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Develop Your Own Pre-Race Routine

Want to swim faster and more competitively?   If your answer is YES here is another quick question and the answer might surprise you.   When coaches looked at the differences between athletes in the Olympics who medaled, versus the ones who did not, what distinguishing skills or characteristics do you think they found?  Think for a second and then read the answer below.

Answer:  Data from the Olympics pointed out the fact that one of the primary skills separating medal winners from non-medal winners was the fact that medal winners had developed, and stayed with, effective rituals and routines they had habituated in their pre-Olympic training.  Performance routines made the difference!  How are your swimming routines?

 

Lesson #1.  We are all creatures of “routines

Here is a fun exercise that hopefully demonstrates the power of routines.  Do the following and see what you think.  First make a mental list of the major things you do in the morning as you get up, going, and out the door.  Start your list with your mom or dad waking you up, and remember the basic order you do things in.  Pretty easy, right?  

Now, here’s the interesting part.   Once you have your mental list, the next time mom or dad wakes you up simply switch the order of activities you do in getting ready and out the door.   Do not add to, or delete from, the things you do, just change their order around. 

          So, how much did changing your morning routine throw you off?   Had to think about things a lot more didn’t you?   Threw you off track a bit?  It threw you off quite a bit if you are like the rest of us. Perhaps you hear mom, dad, or your coach saying “we are all creatures of habit.”  Perhaps we are all creatures of routines.

 

Lesson #2.  Routines save time.

          When most swimmers, and some coaches, read the following performance routine, they think that it might take too much time.  Well, that’s not true.   Routines actually:

  • save you time;

  • happen in the blink of an eye once they become habit; and

  • help you swim in the “zone” and at peak levels.

  • National level swimmers have trained themselves to use performance rituals and routines to keep themselves focused, swim with ease, and able to swim their best times. This article is on routines. The follow-up article is on pre-meet rituals. 

 

Your Routine                                 

Here are the Key Words for your routine:

          Step 1.  Take a deep breath.

          Step 2.  Shake the tension out of your body.

          Step 3.  Get “poised”.

          Step 4.  In your Mind’s Eye (your Brain) see yourself making a successful start.

          Step 5.  Pull the trigger when you hear the starting horn.

          Step 6.  Remain in the zone and learn from experience.       

 

Here is how your routine works

Step 1.  Take a deep breath.

  • Proper breathing is a must in swimming—just ask your coach. Research has shown that proper breathing before a race will increase the amount of oxygen in your brain and blood by as much as 33%.

TO DO         

          You can be at the swimming pool or in your own room using your imagination.   Imagination is a great thing for training your swimming brain!

          Now, make a complete exhale by blowing all of the air out of your lungs.   

Once you have cleared all of the air from your lungs, fill your lungs from the bottom to the top. Just relax and pay attention to the calming effect of breathing.

          Exhale again.  Exhale completely and remove all of the air from your lungs.

Inhale and fill your lungs from bottom to top. Notice the clearing and gathering effect that taking a deep breath has on your mind and body. Breathing also gives you something very specific to focus on and do prior to your race.

          With your next inhale, make both of your hands into tight fists.  Tighten them as tight as you can—tighter. Sense the tightness in your hands.

As you exhale, relax your hands and release all of the tension. Notice how relaxed and tension-free your hands feel. You did it—way to go!

 

Step 2.  Shake the tension out of your body.

  • You are going to build on what you started in Step 1.

TO DO         

         Make a complete exhale. As you inhale make both of your hands into tight fists, tighten both of your arms, and now tighten your shoulders. Sense the tension in your upper body.

          As you exhale, relax your hands, arms, and shoulders.  SHAKE THE TENSION out of your upper body. Continue your deep breathing. You are relaxed, tension-free, and READY TO SWIM.

Way to go!

 

Step 3.  Get “poised” rather than “relaxed”.

          Be sure to discuss this with your coach, but most coaches try to get the swimmers to relax at a meet in order to calm them down. A wet noodle is relaxed. Can you compete if you are like a wet noodle? You certainly can’t allow yourself to be overly nervous at a meet, but instead of relaxed, try getting into a “poised” state.

          A poised position is your “ready to spring position”. Use your imagination again to picture yourself as a tiger or panther (or your favorite animal).  Get that imagination working.

          See yourself as a panther that is ready to pounce or spring into action. The panther cannot be TOO TENSE or it will be too tight to make a quick start and spring into action. Nor can it be TOO LOOSE or it will be too slow and unprepared to make a fast start and spring into action.

          The panther is POISED and ready to spring.

TO DO         

          Make a complete exhale. As you inhale make both of your hands into tight fists, tighten both of your arms, and now tighten your shoulders. Sense the tension in your upper body.

          As you exhale, relax your hands, arms, and shoulders.  SHAKE THE TENSION out of your upper body. Continue your deep breathing. You are relaxed, tension-free, and READY TO SWIM.

          Picture yourself as a tiger or panther (or your favorite animal) ready to spring into action. The panther is poised and ready to make a quick start.

          You are POISED and ready to make that quick start to swim your best time.

          I can hear you saying to yourself, “This is taking too much time,” but you’ve already forgotten Lesson #2.  Swimming routines actually:

  • save you time;
  • happen in the blink of an eye once they are habit; [This is the key, you have to make routines habit—so start today] and
  • help you swim at peak levels.

 

 

Step 4.  In your Mind’s Eye (your Brain) see yourself making a successful start.

          Nothing succeeds like success.  So, as you are poised in position waiting for the starting horn, picture yourself making a successful start.

  • Continue your deep breathing;
  • shake the tension out of your hands, arms, and shoulders as necessary;
  • remain relaxed yet “poised” as you take your mark; and 
  • see yourself making a successful start.

          LAST STEP—you thought we were never going to get here didn’t you!

 

Step 5.  Pull the trigger when you “SENSE” the starting horn.         

          Better swimmers have a physical trigger that launches their start. Check with your coach, but here’s what we find works for most swimmers. 

          You are in your poised position.  At the start of a sprint race world-class runners and swimmers “sense” the horn or gun. Instead of hearing the horn, practice “sensing” it. Don’t try to anticipate it or you might false start.

           At the millisecond you sense the sound of the starting horn, your entire body initiates the start at exactly the same instant in time. 

 

Step 6.  Remain in the flow and learn from experience.

             You learn from experience by processing appropriate feedback.   Processing appropriate feedback in competitive conditions is how the brain, and thus you, learn to swim at a more competitive level. 

             Coaches may not like to acknowledge this, but the brain does not learn performance techniques as efficiently from lectures and secondary sources of input as it does from primary forms of feedback.  No matter how we prefer to slice it, the brain learns how to execute performance techniques more efficiently from experience, and from processing that experience appropriately through the owner’s (your) senses. 

So, how do you process that feedback?

              You….(still using your start as our example):

  • habituate your performance routine;
  • create and execute blueprints of a successful start; and
  • in the blink of the eye, you allow the mind’s eye to process feedback from how your start felt through your senses and how well it worked as compared against your blueprint.

               We can also tell you that when the performance process is not precisely what you created in your mind’s eye, in the blink of an eye you can learn to create a sense of what you can do differently the next time, and transition into your swimming.  You can learn to learn from each competitive experience. You can discover how to learn from your mistakes, put errors behind you, and transition back into the zone. You learn not to repeat the same errors. You have learned to break the mistake cycle and to build upon your successes.  

Start right NOW

          Start developing your routine right NOW.  With your powers of imagination, you do not have to wait to get to the pool, start NOW. You will find that your routine is like a steel cable.  Each step of your routine is a single small strand of steel.  As the strands come together they form a steel cable that is unbreakable. 

 

Rick Paine

Director of Swimming

American College Connection

Former Olympic Coach

 

 

 

 

 

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