You've heard the saying that races are won & lost before
The main reason for this is that swimmers tend to get themselves
too nervous pre-race and this “over-activation”
tightens their muscles, makes their breathing faster and shallower,
both of which kill their endurance and slow them way down.
The secret to swimming fast under pressure is staying loose and
calm, in a state I call “good nervous.” You're excited
to swim, looking forward to it, and still physically loose and
The key question here is HOW do you get yourself
into “good nervous,” especially when you're tapered, at
your championship meet and about to race in your event?
To do this, you have to have one or more “relaxation
tools” available in your mental toughness toolbox, and even more important,
you have to have practiced using these tools enough times so that
they will hold up for you under the pressure of a big meet.
Without adequate practice ahead of time, any relaxation strategies
you may have learned will not work for you when you're faced with
the stress of an important race.
Let me present two simple breathing relaxation exercises for you to
experiment with. Keep in mind there are many varied ways to calm
yourself down. The trick is to find the ones that are right for
Probably the fastest way for you to calm down and get yourself back
into “good nervous” is by deliberately changing the
rate and depth of your breathing. For each of these exercises, sit
comfortably, feet flat on the floor, arms and legs uncrossed in a
space that's free from distractions. Allow at least 5 minutes
practice time for each technique and try to get in the habit of
practicing one or both of these daily. A good time to practice is
usually right before bedtime.
1. Breath Control
Close your eyes and shift your focus of concentration to your
breathing. Inhale to a slow count of 4, pause, and then exhale to a
slightly faster count of 7 or 8. As you inhale, be sure that you
are filling up your entire abdominal area. To ensure this is
happening, you may want to place one hand on your diaphragm and
feel it rise and fall with your breathing. As you inhale and
exhale, be sure you are not straining to get to the right number.
Your breathing throughout the exercise should be relatively
comfortable. Repeat this process of inhaling to a slow 4 count and
exhaling to that 7 or 8 count. As you do this, you'll probably find
that your mind may wander. This is normal, and each time it
happens, be sure to quickly return your focus to your breathing and
your internal counting.
2. Breath by
4 (Sometimes called Square Breathing)
Focusing your attention on your breathing, inhale to a slow count
of 4, making sure you're comfortable and not straining with this...
Pause to a slow count of 4... Exhale to that same count of 4... and
then pause again to a slow count of 4. In this exercise, you
do not have to
deliberately deepen your breathing and, as in exercise No. 1. Every
time that you find your focus drifting elsewhere, quickly and
gently bring your concentration back to your breath and the
important to keep in mind that having the ability to calm yourself
under pressure is a learned skill. It takes consistent practice
when you're not under pressure to learn and master it. The more
that you practice these exercises in a relaxed environment, the
quicker you'll integrate them into your “muscle memory”
so that they'll be available to you when you're behind the blocks,
waiting for your big race.