5 Things Swimmers Do to Derail Their Workouts

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.

What kind of progress could you make over the course of the season if you made each individual workout just 5-10% better? Probably about a metric ton, am I right?

Here are 5 common workout hangups that swimmers inflict upon themselves:

1. Unclear objectives.

How many times have you mentally gone for a hike during a workout? More times than you count? If you are like me, a leading cause of this is not having a clear set of objectives in mind prior to hopping into the water.

Having vague goals for your workout – “I want to swim faster” or “I want to have better technique” – set yourself up for failure. Similarly, not knowing the purpose behind set, or what you are supposed to be working on will leave you unfocused and in a position where you are swimming through the set.

Have objectives and targets for your workouts and get behind the purpose of the sets you are doing– it will keep you focused and on task, and keep you from mentally wandering off.

2. Being selectively awesome.

I cannot count how many swimmers I have trained with over the years who would blast through warm-up, only to disappear when it came time to power up on the main set. Or they would only give a full effort on the sets that involved their favorite stroke. Or even hammer down on things they are strong at; kick or pull, for instance, and then flopping on the swim sets. (That’s classic Specialist behavior, by the way.)

By selectively choosing when you give your best efforts you are short-changing yourself by missing the full opportunities available to you within each workout to improve. In the words of Jon Urbanchek, “Every set is the main set.”

3. Being a professional dabbler.

How often have you set yourself some new habits or goals, and found that they don’t stick? You’ll make a decision to do something to improve – like add three dolphin kicks to your breakouts off each turn – and do it for a few workouts before moving your attention on to something else.

Dabbling is fun and it keeps things interesting, but it’s difficult to make meaningful progress when you are bouncing from new habit to new habit without making them stick.

4. Leveling up too soon.

Progress is fun. In fact, the experience of progressing is the best. But then sometimes we get greedy. I get it – things are going well, so why can’t they go super well, right? The problem isn’t that we need to tamper our dreams or lower the bar on what we think we are ultimately capable of, the key is in being willing to make the small adjustments and improvements that will get you there.

By avoiding going for the big leaps – and being demoralized when you don’t make unrealistic progress – aim to improve step-by-step.

5. Letting a bad set cripple your workouts.

Blowing a set, or missing your target stroke rates and missing intervals, definitely stinks. And guess what? It happens to us all.

It can be difficult to bounce back mid-workout from a bad opening set. Will you let one bad set define your workout? Nope. Take each set as they come, and seek feedback from your failures instead of letting them infect the rest of the session.

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Sjharif Raya

Estoy interesado en esto, soy un nadador de alto rendimiento.


I really enjoyed this article! On a separate note, I have a question. A friend of mine recently decided they will be attending a top swimming school (to be exact, they finished in the top 5 at NCAAs this year). They weren’t fast enough to be recruited, only having winter junior cuts, but very close to summer juniors and US Open, but they are hoping to potentially walk-on. I just wanted to ask if you have any articles on walking-on at a top school. I know my friend has been telling me he’s very worried about the tryouts, and he’s very anxious about being (presumably) the slowest on the team, so I was just wondering if you have any articles… Read more »

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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