How to Troubleshoot Your Training in the Pool

When you take a look at last season, what are the things that stick out that really kept you from reaching the heights of your potential? What were the habits and behaviors in the pool that continually kept you from swimming at your fastest?

Instead of accepting that “that’s just the way it is” this season mix it up and gain control of your training in the pool so that you can kick a megaton of chlorinated butt-butt at your championship meets.

Here are a few common issues swimmers face in training, as well as a couple suggestions to remedy each one:

Problem #1: Not being consistent enough within practice, resulting in a lot of training opportunities going to waste, while also having the particular side-effect of developing an attitude of “I can’t.”

Fix: Keep yourself honest and on point by tracking your effort from session to session, while also being mindful of what you are doing in the pool with training goals.

Record your effort.

This is such a simple way to stay on top of having a consistent level of effort that it blows my noodle that more swimmers and coaches don’t implement.

All it really requires is a print-out of the month, and about 4 seconds after each workout to jot down a ranking of effort.

Why does this work so well?

It forces you to be honest about what kind of effort you are actually giving (it’s easy to over-estimate the work we have done in our training history without having the numbers there to back it up).

Additionally, knowing you will have to write down the outcome afterwards is a nagging thought that will stay with you during the course of your workout, reminding you to push and give a solid effort so that you can earn that A+ or 5/5.

Set training goals.

We all have those big, awesome goals for the end of the season.

Those are easy.

But to have targets, objectives and goals for your training?

Now that is next level swimming. Weekly and daily goals for your training keep you on point and engaged with your workouts.

Having purpose each and every day that you walk out onto the pool deck insures that you are more likely to sustain a higher effort over those long stretches of training.

How to Troubleshoot Your Swim Practices

Problem #2: Not making enough workouts. As a result, your performances when it comes to meet time aren’t that hot and are wildly underachieving.

Fix: Set a goal for a specific percentage of workouts you want to attend, and add a couple layers of accountability.

Track the amount of workouts you make.

It’s easy to gloss over a couple missed practices as being a minor hiccup in your attendance records, but you’ll be shocked to see how often those couple workouts add up over the course of the season.

For example, over the course of a 10 month season if you missed just one practice every two weeks that would add up to nearly 3 full weeks of missed training.

Tracking your attendance makes it real, and forces you to be honest about how true you are being to your training.

Have an accountability buddy.

Going at anything alone is tough.

There can be times where you feel a little lost in the mix when the coaches have their attention focused on specific parts of the group at various parts of the season.

Partner up with a teammate (maybe not someone you directly compete against?) and throw down an accountability agreement.

You’ll pay the other $5 for every missed practice, making it a friendly competition to see who is most consistent. Or have to make the other person a playlist of their choosing. Or whatever other kind of reward/disincentive works for you.

How to Troubleshoot Your Swim Practices

Problem #3: Letting outside factors interfere with training. Outside stressors include—but certainly are not limited to—school, work, crazy ex’s.

Fix: Be the athlete that takes a hold of their schedule. This will require some planning, cutting some of those extraneous activities (lookin’ at you, Netflix), and setting clear boundaries around your time.

Plan ahead for crunch time.

Let’s be honest, those stretches of time where your schedule got away from you weren’t really that much of a surprise.

You knew exams were coming, when mid-terms would be, and when your big social commitments of the year take place.

Instead of being the swimmer that waits until the famed time-management flail hits you, plan ahead for them. (Novel concept, right?)

This means being on top of your schedule and time from day one.

Establish boundaries.

Having friends that aren’t in the sport is important to have balance and a mental break from the sport in between practices.

There is life beyond the pool, and it is important to deeply experience it.

Striking a balance between the two is tough, especially if your non-swimmer friends don’t share the same enthusiasm for your goals as you do.

That’s where setting clear boundaries comes in handy.

If this means setting a rigid curfew for yourself so that you get the sleep you need than so be it. If it means leaving the party early on Saturday night than that’s what has to happen.

When you establish boundaries—and let those in your environment know about them, and ask them to respect them—you make things easier when you are faced with having to make a decision that impacts your training for better or worse.

Have a plan to manage stress.

When school, work, and other commitments pile up past neck-level it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Once the stress hits, and you are feeling weak and overpowered in the face of all that is to be done that familiar thought comes around—“ahhh, screw it.”

You know those moments—where things become so ridiculously out of control, so hard, that the only solution is to throw your arms up and walk away.

It’s precisely when we are stressed out the most that we make some rash and usually bad decisions.

Have a de-stress plan in place for when—and yes, it will happen—those hope-crushing bouts of stress rear their unsightly faces.

How to Troubleshoot Your Swim Practices

Problem #4: Not focused enough in the water during practice.

Fix: Get engaged by simplifying the things you are are focusing on. Less is more in this regard.

Avoid feeling overwhelmed by focusing on one thing at a time.

I spent some time swimming for a super-club in my teenage years. There was 30ish of us, with one coach. So when coach came by your lane with some corrections, he came in fast and furious with a handful of things to work on.

Only, trying to focus intently on improving 6 different things with my stroke watered down my focus so much that my stroke would actually fall apart.

Instead, pick one thing to do and do it exceptionally well.

The focus and effort you pour into that one thing will soon bleed into other parts of your swimming without even having to force it.

Pick one aspect of your swimming to tear apart that session.

As mentioned earlier, you should be setting yourself training goals. Whether it is technical, lowering your stroke count, maintaining a stroke rate—whatever it is, pick something and hammer away at it for the duration of the session. And then the next practice. And the next. Until it becomes ingrained and habitual.

How to Troubleshoot Your Swim Practices

Problem #5: The environment around you isn’t conducive for success in the water.

Fix: Surround yourself with people that are killin’ it in the water, and streamline your life outside of the pool for success.

Look to level up your swimming.

The greatest part of multi-grouped swim clubs is that there is always someone faster. (Until you become Alpha Dog, obviously.)

Instead of surrounding yourself with swimmers your speed or slower, rise to the challenge and take on the older and faster kids on the team. Those swimmers, by and large, didn’t get to where they are by accident.

The training habits and attitude that gets elite swimmers to where they are is contagious, so surround yourself with swimmers who have an appetite for fast swimming and success.

Grease the out-of-pool habits to encourage better training in the pool.

If you are serious about achieving high performance stuff in the pool this year you cannot only be excellent from warm-down to warm-up.

The things you do outside of the pool matter—often more than you realize—and influence your training.

Whether it is getting the sleep you need to recover and bounce back strong before your next practice, or eating a little bit better, make sure that your environment outside of the pool supports your ambitions inside of it.

How to Troubleshoot Your Swim Practices

In Summary

Training is tough stuff.

Daily we are asked to push ourselves to levels that we consider difficult or impossible, and then are asked to come back and do it again the following day.

It’s challenging, but it doesn’t have to be full of misery or frustration.

This season be the athlete that masters practice, masters the process, and subsequently masters the podium.

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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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