Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former National level swimmer from the beautiful west coast of BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook.com: a comprehensive tool that designed for swimmers to track and analyze their results.
Supersonic speed in the water is all about relaxation. Alexander Popov knew it, Ian Thorpe knew it, Michael Phelps knew it. Watch any of the ground-breaking swims by these athletes and what generally comes to mind is– They make it look so easy.
Being relaxed and loose in the water starts long before you ever slip into a bathing suit. Your pre-race and mental preparation have a visceral physical effect on your swimming. After all, when you are stressed, or your mind isn’t right, you can feel your muscles tighten up, anxiety starts to creep in, and your performance suffers as a result.
Here are 5 ways to stay relaxed the next time you mount the blocks, whether it’s a local meet or the Olympic final:
1. Ignore your competitors. How many times have you gazed across the pool and seen your main competitor warming up and gotten lost in what they were doing — their strokes seem effortless, they appear to glide through the water with uncanny precision and fluidity.
If you are like most swimmers, that seed of doubt will pop in your head: Holy crap, they are making that look easy… Did I really prepare myself that well? I probably should have slept more between heats and finals, they probably slept tons… And so on.
It’s precisely moments like this where you need to point your attention inwards. How many hours you put in. The hard work you have invested. The time spent honing your fitness and technique. Direct your energy and focus inwards.
2. Key in on the things that keep you loose and focused. For me, it was loud, aggressive music and complete aloneness. My eyes always had a pointed, “Don’t even talk to me” look across them. While some people might have found that intimidating (or rude), for me it was necessary. I didn’t want to chat with teammates, I didn’t want to joke around, and I sure didn’t want to think about anything except for how I was going to execute the best swim I was capable of. For others to relax or get into a mental state that produced optimal results, it’s joking around with teammates, playing cards or video games. Whatever the case is, learn what works best for you.
3. Search your history of awesome swims for what worked. Go back to the times you swam your butt off. What were the common pre-race rituals those races had in common? What was the mental attitude that you approached the race with? Go back and write down 3-4 things that you did before those successful performances and apply them to future races.
4. Focus on the Process. It can be really easy to fall victim to overthinking your race. Whether it’s the competition, the pool temperature, what you had for lunch, the amount of water you drank that day, the fitful nap you had between sessions, or your cap not fitting just right.
Clear your brain of this gibberish by finding a quiet corner, putting a towel over your eyes and visualizing the execution of your race.
The dive. How many dolphin kicks you’re going to execute. What stroke you will take your first breath on. How the water is going to feel. During this process of visualization your brain will sometimes take you places where your race doesn’t go well. Block those negative thoughts and start over. The dive, gripping the block, the temperature of the water. Imagine your race in such depth that when you get up on those blocks your body can simply renact what your brain has already visualized.
Editor’s Noe: Michael Phelps, afterall, had the same pre-race routine for nearly two decades.
5. Controlled Breathing. This is a fantastic way to calm yourself if you are getting anxious or too excited before your race. If done correctly, it not only lowers your blood pressure, promotes a sense of calm, but it also helps us de-stress. Whammy!
How to do it:
a. Place one hand on your chest, the other on your belly.
b. Breathe deeply through your nose without raising your chest – you’ll feel a good stretch within your diaphragm and lungs.
c. Do this for a couple of minutes and you will experience an immediate decrease in blood pressure and heart rate. (This works for any stressful situation, so it’s a handy little tool to have in the rest of your life outside of the pool.)
Can you think of any other ways to stay loose and focused before your races? List them in the comments below!