Martin Hill is a British Triathlon Federation (BTF) Level 3 Coach and a Certified Swim Smooth Coach. He has more than 20 years of experience coaching age-groupers through World Championship level athletes at all distances. Based in Spain and the Head Coach at Triathlon Training Spain, he enjoys coaching athletes of all levels at his swim and triathlon camps. Martin provides an online coaching service as well as 1-2-1 swim video analysis and an online swim video analysis service.
Vasa’s founder & CEO, Rob Sleamaker, recently had the privilege of interviewing Martin.
What got you started coaching swimming & multi-sport and why do you love coaching?
I have been coaching for around 20-years and started coaching not too long after I started competing in triathlons. At the time, I was working full-time as an engineer in aerospace, which may seem completely different, but I find good analogies in applying a structure and process to coaching – probably stemming from a scientific approach to things!
When we took our children to learn how to swim, little did we know that it would turn into a life-long and absorbing decision. Both children quickly learned how to swim and basically carried on swimming and competing to the UK National level over the next 10-years.
As part of their swim training, both my wife and I got involved with the Club – she as a coach and I as Chairman for several years. Around the same time, I started my British Triathlon Federation coaching certification.
I progressed through the coaching certifications to become a British Triathlon Federation Level 3 coach – the highest level – and started coaching primarily swimming at local swimming pools – and running – followed by strength and conditioning sessions – for the swimming club squad to help their overall conditioning. I also coached several local triathletes who started the sport from the swim squads I had started – purely to see how well I could coach and how well they would perform!
Coaching in general, and swimming in particular, is a passion and I really enjoy seeing people improve. The feedback from people I have coached makes it worthwhile. Sometimes, emails come out of the blue from individuals telling us how much they improved, even after several months coaching them at our camps.
Do you have specific goals for each type of coaching you are involved with?
The main goal for everyone I coach – and one that is a key part of coaching at our training camps – is attention to the individual. For many, this not only means coaching in the sense of providing training sessions but also being their psychologist – so it is important to get to know the individual.
The key component that really helps people develop is to provide the coaching while also educating them as to what, why, etc the training is the way it is. Ultimately, I believe everyone should be self-sufficient in their own development and so helping to start this process is important. Some individuals will always need a coach to take the thinking out of their training program, but even then, I believe the individual should take on more responsibility for their training, and the more they understand about their training, the better.
When coaching anyone, I think it is really important to know and understand the athlete – both mentally as noted above and physically – gender is an obvious one, but also the athletes build – height, strength and their degree of mobility – and for swimming, this is really important.
Would you tell us about your training camps and coaching program in Spain, such as when & why did you start? What achievements or breakthroughs do the athletes participating make?
The area we chose is just north of Alicante on the Mediterranean; as the coastal area in the region has become very popular from a holiday/tourist point of view, Alicante airport is very accessible with direct flights from virtually everywhere in Europe. It is also quite accessible for travelers from further afield.
Fortunately, going inland by as little as 3 km leaves the tourist areas behind and opens an array of roads perfect for cycling. There is very little traffic and it offers both mountainous and flat riding. Many professional cycling teams come to the area for winter training camps prior to the start of the season.
In addition, there are good on-road and off-road running facilities and access to good pools. Of course, open water swimming in the Mediterranean is easy!
Before finally committing to moving to Spain, my wife and I had bought a property and we used our holidays to organize ‘trial’ triathlon camps – starting with friends – to see how best to package them in terms of the coaching, the location for training and just the overall set-up.
Feedback was consistently good which gave us the confidence to commit to moving over to Spain completely in April 2013.
Prior to this, I had been coaching full-time in the UK, where I coached several swim squads and had also started to work with Swim Smooth and was one of the first group of their Certified Coaches. Swim video analysis and the squads, along with group bike coaching and online coaching took up all my time.
In moving to Spain, this was replaced by the full-time ‘hands-on’ coaching of small groups of athletes who came to our camp.
My intention from the outset was to focus on providing fully qualified and professional coaching with a lot of attention provided to each athlete and not to simply go for numbers and do lots of miles.
All our camps are therefore limited to provide “1 coach to 4 athletes” so that everyone has the opportunity for lots of coaching attention. We now have Matt, our son, as a full-time coach in Spain, and still, we retain the 1 coach to 4 athletes ratio.
We offer swimming-only and triathlon camps. Both start off with a swim video analysis and classroom seminars – the education side of the coaching. We have found that this combination really helps the athletes understand how they are swimming, which is often a big eye-opener for the athlete!
This provides us as coaches the basis for the coaching we then provide over the course of the camp – aimed specifically at the individual’s own ability, flexibility, and fitness level.
At this stage in the camps, once the athlete understands what a good swim stroke is, we introduce the Vasa SwimErg – which is on-site during the camps – to allow the athlete to ‘swim’ using the correct swimming stroke. At this stage, we are not looking at the training side but will observe any irregularities in terms of their relative strength on the left vs right, etc, but purely the technique – primarily the alignment, high elbow and pushing back fully to finish the stroke.
After a while on the Vasa, it often ‘clicks’ for the athletes when everything comes together and they realize that the feeling of a correct stroke is very different to how they had been swimming in the water.
Other than the swim and triathlon camps that we have scheduled through the year, we also provide 1-to-1 coaching for local & visiting athletes. Our swim video analysis is very popular, as it takes a couple of hours and gives people a good chance to develop their swimming in a relaxed environment. We get several referrals and athletes coming back for a full training camp from this alone.
We also travel to do swim clinics, and apart from the UK, we have a good base of athletes in Stockholm where we have been several times over the last year, including triathletes, swimmers and many now turning to swim-run events.
In terms of breakthroughs in performance, we get lots of emails from triathletes who go home after just a few days with us with some great stories of how their swimming has improved, their times are faster and they feel better.
We often see big changes over the course of a long weekend swim camp – for example, Emma Pooley knocking 6-sec off her 100m race pace for less effort and feeling easier doing it – and this is not unusual.
The emails we get after the camps all provide the same kind of feedback of consistently swimming faster for less effort – 10-sec faster (consistently) per 100m at race pace is common which is great to hear.
You have been using the Vasa SwimErg as a coach for some time now. How has coaching with it helped you achieve your goals?
A big part of our coaching involves education and the SwimErg really helps take the theory from our seminars through to the practical side of swimming without the unnatural effects of being in the water.
The aim is obviously to have the triathlete more effective – and so faster – in the water, and it sounds counter-intuitive, but by eliminating the water so that the technical side can be practiced and developed first it gives the triathlete a really good understanding of what should be done in the water.
Editor’s note: check out this video on how Coach Tim Crowley integrates Vasa SwimErg training with swimming in water:
Effective swimming – even if the swim time over the race distance is not improved significantly – makes for a much better performance in a triathlon. To this end, the Vasa SwimErg has proven itself to me as a coach but also to our clients attending swim or triathlon camps that by improving their swimming technique their swimming can be much better.
How has it helped the athletes who use it achieve their goals?
For most of our visitors to our camps, this is their first experience in seeing and using the Vasa SwimErg – and it always goes well!
From our point of view with the structure of the swim and triathlon camps we must consider that (a.) we will not see the triathlete over a long period of time and (b.) we like to educate the triathlete so that they go home having all the tools and knowledge to be confident in being able to continue their swim development (although we encourage everyone to keep in touch with any questions or for advice).
Using the Vasa SwimErg provides a perfect ‘bridge’ from the theory and individual swim analysis to putting into practice the correct technique back in the water.
Many coaches have reported the Vasa SwimErg is a great way for athletes to work on the fundamentals of their stroke technique. In what ways have you found that it works well as a teaching tool?
As above, the Vasa SwimErg links the theory to the practice perfectly. Not only is it much easier for the triathlete to focus on the movement pattern as the water induced factors such as breathing are not present, but the data feedback (from power meter) clearly shows the effect of performing a correct movement; ie increased swimming power.
Simple changes to hand position and how the hand is moved through the stroke highlight where improvements can be made and how different it is to the triathlete’s ‘normal’ stroke pattern.
Editor’s note: refer to this video for more on that:
As mentioned, we combine this with simple video analysis for instant feedback to show the triathlete the difference in movement compared to the power.
Do you have favorite Vasa workouts or drills that you like prescribe regularly?
Whilst I spend more time coaching than competing, I still train a fair amount and like to use myself as a guinea pig to develop sessions that I think work for addressing specific weaknesses or for general improvement.
To this end, there are a few simple sessions that work equally well on the Vasa SwimErg as in the water and work on short distances with multiple reps – depending on the triathlete’s race objectives.
I like to do these as a quick but effective session that helps maintain the swimming technique whilst improving endurance, with a little speed included.
A simple set would be:
Warm up: 4 – 6 x 100m, 15RI (15-sec rest interval) – all based on a stroke rate that is typically 10 SPM lower than race pace stroke rate so the focus is on loosening up whilst being able to think about good technique.
Build: 4 x 50m, 20RI – starting at warm up stroke rate building to just above race pace stroke rate over each 50m
Main set: 4 x (4×100, 15RI at race pace stroke rate, 2 x 50, 45RI MAX EFFORT), 60RI
Warm down: 100 relaxed
This session can be as long or as short as time dictates, but either way is very effective!
For more information on Martin Hill, his coaching services and training camps in Spain see: www.triathlontrainingspain.com / www.martinhillcoaching.com or follow him on Twitter: @cfc_coaching, @tritrainspain, and Facebook: Swim Smooth / Triathlon Training Spain