is important, and swimming long is important, but swimmers have to do both at the same time.


They have to be able to execute while fatigued, and to learn to do that, we have expose them to those situations.


Of course, this will look different depending on the events that swimmers are targeting.


100-meter work is going to look different than 1500-m work.


However, the principles remain the same.


And just like the other types of sets, build the skill work into the sets.


With our stroke length example, incorporating stroke counts will require swimmers to maintain those skills.

You can even add some resistance and hand posture work as well.


This ensures that swimmers are improving their ability to execute their skills under pressure, while simultaneously developing the necessary fitness.


From a training standpoint, this is your race specific work.


The only difference is that you’re also developing the necessary skills, rather than just the physiology.


That provides swimmers the best chance to get those skills to show up when it matters.


Take Action


There you have it.


A simple, yet effective model for implementing skill development into your training program.


What I particularly like about this framework is that it can be applied to any training program and to any skills that you want to develop.


All that’s required is that you identify which skills you want to improve, how you’re going to help them learn those skills, and how you want to challenge those skills over time.


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.







bottom of page