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How To Evaluate Repetitions to Accelerate Learning Part III

Improving your skills is all about focus. Focus is all about knowing what you need to do, and doing it. A major challenge many triathletes face in the water is not knowing what they need to do. In previous posts, I showed you how to ask the questions what did I do well? and what could be better? to get the critical information you need to improve on your next repetition.

Now, I’ll show you what to do with it.

Acting on It

Once you’ve answered the two critical questions, you need to decide what to do with the information. The answers to the questions focus your attention on what you need to do during the subsequent repetitions. This is the whole point of the process, as it sets the stage for action that is going to lead to change. If you’re not using the information to facilitate action, you’re wasting the opportunity. With each repetition, your identifying to avenues for improvement, either by building on your success or by addressing areas you can execute better. Once you’ve identified that information, you need to decide which approach you’re going to take on the next repetition. How are you going to place your attention?

Double down on success

While it can be tempting to always focus on your opportunities for improvement, success is almost always driven by maximizing one’s strengths. This is true in life as much as it is in swimming. If you’re doing something really well, it makes a lot of sense to aim to do it even better. Double down on it. As athletes win based upon their strengths, it makes sense to ensure that these strengths are improved to the extent that’s possible.

Doubling down on success is more effective when you’re looking to build some positive momentum during a practice session. If you’ve already experienced success in a given area, you’re likely to continue to be able to build upon that success. This is going to enhance your confidence and your motivation. It also makes sense to continue to build upon your successes when you really want to lock in a certain skill. When you’re able to do this, you’ll KNOW that you can execute that task or skill when you want to.

Doubling down on success is all about reinforcing confidence and motivation. The more you want to develop these attributes, the more time you should spend building upon what you’re doing well. While this is true when your training is going well, it is even more true when it is not going as well as you would like.

Shift to opportunity

After just about every swim, there will be something that you can do better. It may be the same every time, and you may be improving every time, but it could still be better. Focusing on your opportunities is a great way to continue to address those issues that are ultimately limiting your performance. These limitations could be short-term in that you’re just struggling with it today, or they could be long-term in that it’s a skillset that’s been a challenge for an extended period of time.

It’s best to shift towards working on opportunities when you are feeling confident in your abilities and motivated to tackle a challenge. Working on opportunities is more likely to be met with challenge as opposed to skills that you’ve already demonstrated success with. You want to be ready for that challenge, confident and optimistic that you can rise to the occasion. These opportunities for improvement need to be addressed over time, and it makes sense to address them when you are most likely to be successful.

Keep in mind that you’re not simply choosing opportunities based upon what you need to address. You’re also choosing these opportunities on a repetition to repetition basis depending on where you feel you can be successful. It’s a reflection on what CAN be better. This will also reinforce confidence and motivation as there is a built-in expectation of success.

Pick one

There’s a notion in life that you can have it all without experiencing trade-offs. You never have to give anything up to get what you want. This isn’t true in life and it’s not true in training. While it’s tempting to try to focus on success and opportunity at the same time, I would encourage you to focus on one versus the other. We’ve all heard the expression ‘chase two rabbits, catch none’, and it would seem to apply in this situation. If you’re focus is constantly shifting between two different goals over the course of a repetition, you’re not really focusing on anything. While there are some people that may be able to pull this off, it’s not a strategy I would encourage, particularly at the beginning.

It’s still important to evaluate the answer to both questions so that you have options. However, you still have to choose one of those options. How do you choose? Go with your gut, and go with what you believe is going to be more beneficial to work on. There isn’t a wrong answer as choosing either will allow for continued improvement. In just about every situation, you’re going to be performing multiple repetitions over the course of a set. You can certainly alternate your focus between repetitions, allowing you to improve on both fronts. Just make that call after each repetition, and choose one focus for that particular repetition.

Be slightly better

Once you’ve decided on what you’re going to focus on, just be a little better. Nothing special, nothing spectacular. Just be slightly better. Lowering your expectations often leads to larger achievements over time as compared to having really high expectations. As most training sessions have many repetitions, the goals should be to improve incrementally over the course of each repetition rather than immediately expecting tremendous performances. This reduces the pressure to perform, making it much more likely that you’ll be able to do. Be patient and be conservative. If you’re able to be successful, ratchet up the expectations slightly, and make it happen.

Just do it again

This is a great alternative to trying to be slightly better. Simply repeat what you just did. If you were trying to take 10 strokes per lap and you did it, rather than looking for more improvement in that area, or shifting your focus to a different opportunity, simply repeat the performance. Whatever you did well, simply do it again at the same level.

Improvement is not a never-ending march forward. While it may not seem like it, performance is improved by simply repeating the same performances and establishing consistency. By consistently repeating performances, you’re actually improving your average performance level. Improving your average performance level will improve your maximal performance level sooner than later. It’s counterintuitive, yet extremely effective.

There are two particular situations where it is useful to implement this strategy. In the first case, if you’re really lighting it up, it’s probably not possible nor wise to keep pushing forward. While this might seem like the perfect situation to be aggressive, it’s when we have the big breakthroughs that it makes the most sense to be conservative. If you have a great swim, rather than trying to be even better, just try to repeat the performance. The more times you can do so, the more likely you are to set the stage for future improvements.

In contrast, if you’re really struggling on a given day, rather than really pushing for more, take your victories and consolidate them. If you’re able to improve in a given area, celebrate that and try to repeat it. Once you repeat that performance several times, then you can consider whether to push forward again. When success is hard to come by, work on ensuring that you continue to experience it rather than trying force improvement that is proving difficult to come by for whatever reason. Ironically, a little restraint will make it more like that you’ll accomplish your goals. The common denominator here is greed. When training is going really well or really poorly, avoid being greedy. If you’re able to do so, you’re much more likely to consistently make progress rather than finding yourself frustrated.


Once you’ve decided what to do, do it. The best part of this process is that it’s continuous. You’re constantly refining your approach with every repetition, and you’re constantly moving forward with your progress.

The only mistake you can make is not doing it.


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