If you were to break swimming down into technique and fitness. What percentage would you give each of those? Personally, I would say “good” swimming is 70% technique and 30% fitness. I’ve seen some VERY fast US Masters swimmers in my days that have been out of the sport for decades. Depending on where your fitness levels are at, you might fatigue through a workout sooner or later and now this hurts our technique. During your swim, you might develop an ‘autopilot’ stroke of some sort in which your focus is strictly finishing the total distance for your workout or ‘following the black line.’ Far too often we get in the water just to get it done. We suffer from going through the motions, and we lose the opportunity of improving our skills as a swimmer!
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to be an assistant coach to a high school swim team in the Southern California area. I quickly noticed that practices were becoming more of a social gathering and kids were continuously getting distracted, forgetting time standards for intervals, and lacking focus. We started implementing the technique of Mindfulness before practice evens starts. I will take them through a relaxation progression then use this for an opportunity to get focused, present, and centered. Each time is a little different for them for variety. It is important to begin each swim workout with purpose and intention, as this allows us to be fully present in the water. We are now six weeks into our ‘Mindful Minute’ before practices and the kids love it!
Mindfulness is not always about being intentional with every action. To be ‘mindful,’ you can also just be aware and present of what’s happening around you. This practice began in Eastern cultures to focus on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing,’ and that too much ‘doing’ leads to unregulated minds. This is now practiced in Western cultures, where much of the religious ideology is removed but retains the Eastern approach. Research shows that Mindfulness practices improve attention, optimism, and emotional regulation; and can decrease sport anxiety, perception of pain and fatigue! So why aren’t we doing this in the pool?
Ways YOU can be a Mindful Swimmer:
Here is a small list of some examples for you to be a Mindful Swimmer during your next workout. This list is NOT an end-all, be-all list.
When you are swimming, focus on your stroke and just feel the water against your skin. Notice the buoyancy you have flowing through the water.
Notice the feeling of the cool air as your arm exits the water, then the warm and wet water upon hand entry.
We all know that drill work specifically helps our technique by building muscle memory, form and consistency. But what if we put a specific FOCUS to each drill to emphasize the feeling of that drill? Here’s some examples:
Taut Core/Alignment: Imagine your body is an uncooked spaghetti noddle. Straight alignment and having a tight core as you glide across the water.
Head Position: Imagine a laser out of the crown of your head going straight into the X at the end of the lane.
Avoiding Cross Over Hand entry: Imagine your hands are entering the water on top of rail road tracks (both left and right).
High Elbow Catch: Focus on where your entry hand is in relation to your lead arm. Imagine your arms as if you are drawing a bow arrow above your head.
Focus on your breath, both the inhale and exhale. Find a rhythm within your stroke rate and breathing pattern. Deep breathing is often used in mindfulness meditation practices and can be mimicked in the water. This can also be combined with counting your strokes across each length of the pool.
Just listen. What sounds are happening in and around the pool. What does water sound like? What noise is happening during your stroke. Allow those sounds to come to you.
Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way – on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmental. I challenge you to implement some of these strategies into your next training session in the water. Then watch as these mindfulness practices and awareness transition to work, school, and everyday life.
Kabat-Zinn (1994); Shapiro, Carlson, Astin & Freedman (2006); Gardner & Moore (2007)