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Technique and Training

Active Mind Key for Swimming Fast

There is a difference between thoughtful swimming and mindless laps

Scott Bay | September 4, 2017

Let’s face it: Swimming isn’t a completely natural activity for humans. Creatures designed to swim don’t look like us. When it comes to the movements that produce fast swimming, many of them seem awkward at first—and with good reason—the movements used in human swimming by and large aren’t replicated in any other parts of our lives.

There are a ton of technique articles on the USMS website about how to swim more efficiently. But getting the most out of each swim is really a matter of being thoughtful about what you’re doing. Here’s how to give every swim workout a chance to be a great swim workout.

Warm-up is Important

Starting off with the right mental focus is a critical part of having a great swim workout, which is why the warm-up is probably the most important part of the workout. Aside from the physiological component of warming your muscles, you’re also practicing a pattern of movement for each stroke, each turn, and each streamline. This is where you get to decide what kind of swim you want to have.

It’s important to focus on the process rather than the yards when doing the warm up. If you’re process oriented, you think about each movement and how it feels. You think about whether you’re doing it the best you can or with the goal of simply churning out an arbitrary number of yards to get ready for the next thing. Warm-up is the no-pressure time before the hard parts of the workout—it’s your time to be thoughtful and deliberate, repeating proper technique motions before you become physically tired. There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to good swimming.

Maintain Your Focus

Each stroke and movement will be specific not only to the stroke but also to the individual doing it. We all come to the pool with different abilities, but below are some common things to think about when it comes to all strokes. Most of them are common but ask yourself (and be honest): How often do you really think about them while you’re swimming? Elite swimmers who have been practicing for most of their lives do these things without having to think about them, but the rest of us need thoughtful repetition to improve.

  • Streamlines are important when you push off the wall. Are you doing your best one ever? Have you ever experimented with making it better by changing something?
  • Are you relaxed in your breathing or gulping for air? Are you exhaling whenever your face is in the water to ensure that you’re ready to take fresh air in during the breath?
  • Can you feel your grip anchor on the water? Or are your hands slipping through the water inefficiently?
  • Are you trying to climb on top of the water or move through it as efficiently as possible?
  • When you check yourself from fingertip to toe tip, are you keeping everything aligned?
  • Are there parts of your body that you’re flexing or tensing that aren’t helping you swim?
  • Do you accelerate through the stroke with your hand and arm speed?
  • Is your kick rhythmic and effective or are our legs just dangling there or, even worse, slowing you down?

To keep from being overwhelmed, think about one thing each length of the pool. Just one. Make sure it’s the best you’ve ever done it. After a while it becomes habit and doesn’t require as much thought.

An easy analogy is toddlers when they first learn to walk. Each step is a sheer act of concentration. Not every effort is successful either. But as toddlers grow and learn, walking becomes so easy they can do it without thinking about it, as well as perform other tasks while walking.

The same can be said of swimming as a skill. The more thoughtful you are and consistently so, the easier it will become. Even if you feel like you have a lot to work on, if your goal is to make every swim your best one yet, concentrate on the process and the goal will take care of itself!

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About the Author—Scott Bay

Scott Bay is a USMS-certified Masters coach and an ASCA Level 5 coach and has been actively coaching and teaching swimming since 1986 to swimmers of all ages. The Masters swimmers he currently coaches include national champions, All Americans, and world record holders, who have swum to more than 300 Top 10 swims and 30 world records in just the past 5 years. Throughout his career Bay has taught thousands how to swim or how to swim better. He’s also written numerous articles on technique and coaching and contributed to USMS’s coach certification curriculum. Bay presents at clinics across the country and has written an instructional book, “Swimming Steps to Success.” (Human Kinetics, 2015). Bay is the past chair of the USMS Coaches Committee, and the Head Coach of YCF Masters.

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