Why You Should Grade Your Swim Practices

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. You can join his weekly motivational newsletter for competitive swimmers by clicking here.

I’m buzzing right now while writing this.

Not because I had too much caffeine, or because I am excited because summer is around the corner.

The reason is I had myself one of those workouts that exceeded expectations earlier this afternoon.

Despite the soreness in the traps, shoulders and wherever else I can still feel things, there is a warm buzz flowing through me. You know the combo: a mental buzz of accomplishment combined with a grotesque amount of soreness and fatigue.

And yet… Feels pretty darn good.

Having an above average workout in the water tends to make us feel this way.

Which got me thinking…

We tend to judge our swimming by the extremes.

If we have a great swim workout we feel like we are on top of the world, everything is A-OK, and our goals are gonna get it real bad at the end of the year.

In the same vein, if we have a Stinky Stinkerton workout our confidence and belief fall butt-first through the floor into the basement.

Extremes are shock events: they stick out like crazy.

Especially the bad ones (this isn’t accidental or weird, we are purposely wired to “better” remember bad events). And because they stick out so much, we end up labeling our swimming and the prospects of future success on the basis of them.

It’s why one bad workout can so easily turn into a couple bad workouts, which dovetails into a week of bad workouts.

But the extremes don’t tell the story.

That one brutal workout doesn’t mean your season is over and that your improvement is going backwards.

Not even close.

What’s your practice average? What’s the average grade of your recent workouts?

A better way to approach and attack your workouts is with a focus on doing it better than average.

Your average.

After all, the way that things go down on race day is a reflection of the average of our training.

Read that again.

The way things go down on race day is a reflection of the average of our training.

And not only just how our practices go, but the average how much sleep we get. The average of how well we manage stress and anxiety. The average of how tuned up our nutrition is.

This is just another reason I am so keen on grading my workouts after I get out of the water.

A simple 1-10 rating is what I’ve used since the age of 12, but I’ve seen swimmers use letter grades, smiley faces, blue stars, and so on to rate their workouts.

Why You Should Grade Your Workouts

There are some better-than-average (ha!) reasons to keep track of your own average:

1. It keeps the extreme workouts in perspective.

Sure, I know I am going to flunk the occasional workout. Even though today went great, there is a real possibility that tomorrow’s workout could always end being a big, stinky old “F” or “Incomplete”.

Just like I know occasionally I’m gonna have the random A+ where I nearly beat a personal best time in practice. But those are the outliers.

Instead, figure out your average (8/10 seems to be mine over the past couple weeks), and focus on finishing each workout so that you can dry off your hands and jot down an 8 or better.

Focusing on your average keeps your highs from launching you into space while keeping the lows from crushing your confidence.

2. Gives you something doable to achieve each day in practice.

When we hold up the A+ practice as the expectation we are setting ourselves up to fail. It’s not that it’s aiming for those perfect workouts isn’t admirable—big expectations are important.

But realistically, we both know that those epic workouts aren’t going to happen every day. We aren’t going to smash up our in-practice best times every day. (As nice as that might be to fantasize about.)

Sky-high expectations are only as productive as the motivation they provide.

If your expectation is having an A+ workout every day, and then you consistently don’t meet that standard, it won’t be long before you’re left feeling discouraged and demoralized. This is one of those moments you need to be honest with yourself about expectations doing more harm than good.

But hitting your average best in practice?

That is something you can do (almost) every day.

Too often the barrier to doing the things that need doing is perfection; having a realistic target to aim for each day in the water makes it far more likely that you will start and give the workout a high-grade effort.

3. Gives you a barometer for course change.

If you are consistently falling below your average, something’s up.

Maybe you are too stressed and not taking the time to de-stress between school and swimming. Perhaps your sleeping habits have fallen by the wayside because of new social activities. Or you are simply treating your mouth-hole like a dumpster instead of the high-performance Ferrari intake valve that it is.

Streaks of below average workouts is a sign something is up and is a red flag that you need to reassess how you are treating your body and mind.

4. Keeps you focused on today.

I’ve experienced this personally and with other swimmers so many times it makes my face hurt:

One bad workout = My season is screwed, I am never going to achieve my goals, my competition is going to trounce me, and therefore I should storm off and allow another couple days of training go to waste.

Really bad workouts make us feel like the result (the big meet, the championship swim, the record, qualifying for a team, etc) is in jeopardy, possibly lost.

This result-focused, uh, focus, knocks us off course, and keeps us from getting dialed in on what we need to do to be excellent today.

Locking in on making the most of today’s practice so that you can score yourself a better-than-average mark becomes the priority and center of focus, not the meet that is months away.

What’s the next step?


Grab a piece of paper, open up a new text file on your phone, start a new calendar, open your log book

And grade your workout today.


The day after that.

Not only will you start having better practices immediately (wanting the reward of getting to write out a better score will give you a boost in practice), but you will quickly see where your average rests.

We all judge our swimming differently, so give it a week or two and see where you land.

Using that score, move forward with your training, striving to exceed it as often as possible.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.


Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer. He’s the publisher of YourSwimBook, a ten-month log book for competitive swimmers.

Conquer the Pool Mental Training Book for SwimmersHe’s also the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High Performance Mindset.

It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, and anecdotes and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.

Ready to take your mindset to the next level?

Click here to learn more about Conquer the Pool.

COACHES & CLUBS: Yuppers–we do team orders of “Conquer the Pool” which includes a team discount as well as complimentary branding (your club logo on the cover of the book) at no additional charge.

Want more details? Click here for a free estimate on a team order of CTP.

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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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