Music That Moves Us: The Importance of Beats in Swimming

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Meri Millman dancing at the 2015 NEWMAC championships. Photo Courtesy: Helen Zhang

By Abby Bergman, Swimming World College Intern

Out of the pool, I have almost no use for music in my everyday life. My sister will confirm that I couldn’t carry a tune if it would save my life. I’m not even allowed to play “Name That Tune” on car trips. However, I rely on songs in my head daily to get me through the toughest workouts and I listen to pump up music before I race. Some of my own personal favorite pump up and pacing songs include Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)”.

Because music is so important to my swimming, I decided to ask some other swimmers who swim in venues ranging from the college pool to the English Channel to World Championships how music plays a role in their training and competition.

While some people approach meets with nervousness and a serious attitude, others choose to bring enthusiasm and goofiness onto the pool deck. One such person is Meri Millman, a captain on the Smith College Swimming and Diving Team, who has made a tradition out of dancing before, after, and during collegiate meets. Millman (in feature photo) credits the tense atmosphere at high school meets with giving her the idea that “getting everyone to dance and have fun would allow the team to bond together and relax a little bit. It works pretty well to get everyone involved and just have fun before any major event, and it warms you up if you’ve been standing around for a long time waiting.”

Like many sprinters, Millman also uses music to keep her focused on the work that needs to be done without overthinking her training. When asked about how music helps her daily Millman responds, “I just have songs that I have listened to that day in my head, and they just help me not think about how hard the set is, and they put me into a different setting in my mind so I can just swim.” Her favorite pump up songs include, “Thinking About You” by Ke$ha and “I Forgive You” by Kelly Clarkson because of their powerful beats.

Just as music helps swimmers prepare to be their best when competing in the pool, it can also be important for open water marathon swimmers. As a result of their characteristic length, marathon swims provide ample time for swimmers to think and sing in their heads. I spoke with Charlotte Samuels, the youngest person to complete the Triple Crown of Swimming and the first person to swim the 20 mile New York Bight, about how music helped her prepare for these taxing swims.

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Charlotte Samuels Swims the New York Bight, August 2015. Photo Courtesy: Samuels family

The Triple Crown includes three challenging marathon swims; the Catalina Channel, the English Channel, and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Samuels recounts, “before my channel swim we listened to ‘Every Breath you Take’ by The Police and it meant so much to me and my crew because I knew they really had my best interest in mind and they really were watching me. I thought about that every time I saw them on the deck watching me.” This use of music helped Samuels feel connected to her crew, even as she technically alone in the ocean.

Some swimmers prefer to use music as a training tool even though they do not rely on music at competitions. Jordan Wilimovsky, 2015 10K Open Water World Champion and member of the 2016 US Olympic Team, prefers music as a way to prepare for practice. Wilimovsky explains, “I don’t really listen to music before I race, but I do a lot before training. I like anything from Royal Blood, The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, and Portugal The Man.” The use of music to get excited before a practice can help energize swimmers and improve performance by increasing focus.

Even coaches recognize the mental and physical benefits of music for swim training. Kim Bierwert, head coach at Smith College, notes that while he does not personally care for music, he thinks it is very important for the way it allows swimmers to separate themselves “from the pain associated with a race or training, or in some teams the drudgery of training.” Bierwert, who has coached several successful English Channel swimmers, also believes that music can be useful for keeping track of and passing time during the long hours of a swim.

So while my friends will be glad that I do not try to sing in our daily life, I can truly appreciate how important music is to so many of us in our workouts and competition.

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