How to Become a Better Swimmer By Doing Nothing* (Sort Of)

Starting blocks at the 2013 US Nationals and World Team Trials.

Goldminds: How to Become a Better Swimmer By Doing Nothing*


There’s an old saying about success: “The harder I work, the more successful I get.”

Seems logical: I want to succeed, I want to improve. I want to swim faster…so…I work harder, I train more often, I swim more laps, I attend more dryland sessions. Yep, that makes sense!

Everyone knows that the secret to success is…that there is no secret! Just work harder and more often than anyone else!

But what if I told you that you can get better by doing NOTHING?

What if there were things you can do to improve that didn’t involve swimming extra laps, lifting more weights and doing countless more situps, pushups and planks? What if there were ways of improving your body and your mind that didn’t involve swimming up and down the pool morning and night? Read on.


1. Sleep More

Getting a great night’s sleep is essential for optimum swimming performance. And remember: “An extra hour of sleep each night equals an extra night of sleep every week!”…and who couldn’t use an extra night of sleep?

2. Stop Eating LPF (Low-Performance Food)

If you purchased a new sports car, would you pull up at your local gas station and fill it with low-quality, cheap, synthetic fuel? No.
Similarly, you are a remarkable swimming “machine,” and you will perform better at training and in competition when you eat high-performance food (fuel). Cut back on processed food. Increase your intake of fresh, healthy, more natural foods. Drink more clean, fresh water. Put high-performance food in the ultimate high-performance engine: YOU!

3. Become a Student of the Sport

Imagine you’re a 100 backstroke swimmer who dreams of being the best in your age group in your state. How well do you REALLY know your event? For example:

  • What is the current state record for your event in your age group?
  • Who won the past three 100 backstroke state championships for your age group?
  • What times did they swim?
  • What were their splits?
  • What type of starting, turning and finishing techniques did they use?
  • What times did they swim in their heats? In their semifinals?

There’s a great old saying: “If you aim at nothing, you’re sure to hit it.” Become a student of the sport and someone who knows more about your event than anyone else.

4. Swim in Your Head

It’s common for swimmers to think about swimming even when they’re not doing it. That’s normal and natural, but it’s important to think about swimming in a way that will help you get better and swim faster. When you’re “swim-dreaming,” try to think about all the things you CAN do and all the wonderful things you love and enjoy about the sport.

5. Have a Healthy Hobby

Swimming is a challenging, demanding sport that can consume a lot of your time, energy and passion.

However, sometimes it’s good to switch off from thinking and dreaming about swimming, and do something else that you can feel passionate about. Find a hobby that engages your heart and mind…do it daily…and you’ll be surprised how fresh and invigorated you’ll feel when you get back into swimming mode.

6. Know Your Equipment…and Clean It

Sportspeople in all sports involving equipment know how important it is to keep that equipment in great working order. Every week, check your fins, paddles, pull-buoy, goggles, snorkels and everything else that you use in training and competition for signs of wear and tear. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a workout interrupted—or even worse, a great swim disrupted—because your swim equipment failed.

7. Learn to Meditate

Meditation is a relatively simple skill that anyone can learn to do. It’s an incredibly powerful and effective way of calming your mind, simplifying your thinking and helping you to relax.

Start by sitting or lying down somewhere that is quiet and peaceful. Take a deep breath while slowly counting to 6 in your mind. Hold that breath for another count of 6, then gently exhale to a count of 10. Repeat this 6, 6, 10 breathing sequence five times.

Think of nothing but your breath, and “feel” the moment when you start breathing in and when your inhale stops. Feel the air flowing easily and smoothly into your body and filling your lungs—just being aware of the gentle, natural, effortless flow of air in and out of your body.

This is the first step into meditation—being aware of and connected to the simplicity of the act of breathing.

8. Talk to an Older Swimmer…to Someone Who’s Been There

Coaches coach. Parents parent. But swimmers generally learn from other swimmers. If you’re aiming to swim at your first nationals, sit down with someone who’s already been there, and ask them what they learned from their experience, what they’d do differently next time and what worked for them.

9. See Yourself in Your Swimming Dreams

A great extension to your meditation practice is to do what we call ACTIVE-DREAMING! After your five cycles of 6-count inhale, 6-count hold and 10-count exhale, stay relaxed and start to imagine…and “see” your swimming goals. “See” yourself in your swimming dreams: It could be you standing on a podium…or you flowing through the water effortlessly and easily…or you winning the national championship. After all, it’s your dream!

We know from countless studies on “imagery” and “visualization” that this skill—the ability to “see” yourself in your sporting dreams—can have a powerful, positive impact on the likelihood of the realization of your dreams in the real world.

10. Embrace a Last-Thing/First-Thing Mindset—Start With the End in Mind

Here’s another saying: “Start the way you want to finish.”

It doesn’t matter what you do, whether it’s training in the pool, working hard in the gym or even lying down on your bed and practicing your meditation—start the way you want to finish.

This means, before you do anything, stop for a moment and think about what you’d like to see and feel AFTER you do it…then work backward! By “seeing” and feeling the end before it happens, your brain—and your body—are more likely to do the things necessary to make sure your training activity will be a success!

* OK…OK…Maybe I exaggerated when I said doing “nothing” could help you swim faster. Most of the “10 Ways” involve a little bit of time and effort to do effectively. But while it is true to say that swimming is a challenging sport without short cuts or easy ways to be the best, it is also true that there are many, many things you can do out of the water that can have a significant impact on your swimming performance.


1. Will swimming more laps, doing more workouts and pushing yourself through more dryland sessions improve your swimming? Yes…most likely. However, doing more is not always the best way to perform at your best. Sometimes, doing “nothing” is the best thing you can do.

2. Think of your swimming as you might think of a fast car. Making the car’s engine bigger and more powerful may make the car go faster, but without great tires, responsive steering, high-quality fuel and an aerodynamic shape, the car will never perform to its full potential. Working hard in the pool is essential for success—but so, too, is resting, recovering, eating well, taking time off and living a balanced lifestyle, where your mind and your body are in harmony.

3. Balance is the key! Whether you’re in the pool, in the gym, lying in bed or sticking your head in your refrigerator looking for a healthy snack…be the best you can be in everything you do, and you can achieve remarkable things.

Wayne Goldsmith has worked with swimmers, coaches, swimming clubs, swimming parents, sports scientists and swimming organizations all over the world for more than 30 years. He has contributed to Swimming World Magazine for more than two decades. He is one of the world’s leading experts in elite-level swimming and high-performance sport. Be sure to check out Goldsmith’s websites at and

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Laura Avalos
Laura Avalos
2 years ago


Bob Steele
Bob Steele
2 years ago

Be creative and move self with deliberate practice!!!

Mesa Landers
Mesa Landers
2 years ago

That is so smart and will probably help me a lot. Thank you so so so much!

1 year ago

Just the info this beginner’s master guy was looking for, thanks.

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