5 Mental Hacks to Get You Through Your Next Tough Swim Practice

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

We all have those workouts where we feel like the wall of resistance is going to completely collapse on us. Whether it’s because coach has drawn up a set with a cascading and never-ending series of brackets, our stroke feels off, or we had a lousy day, there will be moments where that workout looks flat-out impossible and pointless.

Here are 5 tactics to push past those feelings of resistance and get the absolute most of your workout:

1. Just. One. More.

It can be utterly demoralizing to be on the second or third repeat of a mammoth set and get locked into how many more you still have to go. Instead, mentally chunk the set into manageable, bite-sized pieces.

For example, if you’re doing 10×200 fly, just promise yourself to do one rep. When you complete it, and you aren’t dead and your arms haven’t fallen off, commit to doing another. And another.

By not thinking of the enormity of the set and being demoralized or discouraged (“I have how many more to do?!”) simply commit to completing the next rep and nothing more.

2. Visualize Success.

We have discussed the importance of using visualization to help you swim faster in competition. A fantastic way to improve your visualization skills while also getting more from your workout is to use it during those challenging sets.

Research published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal in 2011 showed that participants who focused on imagining themselves performing optimally were able to perform better than those who focused on the individual movements within the exercise.

Using the 10×200 fly set as an example, rather than dwelling on how your pull or kick feels, or where you are at in relation to the interval, imagine yourself swimming butterfly fluidly and smoothly, the way you want to be swimming it. Your body will follow suit.

3. Focus on Technique.

Pick an area of your stroke or overall technique that you have been wanting to improve. Could be your breathing, your breakouts, the undulation of your hips on your dolphin kick.

The great thing about focusing on technique is that it quiets the distracting thoughts that are going off in your head. Having something to focus and concentrate on, stroke by stroke, lap by lap, will help ease the mental struggle of completing a tough workout.

4. Adopt a Mantra.

The only thing worse than struggling through a hard set is beating yourself up mentally while you are swimming along: “I can’t believe how tired I am. My stroke feels terrible. I was swimming faster on this set last week.”

Leave the negativity behind and replace those thoughts with your set of mantras. Our mantras are quick, powerful sayings that we tell ourselves to keep us focused and plowing on. When used consistently, they sever the connection between resistance/challenges and negative thoughts: “I will not give up. This set will not defeat me. I am going to throat rip this workout.

5. Blast that song on repeat in your head.

Music can help your workout in a myriad of ways, from helping you keep a good rhythm, distracting you from the grind of the workout, to improving your mood (I suppose that depends on the song trapped in your head when you jump into the pool).

Research done on a group of cyclists showed that listening to music at a relatively high tempo (around 130 bpm) improved work intensity, and lessened perceived exertion. Meaning that they worked harder, while reporting to feel less bagged afterwards.

So keep on rocking in the free world and import some of that high bpm magic into your workout.

About YourSwimBook

YourSwimBook is a log book and goal setting guide designed specifically for competitive swimmers. It includes a ten month log book, comprehensive goal setting section, monthly evaluations to be filled out with your coach, and more. Learn 8 more reasons why this tool kicks butt.

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6 years ago

I do almost all of these things in practice and it really helps!! I always tell myself that I can stop and rest after just on more, like it says. It keeps you focused in the now and on your technique.

Nick B
5 years ago

I will when I can!

Robbie A
5 years ago

Is that a Rattler Cap? Go SoCal

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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