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by Terry Heggy

December 21, 2015

New Year—New Opportunities!

Ideas for developing and holding onto January momentum

Every January, swim teams and gyms see crowds of enthusiastic resolution setters flocking in to jumpstart their fitness programs for the new year. But we all know what happens next, right? By February, most of those folks have faded back into the woodwork, never to be seen again. Face it, we all tend to begin the year with enthusiasm, and then find it easy to get derailed.

But that’s not what we want, is it? Let’s explore some techniques to help us stay on track.

Step 1: Think Big, Plan Small

Supplement your traditional “specific goal” resolutions with “process” resolutions, which consist of tasks that are small enough to do immediately and regularly. Let’s say your big goal for the year is to set a PR in the 200 butterfly. Process resolutions for this goal could include:

  • Daily stretching to increase your shoulder flexibility
  • Adding a few extra 25s of butterfly to each workout
  • Doing core exercises before breakfast and before bedtime
  • Doing stretch band exercises for 5 minutes during each coffee break at work
  • Visualizing the power in your underwater dolphin kick off each wall while you wait for your computer to boot up.

Each of these process steps can be done successfully in just a few moments, and can be repeated daily. Unlike the big goal (which can seem overwhelming), each of these process pieces is easy, fun, and something you can stick with. Yet with repetition, they provide the power to move you toward that PR swim.

Step 2: Resolve to Have Fun

If you’re focused on the Olympics or a Masters world record, you should probably skip this step. But most of us will stay fresh and have a better attitude about life in general if we lighten up and get out of our ruts every now and then. Cross-training in other disciplines can help build core strength you don’t get from doing laps in the pool. Consider doing something you don’t normally do:

  • Take some classes in yoga, Pilates, kick-boxing, TRX, or ballroom dancing.
  • Enter an adventure race or orienteering competition.
  • Do some rock climbing (with proper instruction and safety equipment, of course).
  • Swim outside your specialty—if you’re a distance swimmer, do the 50 breaststroke; if you’re a sprinter, sign up for the 1650.
  • Pick a swim meet in another state and make a vacation out of it.

During January, choose three or four of these activities to do during the year, and put them on your calendar. You’ll look forward to the deviation from your routine.

Step 3: Make the Commitment

Some alternate forms of commitment can be more effective than mere resolutions:

  • If your Masters club or aquatic facility offers an annual membership, sign up and pay for it so you’ll feel obligated to attend.
  • Enter one of the USMS fitness events.
  • Write a letter to yourself describing in detail what you want to accomplish during the year and the steps you plan to take to get there. Seal it in an envelope and give it to your coach (or a friend) to mail back to you in three months. It’s amazing how powerful your own words can be when they magically reappear to remind you of your intentions.
  • Talk to your friends and use your social media to make a pact with your peers to hold each other accountable for sticking with the program.

Even if you prefer to keep the details of your goals private, there is still power within your network. If your workouts and competitions also become social activities that you can enjoy with your friends, you’ll all be much more likely to succeed.

Step 4—Monitor and Support Your Progress

Variety is essential in a well-rounded training program. But it’s good to have a few fundamental test sets you can perform regularly to check your progress. If you’re a 200 butterflyer, your test set might be 4 x 50 fly with 15 seconds rest between. A distance freestyler may do a broken 1650, or perhaps a time trial 500. Whatever your test sets include, keep a log of your times and make adjustments to your training program based on the results. Your coach can provide additional guidance.

Support your resolutions with daily repetition of affirmation statements (also known as positive self-talk). Well-crafted affirmations contain a vivid description of a desired behavior that leads toward the achievement of your goal:

  • I leave each wall with hands together and head down, eliminating all resistance.
  • My catch is clean, and my hand and forearm lead each arm stroke with power.
  • I use every break at work to do my stretching and flexibility exercises.

Avoid negative words or images that include the thing you want to avoid, such as “I don’t eat ice cream,” or “I don’t hit my snooze alarm.” Instead, say “I make healthy food choices to fuel me for optimal performance,” or “I sleep soundly, and wake up refreshed and ready to work out each morning.”

Step 5—Enjoy Your Success!

By approaching the new year with a fun and achievable incremental plan in place—and a committed system and network to support it—we’ll be on our way to 365 days of happy, sustainable progress. No February dropouts in this group!