Brett Sutton – What irritates me the most

I was asked to write an article that will have practical use, for keen Age Groupers who want to improve. So I thought, let’s start at the very beginning, as the biggest myth is with the swim.

Brett Sutton
Telling it like it is…

I have always campaigned that the teaching of non-swimmers to ‘feel’ the water is the biggest hindrance to full triathlon improvement. We view triathlon as one sport, not three, and our success has come from compromising each individual element to suit the overall performance.

You may say that my successes have been with pro athletes, but I would point out we have had outstanding improvements with Age Groupers too and in all cases I changed their view and training of swimming. This is what helps with the Eureka moments of massive improvement.

My swim CV is unmatched in triathlon and rarely matched in pure swimming but I can’t make the point that swim training for ‘feel’ and the techniques espoused by swim coaches using the parameters of swim time improvement over 50m or 100m – even 200m – has totally no correlation to improvement in times over 3800m. The longer vision is the lack of miles; if someone works over 60% of their swim time with drills and kick, it leaves them totally unfit for 3800m of actual strokes. If I’m allowed to generalise, if you’re a poor swimmer, doing 3 x 1 hour sessions and adding 2 sessions in the gym trying build specific swim strength, this applies to you.

I have heard the lectures: “Today, we are going to do an aerobic weight workout and do many reps, 3 sets to 5 sets of 25 reps” – it just leaves me perplexed when one thinks of 3800m worth of strokes. However, when we go a step further, the lack of swim fitness can affect bike times by 10 to 20 minutes because of the exhaustion of the swim.

To try to deliver the real truth, I have failed and so publicly I have given up and will turn my attention to those that follow me privately.

90% of non-swimmers would be far better served by using aids and instead of drilling, performing swim sessions that specifically address the needs of the physical exertion of swimming non-stop for an hour.

Next, I’m confronted with; “But I do a sprint race or Olympic distance”. I try to point out that 800m and 1500m events in swimming are classified as distance events, so in our sport of triathlon, even the sprints are considered endurance events by all scientists within swimming – this is not in any dispute.

In conclusion, sprint swimmers are usually extremely poor in distance events; without going into too much detail, techniques the sprinters use may hinder distance results. However, this is overlooked. To watch swimmers trying to feel the water, using drills that very good swimmers do not on the whole perform, makes one very sceptical of such advice handed out as the norm in Age Group triathlon.

If the Buccaneers want a real positive statement that will improve their overall triathlon time, I would say:

–       Every minute you have to spend in the pool should be spent swimming as much as possible.

–       For me, the less ability, the more with “toys” – paddles, pull-buoy, possibly bands – this will have a good outcome for stroke improvement, whilst building the needed physical condition to handle long swims.

–       Any time spent in the gym as specific swim strength should be replaced by going to the pool. For me this is not a hypothetical, but just plain common sense which, I’m afraid, is so uncommon in triathlon.

Thank you for your time.

the doc

Many thanks to Brett for providing the article and to Elaine for the editing

Visit for more information from Brett or to learn about Dove dove



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  1. Answered questions I have been asking myself. In other words I will return to the way I was training til I caved in to unsolicited advice/criticism. Thank you so much!
    Newly 50-59 AGer

  2. So doing drill work, which allows the non-swimmer to work on one particular part of their stroke to create effiecence, which is the essence of all swimming, is over-rated. And kicksets are unnessasary, the main component of a good balanced stroke. I would argue if the drill work is done within the right aerobic training parameters then the swimming of 3.8km during race day will not be compromised and neither will the rest of the race.

    • Hi Rodney – there’s no one right answer here and a lot depends upon whether or not you have an on-deck coach. Just ploughing up and down practising drills because you think you should, in general turns people into good at doing drills.

      Remember this is aimed at a reasonable level age grouper, not someone that can’t swim at all. If you have a good coach, watching you doing drills then no-one is saying change it! But what the gist is, for the time limited AG athlete maybe swimming 3 times per week it’s better to get aerobically fit, rather than wasting limited pool time practising drills. If you’re swimming 5 times per week and have the luxury then you’re in the minority, probably why he said 90% and not 100%.
      Thanks for the comment

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