Workouts Don’t Matter…If…

Lt. Shannon Scaff, an instructor at the Coast Guard Maritime Law Enforcement Academy in Charleston, S.C., takes a quick breather during a long distance swim he dedicated to a fallen Coast Guard aircrew, Feb. 27, 2015. Scaff undertook the challenge of swimming in a local Charleston pool for 24 hours to bring awareness and support to the families of fallen military members. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Lehmann.
Photo Courtesy: Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Lehmann

Workouts Don’t Matter.

All this stuff about volume, intensity, frequency, heart rates, lactate, speed, power, endurance…it’s doesn’t really matter. None of it.

Coaches spend hours and hours pondering, “do we 6 x 200 or 7”, “should we hold 1:40 or 1:35 on this set”, “should this kick set be 600 metres or 800 metres”.

And it doesn’t make any difference.

Not if you want to win.

Workout’s don’t matter….unless….

Picture this.


Photo Courtesy: Morgan Pestorius

An early morning in a wonderful, new, state of the art swimming pool.

The head coach, the coaching team and two of the nation’s leading sports scientists have spent two hours discussing the workout, debating time cycles, arguing about heart rates and physiological loading and talked about the ideal volume for the swimmers to complete in this training session.

The athletes arrive – carrying with them the latest training equipment, low-drag swimsuits, the best sports drinks and protein bars money can buy and start getting ready for training.

Workout is scheduled to start in 10 minutes.

Seems like everything is ready and raring to go for what should be a brilliant workout.

Now look closer….there’s more here than meets the eye.

The athletes were supposed to be here 30 minutes ago to start stretching and preparing for training – but most of them turned up late.

When they arrived, they sat around talking about the movie they saw on TV last night and about their best score on Halo 3.

Eventually, with a few minutes to go before workout is scheduled to start, they place their swim gear next to the pool.

Warm up starts…an easy 200 free.

Their first dive….sloppy, poor streamlining, no power.

They breathe on their first stroke and swim their first lap with poor technique and without breathing control.

At their first turn, they slow down, breathe three times inside the flags, turn half on their side, push-off without real power and with a “super-man” streamline (i.e. hands and arms apart) – and are up on the surface for their first breath before they reach the flag.

As they approach the wall at the end of their 200 warm up they breathe twice from the flags, then stop three metres from the wall and walk the final metres to the finish.

Content and Intent – The Science and the Art of Swimming.

When coaches write training sessions – when they design the “content” of the workout, they do so with one underpinning assumption…..that the athletes will complete the workout with the “intent” with which it was written.

No coach writes a workout thinking, “and the swimmers will swim this session with poor push offs, terrible technique, slow and sloppy turns and sub-standard finishes”.

It is the desire, capacity and commitment of the athlete to do the content – the “what” of the workout – with the intent behind the workout’s development – the “how” of the workout – that makes all the difference.

And therein lies the key to it all – the balance between the science and the art of swimming.

The Science and the Art of Swimming: one cannot exist without the other.

Swimmers and coaches spend far too much time worrying and thinking about the “what” of swimming – the sets, the repeats, the training volume, intensity levels, skills practices and speed work. This is the science of swimming – and it’s important – but it’s only half the picture.

The key to swimming success is in the “how” of swimming – the art of swimming.

Apr 15, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammates Allison Schmitt and Michael Phelps swims laps during a practice session at the Arena Pro Swim Series at Skyline Aquatic Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic via USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports

The best designed, most carefully crafted, most intelligently written swimming training program – the one with the scientifically “proven to work” content is not the miracle of swimming performance enhancement everyone seems to think it is unless the athletes swim the workout with the intent with which it was written.

It is this balance – getting the content of the workout right – then inspiring, educating and coaching athletes to swim that workout with the intent with which it was written that makes all the difference.

A relatively simple program – delivered by a passionate, thoughtful coach and swum by committed, dedicated, determined swimmers will produce outstanding results every time.

Workouts don’t Matter unless… you study and learn the science of swimming – then Master the art of coaching: an unbeatable combination.

Wayne Goldsmith


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Heidi Hester Cuticchia

A quick Google of the author tells me that he has little coaching experience, which means that in theory what he says is correct but in practice doesn’t have much experience on how hard it is to 1) establish a culture of excellence that pays attention to detail and 2) maintaining that culture. The second an age group coach loosens the reigns and expects the kids to self-regulate is the time when kids lax on stretches, punctuality. Kids don’t mean to, but when they are not constantly held accountable, they will likely stop. It isn’t until kids get much older that they see that the coach isn’t just being mean, and the incessant nagging to do things as simple as leaving at the right time, streamlining, etc have a purpose in achieving the big picture goals.

Dianne Fraser
3 years ago

Heidi Hester Cuticchia Heidi Wayne is a great coach not sure where you are finding your info. He runs courses worldwide and is respected.

Heidi Hester Cuticchia

Dianne Fraser Running courses and actual coaching are 2 different things. Same thing as being a school administrator versus an actual teacher. I am not arguing that he is not respected and I love his books and ideas. However, when talking about culture and paying attention to detail versus training, coaches know that kids need great technique but most kids who are not naturally gifted struggle accept changes. So it is a constant battle. It is well and good to say that training is worthless without technique, but sometimes that’s the only way to make a kid faster and support your program. Just my 2 cents. Again, I love his ideas and he does help in a lot of ways, but when it comes to this issue there will always be a delicate balance.

Paul Grout
3 years ago

Tori Grout

Tori Grout
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Grout

Paul Grout wow ?

Kelley Harman OShea
3 years ago

Kaitlynd Scanlan

3 years ago

Yup , i usually use warm up session to correct the technique of the swimmer and remind them , unfortunately my country coach mostly.i saw them sitting down when swimmer are doing warm up and just focus on the main set

Lone Christensen
Lone Christensen
3 years ago

Would be great to know the authors formal swimming coaching qualifications, the clubs where he has worked for as a coach (not just visited, but actually coached for a longer period of time). The internet doesn’t “tell”. Am not criticising, just asking for clarity. Not a list of lectures attended, or speeches helps, articles written, just state qualifications, and clubs coached.

Craig Lord
3 years ago

Hi Lone, you can read more about the work of Wayne Goldsmith and three decades of experience working with a lot of big players here:

Given that I don’t think WG needs to justify what he does by listing his swim coaching qualifications or any other qualifications at his stage of life and experience, I’ve chosen too answer for him as Editor:

The link to his website will not tell you whether or what swim coaching qualifications he has – but then, fair to say that trawl of clubs and national fed sites and much else tells me that coaches and others rarely, if ever, list their qualifications to do the job they are doing. Such things are, of course relevant to employers and, if you wish to pay for services offered by WG and others providing guidance in the realm of performance you are entitled to ask and to understand what you’re getting and from whom.

I don’t really think, however, that Wayne needs to lay out his CV in full in the comments section of Swimming World 🙂

As far as we are concerned, his long experience, well-received work speaks for itself – and is there for all to see, praise and criticise at will.

If he was coaching a specific program in a specific sport, his CV of that kind of work would be interesting, and only then if it became relevant. For example, when I write about Bill Sweetenham, Fred Vergnoux, Mark Schubert, Bob Bowman and many others who have significant things to say and tips and guidance to pass on, I’m not interested in seeing their CV. Nor would I wish to see their CVs if they give their opinion on a race horse, a rugby team or the struggles of getting ‘problem’ parents to be more like ‘good’ parent role models in performance sport etc etc.

I hear you when you say it’s not a criticism but a level of implied criticism is inherent (or at least can be perceived) in the question in that it sounds like you might only find his guidance valid if he can show he has coach qualifications X and Y and worked at clubs B, F and G for 12 or 20 years.

That, however, would be to impose a specific definition on his work and role, one I don’t find entirely relevant, in various senses, including this one, for example: I see dozens and dozens of world-class swimmers charging $5 to $20k a lecture/speech that includes ‘training tips and coaching advice’ without any of them ever having taken a coaching qualification nor having an ounce of coaching experience to speak of.

It is assumed because they sped to a gold medal at meet X, they have something valid to pass on to others … and that is likely to be the case, to some extent – though will not always be so…in my opinion, and their own experience does not make them a ‘swimming coach’ … it just makes them much more marketable than the vast bulk of coaches out there in the world with fine qualifications who will never be called to give guidance beyond their own backyard, despite the fine jobs they have done in specific environments and over the long term.

In the past, WG has worked with several national teams and organisations at International level across various sports. Right now, as I understand it, WG (he can correct me if I’m wrong) is mentoring something like 30 national and international level coaches across a number of sports, writing performance-related planning papers for international sports teams that value his work, helps teams in various sports in a number of countries with their approaches to coach education. He’s been doing that work for at least a couple of decades and his work has earned plaudits (and yes, criticism – who among us has not been criticised?) far and wide.

I respond in this way because when I read your mail, I did perceive implied criticism in the very mention of ‘not a criticism’. Thinking of my own experience, I have a degree and I have journalism qualifications that stretch to media law and various related aspects of the industry. All of those things, however, are far less significant than the body of my work and what I have actually done as a journalist since my first job on a newspaper 36 years ago. And that, I believe, is relevant, in the round, to the question you put to Wayne Goldsmith decades into a career doing what he does.

Kind regards, Craig

3 years ago

Thank you Craig
I have been referencing WG throughout my 30+ years of coaching and have found his insight invaluable.

like his opinion our not, he is a extremely valuable resource.

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