How to Be a Better Swimmer

How to Be a Better Swimmer In and Out of the Water

Swimming teaches us a lot. Besides how to excel at Sharks & Minnows (still my favorite as a fullyish grown adult), the sport gifts us patience, discipline, and the ability to eat like dump truck.

Here are a few ways to level up your training in the pool that go beyond trying a new supplement or buying a new suit.

Best of all, they are things you should be able to apply to the time spent between workouts dealing with the “real world,” whatever that is.

Here we go!

Hey you, keep your commitments!

Are you dependable? Do you keep your word? When you say you’ll do something, do the people around you scoff and roll their eyes, or do they quietly nod, knowing your word is iron-clad?

Having integrity and keeping your commitments matters on two different levels.

You want to be the teammate that can be counted on. That will be there when training is toughest, that will work hard to represent for the team during championship season. Setting the bar high and setting a good example for teammates and the impressionable youngsters who, believe it or not, look up to you.

But having integrity is more than just being dependable in order to be a solid teammate.

If you say that you are going to do something, do you believe it?

Fulfilling the promises you lay out does a few powerful things. It reinforces whatever thoughts you have about your ability to perform. Either you keep your word, or you flake (“As usual,” you will tell yourself), rendering your commitments hollow.

Keep your commitments and get into the habit of finishing. Not only will you be more likely to get things done (bonus!), but you’ll grow to trust that you are capable.

Be engaged (not married, the other kind).

How many times have you crawled out of the water at the end of a long workout and thought to yourself, what did I just spend 90 minutes doing?

If this is happening even somewhat often, it’s time get more focused in practice.

To be honest, I can understand why we zone out during workout.

It tends to happen after you swim at a particular level for a while. You start to gap out more frequently. You’ve been so accustomed to what you are doing, the movements have become so habitual, to the specific technique, the pace, that your body literally goes on auto-pilot and your mind goes elsewhere.

To reminisce on last night’s episode of Brooklyn 99. On the essay that you are struggling to finish. The hilarious text you are going to fire back at your best friend after practice.

When you catch your mind slipping (or losing count for what seems like the fifteenth time that set), get back to basics:

  • Make sure your hand entry is perfect.
  • Do an extra dolphin kick off each wall.
  • Breathe every four stroke to your weak side.

Swim with intention, and that way when you climb out of the pool you can look back knowing that you didn’t waste the meters or yards given to you that day.

Prod your comfort zone (gently, if necessary).

Our comfort zone is a funny thing. (Peculiar, not hilarious.)

We work hard to get to a specific level of conditioning. Once we get there, somewhat satisfied and totally comfortable, we linger for longer than is necessary instead of further pushing ourselves.

The simplest way to insure that you are always pushing yourself just a little bit?


Do something a little bit better. A little bit longer. With slightly better technique.

Progress isn’t about crushing your personal best time each time you dive into the water. It’s about making the minor adjustments on a daily basis that insure our swimming is continually trending upward and onward.

Big successes come with little steps (steps on steps).

You don’t need me to tell you that the season for a competitive swimmer is a long haul. Once you get a certain level there isn’t really an off-season, a couple weeks, maybe a month break at the end of the summer.

Staying motivated and hungry for the duration of a full year or training is tough. There are valleys, peaks, bubbling streams and all sorts of other nature-like metaphors.

In order to sustain forward movement forget about the perfect swim. Or the perfect stretch of training.

Instead, view each day as a tiny opportunity to improve. To get just a tiny bit better.

In other words, fall in love with the repeated application of small wins.

The focus isn’t to drop 5 seconds off your 200 free at the end of the year. It’s to train a little bit better today.

Walk on deck with a goal (and with a car blowing up in the background like a total super bad-a**).

Each set and workout has benefits and targets in mind. What are they?

When you deeply understand the purpose of each rep, each set, each workout than you cannot help but be more invested in your training.

Decide what you are going to work on without coach having to emphasize it.

Choose to have deadly streamlines on all your push-offs. Make the decision to hold a specific breathing pattern. Resolve to hold a specific time for every repeat.

Put it all together

Training like a boss doesn’t have to be complicated. And it isn’t reserved for the top athletes in our sport. It simply requires that you are a little more mindful during practice.

(You are gonna be there anyway, so you may as well make the most of it!)

Train like a champ, and you will perform like one when you stand up on the blocks come race time.

Image credit: Neil Hodge Photography

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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