September 4, 2019
ARE YOU TRAINING THE WAY YOU WANT TO COMPETE?
There is frequently a disconnect between the way swimmers train and the way that they compete.
It’s one of the reasons that swimmers choke under the bright lights: the experience of competing is so different from what they experience in training that it is overwhelming.
The competition experience is so totally and utterly new that they cannot help but feel overwhelmed. It’s no wonder that many of the swimmers I talk to complain about overthinking when they get to the big meet.
This is a default reaction when we are face to face with an unpredictable, foreign and pressure-packed environment. We second doubt our preparation because it doesn’t line up with what we want to do in competition.
Training the way you want to race puts all of your technical elements of your swimming—the way you attack the walls, the breathing patterns you use, the manner in which you explode through your breakout—and puts it on auto-pilot.
When you step up on the block you shouldn’t have to think about your stroke. You shouldn’t have to imagine what your breakout is going to feel like. You don’t need to wonder if you will nail those turns or not.
Those habits have long ago been ingrained and the tracks laid down. All you need to do at this point is clear your mind and swim, your body and your training habits will take care of the rest.
Practice isn’t separate from competition. Practice is competition.
Here are some keys for making this work for you.
PREPARE THE SAME WAY FOR PRACTICE YOU WOULD FOR COMPETITION.
How do you compare the approach you take to practice compared to competition?
For most swimmers, in practice we are chill, easy-going, relaxed—no pressure because hey, if this practice goes poorly, there’s another one tomorrow.
But with competition, there’s only one chance, one heat of our best event, one chance to smash that personal best time.
Start viewing each day’s practice as an urgent opportunity to improve, and start viewing competition as simply another practice on your journey.
Do the same dynamic warm-up. Eat the same meals. Use the same stretching routine. Do visualization over the course of the day in the same way you would at a meet.
Taking practice more seriously blunts the scariness of competition.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS “GARBAGE YARDS.” THERE ARE ONLY FOCUSED YARDS, AND UNFOCUSED YARDS.
This is one of the terms that swimmers like to throw around when they are given a set they don’t immediately understand, or usually when they have to do a set that they don’t like.
But garbage yardage is blind to volume: a 25m sprint done with brutal technique is just as garbage as a 5,000m straight done with poor technique.
The only thing that is garbage is the mental approach you take to those meters and yards.
Sweet, coach gives you a 4,000m main set when you are a 100m sprint specialist—does that mean you need to do 4,000m worth of crappy turns? Loose streamlines? With mediocre technique?
While there are examples of truly garbage-yardage sets, there’s always an opportunity for you to improve something in your swimming, regardless of the set.
The swimmer who can find something meaningful to work on during the “meaningless” sets finds a way to set themselves apart.
RUTHLESSLY SEEK IMPROVEMENT.
Alex Popov was one of those swimmers who was very cerebral with his swimming in practice. He was always thinking about how to be more efficient, toying with hand placement, angle of elbow during the pull, and so on, all so that he could become a better swimmer.
He was a scientist with his swimming, and practice was the lab.
Caeleb Dressel, the most recent addition to the pantheon of sprint legends, is much the same way. His log book entries as an age group swimmer bordered on long-form essays, with Dressel sometimes hopping out of the water mid-practice to write how he felt in the water.
This kind of fast-action feedback loop means that you will be better informed to improve your technique and effort.
LOG LOTS OF METERS WITH RACE PACE TECHNIQUE.
A lot of focus is placed on swimming at race pace. Which is super fair—after all, you want to experience as much time as possible swimming at the pace you want to race at in competition.
But swimming a ton of meters at race pace isn’t always feasible, especially the shorter the event.
For every other meter you are swimming in the water, how much of an emphasis are you placing on swimming with race pace technique?
You know, the same technique that you plan on using on race day?
If race pace technique is making up only 10% of your workout, will you be confident that this stroke will be there for you on race day?
“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” – Archilochus
DON’T WAIT UNTIL RACE DAY TO SWIM GREAT
Each time you step foot onto that cold pool deck you are building a performance.
You are sculpting the race you are going to have on race day.
You are embedding the habits and technique that will step up onto the block with you.
Will the training you do in the pool today reflect the performance you want tomorrow?