Give Your Swim Workouts a Boost with this Simple Exercise

Give Your Swim Practices a Big Boost with this Simple Little Exercise

Today I am going to talk about something that seems really obvious, and yet a staggeringly small number of us do it.

It’s taking a hot minute at the end of each day to sit down and break down what worked that day in the pool.

Maybe it’s because it seems like a waste of time.

Because you “already know.”

Of course I know what works for me. Duh, internet-swimmer-guy.”

Okay then, if that is the case, let me ask you this:

Are you doing those same things that generate high-performance swimming before training and competition consistently?

How about even most of the time?

Some of the time?


There are the things that most certainly, most hilariously don’t work. Eating a pizza ten minutes before your race. Going out the night before morning practice. Not warming up properly (or at all). Things that don’t work.

And then there are the go-time things: suspending judgement on a set until you have started it. Doing the warm-up with focus. A particular drill that helps you catch the water better. Things that do work.

Things that…crush it.

Building and keeping this little list can be your secret weapon to better and more consistent swimming.

Why Thinking About It Isn’t Enough

In a day and age where we are all shackled to our mobile devices writing something down seems trite and “cute.”

Mildly hipsterish, even.

But writing stuff out—yeah bud, I’m talking pen/pencil and paper—means yanking that thought out of your brain and making it real. Until it’s written down it’s just one of tens of thousands of thoughts you are going to have today.

By writing it out you will see what it takes to mentally and physically rock out in the water. It’s not enough to “know” these things—writing it down forces you to truly consider the things and avoids them from turning into just another passing thought, disappearing into the waste-bin of your short-term memory.

The big reason you should do this is that you will accelerate your rate of improvement.

The faster you learn from your successes and failures the faster you will improve.

Your little list will shine a light on your personal little performance boosters. The things that done more often will help you consistently swim at a higher level.

You’ll also get a front row seat to the mistakes you are making over and over that you very likely aren’t learning from simply because you haven’t given them due attention.

(Habits and routines are powerful things: we are prone to making the same screw-ups repeatedly simply because we are comfortable in them.)

Here are a few examples where this kind of reflection can be supremely helpful.

After an “off” morning or prelim swim.

There might be 2-3 technical things you know you can improve on.

Write them down:

  • My hips corkscrewed away from me a little on the first 25.
  • My arms didn’t feel warmed up enough.
  • I left too much time between warm-up and my race.

Not only does this give you something controllable to fix and work on leading into finals (which helps avoid some of that “Oh my God, I didn’t swim nearly as fast as I should have, I am mega screwed”) but it also gives you concrete steps to a better performance.

After a main set where you lit up the pool.

Oh baby—writing out my swim workouts after crushing it is great fun. Sitting back and doing a little chair dance while writing out how awesome you did brings all the joy.

Recently I had just such a workout. I crushed a couple long course 50s from a push. Once I got home I put pen to paper outlining my practice and results, but more than that, I also wrote what I did before that epic set.

The kind of warm-up I did. The pre-set. And what I did during the day prior to my swim practice (had time for a great nap and some stretching in the middle day, as well as eating a streak of healthy meals).

It’s important to celebrate your victories, but Sherlock Holmes’ing what led to that killer performance is even more critical.

After all, you won’t always be able to swim your fastest in practice; but you can always do your best in preparing for the workout and the main set.

And that starts with a “crush it” list that contains things you know from experience will help you swim like a monster.

So, as you sit in the afterglow of your smashing practice, and beyond high-fiving yourself, what was it about this set or practice that got you going?

When you have an epic stinker of a swim practice.

This is likely the hardest one—sitting down and reflecting after a horrible workout. The last thing any of us wants to do is sift through the wreckage and try to find some glimmer of positivity, and the good news is that you don’t have to.

Why did things go off the rails?

It’s not usually enough to say, “Welp, I didn’t feel like being at practice.”

No one always feels like it, but smart swimmers find a way to cut through the performance and figure out what’s actually going on.

Overly stressed? Not properly rested?

The goody news is that it gives you a positive direction to work towards instead of endlessly wallowing in the crappiness of it all.

It’ll help you turn around a bad practice…mid-practice.

Here’s an obvious statement: there’s gonna be a bunch of your workouts that go completely sideways on you.

Your little “crush it” list can serve as a first aid kit for the days when your catch feels like you are trying to grasp sand, your legs feel like overcooked spaghetti, and you are simply and utterly unmotivated.

Instead of just throwing your chlorinated arms in the air and yelling “Peace!” on your workout, resort to your crush it list.

There’s a handful of things I always lean on during such occasions. One of them is doing body positioning drills and super slow swimming.

These things, more often than not, will help correct and salvage my workout. Will I go a best time after going to the list? Nah. But I will be able to find something to build on for my next practice.

On those occasions where you are able to turn around a bad workout, mid-workout, add the things you did and the mindset you had to your crush it list. It will give you a powerful backstop you can use anytime, anywhere to keep your workout from going straight down the toilet.

The Power of a Crush It List

The true power with this little exercise lies in the development of better habits…

Your daily routine becomes oriented for high-performance. You achieve at the higher end of your limits more often.

Your little list becomes a personalized blueprint for your fast swimming.

Epic swimming, both in training and competition, becomes habitual.

Before you go crazy with this exercise…

It will be tempting to get carried away with this exercise, writing out every single last little thing that crushes or uncrushes it for you in the water.

Having a five-page high-performance checklist might make you feel like you are going above and beyond, but by the time you get to page three you’ll notice that it starts to feel a little deflating.

Overwhelming, more precisely.

My advice with this is to keep your list short.

Keep it simple.

You are more likely to use it over and over again.

Although our brains are these wonderful, complex things, they crave simplicity and order in the same way you crave a get out swim at practice.

Make a big list if you must, but narrow it down and focus on a handful of things.

We both know what happens next…

Kaboom, personal best times.

More Stuff Like This:

This Mental Training Workbook Will Help You Swim Like a Rock Star This Season. Confused about mental training? Want to unleash pro mode on your swimming this year? Learn how this mental training workbook will change your mindset and help you pummel your PB’s this season.

Why You Should Be Grading Your Effort After Practice. One of my favorite ways to stay consistent and accountable in practice is this simple technique. Takes about three seconds, and will keep you honest about the effort in the water.

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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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