How to trick your mind to effortlessly complete your swimming workout

I’m sure many swimmers, especially distance swimmers, can relate to your coaches giving you insanely long sets during your training sessions which may feel impossible to complete sometimes, especially on your worst days of training. Sometimes it makes you wonder if they were smoking weed or something the night before to have given you such insane sets.

Being a distance swimmer for most of my swimming life, there are definitely some days I get mad when my water feel isn’t great and there’s an insane set lined up for me during that training session.

Sets like 10×400 IMs, 40×100 Freestyles, 3 rounds of 8×50 at lactate intensity just to name a few. I’ve slowly learnt to overcome the fear of these insanely long sets by tricking my mind into thinking that sets like these are actually not long and easy to accomplish.

Whether you’re a distance swimmer, or someone who just hates long and intensive sets in general, here are some tricks that I’ve learnt over the years which may benefit you as well:

1) Break the set into portions

Photo Credits: Andy Chua

For a set like 10x400IM, instead of telling yourself it’s a 10x400m set, tell yourself that it is 2 x [5x400IM], or 5 x [2x400IM], because it’ll seem so much easier to complete if you break it down into portions. After completing the first [2x400IM], tell yourself that you only have 4 more rounds of that cycle, and after completing [5x400IMs], tell yourself that you only need to complete 1 more round of that cycle. In that way, you’ll always have something to look forward to, and this allows you to take each 400m at a time and focus on 1 swim at a time, instead of trying to complete the whole 10x400IM set as a whole. Trust me, this shift in mindset makes the set a whole lot easier!

2) Pick something you would like to focus on during the set

There’s always something important to focus on during a main set. For example, do you want to focus on your distance per stroke for the day? Or your kick? There’s always something that you can focus on during the training session itself, so pick something that you would like to focus on for that session and try to perfect it; I guarantee that your set will be over before you know it because you’ll be so focused on perfecting your technique that you might even forget the pain of the set.

For a set like 40×100, aim to pull 32 strokes for the first 50m and 33 strokes for the second 50m, and count each 100m to see if you’ve achieved that expectation, you’ll realize that the set gets much more interesting as there’s a challenging element to the set instead of just going through the motion.

3) Tell yourself it’s the “last set before the last set” 

Another mental trick that ensures that you don’t save up for the last max effort. In a set like 8x50m max effort, before doing the 7th one, tell yourself that it’s the “last max effort before the last max effort“, that way, you’ll naturally go harder on the 7th one and not save up your energy for the last one. For some reason, you’ll always have that extra bit left in you to sprint the last one, so if you can just go hard on the 7th one, you’ll be pushing much harder during training than you usually do.

4) The set naturally gets easier after halfway

Always remember that for some reason, the set just gets much easier after you hit the halfway mark. Say you’re in a 8x50m max effort set, if you don’t already realize, the last 4x50m is always easier than the first 4x50m. Maybe it’s your mind telling you that the end is almost near, which is why it mentally feels easier to complete the last 4x50m in the max effort set.

To fully take advantage of this, when your coach gives you a 8x50m max effort set, instead of thinking that there’s 8x50m to complete, tell yourself that it is only a 4x50m max effort to halfway, and the next 4x50m will be an easy one to complete. That way, the set will feel much shorter than it is and you’ll clock better pace times.

It may not make sense, but it’s basically tricking your mind into thinking that the set is easier than it is. After all, the difference between accomplishing a good set and a bad one is mostly mental, so if you can trick your mind into better completing a set, why not?

5) Spur your teammates on during the main set 

The final and most important thing that has helped made my swimming workouts easier – Always remember that the best way for you to improve is when you help others improve as well. Spur your teammates on during practice, and cheer them on when both of you are in the same main set. It not only makes them better, it also serves as a reminder for yourself to swim your heart out during training as well. If they can get better, it will push you to be better too; this is something that I’ve learnt ever since I joined the National Training Squad. Swimming may be an individual sport, but working as a team always makes completing sets a whole lot easier, because being in a team, you’ll realize that your teammates are always there to spur you on during practices.

Always remember that you’ll have your bad days too, that’s when your teammates will step in and spur you on.

The bond created with your teammates through pushing each other on during training sessions also translates to race day. Because working together day in and day out will create such a strong bond between your teammates that even if you end up racing in the same race, you’ll naturally still want the best for them during their race.

So here are the various tips and tricks which I’ve learnt over the years of swimming and I hope that it will help you with your training as well! Keep working hard guys. 🙂

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