9 Reasons Why Mental Singing Can Enhance Swim Performance

by SwimSwam 4

January 27th, 2016 Lifestyle

Courtesy of Kirsten Read


We know many swimmers listen to music to get motivated before hitting the water, but how many sing to themselves to enhance performance in actual training or a race?

Do you practice this? If you don’t, you might like to give it a try. You may not even realize it but incorporating elements of music and song may do more than provide entertainment — music can complement stroke execution and make or break your motivation.

1 – Mood

Music sets the tenor for a workout. Depending on your goal, you may choose your music with the aim of relaxation, energy, or happiness. A mood enhancer will surely correlate to positive results and also serves as a distraction from any unpleasant dread or suffering. It can also be a companion, a tool, and a secret weapon in a sport that necessitates, for good or bad, a lot of time in one’s own head. Just make sure you choose a song whose lyrics send the right message.

“At 4.5 hours into my 15-mile Kingdom Swim, I got The Smiths’ ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ stuck in my head. I was truly miserable for a while and realized the lyrics were not helping. I switched to an old stand-by from my John Flanagan days, Madonna’s ‘Burning Up,’ which quickly snapped me out of my doldrums.” Susan Leupold Knight, marathon swimmer

2 – Beat

The pulse can aid in pulling together the different elements of the stroke, e.g. the pull, the rotation, and the kick, to improve timing and generate kinetic energy that can be channeled into the propulsive phase.

Tom Shields (photo: Mike Lewis)

Tom Shields (photo: Mike Lewis)

3 – Tempo

An optimal stroke rate can be established by choosing music appropriate for the distance and intensity at hand. Maintaining a consistent tempo ensures that pressure and stroke rate don’t wane when fatigue, boredom, or other obstacles set in.

“When the mind can disengage from the pain, suffering, and monotony, we are able to continue pushing the limits. The act of suffering and overcoming is purely mental and any tools that one can use to enhance the body’s ability to overcome the dark places is a true key to accomplishing one’s goals.” Jamie Patrick, ultra-marathon swimmer

4 – Rhythm

The key to a fluent swim stroke is a harmonious recurring sequence of elements, or rhythm.

5 – Cadence

Music uses modulation and inflection just as a swim stroke cycles between pressure/resistance and recovery/relaxation. The recovering arm (relaxed and moving through air) makes a subtle adjustment in timing to account for the resistance that the opposite, pulling arm is encountering.

6 – Crescendo

Certain songs lend themselves to building or descending, or just kicking into high gear, as the music increases in loudness or intensity. Sometimes the transition from the bridge to the chorus can be quite a mental boost. Often, the chorus is the only part of the song one can confidently recall, so it is replayed again and again.

“The morning of my Catalina swim, the song ‘There She Goes’ by The La’s just popped into my head. I sang the chorus for about 10 min. each 30 min. segment of my swim. The rest of the time I spent calculating what time it must be (especially during the dark) and concentrating on how fortunate I was to be able to attempt a channel swim.” Susanne Baab-Simpson, channel swimmer & masters world record holder

7 – Velocity

When you play music in your head, you can vary how intensely or loudly certain notes or lyrics are played, facilitating the speed of hand acceleration or hip torque with this psychological accompaniment. The Script’s “Hall of Fame” carried me through the last painful push of my 3k at Worlds in Montreal, where I was hoping to medal. Corny, yes, but effective.

Alex Kostich (photo: Mike Lewis)

Alex Kostich (photo: Mike Lewis)

Suriname's top sprinter Renzo Tjon A Joe (photo: Mike Lewis)

Suriname’s top sprinter Renzo Tjon A Joe (photo: Mike Lewis)

8 – Dance

Technically this means to move rhythmically to music. The suggestion that swimming is a dance is not a new one. When technique is broken down into parts it seems quite complex, but when the parts move harmoniously the result is a seemingly effortless and graceful activity.

9 – Genre

This is open to interpretation. My open water buddy swears by Yes’ “Starship Trooper” (I think it’s a guy thing). I can sing Jason Aldean’s “Gonna Know We Were Here” daily on repeat — and, more importantly, without my family raining on my newfound country music obsession. But there’s nothing like an old favorite or a fresh new tune to liven up an old swim set.

And then there are those people who prefer to clear their minds when they swim:

“In the majority of my swims, I am not singing or thinking, just feeling. My mind is usually completely blank and I am just in a state of awareness…it is when I am my most authentic self. Your comfort zone may be with music. Mine is just when the music and all thought stops.” Grace van der Byl, Catalina record holder & world-class waterwoman

What do you think?

Kirsten Read, HeadshotKirsten Read was Massachusetts state champion, competed at Brown University, and is now a masters swimmer in Maine. She has swum many open water races all over New England and further from home, winning Peaks to Portland, Boston Sharkfest, and the Bermuda Round the Sound 10K. She is now a coach, specializing in open water and technique for masters swimmers and triathletes. She enjoys sharing her passion and expertise with athletes of all levels and abilities.

See Kirsten’s HQ here.

Follow Kirsten on Twitter – @kgirlread – here. 

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4 years ago

Kirsten, thank You for sharing this wisdom.
I 100% agree, and can attest that singing and music has been helping my singing for the last 35+ years! 😉

luke manga
5 years ago

yes it does help you because l am a stroke person

6 years ago

I do this, partly for mood, but mostly for a reason not on this list.. counting. I am completely useless at being able to count lengths of anything above a 400, especially after a day at work when I want to go into autopilot and get some meters in. Pick an album with 8 songs, change the song in your head every 50m, easy. (Or 16 songs for an 800, or..) Works great if the last couple of songs are the uptempo ones to push for a big finish!

Reply to  stabilo
6 years ago

I do that whenever we have test sets of 3x{10×50}. I usually lose count, but if I switch to the next song in the album for each 50, I’m able to keep up.