By popular request, I herewith publish a few more thoughts on the past week with Brett Sutton’s training group in the beautiful St. Moritz.
The conclusion first: It was an awesome week! We were lucky with the weather because after a rainy week I brought the sunshine from Ulm and it lasted until Sunday, the day of departure. The Engadine is over 1800 meters above sea level so temperatures were between 16-20C – perfect for Uncle Jörgi!
So how does it work? Basically quite simple. You register on Monday morning at 08:00 clock and everything is quite informal. Robbie Haywood (Brett’s “right hand”) and his wife Susie (assistant coach) welcomed us all and gave an overview of how the training would go. In my case, I was the only newcomer – all the other age-group athletes were training the previous week. Of the professionals they are constantly working with Brett and get individual attention. The standard session is the morning swimming training in the Ovaverva (the new spa complex with indoor pool, spa, sauna, children’s pool, diving pool, sports shop, massage etc.) at every morning at 08:00 clock sharp! Robbie will always forward the training itinerary the day before via emails.
In my case I had communicated with the coaches in advance about how dissatisfied I was with my current swimming skills. Brett and Robbie watched my stroke. The result? Exactly what I expected (and secretly hoped for). “Your stroke looks beautiful – like a textbook. Basically everything is right. Only it’s like a lame duck. Look at you! You are a big muscly guy with a lot of strength. You’re not using it with this stroke.” On Tuesday there was a 4 point plan given that I could implement gradually over the week. My swimming looks maybe not quite as nice now, but it is faster (with more power).
From time to time there was a lecture Q&A for all. Both in the speeches as well as individual feedback it is immediately clear why Brett is the best. He can simply draw an incredible amount of experience and has a knack for good stories and analogies that can be intoxicating and inspiring. One of these analogies from boxing has helped me tremendously to imagine the core change in my swimming style. Of course the same program will be swum per lane, but he varies the session to the extent possible calling out to individuals for direct feedback.
Are the times taken? Of course not! Pretty much everything in swimming training (and also in other disciplines) that is considered “standard” is handled differently here, almost frowned upon. After several years of obsessing over numbers-analyzing, he banished all my technical gadgets. Yes, even a simple stopwatch. The basic idea? We train for triathlon. This is a purely aerobic sport (apart from Sprint triathlon). The tempo on the longer distances are indeed very regular to extremely slow. The art is about running efficiently and economically at the lowest possible heart rate. Brett, unlike most others, looks at triathlon as a whole.
The swimming pool was opened especially for us for two hours before the official opening times. So we had a maximum of rest and after swimming training we went then into the spa hot tub to relax and loosen up.
As a rule, there are three training sessions a day, but they are not necessarily all three disciplines. Swimming is always set and then it can be cycling two times or running two times. The most important rule with Brett Sutton: There are no rigid standards and training plans can be adaptable. This for the professionals such as a Nicola Spirig or Daniela Ryf can be the biggest challenge, however, it works well for me. After swim training no one knows what they will train on that day. It’s exciting. Otherwise, the training is not ‘rocket science’ as Sutto says. Of course there is nothing mystical in his workout structure. But everything has (1) method and (2) is highly individual. He actually looks at every athlete’s schedule and adapts to what he sees. This is similar as in my job as a communications trainer.
Certain basic rules are of course respected. For example, speed / power BEFORE endurance. So then the second training in the late morning is usually hard and the third in the afternoon easy. Or is about speed / force. The aim is, unsurprisingly, on the one hand to provide a strong training stimulus and to be able to work and on the other hand recover the next morning in the pool.
Instead of 35 different “zones” (or other nonsense speed-oriented zones), the Doc only uses 3. The so called three Ms – MODERATE, MEDIUM and MAD. The MAD intensity will only be administered if it is technically feasible workout and feels right to the athlete . Otherwise, Sutto prefers to slow his ‘horse’ rather than to push it. Unlike race horses (which he has studied and trained for a long time also), people often have to slow down, because they often want to do too much too fast and get hurt.
And yes, the unconventional training methods are there also. Because the curiosity of some readers is not satisfied until I have a few “crazy secret details” to reveal here. The first session was designed only for me, since I’m a very lazy sock while swimming. 20 × 25 with regular tempo changes (hard / easy) then a Main Set just before 3 × 900 with 15s pause. All this often with paddles and pull buoy!
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