Mental training is technique work for your brain

Oh, hey there!

From basically day one of your swimming career, your coach has (hopefully!) stressed the importance of awesome technique.

High elbow! Finish with your head down! Snap those ankles! Don’t pull too wide! Tuck your chin in! Streamline! Stop pulling on the lane rope!

Although we don’t always recognize the benefits of improved technique right away, in the long run, we swim more efficiently, we swim faster, and our PB’s get tickled into submission.

But a lot of us don’t spend the time working on our technique for some fairly consistent reasons…

  • Don’t have enough time
  • Tried it before, didn’t work
  • Tried it before, I got worse
  • Makes my stroke feel weird
  • Might work for other swimmers, but it doesn’t work for me
  • Takes too long to get better

But the benefits of improving your technique are way too hilarious to ignore:

You gain a sense of mastery.

Understanding how your stroke works, and how to manipulate your body to move through the water more efficiently is wildly motivating.

When we get better at something, we feel more confident and motivated.

You get faster.

This is the big “duh!” Improving your technique, whether it’s strengthening your catch, lessening that excessive hip roll, or even just streamlining a little tighter, means you move through the water faster and with less effort.

This is literally like stuffing eight pounds of excellence into a three-pound bag.

You get a sense of clarity.

Hitting a plateau or five is inevitable in the water.

Eventually, our rate of improvement slows to a trickle, and frustration takes over.

Even though we are working hard, we aren’t improving.

But consistently working your technique gives you something clear and controllable to focus on while you are in the pool.

It’s the exact same thing when you start spending time working on your “mental technique.”

Getting started improving your mental technique

Okay, so when it comes to leveling up our mindset, I hear almost the exact same strands of resistance from earlier…

I don’t know where to start. Looks too confusing. Tried it before, didn’t work. Won’t work for me.

While I can’t pinpoint the reason mental training or improving your mental skills didn’t stick last time, I can give you one piece of universal advice that will apply to you.

Even if you’ve struggled with improving your mental technique before, feel overwhelmed with how to get started, or even if you think a better mental technique won’t benefit you…

Start with where you are experiencing the most resistance in your swimming.

The one or two things that are causing you the most mental “drag” in the water.

My challenge to you is this:

Find a quiet corner, tuck the phone away, and think deeply on what it is that makes you mentally feel like you are swimming with a wool sweater on in the pool.

And when you have taken some time to reflect on this, and put it to paper, and been honest with yourself and humble enough to come to terms with the opportunities for improvement at hand…

Start throwing drills and skills work at the mental approach you take to the pool.

Just like you use targeted drills to improve specific things in the water, use the right “drills” or mental skills to shed the excess drag and resistance on your mindset (and swimming).

Ultimately, the mental skills and drills you use are going to be appropriate for the technical improvement you are looking for.

Here are some examples:

If the thing causing you “drag” is poor self-talk and giving up during tough sets, focus on using positive self-talk “drills” to replace that unhelpful narrative with something that will help you push through the discomfort.  

If the “drag” is inconsistent practices and meet performances, an appropriate drill to better your mental technique could is evaluating your past performances to build a proven and battle-tested blueprint  for more consistent swimming.

If the “drag” is getting intimidated on race day and underperforming, one drill you could use to boost your mental technique is daily self-affirmations designed to shift your race-day mindset from “I’m nervous and overwhelmed!” to “I’m excited and ready to swim like a monster!”

And so on.

Find the areas of improvement with your mental technique…

And then hurl a bunch of skills and drills at them to get more efficient with your mindset.

The result?

Clearer mind. More confidence. Faster swimming.

Sounds pretty neat-o to me.

What is something you want to work on when it comes to your mental technique?

Hit reply and let me know.

See you in the pool,


About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer and the author of the books YourSwimBook and Conquer the Pool. He writes all things high-performance swimming, and his articles were read over 3 million times last year. His work has appeared on USA Swimming, SwimSwam, ZwemZa, STACK, NBC Universal, and more. He’s also kinda tall and can be found on Twitter.

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