Here’s a question, and I hope you give it an honest couple moments of thought:
How often do you worry about how much something is going to hurt in the pool, so you end up not giving your best?
For a lot of us, we feel like we try our best. We work hard. And we often come close.
But we likely don’t push ourselves as hard and as fast as we could…
Going to the limit is a little scary.
Dying in practice (and in competition) over and over again isn’t easy.
After all, we know exactly how much it’s gonna hurt.
But leaving it all in the pool more often will make you mentally tougher.
It gives you a chance to swim your best with what you have right now.
And of course, it helps you push those limits faster and further than if you are playing it safe every time you get into the water.
Which means you improve at a fast clip.
Here are some simple things you can do to help leave it all in the pool:
I’ve talked a little bit before about journaling and more specifically, pre-journaling.
The concept is simple: we write out what we wanna do, how we are gonna do it, what could go wrong, and most importantly, how we will react when things don’t go our way.
This little activity gives us a chance to pre-emptively live out the struggle so that when it really does happen it’s not such a big deal.
Thinking it over and writing it out gives you a blueprint for how your workout or race is going to go. It forces you to think about how you are going to choose to react to the pain.
Visualizing the suffer:
You already use visualization in some manner with your swimming, whether it’s organized and directed at helping you achieve your goals is another matter.
When you are in bed imagining your race or practice the next day you are putting this skill to work.
Be more strategic with this skill by visualizing that moment of intense suffering in training or during your race—and pushing through anyway.
It’s rarely the pain or agony that we experience that crushes us: it’s the way we perceive and react to that pain that makes a difference. If you know it is coming, and you are mentally prepared for it, it won’t be such a biggie when it happens.
There’s an almost endless number of ways to distract yourself in the water. Counting strokes, singing to yourself, humming, replaying that same high BPM song in your head.
The reason you do this is simple: you intuitively know that as smart as your brain is, it can only truly focus on one thing at a time.
When the pain train comes cue up your favorite tune in your head. Focus on a single performance cue (“Keep your elbow up!”) or lean on a favorite mantra (“Let’s do this!”).
Don’t think ahead:
My most effective way to screw up a high-intensity rep or set in the water is to think beyond what I am doing. Works every time.
And even though I know this, I still catch myself doing it from time to time.
Here’s a quick example.
While doing a set of all-out 50s kick I will be cruising along, my feet whipping up some white water behind me, when I start to think about how many more I have left in the set. Or I will think about the next set.
What happens when my brain starts thinking about the future? About allllll those reps and workout still to go?
My legs almost instantly power down. Not fully, but noticeably.
The crazy part is that my legs slowing down isn’t even a conscious decision, but it happens—without fail—anytime I start thinking about what’s next or later in the workout.
This is a natural reaction: our brain instantly goes into power save mode in an effort to save energy.
Focus on this rep. This lap. This stroke, if necessary. If you want to max out your effort in the water, you have to do it one stroke at a time.
There is good news when you start getting a little braver with your effort.
Although during that moment—whether a race or a hard set in practice—your muscles and lungs will be hurtin’, the emotional and mental response that comes from high-level exertion pain is overwhelmingly positive.
You feel more capable.
You feel tougher.
Like you can take on the world.
And you start to see what else is possible.
Which jolts you with a nice buzz of motivation.
See you in the water,