The 3 Easiest Ways You Can Improve in the Pool This Season

The 3 Easiest Ways You Can Improve in the Pool This Season

When swimmers want to get the edge in the pool sometimes it’s the easiest things that get overlooked. Here are 3 proven and powerful tips for swimmers to dish out punishment on their best times this season.

Improvement in the water doesn’t always have to come by pounding more meters and yards. Or swimming with such high intensity that you find yourself in the pool gutter face-to-face with what you had for lunch earlier.

Yes, hard work is important. And critical.

But sometimes we don’t want or need to do more hard work in order to improve.

Here are the three easiest ways to swim faster and have the best season of your life:

The Three Easiest Ways You Can Improve in the Pool This Season

1. Sleep more.

Sleep is absolutely critical for human performance. It doesn’t matter what your goals are in the pool, we need sleep to be able to function on a basic level over the course of the day.

Tack on the demands of high performance training and the importance of having sufficient sleep becomes even more important. Despite what all the supplements and “all-natural” (Ha!) energy drinks promise you, still the best way to recover from intense physical effort is a heavy dose of sleep.

But with all the demands on our time, isn’t it easier to just crush a couple cups of coffee or other pre-workout stimulant and charge through your day like a grumpy, dry-eyed zombie?

After all, does our performance really suffer that much when we are a little bit sleep deprived?

Stanford’s Cheri Mah’s research into sleep extension with Cardinal athletes has provided a powerful glimpse into what happens when swimmers get more sleep than what is typically prescribed (the usual “8 hours”).

Five Cardinal swimmers were followed for two weeks, sleeping as what was usual. For the next 6-7 weeks, however, they extended their nightly dose of sleep up to 9-10 hours.

The results:

  • 15m sprint times improved by over half a second. (That is huge.)
  • Reaction time was 0.15 seconds faster off of the blocks. (Again, for sprinters this can make or break a race.)
  • The swimmers were 0.10 seconds faster on the turns as well.

If someone told you that you could drop three quarters of a second on your first lap of your best event just by sleeping more, would that be something you would be interested in?

Heck yeah it would!

That type of improvement is a sort of gain that you would tie to months or years of training, not merely spending more time curled up under the sheets.

Sleep a Little Bit Longer Each Night

Do what you need to do to make your schedule receptive to getting more Z’s, and do it guilt-free, knowing that you are powering your performance in the water.

2. Set goals for your practices.

It never ceases to amaze me how often swimmers come to practice with nothing in mind for what they want to achieve that day in the water. The attitude is generally that, “Well, Coach writes the workouts and I do them. End of story.”

While this may be true in a broad sense, it is also up to you to make the most of your time in the water.


You know what you want to achieve this season. That big, awesome goal of yours that you dream about when you should be studying, relive in your mind while hanging out with friends, and fantasize about in bed.

And, if you have put in the tiny bit of legwork necessary in order to break down that goal you know what has to be done in order to make that goal come to fruition. (“You mean wishing for it doesn’t make it so…?”)

The training goals, the things you do on a daily basis, are what will send you hurtling full-speed towards accomplishing your end of season targets.

Your Daily Training Goals Are What Will Help You Succeed

Things like:

  • Give a consistent and tough-minded effort at practice each day. Keep yourself accountable to this mini-goal by recording your effort levels on a daily basis.
  • Spend an extra fifteen minutes on mobility work. Bum shoulder? Spend some extra time on your lats, chest and thoracic spine before and after practice to ward off re-aggravating it.
  • 10m breakouts on every wall. Short course races are won on the walls and breakouts—are you doing what is necessary on a daily basis to insure that your underwater dolphin kick game is strong?

And so on.

The side benefit of having these intra-session goals is that it keeps you focused.

There are fewer things less pleasurable than being bored and unfocused at practice. Going through the motions with little interest or attention paid to what you are doing is nine pounds of not-fun in a five pound bag.

3. Track your training.

You got three minutes a day to spare?

Probably not, right?

But what if I told you that with those three minutes you could…

  • Get to the bottom of why you have those dud workouts (and correct the behaviors and actions leading to them).
  • Find out why some sessions go so amazingly well (and apply those behaviors and actions to future workouts).
  • Stay motivated over the long term (by seeing progress in real-time).
  • Set better informed goals for your swimming (by knowing exactly how much you can realistically expect to progress in a given time-frame).
  • Keep yourself accountable to your goals in the water (by having a daily check-in that requires you to be honest about your swimming).

Yup, all of those things and more can all be yours when you spend a handful of minutes writing out your workouts.

Yeah, I get it—the last thing you probably want to do when you get home after a long day of two swim workouts, a full day of classes, and trying to think of clever things to write on Twitter is to write things on paper (with a pen, no less!).

But spend just a couple mildly therapeutic minutes rehashing your workout and you’ll swim smarter (and eventually, much faster).

The Takeaway for Your Swimming:

The temptation to go for the latest supplement or sweet new piece of tech gear as a quick-fix for our swimming is hard to resist. They are just so shiny, after all!

But at the end of the day, the things that can dramatically improve our swimming don’t require an FDA approval sticker or spending more time in the pool or even working harder.

Sleep more. Have training goals. Track your training.

Rinse and repeat, and those best times of yours will never know what hit them.

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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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