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A Week Coaching With Brett Sutton

TEC Coach Nick Thomas spent a week working alongside Brett Sutton, on a coaching camp recently. Brett is the coach responsible for many of the world's top Ironman stars and his list of past and athletes includes Kona champions Chrissie Wellington, Daniela Ryf and Olympic gold medalist Nicola Spirig. Here's Nick's account and overview of the week he spent in the great man's presence.

As part of an ongoing Trisutto coaching qualification I was required to attend a second training camp where I would be shadowing Brett Sutton for a week. I completed my first week last year in St Moritz which as a real insight into his training methodology. He was training age groupers alongside Nicola Spirig who was three weeks away from winning silver at the Olympics and Daniela Ryf who had just won Ironman Switzerland and was preparing for her second win at Ironman Hawaii.

It was fascinating and I learnt a huge amount during my time with him. The main take home points from that trip can be read in the previous blog: https://www.theendurancestore.com/blogs/the-endurance-store/the-endurance-blog-a-week-with-brett-sutton

The format was very similar to the previous camp but without any elite athletes. Much of the week reinforced what I’d already experienced but there are a few extra points to share:

Over coaching:

As a coach it’s tempting to point out fault after fault abut it can often be counterproductive. Brett occasionally made observations and offered advice but it was much less than most people would expect. The points were usually very subtle but the improvements in technique were usually immediate. His point was: ‘’It’s not what you say, it’s when to say it’’ which became more obvious as the week progressed.

Do the weaker discipline first:

Brett’s athletes complete their weakest discipline as the first session of the day when they’re fresh and their motor skills are not impaired. He finds the sessions are more productive and technique isn’t compromised. Professional athletes have the luxury of training when they want so this point isn’t always possible for age groupers. However the principle can still be followed whenever possible: if swimming is your weakest discipline a morning session would be more appropriate.

Men and women swim differently:

The women were encouraged to achieve an even tempo with a relatively high arm cadence whereas the men generally had a longer, loping stroke. This was a generalization and the differences were down to body type and size. Consequently a smaller man might use the ‘female’ stroke and a taller, stronger woman might use the ‘male’ stroke.

Swim sessions were similar to the previous camp with the focus on FC with very little (or zero) time spent on drills or alternative strokes. The ethos is that unless you’re an elite swimmer there is little point in training people in the finer points of stroke improvement: the skill level isn’t there to benefit from the drills. This applies to all Brett’s athletes, whether they’re age groupers or Olympic champions.

Swimming speed is achieved through acceleration:

There was a strong emphasis on multiple short reps as Brett believes the greatest gains are achieved during the acceleration phase of an interval. This means sessions could involve 100 x 50 and he’s a fan of sculling starts as the acceleration is greater than when pushing off the wall. He approved of the way I structure the main sets during the summer so the multiple open water starts will continue!

Run for survival, not speed:

Running technique was addressed but not in the conventional way. Instead of achieving the usual aims during track sessions e.g. high knees, high heel kick, mid/forefoot strike, leaning forward etc the emphasis was to find a technique which the athlete could maintain for the duration of the event. This was often less attractive and resembled more of a shuffle but the reduced effort meant it would be achievable for longer when fatigued. This was especially relevant for Ironman as the deterioration during the marathon is often due to mechanical breakdown, not lack of calories. Most people were encouraged to adopt an upright posture, especially the taller, heavier ones: if they lean forwards they tend to lose posture as they fatigue resulting in a flexed, bent over gait which is less effective.

Ignore the bullshit:

This was by far the most refreshing message. Triathlon is full of people who obsess over the minutest detail which could gain 5% improvement but continually fail to achieve the basics which will achieve the remaining 95%. Unless you’re doing the basics correctly there’s no point spending time and money on the bullshit.

So the take home message for most people was to stop fussing over the finer points and get the basics right. Training must be specific to the requirements of the event and be appropriate to the limitations of the athlete. Training methods aimed at elite athletes are generally unsuitable for 99% of people competing.

If you'd like more structure to your coaching, then email nickthomas@theendurancecoach.com . We have coaching packages for ironman starting at £40 per month, ranging up to £95 and all include sports science testing to assess your personal strengths and weaknesses.



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