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WTC's interview with Martin Hill

WTC interview Martin Hill a British Triathlon Federation Level 3 coach, a certified Swim Smooth coach, a qualified Personal Trainer with the European Institute of Fitness and Palm Paddle designer. See more about Martin's training camps.




WTC - You competed in your first triathlon event in 1988, what have been the main changes since then?

MH - Massive changes across the board – from equipment to training methods and obviously the number of people now taking part. As triathlon was a new sport, ‘triathletes’ came from different backgrounds; swimmers had a big advantage in that they could swim(!) so if they were decent cyclists and runners they would often lead from the outset  and go on to win.

WTC - You’ve been coaching for over 15 years, what have been the key innovations that have raised performance standards?

MH - I don’t think there have been too many single innovations per se, but a bringing together of a lot of minor ones that have made the sport and the ‘science’ behind training more accessible and so achievable. Massive changes in technology have affected triathlon as much as everything else in modern society - from electronics through to components / accessories for bikes for example.

The heart rate monitor was the first big innovation that I think has helped those who use them properly. However, at the same time they have also become fairly sophisticated and now simply become a means of collecting data for the majority – especially now with the addition of GPS, cadence (bike & run), swim data, power, …. and so I think their true value has been lost on many.

However, at the end of the day, despite all the technology and weight saving on bikes (and the massive cost) it comes down to the training and the internet has opened up the amount of data that is available for everyone to use, share, etc; although again I think this has both helped and hindered.

WTC - You designed the Palm Paddle which helps the swimmer “catch” the water; how did the idea come about, through your Engineering background or understanding of Swimming?

MH - The Palm Paddle came from knowing swimming; I’m a strong believer in doing things properly and so if the technique is correct then the speed will follow. Any swimmer needs to do a series of actions to perform the whole stroke and become more efficient / effective; the catch is one element of this – but is also a part that is often not understood and definitely not achieved.

The concept for the Palm Paddle came about from coaching and trying to teach the catch in an intuitive way so that it became obvious to the swimmer when it was achieved – and just as importantly, when it wasn’t (so from my point of view they knew what it meant to perform the catch properly even if I wasn’t present). As a swimmer (triathlete) I also knew what I was trying to achieve so tested and developed the paddle concept on myself.

My engineering background then came into play in terms of turning the concept into reality – using modelling for prototypes and progressively working through to the end product.

WTC - How exactly does the Palm Paddle help the swimmer?

MH - The frontcrawl stroke – and especially so for open water swimming - has to be a continuous and fluid movement and the Palm Paddle helps the swimmer feel this throughout the stroke, not just in the initial catch where it really focusses the attention.

I designed the Palm Paddle to allow the swimmer to feel when they are performing the stroke properly – and also when they do not – by introducing the unique shape and single attachment. The smooth, symmetrical shape means that the swimmer will lose the feel for the water from their hand but in doing so encourages an earlier catch – and to get the ‘vertical forearm’ position that is essential, and seen with all great swimmers. The more the Palm Paddle is used, the more this becomes an intuitive movement as the swimmer strives to get more hold on the water to achieve more propulsion.

However, so not to forget the rest of the stroke mechanics; i.e. to push straight back, I also introduced just a single attachment strap to the Palm Paddle. This means that if the whole stroke is not performed correctly then the Palm Paddle will move around and slide out of the swimmers palm whilst swimming and so give instant feedback that this part of the stroke is not being performed correctly. This applies from the front entry right the way through to the final push and exit; I often ask swimmers to try a Palm Paddle on one hand only as this quickly reveals any disparity between left and right hand stroke mechanics.

Using the Palm Paddle in swim sessions over a period of time really does develop a feel for the water and their use can be applied to some quite advanced swimming once this initial feel is in place – such as sculling.

WTC - Looking at the Triathlon Training Spain schedule of training camps there seems to be a big emphasis on the swimming discipline, why is that?

MH - Although I am a British Triathlon Federation Level 3 Coach I am also a Certified Swim Smooth Coach. The aim at Triathlon Training Spain is to provide all attendees with a unique coaching experience in that every camp is limited to a small group (generally 4 but 5 maximum) so that everyone gets as much individual attention as is necessary to develop their performance.

As swimming is the one discipline that many people find technically difficult to achieve, we have seen a demand for swim camps. Our approach is to offer every attendee access to as much coaching (both myself and my wife who is also a swim coach) as they need, apart from the detailed individual video analysis and seminars. We have a good mix of triathletes and pure open water swimmers attending clinics which makes for some good transfer of knowledge and skills apart from the specific coaching.

To this end, I have a schedule for the swim clinics but it is always different depending on the individual needs of the swimmers.

WTC - How much time do you spend in the pool and how much is spent on Open Water Swimming?

MH - On a typical long weekend swim clinic we have 5 hours in the pool and around 2 hours in open water – the Mediterranean. This is more than enough to take each swimmer through a stroke correction process and how to develop their performance with stroke rate, pacing, etc. as well as learning and practicing open water skills.

The practical swimming is complements with around 3 hours of seminar, supported with videos of world class swimmers / triathletes, discussion as well as the individual video analysis (which is recorded and each swimmer leaves with everything they need on a DVD).

The aim is for everyone to leave with all the knowledge and tools they need to continue to develop their stroke – and from feedback this is definitely working.

WTC - What does Swim Smooth offer triathletes?

MH - The aim of Swim Smooth, and the way I have always coached, is essentially to make the coaching simple, aimed at the individual and at the same time to be enjoyable.

Swim Smooth offers triathletes and swimmers a simple, specific and effective way of developing their swim stroke. By informing, guiding and providing the specific skills that they as an individual need to make improvements the focus can be on progressing their swimming.

Swim Smooth coaching is also aimed at improving performance so not only the technical side but also provide a means of translating this improved efficiency in the water to better results

WTC - Your Camp in March is based at the University of Al Akhawayn, where there is a 50 metre pool. Why did you decide on Morocco and what other facilities does the University offer

MH - The Morocco clinic is being organised logistically by Thomas Hollowell who owns and operates ‘Journey Beyond Travel’ providing unique travel experiences in Morocco.

Thomas came to one of my Triathlon Clinics in Spain and enjoyed the experience so much he suggested holding one in Morocco at Al Akhawayn University which is where he is based in the Atlas Mountains. The venue and facilities are ideal for this kind of clinic, and Thomas is adding his knowledge of the locality to provide a true Morocco experience to supplement the coaching I will be leading.

WTC - All but one of your camps is based close to the Altea Hills, Alicante which is becoming a strong cycling area. Where do you ride? Are there any rides that have been downloaded onto the web we can see?

MH - Casa de Triatlo is located south of Altea; and is just outside Jijona, very much closer to Alicante Airport for visitors and only 30min from the coast where we swim for the open water sessions.

We are located in the mountains and in an area that has been used for decades by professional cycling teams in the early part of the year for initial training camps – due to the weather, roads and terrain – but it is also very spectacular. For example, riders from Movistar and Team Novo Nordisk are currently staying 10mins away. In addition, both Alistair and Jonny Brownlee with other pro/elite triathletes from the UK are also just north of us for a training camp.

Triathlon camp rides can be anywhere in the mountains or down to the coast for a swim and back. The area is not massively high with most peaks being around 1000m but the climbs are generally long, typically more than 10k and up to 25k and so really help with strength and technique.

Well-known routes – used numerous times in La Vuelta d’Espana are the Aitana, and the Carresqueta (last time in 2010) are literally on our doorstep and used often. Both can be ridden from both sides and have numerous routes that lead into them.

The key point for anyone coming here is that long rides in this area don’t equate to long distances – the terrain doesn’t allow it (unless you’re on one of the pro-teams!)

Some suggested routes we've used:

                      see Route 1

                      see Route 2

                      see Route 3

                      see Route 4


WTC - What are the key factors in making a training camp a success?

MH - For me, and this is the intention at Triathlon Training Spain, the real purpose of a training camp should be to get good coaching in an environment that allows the person to learn and be relaxed – and so to enjoy the experience.

There are numerous training camps offering all types of training but many involve large numbers athletes who don’t get the coaching and attention they need and I’ve heard this so many times. Similarly I don’t think the coaching is specific or relevant to most attendees at many camps, again something I hear a lot.

As I mentioned, at Triathlon Training Spain we provide a training camps where the attendees are made to feel welcome with home-cooked food – tailored to any specific needs such as vegetarian, gluten free, lactose intolerance, etc. (all of which we have had) and in a comfortable ‘family-feel’ environment to make everyone feel at home – and I think in this respect it differs quite a bit from other training camps.

This, combined with the attention to detail in addressing each attendee coaching requirements is what I would expect in a training camp and I believe is what makes it a worthwhile and effective experience for attendees.

Comments have backed this up and although we have only been here full time in Spain since June 2013 we have several repeat clients.

WTC - How does Complete Coaching fit with Swim Smooth and Triathlon Training Spain?

MH - Complete Fitness Coaching is the business name for Martin Hill as a coach and as the owner of Triathlon Training Spain. I am also one of the Certified Swim Smooth Coaches (now located here in Spain) with the support from Swim Smooth.

WTC - You live in the Yeovil area where you’re still involved in the day to day running of triathlon squads. How do you manage to fit this in with all the other commitments?

MH - As I now live in Spain permanently, I have disbanded the sessions I used to coach in Yeovil. The aim is to become sufficiently proficient in Spanish to resume here in Spain but I am also in the early stages of talking to several coaches and events in the local area about how we can work together and develop coaching here in Spain.

WTC - Who are you currently coaching that we should look out for in 2014?

MH - I’m currently coaching triathletes in the UK, Scandinavia and US and also supporting Amy Kilpin, aiming to turn professional, by providing coaching and training camp time here at Triathlon Training Spain (Read more about Amy Kilpin).

Many work around busy schedules and international travel so my real challenge is to optimise their training and performance around their work, family and social commitments without over-training

Most are in their early stages of development in triathlon and mostly working towards their first half or full distance ironman event.


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Categories: All topics, Interviews, Swimming, Triathlon

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