Tackling the Mental Side of Swimming

January 1, 2021

It’s no secret that swimming is incredibly physically demanding. The mental side, however, tends to get overlooked. The best swimmers don’t just work on mastering their technique; they put an equal emphasis on conquering doubts and distractions, too. 

To bring your “A” game, training your brain is just as critically important as consistent physical practice. Here’s a few of our best tips for honing your mental toughness to boost your competitive advantage!

Stay In Your Own Lane

Physically, you understand how crucial it is to stay in your own lane. But it’s every bit as important mentally, too. How many times have you felt good and ready, and then had a quick glance at the heat sheet shatter your confidence? Each and every time you compare yourself to your opponents, your focus begins to scatter and your speed takes a hit. 

swim lanes

An article from CompetitiveEdge.com describes this phenomenon well:

In order to go fast you have to focus on those things that help you go fast like your rhythm, keeping your stroke long and smooth, maintaining a proper breathing pattern, finishing your stroke, etc. When you swim well you automatically focus on these things. Because concentrating on these elements gets you to go faster, I like to call them the “gas pedal” in swimming. However, if you begin to get distracted by that “world record holder” in the next lane or that teammate you’re real competitive with, then you will immediately “take your foot off the gas.” In this way, moving your concentration over to your opponent’s lane is like stepping on the brake pedal.”


Tap Into Your Breath

When you get nervous, you physically tighten up, which makes it harder to swim fast. In these moments, most of us hold our breath without even realizing it. 

4-7-8 breathing is a simple technique to help you drop back into your body, relieve anxiety and reset your nervous system. Here’s how: Close your mouth, and breathe in through your nose to a silent count of 4. Then, hold your breath for a count of 7. Finally, exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Whenever you feel your nerves start to spiral, repeat this cycle three times through for an instant calming effect.


Drop Into the Present

Your best swims happen when you’re totally absorbed in the here and now. While these times might seem like good fortune, you actually have the power to drop into this fully present any time you please. Meditation and yoga are two powerful mind-body practices that help you practice mindfulness, which creates greater awareness (a prerequisite for presence!). 

There’s plenty of styles of yoga and meditation to choose from, all of which help you manage stress and find your calm in high-pressure moments.

Here are two helpful meditations swimmers can try:

Focused Meditation

Choose something — anything that uses the five senses — to focus on. You can light a candle and focus on the flame, or imagine a flame burning in your mind’s eye. Perhaps bring your awareness to your breath, a glass of water, or the sound of a gong. This style is particularly beneficial when you’re in need of a mental refresh. Here’s a great guide to focused meditation from VeryWellMind. The more you become comfortable honing your focus in this way, the easier it will be for you to call on this strategy during the stress of a competition. 

Mantra Meditation

This type of meditation is somewhat similar to focused meditation, except your object of desire is a mantra, which literally translates to “a tool for the mind.” Embracing a mantra (either by speaking it, chanting, or repeating it in your mind) can calm you, energize you, or help you move in the direction of a particular intention. Your particular mantra can be whatever motivate you, such as, “Every day in every way, I’m getting stronger.” Or, perhaps after a poor performance, a mantra such as “Inhale the future, exhale the past” can help you bounce back with resilience.

Embrace Visualization

The world’s best athletes mentally rehearse their victory to the point where it feels inevitable. Michael Phelps is notorious for using visualization in training and competition. It’s not just “in his head” either: Research shows the brain cannot tell the difference between real and imagined experience.

Embracing this form of mental imagery alongside regular practice works wonders for your confidence and focus. Simply close your eyes and walk yourself through an ideal race, from start to finish. Visualize the exact outcome you want. A little discipline and consistency goes a long way!

Slay Your Mental Swimming Game With CA

CA’s swim professionals are here to help you become a stronger swimmer, both mentally and physically. Check out our website to learn more about the programs and lessons we offer! 

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