6 Ways To Make Something Out Of a Bad Swim Practice

Photo Courtesy: USA TODAY Sports-USA TODAY Sports

By J.P. Mortenson, Swimming World College Intern.

As swimmers, we all have days when we show up to practice and are completely fatigued before even getting in the water. Days when making even the warm up interval is a struggle, your body just can’t do what you want it to, and you feel like you aren’t getting anything out of the practice.

There is no sugarcoating it: these days are the worst. However, they also don’t have to be.

These practices are equally as important as the ones when you feel great, and if you can get something out of your practices on these bad days, they will lead to the best swimming days of your life.

1. Prepare yourself physically.

The Physio team working on the Australian Team Members inbetween training sessions. University of Auburn Aquatic Centre, Alabama USA. Australian Olympic Swimming Team are in their final training staging Camp before heading over to the Rio2016 Olympic Games. July 30 2016. Photo by Delly Carr. Pic credit mandatory for complimentary exclusive editorial usage. Thank You.

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr / Swimming Australia Ltd.

There are some days – especially when you are in the middle of a difficult training block or did not get enough sleep the night before – where your body is simply fatigued, and you know that you are going to have a difficult time at practice. On days like these, try your best to be as physically prepared for practice as possible. Go out of your way to eat high energy foods that will fuel you through practice. Get as much rest as you can, stay off your feet, and even take a nap if you are able to do so. Pack a snack. Basically, do everything you can to make sure you will have enough energy for practice.

2. Find something you CAN get out of the practice.

Ryan Lochte underwater

Photo Courtesy: FINA Doha 2014

Swimming is a technical sport, and we frequently don’t realize how much there is to refine. When your arms and legs are dead, think about what your coach last told you need to work on. Focus on something technical you can improve – hand position, breakouts, streamlines, body rotation, turns, distance per stroke – the list is almost endless. Those are skills that primarily require focus rather than physical exertion. Stop for a moment to watch how someone who is better than you does what you are working on. Even though you were “gassed” during the whole practice, you may find you are a much better swimmer than when you started.

3. Be present.

blake-pieroni-

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

To get anything out of the practices when you are feeling terrible, you have to be mentally present. This can be very difficult, especially on the days when your outside problems from school or in your social or work life are at their worst. It’s easy to spend your practice with these negative thoughts bouncing around your head like an echo chamber. They can distract you and distance you from the present, leading to you spending a practice of simply going through the motions. However, the simple fact remains that during practice, there is nothing you can do to fix your problems outside of the pool. That is one of the special things about the sport: during practice, you do not have anything to focus on other than becoming a better swimmer. You may even find that after practice, you have a much better mindset to tackle all of the “real world” issues.

4. Communicate with your coach.

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This one is a little tricky. There is a fine line between complaining about how you feel and communicating how you feel and what the best path forward is. Sometimes coaches don’t want to hear it during practice either. Your best bet is to communicate before or after practice to let your coach know what you are feeling.

5. Remain Positive.

emma-mckeon-australian-practice-smile

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr / Swimming Australia Ltd.

On the days when you feel the worst, it is paramount to remain positive. This, of course, is more easily said than done. On your worst days – the ones when you hear the main set and feel the despair and panic rising inside of you – it is easy to think negative thoughts like: “I want to go home,” “This is impossible,” or “What would happen if I just got out and left?”

Thoughts like these are the worst to have: they ensure that you will have a bad set or practice before you even begin. When these negative thoughts rear their ugly heads, you have to change your perspective on the situation and look at it with a more realistic and positive mindset. Accept that no matter how hard you try, your practice speed might not be there. That is okay, because you can change your focus and get something out of the practice.

Another aspect of remaining positive is that you don’t want to be the swimmer who brings others down. What you may find is that by being more positive during a tough set, others around you will also be more positive, and you will all help each other get the most out of the practice. This changes the environment from a toxic one where everybody’s negativity brings everybody else down to a supportive one that elevates the team.

6. Move on.

Apr 15, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps holds a press conference at the Arena Pro Swim Series at Skyline Aquatic Center in Mesa, AZ. Phelps, 29, returns from a six-month suspension by USA Swimming after his arrest Sept. 30 when he was accused of driving under the influence. Phelps pleaded guilty to that charge in December was sentenced to 18 months supervised probation in lieu of one year in prison. The probation includes random drug and alcohol testing. Phelps also completed a 45-day treatment program in Arizona. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic via USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports

In swimming, sometimes a short-term memory is mandatory. Bad practices will happen; that is the reality of this unforgiving sport. You will get through them just as you have done before and will inevitably have to do again. Don’t put much weight on them. Don’t overthink or worry excessively about them. When you are in the middle of a bad practice, remember that tomorrow will be another opportunity to have a better one. By making as much as you can out of these bad practices, you are doing what you need to be fast when the time comes.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Author: J.P. Mortenson

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J.P. Mortenson has been competitively swimming since he was six years old and is currently a sophomore swimmer at Dartmouth college. His favorite strokes are butterfly, backstroke, and underwater dolphin kick. He plans on majoring in history and pursuing a career in athletics.

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