How to Stay Mentally Sharp While You Get in Shape at the Pool

How to Stay Mentally Sharp as You Get Back into Training at the Pool

As pools are slowly reopening and practices getting underway again, a lot of swimmers are working at getting back in shape.

Those first few days and weeks of training in the water are full of the familiar sensations from taking time off:

Ahead there will be days where you make spectacular jumps forward, just as there will be days where you feel like you’ve regressed and somehow unlearned how to do a proper streamline.

But with time, patience, and showing up to do the work, you will get back to where you were (and beyond).

Here are some tips for staying mentally on-point while you work your way back in the water.

Pump the brakes on expectations.

Coming back after a long layoff is always a bit of a mental minefield. It is particularly frustrating having to work back to where you were. But the good news is this: Just about everyone else is in the same boat.

Separate yourself from the competition by making an early commitment to suspend expectations. The main goal when starting out is showing up.

It is impossible to predict exactly when you will be back in shape, how long it will take, or how many meters it requires, but you can completely control your decision to show up every day.

It will be tempting to look at the times you are putting up those first few days and weeks and get frustrated and discouraged.

Make showing up the priority.

The times will come.

Take advantage of this opportunity to clean up your training habits.

Starting fresh, even if you are a little out of shape and your stroke feels off, is a great time to start building better habits.

During the break you probably had a chance to think about the things you wished you had been working on, but had been delaying.

Well, guess what?

You have an opportunity to start fresh and get after those training habits you’d been ducking.

Add an extra dolphin kick to your breakouts? Sure! Make those turns a little snappier? Yup! Start writing out your practices in a logbook? Giddyup!

A fresh start gives you a chance to start smarter.

Don’t put too much stock in the times you are putting up.

The times you put up in the water during these first few weeks back will be all over the map.

One day you will feel as though you are swimming through Jell-O (preferably fruit punch flavored, but neither here nor there), while the next day you’ve got glimpses of the conditioning and speed from a few months ago.

While you work your way back, focus on showing up and doing the workout to the best of your ability (technique, focus, effort).

The times will follow.

I know—the temptation to look at the pace clock and judge your swimming will be hard to ignore. But if you show up and work hard with what you’ve got, the good stuff will happen in due time.

Avoid the temptation to overdo it.

Like many of you, I have been absolutely chomping at the bit to get back into the water. It will be nearly four months since the last time I swam a lap by the time this is posted.

And I know that the biggest struggle on day one (besides feeling like I am swimming with a wool sweater on) will be tempering the urge to go ballistic on effort and volume.

While the enthusiasm is great, avoid the urge to go full blast on day one, especially if you haven’t been terribly active while waiting for pools to reopen.

Remember, consistency is the key. That goes out the window if you blow a shoulder or work out so hard that you can’t move for the rest of the week on day one.

Make the most of the limited opportunities you have.

It’s funny how much you come to miss the early morning workouts, the distance sets, and the perpetual sogginess of the sport until the moment it is taken away.

For those of you who are back in the water, use the gratitude of being back in the pool to maximize the opportunity presented to you.

Make the most of each moment in the water.

If you only have 45 minutes a day in the pool each day, make every minute count.

No more wasted sets, wasted reps, or wasted strokes.

Swim with focus and purpose and not only will your time in the water be more enjoyable, but you will get back into shape much faster.

Recognize the little wins along the way.

You might not be going best times, you might not be swimming as fast as you were three months ago, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be proud of the work you are doing.

At the end of each day of training make sure you are recognizing the little wins you are curating.

Not only will doing this help keep you motivated and focused over the short-term as you work/struggle to get back in shape, but over the long-term this is an excellent habit to maintain to build a strong foundation of self-confidence.

Sharpen up your mindset.

Now that you have had some time away from the water, and that hunger to get after it has stockpiled, what are you going to do to make sure that the hunger stays with you after the novelty of being back wears off?

Being proactive about having a high-performance mindset after that initial wave of motivation and so-pumped-to-be-back starts with you.

Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to get back into shape with mental skills that are better than ever.

Here are some resources on this website to get you started:

The Next Step

Fresh starts and breaks are a great way to get better in the long run.

You get an opportunity to start smarter, to learn from past mistakes, and to charge into a new round of training with a full tank of energy and motivation.

Try out these tips over the coming weeks and months and take your swimming to new highs.

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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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