5 Ways to Make the Most of a Bad Practice

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5 Ways to Make the Most of a Bad Practice

Let's face it: having a bad meet is no fun, but the daily grind of practices is what can really bring us down. What's the best way to deal when the going gets rough?

Some days, practice makes you feel like you could break world records with both eyes closed and your feet tied behind your back. Just give me a wall to push off, coach, and I can do anything!  Those days are pure awesome and leave you feeling accomplished when you climb out of the water, ready to break a Guinness World Record in one handed pushups.

And then there are the days when if you can finish to the wall without being lapped four times in a 200 free, you consider yourself lucky. We’ve all been there, and every athlete has taken a look at practice when they weren’t feeling their best and said, Nope. That’s not happening today, coach.

But what can you do when you’re not feeling your best in the water? Putting in two hours of dogged back and forth grind focusing on how badly you feel isn’t going to be an effective use of resources – you’re wasting your time, and your energy. So, aside from crawling out of the pool and begging for a day off, what can you do?

1) Relax

For some people, this sounds like a given. For others, you’re already too busy pounding away on your body, trying to make it go faster for the word relax to make any sense. Relax? you’ll ask. But I’m barely making the send off!

Thing is, there’s some truth to the notion that the harder you try, the harder it is to go fast. Sometimes – often times – 95% is faster than all out. That’s not saying that relaxation is a cure for all evils of off days. Occasionally you will just have a day where you’re not up to breaking world records in practice. Being able to relax and enjoy the process anyway is key to getting yourself through workout, maintaining a positive mindset so you don’t disrupt teammates.

2) Find a friend

Maybe there was a practice once upon a time in some awesome alter universe where every athlete in the pool was busy being at their all time best. Most of the time, that doesn’t happen. If you are having an off day, chances are someone else is, too. If you are usually the lane leader and suddenly find yourself displaced because today just isn’t going your way, there may be a friend back in the ranks who can pace you out to your 100% effort that day. Whoever it is, cheer for them, and they’ll cheer for you too. I can’t count the number of times where teammates have “gotten me through” a practice, by cheering and being willing to help push me and themselves to whatever our best is for the day.

3) Change it up

So you’re a breaststroker and all your tempos and times are off today. Or maybe you usually do long freestyle, but you can’t hold onto any water. Whatever your main stroke is, and whatever speed you’re supposed to be going can act as a rut. If you find yourself stuck doing mediocre times and can’t get your turnover to be “right,” try doing a repeat of something else. If you’re supposed to be sprinting 50s of fly and can’t manage today, try doing a 50 or two of backstroke. See if you can shake yourself out of the rut by resetting the system. Occasionally your main stroke just needs a day off.

4) Switch the focus

So you can’t relax. There’s no one going nearly as slowly as you are today. Your breaststroke didn’t get any better by trying some backstroke, and now there’s a killer aerobic set waiting in the wings. You’re ready to give up and call practice what it obviously is today – a waste of time.

Don’t. Sure, everyone else is going to be going after 18x150s on 1:40 like bats from hell, but you aren’t going to focus on making the time. If your body isn’t going to cooperate in speed, you can find some other way to make the workout into a time to improve. How many flip turns are there in 18x150s? 90.  Time to focus on turns. Focus on breakouts. Focus on not breathing into or out of the wall. You get caught? Work hard to make the other person swim around you. Try to make every third 150. Master three dolphin kicks off each wall. Pick something to turn this into a game, and let a little automated video-game voice in your head narrate what you’re doing.

If it’s not exactly what coach intended when she wrote the set? Hey – at least you got something out of it.

5)  Look forward

“How was your set today?”

How many times do you hear that and want to say that practice today was worse than being forced to run a marathon backwards in a snow-tornado-blizzard wearing a two piece and no socks? Better than focusing on how not-your-best today was, look to the next workout, whether that’s tomorrow morning or this coming afternoon and say, full of conviction, “The next one will be better.”