Master the Fundamentals This Season

Why You Should Start with the Fundamentals in the Pool

The beginning of the season is a perfect time to hit reset on some of those questionable habits you found yourself lugging along over the course of last year.

The fundamentals aren’t glamorous. It can be easy to overlook them for something that is considered more cutting-edge, fancier, or the latest and greatest.

But without question the very foundation of your swimming is found directly in the fundamentals. They are the first place you go back to whether you succeed or fail in your goals. They are the undisputed pillars that hold up your swimming.

Everything else is largely smoke and mirrors and gimmicks.

When you master the fundamentals you master yourself, and once you master yourself, well, the sky is the limit with your swimming.

When You Master the Fundamentals

Here are 5 simple fundamentals to work on this fall and winter as the swimming season rolls out:

1. Hammer down the technical elements of your swimming early.

There is not necessarily a bad time to work on your technique (except for say, ten minutes before the biggest race of the year) because at the end of the day it is always better than never when it comes to making technical improvements in your stroke.

The beginning of the season, however, provides the best opportunity to overhaul those technical glitches in your stroke, starts, turns and streamlines.

By doing it right from the very beginning you set yourself up for a season where you can focus on the other tangibles on this little list.

If you are like most swimmers there are a couple glaring things you can immediately set to fixing technique-wise.

Write them down, paste it to your kickboard, the fridge, or in the smallest font imaginable on the inside of your goggles.

Hammer away at them mercilessly and set in stone the habits of great technique from warm-up to warm-down at the beginning of the year, and that way you can avoid the last ditch efforts at stroke corrections when the big meet looms large on the calendar.

2. Sleep your way to faster recovery and better practices.

Swimmers are a little nuts.

We have a season that is, well, it’s not even really a season… It just kinda keeps going with the very rare break.

On top of the length and duration of our year we have our Herculean workload in the pool and gym, all the while contending with school, work and what passes for a social life.

Often the first thing that gets cut back on is the time we spend between the sheets.

That’s too bad, really, because getting a solid night of sleep, and even getting sleep extension (an extra 1-2 hours per night) can yield some pretty amazing results in the pool.

Yes, our schedules are hectic.

And doing the things necessary to ensure that we get a solid night of sleep and get up early for those morning swim workouts can be a challenge.

But when you fully grasp the power that a solid night of sleep can have not only on your swimming but overall health and well-being than you should be more willing to make it a big priority in your time management.

3. Maximize your potential by being consistent from day one.

Being the swimmer that has a hard time maintaining a consistent level is infuriating on a few different levels.

After all…

You never get to experience the full set of training opportunities before you. When you miss practices, sandbag sets, or otherwise miss out on valuable time in the water, you are guaranteeing that you will only ever be able to perform at a fraction of what you are capable of. Nobody wants a 65% performance. Get as close to that three-digit performance as you can.

You always feel like you are starting over. It’s unbelievably hard to maintain any sort of positive momentum and progress in the water when you are perpetually stopping and starting. It’s like the guy who drives fast to the next red light. Any progress that you make is set aside as you need to get back into the swing of things.

This season be the master and commander of your swimming by being utterly consistent.

This means making the practices you commit yourself to at the beginning of the year. And it means giving your best effort each time you hit the water.

4. Good training habits make for faster swimming.

More often than not the way that you start the season sets the tone for the rest of the year.

If you’re first month of training is riddled with shoddy swim practice habits than it becomes much easier to carry them on over subsequent cycles of training.

Good habits require the discipline to care for them long enough until they become second-nature, as well as the resilience to hang onto them in the face of adversity.

What are some awesome training habits you can instill from day one?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Break out aggressively off each wall with speed and explosiveness.
  • Maintain a killer streamline off your walls.
  • Stop taking 3-4 arm pulls into turns when doing kick.
  • Breathing bilaterally as much as possible to encourage balanced muscular development.
  • Performing a set number of underwater dolphin kicks off of each wall.
  • Keep a high elbow catch at all times—especially when fatigued.

And so on.

Remember that you don’t need to completely overhaul your swimming on day one and try to change every single last bad habit—simply pick the 1-2 that will have the biggest impact on your performance and hammer them into submission before moving on to the next training habits.

(Pro Tip: An easy way to monitor and track your habits in the pool is with a swimmer’s log book. Each day throw down a little checkmark or star, or whatever your artistic sensibilities dictate, to acknowledge that you performed your workout with solid training habits.)

5. Foster an environment that promotes success in the pool (and swim faster as a result).

Here’s something to think about when a non-swimmer tells you that swimming isn’t a team sport…

One swimmer chasing a spectacular goal is powerful. A whole group of swimmers chasing an amazing goal are completely unstoppable.

The momentum and energy from the group maintains an unspoken accountability that helps pull along swimmers who are stumbling while keeping the rest of the group stay at full speed.

Some simple ways you can be that awesome teammate:

a. Be positive in practice.

What’s that? Coach just chalked up a 2k for time? Booo-urns, right?


Instead of complaining about how it’s not fair, and that you did that set earlier in the week, and that you don’t feel good, either nod quietly or better yet, issue a— “We got this, guys.”

After all, negative energy is fully contagious.

You’ve felt it hanging around someone who complains all the time, the negativity literally draining the life out of you. Don’t be that swimmer. Be the athlete who promotes a positive and encouraging training environment.

b. Cheer on your teammates.

One of my favorite things I hear on deck at meets is a variation of the following: “Did you hear me cheering?”

Getting up and excited for teammates, even if they aren’t contending for a gold medal or trying to break a record adds more to the team dynamic than you realize, so be the one to stand up and lead the cheers.

c. Challenge your teammates in practice.

Everyone has a competitive streak (whether they are willing to admit it or not), and one of my favorite ways to bring this out is to see swimmers go to head to head in practice.

Sure, sometimes they will butt heads (see: Cullen Jones and Josh Schneider swim-off in 2011) but the effect is one that gets the athletes’ competitive juices going and fosters and environment where you are expected to bring your A-game to practice every day.

In Summary

This season is going to be a great one.

After all, you’ve got the lessons from last year in hand, and a set of fundamentals to work on moving forward that will get you started on the right foot.

Will you begin the season with a firm grip on the fundamentals?

Image credit — Flickr

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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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