6 Ways to Survive Through Swim Practice

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Photo Courtesy: Ian MacNicol

6 Ways to Survive Through Swim Practice

Surviving a swim practice can get a bit rough. Sometimes, it’s the workout. Sometimes, it’s just not your day. Every swimmer has their own strategies for making it through.

Here are six of the most common ways swimmers endure their swim practices…

1. The Clock

In the name of all holy things, do not look at the clock. During the hours of a practice, the clock is a devilish instrument of pure evil whose only possible purpose is torture. Checking the time will only increase your pain and misery. The best thing to do is pretend the clock face is the sun, or a gorgon (for you mythology nerds) or a basilisk (for you Harry Potter fans). Do not look directly at it. Ever. That is all.

2. Stay Focused

(140817) -- NANJING, Aug. 17, 2014 (Xinhua) -- Meghan Small of the United States swims during the women's 200m individual medley final at the 2nd Summer Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, August 17, 2014. Small won the bronze medal of the event. (Xinhua/Ding Xu) (txt)

Photo Courtesy: Xinhua/Ding Xu

Think about your technique. Think about your body position. Hand placement. Feet. Now focus on smooth body roll. Do a good turn. Do your kicks, all of them. Now the breakout. Et cetera. And anything specific to your stroke.

This is what you are supposed to be doing. Swimmers more orthodox than me will contend that this kind of constant analysis is all you should be thinking about when you are in the pool. I say that such people are right to want it, but wrong to expect it. If humans were robots, this sort of purely logical swimming would make sense. But, even if we should all focus with laser-like attention on our technique, the fact is: we don’t, and to pretend that we do is more than useless.

3. Counting

This is the basic and trusty fallback for getting through practice. Count kicks, count strokes, count breaths, count laps, count whatever you want, just start counting. With the way swimming works (that is, laps), everyone necessarily does some measure of counting. Therefore, it is only natural for a swimmer to turn counting into a game and use it to fill the practice.

Counting allows for a nice duality of focus and disassociation that is key to success for both this method and others. In essence, you’ve distracted yourself from your discomfort by creating this new game. But simplifying swimming to a single action focuses your attention on that action. If you are counting strokes, you are going to focus on your pull and making sure you are pulling correctly. If you are counting breaths you will make sure you are breathing correctly.

Counting is a kind of trick to get you to crudely analyze your technique. Plus, sometimes when you’re tired and can’t think straight, you need to focus on doing something really simple. Counting may be fairly monotonous, but it works if you do it enough. You can count on that.

4. Work It!

Singing…in your head. Please.

Pick a song and get your groove on. Singing is like counting, only this time with with words and melodies instead of numbers. Since you’re not actually singing out loud, it’s more like you’re letting the music pass through your head as you swim. Like you are swimming through the music itself. At least, that how I always imagine it.

Like counting, by setting a song on repeat in your head you distract yourself from any present discomfort. On top of that, the song itself should energize you—especially if it’s a song you really like. But, song choice matters.

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Photo Courtesy: David Farr

Unless you genuinely enjoy the Barbie theme song (or any other sanity-crushing earwigs) you will probably regret choosing it. Also, tempo matters. As in Buddhism and certain bear-related children’s stories, the middle option is the best option. Too fast is bad, same thing with too slow, but something in the middle is just right.

The impossibly fast rythmn of death-metal won’t do you any favors. If your body cannot move to the beat of the song, then you simply will not get the full benefit of this survival method. But that’s nothing against death-metal, slow and relaxing songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon” won’t do you much good either.

Though it may be distracting and something you can move your body to, it will be at a much slower pace than you want. Instead of pushing you into success, it will lull you into mediocrity. Everyone has their own speeds and songs. You’ll want to find what works for you. The good news: with 1-2 practices a day you have plenty of opportunities to figure it out.

5. Talk to yourself

Again, like singing, please do this in your head. If you talk out loud you may frighten people—or at least severely confuse them.

Talking to yourself is generally not a choice you make but something that just sort of happens as you are swimming. There are a lot of different conversations you can have with yourself, and this variety means it cannot always be recommended.

You can easily distract yourself from any pain by talking to yourself about your day or planning your week, but that won’t really push you to excel. You may want to use the things that happen in your life to fuel your efforts in the pool.

If you talk to yourself in a way that encourages you to keep pushing, more power to you. Life is hard and swimming can either be another burden or a constructive release from its frustrations. On a bad day, practice can double as a workout and DIY counseling, and the effort you put into swimming can be a genuinely cathartic.

6. Lane Buddies/Teammates/Friends

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Photo Courtesy: Heidi Torregroza

If you didn’t get it, those are synonyms. Your team will almost certainly be your greatest reservoir of strength and your strongest bulwark against self-defeat. All previous methods will pale in comparison to the aid of your teammates. You spend so much of your time with these people. Use them. The greatest distraction and release available to you is talking with, joking with, and messing with your teammates. And it is a reward unto itself.

What is your secret to surviving swim practice?

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