Ask a Coach!: Benefits of Training Past Failure

PHOENIX, Arizona, October 1. RESIDENT expert coach Tyler Fenwick, associate coach for men's and women's swimming and diving at the University of Tennessee, responds to questions in the Ask A Coach! series here on

Today, he responds to a question regarding repeats and intervals. He also fields a fun question regarding his trademark tan.

1) Is there a benefit to giving a swimmer a large number of repeats and leaving the interval the same even after swimmers are missing it? — Waterboy
There is certainly a benefit to giving a swimmer a large number of repeats and leaving the interval the same, even after swimmers prove unable to maintain it.

For any practice, set or repetition, one of the main goals for any athlete should be to remain mentally and physically engaged. One of the primary responsibilities of a coach is to make sure that their athletes understand the purpose of the tasks they are performing and recognize how these tasks fit into their overall progression.

Depending on the design of a set of repeats there are a multitude of benefits an athlete can derive both physically and mentally. At times an interval may be tough to maintain and athletes will miss it. In these situations, despite failing to make a base, if an athlete remains engaged and is continuing to work to meet the goals of the set, progress is still being made.

I've had many “long” sets of an hour or more where athletes missed bases from the beginning but continued to swim. Where many times I would change the base or give them a repeat off so they could join the rest of the group, there are many times I have asked someone to continue to swim and do their best. Aerobically they improved from the continuous swimming and the next time a repeat set popped up on the practice log there was added motivation to be able to keep up with their teammates.

Knowing your athletes tendencies is important. There are many reasons that people miss bases. Fatigue, conditioning, preparation, toughness, focus and desire all may play a roll. Identifying the cause and creating a plan to reach your goals is critical.

Sometimes a simple conversation explaining the method behind a coach's madness is all it takes for an athlete to be right back on track. Where the middle of a major repeat set might not be the appropriate time, as a swimmer don't be afraid to find a time to meet with your coach and ask them about their plan. The thought behind their answer might surprise you!

2) How do you stay so tan? — Philly_Tan
I was fortunate enough to coach outside year round while I was at Mission Viejo in Orange County, California. Abundant sunshine was never an issue. Where the weather in Knoxville isn't quite the same, it's been about 85 degrees and sunny since I arrived at Tennessee. We train in an outdoor 50 meter pool for the majority of the year so it's not hard to keep a tan. Suns out, guns out!

Our resident expert coach currently is Tyler Fenwick, Tennessee's Associate Coach for the men's and women's swimming and diving program. Fenwick has coaching experience at both the collegiate and club swimming level. Before moving to Tennessee, he spent three years (2009-12) as the Head Men's National Team coach for the Mission Viejo Nadadores, a premier gold medal club in Mission Viejo, Calif.

In his time with the Nadadores, Fenwick's athletes posted 58 National Age Group top-10 swims, 24 top-three swims and seven #1 ranked swims. His swimmers broke 13 Nadadore club records, four Southern California records and one National Age Group record. This past year alone, two swimmers each made the U.S. National Team, Junior Pan Pacific Team and Junior World Championship Team. Two of his swimmers won gold and bronze medals at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships. To cap it all off, he coached the 5k National Champion at the Open Water National Championships.

If you would like to submit a question to Coach Fenwick, email us or leave a comment below! All swimming-related questions are welcome!