Swim Sets That Trigger Confidence Before A Race

Photo Courtesy: Robin Sparf

By SuSu Almousa, Swimming World College Intern

Why is it that I feel like I perform better when my pre-meet set is centered around alternating sprint 50s? And why do my teammates always groan when I suggest them when coach asks if we have any preferences for our new set. At this point, I don’t know even why coaches even bother asking, they already know what they want you to do. Regardless, I found it fascinating how different swimmers feel different sets prepare them better for a race, and why.

Of course, half of the battle of swimming is mental. While this is arguably the harder part of the sport, more often than not physical preparation is the foundation for the mental psyche. Although I would like to think that I step up on the blocks more and more confident each time, that is just not the case.

I have felt that my level of mental preparation translates to how hard I worked in practice—and more specifically what I’ve worked on.Unless I have done repeated alternating sprint 50s of each stroke in IM order, then when I step on the blocks for my 200 IM race, I feel ill-prepared. As much as I close my eyes and envision success, somewhere in my muscles and in the back of my brain I have a trace of doubt.

Interviewing other collegiate swimmers, I have realized that this theme remains consistent across the board. Here are a few types of sets that help swimmers feel mentally and physically ready before the beep:

Broken 200s: 4x50s with :10 rest between

Graduated St. Olaf senior Chad Ray feels most prepared by swimming broken 200s– four 50s with ten seconds rest in between each 50 and then subtracting rest from your final time to be around what you want to go in a race.

“It helps me with my 200 breaststroke a lot because I get a feeling for how fast I should be taking out that first 50 in a race.”

Countdown 100s, Starts and Turns Emphasis

Indiana State incoming freshman, Alex Malmborg, spoke about turns and starts being essential to her pre-meet ritual. “Being a sprinter, and swimming the 50 free, every bit of technique helps, and one mistake and my race is over.”

What best prepares Malmborg for her other freestyle (50, 100, 200) races are 100s with decreasing interval time. These sets really test her endurance while forcing her to keep consistently good form.

High Intensity, Short Rest Sets

Rising St. Olaf sophomore breaststroker, Gus Reynolds, immediately focused on sets he thought were the most challenging of his season. He named three sets, all sprint, all with minimal rest. Of course I was prompted to ask why he chose to answer with the most gruesome sets of the season, as he had described each of them using words and phrases such as, “harder than hell, awful, feel like crap.” At this he smiled and said, “(These sets) show me that I can still bust my butt when I’m feeling bad. They sucked, but they literally capture everything about racing all in one set.”

And with that, I realized I was not alone in my thinking. No one I asked these questions hesitated with an answer, proving the importance of routine physical sets which trigger positive mental thoughts.

As a swimmer, we have heard our coaches and parents stress the importance of both mental and physical preparation, but seldom do we look at them as related. In order to have a positive mental psyche,  we have to be physically prepared. Without physically feeling ready to execute a race in terms of endurance, technique and speed; we cannot close our eyes and see ourselves racing successfully.

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