5 Science-Backed Ways to Have Better Swim Practices

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly newsletter for competitive swimmers by clicking here.

The adage “Don’t work harder, work smarter!” is just as true in swimming as in other realms of life. There are ways that we can intelligently train that yield better results—if we choose to use them!

Here are 5 smarty-pants methods to have better swim practices more often:

1. “If-Then” Your Way to Better Training Habits.

We all have those habits in the water that we struggle with maintaining or improving.

Whether it’s a breathing pattern, a commitment to performing a set number of underwater dolphin kicks off each wall, or holding better streamlines, there are things that we know we can do better and yet we still struggle to do so.

A simple way that can increase the likelihood of sticking to better training and lifestyle habits (by 200-300% according to research) is using something called “implementation intentions,” or “if-then” planning.

What it does is anchor something you want to do with something you are already doing.

Here are a couple examples:

  • If I push off the wall, then I am going to do 3 underwater dolphin kicks.
  • When I walk in through the front door of the house after practice, I am going to immediately empty my swim bag in the laundry room.
  • If we are doing a freestyle drills set, I am going to breathe every 3 strokes.
  • When I wake up, I am going to drink two glasses of water.

The goal is to put a desired behavior on auto-pilot—something that needs as little thought as tying a shoe or brushing your teeth.

And what is better than not having to mentally struggle doing the things that will help you succeed?

2. Starting Your Workout is All That Really Matters.

This is probably the biggest one, and something you can use outside of the pool with hilarious effect.

How often have you had a wildly ambitious goal for your swimming, but pull up before the hard work begins?

Perhaps you start to think you’ve bit off more than you can chew. Or the scope of the work is paralyzing. Or you thought it would be easier.

To combat this paralysis make starting that tough workout the only goal. Don’t even think about finishing it. How much effort is required to do it. Or anything else.

Make the goal starting that first rep, and absolutely nothing else.

When you make starting the goal, no matter how small or outwardly frivolous the step may seem, you set off something in your brain that is almost guaranteed to take you the rest of the way.

Why is this?

Because your brain goes absolutely mental when it comes to unfinished tasks.

It’s why once you start a really hard set that it becomes harder to quit than to finish.

It’s why you end up telling yourself, “Well, hey! That wasn’t so bad!” after a hard workout.

And it’s the same function that causes you regret at other things you haven’t completed or finished in your past.

Starting is the whole ball game.

Make your goal doing the warm-up, or just the first rep of that tough set. The momentum and need-to-complete will take you home.

3. Visualize Better Workouts for, Err, Better Workouts.

Visualization is a massively important tool. And something any swimmer can find real results in using.

Study after study has shown the power and effects of visualization reaching nearly the same effect as overt physical training, which is pretty crazy when you think about it. (Pretty close, I said, so no, you can’t skip practice because you stayed home and “totally visualized it.”)

But perhaps the most powerful way to use mental imagery is in the moments before a big rep or a big set.

In the minutes leading up to a big effort mentally rehearse the way you are going to cruise along the surface of the water. How you are going to snap your hips at the end of your stroke. The way your streamline knifes through the water.

Imagine your stroke, exactly the way you want to perform it, and then unleash it.

Track sprinters using this technique performed an average of 87% better doing some quick mental rehearsing the couple minutes before their race, so yes, it works.

This stuff is wildly powerful, and when used regularly in your training can not only improve your performance in the pool, but also lower stress and anxiety levels when it comes time to showing up on race day.

4. Give Yourself a Jolt.

Variety might be the spice of life, but when strategically applied to your swimming workouts it can also help shake you loose of bad training habits and help you install new, more productive ones.

One of the most powerful methods of disrupting our behaviors and habits is by changing the environment.

You probably knew this on some level, after all, how many times when you are struggling have you thrown your hands in the air and told yourself, “Something has got to change!” Or, “I need to mix things up!”

Well, as it turns out there is research that shows the power of changing up your environment to unstick yourself. When we change our surroundings it makes it easier to promote good behaviors and habits while also removing the bad habits that have been lingering for longer than we’ve liked.

Here are some examples of changes you can make based on degree of disruption:

  • Low: Train in a different lane. Breathe to your “off” side for the whole session.
  • Medium: Do an off-stroke for the whole practice. Workout at different times. Swim at a new pool. Sleep in a different bedroom.
  • High: Go train with a different club for a week. Train with a club across the country for a month.

Often we only pull ourselves out of a rut when our environment is changed for us. (A new coach shows up, for instance and suddenly we begin dropping silly amounts of time.)

Don’t be afraid to adjust your environment and supply it with the occasional jolt in order to keep you stimulated and motivated.

5. Track and Evaluate Your Progress in the Water.

This research showed that when participants in a weight loss program were asked to journal their nutrition regularly they lost twice the amount of weight as those that didn’t.

Which goes to show that if it is important to you and your goals, than you have to be measuring it.

After all, just some of the reasons tracking your workouts is so powerful include—

  • It forces you to be mindful of your practices. For most, once the practice is over not much thought is given to it. But if you have to spend a couple minutes going over your performance you start to see the cracks in your effort and training. You becomes aware of the areas where you are not as strong as you thought you might have been, nudging you to being more focused during practice.
  • It’ll keep you consistent. Being a “stop-and-go” swimmer is the worst. You know the routine: show up for a few practices, train your butt off, then miss a few more, and then start all over again. This game of red light-green light with your swimming only insures that you are never given a fair chance to see what you are truly capable of. Writing out your workouts keeps you accountable to your swimming, and as a result, will help you be the swimmer that is consistent in practice.
  • It gives you self-awareness. Let’s be honest, we are kinda terrible when it comes to being self-aware. We either exaggerate or downplay our efforts, our talents, and our abilities. As a result, we make goals that are hilariously unrealistic, and then unfairly batter ourselves when we don’t achieve them. Tracking your progress regularly will show you exactly how long it takes for you to improve. How hard you are actually working. And most importantly, help expose the weak spots in your practices.

In Summary

You want to swim faster? Make practice go by more rapidly? And get more time from your effort spent in the pool?

Of course ya do!

Now apply these proven methods for getting better workouts out of your time in the pool and swim faster when it comes time to stepping up on the blocks.


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Swimmer34

“Don’t work harder, work smarter!” No truer statement has been said with regards to swimming. I can honestly say 99% of coaches from age group to elite college teams don’t understand this simple sentence and when a coach does, then he/she is ridiculed for non-traditional training methods (AKA making all swimmers complete similar workouts while performing way too many yards for most individuals). For example, I swam on an elite level college team (within the top 10% of teams, all divisions) and the majority of workouts were the same exact practice for sprinters, middle-distance and distance swimmers. The only difference was that sprinters had 1-2 less rounds of certain sets or had slightly more rest than than middle-distance who had… Read more »

Texas Texas

Yes yes yes. If you’re a coach who tells their swimmers to work hard and work smart, you sure better be smart yourself.

Mikeh

To add to Swimmer34’s point, I spoke with a lady who dawn at Auburn under Richard Quick. She told me the workouts were so individually tailored that there was only one other Lady Tiger in her training group. I thought that was fantastic, showed great care, and proved that the Auburn coaches wanted to be good stewards of the amazingly talented ladies in their care. I hope that is the future of US swimming.

gogo

I wonder if anyone knows how much a tech suit affects times in the pool. I know you should be swimming faster in a tech suit compared to your average training suit, but how much faster does it make you? Obviously this is something to take into consideration as well when tracking your progress.

SwimmingDar

I’m not sure there could ever be a definitive answer to this question. I believe the question would have to be evaluated on an individual basis.
Does the swimmer have better body position while in the suit?
Does the swimmer have the right size suit compared to others?
And perhaps the most important aspect:
Does the swimmer mentally rely on a tech suit? Some swimmers have the “If I’m not in a tech suit, then I’m not going to swim fast” mentality.
If this is the case, the difference a tech suit makes is immeasurable.

Swimmer

In 50 LCM free I yould say about 0.3″ to 0.4″ the diference

gogo

Interesting, thank you.

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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