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by Scott Bay

March 11, 2019

Change your habits with purpose and practice and your performance will reflect it

A swimmer I’ll call John—no offense to anyone named John—has come to the pool four days a week for 10 years. Despite his coach’s best effort at persuading him otherwise, John continues to do his own thing and then express frustration with the program at his lack of progress, despite the fact that everyone else in his peer group is improving.

Same pool, same coach, same workout, and yet no progress for John? The reason is simple: John is unwilling to change his habits.

What are habits, you ask? Habits are things you do so routinely that you don’t even think about them.

There are easily recognized good and bad habits, such as healthy eating and exercising versus poor nutrition and a sedentary life. But there are also cognitive and performance habits in swimming. These good habits are difficult at first but become easier with careful attention to purpose and outcome.

Good Habits to Develop

If you’ve ever watched toddlers learning to walk, you’ve noticed they’re unsteady on their feet and every movement is both awkward and deliberate. This is because walking is a new skill that requires concentration and development. After a while, walking is so cognitively and physically effortless that other things can be done at the same time, such as carrying on a conversation or chewing gum.

Here are some areas where you can develop good cognitive and performance habits for swimming.

  • The push-off—There are as many iterations of a push-off after a flip turn as there are swimmers in the pool. One verbal cue you can use is “head up-knees up-toes up.” In a flip turn done well, your head, knees, and toes are all facing at least a little toward the ceiling. Pushing off that way every single time gets you into the habit of being powerful in that position.
  • Streamlines—Yes, you want to get air as soon as possible. You can actually work on getting to air faster by strengthening your streamline. This starts with making it a habit. Every. Single. Wall. The more you do it, the less of a chore it becomes.
  • Breakouts—Just like streamlines, it’s a matter of putting effort in rather than going through the motions. At first, it’s challenging because you have to devote mental as well as physical energy. But, done enough times it takes less concentration as it becomes a habit.
  • Strokes—All swimmers have something to work on. You might have something you want to do but give up because it seems hard to change. Ask yourself if it’s physically more demanding or just too difficult to change the habit? If it’s better technique, it’s a good idea to persevere and make a new habit.

One of the great things about Masters swimming is that even if you’re as fit and as strong as you’re ever going be, you can always get better at something. Seek and develop good habits so you aren’t repeating the same technique mistakes. Although everyone plateaus at times, developing good habits will improve your performance and enjoyment of swimming over time.


  • Technique and Training


  • Training