How to Have Better “Bad” Swim Practices

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.

Sometimes you just know it is going to happen. You’re tired, stressed, and frustrated with life. So why would it be different once you hop in the pool? And then there are the days where you feel great, you are loose and confident when you finish warm-up…and things still fall apart.

Having high expectations of yourself for every one of your training sessions is okay. It’s good that you have them. And those bad workouts? They happen to all of us.

Short of a limb falling off, or being deathly ill, there is always something you can be doing to further yourself in the pool. All too often athletes will fall into the “all-or-nothing” mindset in this regard—if they are feeling a little off, or their stroke isn’t as fluid as it oughta be, than the whole workout is wasted.

No matter how fatigued you are, no matter how stressed or tired or annoyed or frustrated, there will always be a few things you can remember and do to make the most of those practices.

1. Readjust your expectations.

Is the practice going really that poorly? Keeping in mind that your workouts won’t be 10/10’s every day (as great as that would be!) based on a number of factors – where you are at in the week of training, how much accumulated fatigue you are carrying, rest/recovery over the previous day, what’s going on outside of the pool, nutrition, and so on – is it going that terribly?

Understanding that it can always be worse, and that things probably aren’t as bad as you are making them out to be can go a long way to readjusting your focus on the next point–

2. Stop focusing on what you can’t do, and focus on what you can.

When we are feeling less than optimal we tend to focus on our limitations with unending attention, ignoring the things that we are still fully capable of doing. On those days where you are absolutely exhausted, and you know that you are going to be in the water for the next hour anyway, what are the things you can work on to extract value from the session?

For me the answer was always technique. If I wasn’t going to be able to output the type of speed and power I wanted the very least I could do was work on technical elements of my swimming. Okay, so you can’t do XYZ, but what can you do?

How to make the most of this strategy: Pick 2 things that you will work on if you are having a bad workout. Just two things. They don’t have to exceptionally challenging either; swimming with a more powerful upkick. Tucking your knees perfectly on the turns. Use these two action items as the fallback for the next time you have that crappy workout so that you can still walk out of the pool at the end of the day and feel like you still made some forward progress. Two things will happen: executing the skill perfectly not only means you are getting better technically, but the confidence that will arise as a result will often help you turn that bad workout around mid-session.

3. Take a sec to figure out what went wrong.

When you can hack into the root causes of your bad workouts you have gifted yourself a tremendous advantage. Most often an athlete will have a bad workout, shrug it off, and pass the lesson that could have been learned.

Was the poor workout as a result of a couple nights of bad sleep? Time to revisit your sleeping habits. If we view our training sessions as not only opportunities for us to improve in the pool but also to learn a little more about ourselves that we can view those bad workouts as being as valuable as the good ones.

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Sit out a repeat.


Swimmers can overtrain and then the “bad” workouts become more common.

Swimmers also can feel guilty if they miss a practice, when resting is what they really need.

This is a time where good, intuitive coaching can make a difference.

About 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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