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Mental training for faster swimming!

Mental preparation can provide an effective breakthrough in swimming, yet, it’s sometimes an overlooked element of training.


Athletes focus on tweaking training and increasing competing opportunities, which, can help but if anxiety and focus don't improve, preparing our mind to meet the target on race day may prove to be more effective.


What is mental training anyway?

It's our ability to build resilience, allow ourselves to stay focused amidst the chaos have a grip on how you react in different scenarios (in sport).


How are we able to manage our energy and focus in challenging times and work with the irregularities that competitive environments bring us? Often, the way we react to stress and our ability to refocus on the routine necessary to execute the event can help reduce nerves and keep us on track. Routine & adaptability are key.


Simulate race-like conditions

Training in a controlled environment is important for athletes. It allows the coach and swimmer to set measurable benchmarks and create a routine that reaps improvements, but sometimes the swimmers get too comfortable with the training routine and environment.


One of the most challenging training sessions I ever had was showing up at the pool on a Wednesday afternoon with my race suit. It was a 10-minute warm-up followed by swimming a 200m free dive for time. That’s it. Mentally, this training session put more pressure on me than some of the strenuous race-pace sessions and sprint sets I've had over the years. One can simply not shy away from the event, it's the intensity, and the expected result. It's facing reality. You're left with few excuses to fall back on, no hard sets swam moments prior, and no opportunity to socialize at a swim meet with friends to calm nerves. You are left with one thing, swimming fast.


Here are some mental training strategies that Olympians use to prepare for their big event that you can incorporate in training or in-season competition:

  • Build a pre-race and pre-workout routine that helps you build a sense of controlled and automated preparation.

  • Train your ability to focus and cope with changes that affect your preparation, equipment, and racing quality.

  • Ask yourself what truly motivates you to race and perform. What motivates you intrinsically? Can you focus on that idea when training is increasingly challenging?

  • Be resilient when things are falling apart, take into consideration your preparation, and often your ability to pull through even against the odds.

When you experience a set-back take a break to allow yourself to recharge and refocus.


Here's how you can get started today!


Step 1: Gradually implement small things

During your training sessions, find ways to remind yourself of the technical habits you need to work on. It all begins with the details.

  • Push off the wall and complete all your underwater kicks with speed and intent.

  • Focus on maintaining your body position and engaging the right muscles even under fatigue.

  • Find ways to implement the technique that helps you swim fast even when it seems like it is a lot of energy. This will help improve technique, train your mind to focus on the task and help build good training habits

Step 2: Set-up your warm-up and cool-down routine as you should when you’re racing.

  • Arrive at the pool early enough to allow you to prepare for the training session, so that when it’s time to warm-up you're ready to focus on what is about to happen.

  • If the main set is hard, don’t shy away from it before you've even begun. Let it’s existence be known and contemplate what is the best way to tackle it. Give it a positive thought before getting anxious.

  • Try to execute the goals you set for the set and give yourself opportunities to match those expectations even when you fail.

  • Finish with a quality cool-down. Allow your body to loosen up after the effort and think about what else you can do to recharge in light of the upcoming session. Stretching / ice bath / massage therapy / yoga / rest etc.

Step 3: If you have a goal, you need to really work towards it.

  • Be proactive with your approach to reaching your goal, training, and hoping that by a certain point you’ll reach it makes it less viable than actively trying to match it and training to achieve it.

  • When swimming race pace, feel what it takes to achieve that speed.

  • Attempt to reach your goal in training, race simulation, or in competition.

  • Allow yourself to understand the entire composition necessary to hit the target and visualize its exertion.

Long Distance Events

For marathon open water swimmers and triathletes, the required mental toughness and preparation are tremendous. There are often very mentally challenging training days and an often overwhelming annual training timeline.


What helps?

  • Congratulate yourself on the small victories and on your consistency in keeping with the training plan. Check-in with your coach to touch base.

  • Don’t look too far ahead, focus on one thing at a time and how you can get that component done well. If a swimmer has 30 x 100’s pace, don’t even begin thinking about the whole session. Compartmentalize by focusing on hitting the target one 100 at a time.

  • Allow yourself to train at the intensity you want to reach in competition; experience how it feels and what to expect. Is the pace manageable under hard conditions? Set realistic goals that will keep you motivated and on track with your training plan.


If you’re looking for more support on mental training and preparation for swimming, triathlon, or any other sport; get a mental training consultation with Coach Kathi.


  • If you’re interested in getting your swimming to the next level by swimming with a fun team, join our club!

  • If you want to read more about how you can become a smoother swimmer check out our blog.

  • We also have lots of awesome sustainably made USC gear, check out our online shop!

  • Keep swimming,

Coach Sonia

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